In Focus: LGBTQ Representation in Entertainment and Gaming

In Focus: LGBTQ Representation in Entertainment and Gaming

The GLAAD Media Institute provides consulting services to a variety of industries, including entertainment (film, television, gaming, theater, and music). GLAAD began working with the entertainment industry in 1986, a year after its founding. GLAAD also conducts research about the industry, including quantifying and analyzing representation in film and TV, fielding studies, evaluating data, and developing metrics to strengthen the organization’s mission to accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ people. GLAAD’s Entertainment Media team not only works with entertainment media companies to encourage fair, accurate and inclusive representation of LGBTQ people, but also to advocate for increased representation of LGBTQ people behind-the-scenes in the industry. This process involves meeting with executives and showrunners, reading scripts, reviewing rough cuts and sharing notes with creatives, pitching story ideas, consulting with writers, directors, and producers, working with talent to better inform them about portraying LGBTQ characters and how to speak about issues of importance to the LGBTQ community, arranging entertainment-related events and panels, and amplifying finished projects that further GLAAD’s mission. GLAAD promotes LGBTQ-inclusive projects through its website, social media platforms, and its weekly The GLAAD Wrap and Must See LGBTQ TV columns, as well as interviews on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter Spaces, and Instagram Live.

Representation Matters. In 2020, GLAAD and P&G released LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media, a study which found that non-LGBTQ Americans who had been exposed to LGBTQ characters and stories in media were more likely to accept LGBTQ people and be supportive of LGBTQ issues compared to respondents who had not been exposed to LGBTQ images in the media. 80% of non-LGBTQ respondents who had been exposed to LGBTQ people in films/TV/advertising say they are more supportive of equal rights for LGBTQ people when compared to the respondents who had not recently seen LGBTQ people in the media (70%).

TV
GLAAD has been tracking the presence of LGBTQ characters on television for more than 25 years and annually releases the Where We Are on TV report. This report analyzes the overall diversity of regular characters appearing in primetime scripted series on broadcast networks and assesses the number of LGBTQ regular and recurring characters on primetime scripted cable programming and original scripted series on several major streaming services. With this report, GLAAD calls on the industry to increase racial, gender, and disability diversity among LGBTQ characters, as well as representation of people living with HIV. In 2021, for the first time in the report’s history, over half of LGBTQ characters on cable television were people of color, meeting GLAAD’s challenge from the previous year’s report.

Film
GLAAD’s annual Studio Responsibility Index maps the quantity, quality, and diversity of LGBTQ characters in films released by Hollywood’s eight major motion picture studios. In 2021, for the first time in the report’s history, queer women characters outnumbered queer men, and the year marked significant growth of LGBTQ characters of color. But the report also found no LGBTQ characters with disabilities and no LGBTQ characters living with HIV. Additionally, transgender and non-binary characters remained completely absent for the fourth year in a row.

The latest Studio Responsibility Index lists animated and family films as a critical area for improvement. There is a notable discrepancy between the low LGBTQ representation in family films and the significant advances in LGBTQ representation in all-ages television over the past few years.

Gaming
LGBTQ people make up a significant portion of the gaming community (an estimated 10% according to a 2020 Nielsen study) yet face disproportionate hate, harassment, and discrimination when participating online. A survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League found that more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ players has experienced harassment related to their sexual orientation or gender identity while gaming. And by several accounts, LGBTQ workers in the gaming industry face similar barriers and hardships.

GLAAD works to advance LGBTQ inclusion in gaming. The organization regularly collaborates with developers to consult on LGBTQ storylines and with media outlets to ensure that meaningful representation is properly covered. In 2016, GLAAD worked with Electronic Arts to make The Sims 4 more inclusive of gender diversity, and in 2020, GLAAD consulted with Xbox Game Studios and DONTNOD Entertainment on Tell Me Why, which featured the first playable transgender character in a major studio game. Additionally, the GLAAD Media Awards annually recognizes impactful LGBTQ representation in games through the Outstanding Video Game category.

Kids and Family Programming
LGBTQ characters and stories now appear in kids, family, and children’s media, including in television programs and books. In June 2021, Insider.com released a comprehensive database of over 250 LGBTQ characters in kids’ animated TV.  From Disney Junior and Nickelodeon to PBS and Netflix, the largest and most beloved brands have included LGBTQ families and talent in TV shows. The study showed that the number of LGBTQ characters in animated kids’ programming has quadrupled in the past decade. 2021 brought breakthrough moments in LGBTQ representation in the genre, including the introduction of nonbinary characters in Dreamworks Animation’s Madagascar: A Little Wild and prolific children’s programmer Chris Nee’s new show at Netflix, Ridley Jones, as well as the first gay dads on Sesame Street and a gender creative storyline on Disney Junior’s Muppet Babies. Disney Channel’s The Owl House, which released its second season in summer 2021, has also won praise for its LGBTQ inclusion.

LGBTQ families and parents are part of the world experienced by all kids and should be part of the entertainment they see with their parents. This exposure helps kids be less likely to fear what's different and develop acceptance and understanding for all people. Within the LGBTQ community, the Family Equality Council found that 48% of LGBTQ millennials report they are actively planning to grow their families. 63% are considering expanding their family by becoming first-time parents or having more children. LGBTQ families also deserve to see themselves reflected in all forms of media.

The GLAAD Media Awards recognize LGBTQ inclusion in the genre with an Outstanding Kids & Family Programming category as well as an Outstanding Children’s Programming category. The Kids & Family Programming category launched in 2018, and award recipients include Disney Channel’s Andi Mack, Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe, Hulu’s The Bravest Knight, Disney+’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Hulu’s First Day, and Netflix and Dreamworks Animation’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. The Outstanding Children’s Programming category was introduced in 2021, and HBO Max’s The Not-Too-Late-Show with Elmo received the inaugural award.

The GLAAD Media Awards honor media for fair, accurate, and inclusive representations of LGBTQ people and issues in entertainment. Since its inception in 1990, the GLAAD Media Awards has grown to be the most visible annual LGBTQ awards show in the world, sending powerful messages of acceptance to audiences globally.

For interviews on any of GLAAD’s reports or LGBTQ inclusion across entertainment and gaming, please contact press@glaad.org.

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