A new GLAAD report says the number of gay characters is up since last year on both broadcast and cable TV — and True Blood is the most inclusive show of all.
The report, which you can download in full here, counted 23 LGBT characters among the regular cast of scripted series in the 2010-11 broadcast TV season. That's 3.9%, up from 3% last year. On cable, there are 35 LGBT characters in the upcoming season, up from 25 in 2009, but still down from 2007, when there were 40. ABC has all the other networks beat, with 11 LGBT characters or 7.2%, and HBO's True Blood has the most LGBT characters of any individual show, with six. Other shows with LGBT lead characters include Showtime's Nurse Jackie, Starz's Torchwood (that would be Capt. Jack Harkness, who also did a memorable turn on Doctor Who), ABC's Modern Family, and ABC's Happy Endings (actually, all the broadcast TV shows with LGBT lead characters are on ABC). GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios has some hopeful words:
The increase in lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters on primetime television not only reflects the shift in American culture towards greater awareness and understanding of our community, but also a new industry standard that a growing number of creators and networks are adopting. The recent critical and commercial success of shows like Modern Family and Glee clearly indicate that mainstream audiences embrace gay characters and want to see well-crafted stories about our lives.
There's still lots of room for improvement. Of the 23 LGBT regular characters on broadcast TV, just 6 are people of color and 2 are people with disabilities. If you add in recurring characters who may not appear regularly, the picture is even more homogeneous — 81% of regular and recurring LGBT characters are white. There is only one trans character on scripted TV this season — Adam on Degrassi. And while the broadcast season includes a few lesbian and bisexual women, a breakdown of its LGBT characters reveals a significant slant toward the gay, white male.
Clearly TV has improved in its inclusion of LGBT characters, but it has a ways to go in terms of diversity. Gay white men on popular shows like Sex & the City and Will & Grace may have made this particular demographic more acceptable than most to TV writers and producers, but it's time for them to incorporate gay people of color, people with disabilities, and trans people as well. And to those who might find this recommendation too PC, remember that inclusion isn't just political, it's also aesthetic: shows are better the more stories they have at their disposal. Why would they want to limit themselves to narratives about people who are male, or able-bodied, or white?