There's a new problem with seeing diversity on screen in 2019, writes Lee Suckling.
Congratulations, Hollywood TV producers. For the first time in history, you've managed to accurately represent LGBTQ people (at least in numbers) as per our existence in society.
For the 2019-2020 television season, a GLAAD report has found 10.2 per cent of characters are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or identify as queer. As we're at least 10 per cent of the general population, we non-heteros should be stoked, right? We can finally see ourselves and our stories on the small screen at the same rate as we do in real life.
Conservative pundits will say that queer characters are being over-represented in TV these days, yet I wonder if 10.2 per cent is really enough. GLAAD wants TV producers to increase LGBTQ series regular characters to 20 per cent by 2025. If one-fifth of all people on TV were queer, would I be more satisfied?
Yes and no. The problem with representation of diversity on screen in 2019 is that everything society watches is à la carte. Streaming has enabled us to pick-and-choose what we want to consume, and completely ignore everything else. Gone are the days when an entire family sits around a TV set to watch the 7.30pm showing of Malcolm in the Middle – now you can exclusively watch true crime shows or reality TV on your platforms and nothing else, should you wish.
This means that the 10.2 per cent of TV characters aren't necessarily being seen by those who would benefit most from understanding minorities. As a gay person my TV viewing skews towards queer content – I sought out HBO's Euphoria, Netflix's Special, and Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale for this specific reason. Yet if you're a straight white old dude who thinks LGBTQ characters are irrelevant to your world, you're probably not going to watch the new season on Will & Grace. The non-binary character on Billions won't register as gender nonconforming to you, nor will you have any interest in the early 90's AIDS-epidemic experiences of the queens in Pose.
In fact, having a queer lead character seems to work against a lot of TV shows. The keyboard-bashing incels of Twitter had a homophobic riot crying foul at Ruby Rose's new Batwoman last month, while a same-sex relationship on Bachelor in Paradise was accused of "ruining the show" earlier in the year.
The fact that people stop watching (or never start) TV shows because of LGBTQ characters is the exact reason our representation needs to move closer to the 20 per cent goal. We need to be inescapable, because you know what, you can't escape us in real life. Don't want to see two girls holding hands on the street? Tough. You're going to see them. Does the concept of a guy kissing another guy at the bus stop gross you out? Learn to deal. We're here and we're queer, get over it.
Look, it's great that we have a record number of LGBTQ characters on television. We are in a changing era of Hollywood and producers aren't afraid of the gay anymore. This is particularly important right now across the globe because queer acceptance in the current cultural climate isn't necessarily permanent.
We have to work for it, and continue to fight for it. TV and the rise of global programming has a unique opportunity to keep pushing society forward, past its ingrained homophobia. LGBTQ people can (and will) be seen on small screens by those who need to see us most – not just from within the community, but those who think our community's visibility isn't applicable to them.
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It doesn't matter if it's one of the 73 countries where being gay is illegal (many of which are on our Asia-Pacific doorstep) or a small town in rural New Zealand where someone's parents think they've never met a gay person. Having an understanding of LGBTQs as actual people best starts in the home. That's made possible when you can't change the channel, or stream something new, without queer characters taking up a proper portion of the airtime.