GLAAD: You Watched TV Like a Full-Time Job in 2020, Even With Fewer LGBTQ+ Characters

GLAAD released my all-time favorite annual collection of stats today: the Where We Are on TV report for 2020. GLAAD has been putting this thing together since 2005. It started with counting the number of LGBT characters on TV and has evolved into a deeply researched and detailed analysis of LGBTQ+ characters and the quality of their screen time, breaking the numbers down by things like gender, race, disability, age, and all-ages and Spanish-language programming. GLAAD then uses the report — and its past reports to highlight trends — as part of their advocacy and education initiatives throughout the year. Numbers matter. For example, activism around the Bury Your Gays became a lot more effective when fans were able to point the massive list Riese assembled of all the dead queer women on TV over the years. I used to be an accountant! I love numbers!

ANYWAY.

This year’s Where We Are on TV report is really interesting because, first of all, GLAAD quotes Nielsen and notes that, with the pandemic raging, Americans were at home watching TV enough for it to basically be a full-time job in 2020 (37 hours per week, on average). And second of all, there was a downtrend in several areas that had seen pretty consistent progress over the last many years because so much TV and film production was on hold in 2020. This is especially true because there are still so few LGBTQ+ characters overall that missing even a few shows makes a significant impact, as is the case in 2020 where we lost shows with multiple characters like The L Word: Generation Q (which didn’t film due to the pandemic), How to Get Away With Murder (which ended its run in 2020), and cancelled faves like GLOW. You’ll also note that’s a lot of POC characters.

One of the most interesting things about this year’s report was the fact that “one in every five LGBTQ characters appears on a series that is tied to one of just four creatives” — Greg Berlanti, Lena Waithe, Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes. Meaning that 5% of shows account for 17% of total LGBTQ+ characters.

The total series regulars on broadcast TV were down down to 9.1% from last year’s 10.2%. Cable dropped to 118 characters total, down from last year’s 215. And streaming services — Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, etc. — dropped to 141 characters, down from last year’s 153. On a more positive note, there was a slight increase in characters with disabilities; there are 38 regular and recurring trans characters, up from 26 last year; racial diversity increased on broadcast and cable shows; and we’re getting a new asexual character in 2021 (whose identity is under embargo).

I was also really pleased to see GLAAD talk about the uprising for Black lives that has been shaping our cultural conversation since last summer, and name the concrete steps some networks have taken to ensure they are addressing systemic racism in their programming. “New calls were made for change in the entertainment industry which would prioritize hiring, promoting, and investing in Black creators and stories on all levels,” GLAAD writes. “Since June, several networks and studios have either launched or expanded their staff and efforts in the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity space. Several companies made donations to the Black Lives Matter movement, and CBS signed a multiyear agreement with the NAACP which will include a dedicated team of executives working with the group to acquire, develop, and produce new programming across ViacomCBS properties.”

It is so necessary for us to begin seeing those changes immediately — in the next season — on TV. (Check out Color of Change’s recent Normalizing Injustice report for more data on the impact of negative representation for POC characters.)

Netflix leads the way with LGBTQ+ characters on streaming platforms, and the CW on cable. (Let’s go, Batwoman!)

You can check out GLAAD’s full 2020 Where We Are on TV Report right here!


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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1246 articles for us.

2 Comments

  1. Fascinating stuff! As someone who watches everything on a laptop regardless of its source, it was especially interesting to see how much streaming platforms lag behind on diversity compared to other formats. Why would that be the case?

    I particularly appreciated the attention gave to quality of content and problems that aren’t obvious from the numbers, like noting that trans characters appear almost exclusively on dramas rather than comedies. And I love the bulleted list of the stereotypes that persist in bi+ representation—a nice reminder that numbers aren’t everything!

  2. Thank up for pointing out the diversity and the industry’s efforts to develop more of a diverse staff and the commitment to contribute to diverse causes. It’s super sad we’re losing LGBTQ characters though.

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