The LGBT community has been aggressively lobbied for representation in the media and there has been progress in the past few years. Some of the biggest hits on television have gay characters that are intricule to the show including Modern Family, Scandal, and Glee. Yet the problem is far from fixed. While some shows and networks are embracing the LGBT community others are ignoring them or are only portraying them stereotypically.
While it is good to be represented, what is usually shown is a small percentage of what the actual LGBT community is like. Like any other group, LGBT people have diverse characteristics. Kurt and Santana from Glee, Cam and Mitchell from Modern Family, and Damian from Mean Girls do a bad job of reinforcing these stereotypes. Some select shows and movies have done this, making gay characters that are far more interesting than just being a stereotype. Take Cyrus from ABC’s Scandal. He is the Chief of Staff for the President of the United States, and will do anything to get his job done. In this clip, he decides to have a baby with his husband, so that his journalist husband does not uncover a story that would harm the white house.
It is not that these two characters are gay that defines them, and therefore they are much more interesting characters to watch that feel like real people. There have been other great and interesting LGBT characters including Omar in The Wire, Ennis and Jack in Brokeback Mountain, and Max from Happy Endings.
When we get into major motion pictures, the representation is worse. According to GLAAD, the nation’s leading LGBT media advocacy organization, only 14 out of the 101 films released by the major studios in 2012 even had a gay, lesbian, or bisexual character. There was also no films that had transgender characters.
The study also introduced the “Vito Russo Test,” which was named after GLAAD co-founder and film historian Vito Russo. Similar to the Bechdel Test (which measures the use of women in film) the Vito Russo Test has three rules to analyze how LGBT character are represented in film.
Vito Russo Test
1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender.
2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters)
3. The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.
Using this test, only 6 of the 14 passed, meaning that usually when gay characters are even included in studio films they are not well developed or integral to the film.
Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do to create a diverse media landscape full of interesting and unique characters. The good news is that we have seen some representations now that we can use as proof that audiences are ready to embrace these non-stereotypical LGBT characters who are as human and flawed as you and me.