Just four creators are tied to nearly a fifth of all LGBTQ representation on TV

Nick Romano
·4 min read

Daniele Venturelli/WireImage; Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images; David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images; Noam Galai/Getty Images

Four creators are doing the most for LGBTQ representation on television. Those would be Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Greg Berlanti, and Lena Waithe. According to GLAAD's annual report on LGBTQ representation on TV series, this small group of showrunners is tied to nearly one-fifth of all LGBTQ characters we've seen on screen in the past year.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis highlighted them as part of her opening letter to accompany the report, which was released on Thursday.

"In last year's study, we noted that LGBTQ inclusion is enormously impacted by a small handful of creators and producers who have prioritized LGBTQ representation in their projects," Ellis writes. "Characters on series from out power players Greg Berlanti, Lena Waithe, Ryan Murphy and ally Shonda Rhimes last year accounted for 14 percent of all LGBTQ characters. This year, that percentage increased with these creator's series representing 17 percent of all LGBTQ representation (62 of 360 characters) on TV appearing on their 16 series included in this year's study. That means nearly one in every five LGBTQ characters appears on a series that is tied to one of just four creatives."

Rhimes is the only one among the four listed creatives who doesn't identify as LGBTQ, yet her shows in the past year that featured visibility for the community include Grey's Anatomy, How to Get Away With Murder, Station 19, and now Bridgerton.

Berlanti's Arrowverse continues to bring in LGBTQ characters across all its adjoining shows, including the newly minted Batwoman, Javicia Leslie. He also served as an executive producer on The Flight Attendant, LGBTQ docuseries Equal, Katy Keene, and Riverdale, to name a few.

Hollywood, 9-1-1, The Politician, and Ratched were on Murphy's producing schedule for TV this year, all featuring prominent LGBTQ characters. That's not counting his film work, which included The Boys in the Band and The Prom. Waithe, too, had a busy year of TV work from Twenties to The Chi to Boomerang to Girls Room.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed premiere dates and production schedules for TV in 2020, GLAAD found the numbers of overall LGBTQ characters on the small screen remain steady.

In the 2020-2021 season, 70 out of 773 series regular characters scheduled to appear on broadcast scripted primetime TV identify as LGBTQ. That roughly equals 9.1 percent, which is a slight decrease from last year's 10.2 percent, and was expected due to COVID-19 delays. A total of 101 LGBTQ characters will appear on broadcast TV this season, counting the 31 recurring characters.

Another slight decrease came for scripted cable series year over year: 81 series regulars and 37 recurring characters are LGBTQ, compared to 121 regulars and 97 recurring from last year. There are also 95 series regulars across streaming platforms Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix; with 46 recurring characters for a total of 141 LGBTQ characters. Last year saw 109 regular and 44 recurring.

A larger decrease came in the number of LGBTQ individuals living with HIV or AIDS. There were nine last year and just three this season, according to GLAAD. All three characters are on FX's Pose, another Murphy joint.

A big milestone this year is the number of LGBTQ people of color depicted on TV. "GLAAD called on all platforms tracked to ensure that within two years, half of LGBTQ characters on every platform are people of color. At that time, only broadcast had achieved that goal," Ellis states. "In a single year, cable met and surpassed that challenge. In fact, for the first time in [the GLAAD report's] history, LGBTQ people of color outnumber white LGBTQ people in primetime scripted cable programming (52 percent). Broadcast continued to exceed this benchmark for the third year in a row — streaming programming is the only platform this year where white LGBTQ characters represent a majority."

GLAAD's full report for the 2020-2021 season can be found here.

Correction: An earlier draft of this article incorrectly stated there were 21 recurring LGBTQ characters on broadcast TV this season and 215 recurring LGBTQ characters on cable series last year. There were 31 this season and 97 recurring characters last year.

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