Marcus Pavilonis

Stereotypes on Screen


LGBTQ representation in TV shows often resorts to tropes

Jess Umbarger / Asst. Culture Editor

Although LGBTQ people have been getting more representative roles in TV shows, the representation often isn’t hitting the mark.

Many of the shows that are praised for having LGBTQ roles are simply using the characters as tropes. The characters often represent the most stereotypical person in that role.

One of the more problematic shows that misrepresented LGBTQ people was Glee, said delfin bautista, the director of the Ohio University LGBT Center.

“You may think (Glee) raised awareness, especially at a time where representation was lacking, especially inclusive, comprehensive representation of LGBT folk, but at the same time, representing a very limited scope,” bautista, who uses they/them pronouns and the lowercase spelling of their name, said.


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The character of Kurt Hummel, played by Chris Colfer, was one of those stereotypical LGBTQ roles. He was written as interested in fashion, was slender and a singer.

“(For) folks who don’t fit that mold, where are our stories?” bautista asked.

Joseph Metcalf, a junior studying education, also has issues with the show Glee. He found the show to be disappointing.

Glee was kind of disappointing in how they decided to show different sexualities and the different heartaches and experiences that come with having sexually diverse groups of people and people with different gender identities,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf also believes the character of Unique Adams, played by Alex Newell, was used as a gimmick.

“In a lot of (shows), we find incidental queer characters, just stumbling upon them,” Metcalf said. “It’s just a backseat to the storyline. It’s a fun little trope to use for an episode.”

Glee creator Ryan Murphy did do a good job of pushing things forward, but there were a lot of missed opportunities for critical representation, bautista said.

“You have these tropes that (Murphy) could have challenged but he lived into them, so dynamics of privilege and dynamics of respectable LGBT-ness was I think played out in Glee,” bautista said.

One of the shows that does a good job is the cartoon Steven Universe; a coming-of-age story about a boy who lives with humanoid, magical aliens. The five-time Emmy nominated show portrays different family structures as well as romantic and platonic relationships.

“(Steven Universe) is teaching acceptance and tolerance,” B Irwin, a junior studying women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said. “If we root that idea very young, then it’s not culturally inappropriate.”

The show includes same-sex marriage, non-binary characters and male characters embracing their feminine sides without ridicule. Steven Universe was called “one of the most unabashedly queer shows on TV” in a story by The Guardian.

Last year, the breakout film Love, Simon was highly praised for having the primary narrative be the coming-out of a teenage boy. But the production decisions behind the film didn’t sit well with everyone in the LGBTQ community.

“In one of favorite movies last year, Love, Simon, the main actor of this breakout LGBT film was not gay,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf thought the portrayal of Simon Spier, played by Nick Robinson, was good from an outsider’s perspective.

“I feel like had we come from a perspective of someone who actually experienced this, it would have been a little more genuine,” Metcalf said.

What Metcalf, Irwin and bautista would all like to see in shows is more LGBTQ people being a part of the creative process, as well as playing the roles that are portraying their sexuality and gender.

“(Put) queer people on TV and showing that they exist and they are not made up,” Irwin said. “(There are a lot of) movies that are being written for queer people that aren’t written by queer people and not played by queer people.”

TV show viewers should not automatically assume characters are straight, Metcalf said. Viewers shouldn’t automatically assume anything about a character’s sexuality.

“I really want to see more queer actors play queer roles,” Metcalf said.

Allowing LGBTQ people to write their stories as well as produce and act in those stories is something bautista would like to see in the future.

“Include the people who they are trying to portray in the conversation so we aren’t writing these folks as complete outsiders,” bautista said.

Development by: Megan Knapp / Digital Production Editor

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