According to GLAAD’s latest Studio Responsibility Index, 2018 is the first year that comedy is no longer the number one film genre for LGBTQ inclusivity from major studios. In other words, we’re seeing more diversity in the stories being told as well as the largest year-over-year increase in the percentage of LGBTQ regular characters on scripted broadcast series. With Bohemian Rhapsody debuting at #1 this past weekend and the critically acclaimed release of Boy Erased, there’s a growing trend in how queer representation is both marketable and crucial in driving important conversations.
But with GLAAD also reporting an increase in Americans who are uncomfortable with LGBTQ people for the first time in 4 years, positive, queer narratives—especially with teen storylines—are vital for the well-being of this vulnerable demographic for a few reasons.
First, media representation can have a positive effect on LGBTQ teens who may be at risk of feeling isolated in their communities. Additionally, widespread exposure to these stories and characters can affect how the general (mostly straight) population views the LGBTQ community and related public policy issues. Showing a broad spectrum of experiences and complex character portrayals, especially for the next generation, is crucial in times when many rights are at risk and positive affirmation can be hard to come by.
If it weren’t for the constant murders, Riverdale could be high school utopia. It’s a diverse world where sexuality, race, and gender aren’t as notable compared to the drama in this small town. Season 3 explores the mixed in/out of the closet relationship between Kevin Keller and Moose Mason, whereas Cheryl Blossom and Toni Topaz show us what a power couple is made of, following the trauma of last season’s gay conversion therapy arc. Kevin and Cheryl are especially confident teens, open about their sexuality and unapologetic about deserving just as much love and sex as their straight friends. Their perseverance is an important example of the strength so many LGBTQ teens need to find in their daily lives.
13 Reasons Why
Character flaws make for realistic portrayals and the LGBTQ teens in 13 Reasons Why have their fair share of personal damage. It’s refreshing to see LGBTQ teen characters as grey-area villains versus victims, the true-to-life outcomes of poor decisions, and a breadth of emotional challenges that have nothing to do with gender or sexual orientation. Season 2 explores Tony Padilla’s past rage over homophobic bullying, along with Ryan Shaver’s and Courtney Crimson’s guilt over the choices they’ve made. Their introspection makes them some of the smartest characters on the show.
Call Me By Your Name
Call Me By Your Name took home the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay this year for a reason, bringing to life Elio Perlman who exemplifies aspirational maturity among 17-year-olds, or any age for that matter. He’s talented, articulate, and quietly self-aware. Isolated in northern Italy for the summer, we see the challenges of romance and coming-of-age in a time with far less information than today. His story shows the complexity of coming to terms with personal identity and that self-realization is anything but a linear path.
20th Century Fox made history this year being the first major studio to release a film centered on gay teenage romance. This is notable as mainstream films are historically behind in LGBTQ representation compared to TV and other media. Simon Spier is portrayed as your average teenager, except for his one secret. The film humorously tackles his need to “come out” as opposed to his straight teenage counterparts and shows a supportive world of progressive parents and friends, reminding us that there are communities of love and support—a very valuable message.
Ryan Murphy’s Pose is not only groundbreaking with the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles, but it has shown us true love in a world that the most marginalized communities have had to build for themselves. It’s a reminder of how ostracized queer and trans people of color have been historically, even within the broader LGBTQ community. Ricky and Damon show us the incredible love and support they have for one another, despite their youth and circumstances—a rarity as portrayals of black queerness is often steeped in trauma without enough opportunity to see characters develop and shine.