On March the 3rd, 2016, things finally got real. The LGBT+ community had had enough. This was the day that The 100 released the seventh episode of their third series, concluding with the death of another lesbian character, Lexa, the 147th lesbian or bisexual character to die on television. The manner in which Lexa’s death came about was rubbing salt in the wound, many thought, as she was killed through an accident just after she’d professed her love for her girlfriend Clarke. However, Lexa wasn’t the last of the many more lesbian and bisexual deaths to come. Twenty-six in fact, if you include the death of Heather, from the first episode of the new Doctor Who series. This is just one in a long line of problems when it comes to LGBT representation in the media.
Firstly, there are nowhere near enough LGBT POC (people of colour) characters in any show to display an accurate representation of real society (which is what most of today’s shows are set in) and, if there are, they get killed. For example, Poussey from ‘Orange Is The New Black’. So somehow, Hollywood, European TV, British TV and other media outlets are marginalising two groups at once, and seemingly doing nothing about it. It’s almost like only white, queer people exist and queer people of colour don’t. TV is failing both groups there.
To then add to the problem, queer couples are still so rare, they’re not seen as acceptable yet. Mainstream media is still overwhelmingly controlled by heterosexual romances and flings, with not a whiff of a queer one. Unfortunately, this only serves to make a marginalised group feel yet more marginalised, as they can’t see people they can relate to on something that almost everyone watches. A feeling of acceptance is key to queer people (especially young, queer people) succeeding in life and, without this, many of them may still hide their true selves. People are still scared of being who they are because there isn’t enough emphasis on the acceptance and ‘normalisation’ of queer characters and relationships.
Continuing this theme (and going back to Lexa’s death), healthy queer relationships are even more of a rarity, and that’s why The 100’s viewers felt so betrayed. Clarke and Lexa had a healthy and loving relationship, and it was brutally ended. However, the same can’t be said for many queer relationships in TV and film. There’s a trope that can be found in lots of mainstream media that displays queer relationships as abusive or a ‘phase’ for a character to pass through before returning to a heterosexual one (unless of course this character is bisexual, but that needs to be made obvious somehow). This isn’t helpful or healthy for queer viewers, as it gives them little hope for the future and lowers the chance of acceptance from society. Of course, there are abusive queer relationships, but the proportion of abusive queer relationships on TV is much higher than it is in real life.
There is also an astoundingly low number of trans characters in mainstream media too. Of all the shows and films I’ve watched, I can think of very few trans characters – the only ones being Lilli from ‘The Danish Girl’ and Sofia Burset of ‘Orange Is The New Black’. This again helps no one but people who are certain there’s no such thing as a transgender person, and can lead to young people (once again) hiding their true selves. It also doesn’t teach cisgender people how to accept transgender people in real life, and can lead to bullying or much worse.
Hollywood continues to let the LGBT community down in the ways that LGBT characters are cast, with many of them in roles of antagonistic villains, such as Buffalo Bill in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ or evil sidekicks, such as Le Fou in ‘The Beauty and the Beast’. In fact there are 33 villains across film, TV and comics that are confirmed queer, with many others displaying gay stereotypes (almost every Disney villain ever, especially Jafar). Through this, mainstream media continues to show queer people how they are not welcome, abusive, evil villains who don’t exist. Of course this isn’t the reality in the real world, but with the media showing the opposite, how much more will queer people be marginalised?
To combat this, it’s very simple, create plenty of queer characters who are main protagonists, save the day, continue loving and healthy relationships, aren’t reduced to their “phase” and aren’t killed off for no reason. Of course, when it comes to an asexual character, the relationship part doesn’t apply, but “not being reduced to a phase” most definitely does. It’s all about accurate representation, and being able to feel like we belong.