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Representation of LGBTQ characters will slightly decrease on broadcast TV this year, from 10.2% to 9.1%, according to GLAAD's annual "Where Are We on TV" report. This is the first time there's been such a decrease since the 2013-2014 TV season.
"There's going be a lot written about the coronavirus and how that's affected a lot of things, and I do believe that has been a player here," GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis tells USA TODAY. While she's relieved it didn't drop further, she doesn't consider the pandemic an excuse to skirt by representation goals, either: "The percentage of LGBTQ people shouldn't ideally go down, which is further proof to the point that we're not there yet."
The report, which takes into account the 2020-2021 television season, also found that about 1 in 5 LGBTQ characters to appear on a series is tied to four industry leaders behind the scenes: Shonda Rhimes ("Bridgerton"), Greg Berlanti ("Supergirl"), Lena Waithe ("The Chi") and Ryan Murphy ("Pose").
"It really shows that our advancements in representation are just like our legislative advancements, they're fragile," Ellis says. She says GLAAD will continue to work with creators so that LGBTQ characters and storylines become a part of their shows.
Only three characters on television live with HIV, according to the report, and all of them appear on Murphy's "Pose." This is down from nine characters in last year's report; 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV. More storytelling with these characters is needed, too, Ellis said.
The report wasn't all gloom and doom for LGBTQ characters on screen: The percentage of LGBTQ people of color ticked up across broadcast (53%, up one point), cable (52%, up 4 points) and streaming (47%, up 6 points) since last year. There are also more LGBTQ women on broadcast TV compared with men for the second year in a row, at 55%.
Ellis is also "encouraged over the past five years of how far we've come on, including trans and nonbinary characters." But this is another case where a few shows help make up a lot of ground.
"If you remove 'Pose' from the study, or from the airwaves, you lose a lot of if not the majority of trans characters," she says. "And we can't rely on one show to lead the way," she says.
A Nielsen study cited in the report found adults were spending 37 hours per week watching TV the first quarter of the year – meaning the role of television is highly influential.
"We have an enormous opportunity here to broaden people's perspectives, to introduce LGBTQ people, and all marginalized people, to people that might not interact with our community," Ellis says. "I feel really strongly that the industry needs to really take note of that, and hold themselves accountable to the content that they're creating and putting out there."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GLAAD study: LGBTQ representation ticks down on broadcast TV