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Still from “Sense8”
Still from “Sense8”Courtesy of Netflix

Why it’s important that TV has more LGBT people than ever

Even if there are more gays on TV than in the population – more families should have to sit through ‘awkward scenes’, more kids should see their experiences valued on screen

The LA Times recently pointed out the uptick in LGBT characters in television and film in a piece called “LGBT characters now permeate some of Hollywood’s best work. But the community is bracing for backlash”.

The writer Tre'vell Anderson goes on to list some prominent LGBT characters that have made their way into our favourite series. “Consider Rutina Wesley’s bisexual Nova on OWN’s Queen Sugar,” he writes. “Erica Ash’s lesbian M-Chuck on Starz’s LeBron James-produced Survivor’s Remorse, the transgender fashion models of Oxygen’s reality show Strut, and the boy-to-man protagonist Chiron, who grapples with his sexuality in Barry Jenkins’ Golden Globe-nominated Moonlight.”

There are now a lot of LGBT representations in both TV and film. In fact, more than ever, judging by the most recent statistics from GLAAD. “Of the 895 series regular characters expected to appear on broadcast scripted primetime programming in [2017], 43 (4.8 per cent) were identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer. This is the highest percentage of LGBTQ series regulars GLAAD has ever found.”

Yet people still feel the need to dish out their undercooked opinions about LGBT representation on TV and in film; specifically, that what is available to us doesn’t “match” the demographics of the general population. According to America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3.4 per cent of people in the US identify as LGBT. An Integrated Household Survey in 2013 puts that number at 1.5 per cent for the British population (or just over 640,000 individuals). On TV, as GLAAD reports, that number is 4.8 per cent. LGBT people are conga-lining onto our favourite TV shows. To some, this represents a gross injustice:

But the gag is, it doesn’t matter that the LGBT community is disproportionately represented on TV. The argument that what we see on TV and in film should proportionately reflect the populations that watch is so fucking moronic. By that measure, 12.8 per cent of shows would feature people of colour in the UK. (Imagine!) Also, you can forget Game of Thrones, every vampire and superhero show because there are no superheroes living in Britain, dummy. I’m not advocating for TV with an agenda. Creators should be able to include as many LGBT characters as makes sense for their stories. If it must be reduced to a checklist, marginalised characters are almost guaranteed to be tokenistic.

However, by upping the chances to reach young people – anyone – questioning their sexuality, not accepted by their parents, or simply looking for their own likeness in the media, TV is helping to normalise LGBT people and relationships. More families should have to awkwardly sit through gay sex scenes, challenging coming out moments, and frank heart-to-hearts between hetero and homo characters. Need suggestions? Watch Sense8, Please Like Me, or Growing Up Coy. Movies like Other People, Moonlight, or the highly underrated Floating Skyscrapers, which all, relax, still feature straight people.

We’re about to be treated to an entire miniseries that artfully swirls gay history in its long-stemmed glass. Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s When We Rise ambitiously aims to retell LGBT history, beginning with 1969’s Stonewall Riots. It doesn’t feature a gay character so much as it hinges on them. Trans actress Ivory Aquino stars in it. When We Rise is directed by Gus Van Sant among others, and was inspired by LGBT activist Cleve Jones’ memoir When We Rise: My Life in the Movement. It hits small screens in February.

Apart from the usual suspects, last year gave us heartfelt drama Queen Sugar, a gay season of Norwegian teen knockout Skam, a fitting end to Australian gay comedy Please Like Me, a crime procedural that orbits two gay teens in Eyewitness, and Lee Daniels’ Star, which features a trans lead.

So straight people: buckle up, TV is about to get even more gay. Just know that equality isn’t a numbers game. Not a demographic, a statistic, or even another sidelined TV character on your already suffocatingly straight show. Instead, equality means that I can see a version of myself on TV, I can identify with someone’s struggles, and know that in some living room on the outskirts of Buttfuck, Georgia, a little boy or girl is discovering that their story, their experience, has true value.