GLAAD Finds Record Number of LGBTQ Characters on TV


The annual analysis of LGBTQ representation in television by GLAAD reports unprecedented progress. But there are some caveats.

2016 may be remembered as the year American politics devolved into a farce, but there are still reasons to celebrate. On Nov. 3, the media organization GLAAD released its annual “Where We Are on TV” report, which compiles and analyzes data on LGBTQ representation in television. And this year, the news is, on the whole, promising.

Reviewing scripted primetime programs on broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, and NBC) airing between June 1, 2016 and May 31, 2017, GLAAD found that 43 of 895 series regular characters were identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer. That represents an increase from last season, which tallied 35 LGBTQ series regular characters. 4.8 percent may not sound earth-shattering, but it’s the highest percentage recorded since GLAAD inaugurated its study in 2005.

In addition, GLAAD found 28 recurring LGBTQ characters on broadcast TV.

At 7.3 percent, ABC boasts the highest ratio of LGBTQ regulars. No doubt, a sizable amount of credit for that number must go to Shonda Rhimes, whose hit shows, including Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder, are known in part for their commitment to racial and gender diversity. Equally unsurprising is that CBS, a network whose entire freshman fall roster consists of shows fronted by white men, comes in last place with a mere 2.2 percent.

Things were more ambivalent on cable. The number of LGBTQ regular characters in scripted shows rose from 84 last season to 92 this season, but the number of LGBTQ recurring characters dipped from 58 to 50. In all, GLAAD counted 142 LGBTQ characters, the same as last year’s total. Almost half (46 percent) of those characters were gay men, and 72 percent of them were white.

Freeform, formerly known as ABC Family, ranked as the most LGBTQ-inclusive cable network with 27 regular or recurring characters. Showtime came in second with 17 characters. Those two networks featured three of the six transgender characters on cable TV this season.

This is the second year GLAAD included streaming outlets (Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix) in its research. They found a total of 65 LGBTQ characters, including 45 regulars and 20 recurring roles, in streaming series, an increase from last season. In an intriguing variation from broadcast and cable, lesbians accounted for the majority of LGBTQ characters at 43 percent. In contrast, lesbian characters decreased two percent and a whopping 16 percent, respectively, on cable and broadcast networks.

One troubling (albeit hardly new) trend is the frequency with which queer characters are killed. GLAAD counted more than 25 lesbian and bisexual female character deaths across broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms since the start of 2016. LGBTQ characters shouldn’t be immune from death, but their losses, as well as those of nonwhite and female characters in general, are especially painful because such characters are hard to come by in the first place.

Related Story: 30 Characters Showcasing Positive LGBT Representation on TV Right Now

Here are some other statistics worth noting:

  • 44 percent of series regulars on broadcast TV were women.
  • Broadcast TV featured a record-high percentage of black series regulars (20 percent), but of those characters, only 38 percent were women.
  • Broadcast TV also featured a record-high percentage of series regulars with disabilities at 1.7 percent.
  • All three transgender characters on broadcast TV were played by trans actresses.
  • Bisexual women outnumber bisexual men on TV at a ratio of 64 to 19.