New season brings an increase in homosexual characters to TV

by Les Sillars
Posted 10/12/12, 12:09 pm

The number of gay and bisexual characters on scripted network television progams will be at its highest-ever level ever during the upcoming season, according to a study released last week from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). The total on cable television is also rising.

The 17th annual “Where We Are on TV” report found that 4.4 percent of actors (31 of 701) appearing regularly on 97 scripted prime-time network drama and comedy series during the 2012-13 season will portray homosexual or transgender characters. That is up from 2.9 percent in 2011, which saw a dip in what had been a growing annual trend. Five years ago, 1.1 percent of regular TV characters were homosexual.

ABC leads with 10 out of 194, or 5.2 percent, of its regular characters identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT). After leading last year, Fox ranks second with six out of 118 total series regulars.

The study saluted CBS’s fall lineup as “an authentic and conscious effort by CBS to improve its diversity” for having four homosexual characters, up from one last year, due to its new series Partners.

The number of homosexual characters on “mainstream” cable television has also increased this season to 35, up from 29 last season.

GLAAD President Herndon Graddick said such portrayals on TV reinforce cultural acceptance of homosexuality. As audiences tune in, he said, “More and more Americans have come to accept their LGBT family members, friends, co-workers, and peers.”

The portrayal of homosexuality on television has come a long way since the first lesbian kiss on NBC’s L.A. Law in 1991, according to Bob Waliszewski, director of Focus on the Family’s Plugged In website.

The big jolt was when Roseanne Barr kissed Muriel Hemingway on ABC’s Rosanne in 1994. In 2008 Barr said, “I knew it was shattering all kinds of middle-class things that should be shattered. To me, it was like a big sociological victory.”

Homosexuality has become so mainstream in recent years that the creators of TV programs no longer argue for its acceptance. Instead, they assume it, and homosexual actors reinforce that strategy with public pronouncements about their sexuality, according to a June 29 Entertainment Weekly cover story, “By the Way, We’re Gay.”

In that article, writer Mark Harris observed that homosexual actors are “defiantly mellow” and they don’t consider coming out a big deal: “By daring anyone not to overreact, the newest generation of gay public figures is making a clear statement that there is a ‘new normal’—and it consists of being plainspoken, clear, and truthful about who you are.”

Harris added, “Although the drip-drip-drip steadiness of coming-out news can seem inconsequential, cumulatively, the stories serve as the very quiet herald of a major tectonic shift. What was impossible 60 years ago and dangerous 40 years ago and difficult 20 years ago is now becoming no big deal.”

Plugged In’s Waliszewski agrees with Harris: “Pop culture is unmatched in its ability to lead a shift in the national mood.” If those in the industry really do have that much power, he asked, why don’t they support things good for families and individuals, or oppose adultery, or ask life’s big questions?

But that’s not likely. “We can’t count on entertainment to depict activities like adultery, gossip, recreational drug use, rebellion, and homosexual relations as anything but glamorous, fun, sexy, and no big deal,” Waliszewski said. “Until we follow Christ’s example and despise the things that He died on the cross to save us from, it will be hard—perhaps impossible—to be truly discerning.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is WORLD Magazine’s Mailbag editor.

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