Representation for all

The LGBTQ+ community is finally getting the comprehensive on-screen representation that it deserves.

Kit Connor and Joe Locke of "Heartstopper" at the DC Pride Parade in Washington, DC. 
Meghan Holt, DN Photo Illustration
Wikimedia Commons, Photo Courtesy
Kit Connor and Joe Locke of "Heartstopper" at the DC Pride Parade in Washington, DC. Meghan Holt, DN Photo Illustration Wikimedia Commons, Photo Courtesy

Jayden Vaughn is a first-year creative writing major and writes “The Community Chronicle” for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

In recent years, television shows and movies have painted the LGBTQ+ community in a more comprehensive light. The results have been nothing shy of heartwarming and, frankly, hopeful — a hopefulness for validating and accurate representation. 

Movies and television shows that positively portray different sexualities and identities are not only spreading acceptance worldwide, but they are instilling confidence as well. Despite the representation and portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community improving in the media, there were times when that was not the case. 

There are various past examples where the media tried and failed to portray the LGBTQ+ community effectively. Oftentimes, producers and directors would incorporate LGBTQ+ characters into their movies or shows and then fail to represent them accurately. 

These characters’ entire personalities revolved around their sexuality. More often than not, the characters were stereotypical and played for laughs. To make matters worse, they were usually portrayed by straight and/or cisgender actors and actresses.

According to an article from the Centre for Law & Policy Research, fair and accurate representation is “instrumental” in how young people learn to view themselves and express the complexities of their gender and sexuality.

Proper representation humanizes the LGBTQ+ experience. On the other hand, harmful representation promotes stigmas, such as transgender people being “sexually predatory” or gay men being thrown into the plot for the sole purpose of humorous flamboyancy.

Movies such as “They/Them,” a failed 2022 slasher film that takes place in a gay conversion camp, missed the mark in avoiding stereotypes and blatant homophobia. “Riverdale,” a television show based on the characters of Archie Comics that ran from 2017 to 2023, constantly made heterosexual female characters kiss purely for shock value in the earliest seasons. 

Additionally, there are plenty of films that imply there are only two sexualities or genders — with no existence of an in-between or existence beyond the binary — which perpetuates nonbinary and bisexual/pansexuality erasure. 

According to a survey by Just Like Us, an LGBTQ+ youth charity, young people who were exposed to positive messaging about the LGBTQ+ community were less likely to deal with suicidal thoughts, feelings and ideations. And those numbers were seen among the majority of young people surveyed, not just those who were members of the community.

The study, which was composed of 2,934 school pupils aged 11-18 (1,140 of whom identified themselves as members of the LGBTQ+ community) and 513 educators in the UK, found that LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely to contemplate suicide. Nearly one in four LGBTQ+ youth are experiencing tension within their home environment or school setting.

Queer youth are disproportionately struggling due to the environments and media messaging that we allow to continue — a rhetoric rooted in blatant homophobia and inaccurate representation.

I’m not saying all shows play into the perpetuation of bigotry. I acknowledge some of the advances we’ve made as a society. There are shows like “Big Mouth” that have been hailed for calling out toxic masculinity and being sex-positive, as well as including trans characters represented by actual trans actors and actresses in the industry. 

The media has recently incorporated more accurate representation in TV shows and movies, uplifting the LGBTQ+ community in more ways than one. 

Rather than including characters that fit basic stereotypes or serve little to no purpose other than to be a walking symbol of their sexuality and identity, there are now characters that are meant to inspire and encourage the entire community as a whole. 

In 1998, the hit sitcom “Will & Grace” was a groundbreaking representation of the LGBTQ+ community. Not only that, but it was one of the first-ever shows that featured openly gay and successful characters. 

According to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga LGBTQ+ representation content analysis, “Will & Grace” marked a rise in shows that regularly featured recurring queer characters. And while characters still often “fell into stereotypes,” these shows and their representation marked a change in “meaningful” LGBTQ+ representation that started in the late 1990s.

Following the success of shows like “Will & Grace,” many other LGBTQ+ shows and movies followed. In 1999, the comedy “But I’m a Cheerleader” was released, which follows a teenager who is sent to a conversion camp after her parents and friends suspect her of being a lesbian. Although it was released before most people accepted these kinds of movies, it is now known as a queer, cult classic. 

Commonly, streaming platforms and production categories like Netflix are creating more queer shows. 

In 2021, Netflix released the first season of its show “Young Royals,” which follows the love story of a Swedish prince, Wilhelm, and a fellow student, Simon, as they face challenges thrown at them. 

Following that, in 2022, Netflix released its adaptation of Alice Oseman’s graphic novel “Heartstopper,” which follows two schoolboys, one of whom is openly gay while the other is only just discovering his sexuality. 

I believe the show alone lifted the community enough to the point that people all over the world gained the courage to come out to their families because they finally felt as though they could connect to the characters on the screen in front of them. 

Not only that, but it does an excellent job portraying one’s internal struggle of coming to terms with their sexuality in a world where they feared the people around them might not accept them. Along with that, “Heartstopper” not only represents members of the gay and bisexual community in a healthy way but also lesbian, trans and asexual individuals who typically face the least amount of comprehensive representation.

These portrayals tend to focus more on the bright side of being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, but they also broach the negative realities that plague community members. 

Homophobia is an ever-present factor faced by many members of the community. But many modern films and TV shows, such as the ones previously mentioned, don’t sugar-coat the harsh realities of being queer, which many viewers find a relief. 

Alice Oseman, the author of “Heartstopper,” stated in an article, “We want our struggles represented accurately in the media, but we also want media that makes us feel hopeful, comforted and happy.”

The LGBTQ+ community deserves the same positive recognition and portrayal as every heterosexual couple we see on our screens. These pieces of media are only the beginning. The improved representation in the media during the last few years has brightened the light that shines on the LGBTQ+ community in more ways than one. 

I can only hope that encompassing, accurate representation will continue to grow over time. Not only because the community deserves that positive representation, but also because no one should have to worry about whether or not it is wrong to love someone just because it isn’t properly displayed in the media.  

At the end of the day — whether you’re queer, nonbinary, trans or any identity — you deserve to have your truth portrayed accurately on a screen for the whole world to see.

Contact Jayden Vaughn with comments at jayden.vaughn@bsu.edu.

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