How lesbian and bisexual TV characters fared in 2015

The 2015 GLAAD Network Responsibility Index was released today, and after nearly 10 years, it will also be the organization’s last. According to GLAAD CEO and President Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD will be doing something a bit different in the future.

“As representation of LGBT people in popular media continues to flourish, pushing networks to make those representations more diverse is essential,” Sarah Kate said. “And doing so now requires a different set of tools than the NRI provides, which is why in the years ahead GLAAD will shift focus to its annual diversity report – Where We Are on TV.”

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In the meanwhile, this last Responsibility Index shows that, overall, it’s been a pretty great year for LGBTQ representation on television. First of all, fewer lesbian and bisexual characters were killed off than last year. Cable television representation was up big time, while for some of the major networks, not so much. As more and more viewers turn to cable channels and new media like Netflix and Amazon for their favorite shows, broadcast channels are lagging behind.

Bucking that broadcast trend are both Fox and The CW, both of which scored highest. With the help of Empire, Fox earned a rating of Excellent from GLAAD, a first for a major network. The blockbuster newbie featured not only leading and supporting queer characters (including bisexual Tiana), but queer characters of color. This upcoming season, Empire will add Marisa Tomei as a recurring lesbian character, and the character of Betty Barz, a teenage, butch lesbian rapper. 

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Also on Fox, Glee said goodbye this year but before it did, the show brought us a lot of representation and happy endings for queer couples Brittany and Santana, and Kurt and Blaine. Glee also gave a major storyline to Coach Beiste (Dot Marie Jones) as the beloved coach transitioned in the final season, and featured a huge musical number including Unique (Alex Newell) and a trans choir.

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GLAAD called out Gotham, for eliminating the show’s sole lesbian character halfway through, and having the bisexual character Barbara (Erin Richards) fall into more than one harmful trope. This season the show is adding a new queer character, Tigress (Jessica Lucas), who happens to be a villain and part of a love triangle with Barbara.

Weird Loners, Gracepoint, Red Band Society, The Following (all cancelled) and The Simpsons also had supporting and guest starring lesbian and bisexual characters. 

This upcoming season, Fox will also feature lesbian characters on new shows Grandfathered and Rosewood.

The CW picked up a lot of steam, and a rating of Good with LGBT representation on shows like The 100, Arrow, The Flash and Jane the Virgin. Clarke, the leading lady of The 100, was revealed to be bisexual this season after falling for grounder warrior Lexa. With both Clarke (Eliza Taylor) and Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) returning next season, there is likely to be more between the estranged almost lovers. While Arrow lost Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) this season, the out character returned in flashbacks and will be resurrected for the upcoming DC Legends of Tomorrow. Sara’s former love, Nyssa (Katrina Law), was integrated into Arrow this season and played a significant role as well.

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Jane the Virgin won over viewers with its giant heart and terrific characters, including self-sabotaging lesbian doctor Luisa (Yara Martinez) and her secret love (and step-mother) Rose. Rose (Bridget Regan) also happens to be the show’s big bad, Sin Rostro. Both characters will be back in a big way this upcoming season.

The sweet, silly, and now cancelled Hart of Dixie had one of its supporting leads come out as a lesbian and even gave her a girlfriend! Not that we saw much of their courtship. 

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Also at The CW, GLAAD  called out Supernatural for the very tropey killing off Felicia Day‘s recurring lesbian character Charlie.

This season, The Vampire Diaries, which hasn’t been the greatest in terms of queer characters, is adding Nora (Teressa Laine) and Mary Louise (Scarlett Byrne) as a long term lesbian couple. (Long term like a hundred years)

While ABC slipped a little, it maintained a Good rating with bisexual character Callie (Sara Ramirez) and lesbian Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) on Grey’s Anatomy and gay cop Gail Peck (Charlotte Sullivan) on Rookie Blue. However, it’s not hard to notice that a majority of queer characters on ABC are gay men: Silas on Scandal, Cam and Mitch on Modern Family, Will on Nashville, Conner and Oliver on How to Get Away with Murder, to name a few. It does look like ABC will be adding a couple more queer female characters on Grey’s as both Callie and Arizona will be getting new female love interests this upcoming fall season. 

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Ratings of Adequate is not exactly bragging rights for CBS and NBC who both dipped in LGBTQ representation this year. (NBC with a sizable loss of 9 points.) NBC’s One Big Happy was not the success the network was hoping for, and neither was the quirky and cute Marry Me, which featured Kay (Tymberlee Hill), a QWOC. Both shows have been cancelled. Though not included in the index, Hannibal featured two queer women, Margot and Alana, who survived the series finale as a couple. That pretty much puts the network’s queer quotient done to, well, not much, especially with no real plans to incorporate lesbian and bi characters into their fall line-up. The only plus side: Jane Lynch hosts Hollywood Game Night, so at least there’s that. Come on, NBC, you can do better than this!

CBS lost one of it’s most important and visible queer characters when Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) exited The Good Wife at the end of this past season. That pretty much leaves Person of Interest as the major focus of queer storylines on CBS. Last season, Root (Amy Acker) and Shaw (Sarah Shahi) finally acknowledged their feelings for one another, and this season, Shaw will return to the show and reunite with Root for a romantic storyline.

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It will probably come at no surprise that ABC Family has earned its 3rd consecutive Excellent rating from GLAAD for its inclusion of LGBT characters in a majority of its shows. The network also scored high marks for having nearly half of its LGBT characters be people of color. Pretty Little Liars, a show that is often held up as an example of LGBT inclusion, was taken to task by GLAAD over the careless and tropey trans storyline of Charlotte/Cece. According to GLAAD, “The show made some attempt to separate her transgender identity from her mental illness, but ultimately she was the latest in a long series of transgender women portrayed as psychotic killers in mainstream media. This decision was extremely disappointing coming from a show that had done so well with its lesbian characters.” This seems to be the overwhelming consensus among fans and critics alike as well.

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The Fosters, however, continued to be pretty much the most inclusive show on the planet, adding newly out lesbian Monte (Annika Marks), bringing back trans character Cole (Tom Phelan), and featuring the relationship between Jude (Hayden Byerly) and Connor (Gavin MacIntosh). Of course, Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum) had their ups and downs, but remained lovable and strong as always.

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Chasing Life continues to feature the storyline of Brenna (Haley Ramm), the bisexual teenage sister to leading lady April (Italia Ricci). This season, Brenna has continued to explore relationships with men and women, and the show addressed biphobia in a big way.

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FX received Good marks this season for LGBT characters in American Horror Story, Sons of Anarchy and The Bridge, with the latter two now off the air. This season of AHS will bring a bisexual leading lady in Lady Gaga‘s character, the Countess, and her former lover Ramona (played by Angela Bassett). 

HBO also scored fairly high this year, with LGBT characters in Looking (cancelled), True Blood (cancelled), Game of Thrones, Girls, the movie Bessie starring Queen Latifah and some LGBT-focused documentaries. Yet, lesbian and bisexual characters might be harder to find this upcoming season.

Showtime had a better year in terms of representation with lesbian and bisexual characters on Masters of Sex, Episodes and Ray Donovan. They also featured the documentaries The L Word: Mississippi (which came out in 2014) and Knock, Knock, It’s Tig Notaro

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MTV squeaked by with a Good rating, even as they dipped significantly from last year. Faking It received kudos for it’s multiple queer characters and its intersex storyline, which is exceedingly rare to find on television. Scream and Finding Carter both featured queer supporting characters and reality shows Real World Skeletons, Catfish, and Laverne Cox presents: The T Word also had stories that revolved around queer and trans people. 

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Both TNT and USA could use a boost in their queer representation as they both received merely Adequate ratings. At least TNT featured lesbians in The Last Ship and Murder in the First. USA’s only real contribution to queer women was Diana Barrigan (Marsha Thomason) in the now cancelled White Collar and Complications, which featured Jessica Szohr as out lesbian nurse Gretchen. (Note: GLAAD did not include Complications on its index.)

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GLAAD gave A&E a Fail for their very low amount of LGBT characters. Sure, The Returned had a lesbian couple, but the show has been cancelled leaving A&E with nada in terms of queer scripted characters. Don’t even get us started on History Channel, which had no LGBT representation whatsoever.

TLC, which had a disastrous PR year, scored decent marks for their reality based programming. There were very few queer women featured, so maybe that’s something to look into now that there’s a gaping Duggar sized hole in TLC’s programming. 

Now GLAAD doesn’t give the index treatment to all cable networks and new media, but Amazon (Transparent) and Netflix (Orange is the New Black, Sense8, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) get major props for their highly inclusive programming. BBC America, Syfy, Oxygen, Lifetime, AMC, VH1, PBS, Bravo, Hulu and STARZ all featured queer women this season, and hopefully will continue to do so in future.

Overall, things are looking good but they could be better. Having one queer character on a show is great, but having multiple (or even two) queer characters is something we are looking for in the future. If ratings are telling us anything, it’s that viewers want to see diverse, interesting characters and storylines. That means we want, need and deserve more queer characters of color, different ages, class standings and identities as well. Now, it’s up to the networks to deliver.