What Riverdale gets right about LGBTQ+ representation on the small screen


Where many shows still fall flat when portraying realistic LGBTQ+ characters and relationships, The CW’s Riverdale excels.

Though LGBTQ+ representation in films and on the small screen has come a long way in the past few decades, it still has a long way to go. It’s therefore essential to shine a spotlight on the shows that get it right, so future showrunners and writers can take plenty of notes. And that’s exactly what groups like the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) are doing.

With the announcement that the cast and creators of Riverdale will receive an award celebrating its care in representing the LGBTQ+ community comes an important reminder that most shows on network television can — and should — do better.

Crediting the show for its “groundbreaking storytelling about LGBTQ+ relationships” is hardly an exaggeration, especially considering these relationships are portrayed in a high school setting, highlighting a particularly vulnerable population within the LGBTQ+ community.

GLSEN wants “every student, in every school, to be valued and treated with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression” and believes “all students deserve a safe and affirming school environment where they can learn and grow.”

What better way to make students feel safe and appreciated than pointing to shows on network television, like Riverdale, which showcases the reality of LGBTQ+ relationships in the real world?

True, the show is a modern small screen adaption of the Archie comics — a series of fictional stories set in a fictional town. But relatable characters are what make stories captivating, and Riverdale is hardly lacking in this area.

Archie made history in 2010 when it introduced Kevin Keller, its first openly gay character, and Kevin is featured prominently in the first episode of the series … about to hook up with another dude in the woods before discovering a dead body! Welcome to Riverdale High!

There is a pretty even mix of straight and LGBTQ+ characters on the show, rather than “that one gay side character” added in for diversity points. And relationships are portrayed equally for both, featuring common issues facing any high school teen figuring out how falling in love works, whether you’re straight, gay, or somewhere in-between.

You also have your “I’m figuring out who I am and I don’t know how people are going to react” drama, presented in a way that seeks to speak to audiences who might relate and need a reminder that they’re not alone.

Many shows still fall back on “gay best friend” tropes, treating these characters as sidekicks instead of the superheroes they truly are. But Riverdale not only features prominent LGBTQ+ characters in main storylines — it also highlights deep, meaningful relationships between same-sex partners. Toni, for example, acts not simply as Cheryl’s friend or convenient hookup, but as her support system in the aftermath of tragedy.

Speaking of tragedy, the show has also touched on sensitive but real issues facing members of the LGBTQ+ community, such as the trauma associated with gay conversion therapy, a sensitive topic that still doesn’t get enough attention onscreen.

This storyline featured one of the show’s main characters, and it didn’t hesitate to focus on the horrors of the practice — a very real and traumatic event for many members of the community, and a fear for many young people who have yet to come out to their loved ones.

Riverdale is only three seasons in (soon to start its fourth) and has already achieved more in carefully portraying an often misrepresented segment of the population on television. Imagine how much more it can do in seasons to come.

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What’s the best representation of LGBTQ+ characters you’ve seen on television lately?