The media plays a huge role in how we view ourselves. From print to film to music to TV, the entertainment that gets blasted over signals becomes indoctrinated into how we see the world, others, and ourselves. So naturally, the influx of LGBTQ+ coming of age shows and storylines for queer and trans characters becomes substantially influential for LGBTQ+ youth. Shows like Love, Victor, Generation, Euphoria, and more offer a glimpse into fictionalized accounts of real-life experiences that many queer and trans youth face. To have an image of yourself reflected back at you is powerful and LGBTQ+ youth are living in abundance of representation.
It might be a stretch to imagine a time where LGBTQ+ people were not featured on screen, but the road to proper representation has been a long one and is still being built while we traverse it. From the Hays Code to the harmful caricatures and stereotypes of LGBTQ+ people, positive portrayals were far and few in between, but were monumental when they were done right.
To have an image of yourself reflected back at you is powerful and LGBTQ+ youth are living in abundance of representation.
Wilson Cruz’s glimpse into life as a young Brown queer kid named Rickie Vasquez on My So-Called Life, Ellen DeGeneres’ famous coming out on her show Ellen, Will and Jack from Will & Grace giving ample ounces of queer comedy, Glee’s take on the lives of queer and trans teens, and so many more have gotten these moments right. But it took this momentum to finally reach a place where grandiose “coming out” stories feel foreign in comparison to never having to be “in the closet.” Queer relationships seem more common onscreen, and healthy depictions of gender expression and gender identity shed light positively on both.
Research in GLAAD’s “Where We Are On TV” report shows that queer and trans representation continues to play a powerful role in creating acceptance towards the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, 20% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 identify as LGBTQ+. As audience demographics go, this is a significant one. Their TV watching habits can influence the landscape of television. This is especially true when viewers 18 and over watched approximately 37 hours per week in the first quarter of the year. So with these thoughts in mind, it’s critical for studios to shift their content to meet their audience. It should come as no surprise that an increase of LGBTQ+ content and characters is on the rise, as it is in more demand. And as LGBTQ+ viewers request more content, creators manifest it.
Out of this LGBTQ+ content comes stories that focus on the experiences of queer and trans youth. Sex Education highlights the experiences of African-British teen Eric who navigates first loves, gender expression, and religion. Shameless shows the relationship between Mickey and Ian which, albeit tumultuous, becomes a catalyst for personal growth for both of them. Grown-ish gives insight into bisexual student Nomi’s experience of bi-erasure. Through Pose, viewers gain insight into the lives of numerous Black and Brown LGBTQ+ youth in the 80s and 90s, like Angel, Damon, and Ricky.
Shows like She-Ra and the Princesses Power, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, and Young Justice may be fiction, but the trials and tribulations that their queer and trans youth experience are quite real.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Even cartoons are highlighting these transformative moments in fantastical ways. Insider curated a database with an assortment of over 259 LGBTQ+ characters who were featured in different cartoons. Shows like She-Ra and the Princesses Power, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, and Young Justice may be fiction, but the trials and tribulations that their queer and trans youth experience are quite real. All of these shows tap into the experiences that LGBTQ+ youth navigate. Topics like navigating family and partners, coming out, gender identity, and more come to play a role in these shows. This allows for broader outreach to different viewers, while still maintaining the true narrative of the show.
Again, for many people, the media plays an influential role in how they view themselves and others. Through these aforementioned shows and more, LGBTQ+ youth gain insight into their own experiences, as they’re reflected back at them and give them confirmation on how their existence is beautiful and valid. What seems minuscule to some creates an impact that lasts for a lifetime for others.
These moments on-screen inspire the next generation of LGBTQ+ content creators and it instills a new hope for more LGBTQ+ content to come. Also, while queer and trans youth benefit, non-LGBTQ+ viewers gain an understanding of these same experiences, leading to more opportunities for empathy.
This system feeds into itself, but can only be sustained when those with the power to make these changes build opportunities for this content to exist.
Yet there’s still so much more to accomplish. According to GLAAD’s “Where We Are On TV Report”, a sizable drop in on-screen LGBTQ+ representation between 2020 and 2021 occurred within broadcast scripted and primetime cable. Though the pandemic may have played a role within this downturn, the fact remains that numbers were lower in comparison to straight on-screen counterparts prior to this. Now, the challenge is to produce new content and find content creators who will develop it that focuses on LGBTQ+ experiences, youth included.
This becomes a greater conversation on who has access to provide this type of content. Those in charge of studios can make various changes that can offer more content that coincides with the rising demand for LGBTQ+ representation on-screen. With more LGBTQ+ stories comes more opportunity for audiences, both straight and LGBTQ+, to engage with stories about queer and trans youth. Thus, giving rise to more chances for education and a shift in perspective on the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
The future is bright. With more LGBTQ+ viewers and more content on LGBTQ+ experiences, queer and trans youth have more opportunities to view themselves on-screen and are able to view how their lives and experiences are real when reflected back at them. This system feeds into itself, but can only be sustained when those with the power to make these changes build opportunities for this content to exist.
As demand increases, the hope is that more accurate portrayals continue to come out, honoring queer and trans youth and creating new opportunities for their experiences to positively impact new generations of LGBTQ+ youth to come. ♦