Monthly Archives: March 2018

LGBT Representation in Media

In a report published by GLAAD last year, out of the 895 series regular characters expected to appear on broadcast scripted primetime programming in the coming year, 43 (4.8%) were identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer. In comparison to all the reports that they have published, this percentage is the highest of LGBTQ series regulars that they have ever found. On top of that, there were also a total of 28 recurring LGBTQ characters. Lesbian representation, on the other hand, dropped drastically on broadcast television to only 17% of all LGBTQ characters.

So, why is LGBT representation in mass media so important? In Wolff and Kielwasser (1991: 20), Goss suggests that sexual minorities are different from the conventional and ethnic minorities in a sense that they are quite similar to political minorities. They are not necessarily identifiable or recognisable by others. Similar to radicals, they are represented as perceived “threats” to the “natural” order of things. By positioning them in this way, this would perpetuate society’s stereotypes about them. Rothenberg (2007) mentioned that television plays an important active role in shaping and defining cultural groups hence, it also has the power to stereotype the gays and lesbians.

In the 80s and 90s, gay and lesbian characters on television mostly appeared in roles underlining issues pertaining to sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV or AIDS. The digital era in which we live in today is far from depicting LGBT characters in that light. LGBT representation in mass media has evolved, and television shows and films are now embracing LGBT issues instead.

More often than not, lesbians are either portrayed as ‘lipstick lesbians’ or ‘femmes’. Lesbianism is also often depicted as a frivolous lifestyle choice, instead of simply a part of who they are and what they identify with. In my opinion, for LGBT to be accepted in society, it first has to be accurately represented in the media. Netflix original Orange is the New Black (OITNB) has done a great job in LGBT representation and I say that because they have delved into the issue of sexuality and gender in a way that no other television show has done before. OITNB is a television show surrounding Piper and her incarceration in a federal women’s prison. She meets new inmates, one of which is her ex-lover, Alex (and the whole reason why she’s in prison anyway). The show revolves around a number of female inmates that are of different sexualities, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. In the first episode, Piper is seen telling her fiancé, Larry, that she used to be lesbian, but is not one anymore.

In OITNB, they have not only embraced the wide spectrum of lesbians, they have also included a transgender character as well. They also do not put a label on Piper’s sexuality and fully embrace the concept of sexual fluidity when it boils down to her sexual identity. She’s allowed to just be who she is freely. Additionally, misguided assumptions and stereotypes of sexuality and being queer have also been highlighted several times throughout the show, often by the male characters of the show. The show’s depiction of the transgender character, Sophia, is also fleshed out as they show the struggles she faces as the prison halts her supply of oestrogen and she has to come to terms with the possibility of losing her gender identity. Her relationship with her wife and son are also depicted in a way that is realistic, as they try to make their relationship work and is portrayed in a positive light, a rare occurrence in television as trans characters are often portrayed in a negative light instead.

The entire show portrays these usually invisible women in a way that does not make them singular, one-dimensional characters but instead, they’re fleshed out as women with complex personalities, with enough details paid to their sexualities and identities. All in all, I think the main takeaway from OITNB is that people’s sexuality may be defined differently and ultimately, it is defined only by what you choose to be defined as. It is never as simple as it looks.


GLAAD (2017) Where we are on TV report. Retrieved at:

Wolf, M.A, Kielwasser, A.P. (1991)  Gay people, sex, and the media. New York, NY: Harrington Park Press.

Rothenberg, P. S. (2007). Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study (p. 774). New York: Worth Publishers.