GLAAD | News | Television

Why Would Networks Not Include Gay Characters?

KurtGlee GLAAD this week released its annual assessment of gay inclusion in television.

According to their data, Fox is the most inclusive of all the major networks, thanks in large part to Glee, while HBO wins in the cable realm.

Overall, however, gay representation is down a bit from last year, when ABC was tops in terms of LGBT inclusion.

From ABC News:

GLAAD announced that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters account for 2.9 percent of regular characters in primetime scripted broadcast TV for the 2011-12 season. That's down from 3.9 percent in 2010.

The percentage of LGBT characters on primetime scripted cable TV also dipped from last year, according to GLAAD.

Still, representatives for the organization said there's much to celebrate: From "Modern Family" to "True Blood" to "Glee," many of the shows acclaimed by both critics and audiences are also invested in developing LGBT characters.

I was actually thinking about this earlier this week, and wondered why more networks don't include queer characters in their line up.

Aside from the obvious reasons for creating LGBT characters -- positive portrayal in an era in which LGBT people are becoming more mainstream -- it seems to me that network and cable executives would want to stack their shows with gay characters because gays often have tons of disposable income.

Those dollars could then be spent on the advertisers who, if they were smart, specifically bought time on shows with gay characters, thereby increasing the networks' bottom line.

It's just common sense -- and cents -- to include LGBT characters on television, and anyone who disagrees is either a bigot or incredibly dense.

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  1. You need to Google "myth gay affluence". Several studies have shown that gay men in particular earn between 7% - 25% less than straight men. Other factors also come into play, resulting in the busting of this myth.

    As for why they don't include more gay characters? Why should they risk the hassle of dealing with religious groups and jittery advertisers? The networks are run by corporations, and all that matters is money.

    Posted by: Mike | Sep 29, 2011 10:46:44 AM

  2. Gays have tons of a disposable income... hasn't that myth been busted enough times you wouldn't expect to see prominent gay blogs reposting it?

    Posted by: nodnarb | Sep 29, 2011 10:47:18 AM

  3. I can see the headline now, 'Gays Stimulate The Economy'.

    Posted by: Hotter Perry | Sep 29, 2011 10:50:38 AM

  4. It seems to me that the ratio of gay characters on TV is a mostly fair representation of the ratio of gay folks in the real world. I worked for Nielsen for a number of years and I can tell you the networks and advertisers intensely study audience demographics and put great effort into catering to that demographic very precisely. In depth study into the effects that adding/deleting certain characters is common.

    "It's just common sense -- and cents -- to include LGBT characters on television, and anyone who disagrees is either a bigot or incredibly dense."

    I was a bit surprised to read the sentence above. This type of hard-line rhetoric is not what I'm come to except from Towleroad. Who is this Andrew Belonsky character? This type of statement is offensive and only serves to alienate your readers who actually disagree. I expect that from the close-minded extreme right, but not from this site.

    Posted by: Ian | Sep 29, 2011 10:52:34 AM

  5. I love how the author ends the argument by telling the reader that they are a bigot or an idiot if they dont agree with most of his unsubstantiated claims. Brilliant.

    I would not want Kurt from Glee being the face of any kind of community I was involved with. The only thing he inspires me to do is turn the channel.

    Posted by: Lisa G | Sep 29, 2011 10:55:26 AM

  6. Belonsky has shown himself to be a pretty lousy journalist. Please, Andy, can't you do better?

    Posted by: StillmarriedinCA | Sep 29, 2011 10:58:28 AM

  7. Thanks for bullying me with that last line, Mr. Belonsky. Hypocrite.

    Posted by: Briman | Sep 29, 2011 10:58:28 AM

  8. We are dense for not agreeing with you?! Whoever wrote this post is the only incredibly dense one. Incredibly dense.

    Posted by: Sean | Sep 29, 2011 10:58:29 AM

  9. Forget the bean counting. It's not the number of LGBT characters on the tube that matter -- it's the quality of the writing acting and directing. And on that level I'm quite happy with "Glee." Lord knows it's not perfect. Far from it. But it took a high dive into a pool no one every thought of swmming in and has become the Esther Williams of Teh Ghey. "Modern Family" liekwise deserves accolades -- especially for the way the (quite offbeat) gay cpouple is folded into story featuring straight couples. The results are funny and often really interesting.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Sep 29, 2011 10:58:41 AM

  10. Check out this study from the Task Force:

    Posted by: Duane Williams | Sep 29, 2011 11:00:30 AM

  11. Oh PUHLEEZE Lisa. The character of Kurt is an excellent role model! He's a kid in school, talented etc...who WOULDN'T want him as a role model for any kid. It's sickening that we truly do "Eat Our Own"

    Did glaad mention the gay character on "Happy Endings"?

    Posted by: Geoff M | Sep 29, 2011 11:00:56 AM

  12. The myth of gay affluence causes gays to be targeted for hate crimes, and harms our fight for equality:

    Posted by: Mike | Sep 29, 2011 11:06:35 AM

  13. The number of gay characters on TV being representative of the gay population is complete nonsense. If we're going to a quota system for gays, let's do it for everyone. Let's start with the super-rich who play such a huge role in many shows. They are "entitled" to 7 minutes a week across the major networks since they represent 0.2% of the population. Who replaces them? More women, more minorities, more old people, the 10% to 25% unemployed (depending on age), the homeless and a lot more prisoners and convicts. "Sweeps week" will have new meaning when the sanitation workers get the screen time they "deserve".

    Posted by: Hue-Man | Sep 29, 2011 11:14:09 AM

  14. Mr. Belonsky you have demonstrated that you are the biggest bigot in this story.

    Calling Andy Towle...this _jacka ss_ is what your site is turning into now?

    Posted by: AJ | Sep 29, 2011 11:18:00 AM

  15. My biggest problem with gay characters on TV is that they tend to always been shown as the stereotypical gay queens. Some don't - 'Happy Endings' for one, but on that show the guy playing gay is actually a straight, another dislike in my book. It's like hiring Sidney Toler (an Englishmen) to play Chinese Charlie Chan but a good example if the stereotypical queen is Eric Stonestreet on Modern Family. He plays Cameron father to Lily and Mitchell's husband. Stereotypical queen.

    I live in downtown San Francisco (Russian Hill), born/raised here, and yes there are the wild flamboyant screaming queens but the reality of gay life is those individuals are now more on the edges of the gay community rather then the center of our world. Gay bars in SF have diminished - not because there are fewer gay people (far from it!) but because gay people are blending in, more apt to be part of the general community and three out of five clubs my husband and I may go out to with other friends tend to be 'Uni' (is that a word?) places. Predominately straight but gays are there and cruising all guys without fear of being beaten to death for even looking at a straight guy. A straight guy will tell you he's not gay and they tend not to fear a gay guy hitting on them or checking them out.

    As the generations move on I can see the lone all-gay bar as historic, like bath-houses (remember those?) and we are starting to see that more and more on television too. Groups of gay and straight friends interacting together with the odd Karofsky type here and there. Swishy girly queens (Kurt is a fine example - sometimes I cringe when he simply pushes it too far, i.e. the Victor/Victoria act - but I applaud the guy's amazing talent. I simply want to see more gay actors playing gay roles that reflect the reality of gay life - and "The A-List" is total fantasy and hurts the gay community more than helps.

    Posted by: OS2Guy | Sep 29, 2011 11:22:52 AM

  16. Are people actually arguing against gay characters on TV? Or an accurate presentation of these characters? Well, I wouldn't call you dense and bigoted, but misguided, most definitely. I agree that quality is more important than quantity, but it doesn't hurt to see as many positive displays of gay characters on television shows as possible.

    Oh, and what Hue-Man said.

    Posted by: Francis | Sep 29, 2011 11:22:57 AM

  17. Is Andrew Belonsky back only to make us appreciate Penn Bullock? Because, sad to say, it's actually working.

    Seriously, are we supposed to believe that Andy Towle is the only person who can actually write for this site?

    Posted by: ohplease | Sep 29, 2011 11:25:55 AM

  18. "I was actually thinking about this earlier this week, and wondered why more networks don't include queer characters in their line up."

    Because they think of them as "queer"! Duh! Consult your dictionary and learn what that word means. Try looking up the word "slur", too. Educate yourself, gatekeeper: A mind is a terrible thing to waste!

    Read more:

    Posted by: Stuffed Animal | Sep 29, 2011 11:32:03 AM

  19. It's funny, the Advocate recently ran a story on the first documentary about gay people back in 1961. In it, members of the Mattachine Society, the very first gay "liberation" organization, were interviewed and stated that one of their principal goals was to eradicate the stereotype of gay men as being "sissies" and "queens", understanding, as they did, that the principal barrier to acceptance for gay men has always been the perception that they are masculinely deficient.

    Fast forward to 2011, a full half-century later, and virtually every gay man on network television is a stereotypical flaming sissy.....and GLAAD is so stupid as to praise the networks for perpetuating such stereotypes.

    Gay men have become the clowns of network television, caricatured and laughed at in a disrespectful way, the same way that blacks were back in the early days of television via shows like "Amos 'n Andy" and characters like Step-n-fetch-it, Modern Family being the perfect example of that--one of the gay characters actually having mouthed the line in the episode before last "I just don't get boys"....(Translation: I have no male identity whatsoever and am nothing but a woman with a beard)

    I am sure that 70 years ago, blacks, too, were just happy to see their own kind on TV, even in stereotypical form, after having been invisible throughout history--and only later did they become angry when they realized that they had just been functioning as entertaining clowns for white people.

    And that appears to be where gay people are now, thinking that even being the clowns of society is better than being invisible, when really it is not.

    A sad reflection on a movement that has lost its focus and become severely misguided, both in its strategies and its tactics, having lost the idealism and sharp analytical edge of its pioneers and apparently delusional in its belief that the world is laughing with us rather than at us.

    Precisely why the movement has stagnated, even among the young, for whom the term "That's so gay" has become the catch-all phrase for everything uncool and everything you DON'T want to be.

    Quite disheartening.

    Posted by: Rick | Sep 29, 2011 11:34:04 AM

  20. A few speculations: 1. Those lucky gay and lesbian people with "tons of disposable income" probably aren't spending their evenings watching television.

    2. The FCC ratings system seems automatically to assign at least a TV-14 rating to any show which features gay or lesbian characters (just as the inclusion of openly gay or lesbian characters seems to result in an automatic PG-13 from the MPAA). Producers who create "family shows" must avoid recurring gay and lesbian characters: Only TV-MA shows can depict sexually active gay or lesbian characters.

    3. Right-wing advertiser boycotts are on the decline right now, and that's just the way the networks like it.

    Posted by: Tim Hulsey | Sep 29, 2011 11:38:07 AM

  21. No need for the name calling, seriously you commenters are so prissy! Chill!

    Now for some intelligent discourse AB, to add to the statistics you have just been given, I will also include that networks also do a helluva lot of market research. Now whether or not some go by this on certain shows-especially when they ship in a character that is hated by the fans, can't act and is so obviously sleeping with someone at the top-is very, very debatable but believe me that they do research.

    And with that research comes not only seeing people's reaction to a gay character but also reading comments on blogs, forums etc about that feeling.

    One example is when White Collar on USA gave their lesbian character, gulp, a girlfriend. People were frothing on the mouth on facebook and many said they had quit the show. On Imdb, one of the largest posts is 'why did they make Diana a lesbian'. The irony that the show is based in one of the most liberal cities in the world, is all-about art, style, has hip music and thrift shop kitsch seems to be lost on these viewers. Suffice to say I don't think we will see this girlfriend next season.

    I could go on but I would recommend spending some time on fan/show blogs as well as rating sites and tv review sites on the comment blogs. These aren't right wing sites you can just dismiss, so they unfortunately give a clear view of what the general public think about gay characters.

    And David, Glee isn't the best example because like True Blood, from the get go it was/is about being gay inclusive as an integral part of the show but even Glee too ages to give Kurt a boyfriend, then a kiss-thank god for those fangurls!-and there was recently a tweet from some college football player moaning about the gay content on True B, I kid you not.

    So even with shows that from the get go are all about gay being front stage, you still get complaints.

    I won't even go into how long it took for the couple in Modern Family to kiss.

    Luckily Glee, Modern Family and True Blood are all about stereotypes, so the fact that they represent gays in the most typical harmless effeminate weak OTT manner is in keeping with the shows portrayals. Because heck, that is how America likes to see gay people and until that changes, you will continue to get comments on twitter about NPH or Bomer not really being gay because they don't look it. "but he plays a womanizer!" "he's athletic!"

    Etc etc

    Posted by: Rowan | Sep 29, 2011 11:38:23 AM

  22. Show me as study where the income disparity effect has been shown to outweigh positive effect on disposable income caused by a lower average number of children, and I'll believe it's a myth. Neither of the links above did, I read them both. They both mentioned that gay men and lesbians have less kids, but didn't quantify the effect on disposable income.

    Posted by: DJSauvage | Sep 29, 2011 11:39:08 AM

  23. Aren't LGBT people only 5% of the population? It seems like other minorities like Asians are less represented

    Posted by: Brian | Sep 29, 2011 11:40:09 AM

  24. @OS2GUY and ROWAN Thanks for the intersting posts. I read them after I had already posted my comment, but what struck me was how contradictory the comments of the two of you were to each other.

    OS2GUY basically thinks that integration is happening so fast that gay is just not an issue at all for anybody.....and Rowan thinks that the only way straight people can deal with gay men is if they are made into stereotypical clowns.

    So which is it?

    How can it be both.

    I was particularly intrigued by your comment OS2GUY because I have heard all about his "integration" but don't really buy it. Maybe San Francisco truly is way ahead of the curve, as it often is, but in most of America, cruising a straight guy is still likely to get you a hostile reaction. And even if it did not, how "efficient" is it to cruise guys randomly--or get to know them randomly--in hopes that they will turn out to be gay, when statistically, the likelihood of that being the case is extremely low?

    It is an approach that can lead to a lot of frustration as I have learned from experience. I got so tired of the gay "scene" many years ago that I just started befriending guys I liked, without knowing anything about their sexual orientation......and surprise, surprise, when the moment of truth came, the classic "homosexual panic" ensued, which was not very pleasant to deal with.

    It would be great if we were at the point where men could just explore and experiment different kinds of relationships with other men, sexual and otherwise, without a stigma being attached--that is, in fact, my overriding goal--but I am really, really skeptical that we are anywhere near that point.


    Posted by: Rick | Sep 29, 2011 11:50:34 AM

  25. Stuffed Animal,

    Many Gen X, Gen Y, and younger use the term "queer" instead of LGBT because they feel it more inclusive and less stereotypical. A different generation uses a different term to describe itself is a common theme in history.

    Africa-American > Black > Colored > Negro or

    Native American > Indian


    Not having a gay character is like not having a woman or person of color. Sometimes it's just the context of the story and other times it is bigotry or ignorance at play.

    Look at "Friends." A show that was set in New York but rarely had any people of color on in its first seasons. That was institutional bigotry.

    On the other hand, a show like the Sopranos, which is about ethnic Italian-American mobsters can exist in a bubble.

    Posted by: Mark | Sep 29, 2011 11:51:20 AM

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