Do People Want To See More LGBTQI+ Representation In The Media?

By Sydney Stenmark

People cannot choose if they are gay, bisexual, transgender, etc , but society can choose to accept them as they are. Throughout generations the media has always played an important role in society. By normalizing things and getting information out to the public, it has the power to shift societies beliefs. In regards to the LGBT community, the media has come a long way. In 2017 4.8% of characters on television shows identified as apart of the LGBT community which is the highest its been. The LGBT community has fought for their rights and representation over the years through speaking up and proving to the world that it is okay to be who you really are. Each year more representation shines through, but there are still issues with how the representation is seen. There are often unrealistic circumstances, extreme stereotypes,  or underlying heteronormativity which all degrade the little representation that is included. Even with its flaws, LGBT representation has the ability to lift people up and give them someone to relate to. LGBT portrayal in the media has the effects of helping people come to terms with themselves and helping society become more accepting, but also leads to improper expression, a loss of money, and potential boycotts which make it a risk for companies to invest in. Even though LGBT representation is the highest it’s ever been, there is not nearly enough representation in the media to accommodate for all of the different identities in the LGBT spectrum.

With the overwhelmingly heteronormative media presented in society it can be hard for younger people to accept themselves as apart of the LGBT community and truly understand themselves. Everyone wants a role model, someone they can look up to and aspire to be like, but not every kid can relate to these characters they see in the media. With more LGBT representation in the media, these young kids may have an easier time accepting themselves and feeling less alone. Media roles are shown to give people “ sources of pride, inspiration, and comfort” and a study done on this concluded that “increasing the availability of GLB role models in the media may positively influence GLB identity”. People just want to be able to relate to what they see, and LGBT representation would help make people feel not only more accepted by society, but also more accepting of themselves. It has been observed that teens “who remain mostly free from anti-gay prejudice, who have access to many representations of gayness, and who choose to self-label themselves” are more comfortable with their identity then others who do not have those same privileges. Teens seeing the representation all around them often feel like they do not have to hide who they really are. When asked, teens often “want to see more genres featuring LGBT students as characters, even if gender orientation is not the main plot point” just to feel more included in society because there is not often a lot of information out there or what it means to be LGBT. By allowing teens access to this kind of literature and visual media it answers their questions and helps them become more confident with their identity. One person who responded to a global survey on LGBT representation in the media said “had I known about bisexuality earlier, I would have been more aware of what I am and I would have found validity sooner. There are so many confused kids and they really need positive role models to show that there is hope and to show them their options”. The survey also showed that 97.4% of the respondents believed that there should be more LGBT representation in the media Seeing options of who you can be is really beneficial for a confused kid, and representation of all genders and sexualities can help everyone figure out who they are.

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While having someone to relate to in the media can be beneficial for teens, it can also give a harmful image of who they are supposed to be. Movies and television shows often have the recently outed LGBT kid “immediately seen as a victim” because of the “statistics on gay teen suicide, homelessness, HIV infection, drug and alcohol abuse, and the increased risk of being verbally or physically threatened”, but that is clearly not the case for everyone. This can produce unnecessary fears in a young teen who is still not out to people, and it can prevent people from being who they want to be. While the portrayal of these LGBT characters may not always be right, it is often because a lot of the media is directed towards a heterosexual cisgender audience. In a lot of media “the subject is demanded to assume and accept an identity that is fixed and hierarchically inferior to a heterosexual identity” which leads to young views of the media to be taught that they are inferior. Having representation can be good, but having inaccurate portrayals can be harmful to one’s self esteem and self-acceptance.In a global survey done with 2,400 responses, 85% of people responded that they do not feel accurately represented in the media, and 84.5% responded that they are a member of the LGBTQ+ community. While some members of the LGBT community do not feel represented, there are some who do as well as there are some straight cisgender people who do not. The solution to this issue is introducing more relatable characters into everyday media, and those should cover LGBTQ+ integration as well as more racially diverse characters.

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A lot of media that is harmful for young LGBT people include tropes. A trope, such as the “bury your gays” movement harm teens ideas of accurate LGBT life. The “bury your gays” trope is when writers kill off their LGBT character for no apparent reason other than furthering a straight character’s story-line. This shows no happy endings for these LGBT characters and can be seen throughout different genres and television networks. It is very harmful because LGBT people need to see those happy endings too. Another common trope is the “gay best friend”. This is  a stereotypical, often male, role where people turn the gay character into more of an accessory than a person. This often does not give the LGBT character any emotional depth. Both of these tropes are very harmful to teenagers figuring out their identities and do not add any positive representation to help towards more acceptance in society. A harmful trope that is often seen with bisexual characters is that they are just experimenting or there is only one exception to their sexuality. Bisexuality is rare to find in the media, but when it is presented in these ways it is almost more harmful than helpful.  The effect that these have is a negative one, but some representation is better than no representation. In a global survey done on LGBT representation in the media, 43.4% believed that the representation was moderately inaccurate and 47.5% of people believed that is was somewhere in the middle. That data shows how people don’t believe that their representation is very accurate.

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One argument with LGBT media is if no representation is better than the bad representation that people see today. The bad representation can be harmful to everyone, but at least it’s a start in the right direction. Sometimes even if someone does not personally relate to the LGBT character on their screen it could still help them figure themselves out. Poor representation is also helping to get some representation out there. Once people are used to the representation that they see, it will become easier for LGBT creators to produce their media. Any form of LGBT representation is good for the community in the long run.

The representation in the media is improving, but it mostly shows the same stereotypes of people and often doesn’t include many different races. In a study analyzing inequality in 900 popular films, done on the University of Southern California Annenberg by multiple professors and students, it was shown that out of all of the LGBT characters, 79.1% were white and a large majority were gay males. This is inaccurate for who the community really is. The LGBT community is more than just the average white male, it includes people of all races, genders, and sexualities. While the representation for lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender people is small, the other sexualities and genders is even harder to find. People who are asexual have very little representation, and when it does appear it is often seen as something that is curable or just a phase, an excuse to not sleep with someone, or a barrier to allosexual people. There is also very little representation for non-binary people and anyone who does not identify as cisgender. In an Interview with Kristofer V. Lee, a drag king and former Mr. Phoenix Pride, he said, “You can’t paint a good picture with one brush stroke, and i think that the media gives us a lot of single brush strokes that don’t really flesh out LGBT Characters or show a full representation of the diversity that is within our community." The media may give a lot of small moments of representation, but that is not enough to show the community as a whole. There needs to be more moments of representation and more fleshed out characters.

This is not only an issue in America, but it is even harder to find representation across other countries and cultures. In more conservative places the government may control the media and not allow any representation or LGBT projects may not receive any funding. One person from Argentina stated on the survey on LGBT representation “I’ve only seen one TV show produced in my country which has LGBT characters. And i’m talking about late 2017. Apart from the very little representation in media, a huge problem is to find this kind of representation for non-English speaking people”. Representation in a lot of other countries has to be sought out and it is often not in the major media sources. Another respondent from the survey said that “I never saw myself in the media when growing up and thought the defaults for people like me was something along the lines of a butch lesbian later finding love with a man” and they are a lesbian from Latvija. From Europe to South America, all over the world it is shown that people who are apart of the LGBT community have very little media representation to look up to.

The best way to fix the issue of inaccurate representation of LGBT people in the media is giving more people the opportunities to tell their stories. Kristofer V. Lee said that “allowing individuals to be the ones to tell their stories” is the best way to fix the inaccurate representation. This is a struggle in the media right now because there are very few LGBT directors, producers, etc. compared to all of the straight ones. “You can do accurate research, you can do case studies to figure out what a person’s experience and life is like, but there is nothing like hearing the story from someone who has gone through that situation." There needs to be more effort put towards helping people get their stories heard, and there needs to be a positive outlet for all of this.

There is a lot of hate and confusion surrounding the LGBT community, and representation in the media may help change that. A lot of the hate and confusion comes from people just not being used to it, so if people become more acclimated to seeing LGBT people in media then they may be more welcoming to LGBT people in real life. Once it becomes normal for a LGBT couple to exist in a show or novel it will become more normal to see those couples on the streets and in your family. This is already being seen with younger generations who have grown up with more positive LGBT exposure an a study done by GLAAD showed that 63% of millennials, ages 18-34, consider themselves allies with the LGBT community which is a much larger percentage than the other generations asked. Simply being used to seeing LGBT relationships can help everyone be more understanding and accepting. A huge step for more acceptance in society would be to introduce more LGBT media, and it could help save future generations from the oppression and fear.

While advancements have been made in the representation that is out there, money has been lost in the process through anti-LGBT protest and people have been concerned regarding how this will affect their children. Companies trying to be more inclusive often face being “threatened or smacked down by anti-gay smears and boycott threads” which can make it less rewarding to include representation. It has been effective in the past, but now that there is more representation in the media it is becoming easier for companies to be more inclusive. A lot of people do not support the LGBT community for religious reasons, and therefore do not support content that contains LGBT people which could cause a company to lose money. Because money is what makes people able to produce media, LGBT people often have to be set aside for the sake of a companies profits. The united states is primarily a christian nation, and Christianity is against LGBT people. If producers start adding more LGBT representation they may lose a huge part of their religious viewers which would cost them a lot of money. Children are often talked about because parents often don’t want their children to see LGBT couples. It is often seen that when children do not understand what “gay” means, they end up using it as an insult which leads to homophobia and people not accepting others. There may always be people fighting against the LGBT community, but adding more representation is worth all of the possible consequences.

Being LGBT used to be seen as shameful and wrong, but now because people see it more often around them, it has become more normal. The Parasocial Contact Hypothesis helps explain why this occurs. People often fear what they are not used to, but studies show that a certain level of anxiety is reduced after each encounter with what they fear. In a study done introducing students to television shows including LGBT people over an unspecified period of time, the results showed that the students become more comfortable with others sexualities. There was the most noticeable change in students who did not have much experience with LGBT people and their opinions changed the most. It has been shown that a lot of the anxiety and hostility could be removed from society through groups contacting “vicariously rather than in person” fist because the impressions they receive will be more genuine and include less stereotypes. This method is also seen in exposure therapy which is used to treat anxiety, phobias, OCD, PTSD, and many other problems through slowly introducing a person to what gives them the fears or anxiety. The Parasocial Contact Hypothesis leaps to prove that more LGBT representation in the media fights homophobia and helps society become more accepting. The main effect of the Parasocial Contact Hypothesis is that it makes people more comfortable with LGBT people, and that leads to a decrease in bullying and hate crimes in society. Having more LGBT representation in the media will ease society into less homophobic ways of thinking, which could lead to generations with less hate. It will make it easier for teens to come out because their peers will be more accepting and it will help stop hate crimes through society becoming less fearful. The parasocial contact hypothesis infers that LGBT people make non-LGBT people nervous, so more representation would make everyone more comfortable. When a member of the LGBT community is seen, they could be facing welcoming arms compared to today's harsh isolation. The amount of media can directly help make society more acclimated to LGBT people.

One phrase that gets used a lot regarding LGBT media is the “gay agenda” and the gay lifestyle. This phrase was originally introduced by Christians who were against LGBT people and were worried about what the LGBT community would do. The truth behind the “Gay Agenda” is that no one really knows what it is. Randy Boyd, a writer and LGBT advocate, described his “gay agenda” as his goal “to be myself wherever I go, no matter whom I'm around, whatever the circumstances--lock, stock and barrel; all of me, including the parts that are gay and HIV-positive” which is pretty similar to what most people in the LGBT community might say. The gay lifestyle is just like everyone else’s. LZ Granderson, in his Ted Talk “The myth of the gay agenda” he described the gay agenda as “Being a good partner -- and being a good parent”. The Gay Agenda from actual members of the LGBT community is not sinister at all, but often to promote love and acceptance for all. The gay lifestyle is not so different from everyone else’s lifestyle either. Granderson also said “I want to begin sharing these evil things that I've been doing with you, starting with my mornings. I drink coffee. Not only do I drink coffee, I know other gay people who drink coffee. I get stuck in traffic -- evil, evil traffic. Sometimes I get stuck in lines at airports”. People in the LGBT community face the same struggles as everyday people do, but from an outsider's perspective are still often viewed as wrong. More media representation would help stop the mythical “gay agenda” from being perceived as evil and it could hep show that the LGBT community is not so different from everyone else.   

A lot of the media is now showing how there are not many differences between the LGBT community and everyone else. In a study done researching the differences it was found that LGBT people “come from all races and ethnic or social backgrounds”,  “are not more affluent than others” and “are parenting by either raising children under 18 from earlier marriages or relying on surrogacy or adoption” which are all things that straight people face. The only real difference is their identity, and society has gotten much better with accepting that fact. Companies that have been trying to be more inclusive have discovered that “reaching out to one new gay customer does not drive away two straight ones” and this helps brings awareness and acceptance to the community. While there is still a long way to go for true acceptance, the media has helped speed up the process of people being okay with LGBT people.

If society can come together to make the world more caring and accepting then a change should be made. Through integrating more LGBT representation the Parasocial Contact Hypothesis will show people becoming less afraid and hateful of LGBT people and more open minded and accepting. There are definitely hardships that must be overcome, such as convincing the religious viewers of media and ending the stereotypes, but the end results of love and acceptance are worth the fight. LGBT media representation is very necessary for the overall acceptance of all LGBTQ people. More LGBT artist, actors, musicians, and authors are all needed to produce more content that can help change the minds of others and let people be more accepting of themselves. While representation in the media may not sound like a lot, it could really help the LGBT community be more accepted.

Queer media representation is very necessary for the overall acceptance of all LGBTQ people. More queer artist, actors, musicians, and authors are all needed to produce more content that can help change the minds of others and let people be more accepting of themselves. Giving more opportunities to a diverse group of people to tell their own stories could change the accuracy of the media. A lot of people need to feel represented, and it helps society as a whole as well..  While representation in the media may not sound like a lot, it could really help the queer community be more accepted. While there may be some downsides to more LGBT representation, the positive effects are worth it.