GLAAD: TV's LGBTQ Representation Dipped Amid Pandemic, Because Too Few Shows Do Too Much of the Work

Matt Webb Mitovich
·4 min read

GLAAD’s “Where We Are on TV” report this year notes that the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer characters has slightly decreased — due in part to how the pandemic sidelined many of the shows that reliably represent the LGBTQ community.

All told, the inclusion of LGBTQ series regular characters on primetime scripted broadcast series, for example, dropped from 10.2 to 9.1 percent. But once the shows that ran into production delays during the pandemic and (thus aren’t included in the study’s June 2020-May 2021 timetable) return, “we expect to see real growth,” says GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis.

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Even so, the disproportionate impact felt by the absence of reliably inclusive shows — including How to Get Away With Murder (which ended at ABC), Stumptown and GLOW (both “un-renewed” amid pandemic-related delays) and The L Word: Generation Q (MIA due to pandemic-related delays) — points to how but a few shows account for a significant amount of representation.

Similarly, GLAAD notes that “out power players” Greg Berlanti, Lena Waithe and Ryan Murphy, along with Shonda Rhimes, this year accounted for 17% of all LGBTQ representation, with 62 of the 360 characters (across broadcast, cable and streaming) appearing on their 16 series. Said differently: By my math, that means about 5% of all scripted shows account for 17% of LGBTQ characters.

Other toplines from the 24-page report:

*Among broadcast networks, The CW for a fourth season in a row posted the highest percentage of LGBTQ series regular characters (14.2%); ABC placed second with 9.9%. Only Fox saw an increase (from 7.9% to 8.5%), followed by NBC’s 8.3%. CBS continues to be the least inclusive of the broadcast networks, dropping from 5.5% last year to just 2.9%.

*Considering Legends of Tomorrow’s Sara to be part of an ensemble, GLAAD says that The CW’s Batwoman is now the only broadcast show with an LGBTQ lead character (with Javicia Leslie’s Ryan Wilder replacing Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane).

*Of broadcast’s 101 LGBTQ regular and recurring characters, 34% are lesbians, 13% are bi+ women, and 6% are trans women (four of whom are straight and two of whom have an unknown sexual orientation). Additionally, 40% are gay men, 5% are bi+ men, and there are four total trans men (one who is bisexual, one who is straight, and two whose sexual orientation is unknown).

*On primetime scripted cable series, 26% of LGBTQ characters are lesbians, 21% are bi+ women, and 4% straight trans women; 36% are gay men, 9% are bi+ men, and there are three trans men (one each straight, gay and bisexual). Also, there were three non-binary characters on cable this year.

*On the three streaming services that GLAAD tracks (Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, 28% of LGBTQ characters are lesbians, 19% are bi+ women, and 3% are straight trans women; 36% are gay men, 12% are bi+ men, and 4% are trans men.

*Cable programming saw the largest decrease in LGBTQ characters year-over-year, down from 215 to 118. GLAAD cites this as “further proof of a point that a handful of series, while outstanding, have an outsized impact.”

*Among cable networks, FX leads with 20 LGBTQ regular and recurring characters — half of which are set to appear on the next season of Pose. Freeform follows with 19, while Showtime has 18.

*GLAAD previously called on all platforms to ensure that within two years, half of LGBTQ characters are people of color. Broadcast-TV had already achieved that goal, and this year cable shows joined the fold (with 52%). Streaming is now the only platform where the majority of LGBTQ characters are white.

*Looking at racial diversity among all TV characters, of the 773 series regulars counted on broadcast television, 46 percent are people of color — a one percentage-point decrease from the previous year’s high of 47 percent. NBC leads the broadcast networks with 52%, followed by The CW (49%), ABC (47%), CBS (43%) and Fox (35%, down for a second straight year).

*When it comes to series regular characters living with a disability (including those with non-apparent disabilities), there was a slight increase to 3.5 percent inclusion — though GLAAD says that number continues to “severely underrepresent” the actual U.S. population living with disabilities. Among broadcast networks, NBC leads with 18 such characters (on series such as Chicago P.D., This Is Us and Superstore), followed by ABC and CBS (three each), The CW (two) and Fox (just 9-1-1‘s Gavin).

*Across all platforms tracked, only three total characters are people living with HIV, down by six from the year prior — and all three appear on FX’s Pose.

*Notting the strides made in youth-oriented programming such as Nick’s The Loud House, Disney XD’s DuckTales, Disney Channel’s The Owl House and Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, GLAAD this year announced a second GLAAD Media Awards category to honor outstanding LGBTQ programming for young audiences.

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