As the world enters the middle of Pride month and reckons with the emotions wrought by the end of “Pose,” Hollywood’s LGBTQ community reminded the industry that the recent increase in LGBTQ visibility hasn’t gone far enough.
The Writers Guild of America-West’s LGBTQ+ Committee delivered that dose of truth Friday in an open letter to the film and television industry, stating that “the fight for inclusion and visibility has hardly begun.”
“We are halfway through Pride Month, when LGBTQ+ people (and our allies) come together to celebrate who we are, individually and collectively. While it is also a time to acknowledge how far we’ve come, it is undeniable that there are — to quote a great writer — ‘miles to go before we sleep,'” read the letter.
“In the same way the success of Shonda Rhimes does not mean Hollywood has fixed its racist history of suppressing Black voices, the existence of Greg Berlanti or Ryan Murphy does not mean LGBTQ+ writers as a whole have ‘made it.'”
The letter goes on to detail the historic erasure and outright bigotry toward LGBTQ communities the Hollywood system curated over the last century and that the entertainment industry’s recent LGBTQ “reckoning” hasn’t erased the harmful stereotypes and professional exclusion that survived earlier Hollywood eras.
“Perception bleeds into and then becomes reality. We have been taught to see ourselves as The Other, just as the heteronormative majority has been taught to see us,” read the letter. “Even in a post-Hays Code landscape, the prevailing narrative has not allowed LGBTQ+ characters the full scope of our humanity. Too often, we are reduced to our collective traumas — coming out, victimization, the AIDS crisis, being murdered for our identities.”
The statement points out the staggeringly low numbers associated with on-screen portrayals of LGBTQ characters and LGBTQ writers. According to a GLAAD report, only 18% of films released by major studios in 2019 featured an LGBTQ character. That amounts to 22 out of 118 films, and that number shrinks to nine when it comes films that give LGBTQ characters more than ten minutes of screen time.
Those limitations also apply to those crafting the stories. According to a survey of 158 members of the WGA-West LGBTQ+ Committee, nearly half stated that they had hidden or felt compelled to hide their LGBTQ identity in a professional setting during their career. 22% reported experiencing “overt discrimination” and 57% reported experiencing microaggressions in the last five years because of their LGBTQ identity. The letter also highlighted that current industry health plans offer very little in terms of gender-affirming healthcare to its trans workers.
“LGBTQ+ discrimination is not a problem of the past. Hollywood can no longer hide behind good intentions, progressive values, or marriage equality,” read the letter. “Queer people continue to live in fear of being who we are, in a country that continues to marginalize us, invalidate us, erase us, and deny us our basic access to housing, employment, and healthcare.”
Criticisms were also focused on the often generalized ways that LGBTQ communities are viewed in Hollywood. The letter urged the industry to quite viewing LGBTQ identities as a monolith whose lived experience remains consistent across all queer communities without interaction with other cultural touchstones. “There are still shows with queer
characters on screen, but no queer writers in the room — let alone a writer who matches and can speak to the specific identity of the character,” read the letter.
“The LGBTQ+ community is not a monolith. We are not interchangeable. Yet our identities continue to be
tokenized and our voices minimized by this ‘there can only be one’ mentality — 25% reported they were ‘always’ or ‘often’ the only LGBTQ+ writer in the room. This burdens the singular queer writer with the weight of representation for the entire acronym, which is particularly challenging to navigate at the lower levels.”
The letter outlined a number of starting points for the film and television industry to begin addressing the issues facing LGBTQ professionals in Hollywood. The options range from hiring more LGBTQ voices and paying them what they are worth to including LGBTQ identities in programs and competitions for marginalized groups to simply listening to he perspectives of LGBTQ people when crafting LGBTQ stories and characters.
It also called on Hollywood to take a more aggressive stance against the wave of anti-trans legislation introduced in state legislatures across the country. “Hollywood must stand up and vociferously speak out against the wave of anti-trans legislation, not simply with words, but with actions. The industry has spoken out against anti-abortion and anti-voting laws in the past. We must do the same now,” read the letter.
“The stories we tell, the stories you greenlight, determine the future that LGBTQ+youth envision for themselves. What we see on-screen and how we are represented informs what we believe is possible. It is present-day Hollywood’s responsibility to make right all the harm caused by Hollywood’s past,” it continued. “The notion that even a single queer character will be deemed too much of a risk in our increasingly global market is unacceptable. Reject this idea, or knowingly choose to reject us.”