Bear Witness

LGBTQ+ characters move beyond stereotype

Illustration by Elizabeth Posey

Illustration by Elizabeth Posey

Jazzy Nguyen and Uzor Awuzie

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Twenty-one years ago, Ellen Degeneres made TV history by declaring on her sitcom that her character was gay. Degeneres was afraid that, after her declaration in the “Puppy” episode aired in April 1997, that her career was over. It wasn’t until later when she graced the cover of Time Magazine with three words: “Yep, I’m gay.” In her interview with the magazine, she details her resistance in coming out until the show had finished. “I watched my friend Melissa [Etheridge] come out, and she became “the lesbian rock star.” I never wanted to be “the lesbian actress.” I never wanted to be the spokesperson for the gay community. Ever. I did it for my own truth.” So much has changed in the LGBTQ+ pop culture landscape since then. The famous episode was remembered for its impact on how gay and queer people were represented on and off the camera. From there LGBTQ+ characters on our screens have increased exponentially. From vampire slayers to regular humans, to shows based off these characters, they no longer are viewed as an “other.”

Today, there isn’t even a need for dramatic coming out scenes. The general acceptance of LGBTQ+ has made such characters a normality, rather than a historic moment. More TV shows and movies that better reflect our
society. GLAAD, an organization that keeps tabs on LGBTQ+ representation in the media, reports that of the 901 regular characters on broadcast scripted primetime programming, only 6.4 percent of them are on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Despite this being the highest percentage on record, some say it is far from being enough. “It’s crucial that we have more representation,” said freshman Nicole Platko. “There’s obviously still homophobes in the world, we’re not going to change people’s opinions, but we can get them to stop sharing in such a negative way. ”

The bigger problem is that with increased representation comes the problem of representative representation.

Many shows seem to follow the stereotypical characteristics of an LGBTQ+ person, rather than acknowledging the complexity of those all across the spectrum. Not every lesbian has short, dyed hair and displays masculine traits. Not every gay person wears feminine clothing or talks in a “flamboyant” way. Platko shares her frustration with the stigmas that seem to follow LGBTQ+ characters everywhere “The most annoying stereotype would probably be, lesbians have short hair, they wear flannels, and they build IKEA furniture, because it’s not true,” she said. “Everyone is super different. They can have a lesbian with long hair, Pocahontas with dreads, whatever, right? It doesn’t matter.”

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LGBTQ+ characters move beyond stereotype