Gay, transgender characters thrive on U.S. streaming sites, traditional TV lags

The cast of Orange is the New Black. (Reuters)

The cast of Orange is the New Black. (Reuters)

U.S. streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu are leading the way with depictions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people on television, most notably with transgender characters, and are far outpacing network and cable television, according to a GLAAD report.

The advocacy organisation, which monitors how the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is portrayed in the media, said its 20th annual television survey released on October 27 found that transgender characters are completely absent from primetime broadcast programming.

But seven percent of characters on streaming services were transgender, including two series leads. Amazon’s Transparent, about a family with a transgender father played by Jeffrey Tambor, racked up top awards including Emmys and Golden Globes in its first season. It was the first year that GLAAD has included streaming services in its survey.

GLAAD counted only three recurring transgender characters on cable television, which equates to two percent representation, and one of those, Penny Dreadful‘s Angelique, has since met her demise.

“Streaming services aren’t shackled to the same revenue models as television, which gives them more freedom to be creative and tell more rich and diverse stories,” explained Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD’s president.

“Streaming providers have reshaped the way LGBT stories are told, and we’re now seeing traditional entertainment media do its best to catch up,” she added, citing the success of Transparent, Sense8 and Orange Is the New Black which “can serve as examples to executives that audiences are ready for a new narrative.”

Overall, prime time broadcast network television featured 35 regular gay, lesbian or bisexual characters, or four percent of the total.
Cable had 84 and streaming services 43.

While the report found that overall representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender television characters is growing, racially diverse characters are lacking, and on-air characters living with disabilities had actually decreased.

“Each of us lives at the intersection of many identities,” said Ellis. “It’s important that television characters reflect the full diversity of the LGBT community.”

The report, which covered series airing or expected to air from June 1 through May 31, 2016, did not survey reality programs such as I Am Cait, which stars Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, who was once known as Bruce Jenner before coming out earlier this year as transgender.

It called for more racially diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters across all platforms. 

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