Cutting out one-dimensional tropes
Here’s an eye-opening statistic: 62 of the, just, 360 LGBTQ+ characters that made it into US TV screens last year featured in shows made by the same four directors, most notably Ryan Murphy, a prolific advocate of diverse casting. I’d much rather we’d see LGBTQ+ characters as part of the fabric, just another background detail, and not just on TV, across every channel and format.
It’s early days but we’re beginning to see the signs. Twenty-somethings took the lead in intersectional storytelling in 2020. I May Destroy You homed in on the realities of online hook-up culture, while the hugely popular Schitt’s Creek revealed leading character David Rose’s pansexuality in an off-the-cuff scene. Each was a reflection of lived LGBTQ+ experiences that helped drive wider narratives, but without it having to be the primary focus.
The reality is there’s never going to be a single storyline that resonates with every audience. Weaving in intersectional LGBTQ+ storylines as just another strand and without having to attach them to purpose will go a long way to making diversity the norm across the media.
Our research found that a third (35%) of queer men are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that challenges stereotypes. Over a quarter of queer men in our research were offended by commonly recurring tropes such as being camp (33%), being bitchy (29%) and being effeminate (25%), so the big question is, why do ads and other media persist in falling back on these cliches? Those that hold up a mirror to the true diversity found across the LGBTQ+ community will undoubtedly drive higher engagement.
Breaking down stereotypes and removing stigma can change behaviours too; It’s A Sin has driven a record number of orders for HIV tests. But an epidemic we face now is the mental health struggle and loneliness. The numbers of LGBTQ+ people accessing mental health services over the course of the pandemic have surged, but many suffer in silence; 42% of gay men want to see positive messaging in the media that it’s OK to seek help.
The sheer breadth of voices and identities across the LGBTQ+ community make it challenging to bring each to life authentically through culture. But the critical and commercial success of the limited number of shows that try to suggest it is worth striving for. However, with a dearth of positive LGBTQ+ representation in the mainstream media, audiences are looking elsewhere for more diverse portrayals. This has created an environment in which queer creators such as Sir Carter, who currently has 3.9 million followers on TikTok, can thrive.
As such, many brands and the traditional media are now playing catch-up. The next step is to include LGBTQ+ people of every shape, size and hue in roles that go beyond the bitchy queen or closet case. We need to remind the world that our sexuality doesn’t limit us, it’s just there. And that’s the end game: we’re just there, much like everybody else. Who we love doesn’t have to be a plot point.
The great strides that have been made when it comes to LGBTQ+ equality in the UK is encouraging. However, toxic tropes continue to perpetuate prejudice against sections of the community.
Content creators should use their power and influence to help everyone. But this is most pressing for the transgender community, for whom hate crimes have quadrupled over the last five years. Brave brands like Starbucks and series such as Euphoria, The Politician and Pose are inspiring a shift in attitudes, but we’ll need many more if we are to beat the homophobia and transphobia that still festers in our society.