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Non-Partisan Television: LGBT Stories Are Moving Into New Territory

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GLAAD’s Associate Director of Entertainment Media, Matt Kane, wrote an entry for The Huffington Post in which he discusses the recent findings in GLAAD’s Network Responsibility Index.  This year, GLAAD counted LGBT impressions in original primetime programs for two networks whose programming traditionally appeals to a more conservative audience, History and TLC.

GLAAD found that History had the lowest percentage of LGBT impressions among the 10 cable networks tracked during the 2011-2012 television season, with only 3% of its original primetime programming being inclusive.  Twenty percent of the hours tracked on TLC had at least one LGBT impression.

With these findings, Kane wrote a piece in which he describes LGBT-inclusive entertainment programming as non-partisan, showing that conservatives and liberals alike can enjoy television programs that often feature gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

It's common knowledge that there's a world of difference when it comes to TV news networks like MSNBC and Fox News, and usually that difference can be traced down political lines. But when it comes to the television programs we choose to entertain and emotionally engage us, those lines aren't always quite so clear.

In late 2011 Experian Simmons released its annual research survey that in part measured consumers' media preferences against their political ideologies, and some of the results seem to defy standard assumptions. It's not particularly newsworthy that liberals enjoy The Daily Show and 30 Rock, while conservatives enjoy NCIS and documentary-style programs about blue-collar workers, like the Discovery Channel's Swamp Loggers. But programs like Glee and Modern Family, both of which have been attacked by conservative groups for including LGBT characters, actually do quite well among both liberal and conservative viewers. In fact, Ann Romney, wife of the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, recently revealed that Modern Family is one of her favorite programs, and former candidate Michele Bachmann admitted that her children are big fans of Glee. And they don't come much more conservative than Michele Bachmann.

During the past year, TLC included LGBT people on shows like NY Ink, My Collection Obsession and Extreme Couponing, as well as a variety of gay consultants and lesbian couples on the many bridal programs the network counts on its roster of shows. 

It's not a surprise to see that television series dealing in fashion feature LGBT people, as that industry has long embraced the LGBT community, and many of TLC's inclusive hours consist of wedding- and dress-centered programs that feature openly gay designers or stylists. Yet many of those same shows also feature same-sex couples (usually lesbian couples) in ways that move beyond stereotypes, showing them shopping for wedding dresses or looking for help planning ceremonies. The reality is that weddings are some of the most "traditional" and conservative ceremonies that many people participate in during their lives, and TLC's programs consistently show that it means just as much for same-sex couples to pledge their love for one another in front of family and friends as it does for opposite-sex couples. For many conservative viewers (and these shows have a lot), it's a quietly powerful reminder that at their heart, LGBT issues aren't about politics or positions but about people. For some, it may be the first time they ever see LGBT people in this context at all.

The network reacted to their inclusion in the report and the score they received.  "We're honored to be included in this important and respected analysis of the LGBT community represented in media today,” said Amy Winter, TLC’s General Manager.  “TLC is always working to share the authentic stories of remarkable people living compelling lives, without discrimination or exclusion."

To read the entire entry on The Huffington Post’s website, click here.

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GLAAD has released its second annual 'Studio Responsibility Index,' a report that maps the quantity, quality and diversity of images of LGBT people in films released by the seven largest motion picture studios during the 2013 calendar year.