At this time last year, FX was the leader in LGBT content according to GLAAD’s 2008 Network Responsibility Index (NRI), thanks to the presence of LGBT characters in shows like Nip/Tuck, The Shield, Dirt and The Riches.
In this year’s NRI, however, the cabler’s representation of lives of LGBT people dropped 34%, the biggest decline of any of the networks. Simply, LGBT people are showing up less and less on FX. When they do show up, some images have been problematic.
Take Tuesday night’s episode of Rescue Me. For all of season five, the men of Fire Station 62 have been wondering if Franco's girlfriend Carla was a lesbian. In Tuesday night's episode the guys have a party to help Garrity pay his outstanding medical bills and Franco's girlfriend invites her friends, who turn out to be lesbians. The men flirt with the women in hopes they will "score."
The men of “Rescue Me” are lovable every-men and in this episode, they are hoping fortune finds them in the hands of a lesbian woman. To be fair, this type of sexualizing of conventionally feminine lesbians is commonplace in television. However, the show takes a problematic turn when lesbians who are less conventionally feminine enter the bar. These characters are portrayed as rogue and overly aggressive towards the men.
One of the firefighters tells the others to "batten down the hatches and put locks on the men's room door" and then says, "I've got the chains, who's got a trailer hitch." Both statements suggest an adversarial tone between straight men and lesbian women and play to misconceptions about lesbian and straight male interaction. The reference to a truck and chains is troubling because of the aggression it implies. GLAAD’s Los Angeles office received calls from concerned viewers wanting to know our response to the show.
GLAAD has enjoyed a solid working relationship with FX. Rescue Me has worked to include stories of the lives of gay and lesbian people since its first season in 2004. Past storylines have included the gay son of the Chief talking about gay firefighters who died on 9/11; Mikey, the show's resident nice guy, exploring his sexuality; and Tommy's high school-age daughter Colleen dating a girl.
In response to this show and in an effort to reinvigorate FX’s position as an industry leader, GLAAD and FX Public Relations will re-open a dialogue to support the network and the show in more accurately representing the lives of lesbian characters and the different forms of gender expression.