NPR delivered a superbly reported expose on its January 2 Morning Edition: “Who’s Gay on TV?” White gay dads, they concluded, are “the pop culture gay flavor of the minute.”
There’s been a “staggering sea change” of gay representation on TV, from fifty years ago to today. From reality shows to sit-coms, “Modern Family” to “The New Normal,” Ellen DeGeneres to “Glee,” gay characters are everywhere. But this may not be as revolutionary as increased exposure suggests. Gay representation still hits the same walls as other minorities. NPR states, “Last fall, Gallup released findings about its largest poll ever about gay Americans. Slightly more women identified as gay than men, and more African-Americans, Asians and Latinos said they were LGBT than whites. So where’s that on TV?”
We may be in a boom with adequate numbers of gay characters on TV, and it may be very culturally hip to be gay, but is the representation inclusive, accurate and progressive? When homosexuality is the overarching personality trait of a character–which we still see, if with decreasing frequency–it’s still limiting their representation to something audiences can be comfortable with, keeping them at arms length as an other that isn’t fully realized. Ironically, their sexuality–the thing that makes them gay–is still largely kept offscreen.
Gayness may be the flavor of the minute, but until the new normal is characters like Omar Little in “The Wire”–a fascinating character who just happens to be gay (and whose sexuality has little to do with his character and its importance to the series)–we’re still treating gay men and women like second class TV citizens, used as tokens or novelties.