GLAAD’s annual “Where We Are on TV” and “Network Responsibility Index” reports intend to serve as a barometer for progress in LGBTQ representation on American television, and this year’s reports, as usual, reflect incremental progress in some areas, regression in other areas, and an overall lack of queer women on our teevee screen. The Network Responsibility Index gives ratings to 15 major networks based on the 2013-2014 season, and Where We Are On TV analyzes diversity — gender, sexual orientation, race and ability status — across all scripted television shows, and looks at LGBTQ characters planned for the 2014-2015 season.
I’ve been reading and analyzing these reports for five years now — there’s usually quite a bit to talk about because the reports are so very quantitative and representation is so very qualitative. When last year’s report came out, we talked about how a lack of representation onscreen was likely related to a lack of representation behind the scenes, compared the U.S population of various races, sexual orientations and gender identity to their representation on screen and looked at the quality of that year’s LGBT female characters because quantity didn’t tell the whole (sad) story.
In 2012, Kate wrote about the lack of masculine LGBT women on TV in Why Do Queer Women On Television All Look The Same?. In 2011, the first year any network received an “Excellent Rating” — MTV and ABC Family both snagged one — we talked about the lack of queer people of color. In 2009, we did some supplemental math ourselves to note that only 28 LGBT female characters — some only one-episode guest stars — were cited by GLAAD, as opposed to 86 men.
This year, June Thomas at Slate.com argued that these particular GLAAD Reports are “pointless and outdated” and that “GLAAD’s conclusions are essentially meaningless in the current TV landscape,” citing online streaming and YouTube as major change agents, making it so “it’s just as easy, if not easier, for many viewers to watch shows that are no longer on the air.” She also requests her fellow LGBTs “commit to valuing quality over quantity—“counting the queers” is no way to achieve social justice.”
These are fair points — the numbers never tell a complete story. The system is inherently flawed, too. For example, The L Word was singlehandedly responsible for a surge in lesbian representation for five years, making overall numbers seem progressively high when the majority of Americans weren’t actually being exposed to any more queer women on TV than usual. Last year there was more parity with respect to the gender of queer characters than there is this year, but this year feels a whole lot better than last year for queer women and queer women of color.
Mainstays like Santana on Glee and Callie and Arizona on Grey’s Anatomy existed last year (and still do), but new shows weren’t exactly chomping at the bit to write lesbian storylines. This year we’re seeing a lot more LGBT women front and center. Broadcast networks will feature 32 regular LGBT characters this season, up from last year’s 26, and 33 recurring LGBT characters. Of those 65 characters, 18 are lesbians and 10 are bisexual females. On cable, 105 regular and recurring scripted characters are LGBT, which includes 26 lesbians and 21 bisexual females.
Do the math: that’s 44 lesbian characters and 31 bisexual females compared to 82 gay men and 12 bisexual men. Wild, right? The striking discrepancy between men and women for the ratio of lesbian/gay characters to bisexual characters could be its own GLAAD report, honestly, and it’s something I’ll talk about a little bit in my recap for tomorrow’s episode of Faking It.
Among 813 series regulars on 115 primetime scripted television series on five broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC), 32 are LGBT, or 3.9% of the whole. Of these, only 43% were female and 57% were male, and 74% are white. Latino/a characters and black characters each represent 11% of the remainder and 5% are Asian/Pacific Islander. The forecast is slightly brighter on cable, where 64 regular LGBT characters will appear this season, up from 42 last year. Of these, 56% are cis females, 44% are cis males, and 1% is a transgender male. 66% are white, 11% are Latino/a, 10% are black, 8% are multi-racial and 5% are Asian/Pacific Islander. Streaming networks, where we’re seeing some of the best representation of all time, were mentioned but not analyzed.
The hidden delight of the Where We Are On TV report is, however, that the networks have given GLAAD a shit-ton of information about upcoming characters and storylines! So for this year’s Report on the Report, we’re gonna give you a qualitative look at where you’ll find lady-loving-ladies on television this year.
Disclaimer — No human can possibly be intimately knowledgable about all these shows, but I’ve spent several days researching them the best I could and getting info from other team members about the shows they watch. It’s likely you know more than we do about some of these shows, so feel free to alert me in the comments about anything inaccurate and we’ll make the change!
READY? I DON’T THINK YOU’RE READY.
Returning Regular Lesbian, Queer & Bisexual Female Characters
We didn’t lose too many LGBTQ female characters between last year and this year to shows ending or getting cancelled. True Blood was even included in the 2014-2015 analysis although it ended this past summer, so no points got docked for losing Pam and (the ghost of) Tara!
The major queer characters from last year are pretty much still around:
- Santana and Brittany on Glee (who might have a wedding proposal next season!)
- Emily and Paige on Pretty Little Liars
- Callie and Arizona on Grey’s Anatomy
- Delphine and Cosima on Orphan Black
- Bo and Lauren on Lost Girl
- Stef and Lela on The Fosters
- Gail and Holly on Rookie Blue
- Jack and Imogen on Degrassi: The Next Generation
- Caroline and Kate on Last Tango in Halifax
The somewhat second-tier w/r/t the size of the role and/or pertinence of their queer identity remain as well: Doc Yewll and Lev on Defiance, Kalinda on The Good Wife, Diana on White Collar, Betty on Masters of Sex, Lena on Ray Donovan, Elaria Sand on Game of Thrones, Jenny on Two and a Half Men (groan), Ariana on The Bridge, Carolyn on Under the Dome and Tara on The Walking Dead. Reportedly, Nyssa on Arrow will have a big storyline this season.
Some newly-out queers and smaller roles round out the bunch: Haddie on Parenthood, Nenna and Rose on Crossbones, Margot on Hannibal, Patsy on Getting On, Lydia on Switched at Birth, Crickett on Heart of Dixie, Joanna and Alex on Witches of East End, and Dominion‘s Arika and Uriel. Lesbian recurring character Gina Mendez on The Following survived a stabbing at the end of Season Two, and there are rumors she’ll be a major character in Season Three… but there are also rumors that she may not return at all.
Then there are the ones whose interest in women hasn’t been mentioned in years but still technically count, like Josslyn on Mistresses, Angela on Bones, Pam on Archer and Patty on The Simpsons. Oh right, and Connie on the animated series Brickleberry, voiced by Roger Black and described as “a lesbian female ranger who has a large body, immense strength, and a deep voice that is often mistaken for male.” Her vagina makes growling noises when she’s excited and she’s obsessed with a straight female park ranger. Yay for representation!
Unfortunately, forget lesbian bed death, the real plague haunting queer women on television is plain ‘ol LESBIAN DEATH. Lots of queer female characters died this year. Shana, a queer women of color, was killed off on Pretty Little Liars. Leslie Shay was killed in the season premiere of Chicago Fire. Recurring character Reyna Flores was killed off on Matador last week. And although she appeared throughout the season in hallucinations, Tara died the true death in the True Blood premiere.
The Almighty Johnsons, which apparently featured a bisexual character named Michele, was canceled.
Very Recently Debuted Shows With LGBTQ Female Characters
Faking It has a teenage high school girl who likes girls at the heart of its story. It’s been under fire for falling into the lesbian-sleeps-with-a-man trope after the Season One finale, and it seems like the writers want to keep her options open, but presently it seems that regardless of her identity, her dating-related storylines will be exclusively girl-on-girl. Faking It is the first show since South of Nowhere to have a teenage lesbian as one of two main characters.
Chasing Life, a charming and cheesy little drama that premiered this summer on ABC Family, introduced a subdued but resonant queer storyline for teenagers Brenna and Greer, which included a “label-free” teenage girl choosing a girlfriend (the openly lesbian Greer) over a boyfriend.
Also on ABC Family, Switched at Birth has really been stepping it up with its queer representation. In addition to casting lesbian and bisexual actresses like Sandra Bernhard and Meredith Baxter, the show currently features a deaf Latina teenage lesbian, Natalie, who has a girlfriend, Hillary. There’s also a lesbian book editor named Lydia Kaiser who played a small role in Season Three.
The Strain, on FX, just brought back FRANKIE aka Ruta Gedmintas as computer hacker Dutch Velders. GLAAD says that “FX will have ten lesbian, gay or bisexual characters, including Michael on Partners, Dutch on The Strain, and Abdul and Sammy on Tyrant.” So I guess that means that Dutch is a HOMO.
TNT’s The Last Sail has a lesbian lieutenant of color who told AfterEllen she appreciates that for her character, “being a lesbian and having a female partner at home was dealt with in such an un-sensationalized way.” Season Two starts in 2015.
New or Returning Shows With New LGBTQ Female Characters
Backstrom (FOX) – Nicole Gravely (gay) – 2015
GLAAD says that “The Portland Police Bureau’s Special Crimes Unit on Backstrom will feature both a gay and a bisexual character, Nicole and Gregory,” and that’s good news because Nicole (Genevieve Angelson) is one of two lead characters. She plays second-in-command to the titular self-destructive and “irascible” Everett Backstrom (Rainn Wilson), a detective “tasked with not only keeping the unit together in the face of Backstrom’s behavior but ensuring that his unorthodox investigatory methods hold up in court.”
Last year, when the role was still being played by Mamie Gummer, Vulture described Nicole’s role as “…an openly gay police detective who is saddened over her breakup with her longtime partner.” But in January, AfterEllen reported that the show was being “re-tooled” from the Swedish novel series it was adapted from and that Nicole would no longer be a lesbian, but that she also wouldn’t be heterosexual, because who isn’t dying for ANOTHER “label-free” lady on television AM I RIGHT LADIES? However, GLAAD’s inclusion of Backstrom and description of Nicole as gay could suggest yet another re-tooling has taken place.
Survivor’s Remorse (Starz) – M-Chuck (lesbian) – October 2014
GLAAD lists Survivor’s Remorse’s M-Chuck as one of the “new out women… to be introduced in the upcoming season.” M-Chuck, who is African-American (like most of the show’s cast), is third from the top on the show’s webpage, and she is described as Cam’s “older sister, staunch defender and biggest fan.” The show “follows Cam Calloway, a basketball phenom in his early 20’s who is suddenly thrust into the limelight after signing a multi-million dollar contract with a professional basketball team in America.” M-Chuck is played by Erica Ash, who you might remember as the only straight female actress on Logo’s Big Gay Sketch Show! The sitcom, executive-produced by Lebron James, is only slated for six episodes thus far but is getting positive reviews. The San Francisco Gate remarks that Mary Charles / M-Chuck is “a woman on constant prowl for the ladies and isn’t afraid to show a little PDA with a girlfriend during church.” YESSSSSS.
Gotham (FOX) – Renee Montoya (lesbian) & Barbara Kean (bisexual) – Now Airing
As discussed, Renee Montoya is a Latina Lesbian detective on Gotham, and her bisexual ex Barbara Kean will appear later in the season. So far Renee’s screen time has been minimal.
Faking It (MTV) – Reagan (lesbian) – Now Airing
Faking It will be adding a love interest for Amy this season, and GLAAD reports she is a lesbian of color.
Jane the Virgin (The CW) – Luisa (lesbian) and Rose (bisexual) – October 2014
Jane the Virgin, a show that actually looks really good and funny despite everything the premise would lead you to believe, has two queer female characters: Rose, who is bisexual and in every episode this season, and Luisa, who is a lesbian and the doctor who accidentally gets Jane pregnant.
Scream (MTV) – Audra Jensen (bisexual) – 2015
The Scream films are being adapted for the small screen, and Jamie Travis of Faking It will be directing the pilot. Bex Taylor-Klaus will be playing a lead role as Audra Jensen, the “daughter of a Lutheran pastor” who is “described as an artsy loner who aspires to be a filmmaker.” You may remember Bex Taylor-Klaus from her role as a homeless masculine-of-center kid Bullet on The Killing.
One Big Happy (NBC) – Lizzy (lesbian) – 2015
We’ve got a lesbian in the lead of this new NBC Comedy. “Gay and a bit type-A” Lizzy (Elisha Cuthbert) and her best friend “straight and more laid back” Luke decide to have a baby together — platonically — and then Luke meets a girl named Prudence and they get married and ta-da a non-traditional family is born! Our dearest Liz Feldman is writing the show, and Ellen DeGeneres is the Executive Producer. Fingers crossed this will be better than The New Normal, although seriously must we always stick babies in our lesbians?
Black Sails (Starz) – ??? – 2015
Black Sails will be introducing two new LGBT characters, but there’s no indication from GLAAD on if these characters will be men or women or neither. The show already has two queer characters, Max and Eleanor. Many fans hope Anne Bonny might turn out to be one of those “new” LGBT characters.
Red Band Society – Sarah Souders and Andrea Souders (lesbian)
Sarah and Andrea will play small roles as the moms of “mean girl” cheerleader Kara.
The Mindy Project – Dr. Jean Fishman (lesbian)
Niecy Nash will be playing a recurring role as “a take-no-prisoners type” who “also happens to be a lesbian” and will be Mindy’s “antagonist” at the office. I really love The Mindy Project so I am very excited about this.
Where Are The Transgender Women?
Unique, who was holding it down for trans women of color on Glee, isn’t returning next year — which is actually fine, because the show did a terrible job with her character and storyline and I was sick of hearing them get praised for including her at all. GLAAD found zero transgender women on the shows it analyzed this year (and just one transgender boy — Cole, who plays a minor role on The Fosters).
After several consecutive years of minimal progress in transgender representation on broadcast networks, GLAAD decided that starting next year, “networks must feature significant transgender content in their original programming in order to receive a grade of “Excellent” in the NRI.”
However, Faking It just introduced an intersex character, which is obviously different from having a transgender character, but is within the trans* umbrella. There is a lot more going on for transgender characters on streaming television, however…
Streaming Content With LGBTQ Female Characters
Orange is The New Black (Netflix)
Orange is the New Black remains an embarrassment of riches. We’ve got Piper Chapman, our bisexual lead, a queer transgender woman of color, Sophia Burset, and then a whole truckload of additional lesbian, bisexual or at-least-kinda-queer ladies like Alex Vause, Suzanne, Poussey, Big Boo, Nicky, Soso and Leanne.
Transparent (Amazon Prime)
This show is SO FUCKING GAAAAYYYYYYYYYYY y’all. We’ve got Maura, a lesbian transgender parent, at the epicenter. Then there’s Maura’s bisexual daughter, Sarah, Sarah’s lesbian activity partner, Tammy, and Tammy’s wife, Barb. Maura’s daughter, Ali, is possibly genderqueer (this hasn’t been articulated yet but seems to be the direction we’re going in), and her best friend, Sid, is bisexual. The show also has 25 transgender cast and crew members, including one prominent trans female character, Davina (Alexandra Billings), as well as three recurring characters, Kaya, Eleanor and Shay.
House of Cards (Netflix)
House of Cards is secretly kinda queer — the main dude is bisexual, but there’s also some girl-on-girl culture happening between two recurring characters, Rachel Posner and Lisa Williams, though it’s unclear how that will play out next year.
Alpha House (Amazon Prime)
I have no idea what this show is but apparently it features two female legislative assistants who are dating!
East Los High (Hulu Plus)
I’m actually really not sure how we didn’t know that this show existed until last week?? There’s a teenage Latina couple! YOU GUYS.