How's TV Doing On LGBT Representation? A New Study Reveals Good News -- And Bad

Shows like "OITNB" and "Empire" help, but we've still got a long way to go.

Today (October 27) GLAAD released its annual "Where We Are On TV" report charting the progress of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual representation during the 2015-16 television season. While the amount of LGBT characters has increased since last year's report, the industry still has a long way to go in promoting equality among its characters.

Part of the reason for the increase is that this year, the report includes original programming from streaming providers Amazon, Hulu and Netflix for the first time, which boasts 43 series regulars and 16 recurring LGBT characters across 23 series. Both broadcast and cable shows also saw slight improvements -- broadcast television features 35 series regulars and 35 other recurring characters who are LGBT, and on cable, the number of regular characters increased from 64 to 84, with the amount of recurring characters also increasing from 41 to 58.

The report also tracks racial, gender, and disability on TV as well, especially with regards to how it intersects with LGBT representation. According to their findings, people of color make up a third of all recurring characters on television, but while the amount of racially diverse LGBT characters has very slightly increased in primetime broadcast (26% to 31%), it's decreased on cable (from 35% to 29%). The ratio of LGBT men and women on TV is fairly close to parity (although gay men still dominate compared to bisexual men, and lesbian and bisexual women), although on streaming shows LGBT women actually outnumber men, 56% to 44%. Gee, thanks, ""Orange Is The New Black!"


Meanwhile, the amount of transgender characters on TV is still pretty abysmal -- only 2.6% of the 271 recurring characters on television are trans, which boils down to 6 women and 1 man, none of whom appear on primetime broadcast. The number of characters with disabilities has also dropped significantly, from 1.4% to 0.9%. And not all of the increases are necessarily positive representations of the LGBT community, either -- while the number of bisexual characters, particularly bisexual male characters, has risen since the previous TV season (from 10 to 18), GLAAD notes that many of these new characters "fall into dangerous stereotypes about bisexual people."

"It is not enough to just include LGBT characters; writers must craft those characters with thought and care," GLAAD CEO and president Sarah Kate Ellis notes in the report's foreword, citing the prevalence of "coming out stories" and tokenism. "They must reject harmful, outdated stereotypes and avoid token characters that are burdened with representing an entire community through the view of one person."

In particular the report also cited broadcast shows like "Empire" and "Arrow" (and its eventual spin-off, "Legends Of Tomorrow") as leading the way in terms of representation, as well as shows on cable and streaming like ABC Family's (soon to be Freeform's) "The Fosters," Netflix's "Orange Is The New Black" and "Sense8," and Amazon's "Transparent."

"The critical and commercial success of series like 'Empire,' 'Transparent,' and 'Orange Is the New Black' can serve as an example to network executives that audiences are looking for stories they haven’t seen before; indeed, there are still plenty of stories about our community yet to be told," Ellis also noted.