Bury Your Gays, Bury Your Audience: The Ongoing Battle For Good Representation

Seriously, why is it still so hard to get LGBTQ representation right?

Clarke and Lexa in ‘The 100’ / Source: The CW

With fandom more prominent than ever before, it’s now easy for fans to find their perfect niche on the Internet with like-minded individuals. With such a large collection of people gathering together, it’s almost impossible to ignore them when they have something to say. Better yet, creators of shows receive the feedback of their audience if said audience is loud enough. So, why does it seem like creators still aren’t listening?

These days, if your television show or film has a LGBTQ character, people will talk about it. Whether it’s the media or hordes of LGBTQ fans who just want to see themselves represented on screen, there’s no doubt it’ll receive attention. However, it will receive even more attention if done poorly, which was proven last year with The 100 debacle, and Orange is the New Black, and just about any other show with a LGBTQ character at this point.

With film, things are a little different. Finding LGBTQ characters in the first place can be a rough trot, and it’s generally not a go-to when looking for on-screen representation. However,  there’s the occasional gem. While it’s not explicitly stated in the film, Wonder Woman is bisexual. Harley Quinn may turn out to be bisexual in future films. Deadpool is pansexual. Trini from the latest Power Rangers has “girlfriend problems”. Moonlight also became the first LGBT film to receive an Oscar for Best Picture this year. The list goes on. Though Hollywood has this limited representation, it’s still behind the curve.

Television tries to be ahead of the curve, but often stumbles and falls while doing so.

Brook and Poussey in OITNB / Source: Netflix

The ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope has become infamous, and unfortunately, even more prevalent in the last couple of years. It involves the killing of LGBTQ characters, usually under brutal circumstances, and usually following a rare moment of happiness or peace. To most, this may not seem like a big deal. It’s fiction, characters die all the time, right? Why should LGBTQ characters be treated differently? Well, according to Autostraddle, 31% of lesbian and bisexual women on television end up dead, and they usually don’t die well either. 28% are guest characters who don’t get a definitive closing storyline, and 10% are simply written off. These numbers in an already underrepresented group amount to not a lot of happy endings. Now, how many television shows end up with happy heterosexual characters who are alive? Pretty much all of them.

So, it’s not just all the death. It’s the perpetuation of a cruel and hopeless spiral that further oppresses an already mistreated group. LGBTQ people don’t really want to turn on their TV to watch a revolutionary representational character be brutally murdered by accident several minutes after consummating their relationship with their same-sex partner. But it still happens (e.g. The 100), like a stuck record the same storyline plays out again and again, e.g. Buffy fourteen years earlier. Unfortunately  ‘changing the channel’ to focus on a different imagining isn’t an option, because this representation is so rare to begin with.

To make matters worse these characters and relationships are generally hyped up a lot. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for a show or film to lure in LGBTQ fans with a lot of promotion, only for the character to be killed, or for the character to not be LGBTQ at all. A straightforward (pardon the pun) example would be Riverdale, using a kiss between two female characters in a promotional trailer for the show when neither of these characters are actually LGBTQ. It’s really not great to exploit an underrepresented group, whether your show is good or not. Still, doesn’t stop people from wanting these characters to be together anyway, but that’s the Internet for ya.

Holt and Kevin in ‘Brooklyn Nine Nine’ / Source: Fox

However, it’s not all bad. Not at all. Brooklyn Nine Nine is the pinnacle of what television should be in terms of representation of all forms. Wynonna Earp also has beautiful LGBTQ representation, and executes it like it’s no big thing. The Fosters currently has multiple LGBTQ relationships at once, including a transgender male character. Shadowhunters was this year’s GLAAD Award winner for Outstanding Drama Series, and within its category were shows like Supergirl and Orphan Black. Alex’s coming out arc in Supergirl is spectacular, by the way.

Ironically, in the case of shows like these that have got it right, most of them are criminally underrated. They don’t receive the attention they deserve, so you can bet that most people haven’t watched them or even heard of them. When shows like this get swept under the rug, the community and the conversation suffers as a result.

Last year after The 100 killed Lexa, one of their LGBTQ characters, with a stray bullet, it was a big deal. It made headlines, and the backlash was so severe that it prompted the showrunner to openly apologise to the community. The organisation LGBT Fans Deserve Better was born, and at the time of writing this, fans have raised over $170,000 for The Trevor Project (a charity that focuses on at-risk LGBTQ youth).

Alex and Maggie in Supergirl / Source: The CW

“For years, our community has craved quality entertainment in the media that reflects our identities, relationships, hopes & dreams. And for years, the media has taken our viewership and support for granted, and fallen short. When they are present on screen, LGBTQ+ characters are often villainized, killed, or subjected to violence and/or other negative tropes meant to teach a moral lesson: that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or any other non-heterosexual or cissexual identity is not okay. We deserve better representation than this.” – LGBT Fans Deserve Better

This kind of awareness is key, and with Lexa’s death so highly publicised, now showrunners everywhere are making themselves aware of the trope. So, it’s not just a case of a few LGBTQ fans no longer watching a show due to poor representation. People know about it now, and hopefully it’s at the back of everyone’s minds when writing a LGBTQ character.

Let’s hope this is the beginning of an era where writers are finally producing the stories that the LGBTQ community deserve (especially since it’s long overdue). Television and film have such a profound influence on young people, which is something that a lot of people may not realise. Everyone has a fictional hero while growing up, and people identify with and look for hope in their heroes. It would be fantastic if LGBTQ people are able to see themselves mirrored positively on screen as well.

Overall, it’s about being aware and respectful of real LGBTQ people and the stories being told. That shouldn’t be so hard, should it? Why do you think this is still an issue on the screen?