Television can open our eyes to things we’d never experience otherwise – places we’ve never been, cultures we’ve never interacted with, and lifestyles we’ve never lived. But sometimes TV falls short in its delivery of representing subsets of people. And lately, it seems as though lesbians are the “it” group to give the cold shoulder.
The Guardian recently posted an article posing a question to Hollywood and audiences, “Where have all the lesbians gone?”
According to Guardian writer Jacquie Lawrence, there’s a significant imbalance between lesbian characters and gay characters portrayed in primetime. There’s certainly no shortage of homosexual male characters in movies and television. They have an ongoing presence in some of today’s newest and most popular primetime shows such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Empire, and How to Get Away with Murder, just to name a few.
Lesbian characters, on the other hand, appear to have more temporary roles. There are a few newer series with long-standing lesbian characters that have proved successful among audiences, such as Orange is the New Black and The Fosters. But more often than not, lesbian characters are fleeting. Lawrence cited several examples, especially in British television, where lesbian characters were introduced, only to have their storylines abandoned or removed from the show completely. Among other programs, this occurred on Call the Midwife and Last Tango in Halifax.
But is this really a new trend in television? Or has it always been this way?
According to a guide to LGBT issues on Adam & Eve, there has been an LGBT presence on television since the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was broadcast in the 1970s. It was the first time that American’s witnessed LGBT action on national television. The exposure opened the door for scripted shows to portray homosexual characters, and Billy Crystal played the first openly gay character on the TV show Soap around the same time.
Perhaps Crystal’s character set a precedent, or maybe Americans are just more accepting of letting gay characters into their living rooms. Either way, reports from GLAAD suggest that gay characters have always been more popular than lesbian characters in primetime. And it doesn’t seem as if that will change anytime soon.
Today, you’d have to scratch your head a bit to think of a long-standing lesbian character in primetime. NBC’s new series One Big Happy features actress Elisha Cuthbert as Lizzy, a lesbian woman who wants to raise a child alongside her childhood friend, Luke. It wouldn’t be wise to get too attached to her character (or the entire show, really), though. According to ratings posted from Deadline, the show’s second episode experienced a 25 percent dip in ratings from its mid-March series premiere.
That being said, there is the chance that the show could rebound. However, in lieu of getting supporters’ hopes up, it appears that we’ll have to wait even longer to add another long-standing lesbian character to the mix. Orange is the New Black can’t carry the weight alone forever.