LGBTQ+ Representation in Modern Entertainment Media

Matt Byer, Entertainment Editor

Everyone deserves a voice. In recent years, proper representation of the diverse population of the U.S. in the media is an issue that has been receiving an increased amount of attention from Hollywood and other entertainment outlets. Now, more than ever, previously marginalized groups are demanding (and in some cases, receiving) places in television, film, and other media. One such group is the LGBTQ+ community, and while significant steps have been taken to address this issue, is it enough? Strong voices in the WFS community share their thoughts.

The members of the WFS student body, while acknowledging there has been progress, believe drastic improvement is still required. “I don’t think that there is enough LGBTQ+ representation in entertainment media,” says Hareena Houston ’18, “there is the token character in a few shows, but they are few and far between. A lot of the representation that LGBTQ+ have is very static, and tends to fit the character in one box.” Her thoughts were echoed by Tim Arnold ’18 when he was asked if there was enough representation of the LGBTQ+ community in entertainment media: “Overall, no. There needs to be more representation, and the way that community is represented needs to change. From what I see, all of the shows/characters are centered around their sexual/gender identity, not just who they are more generally. I think that by focusing on this, their image is skewed to one where they are either plot devices or political statements as opposed to people.” Arnold stresses the impact of these current portrayals; it is not just enough to include a “token character,” as Houston mentioned, but portray them in a way that doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes. “If you’re going to represent a certain group of people, make sure it’s done realistically,” Jesse Parker ’19 agrees, “incorporate life as it is, focus on the main group of people before jumping into all the little petty subcategories. And remember that the [LGBTQ+] community is already a laughing stock. Don’t make it more of one. Please!”  Sophia Marrone ’21 commented on the progress made for LGBTQ+ rights, while still noting the vast room for development: “I think that there isn’t enough representation of LGBTQ+ in media. Sure, we have reached a time where people can get married to who they want, but we still haven’t gotten over representation in [movies and television]. Also, social media, like YouTube, still allows anyone to be entertainers, but for movies, TV, and music, people have to be approved. I think to help fix this problem, directors and music producers should be open to all people.”

Voices of the WFS community not only criticise the lack of representation, but emphasize the importance of this issue. “I think that we need to step outside of the box and find TV shows that allow for the growth of LGBTQ+ characters. We also need to bring awareness to the issue and facilitate discussions. It’s important because there are kids that grow up thinking that they are different or wrong because they don’t see anyone like them on TV,” said Houston, highlighting the cultural impacts of the problem. Marrone’s perspective overlaps: “this is all important to make sure that everyone is equal and more people can feel better about being LGBTQ+ and to have role models.” The lessons that underrepresentation indirectly promotes to America’s youth can be detrimental to their self-esteem and sexual/gender development. Aside from the damage that can be done by a lack of representation, it is also imperative to note the potential impact proper representation can have. “In my mind, the way to acceptance and celebration is by demonstrating how we, as humans, are similar to each other and how we go through similar struggles,” says Arnold, “familiarity with the unknown always makes us less afraid of what we don’t understand, and, now at least, the representation of that community makes it easy to deny them as being just like you and me and label them for something that is only a part of who they are.”

The shared sentiment of the WFS community is not only that the LGBTQ+ community is underrepresented, but that it is the responsibility of entertainment providers to address this issue that can have potential impacts on American youth and culture. It’s about more than laughing at a sitcom or gasping at a drama; there is tremendous power in what we give our attention to, and it is crucial that we ensure it’s used properly.