It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say that television is currently in the midst of a queer renaissance. From Pose to Euphoria, LGBTQ+ representation in media has come a very long way in recent years, with GLAAD reporting in 2019 that television had a record number of queer characters — but it appears the momentum behind this rainbow Golden Age may be slowing down, as a large portion of LGBTQ+ inclusive programming is set to leave the air in the coming year.
Of the total 596 LGBTQ+ characters featured on scripted TV series between June 1, 2022 and May 31, 2023, about a quarter will no longer grace our screens in new episodes in the next year, according to GLAAD's annual queer representation report. In total, 175 queer characters are not expected to return, accounting for 24% of the report's counted queer characters, with 140 of those being the result of the series getting canceled and the remaining 35 being due to a pre-planned exit from a show or miniseries.
“Some of the year’s biggest hits have been LGBTQ-inclusive series,” Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, notes in the report's opening, pointing to shows like The Last of Us, Yellowjackets, What We Do in the Shadows, Stranger Things and Hacks as examples of popular shows featuring queer characters. "It’s clear that when a service fully invests in its LGBTQ shows, this programming rises above a crowded media landscape and is successful with both critics and audiences.”
The statistics seem to reflect a much larger reactionary cultural trend towards the LGBTQ+ community. You don't have to look far to see that LGBTQ+ rights have increasingly come under attack, with states banning access to trans healthcare, banning drag shows and putting a gag order on any sort of education about sexuality outside of the hetero-norm.
Critical acclaim for The Whale, Tár and other films featuring LGBTQ+ characters from the most recent awards show season is evidence that there is still very much an appetite for queer stories, but this wave of cancellations, combined with government efforts to censor and restrict the LGBTQ+ community, could signal the beginning of a disheartening downward trend.
Ellis goes on to say that the projected drop in LGBTQ+ representation is "disappointing" to say the least, especially when “the power of narrative change and inclusive storytelling is more crucial than ever."
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