From the desk of Megan Townsend, Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis

From the desk of Megan Townsend, Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis

Storytelling is the cornerstone of our society – we learn by sharing our experiences, connecting with each other, telling our life stories, and learning about the wider world around ourselves and how to interact with our environments. Popular media is the most impactful tool we use to share those stories on a global scale. Therefore, it is essential that the stories we are exporting include LGBTQ people, and are reflecting the full diversity of our community and experiences. We know that #RepresentationMatters, and getting to know, see, hear from, and connect with LGBTQ people through entertainment continues to be a pathway to greater understanding and acceptance.

Here’s the proof:

GLAAD and Procter & Gamble recently launched the first LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media study¹, a survey measuring the attitudes of non-LGBTQ Americans to exposure of LGBTQ people and images in the media. The survey found audiences are comfortable with seeing LGBTQ characters in films (76 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents), and the findings showed that seeing LGBTQ characters in media is related to greater acceptance of the community. Simply stated, representation does drive cultural change and accelerates acceptance.

Respondents who had been exposed to LGBTQ images in media within the past three months reported far higher percentages of increased acceptance of LGBTQ people in recent years compared to those who had not seen an LGBTQ image in media in the past three months. This ranges from an 11-percentage point difference for non-binary people (41 percent became more accepting in recent years and had seen images in past three months versus 30 percent who had not been exposed to images in the past three months) and transgender people (44 to 33 percent), a 13-percentage point difference for gays and lesbians (48 vs 35 percent), and a 14 point difference regarding bisexual people (45 to 31 percent).

In June 2020, GLAAD teamed with Netflix for a survey² polling over 6,000 adults in Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) on the impact of inclusive TV and film. A majority of respondents (68 percent) said they had watched a show or film that gave them a better understanding of the LGBTQ community, and 73 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents reported seeing LGBTQ characters and stories on-screen made them feel more comfortable with LGBTQ people. Among LGBTQ respondents, 87 percent feel that film and TV more accurately reflect the LGBTQ community now than just two years ago; showing that change is moving quickly, though respondents specifically highlighted a need for improvement with more storylines featuring LGBTQ parents and families among others. This is particularly noteworthy as 75 percent of LGBTQ respondents reported feeling that entertainment has helped their family to better understand the community. A 2015 Variety survey³ found that 38 percent of people polled cited LGBTQ characters as a “key influence” in their support for the community. All these findings continue to align with studies dating back to the 1990s⁴ that have persistently proven that inclusive entertainment or news media has a significant effect on viewer’s perceptions of the LGBTQ community and accelerating acceptance.

Telling meaningful LGBTQ stories is not just the right thing to do, it’s also just smart business. Our roadmap to success is found in the numbers.

LGBTQ people are a significant audience. GLAAD and The Harris Poll’s Accelerating Acceptance report⁵ shows that 20 percent of Americans aged 18-34 and 12 percent aged 35-51 identify as LGBTQ. Twelve percent of Americans 18-34 identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. A majority of these age groups would also call themselves allies – 63 percent of Americans 18-34 and 53 percent of Americans 35-51. We’ve seen similar findings substantiated across multiple demographics as well; the University of Chicago’s GenForward Survey⁶ found that one in five Latinx millennials identify as LGBTQ. The General Social Survey⁷ from NORC at the University of Chicago has shown that young people are increasingly identifying as bisexual+ and the most notable growth is among young Black women, with 23 percent of Black women 18-34 in America identifying as bisexual in 2018.

According to the most recent MPA THEME report⁸, “frequent moviegoers” or those who go to the theater once a month or more, account for 47 percent of all tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada. Moviegoers aged 18-39 made up 40 percent of this “frequent moviegoer” audience and were overrepresented among “frequent” purchasers relative to their proportion of the population. This grouping overlaid with the data on the LGBTQ community from the Accelerating Acceptance survey shows that a significant portion of this group is likely LGBTQ moviegoers.

Nielsen’s State of the LGBTQ Moviegoer report⁹ explicitly states “studios and theaters alike can bolster box office sales by […] tailoring their promotions and offerings to LGBT moviegoers’ entertainment needs.” Nielsen found that queer audiences are 22 percent more likely to see a new theatrical release more than once compared to straight audiences at three out of every 10 surveyed respondents. The same study additionally reported that LGBTQ audiences are also meaningful long-term customers with respondents being nine percent more likely than non-LGBTQ audiences to purchase a film on DVD, Blu-Ray or Digital and 22 percent more likely to have a streaming service subscription.

LGBTQ audiences are also more likely to generate social media buzz and word of mouth recommendations. Forty-nine percent of all LGBTQ moviegoers said they texted, tweeted, or otherwise posted about a film the same day they saw it as compared to 34 percent of straight audiences, per Nielsen. The top five genres among LGBTQ audiences are Horror, Sci-Fi or Fantasy, Romance, Drama, and Graphic Novels/Comics per Nielsen. A 2016 study¹⁰ found LGBTQ buying power in the U.S. alone to be $917 Billion, with recent estimates showing further growth.

Studios must acknowledge these trends, paying particular attention to promoting and advertising titles that include LGBTQ characters, and informing audiences as to why they should consistently and loyally purchase movie tickets and spread the word. Harnessing the power and passion of these audiences can only benefit studios' bottom lines.

GLAAD works every day to educate, support, and challenge networks, studios, and creators to ensure fair, accurate, and inclusive LGBTQ representations in media. In this changing world, we remain vigilant and focused on the work to be done.

Megan Townsend

Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis, GLAAD Media Institute


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1 “LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media.” GLAAD/P&G. 27 May 2020.


3Lang, Brett. “Ellen DeGeneres Influenced Gay Rights Views More Than Any Other Celebrity (Study).” Variety. 30 June 2015.

4 Riggle, Ellen, Ellis, Alan L and Crawford, Anne M. “The Impact of ‘Media Contact’ on Attitudes Toward Gay Men. Journal of Homosexuality. February 1996.

4 Lavina, Marina, Waldo, Craig R, and Fitzgerald, Louise F. “We're Here, We're Queer, We're on TV: The Effects of Visual Media on Heterosexuals' Attitudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbians.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology. April 2000.

4 Cooley, Jonna J. and Burkholder, Gary J. “Using Video and Contact to Change Attitudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbians.” Journal of Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences. 2011.

4 Gillig, Traci K., Rosenthal, Erica L., Murphy, Sheila T., and Folb, Kate Langrall. “More than a Media Moment: The Influence of Televised Storylines on Viewers’ Attitudes toward Transgender People and Policies.” Sex Roles. 2 August 2017

5 “Accelerating Acceptance.” GLAAD/Harris Poll. March 2017.

6 Duran, Eric. “Latino millennials least likely to identify as heterosexual, survey finds.” NBC News. 23 July 2018

⁷ Oppenheim, Maya. “Number of young black women in US identifying as bisexual has ‘trebled in past decade’.” The Independent. 13 June 2019.

⁸ Theatrical Home Entertainment Market Environment (THEME) Report. Motion Picture Association. March 2020.

9 “Lights, Camera, Action! State of the LGBTQ Moviegoer.” Nielsen. 13 January 2014.

¹⁰ “America’s LGBT 2015 Buying Power Estimated at $917 Billion.” Witeck Communications. 20 July 2016.