Harmful stereotypes plague our phone and computer screens.

When you hear ‘gay representation’, what do you imagine? Is it a minor character in a Netflix series? Is it a teenage girl’s quirky best friend in the latest Hollywood film?

LGBTQ+ Stereotypes

Despite increasing representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the media, time after time representation of LGBTQ+ individuals merely perpetuates preexisting stereotypes.

According to GLAAD, 55 per cent of LGBTQ+ characters broadcast on American primetime in 2017/18 were men. This statistic alone is not too unbalanced in light of the struggle for better representation of women and non-binary people in the media. However, additional data provides a less flattering picture, with 77 per cent of LGBTQ+ characters across streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu all being white. Though streaming has been touted as the ‘future of media’, it appears to be taking a step backwards in terms of racially diverse LGBTQ+ representation.

Far too often, a single gay, white, cisgender man is considered adequate representation of the LGBTQ+ community. Gay representation is repeatedly limited to harmful stereotypes, such as the ‘gay best friend’ — a white, sassy, handsome side character designed to support the narrative of female protagonists without having any individual agency.

The Importance of Diverse Representation

By centring LGBTQ+ representation around stereotypes acceptable to white, cisgender, heterosexual viewers, those LGBTQ+ individuals that do not conform to them are often dismissed for ‘failing’ to fit into established preconceptions. A study by Carson Cook has found that excluding one show centred around a transgender parent, only 1 out of 93 examples of interaction with children in the sample included LGBTQ+ characters. This perpetuates the idea that LGBTQ+ individuals are not seen as adequate parental or family-friendly figures, contributing to preexisting stigmas.

A deeper problem is that LGBTQ+ representation is often treated as a checkbox. Just throw one in so we seem inclusive! Viewing LGBTQ+ characters as marketing criteria rather than individuals, only increases their status as undesirable burdens rather than integrated members of our society with distinctive thoughts, feelings, and agency.

One reasonable question to ask is why don’t LGBTQ+ individuals just ignore one-dimensional media representations of their identities? However, the impact of negative representations on this community is far-reaching. Consistent harmful representation of LGBTQ+ individuals creates the assumption for non-LGBTQ+ individuals (the majority of our society) that all LGBTQ+ people conform to the portrayed stereotypes. In a study by Carmen Logie and Marie-Jolie Rwigema, one queer racial minority participant acknowledged that: ‘The normative idea of queer is a white person’. In reality, this is far from the case. If we take the US, only 58 per cent of people who self-identify as LGBTQ+ are white. The media’s lack of recognition of LGBTQ+ individuals who belong to other minority groups or face other prejudices is facilitating the erasure of these individuals’ experiences. So, what was that about the media depicting the LGBTQ+ community accurately?

Exclusion from Within

The lack of recognition for all members of the LGBTQ+ community not only affects how they are treated by others from outside the community but also those from within. Some queer organisations, such as the LGB Alliance, actively campaign for the exclusion of transgender individuals from the community. The Alliance was founded in protest of Stonewall’s (a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights charity) support for transgender rights. Naveed Jazayeri has also conducted a study on transgender exclusion within the LGBTQ+ movement. He found that whilst 43.4 per cent of heterosexual individuals had the most positive (5/5) attitude towards trans individuals, only 20.83 per cent of LGB respondents had the same positive attitude.

Persistent stereotypes within our heteronormative society concerning inclusion, have perpetuated the myth that for some LGBTQ+ people representaiton is about fitting the mould. This means that to gain recognition and achieve rights through popular campaigns, certain members of the LGBTQ+ community have to be repressed. Not conforming to these traditional stereotypes often results in being excluded by the very community one supposedly belongs to.

Whilst some LGBTQ+ individuals believe it is impossible for numerous campaigns for rights to exist within the community, it is important to remember that they can coexist and support one another. This was illustrated in 2009 when the International Day against Homophobia was expanded to include the battle against transphobia and prejudice faced by the transgender community. In order to further facilitate inclusion and harmony between different identities within the LGBTQ+ community, wider representation breaking away from age-old stereotypes is essential.

In 2012, Joe Biden cited gay representation on the television show Will and Grace as a large factor in his public support for gay equality. Imagine the widespread change in societal opinions which could be achieved with more diverse representation for the LGBTQ+ community? After all, the goal of the Pride flag is to reflect the diversity within the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s not condense this diversity into a few overplayed stereotypes. The answer is simple — Scrap the Stereotypes.

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