Prior to the 1980s, representation of LGBTQ people in mainstream media was rare. When LGBTQ people appeared in news or works of fiction, the depictions were often overwhelmingly problematic if not downright homophobic. One reason that has gotten better over the past thirty-plus years is the founding of GLAAD in 1985. The abbreviation stands for Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
GLAAD has a long history of consulting directly with apps and social media platforms on some of their most significant LGBTQ policy and product updates. In addition to early involvement with YouTube’s Trusted Flagger program, GLAAD is also a current member of Twitter’s Trust & Safety Council and Facebook’s Network of Support, an advisory coalition it helped create in 2010. LGBTQ hate speech and misinformation is a public health and safety issue.
Some of the urgent recommendations across platforms include:
• Stop allowing algorithms to fuel extremism and hate. Similarly, confront the problem of bias in AI which disproportionately impacts LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities.
• Make it easier for users to report problematic content, be transparent in content moderation, and use more human moderators.
• Employ a dedicated LGBTQ policy lead.
• Respect data privacy, especially where LGBTQ people are vulnerable to serious harms and violence.
• Only select platforms currently take any kind of action on violent speech and misinformation, with tactics including monitoring trending topics for misinformation, restricting hashtags or shares, or having labels on misinformation, but when it comes to anti-LGBTQ misinformation, enforcement is arbitrary at best.
GLAAD has suggested guidelines to major social media companies including Facebook, Facebook owned Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and Twitter to not only regulate hate speech and violent content against LGBTQ community including misgendering but also to hire and make healthy and safe spaces for LGBTQ candidates at their workplaces. This also involves sensitisation to the existing staff without saying.
The 17th annual study, which covers TV programs airing or expected to premiere or return between June 1, 2021 and May 31, 2022, found that out of 775 series regular characters scheduled to air on scripted broadcast primetime programming during the 2021-2022 season, 92 (11.9% ) are LGBTQ, up 2.8 percentage points from last year to a record high. There are an additional 49 LGBTQ recurring characters, for a total of 141 LGBTQ characters on broadcast.
For a fourth year in a row, the report found that LGBTQ people of color (58% ) outweighed white LGBTQ people on broadcast, continuing to meet GLAAD’s previous challenge of achieving equity in that category. After meeting and surpassing the challenge last year, representation of LGBTQ people of color on cable decreased this year to 45%. Representation of LGBTQ people of color on streaming increased to 49%.
The growing state of LGBTQ representation on television is a signal that Hollywood is truly starting to recognize the power of telling LGBTQ stories that audiences around the world connect with,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said. “At a time when anti-LGBTQ legislation and violence continues to increase, it is cultural institutions like television that take on the crucial role of changing hearts and minds through diverse and inclusive storytelling. Networks and platforms must continue to prioritize telling LGBTQ stories that have been long overlooked, with a specific focus on the trans community, LGBTQ people of color, people living with HIV, and LGBTQ people with disabilities.”
There still is a long way to go with LGBTQ representation in popular culture. Yet most of the progress we have seen since the eighties is because of GLAAD’s tireless efforts. Their work has helped shift the media’s narrative of LGBTQ people. As GLAAD says, words and images matter.