GLAAD, the LGBTQ media advocacy organization that releases an annual analysis of representation on TV, revealed its "Where We Are on TV" report Thursday and it contains some very good news: 2018 saw a record-high percentage of LGBTQ series regulars on broadcast television.
If you feel like you heard this same statistic last year, you're not imagining things: 2017 featured a record number of LGBTQ people on TV (6.4 percent of characters), which was an increase over the 2016 count that set a record back then too (4.8 percent). But there's more: across broadcast, cable and streaming, the total number of bisexual people is up (from 93 to 117); the total number of transgender people is up (from 17 to 26); and characters who are HIV-positive on TV are up to seven from two. And for the first time, there are more LGBTQ people of color (50 percent) on TV than white LGBTQ people (49 percent) on broadcast television.
An increase in the number of scripted shows and the continued rise in streaming content as well as LGBTQ-centric shows like Pose and Vida have certainly bumped up the numbers, but the timing is somewhat curious. Not only have LGBTQ people seen increased hostility from the White House — particularly trans individuals — but GLAAD, in a separate study, has tracked a decrease in acceptance of LGBTQ people for the first time in years too. The current climate, GLAAD asserts, only reinforces the need to have television reflect the true diversity of the nation; its stated goal is to have 10 percent inclusion (the estimated percentage of the U.S. population who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans or identifies as queer) on TV.
"With anti-LGBTQ policies being debated here and abroad, the stories and characters on television are more critical than ever before to build understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ people," Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD president and CEO, said in a statement. "Not only do stories that explore the rich lives and identities of LGBTQ people move the needle forward culturally, but they pay off in ratings - shows like Will & Grace, Supergirl, Empire, and How To Get Away with Murder all attract millions of viewers weekly and demonstrate that audiences are hungry for new stories and perspectives."
Other key data points from the "Where We Are on TV" survey include:
- 2018 saw record-high percentage of black (up to 22 percent from 18 percent), Latinx (held steady at 8 percent, tying last year's record), and Asian Pacific Islander series regular characters (up to 8 percent from 7 percent) across broadcast television.
- Netflix counted the highest number of LGBTQ characters across streaming services and FX counted the highest number of LGBTQ characters across cable networks.
- For the 2018-2019 season, there will also be a record-high number of series regulars who are people with disabilities — up to 2.1 percent from 1.8 percent the previous year. This is a total of 18 characters.
- More LGBTQ characters are in leading roles than ever before with shows like The Red Line, Charmed, Vida, and more putting LGBTQ characters front and center.
- Only 43 percent of the regular characters counted on broadcast primetime television are women, the same percentage as last year, and a severe underrepresentation of the U.S. population, which is estimated to be 51 percent women.