The Blog

Don't Bury Your Lesbians

Although there has been progress, lesbians are still massively absent in comparison to gay males. For every two steps forward, there's always three back. Even though lesbians are featuring more in TV and film, their appearance is in many cases, short lived.
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Exciting news. Well...kind of.

Long running radio soap The Archers has finally tuned into the 21st century and introduced a lesbian character. Said lesbian, Anna, had featured in the soap for a while before it was revealed just a couple of weeks ago that her beloved ex Max is in fact Maxine. Granted it's not the most gripping of twists, but a twist it still is.

Although there has been a solid homosexual relationship in the soap - Adam and Ian are still going strong - it's encouraging to hear that a lesbian character has finally landed in the fictional village of Ambridge. Early reports indicate however, that Anna is, at best, not particularly dynamic as a character and, at worst, straying disappointingly close to tokenism.

That got me thinking about the portrayal of lesbians in media and on TV today.

Back in 2011, Stonewall, the fantastic UK charity devoted to the empowerment, freedom and support of the LGBTQ community, commissioned a report that explored the representation of gay youth in television. Some of the facts uncovered in the report were pretty damning... In 126 hours of TV programming there were only 46 minutes that could be defined as a positive and relatable portrayal of the LGBTQ community.

And in over 40 hours of footage, across some of the most popular programmes on TV at that time, lesbians featured for only 29 seconds.

I think we've come a long way since the 2011 Stonewall report. Now there are so many great programs with gay and transgender characters that are not only fairer representations of the real LGBTQ world, they're also taking centre stage.

Shows with an overwhelmingly high proportion of LGBTQ representation are really striking a chord with the community. Her is the largest app for LGBTQ women and in a recent survey found that the super queer shows were by significant margins more popular than those with just one queer story line, OITNB taking 26% of the vote and the L Word taking 15%. The one exception to the rule was The 100, with the lead story line revolving around a queer relationship it was favored by 20% of the Her community. The short story? These shows can't get gay enough for the LGBTQ community.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

But although there has been progress, lesbians are still massively absent in comparison to gay males.

For every two steps forward, there's always three back. Even though lesbians are featuring more in TV and film, their appearance is in many cases, short lived. In other words, they have a knack of getting killed off. And although I appreciate that, like life, we're all going to die at some point and onscreen lesbians are no exception; when there are so few characters and such a lack of happy endings, the death of lesbian characters is disproportionately large.

Look at Kate from Last Tango in Halifax. A pregnant bride that married the love of her life and then was killed the day after her wedding. Over the pond there was an uproar over the recent death of Lexa on The 100.

The bury your gays trope exists for a reason. There's no smoke without fire and it's the bodies of beloved lesbian characters that are burning.

But why care so much about what happens in the fictional world? Particularly when there are so many atrocities for everyone, not just the LGBTQ community, in the real one?

The world of TV, film and radio is not only powerful and influential, it also doesn't exist in its own vacuum. The wrongful portrayal of any minority group is damaging, perhaps even more so with the backdrop of emotive drama, and audiences often look to TV to not only educate themselves, but also to find something they can relate to. That becomes impossible for our community if lesbians fail to feature positively and accurately in these programs, or at all.

We know that young teens relate to the characters they see in the media, so much so that often these characters become iconic. What kind of inclusive message are these teens getting if they don't encounter anyone they can identify with on screen or on the radio, or if the people they do see are simple, token characters that live miserable, short lives?

For young members of the LGBTQ community, we would be ignorant to think that this is too trivial to have an effect on their ability to come out and live freely.

But it's not all bad. We are making progress, particularly with the number of shows like OITNB and Transparent, whose army of characters are majority LGBTQ. The fact these shows achieve such critical acclaim, fantastic ratings and are showered with awards indicates there is a hungry audience out there, ready for more.


Robyn Exton, Founder of Her

Her helps lesbian, bisexual and queer people meet each other. From an app with over 1.5 million users, to events in 24 cities across the world, Her connects queer people to their community.

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