By Cameron Ramich, USM ‘20
Queer representation in all sorts of media is something that LGBTQIA+ activists have been fighting for, for years. Gordon Allport, an influential psychologist, once studied and found that people who are apart of majority groups that are interpersonally connected to someone in a minority group through any sort of media (books, television shows, movies), have a greater chance of having less prejudices against minority groups.
It is clear in today’s world that support for queer people, specifically gay, lesbian and bisexual people, has grown immensely in the past 10 years. With gay marriage being legalized in 2015, to more queer people being elected into office in the 2018 midterm elections, support for gay people has been growing and growing. As support has grown, the growth within the LGBTQIA+ community has grown as well. More people feel safe and comfortable within society’s standards to come out.
Many queer people can accredit being able to identify with a queer person being represented in their favorite show, to also feel comfortable with coming out themselves. A lot of this support and self identification can be accredited to a higher representation for queer people in digital media. However, as support has grown a lot for the LGBTQIA+ community, support for trans and intersexual people has grown, but not as quickly as support for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. This is an issue that could be easily helped by more representation in digital media.
Positive queer representation in digital media was something that didn’t become “popular” until the 1990s. In the early days of hollywood, gay people would be portrayed in a ridiculing way, making fun of gay men for being girly or “sissy.” Between the 1930s and 1950s, religious groups criticized hollywood for even recognizing gay people, which created the Hays Code that censored and affected the portrayal of homosexuality. Everything that was “gay” in films, had to be formed subtly within characteristics.
However in the 1960s this code loosened more as it was a beginning of women and gay rights movements. Although the queer representation that was in digital media at the time wasn’t technically positive. Come the 1990s a lot of social movements changed and gay people had a negative stigma as being gross due to the recent aids crisis. However, digital media during this time should be accredited to helping the progression of queer support.
One example of queer representation is in the Golden Girls show. This show had many different stories regarding gay plots, and in the end, they always had a different, more positive thought on gay people. This show was popular through many different age groups, those messages being sent to many people across America definitely affected how gay people were viewed.
Another show that is definitely a huge stepping stone in the queer community would be Will & Grace. A show starring two men who are gay, and the idea of it is so normalized and it doesn’t spend 24 minutes making fun of gay stereotypes, rather arguing many current topics regarding queer people at the time.
Notable people like Ellen are also accredited to really helping queer representation in media. Her sitcom Ellen, which was widely popular, was cancelled in 1998 because she came out on television and received major push back. When she came back on television in 2003 with her daytime talk show, it was a hit and is still running stronger than ever. She was honored to win a presidential Medal of Freedom award for her activism and her bravery in her career in being apart and an activist for queer rights. Ellen is accredited to helping the idea of queer people being more normalized and more supported, because she is with people everyday from all around America and the world. Whether people are watching in urban, more progressive cities, or small towns where people many not know a queer person. Ellen helped bring queerness from digital media into people’s living room.
As many different people being more comfortable about the topic of queer representation, a very important positive outcome of queer representation in digital media is young, closeted queer people being able to identify with someone. As a young gay person myself, I wasn’t really able to identify with a positive gay role model on television, nor would I probably have been allowed to during the time. But young people today are able to watch television, movies, or any other forms of digital media and are able to identify with someone. More shows and movies now than ever are including more diverse queer people, which is going to have major effects on young queer people in the upcoming years. A show like Pose on FX includes the most queer people than any television show ever has before. Shows like Pose are going to start becoming more “mainstream.”
As queer representation has been on the rise in the past few years, not all queer people are being represented as much as others. Gay people have been represented much more often than trans or intersexual people. As the rise of representation of all queer people is on the rise, visibility for trans and gender fluid, specifically POC trans people, are still very low. With time, this will improve, like it did with gay representation. But without the representation as a whole, the progression of support will not be as great as other minority groups. Going back to what Allport said about interpersonal connections, the only way to have less prejudices against minority groups, is to give the majority an interpersonal connection to a minority.