Media portrayal of LGBT people

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Media portrayal of LGBT people ranges from positive to very negative. The LGBT community is constantly battling with the negative image and trying to overcome stereotypes in television, films and other media. However, coverage has become more positive in recent years, possibly in an attempt by marketers to appeal to LGBT people. Representation of transgender characters has increased in the last ten years, now including reoccurring transgender characters in popular shows such as Grey's Anatomy, Degrassi, Ugly Betty, Orange Is the New Black and Glee.


Because lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people look just like anyone else, the media often adds images to make the gay community as visible as a difference in skin color. In many forms of popular entertainment, gay men are portrayed as overly promiscuous, flashy and incredibly bold.

Gay and lesbian families are commonly misunderstood because society equates sexual orientation with the ability to reproduce. Gay and lesbian, even in the movies, are usually not the main characters. They most of the time fall into the stereotyped supporting characters or portrayed as a victim or villain.[1]

There is currently a widespread view that reference to gay people should be omitted from child-related entertainment. When such references do occur they almost invariably generate controversy. In 1997, when American comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet on her popular sitcom, many sponsors, such as the Wendy's fast food chain, pulled their advertising.

Media has hurt the LGBT community but also helped them. Milestones to the gay community such as the book Vice Versa and Ellen DeGeneres coming out has helped other LGBT come out and feel better about being themselves.[2]

Despite the stereotypical depictions of gay people, the media has at times promoted acceptance of them with television shows such as Will and Grace and Queer Eye. This increased publicity reflects the coming-out movement of the LGBT community. As more celebrities come out, more gay-friendly shows develop, such as the 2004 show The L Word. With the popularity of gay television shows, music artists and gay fashion, Western culture has had to open its eyes to the gay community.

This new acceptance from the media can partially be explained by the contact hypothesis, aka inter group contact theory. With more shows promoting the acceptance of gays, people are able to view a more correct depiction of the LGBT community.[3]

In the United States, gay people are frequently used as a symbol of social decadence by celebrity evangelists and by organizations such as Focus on the Family.

In Québec, RG Magazine was a major defender of LGBT causes for some 30 years.[citation needed]

LGBT in media are highly misrepresented. It usually categorizes all of the LGBT people into just lesbian and gay. Then, people have created stereotypes for lesbian and gay characters. This action contradicts the whole purpose of the fictional characters of LGBT people. It may allow some people to understand that LGBT people are more common than they realize; however, it still reinforces stereotypes and negative stigmas.

News coverage of LGBT events[edit]

Much of the negative media that surrounds the gay community has to do with pride parades that turn into drag shows or riots. There is very little positive media coverage, however there is some. Some examples of positive coverage is marches for same-sex marriage and shows like ellen and ru'pauls drag race. Both shows express successful LGBT.[citation needed] Opposition argues that such degrees of sexuality and nudity in public is not appropriate. Although, lately there has been more shows to show lesbian and gay sexuality. Generally, News stories have typically identified the opposition to these demonstrations as led by Christian conservatives or strong believers of the Islamic religion and not political figures.[4] Many of these views against LGBT's is symbolic racism. People's arguments against their nudity in public because it violates their traditional values.

Media is designed to be a reflection of society and different communities. Mainstream media channels like CBS are the most watched and a highly underrepresented media outlet for the LGBT people.[5] Media is a business that requires an audience and ratings. To achieve this, people whom they feel will be watching are targeted. People of color are becoming leaders but major media outlets, such as newspapers, magazines, and TV, are refusing to acknowledge their existence. Historically, news coverage has only covered homonormative LGBT people. Homonormative is the replication of a normative heterosexual lifestyle excluding sexuality.[6] Such as Queer Nation staged kiss in coverage. Queer Nation is an group that fights for rights of LGBT people. They staged a kiss in where they had different people of LGBT kiss in the mall in front of cameras. However, news media channels chose to only cover people of LGBT that were white and middle class.[7]

Marketing to the LGBT community[edit]

The gay community has been targeted by marketers who view LGBT people as an untapped source of discretionary spending, as many couples have two income streams and no children. As a result, companies are advertising more and more to the gay community, and LGBT activists use advertisement slogans to promote gay community views. Subaru marketed its "Forester" and "Outback" models with the slogan "It's not a choice. It's the way we're built" which was later used in eight United States cities on streets or in gay rights events. Yet for years this statement has been used by the LGBT Community before the company decided to steal the slogan.[8]

Media representations of non-binary gendered individuals[edit]

Recognition of non-binary gender in media is very rare, despite many social media sites allow users to self-identify as non-binary. For example, the new gender options rolled out by Facebook during early 2014 include many different options for non-binary gendered individuals.[9] However, allowing for self-identification does not necessarily equate to representation., as there are very few representations of individuals with non-binary gender in the media today. In fact, a large deal of non-binary gender media representation happens in communities made by and for people with non-binary gender, and contain largely self-made content, often about the content maker.[10]

The only instance of a non-binary identified person that has become significant in the mainstream media is the video Break Free, created by Ruby Rose. As of November 20, 2014, the video had garnered 1,833,889 views. Additionally, there was a Buzzfeed article written about the video, which received widespread media attention.[11][12] The original Facebook post on Ruby Rose's official Facebook page has received over 135,000 likes, and 182,000 shares as of November 2014.

There have also been made to create non-binary gendered children's books, made, as well, albeit very few. The most notable of these is the Polkadot Series, created by author, social worker, teacher, and activist Talcott Broadhead. The Polkadot Series features a non-binary gendered child as the main character and focus of the stories.[13]

A possible reason for there being very little representation of non-binary gendered individuals in the media is a lack of repetition. According to Judith Butler's conceptualization of gender as performative, and her theory of gender performativity, we can understand that repeated instances of a concept, in this case, non-binary gender in the media, attribute legibility and coherence to that concept. Since there is a lack of repetition or multiple productions of representation of non-binary gender in the media, that absence will continue until such a time when there are more repeated representations of non-binary gender in the media.[14] However, there are additional representations of non-binary gendered individuals coming to various media outlets. One promising example of non-binary individuals being included in media is the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (or MMORPG) called Pumpkin Online. Pumpkin Online is advertised as a "farming/dating sim MMORPG." While still in Alpha Development as of November 2014, the Kickstarter page made to fund this game promises non-binary gender options for players' characters, and pledges to not restrict features or clothing by a character's gender.[15] However, the project has gained very little media attention, and, while it appears to be the only one of its kind, in terms of gender inclusivity, is still not significantly notable, and may not be until the game is finally released. While still very few representations of non-binary gendered individuals exist in media, we can be very hopeful for the future, as both transgender and non-binary gendered individuals gain visibility and advance politically, further representation in media sources may quickly follow.

Unfortunately, as there has been little attention paid to representing non-binary gendered individuals in the media, there has also been little attention focused on recognizing or addressing that absence. There have been no scholarly articles written to date specifically addressing non-binary gender, and media coverage of non-binary gender has been extremely limited.[16]

History of queer music[edit]

Queer music, or music that is either produced or sung by a LGBTQQAA individual or music that is sung about the LGTBQQAA experience, debuted in the 1920s Blues era. In the beginning of Queer music many songs discussed coming out, acceptance, Pride and Stonewall. In the 70 s it made a switch to talking about people like Anita Bryant, Harvey Milk and Dan White. In the 80s and 90s with the rise of the AIDS epidemic many of the songs addressed the emotional (often anger, and grief), political and social aspects of the AIDs crisis.


In the late In 1935 Bessie Jackson (Lucille Bogan) released her song “B.D. Woman Blues” the B.D. standing for Bull Daggers.[17] Frankie “half-Pint” Jackson, another Blues artist of this time, was known for singing as a female impersonator and in 1929 released a song titled “My Daddy Rocks Me With One Steady Roll”.[17] This period was also times for “cross-vocals” which are songs intended to be sung by a woman but are sung by men instead, without changing pronouns.[17] This came about in the 20s and 30s when music producers would not allow singers to change a song's wording.[17] This led to men singing about men and subsequently women singing about women without public scrutiny, because they were aware of the restrictions placed on the singers by the music producers.[17] (An example of “cross-vocals” would be Bing Crosby and his recording of “Ain’t No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears.”)[17] Also in the late 1920s and 1930s was The Pansy Craze.[17] This was when openly gay performers suddenly became popular in major city nightclubs.[17] Two of the most popular performers to emerge from this craze were Jean Malin, who sang “I’d Rather Be Spanish Than Manish” and Bruz Fletcher in 1937 with “She’s My Most Intimate Friend.”[17]


Fast forward a little bit and we come to the late 1950s.[17] Between the 30s and the 60s Ray Bourbon was one of the most well-known female impersonators, in 1956 Ray changed his name to Rae Bourbon and released and album titled “Let Me Tell You About My Operation,” in response to Christine Jorgensen’s famous sex change which had been dominating the news.[17] In the early 1960s Camp Records released two albums which featured artist like Sandy Beech, Max Minty & the Gay Blades, and a song by Byrd E Bath called "Homer the Happy Little Homo".[17] In response to this album Teddy & Darrel released an LP called “These Are the Hits, You Silly Savages” with the hope that they could use the sale records to track down homosexuals, however they were unable to do so because the sales were so spread out and diverse.[17] In 1963 Jackie Shane released his song “Any Other Way” with the lyrics “tell her that I'm happy, tell her that I'm gay, tell her that I wouldn't have it, any other way” which reached #2 on the Canadian charts and in 1968 Minette was the first female impersonator to release an entire album which dealt which dealt with subjects such as the hippie movement, psychedelic drugs and Vietnam.[17]


The 1970s was the birth of glam rock and the pop punk gay scene, which included artist like David Bowie.[17] In 1971 Maxine Feldman wrote a song called “Stonewall Nation” after she participated in her first gay march in Albany, New York and in 1972 she was the first openly lesbian to be elected as the delegate to a major national political convention.[17] The 1970s also brought a lot of first for the Queer music scene.[17] In 1973 “Lavender Country” was the first openly gay country album (20 years later “Out in the Country," by Doug Stevens & the Outband was the second).[17] Also on 1973, the first openly gay rock albums was produced by Chris Robison and his Many Hand Band, which included the song “Lookin’ For A Boy Tonight,” and Alix Dobkin formed her own record label called Women’s Wax Words.[17] She then went on to produce the album “Lavender Jane Loves Women” which was the first album to be produced, financed, performed and engineered entirely by lesbians.[17] Then in 1974 Steven Grossman became the first artist to have a lyrically gay album, titled “Caravan Tonight” released by the major record label called Mercury.[17] This album featured the son “Out” and was the first album with openly gay lyrics to be produced by a major record label.[17] Finally in 1977 Olivia Records released the first various artist album that featured solely lesbian performers.[17] This album was called “Lesbian Concentrate” and was produced in reaction to Anita Bryan bigotry and her anit-LGBT rights crusade.[17]

In 1981 Rough Trade, a band led by Carole Pope, reached the Top 20 in Canada with their song “High School Confidential,” this is one of the first openly lesbian songs to reach the charts.[17] Also in 1981, Canadian artist David Sereda released his song “Underage Blues” which discusses what it is like to be a gay teenager.[17] In 1985 a rare performance by Christine Jorgensen, an entertainer who was known for having a sex change in the 1950s, was recorded.[17] In 1983 “La Cage Auz Folles” became the first musical with an openly gay central plot to be a big hit and featured the song “I Am What I Am”.[17] In 1984 one of the earliest songs addressing AIDS was released by Automatic Pilot, a San Francisco-based group.[17] The song was called “Safe Living in Dangerous Time”.[17] Although the song was recorded in 1984, the album was never released until 2005 because multiple group members died due to the AIDS epidemic.[17] Also from LA came the rapping group Age of Consent, which was one of the first groups to ever have lyrically gay raps.[17] One of their songs called “History Rap” tells the story of the Stonewall Riot.[17]


In more present times we are left with Queer singers, songwriters and musicians that belong to many genres.[18] One example of a well-known queer artist is Meshell Ndegeocello, who entered the hip-hop scene in the 1990s[18] During this time Bill Clinton was elected president, and the gay and lesbian movement was still in full force from collective organization against AIDS in the 80s.[18] Her song “Leviticus: Faggot” talks about the sexist and misogynist violence experienced by young Black gay men due to their identities.[18] Some other more recent artists include Against Me! And their song “Transgender Dysphoria,” ONSIND, Fridge Scum and Spoonboy.

Asexuality in television[edit]

Asexuality receives sparse attention in the media. It is often viewed as a “lack” of something, which is difficult to actively portray on screen.[19] Additionally, asexuality has yet to be fully recognized as a legitimate sexual orientation.[20] Therefore, when it does get representation in the media, asexual characters are often not the main characters or the focus of story lines, and/or tend to be framed around a mindset of needing to be fixed or changed. An example of this type of portrayal occurs in an episode of the popular TV show “House M.D.” In the 2011-2012 season episode titled “Better Half,” a couple (whose story is additionally not the focal one) start out as declaring themselves to be proudly and happily asexual. However, House’s immediate reaction to their statement is “there must be some medical cause.” He then sets out to prove that there is no way they can be asexual by choice. House does indeed discover a brain tumor in the husband that it turns out has been suppressing his sexuality. When this is revealed, his wife then sheepishly admits that she became asexual purely to be with her husband, and that before they met she had enjoyed sexual encounters.[21]

There is one show currently on television called "Sirens (US Version)," that most agree portray asexuality in a positive light. One of the main female characters, nicknamed Voo Doo, is openly asexual, something that is recognized and talked about throughout the series.[19] The encounter that she has with a coworker in Season 1 Episode 6 goes remarkably well, as he affirms and accepts her and her identity for what they are, and does not try to change her or convince her otherwise.[22]

Media portrayal of LGBT people of color[edit]

Overwhelmingly, the portrayal of the LGBT community in the American media centers on white LGBTs and their experiences. LGBT persons of color are severely underrepresented in the media in comparison to their actual population within the community.[23]

Most LGBT characters who appear in mainstream media are Caucasian. Lack of LGBT people of color are often misrepresented and underrepresented in the media.[7] Media representations of LGBT characters are unproportionally white.[24] In GLAAD’s annual “We are on TV” report, it was found that out of the 813 broadcast network’s series regular characters, only 13% are black, 8% Latino/Latina, 4% Asian, and 2% multi-racial.[25] Out of the 74 LGBT-identified characters on mainstream broadcast networks, only 11% are black, 11% Latina/Latino, and 5% Asian.[25] People of color, therefore, make up 27% of characters and 34% of LGBT characters. What people see on television are white stories and experiences. "Media is indeed a powerful way to construct, modify, and spread cultural beliefs. Television drama is a form of media, which gets into our households, almost without us realizing it and informs us, the viewers, of a series of representations and values that are ingrained in Western society and, at the same time, are either reinforced or undermined within that cultural representation, in this case, television drama."[26] Television often tells stories that represent the time in which we live and transpose the zeitgeist. Therefore, television should represent all types of people and tell all different kinds of stories and experiences.

“Popular television shows including Will & Grace, Sex and the City, Brothers and Sisters, and Modern Family routinely depict gay men. Yet the common characteristic among most televisual representations of gay men is that they are usually white.”[27] Having both a queer and black or non-white character is creating multi-faceted “otherness,” which is not normally represented on television.[27] Additionally, while many shows depict LGBT people of color, they are often used as a plot device or in some type of trope. Santana Lopez, for example, from the teenage dramedy Glee, is a queer woman of color, however, she is often characterized as a Latina fetish and over-sexualized.[28] To add to the ambiguity of Santana's character and her sexuality, as a closeted lesbian her relationship with Britanny is underdeveloped. The show never goes into detail about Santana's feeling or the stages in her relationship with Britanny compared to that of Kurt and Blaine's, who are white males.[29] In conjunction, Callie Torres, who was one of the first bi-sexual Latina characters on mainstream television, was first depicted as a “slut,” and this Latina stereotype was used as much of her single plot-device.[30]

Moreover, non-white LGBT characters are often depicted as “race neutral.”[27] For example, on the ABC Family show, GRΣΣK, Calvin Owens is openly gay and many of his storylines, struggles, and plots revolve around his self-identification as LGBT. However, while being physically African-American, it is never mentioned in the show, and he is never seen as “explicitly black.”[27]

As queer politics continue to become a defining part of the decade, television continues to reflect that. Starting with hits like Modern Family, gay homonormativity is becoming a mainstay on broadcast television. There has been a cultural shift from white, gay men being depicted as non-monogamous sex-seekers, stemming from the AIDs epidemic to being “just like everyone else” in their quest to be fathers.[31] This Hollywood trend, while expanding LGBT representations on TV, is really only giving a single-story to the LGBT community and completely neglecting other LGBT stories.

A recent exception to the lack of LGBT people of color on television represented in a realistic, non-fetish or race-neutral way, is the ABC Family show, The Fosters. The Fosters depicts a blended family of one biological child, two adopted children, and two foster children being raised by a lesbian, multi-racial couple. Two of the children are Latino and have struggles and storylines relating to that. The couple, whom the show is based around, also struggles with race as source of conflict on top of their LGBT storyline.[32]

In January of 2015, GLAAD announced nominations for the 26th annual Media Awards. Many of these nominees included LGBT people of color. There have also been several series and shows that have started to represent this area of topic in a more enlightening way. "The GLAAD Media Awards recognize and honor media for their fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the issues that affect their lives". As well as the start to accurately representing LGBT people in the media, there is also support from well-known actors such as Channing Tatum, who will be presenting the award to the winner of the 26th annual Media Awards. [33]

Breakdown of LGBT representation[edit]

Over the past five years there has been an increase in the number of regular and recurring LGBT characters in mainstream American media.[34] Each population has experienced general growth in representation, some more than others. Gay characters are the most frequently depicted of the LGBT community by a wide margin, followed by lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters. [35] However, heading into the new season, this trend will change in cable television with the number of bisexual identifying characters surpassing the number of lesbian characters for the first time. Additionally, the transgender community is the only one of the four to lose representation in media, declining from 2013 to 2014 on cable networks while losing representation entirely on broadcast networks.[36] In terms of gender identity, a majority of the LGBT characters in media are male, though female characters follow within a close margin. Only one percent of characters identified as FtM (Female-to-Male transgender).[37]

Social acceptance[edit]

As stated by Jason Jacobs, queer people are demanding for our culture to be more accepting of the community.[38] In an attempt, shows such as Glee, are created where most of the characters have an identity that marginalizes them in some way. Some of the characters are gay, lesbian, disabled, and or belong to some other minority group. However, within these characters, there are homonormative aspects. The goal is for the disabled and minority characters to feel empowered about their differences and strive to be “ normal”.[39] This normative behavior is exhibited through stereotypical perceptions of LGBT people, such as when gay men shop and spend uncontrollably when they are down.

Additionally, there is increasing focus on queer baiting within mainstream television, where shows court the LGBT "pink money" with heavy use of subtext to imply a queer pairing, but never following through with the subtext and risking alienating their more conservative-minded audiences.[40]

The act of ‘coming out’ or publically making everyone aware of your sexual orientation can be complicated for some people. The struggles that some LGBT people must face while coming out is different from person to person. It is imperative to attempt to relate to these individual’s backgrounds while trying to understand them. The novel, “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Generational Factors Associated with the Coming-out Process Among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Individuals” clearly identifies the processes some people go through. [41]

São Paulo speaks about a cities effort to decrease the discrimination against gay pride by planning to create new laws protecting people from the negativity of it all. It is said that they also plan to create a gay museum dedicated to all of those who have put in efforts for equal rights for the LGBT community. This new law is said to be taking place in Brazil, with the hopes that many will follow in their lead. Paulo says, "The activists and parade organizers said a law that would ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is overdue in Brazil". [42]

Psychology of LGBT people relating to their community[edit]

There is still much to learn about the psychology of racial/ethnic minorities in the LGBT community; however, there is prior knowledge found through studies based on the micro-aggression that these people must face on a day-to-day basis. Relationships with these types of people can also face more difficulties in the community than that of a heterosexual couple. The American Psychological Association conducted these studies and they showed several instances where LGBT men scored higher than woman psychologically. Lesbians and gay men scored higher than bisexual women and men; as well as Asian Americans scored higher than African Americans and Latinos. [43]

Media portrayal and social change[edit]

Although there are many negative consequences that arise from LGBT portrayal in media, there are some positive consequences also. Seeing LGBTs in the media can bring about more acceptance of these people.[44] This is because before LGBTs appeared in media, many people had no idea what they may be like.[45] Because many LGBT people chose not to openly talk about themselves, their peers and families may either have no idea or a negative perception about what it is like to be a LGBT person. Thus, LGBT people may be misrepresented in the media.

Media portrayal of LGBT people has also been important in furthering activist movements for LGBT populations, especially where American history is concerned. LGBT people have recently gained more visibility for their positive contributions to movements for social change. For example, in the documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, LGBT people of diverse backgrounds are recognized for their integral role in securing greater access to healthcare for those living with AIDS as well as national attention for a population largely ignored by the government and other important institutions.[46]

The change in representation of racial diversity in the LGBT community is advancing towards a more equal standpoint. In the early stages of television there was hardly any media representation of people of color at all, let alone LGBT people of color. However, today the media and its audience is evolving the willingness to show more racial diversity on a global scale. This attempt at equality is to make people of all gender, race, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation feel as though they are represented fairly and evenly. Specific steps taken towards this goal are the use of different diverse characters on television. As well as the diverse characters, GLAAD is also making it a point that LGBT people of different races can have professions like doctors, teachers, etc. This takes away the single focus on their sexual preference or race etc., and displays the complexity of these characters as they would with any straight or white or middle class person. [47]

LGBT media advocacy organizations[edit]

Many LGBT organizations exist to represent and defend the gay community. For example, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in the United States and Stonewall in the UK work with the media to help portray fair and accurate images of the gay community. There are many other LGBT advocacy organizations in the United States that are all working for the same cause, equality.[48]

"Gay is the new black"[edit]

African American gay men and lesbian women have the increased risk of gay identity development issues. This also includes the issues of birth and adaptation. Loiacano says that, “ In our society it is generally assumed that a child born to heterosexual parents will grow up to be heterosexual. Gay identity development can be defined as the process through which an individual progresses from an assumed state of heterosexuality to an open, affirmed state of homosexuality”. This is not to say that only African American LGBT people go through this struggle, because it is something every single person of this community faces daily. This helps to define the idea of ‘gay is the new black’. [49]

It is no surprise that the legal stand points and justice for LGBT people are still in questioning. This is where we get the comparison, ‘gay is the new black’. Similar to the hardships and struggles African Americans went through to gain rights in their own states, is what LGBT people are going through now. This demonstrates the amount of discrimination in this community and how it holds no boundaries on who will be next. [50]

See also[edit]


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