Best. Lesbian. Week. Ever. (October 2, 2009)



GLAAD just issued their 14th annual “Where We Are on TV” report looking at LGBT representation in American scripted primetime programming for the new season (it doesn’t cover daytime TV).

The results? In a word: grim.

Here’s a quick summary from the report:

At the launch of the 2009-2010 television season, GLAAD estimates that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) scripted characters represent 3% of all 600 scripted series regular characters on the five broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, and NBC. This is slightly more than last year, with 18 series regular characters identified as LGBT.

How many of the 18 are women?

Only five — Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) on Grey’s Anatomy; Angela (Michaela Conlin) on Bones; Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) on House; and Ella (Katie Cassidy) on the new Melrose Place.

That’s .08%, or the legal limit of blood alcohol content for operating a motor vehicle in the U.S. Which is good to know, since these stats may soon drive us all to drink.

A closer look at the five characters that count towards this total is even more depressing: there’s one lesbian (Arizona), three bisexual women (Callie, Angela and Thirteen), and one “try-sexual” woman (Ella) — but two of the bisexual women (Angela and Thirteen) will most likely have no romantic relationships with women this season, while the quasi-bisexual Ella is likely to only have a short lesbian fling on Melrose later this season, if the show doesn’t get canceled first due to its dismal ratings.

So basically, what we have is Callie and Arizona on Grey’s. For five minutes a week.

“In terms of LGBT female characters,” GLAAD states bluntly in their analysis, “the current landscape is bleak.” (They also mention that besides the five listed above, the mystery gay character on NBC’s new Trauma could turn out to be a woman, but I know for a fact, thanks to our friends at, that the character is a gay man.)

The lack of queer women in leading roles on scripted primetime TV is partly a reflection of a larger problem on the broadcast networks: the lack of leading women of any sexual orientation, as GLAAD also points out:

Judging by the most recent estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, The CW is the only broadcast network to accurately reflect the U.S. population with respect to gender, with 51% of its lead or supporting characters being female. The other networks feature majority male representations. Fox and NBC are the bottom two broadcast networks in terms of female series regular characters: Fox’s programming is only 37% female and NBC’s is 38% female.

Fox has the fewest female leads? I’m shocked!

In more unsurprising news, only 4 of the 18 LGBT characters (including Callie and Angela) are people of color.

But wait! There’s more bad news! While the number of LGBT characters overall are up on broadcast, they’re down on mainstream cable networks (from 32 to 25), in large part because of the loss of South of Nowhere and The L Word. Lesbian characters will make up “a scant 23% of the total LGBT characters on cable.” (Here! and Logo will both provide an addition 27 series regular LGBT characters, but many Americans still can’t, or can’t afford to, access those channels.)

So much for the constant assurances by network execs that they’re committed to diversity.

The only bright spot for queer women this season is in reality TV, which gets high marks from GLAAD for its overall inclusiveness — shows like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, Survivor, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, and America’s Next Top Model frequently have LGBT contestants (although usually more G than L, B or T).

I like The Amazing Race and Top Chef, as much as the next person, but you know it’s bad when our best primetime representation is on reality television.

On a positive note, Stargate Universe (Syfy) premieres tonight with Ming-Na as a lesbian series regular, and ABC’s new drama FlashForward may feature a lesbian relationship later this season. That should allow us to indulge in at least a few weeks of optimism before we’re disappointed again.

— by Sarah Warn

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