June, for many people, is a time of celebration and joy. To many, June is Pride Month, the time of year where the LGBT community affirms itself and its place in the world. What once was a solemn reminder of the 1969 Stonewall Riots now stands as a time of celebration for a community that has, in recent years, gained acceptance where there once was stigma. There’s still a long way to go for the community, but Pride Month is exactly that; a time for the LGBT community to take pride in who they are and how strong they are.
Because Pride Month this year is going to look very different for the LGBT community, mostly in part of how nearly all large-scale events had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, I wanted to do something unique. I wanted to create a series of features that focus extensively on the LGBT community and the representation that they may or may not have in media. From television to film, I wanted to examine exactly how far the community has come and how much work still needs to be done, because there is always work that still needs to be done.
Now full disclosure here: I am not a member of the LGBT community. I am not gay, I am not bisexual, I am not transgender. I am a cis-white male who thinks of himself as an advocate for the LGBT community. To some, that may invalidate anything that I could possibly say about analyzing LGBT representation in media, and you would have a point. To some people, only members within the LGBT community have a right to discuss issues facing the community and to have someone else talk about them would at best be placating and at worst pandering. To that I say this: you’re right. I’m not going to talk about the LGBT community. I’m going to let people within the community talk about it.
Over the week of May 24, 2020, I asked several people I knew to complete a survey about LGBT representation in media, who then shared it with others they knew, and so on and so forth. These people range from all different walks of life. Some of them are teachers, electrical engineers, make-up artists, bartenders, actors, and payroll assistants. Some of them are bisexual, transgender, asexual biromatic, pansexual, or fluid. In total, 31 people completed this survey with the average age of respondents being being around 25, with the oldest respondent being 37 and the youngest 18. Of course having more data would be wonderful and could give me a much wider range of opinions to analyze, but the responses received were plentiful enough. The words and opinions that I’ll be talking about for the next few weeks are not mine; they are of the people that truly embody the spirit of the LGBT community.
So for this first feature, I asked in my survey what would they cite as being good examples of representation in film and television? Lord knows that there are plenty of harmful stereotypes that depict the LGBT community in a negative light, so I wanted to know what THEY thought represented them in a positive light. The responses that I got were overwhelming, so I had to narrow it down to just a select few that everyone seemed to universally agree on. As a fun fact, there were more television shows suggested to me than movies. Out of the 54 pieces of media recommended to me as depicting positive LGBT relationships/experiences, 43 of them were TV shows while the remaining 11 were movies. While I personally can’t vouch for the quality of most of these recommendations (I myself have only seen one of the suggestions down below), if they were able to leave a strong impression with LGBT audiences, that’s good enough for me. Here are a couple of suggestions with excerpts from some responses to follow.
13 Reasons Why
“I thought that when it came to Hannah Baker in 13 Reasons Why her character shows the quietness of the LGBT in teens. It shows that LGBT people aren’t always accepted amongst peers their age. Hannah Baker being bi wasn’t exactly out until halfway through the season when she has a sexual altercation with a woman, who like Hannah has not come out yet. The other girls ostracize Hannah from her friend group because she cannot come to terms with her sexuality. Because of this, Hannah thinks it is wrong, and it becomes one of her reasons why she commits suicide. To me, this shows a different side of the LGBT world that no one talks about. The unaccepting. The “hard times.” Every LGBT person goes through their own “hard time” in one way or another, and I think this depiction illustrates that reality.” – Sarah V.
“Booksmart completely normalize the LGBT+ experience. Just normal queer people living their normal lives where their sexuality is probably the least interesting thing about them… As an LGBT+ person, I just want to be depicted as a regular, average, normal person. It’s also potentially super beneficial for people in conservative areas to see that not all queer people are scary, flamboyant aliens. We’re just normal humans, and you’ve probably met tons of LGBT+ people without even realizing it.” – Meaghan B.
“Captain Holt is such a fantastic character and I love that him being gay isn’t what most of his storylines are about, but also a big part of his character. The show has dealt with how homophobia has affected his life in a heartful manner, but he is still defined by a lot more than that. He is also just a fantastic character.” – Dan P.
“[Captain Holt] is a successful gay black man in a relatable marriage with his husband. Although he has his flaws, he is still one of the most positive LGBT representations as he isn’t your typical stereotype. [Meanwhile] Detective Rosa Diaz has a relatable and positive coming out storyline while being a bisexual badass.” – Name Withheld
“While there were definitely some stereotypes in the show, the struggle of Kurt coming out to his dad and just knowing the turmoil that he went through just to come out to him, to me, felt like an actual representation of what people may actually go through when coming out to their parents and what that feels like.” – Name Withheld
“I remember being so excited when Santana and Brittany got together on Glee. I didn’t expect their relationship to happen because neither of those girls showed any stereotypical gay characteristics, which I think is pretty uncommon on television. More often than not, I think that characters are given very stereotypical gay characteristics to make it obvious to the audience that the character is gay.” – Name Withheld
“Part of why I think Love, Simon is a good representation of the LGBT community, is just because it is a representation of the LGBT community. That sounds weird, but it was the first film that I saw that starred a gay character and their pursuit of romance, which was something I didn’t realize I wanted so much until I actually saw it… I also loved that Simon wasn’t stereotypically gay, though the film did include a stereotypically gay character (which is a good thing). I think diversity in representation is key. It was, and is, especially important to me because I grew up not connecting to gay characters. This led to me doubting my own sexuality. In addition to that, Simon’s feelings about coming out reflected my own. The movie did a great job of showing how/why coming out can be difficult no matter how seemingly accepting your peers and family might be. Opening up about something so personal can just be inherently terrifying.” – Dan P.
“Moonlight was one of the first queer black stories I have seen receive recognition in the public eye. It depicts the struggle of being in multiple, and sometimes conflicting, marginalized groups with painful accuracy. Not only does Moonlight give queer POC representation, it also validates their complex struggles. So often in media we see marginalized people as stereotypes of their real world counterparts but Chiron is nothing of the sort. He struggles with masculinity, sexuality, and living up to (or defying) the “set path” for young, poor, black men. Additionally, all of these struggles are realistically portrayed over decades of Chiron’s life and they aren’t solved with ease. Moonlight recognizes the struggle those the film represents, making it accurate and successful.” – Avery L.
“Sailor Moon is truly one of the better representations out there (ignoring the bad English dub). You have non binary characters like Uranus and the Starlights, w/w relationships, and characters like Sailor Moon who wonderfully reflect (sadly without putting a word to it), a younger female bisexual experience. These identities don’t fully define these characters, but they make them more fleshed out and not one dimensional. It certainly helped me when I was figuring out and discovering my own sexuality as a teenager.” – Name Withheld
“This TV series takes place hundreds of years in the future. Characters in the show love who they love without any mention of their sexualities. Labels are not used in the show because all sexualities are so normalized by that point, that there is no reason for them to use terms to describe themselves or others. The characters love whoever they love without anyone stating the significance of their genders. Gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and straight people are all represented in this TV series.” – Name Withheld