This week, GLAAD released two of its major annual media reports: Where We Are on TV, which “forecasts the expected presence of LGBT characters for the 2013-2014 television season,” and the Network Responsibility Index, which evaluates “the quantity and quality of images of LGBT people on television.”
The findings of the two reports indicate that TV representations of LGBT characters have contributed to broader social support for queer rights, while noting, “Public perception of transgender people seems to remain 20 years behind where it is now for gay and lesbian people.”
Where We Are on TV looks at the number of LGBT series regulars on scripted broadcast and cable shows, accounting for their sexual orientation, gender identity and race/ethnicity. It projects that, of 796 broadcast series regulars in the 2013-14 season, 3.3 percent will be LGBT, down from 4.4 percent last year. On cable, where seasons are not so neatly defined, the report indicates that the number of LGBT characters will increase to 42 (from 35) during the calendar year ending onMay 31, 2014.
In all of television, there is only one transgender series regular—Unique on Glee. Unique is played by cisgender male actor Alex Newell, which means that no series features a transgender actor in a regular role. The last time a trans character was featured on TV was during the 2008-09 season, when trans actor Candis Cayne had a supporting role on ABC’s forgotten Dirty Sexy Money. That same season, cis actor Rebecca Romijn played a transwoman on ABC’s Ugly Betty.
Between cable and network shows, the racial and ethnic representation of LGBT characters continues to be disproportionately white. On network TV, 33 of 46 LGBT characters are white, while on cable, 47 of 66 LGBT characters are white. Black characters are the next most represented group (5 on network, 10 on cable), followed by Latinos (2 on network, 5 on cable), Asian-Pacific Islanders (3 on network, 1 on cable), and other groups (3 on network, 3 on cable).
Of all the broadcast networks, Fox boasts the most diversity in all categories, with 5.4 percent of its characters classified as LGBT. Similarly encouraging, 32 percent of Fox characters are classified as people of color. ABC also counts 5.4 percent of its characters as LGBT, but it only can claim 22 percent as people of color. NBC boasts the worst representation of LGBT characters: of 203 series regulars on the network, only 2 are LGBT.
The Network Responsibility Index looks more at the networks as a whole, not just including scripted series, and ranks them as “Excellent,” “Good,” “Adequate” or “Failing.” On broadcast TV, it ranked Fox the number one most-inclusive network, noting that it included LGBT impressions in 42 percent of its primetime programming hours. Last year, Fox was ranked third at 24 percent. Rounding out the top 5 were ABC (33 percent), NBC (29 percent), The CW (28 percent, down from number 1 with 29 percent in 2011-12) and CBS (14 percent). On cable, the top 5 networks were ABC Family (50 percent), FX (40 percent), Showtime (31 percent), MTV (28 percent) and TLC (27 percent).
This year, no network received an “Excellent” rating from GLAAD. All of the broadcast networks received “Good” ratings, with the exception of CBS, which GLAAD labeled “Adequate” (maybe it’s time to reconsider all those gay jokes on Two and a Half Men). On cable, the History Channel and TBS received “Failing” grades, with GLAAD noting the lack of LGBT impressions in their programming. The other major networks all received “Good” or “Adequate” designations.