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The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Streaming platforms are showcasing more diverse LGBTQ characters

Right to left: Tanya (Alice Hewkin) embracing her girlfriend Ruthie (Lilly Newmark) on Netflix’s “Sex Education”. Photo credit: Netflix

 

Media can shape our views on the most vulnerable communities. Now streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are taking the challenge of representing these communities in a way that makes them feel included, while also bringing forth entertaining content.  

With shows like “Gentefied” and “Sex Education” we are starting to see more and more of the LGBTQ community being represented. Racism is recorded and scrutinized, the LGBTQ community has made strides and are calling for their equality and correct pronouns, and feminism is loud and proud. 

Jennifer Moorman, a media studies professor at Fordham University who specializes in gender and sexuality in film and television, says this shift is happening because  streaming networks, like Netflix, do not need advertisers’ money to rely on keeping shows going. Advertisers, as she explains, are typically conservative and did not want to be associated with controversial topics. 

The first gay character shown on TV was 1971’s “All In The Family” for one episode. In 1972, “The Corner Bar” was the first show to have a reoccurring gay character, but the show was quickly changed due to the many homophobic jokes written into the dialogue of the show, which caused the Gay Activists Alliance to protest. Later, the first main gay character to appear on TV was 1977’s Billy Crystal in the show “Soap.” 

GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, has tracked representation on TV since 2005. Starting in 2005-2006, 1.4% of characters on broadcast TV were LGB (no transgender representation yet). Recently, in 2019-2020, they reported the highest number of LGBTQ series regulars on broadcast TV at 10.2%. In 2019, they counted 121 LGBTQ characters in streaming services, which was an increase of 33 characters since 2018.

Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa), the main reoccurring gay character on Netflix’s “Sex Education”, who becomes one of the main focuses when it comes to issues within the LGBTQ community.
Photo credit: Netflix

In Netflix’s original high school series, “Sex Education” the queer community is seen a lot. In one of the first few episodes, a lesbian couple discusses having issues sexually. As for one of the main characters, Eric, struggles with feeling alone and isolated. He goes home to a very religious family that does not necessarily understand him. While his friends support him, he does get bullied at school. Eric also struggles with wanting a romantic relationship, when there are few gay men at his school. The show also points out that sexual education systems do not adequately address queer sexual health.

There is also Netflix’s “Gentefied,” which revolves around the Mexican American community in Boyle Heights. One of the main characters, Ana, is a lesbian and has a passion for painting, but her mother disapproves of it since it makes her little money and they are all struggling financially. We see other gay characters come in, like Tim, a white gay man, who only looks to make a profit out of small, vulnerable communities. he series shows that even between minorities, anyone can still discriminate against other minorities.

Allie Oakes, a gay rights activist and author of “Baby Gay Book,” discusses how the community needs to be represented to not only help allies understand what LGBTQ people feel and go through on a daily basis, but it gives people within the community “a sense that they are seen, and that someone cares about them, even if their loved ones don’t.” 

While some shows have many types of gay characters woven into their narratives, others still have just one lesser gay character who often fulfills gendered stereotypes.

Left to right: Gabriel Richardson (Johnny Weir) and Leah Starns (Kaitlyn Leeb) join for the pairs skating competition. Gabriel is the only queer character in the show, yet he has very limited screen time on the Netflix original “Spinning Out”.
Photo credit: Netflix

This is the case in the Netflix series “Spinning Out,” which features a gay character, Gabriel Richardson, who is only in five of the 10 episodes and is the stereotypical flamboyant gay character. He is played by Johnny Weir, a two-time Olympic ice skater and fashion designer, yet he has a small role and serves mostly as sarcastic comedic relief to the heavy show that deals with self-harm and depression. 

Moorman says the “token gay character” is not enough to represent the community. “I realize that, for many people, it is important to feel seen. But I don’t think we should accept scraps.”

She calls this queerbaiting, which is when a show will use a queer character to bring in the queer audiences but do it in a way without risking any of their straight audiences. They are gay and there is no social movement reason to it, just to an attempt please everyone. 

Still, Oakes says representation is important. She says, “Putting gay characters in books, movies, school plays, TV, music, and anywhere the eyes of youth fall will change the world drastically,” she says.