Though scripted television may exist primarily to entertain (and sell ads), writers often turn to real-world issues for inspiration and dramatic tension. When these stories address issues faced by LGBT people however, they are also helping to educate viewers and foster greater understanding, which studies have shown translates to positive shifts in public opinion. Here are a few of the shows that tackled the LGBT community's lives and challenges in 2013, in no particular order.
1) This fall, Glee included a storyline for transgender student Unique (Alex Newell) regarding access to restroom facilities at her public high school. The episode highlighted the challenges faced by transgender students when they cannot safely access school facilities. It was also a very timely episode, as California's Governor Jerry Brown recently signed the School Success and Opportunity Act (or AB 1266), a law that allows trans students to access school accommodations that affirm their gender identity. Unfortunately, some anti-LGBT activists are attempting to get the law repealed by voter referendum, and by spreading lies and fabricated stories about transgender students. Following the episode, both Newell and Glee's official social media channels directed viewers to resources to help support trans youth.
2) ABC Family's hit drama The Fosters' summer finale featured Stef and Lena's wedding, which made history as the first same-sex wedding on American, English-language television after the historic Supreme Court decisions to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and repeal California's Proposition 8. The show also released special graphics on social media to celebrate using #loveislove on decision day.
3) Athletes coming out of the closet was a hot topic in the news this year, following coming out announcements from both NBA player Jason Collins and soccer player Robbie Rogers. Scripted television tackled the issue a few times as well, including one episode of Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva, in which a closeted baseball player accused of murder comes out to clear his name. During USA's "Characters Unite" month in February, the network featured a two part storyline in which a closeted NFL quarterback realizes that keeping secrets is hurting his performance, and decides to come out on Necessary Roughness. The show won praises for the episodes, including from NFL player and LGBT advocate Chris Kluwe, who wrote a piece for Salon.com saying the show "gets [the] locker room right."
4) During GLAAD's campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gay Scouts and Scout leaders, The New Normal aired an episode centered on David's (Justin Bartha) past as an Eagle Scout. David volunteers to help out his friend and chaperone a Scouts overnight camping trip, despite Bryan's concerns over the BSA's anti-gay ban. Shortly after introducing his fiancée Bryan to the troop and Scout Masters, David receives a letter from the national board stating that his membership has been revoked for "homosexual conduct." When he announces that he must leave the troop he tells the upset children, "When the Scouts can live up to the values they taught me, I'm happy to be of service. […] I do [love the Scouts], but they don't respect the way that I love." He goes on to say that "change is coming" to the Boy Scouts and there is no doubt "the world is changing." In May, the Scouts voted to allow gay youth to participate, though the ban gay adults remains.
5) TV Land's The Soul Man featured an episode this summer with Reverend Boyce (Cedric the Entertainer) standing against his church's leadership to marry a lesbian couple (Toni Trucks, Paula Jai Parker). Star Cedric the Entertainer says that in the episode his character "finds himself going against the will of the church standing (pretty much alone) on the philosophy that 'If Love Is Love, Then It Doesn't Matter Where It Lands.' Some funny and insightful writing by our show writers and great performances by Paula Jai Parker and Toni Trucks make this an especially intriguing episode that we're all looking forward to folks seeing."
6) Cyndi Lauper addressed the disproportionate rate of homeless LGBT youth on her reality series Cyndi Lauper: Still So Unusual. The series included filming of a public service announcement for her organization, the True Colors Fund (which is dedicated to ending LGBT youth homelessness), as well as her lobbying work to gain support for the Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act.
7) This year, Orange is the New Black received accolades for more than being totally addictive television. Many real life issues are addressed on the show, including the precarious situation many incarcerated transgender women face in prison, such as harassment and access to medical care. Luckily the role of Sophia, the prison's transgender hairdresser, was played by real life advocate and transgender actress Laverne Cox, who used many of her media opportunities to draw further attention to the issue.
8) The second season of AMC's first reality program, Small Town Security, saw transgender Captain Dennis Starr continue his transition. From legally changing his name to gender reassignment surgery, viewers had the opportunity to not only see the challenges that come with transitioning but also the liberation and joy Captain Starr expressed when reaching those milestones in his life.
9) Just by being himself, Justin LeBlanc proved on season 12 of Lifetime's hit reality series Project Runway that LGBT people are just like everyone else, and some of us live with a disability. Justin is openly gay and hearing impaired but it hasn't stopped him from following his dream and sharing his story with viewers. The award-winning Design Professor from North Carolina State University even made it to the finals after being rescued by mentor Tim Gunn and ended up taking third place in the competition.