LGBTQ+ representation in the media is much more frequent nowadays than it was even ten years ago. However, more representation means more chances for misrepresentation, which more often than not is the case in media with LGBTQ+ characters and relationships.
Harmful stereotypes of members of the LGBTQ+ community are a huge part of this. One of the most popular stereotypes is the extremely feminine gay man. While obviously there are many people like this, and it is in no way a bad thing, the sheer amount of characters written in this way reinforces the harmful stereotype that being attracted to men “makes you” incredibly feminine. In the same way, lesbians are frequently portrayed as more masculine by having short hair, wearing what is considered traditionally men’s clothing, etc.
Forcing gay and lesbian characters to fall into these categories can cause mental health issues and emotional struggles amongst people in the LGBTQ+ community. For example, LGBTQ+ people might not fit in with who they’re “supposed” to be/how they’re “supposed” to act in accordance with their sexuality. From here can stem extreme feelings of loneliness and isolation, as described in the article “Is Chronic Loneliness Real?” as people who don’t fall into these categories would not feel like they belong anywhere, even within the LGBTQ+ community, which of all the places should be the most safe and accepting space for all its members.
Often times gay characters that fall into the stereotype category are overly sexualized as well and they overly sexualize all other attractive people of the same gender that they come into contact with in a way that is more often than not inappropriate and borderline harassment. The existence of this trope greatly harms the public perception of the LGBTQ+ community. It reinforces the idea that LGBTQ+ relationships are solely sexual and thus people involved in them are “sexual deviants,” which was and is an argument used against same-sex marriage and relationships.
According to the LGBT foundation, the misrepresentation that follows the trans and non-binary community often damages the public’s perception of them. Anti-transgender hate crimes doubled in 2018 from the previous numbers in 2015-2016. This strongly indicates a surge on anti-trans attitudes, that can be credited to misrepresentation on who these people are.
Another way LGBTQ+ people are misrepresented is in the form of queerbaiting. Queerbaiting according to PinkNews is a way that companies and producers try to lure people from an LGBTQ+ viewer base that are connecting with a character that is heavily implied to be part of the community but ultimately ends up either unconfirmed or being heterosexual. This is thought to be a way to satisfy, and or appeal to the media’s LGBTQ+ community fanbase and not lose their main/straight audience. This seems to do more harm than good though as it insinuates that the LGBTQ+ audience is a 2nd thought to them, or less important. It also suggests that queer relationships are less valuable.
The misrepresentation of LGBTQ+ people in the media is abundant and harmful. In the end, it hurts the very people the media is trying to represent. The problem is that all companies that don’t take the time to hire LGBTQ+ writers and editors want the most amount of people to be interested in whatever it is they are producing, instead of wanting for all people to be represented in media. Because of this, these companies become lazy in writing media with LGBTQ+ people and instead write whatever they think will appeal to the LGBTQ+ community by playing into stereotypes used by other sources of media. This cycle repeats itself over and over again for years.
So, how can we address and solve these issues? Well, for starters, media creators heavily rely on the audience’s response to their product. Without viewers the creators make no money, so they’re almost always willing to adapt to whatever their audience wants (although this isn’t always the case). If there’s a big problem with the product, cause an uproar. Make people notice the problem. Once the issue is addressed, people will start to react and hopefully the producers will too. From there we can show these companies how to show LGBTQ+ characters in a way that doesn’t harm the community. There is hope for improvement in the representation of LGBTQ+ people in media, all we have to do is act.