GLAAD announced the findings of its annual Where We Are on TV report. Where We Are on TV analyzes the overall diversity of primetime scripted series regulars on broadcast networks and assesses the number of LGBTQ regular and recurring characters on primetime scripted cable programming and original scripted streaming series on the services Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix for the 2020-2021 TV season.
This marks the 25th year that GLAAD has tracked the presence of LGBTQ characters on television, and the 16th edition of the Where We Are on TV study.
While the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, Americans, and audiences across the world, are tuning into their televisions. Per Nielsen’s Total Audience study, adults 18 and over were spending just above 37 hours per week watching television in the first quarter of the year: the equivalent of a second full-time job.
The importance and impact of television has grown exponentially this year. Fandom.com’s State of Fandom 2020 study found that audiences were looking to entertainment to find connection now more than ever: either with a story onscreen or by consuming content with others through shared experience (e.g. Hulu launching Watch Party, Disney+ launching GroupWatch, and the unofficial Netflix Party extension).
People saying they use entertainment “to connect with someone else” grew 80 percent year-over-year, and even further, almost half of fans (45 percent) strongly agree that the way they engage with entertainment has permanently changed.
“In the midst of a destructive pandemic, a long overdue cultural reckoning with racial injustice, and a transition into a new political era for this country, representation matters more than ever as people turn to entertainment storytelling for connection and escape,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD’s President and CEO. “This time of unprecedented change matched with increased demand represents an opportunity to break new ground with stories we have not seen before and create LGBTQ characters that do not reinforce harmful stereotypes.”
This renewed drive for connection via television, paired with a growth in audiences’ appetite for more and new content, is a huge opportunity for LGBTQ visibility across the industry.
Right now, LGBTQ inclusion is still enormously impacted by a small handful of creators who prioritize it. Characters on series from just four out power players (Greg Berlanti, Lena Waithe, Ryan Murphy and ally Shonda Rhimes) last year accounted for 14 percent of all LGBTQ characters. This year, that percentage increased with these creators’ series representing 17 percent of all LGBTQ representation (62 of 360 characters) on TV appearing on their 16 series included in this year’s study.
This means nearly one in every five LGBTQ characters appears on a series that is tied to one of just four creatives.
In 2020, GLAAD’s The State of HIV Stigma survey found that nearly nine in ten Americans believe “there is still stigma around HIV” which is keeping progress back. This year’s report shows a drastic decrease in representation of characters living with HIV, from nine the previous year to just three. All three characters are on FX’s Pose. GLAAD is calling on the industry to erase the stigma and drive meaningful cultural change with authentic storytelling featuring people living with HIV.
GLAAD has called on the industry to introduce no less than three new regular or recurring LGBTQ characters living with HIV each year in scripted primetime broadcast or cable shows, or original series on the services tracked in this study (Amazon, Hulu, Netflix). GLAAD stands ready to drive this change as a resource to our industry partners.
“Hollywood must tell these stories that not only entertain, but which also have the opportunity to inform and educate its audiences,” said DaShawn Usher, GLAAD’s Program Officer – Communities of Color and HIV and AIDS advocate. “While there have been so many advances and developments in HIV education, prevention, and treatment, I cannot say the same when it comes to Hollywood telling these diverse and compelling stories.”
GLAAD also discussed the findings and highlighted a path forward for content creators during a virtual event earlier today. The event featured a panel discussion around LGBTQ images on television moderated by media personality and entertainment & lifestyle reporter, Shar Jossell, and included GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, actor Harvey Guillen (FX’s What We Do In The Shadows), actor Dyllón Burnside (FX’s Pose), actress Alexandra Billings (ABC’s The Conners) and a presentation from GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis and report researcher and author Megan Townsend.
During the event, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis discussed the critical significance of LGBTQ stories and characters on television in light of today’s cultural climate and the changing industry.
“LGBTQ-inclusive shows dominated the conversation in 2020, with series like Schitt’s Creek, Batwoman, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Veneno, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and others celebrating high viewership, critical acclaim, and passionate fanbases,” said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis. “However, with LGBTQ inclusion in the industry still being led by a concentrated number of creatives and several inclusive series ending in this year’s study, networks and streaming services need to be taking note of the value of this dedicated audience. It must be a priority to introduce nuanced and diverse LGBTQ characters in 2021 and beyond, ensuring that this year’s decreases do not become reverse progress as the industry continues to evolve and adjust to this unique era’s challenges.”
Additional findings include:
- This year’s Where We Are On TV study found that of the 773 series regular characters scheduled to appear on broadcast scripted primetime television this season, 70 (9.1 percent) are LGBTQ. This is a decrease from the previous year’s record high percentage of 10.2 percent, and the first season to mark a decrease in this percentage since it last fell in the 2013-14 report. This percentage was expected to drop due to the COVID-19 pandemic halting production on several shows and impacting development of new series. There are an additional 31 LGBTQ recurring characters on broadcast, for a total of 101 LGBTQ characters, down from last year’s 120. There was also a significant decrease in overall primetime scripted broadcast series – down to 96 series from the previous year’s 111.
- This year’s study found primetime scripted cable to be the platform with the most significant decrease in LGBTQ representation year over year. On scripted primetime cable series, the number of LGBTQ series regulars has decreased from 121 to 81 characters, with 37 recurring LGBTQ characters from 94, bringing the total number of LGBTQ characters down to 118 from 215. Several LGBTQ-inclusive cable series are anticipated to return in next year’s edition after COVID-19 production shutdowns forced delays which kept series from being confirmed to air within this report’s research period, including The L Word: Generation Q, Euphoria, Killing Eve and more. For the first time in the report’s history, over half of LGBTQ characters on primetime scripted cable are people of color, meeting and surpassing GLAAD’s challenge from last year’s report for each platform to ensure that within two years at least half of LGBTQ characters tracked on each platform are people of color. Prior to this year, only broadcast had achieved this goal.
- On the streaming services Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, there are 95 regular LGBTQ characters featured on original scripted series, a decrease from last year, as well as 46 LGBTQ recurring characters. This brings the total to 141 LGBTQ characters, a decrease of 12 from last year’s report. Streaming was the only platform where white LGBTQ characters outnumber non-white LGBTQ characters, though racial diversity of LGBTQ characters on streaming did improve by six percentage points to 46 percent of LGBTQ characters also being people of color. Across all streaming television, there was one LGBTQ character confirmed with a disability: Ryan Hayes (Ryan O’Connell) from Netflix’s Special. For the fourth year in a row, lesbian representation decreased on streaming to 28 percent of LGBTQ characters.
- In the 2020-21 season, bisexual+ characters make up 28 percent of all LGBTQ characters on all three platforms, a two-percentage increase from last year. These numbers still lean toward women, with 65 women and 33 men, and one character who is non-binary.
- Across all three platforms, there are 29 regular and recurring transgender characters. These characters include 15 trans women, 12 trans men, and two non-binary trans characters.
- This is the fourth year where GLAAD has counted asexual characters in our report. Last year there was a single asexual character on Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. That show has since been cancelled. There is one lesbian asexual character expected in this year’s primetime scripted cable programming (Freeform).
- On all primetime broadcast scripted series, 46 percent of series regulars are women, consistent with last year’s record high.
- Of the 773 series regulars counted on broadcast television, 46 percent (354) of characters are people of color, a one percentage-point decrease from the previous year’s record high of 47 percent. The racial diversity of LGBTQ characters on all platforms increased.
- The percentage of series regular characters with a disability has once again had a slight increase, slightly up to 3.5 percent from last year’s 3.1 percent. This continues to severely under represent the U.S. population living with disabilities.
GLAAD uses the data from the Where We Are on TV report in work throughout the year to advocate leaders in the TV industry to include more diverse and substantive LGBTQ representations that accelerate acceptance.
Read the full study here.