Visibility Matters: The Disappearing Lesbian on Primetime Broadcast TV

The next morning, I found a slew a comments on the post along the lines of “there’s no double-standard, most of the victims/criminal on this show are straight, what are you talking about?”

Clearly, I had made a mistake in skipping the explanation.

But if so many lesbian and bi women can’t even connect the dots on this — can’t immediately understand that the problem is the broader context of the ongoing lack of regular or recurring lesbian characters on scripted primetime TV — how can we expect TV writers, most of whom are straight, to get it?

And even if they understand, why should they care, now that they can use bisexual women instead of lesbians, and risk alienating less of their audience?

If this trend persists, the only lesbians on broadcast TV will be the occasional reality TV contestant; hosting daytime talk shows (Ellen); or on daytime dramas (All My Children).

Most of the lesbians on cable will be on LGBT channels that are not predominantly watched by heterosexuals, and the internet will become best place to find widely accessible scripted programming starring or featuring lesbians (but that won’t happen until technology makes it easier and cheaper to watch web series on our television sets, as well as our computer monitors, which is a few years away).

On primetime broadcast TV, we’ll have to look for glimpses of our lives in dead lesbian astronauts, and Hot Lesbian Carol from Payroll.

Earlier this week, Americans participated in an historic event: the election of our first black president.

But that same day, gay and lesbian Americans lost basic civil rights in several states, including the right to marry, and the right to adopt children.

Multiple studies have shown a clear correlation between the visibility of gays and lesbians on television, and attitudes towards homosexuality. I have a few thousand emails and private messages from readers over the last six years that prove how much lesbian TV characters help lesbian and bisexual women come out — to themselves and others. And Ellen DeGeneres has arguably done more to advance gay rights in America in the last few years than anyone else just by being openly gay on television every day.

A photo from Ellen and Portia de Rossi’s wedding

But a glimpse into the lives of a handful of high-profile lesbians like Ellen isn’t enough to make lesbians feel represented. And it clearly isn’t enough to change hearts and minds, as the recent election results prove.

Television is America’s cultural campfire, where we tell stories about ourselves. Where we imagine what our lives could, and should, be like.

As long as lesbians aren’t included in these stories, we won’t be included in our culture in other meaningful ways &#8212 including at the ballot box.

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