Gays on TV: Despite Growth, Real Portrayals More Urgent Than Ever

Willow and Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

by Pia Guerrero, Co-founder/editor

Remember on Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Willow entered into a gay relationship with Tara, played by Amber Benson? It was a first for television that made me so proud to be a GenXer. At that time circa 1998, Adios Barbie was new on the scene but we knew we wanted to say something about this portrayal. We gathered up our allies at Bitch, Fat! So?, About Face, among others, and sent a letter to Joss Whedon. Since he’d probably be getting many letters of protest, we decided to send a loud and proud THANK YOU! Thank you for being brave and thank you for being an example of what TV can portray – women in all their power and of all sexual orientations.

For her breakout role in Buffy, Amber Benson recently said,

I felt like we were presenting this relationship on TV and we were saying it’s OK to by gay. We were saying that this was a viable relationship, that these people love each other and it doesn’t matter that they happen to be two women. They get along, they are respectful of each other – heck, they basically raised Buffy’s sister, Dawn, on the show. So I felt like we were sort of breaking through the glass ceiling.

There was a big kerfuffle – they didn’t want us kissing on the show, and Alyson and I were both like, “Hey, this is bulls–t. We should be able to kiss.” And it was only after one of the crew members, who was gay, took us aside and said, “Hey, just the fact that the characters are having this positive relationship and they’re being portrayed as normal human beings – who just happen to be two women in love – that’s what’s important, not the physical stuff.” So, it was really just about saying hey we are two people and we are in this relationship and we are functioning like normal people. Just having a normal relationship, I think, that’s the biggest thing that we did.

But with five gay youth committing suicide in the past three weeks,  the call for LGBT portrayals in the media is stronger than ever. The good news is that eleven years after Willow and Tara made their debut, it looks like we have more gay characters on TV. A report issued last Wednesday by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) shows that the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters on prime time TV is growing, with a record 58 regular LGBT roles on network and cable TV this season.

My question is, when will there be enough characters to shape public perception and stop the hate?

Read more: Reuters/GLAAD report

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4 thoughts on “Gays on TV: Despite Growth, Real Portrayals More Urgent Than Ever

  1. It’ll be better when the LGBTQ* characters are portrayed and written correctly. I’m looking at you, Glee.

  2. When Buffy first came out I was glued to the tube, when the entire show ended I wanted more of Buffy, and Willow. As a budding bi and Pagan I loved the way “Wicca” (though fake) was intertwined in the relationship. Hmmm, good lesbian characters.

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