GLAAD'S Cast Of Characters
The fall TV season is approaching, and predictably, the powerful lobbyists at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) are already demanding that Hollywood develop more positive gay characters.
But this year, GLAAD's study of gay TV characters goes beyond numbers to quibbling about percentages. They claim that out of 710 series regulars who will appear this season on the broadcast networks, gay, lesbian and bisexual characters make up less than two percent of the total. They say it's a false depiction of their community. As GLAAD's Damon Romine complained, "This is a shocking misrepresentation of reality and of the audience watching these programs."
Is GLAAD again promoting the myth that ten percent of Americans are homosexuals? If so, it's rather curious. A raft of gay groups signed on to a 2003 amicus brief in the Lawrence v. Texas sodomy-law case before the Supreme Court which suggested otherwise. That brief touted: "The most widely accepted study of sexual practices in the United States is the National Health and Social Life Survey. The NHSLS found that 2.8 percent of the male, and 1.4 percent of the female, population identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual." That averages out to about two percent of the population, or exactly what GLAAD maintains Hollywood is depicting.
And guess who signed on the dotted line of this brief? Yes, GLAAD. How can they complain to Hollywood about "reality" when they're still debating it with themselves?
But there are further problems with the GLAAD character-counting method. First, a good chunk of these 710 characters they're counting are child actors, not even old enough to be sexual. Second, how is it that we know that 98 percent of the 710 characters are, in fact, heterosexual? Do TV writers give us the inside details of every character's personal life on every show? Is every single character who is not explicitly gay therefore straight?
Try a different twist on this. How many TV characters are portrayed as practicing Catholics? Catholics make up almost 25 percent of our population. Can you name two characters on TV that are practicing Catholics? Using GLAAD's logic, Hollywood is failing to represent the reality of Catholics. Using real logic, however, we can conclude that if a character's religious orientation is irrelevant, it will be omitted from that character's identity. The same holds true for sexual orientation. When Paul Lynde played the role of Uncle Arthur on "Bewitched," was he a gay or straight warlock? Was Festus on "Gunsmoke" heterosexual? Homosexual? Bisexual? Who cares?
Then it gets confusing. A straight actor plays a gay character (Eric McCormack on "Will and Grace"), and that counts as progressive. But a gay actor playing a straight or undefined character (B.D. Wong on "Law & Order: SVU") does not count as progressive.
This isn't about the numbers of gays acting on TV, nor about the number of gay characters on TV. This is about GLAAD's campaign to emphasize and boost the homosexual lifestyle as moral and acceptable, using television as the instructor. "At this critical juncture in our struggle for equality, television's potential for driving public understanding of who we are and what we're fighting for is more important than ever," Romine says in GLAAD's press kit.
Focusing solely on the characters obscures the fact that pro-gay themes are overwhelmingly common in television. GLAAD's powerful role in Hollywood - constantly demanding and receiving the power to pre-screen TV programs in order to black out what it doesn't like - translates into nearly every gay-themed plot becoming a predictable script, with the ignorant person initially opposed to homosexuality quickly "evolving" into a proper progressive stance. And if the evolution to enlightenment is not accomplished, it is because the anti-gay character is evil, and probably a fundamentalist Christian, too.
Already this season, the pilot of the new Fox sitcom "The War At Home," is likely to have the script of its pilot episode scrubbed of the gay group's F-word, "fag." Reportedly the script had a girl saying of her brother, "He's not gay, he's just a fag." Fox says the word is inappropriate. Series creator Rob Lotterstein disagrees: "My boyfriend of five years didn't have a problem with that line."
The character-counting study doesn't include "reality" programming, since those shows are much, much closer to the GLAAD paradigm of one or two gay characters per program. Even GLAAD's Romine admits "we continue to be well-represented by a genre that realizes the importance of diversity and value of telling our stories." This is true even when GLAAD gets reality shows killed off, as it did this summer with the ABC six-week series "Welcome To The Neighborhood," whose "journey from intolerance" they declared was far too slow.
There is not a single television show on the air that would dare project the position that the homosexual lifestyle is immoral.