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How Homosexuals Are Portrayed on Television

Are gay characters portrayed accurately, and fairly on mainstream television?

Homosexuality used to be a taboo topic on television just 20 years ago. However, starting in the 1990’s, viewers saw a proliferation of primetime television dramas, sitcoms, and reality shows that have regular gay and lesbian characters. In studying literary works such as Ron Becker’s Gay TV and Straight America, as well as Making Things Perfectly Queer by Alexander Doty, it seems clear that popular culture is making an attempt to shape people’s views on homosexuality in entertainment media. Also, Andrew Kopkind, who wrote for the newspaper The Nation, wrote a piece describing what he called The Gay Moment, which helped chronicle the explosion of homosexuality in mainstream television in the 1990’s. According to Kopkind (2003), “The Gay Moment is unavoidable. It fills the media, charges politics, and saturates popular and elite culture.”

What is the reason for this “gay moment” and how are gays and lesbians portrayed on prime time television in comparison to the straight characters and why? There are a number of answers for this, ranging from cultural and social issues to politics.

According to Doty (1993), the portrayals of gays and lesbians in popular culture rests on the belief that a homosexual person is consciously trying to mirror a traditional role played by the opposite sex. Doty contends that the term homosexuality isn’t relative and being a gay or lesbian is more about culture and personal taste than actual sexuality. More recent television shows with gay characters seem to focus more on the aspects of culture and personal taste without talking about what goes on in the bedroom. According to Andersen and Collins (2007), traditionally gays and lesbians, like other minority or oppressed groups, have had the hardship of trying to integrate themselves into a sometimes intolerant society, rather than society helping to integrate them. Trying to act straight, or not trying to act or look like a member of the opposite sex, is one way that gay characters are able to gain more acceptance when it comes to a mainstream television audience. The bottom line is, they must relate, in some way, to heterosexual characters on the show to appeal to a prime time viewing audience, rather than an exclusively gay television network.

Becker (2006) suggests that the increase in homosexual themes in prime time television could be a result of a conscious social and political movement to make mainstream society more comfortable with gays and lesbians. It’s the next step, basically, in gay liberation and making it harder for conservative and bigoted people to ignore them.

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User Comments
  1. Aiman REmtulla

    On August 26, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Umm where i can find the references of your article posted above? as im using it for my assignment

  2. hecuba

    On January 9, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    hello. is there any way to get an author\’s name for a proper citation for this? i am also using it for an assignment

  3. Bran

    On February 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Can I get the proper citation for your article? I would like to use your piece as part of an assignment.

  4. elle

    On March 8, 2010 at 9:18 am

    if possible could i also get the authors name as i too am using this for my disseration. thanks

  5. Mel

    On March 18, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Hello can I also get a citation for your article? I would also like to use your article as part of an assignment. Thank you

  6. L Hawkins

    On May 11, 2010 at 1:06 am

    Unfortunately, many of the negative stereotypes had a lot of basis in reality. This was NOT because there is anything wrong with being homosexual. But when you grow up in a culture that ridicules and demeans who you are it can be difficult to believe in yourself. Suicide rates among gay people has always been high. And then of course there were the horrible people who told us that God was punishing us for our sins. Before there were drugs for effective treatment of HIV, I watched as my partner of 12 years endured a long agonizing death. I lost many other dear friends including one who chose suicide over waiting it out. Why I never got it I don’t know but it is irrelevant now. I was just lucky to have intelligent parents who always accepted me for who I was.
    I think television did as well as they were able dealing with the issues. They of course are ruled by the advertising dollar and you can’t blame them for trying to survive.
    I remember educational tv had a wonderful show about a real family in Santa Barbara named the Louds. One of their sons turned out to be gay and they handled the whole situation admirably. They genuinely seemed to love and accept him and this was very positive for those times(early 70s).

  7. Professor Smith

    On June 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Too bad the sources cited are not listed in a reference list at the end of the article. I am a professor and my students who are looking to use this and go straight to the original sources have no accurate way of being sure of this author\’s sources.
    My suggestion is to look for those original sources and use thos for your assignments (e.g. Dines and Humez 2003).

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