GLAAD Report: LGBTQ Representation Hits High, But Broadcast TV 'Failed Queer Women, Sends Toxic Message'

GLAAD’s “Where We Are on TV” report this year forecasts an all-time high in the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) characters on TV, though the broadcast networks’ treatment of queer females has been “especially disappointing” and “sends a dangerous message.”

Broadcast TV’s representation of LGBTQ characters this year stands at 4.8 percent (or 43 out of 895 series regular roles), up 0.8 from 2015 to mark the measure’s highest percentage ever. (Broadcast TV also will have 28 recurring LGBTQ characters.) ABC ranks highest with 7.3 percent, followed by Fox (6.4), The CW (4.3), NBC (3.9) and CBS (2.2).

Cable TV went from 84 to 92 series regular LGBTQ characters, plus an additional 50 recurring; Freeform, with 27, and Showtime, 18, are the most inclusive. Streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix and Amazon add 45 regulars plus 20 recurring, ticking up year-over-year on both counts.

On broadcast TV,The 100 Lexa lesbians make up 17 percent of the LGBTQ community — plunging sharply from last year’s 33 percent. Since 2016 opened, “Television — and broadcast series more specifically — failed queer women… as character after character was killed,” the report notes. Most of the year’s 25 such deaths “served no other purpose than to further the narrative of a more central (and often straight, cisgender) character,” writes GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis. “[That] sends a toxic message.”

Bisexual representation among LGBTQ characters rose to 30 percent (broadcast) and 25 percent (cable). Broadcast TV improved its transgender characters tally from zero to three, while cable went from three to six and the streaming services totaled seven (up from four).

On a qualitative note, GLAAD observes that the depiction of bisexuals as “untrustworthy, lacking in a sense or morality and/or as duplicitous manipulators” remains a “harmful trope,” positioning such characters as “cannon fodder to propel a larger story.”

GLAAD’s report points out that while LGBTQ representation is up slightly, it remains pretty white. Though broadcast improved in that respect (going from 69 to 64 percent white characters), cable and streaming held steady at 72 and 71 percent, respectively.

The “Wherepitch-series-premiere We Are on TV” report also takes stock of the representation of all blacks and other people of color, which this year rose to 36 percent on broadcast (led by Fox, followed by NBC and ABC). Racial diversity among LGBTQ characters rose sharply on broadcast TV, from 31 to 42 percent, while cable dipped (to 25 percent) and streaming ticked up (29 percent).

Broadcast TV’s representation of women inched up to 44 percent of series regulars — though the country’s population is 51 percent female. The largest discrepancy occurs among characters of color, where only 38 percent are female.

Lastly, TV’s representation of characters living with a disability — including non-apparent disabilities such as HIV (e.g. HTAWGM‘s Oliver), cancer (This Is Us‘ William) and neuromuscular disease (Empire’s Lucious) — rose from 0.9 to 1.7 percent.

The “Where We Are on TV” report‘s forecasts for the 2016-17 TV season are based on scripted series which air or are expected to air in primetime between June 1, 2016 and May 31, 2017.

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55 Comments
  1. Asha says:

    Can we stop saying Lexa’s death served no purpose? The actress got a new better job so she had to be written out. Would it really have made sense to write that she went to some place off screen forever? I don’t get why the 100 got so much hate over this! it sucks that Lexa died the way she did but either way she was leaving the show.

    • Unknown says:

      Written out doesn’t mean you have to kill off the character. It doesn’t mean you have to use the most harmful trope to lesbians out there.

      (Also: The 100 is currently filming episode 11, while FTWD hasn’t even started yet. So she could have easily been in many episodes. That was just a lame excuse the show came up with.)

      • Dyskord says:

        To summarize:. Waaah waaah waaah sob sob
        Nuh uh
        Don’t use your logic against my feelz

        I paraphrase of course.

      • Kaalyn Johnson says:

        “Written out doesn’t mean you have to kill a character”.

        The 100 is a genre show that’s essentially about survival. Virtually every other time a character has been written out, they’ve been killed – because there’s not really much else to do with them. This is the show that killed off it’s cisgender, heterosexual, male lead – and NOT because the actor got a bigger role on a bigger show, as was the case here.

        The entire reaction to this saga boils down to shippers reaching their hardest to find some kind of moral highground, so they can pretend their outrage comes from some kind of injustice to the LGBTQ viewership and NOT their own over-investment in a fictional couple. That’s why when they got called the holes in their logic, they shifted to “well it’s not THAT she died, it’s how she died”.

        Not every LGBTQ death on TV that happens falls into “Bury Your Gays”. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be asking for equality – we’d be asking for preferential treatment. The criticism from GLAAD here (that many gay characters are dying to support the narrative of the straight characters) misses the forest through the trees:

        It’s not that they’re killing them off, it’s that they’re not casting them as leads. Supporting characters die on genre shows all the time. Those are straight characters, gay characters, black characters, old characters – on and on. These showrunners aren’t sitting there thinking “well, time to off the lesbian!”, they’re thinking that these characters are ALL disposible by nature and their deaths serve the plot, which is written around the starring cast.

        So the real thing you should be asking TV producers isn’t “stop burying the gays”, it’s “start casting the gays as the protagonists” – because the few places we do have minorities in lead roles, they are as safe as houses.

        • Maria M says:

          I agree. In a show like 100, being written off pretty much means death. There is just no “job in another town” or “taking a trip.” And for a character like Lexa, she would never have abandoned her people willingly and there really was no other way to deal with her character. The only thing they did wrong was that the death in itself was too stupid and she deserved to go in a better way. Like you said, secondary characters die all the time for the sake of improving the main character’s arc.

        • Claire says:

          A-frackin-men!

        • Ben says:

          Completely agree on this one. The 100 was the wrong target. When it comes to ‘picking your battles’, picking this one was unhelpful.

        • Katie says:

          I couldn’t agree with you more and I think you worded it perfectly. This entire “bury your gays” trope and every crazed fan or misinformed “journalist” out there ranting about it are so off. I mean I’m not that naive to believe there aren’t some homophobic writers or producers out there that just want to off the gays but the major majority of the time that is totally not true. They are killing characters believe they are expendable or because it will serve the story in some way or because of internal issues with actors. I get that people are disappointed in the way in which Lexa was killed, a stray bullet but real talk, would you all have been praising her death if she went out in a blaze of heroic glory? I don’t really think it would stop people from throwing the same accusations out there. I get anger and sadness over character deaths, trust me but this whole thing needs to stop. People are being harassed in a real way by ignorant people who do themselves a disservice by not learning how the industry or story teling works on television.

        • MangoMagic says:

          PREACH! Thank you for this! I’m sitting here clapping for you right now and I don’t even know you.

      • Ari says:

        How would you have wanted them to write her out? Seriously! What other reason would have been a satisfying end to her character arc that also got her off screen? She doesn’t have to sacrifice her entire life to work. Maybe she knew that filming both shows was too much for her so she opted out of renewing her contract on the 100. It’s not a lame excuse to know your limits and to know your work/life balance is more important than filming more episodes of The 100.

        • S says:

          It could have been done, and easily. Lexa’s role and screentime, especially in season 3, were tied tightly to Clarke. Lexa was around because she brought Clarke to Polis and Clarke stayed. But in the episode Lexa died, Clarke was leaving. They’d set it up that she couldn’t stay in Polis, and thus the expectation that Lexa would be in episodes would’ve ended. There was no reason for the story to be in Polis without an Ark character there, and the ALIE storyline could’ve played out without a return to Polis. They had the perfect set up to separate Clarke and Lexa. In future seasons, they could’ve either not mentioned Lexa, or referred to some brewing tension/war in some far flung place that she was off handling. Easy.

      • The alternative was to have Lexa and Clarke split up forever because Alycia was not coming back to the show (other commitments). That would have been worse for me because it wold imply that they didn’t truly love each. I like to believe they would have moved heaven and earth to have stayed together. The real problem for me is the way she died and the timing of it. That was awful.

        • Bryan says:

          That Debnam-Carey cannot come back always sounds more like a convenient excause from tptb to me. I mean, FTWD main cast has full 6 months a year off where they’re free to do other projects. Yeah some of the filming they do does overlap with The 100. But not much. I mean, The 100 producers say they’re on episode 9 of their season now and that means Debnam-Carey could’ve easily been in those first 9 and she still has at least 1 month off before FTWD starts production again. That means they’d have to work around her FTWD schedule for 3 of their 13 episodes this season. It sucks that it’s the last 3 and it’s their choice to say they don’t wanna do that scheduling work, but it’s kinda super obviously wrong that it was like their hand was forced and they had no other choice at all.

          • Paulina says:

            Just because they are not filming FTWD, doesn’t mean they can do whatever projects they want, AMC has control over what other projects they are doing besides their show. The actors also have other commitments. Filming isn’t the only thing you do when you are contractually tied to a tv show,

    • Eva says:

      They’re getting criticism, because they built a whole marketing campaign around the relationship between Clarke and Lexa, they promoted the show as better, more inclusive than other shows. They tricked the LGBT community into trusting them to know how to treat their characters. They actively sought praise for making Clarke bi. So, yeah, their misstep was much more jarring than the same thing done by many shows without such close relationship with the community.

      • Jami says:

        I am gay and I did not feel tricked. I was sad when Lexa died, but knew it was coming sometime. No happy people in The 100. The show is all about living and dying. I would have been more pissed if they went there separate ways.

      • Nearly everyone thought Lexa was going to die before the season began. They released two promo videos and in both videos it looked like Lexa was going to die. Every single episode the internet was full of people sending messages begging Jason not to let her die.

        No one was tricked into believing Lexa would not die. The vast majority of people thought she would die. Jason even told us that Alycia was only in 7 episodes. Most people took that to mean she would probably die. Especially as Jason kept repeating that “no one is safe”.

        • Eva says:

          The fact that people expected her to die doesnt mean that the way she died was ok, does it?

        • Paulina says:

          I expected her to die since season 2 because they constantly mentioned the commander being chosen by a spirit, etc. But I thought she would die in battle, not by a stray bullet seconds after she had sex.

    • nhogan47 says:

      I think it was to further Clarke’s character, but she’s not straight for one, and two, who cares? Characters die all the time. The 100 is probably the one show where all characters are treated equally. Lexa was killed because she was Clarke’s love interest, and NOT because she was LGBT. I’m so tired of hearing about it.

    • Simon Jester says:

      It seems to me that most of the criticism is not over the character’s death per se, but the fact that the creators of the show went out of their way (posting on message boards, etc.) to solicit a gay fanbase and made promises about how the character would be treated, only to throw her under the bus as soon as they got the viewership totals they wanted. And that’s a d!ck move.

  2. tony says:

    i was not happy that lexa was killed off and the manner in which it was done.
    it seems to have become a horrible trend on tv these days.

    but in hindsight her death led to a power play among the grounders which in turn unleashed the a i that almost took over everything.

    a painful but ultimately necessary plot progression.

    • nhogan47 says:

      Serious question: How was Lexa supposed to go? Accidental death is the only way that makes sense. You saw what happened when Roan tried to take her down, right? She was just unbeatable.

      • Starbuck84 says:

        Even if you insist on going with accidental death, there are about 5 million ways in which they could have written that without having to resort to a harmful trope that has been identified as such for many, many years. Killing a LGBTQ character right after they had consummated their relationship with their partner for the first time does send out a harmful message.That’s not a new insight and it’s not limited to one character or one show. The Lexa character just happened to be hugely popular among and meant to appeal to a vulnerable, young LGBTQ audience this year.

        If one intends to look at it largely from a LGBTQ perspective (which is, frankly, what GLAAD should do), there’s more to be said about the specific way in which this was handled – both in terms of what happened on screen and in the promotion surrounding this particular show. I say this with all due respect, but I find it more than strange and, in fact, a tad worrying that GLAAD is being criticized for stating the obvious here.

      • tony says:

        but that old trope of lesbian sex followed by passing bullet goes back to willow/tara in ‘buffy’
        had me rolling my eyes this time.

  3. peterwdawson says:

    So improving overall but gotta watch certain messages being sent. Makes sense.

    Trends can be unfortunate, and a lot of lesbians did seem to die this year. Sometimes writing seems to coagulate like that… I think it was two, three years ago something like 4 or 5 shows had the main Asian character turn out to be a mole of some kind and then die by the time the season was out?

  4. Michael Summerset says:

    The death of Frankenfurter in Rocky Horror doesn’t count. It was pre-written into the show decades ago.

    POI only killed one of the two gay characters, and only in the last season. And considering how psycho she was it was practically expected that she would die.

    Some of this comes from the various movies made by gay writers and movie makers. Ending a story tragically is common in artistic works.

    • Ronnie says:

      I see Root haters seem rather happy that “psycho” has died. Nolan definitely killed her off to make all her haters happy.

      • mary says:

        Well, they killed Reese too. It was the last season, we knew most of them would not survive.

        • . says:

          Reese was 1 out of the 3 straight white regular males on the show. The other two lived.
          Root(and Carter) were 2 of 3 female regulars on the show. Both of them died, only one of 3 female characters was lucky to survive. Root was also a lesbian women who die like cattle on television. Carter was a woman of color. They die very often as well.
          2 out of 3 men lived and one had his happy ending the second one has a son
          1 out of 3 women survived but she lost the person she loved shortly after reuniting with her.
          Do the math.
          Such POI. So progressive. Such wow.

          • Holly says:

            It’s sad how people reduce characters as great as Carter and Root to being just a “woman of color” or a “lesbian” instead of seeing them as the complex, well-developed characters that they were on POI. Both of their deaths had deep meaning in the show – Carter gave her life to bring down HR and Root was protecting the Machine she loved and ultimately became her voice. It’s clear to me that Nolan had a lot of respect for both characters – no less than he did for Reese, Shaw, Fusco, or Finch (or even Elias).

          • ComeOn says:

            Both Reese and Root sacrifice themselves to protect Harrod because of the machine he created. They both felt the machine needed him to win the ASI war. There was legitimate reason for their characters’ death. Taraji signed on for a limited run rather than the standard 7 season contract, the show had to work toward that. They chose a story that Carter actively involve to expose all gang infiltration of the police force, a story line that was more than a season in the making. Beside Taraji came back for an episode after Carter’s death! Gosh I miss the show.

  5. Alec says:

    GLAAD doing a great job, as always. Thank you!

  6. Jason says:

    Though, in general, I agree that lesbian deaths are to common a trope, I believe that Root’s death was different. It was as much about the completion of her ark and becoming one with the machine as it was about other people’s reactions. And on the 100, while I hated the loss of Lexa, we shouldn’t forget that Clarke is the rare bisexual lead character of a tv series. And one who isn’t burdened by the usual representation of bisexual characters mentioned in this article. Bi characters are always stuck in the middle of the preconceived notions of both gay and straight people. Neither side of the equation can seem to wrap their heads around how to represent them so they more often end up as stock archetypes. The ambiguity frightens people so they ascribe darker undertones to something that couldn’t be farther from.

    • Caroline Turing says:

      Root was killed the episode immediately following her reunion with Shaw after being separated for almost A YEAR. Her death’s purpose was to light a fire under Finch’s ass & do the thing necessary to defeat Samaritan.

      It absolutely is the Bury Your Gays trope.

      Her death would’ve made sense up til mid s3 – but then they continued her journey & character growth – til s5 where she was a completely different person & no longer fully dependent on The Machine. The Machine also got an abundant amount of growth where She started to become Her own character, with Her own voice. Giving her Root’s kind of diminished all that.

  7. bruce says:

    i’ll never forgive person of interest and nolan for killing Root off. She has changed she deserved to live

  8. tribulationschimeriques says:

    Can’t believe that it still hurts to see Root’s pic … *sigh* …. there should be more LGBTQ characters on tv so that their deaths don’t get that much focus (if I make sense :p)

  9. Halo says:

    It was a terrible season for minorities in drama tv. There were times when you could not turn on the tv in the evening to watch a show without a person of color or a gay/bi/lesbian role getting a violent death. The excuses by some showrunners were pathetic too. Being a genre show is not an excuse if minorities always die first and in much larger numbers. Acting like you didn’t know is not an excuse in this day and age. TV must do better.

  10. RIP says:

    I will never get over Root being killed off to further Finch’s storyline and character “growth”… F U Person of interest.
    And all the other pointless and painful lesbian and bisexual characters deaths. RIP.

  11. Chris says:

    So when can we get around to finally ceasing to clump together all of the LGBTQQIAP persons together as a group and start to see the uniqueness and value of each segment’s lifestyle?

    • Bmj says:

      Is lgbtqqiap really a thing now? What do the letters after t stand for and how do they really differ from LGBT? Acronyms are usually no longer than 5 or 6 letters, so that people can pronounce them and know what the letters stand for.

  12. Primus says:

    It’s interesting that Nolan stole his idea to Illyria Root from Joss Whedon.
    But Winifred Burkle’s death was more significant and had more impact on people and everything else than Root’s. Fred’s death gave us a completely new character, some conflicts and few very good episodes. Root died, The Machine took her voice and started babbling with seemingly happy Finch. Finch stayed with Grace. Happy ending for Finch! Shaw smiles at the camera! Yay everyone is happy the voice is 100% replacement for a person!
    At least Whedon has “happy endings for no one” rule. Nolan stinks.
    I still hope that it all was a simulation. The whole season 5 really looked like a simulation where everyone acted like pre-programmed robots. Hell, the entire show seemed that way. The only life-like character on the show was Root. I’m glad Person of Interest got cancelled they deserved it for the very idea of Root dying.

  13. Jim says:

    Whatever. These metrics substantively amount to nothing, they tell nothing about the quality of the representation. Counting numbers is the least useful way to quantify these things. Great for headlines though, I guess.

  14. Lolo says:

    Why are straight people so butthurt that LGBTQ fans where hurt about the 100. I mean, the article didn’t even outright mention the show (besides a picture which was being used as an accurate example for the article), but the first comments are jumping right to that. Maybe you where tired of hearing about it for so long or something, and that sucks for you or whatever. But maybe read the article? Gather the points it’s trying to make. “lesbians make up 17 percent of the LGBTQ community — plunging sharply from last year’s 33 percent.” (and that a small percent of an even smaller percent)

    Sometimes fan activism can be annoying and overshadow the things you like. I get it. But some times it’s important to take a step back and stand in someone else shoes for 10 seconds. And see why it matters to them. TV is a microcosm of society and how what happens on screen majorly affects people. The medium it the message and media is an extension of our bodies and the rest of that McLuhan stuff. Media really does matter. And to all the butthurts too because why else are you here? This stuff ACTUALLY MATTERS. ok bye.

  15. Amy says:

    Be interested to see if ANY of the Chicago shows ever join the teeny percentage of representation. At the moment they have over 30 recurring characters across the shows and not one queer person.

    • Not since they killed off their lesbian. Though I would credit the Chicago shows for not being ageist by having so many characters over 50 and so few under 30.

      • Amy says:

        Yeah, and that was rubbish enough, especially as they even admitted afterwards they just needed to kill “someone” which it hurt a lot that they chose a woman and a queer one, we lose enough of those by choice of the writers. they’ve not even tried with another gay character on any level with any of the 3 shows since, though, it’s a bit frustrating. and yeah I mean, the older generation works to an extent (oliver platt especially), but the amount of older men on Chicago Fire (that add little to the plot lines, and are yet still allowed to stick around) is kind of weighing CF down for sure, in my opinion.

        • DJ Doena says:

          As far as I remember it was Lauren’s wish to leave as Chicago was not her kind of town (way too cold).

          • mooshki says:

            That narrative only came out well after the fact. Every initial story said they decided to kill her off because they didn’t have anywhere for her character to go. Hacks.

          • DJ Doena says:

            @mooshki These initial stories sound bad indeed. Because at the end of S1 when Lauren left what kind of stories did they have for Mouch and other secondary characters? And they didn’t get rid of them.

            But I love her on Lucifer, so all is well for me.

  16. Douglas from Brazil says:

    Those glaad reports are so annoying ugh!

  17. Wesley says:

    “Served no other purpose than to further the narrative of a more central (and often straight, cisgender) character.” POI was the prime example of this to me. Roots death, in that moment, was for no other reason than make Finch darker and edgier and further his narrative.
    Root was such a flight-of-fancy and over-the-top character, and her death was so trivial and slight, and off-screen, completely the opposite of everything she was and what she represented on the show. It was a total lack of tribute to her.
    Even the reveal of the Machine taking her voice was given to Finch. And she didn’t merge with the Machine. The Machine just opened the “Root” file in her system and used her voice. The next episode makes that clear when She closes the “Root” file and opens the “Harold’s old professor” file to make Finch feel better, and still uses NATO phonetic alphabet to give out numbers to Reese. So what’s the point? All of that Transcendence talk by the Showrunners was nonsense and a total PR move, in my opinion.
    If they want to say that that was Root’s arc from the jump, then at least pay tribute to her while she was dying in the hospital and have the Machine reveal to her that she was taking her voice. Because there was no merging, the only way for that development to be significant to Root would have been for the Machine to reveal that to her.
    Don’t just snuff her out for shock value. And don’t do it in a way (Elias was shot, in a car, from a sniper’s bullet, at the end of season 4, and lived) that isn’t unique or creative, and rendered almost exact to that of another character who was able to subvert death by the same means a season before.
    Also, to kill her off right after she’s reunited with Shaw, after 20 episodes of being apart. A relationship where so much of the development was done (in simulations) using death beats or threat of death beats–to then pay all of that off with one of them actually dying just after reuniting, and just before their new dynamic could be explored in any real way, was a major insult.
    To me, it’s not about saying that a character can’t be killed off. It’s about not treating a character as mere cannon fodder and killing them off in a trivial manner.

    • The Wind Of Change says:

      Totally agree, just wanted to comment on Root’s death specifically.

      The thing about Root’s arc is that back to the start she was all about transcendental humanism and machines being better than people. But since then Root has learnt not only to value human life in the abstract, but also to love and respect people in her own life. So that right there is great character development.

      But it seems like the writers were aiming for a transcendental thing with her demise, like that’s what Root’s ultimate goal ALWAYS WAS. And that seems like its ignoring the fact that Root changed because of her human relationships. Like they basically decided to eliminate 30 episodes of character’s progression…
      Root gave a very poignant speech about “living” vs. “surviving” in S5. She wanted to live! She wanted to be happy in THIS world! And now all of a sudden, just because the writers didn’t properly pace and plan the season, Root is like “oh, well, whatever, we’re just funny shapes and who cares, we’ll live forever!” GREAT JOB.

      I would say that Finch and Reese’s deaths have been inevitable from a storytelling perspective, but Root could have gone either way.

      You’re saying, Root’s death was for no other reason than make Finch darker and edgier and further his narrative.
      But it feels like Finch went darkside (during his interview, that speech “I’m going to kill you”) BEFORE he actually knew that Root was dead.
      Killing Root off-screen was not just poorly handled, but POINTLESS. Really, her death does not make any difference whatsoever.

  18. dean says:

    As a bisexual lacking in a sense of morality I would like to know why GLAAD doesn’t think that I deserve representation.