Every year, GLAAD’s annual report card on the state of LGBTQIA+ representation on television illuminates both gains and losses in the industry for queer characters. This year, the organization highlighted troubling new trends on the horizon as the entertainment industry’s streaming boom has begun to slow.
In our breakdown of the report (which can be read in full here), we’re taking a closer look at the gains and losses in representation and what it means for the LGBTQIA+ community.
A note on eligibility: GLAAD’s report focuses on original scripted series premiering or expected to premiere a new season in primetime between June 1, 2022 and May 31, 2023. Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, and Paramount+ are the streaming services counted alongside traditional cable and broadcast networks.
Of the 659 total regular and recurring characters on broadcast, 101 are LGBTQ. This represents a decrease of 40 characters in a single season of television. The culprit? According to GLAAD, The CW has been propping up LGBTQ representation numbers on broadcast for years. Even this year, they come out ahead of all the other broadcast networks for the sixth year in a row, with 14.8% of its regular and recurring characters identifying as LGBTQ.
With its sale to Nexstar and the cancellation of much of its long-running programming (and potentially more cancellations to come), that number will fall sharply. GLAAD particularly calls out the loss of Roswell, New Mexico, as it featured a bi+ male lead in Michael and a disabled gay character in Alex, both of which are rare across television. GLAAD’s recommendation for broadcast as a whole is the same as last year’s: focus more on LGBTQ ensembles and their stories rather than largely straight characters with one or two queer characters included.
Cable had 139 total LGBTQ characters (regular and recurring), which is an increase of one character from last year. HBO, Showtime, and Freeform make up 47% of all cable rep, a disparity that has remained consistent in the past several years. Disney Channel had 11 total queer characters in both its live-action and animated series, an increase for the network and something GLAAD specifically applauded. New series Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire also received attention as it has a leading bi+ male character who is a person of color, an extremely rare form of representation across all platforms. The Last of Us is another new entry with major queer representation, including leading character Ellie.
However, 34% of these characters are not returning, largely due to limited series or anthology formatting that changes the cast of characters year to year. GLAAD recommends cable continue its commitment to diverse storytelling with each new season for consistent quality representation.
Across the included streaming services, 356 characters (regular and recurring) were identified as LGBTQIA+, a decrease of two characters. Of those, 28% are not returning due to cancellations or characters leaving their respective shows. Once again, GLAAD highlights that while Netflix leads in overall numbers, the true impact is obscured due to the sheer volume of content they produce. Additionally, 37 out of Netflix’s 183 queer characters aren’t returning due to show cancellations.
Bright spots noted include new series Heartbreak High and The Sandman along with returning series The Umbrella Academy, all of which include multiple queer characters with many different sexual orientations and gender identities. Heartbreak High got special attention for series regular Quinni, who is autistic and played by actor Chloe Hayden, who is also autistic. As GLAAD notes, “LGBTQ people are more likely to have a disability than the general population. Two of five transgender adults and one in four lesbian, gay, or bisexual+ adults reported having a disability.”
GLAAD also specifically noted A League of Their Own‘s groundbreaking storytelling while noting that its future is currently in limbo, which could seriously impact Prime Video’s numbers. 20 out of Peacock’s 24 characters will not be returning due to cancellations, a trend GLAAD highlights as part of a larger pattern. GLAAD’s recommendation is for streamers to prioritize marketing queer series on par with other programming in addition to making sure to replace canceled series with more LGBTQ content and characters to avoid dramatic losses in representation.
- Of the 596 total characters, 32 identify as trans. This is a 25% drop from last year and highlights how a few shows delaying their premieres to outside the tracking period seriously impacts representation. It should not be the job of only a few series to provide all the trans representation, especially after the loss of Pose (as GLAAD previously predicted).
- There was also a decrease by 4% of bi+ characters overall. There are still less bi+ men than women by a wide margin, with even fewer non-binary bi+ characters (39 men, 104 women, and six non-binary). GLAAD also noted very few bi leads despite bi+ people making up 58% of the LGBTQIA+ community in reality. As GLAAD notes, “The ongoing lack of visibility and nuanced storytelling of bi+ characters then reinforce societal misconceptions about bisexual+ people, leading to that hesitancy for people to come out and struggle to find specific community spaces and resources.”
- Streaming and cable both met GLAAD’s target of 50% of its LGBTQIA+ characters, also identifying as POC. Broadcast missed the benchmark for the first time since this metric was included.
- Asexual representation was once again far too low, with zero broadcast characters and four on streaming (all four of whom are on Netflix shows). Cable has two asexual characters, both from the show Chucky.
The Big Picture
GLAAD’s overarching mission statement for the year appears to be a direct call out of the many shows focusing on queer characters that have been canceled in the past year across the board. They explicitly call for equal promotional opportunities and point to shows like Stranger Things as an example of the kind of success a show with major LGBTQ characters can have if it has the support of its studio and network. They noted that, “Of the 596 LGBTQ characters, 175 (29 percent) will not be returning due to series cancellations, endings, miniseries/anthology format, or a character dying or leaving the show. Of those, 140 characters won’t return due specifically to series cancellations.”
As GLAAD notes, stories focusing on LGBTQIA+ characters do well when given the support needed to thrive. Much like the state of television overall, queer representation is heading for a period of uncertainty as streaming services cut back on spending and broadcast networks seek new relevance. GLAAD particularly notes how spending cuts can affect sci-fi and fantasy series, which in recent years have become more and more inclusive. It’s up to networks and streamers to champion diversity, but it also directly benefits them in ways they may not anticipate, from critical acclaim to expanded viewership.