Can LGBTQ Characters Only Be Happy or Unstable?



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A recent GLAAD study was posted by the Washington Post which reflected the record amount of LGBTQ characters in modern television and analyzed that, “Broadcast TV includes the highest percentage of regularly appearing gay characters — 4.8 percent — since Gay rights organization GLAAD began its count 21 years ago.” (Read the full article here). I reflected in a past post that I felt that sitcoms had become more liberal in their representations of sexuality, allowing for the growth and representation of LGBTQ characters and couples. The American audience has had same-sex marriage normalized through the proliferation of LGBTQ couples such as Cam and Mitch on Modern Family. But, I have come to wonder if sitcoms are the only safe havens for these gay pairings.

In my opinion, I feel as if gay characters are depicted as emotionally unstable or at risk of death in mainstream media. In Grey’s Anatomy, Callie is flung through a windshield and loses her mobility in a car cash, and later is cheated on by her wife Arizona. In How to Get Away With Murder, Connor is decreased as increasingly paranoid and promiscuous, while his boyfriend Oliver contracts AIDs and breaks up with Connor. In Scandal, Cyrus’s husband James is shot and killed in a government coverup, and then Cyrus starts to date a gay escort and cheats on him with a man that is guilty of killing President Grant’s son. Cyrus then goes on to wrangle his way into being the Democratic Vice President nominee after committing heinous crimes. Now I know these are dramas, but there are surely still straight characters that have more normal lives in them. Also, ironically these are all Shonda Rhimes shows, and Shonda Rhimes is acclaimed for introducing more LGBTQ characters into mainstream media. But did the characters all have to be so extreme and problematic? Could there not be a more simplified love story that still face its challenges? Perhaps there can only be two extreme in mainstream representations of LGBTQ individual. The idyllic, happy, married couple in sitcoms, and the disasterous and sometimes emotionally unhinges gay characters in dramas. Is this the same standard for heterosexual characters?

by Andrew Guido

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3 Responses to Can LGBTQ Characters Only Be Happy or Unstable?

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I’ve actually done a lot of research into this, specifically the Dead Lesbian Trope. I would be happy to send you my essay if you’d like to read it. It’s shocking the number of LGBTQ characters who are killed in entertainment.


  2. mediaphiles says:

    This is incredibly true. LGBT characters get killed off at much higher rates than straight characters, and it’s very odd. One of the all time worst Grey’s plotlines was when they kicked Erica Hahn off abruptly. It was so depressing after she gave such a beautiful speech about how realizing she was a lesbian felt like the first time she had ever worn glasses after growing up seeing with blurry vision. I did like the way Grey’s handled the Arizona – Callie custody battle. Just the right amount of drama without being too cruel :)

    Elyse Conklin

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I also love Erica Hahn’s coming out story, and I was frustrated when she was written out of the show. I hadn’t really thought critically about LGBTQ characters being killed off (in mostly violent ways?) until I read your post– how upsetting. It’s also true, as you point out, that we’ve pigeonholed or archetyped LGBTQ characters across the board in television. It seems as though writers find a certain trope that they enjoy enough to just keep reproducing it over and over and over again without allowing for any nuance.

    -Callie Sartain

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