Jussie Smollett in Empire
American television shows are including more LGBTQ characters than ever before, but lesbian and bisexual female characters continue to be arbitrarily killed off.
LGBTQ media advocacy GLAAD’s latest annual report, released on Thursday, found that 4.8% of the 895 regular characters in the 2016-2017 TV season (including broadcast and cable networks and streaming services) are or will be LGBTQ.
This is the highest percentage since GLAAD began tracking all broadcast regular characters 12 years ago.
Other encouraging findings include a record-high percentage of black series regular characters on broadcast television (20% of all series regulars) and a record-high percentage of regular characters with disabilities on broadcast television (1.7%).
Additionally, the number of transgender regular and recurring characters has more than doubled since last year (from 7 on all platforms to 16 this year). Last year, there were no trans characters counted on broadcast.
According to GLAAD, the American TV landscape is now far ahead of film in terms of LGBTQ representation.
While the improvements have been lauded, GLAAD noted that television – and broadcast series more specifically – failed queer women this year, as character after character died; continuing the harmful ‘bury your gays’ trope.
Over 25 lesbian and bisexual female-identifying characters have died on scripted television and streaming series since the beginning of 2016, including shows like The Walking Dead and The 100.
Fans were outraged when the lesbian character Lexa was killed off in The 100 earlier this year
“It continues a decades-long trend of killing LGBTQ characters – often solely to further a straight, cisgender character’s plotline – which sends a dangerous message to audiences that LGBTQ people are secondary and disposable,” said GLAAD.
The organisation also found that cable and streaming platforms still need to include more racially diverse LGBTQ characters as a majority of LGBTQ characters on each platform (72% and 71% respectively) are counted as white.
“While it is heartening to see progress being made in LGBTQ representation on television, it’s important to remember that numbers are only part of the story, and we must continue the push for more diverse and intricate portrayals of the LGBTQ community,” commented Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President & CEO.