Queer Representation Doesn’t Work if LGBTQ+ Roles Aren’t Meaningful

Writers are forcing marginalized characters into their stories to appease audiences, but many perpetuate negative stereotypes

(Thomas Buecking)

According to the GLAAD Media Institute, more queer characters than ever are joining the casts of some of today’s most popular TV shows. Members of the LGBTQ+ community can get excited about seeing someone who shares an identity with them on screen.

However, accompanying this increase are even more negative and stereotypical depictions of LGBTQ+ characters throughout the media. In particular, many TV writers are utilizing stereotypes to create tokenized characters who only technically fulfill the audience’s demand for more representation.

Shows like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Sierra Burgess is a Loser depict stereotypes of gay men—with high-pitched voices and effeminate mannerisms who serve as the “gay best friend”—to easily fill secondary roles and falsely boost representation on the cast. Few shows have deviated from these conventions, but failing to do so leaves the impression that all queer people are the same.

Ambrose Spellman (Chance Perdomo) from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is an example of a token character created solely to appeal to audience expectations of diversity. A new addition to the Sabrina the Teenage Witch story, the casting description for Ambrose calls for a man who is African-American or East Indian specifically, referring to him as the pansexual cousin of the main character.

Ambrose’s ethnicity and sexuality are never made an important plot point in the show, and his character is largely based on the aforementioned gay best friend stereotype. He’s useful when needed and is fun and simple in personality, but can easily disappear when he isn’t helpful to the main character. Spellman’s creation was likely only for the purpose of satisfying audience demand for representation, and as a result his character feels flat and even unnatural in the show’s storyline.

In contrast, Orange is the New Black is one of the best shows for its depictions of  LGBTQ+ characters and their importance to the plot. Characters like Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), and Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) are dynamic and significant characters. They are women exploring their sexualities and gender in ways that are realistic rather than stereotypical. The show’s writers have created interesting, informative, and empowering stories that don’t feel like the show is just trying to meet its diversity quota.

Instead of forcing LGBTQ+ roles into scripts to complement the main character, writers and directors should be working harder to create queer characters that are interesting and have their own stories. Through these characters they can even explore issues in the LGBTQ+ community. A lot of people are unaware of the troubles that queer people face every day, but by relating these characters to the real-life struggles of the people in the queer community, TV writers can help create understanding for people who don’t have the first-hand knowledge.

Any stereotype will be applicable to certain people of that community, but they should never be seen as applicable to the community as a whole. Constantly perpetuating stereotypes places entire groups of people into very small boxes, making the increased amount of representation in TV yet another hurdle to climb over instead of something to be excited about.

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