LGBT characters swept the Emmys this year. Here's why it's not enough.
'LGBT characters deserve to be more than the co-stars in straight people’s lives. We must be the protagonists too.'
As a writer, my dream has always been to create a world of characters that reflect my life as a gay man of color.
My world of friends ranges in age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and I know I’m not the only one with this sort of broad social tapestry. Then why is it that I rarely see a world like mine on TV or film?
So, I did something. Last year, I wrote and directed a short film called "I Can't With You."
It’s the story of Charlie and Annie, two lifelong friends who are drifting apart. I wanted to tell a story that addressed relationships between old friends who have endured the natural internal and external shifts we all go through as people. I wanted to make something that specifically showcased a relationship between a gay man and a straight woman, as I feel like it’s one we haven’t seen much of in popular media as of late, and I love the dynamic.
We live in a time with more LGBT representation in television than ever before.
This year's Emmy's were more diverse than ever. (Film, you better catch up now.) Yet, even with some major TV shows having prominent LGBT characters, we still don’t have many shows exploring the gay experience in a thorough, thought-provoking, and entertaining way.
"The Real O’Neals" has a fun, heartfelt gay coming-of-age story at its core. "Transparent" is pure magic in how it explores the underrepresented trans community. "Orange Is the New Black" is brilliant and offers up some unique, complicated LGBT characters in the sea of its vast ensemble. And other shows, from "Modern Family" to "Empire" to "Master of None," have interesting gay characters contributing to their narratives as well.
However, most of these shows do not let the LGBT characters to anchor the narrative. Why? Are we really only allowed three or four shows? Where are all the LGBT lead characters with complex, diverse lives?
To be fair, the lack of major gay representation in today's media doesn’t stem from a lack of trying.
"Looking" was an interesting, complex show. However, it got a lot of flak from gay audiences because it was the only show out there with a gay male leading character, and not all gay men felt like it was telling their story. And once upon a time, we actually had more diversity in shows like "Queer as Folk," "The L Word," and "Noah’s Arc," but their time has since passed.
The web is doing a much better job in offering up gay protagonist stories with a variety of tones and characters too, but their budgets are small and their platforms are even smaller: "EastSiders," "The Outs," "Where the Bears Are," and "The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo" all come to mind.
Industry decision makers must take greater chances on gay representation in the media.
Are major networks and streaming platforms afraid that mainstream audiences won’t be able to handle a story told primarily through the gay lens? I don’t think so. And, mind you, when I say mainstream audiences, I mean straight and white audiences, who have proven over and over again that they (mostly) also love diversity.
Even so, the majority of stories being offered are still told through a straight, white lens. I love some of these stories — "Terms of Endearment," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf," and "The Shining" are all movies that give me life.
But I’m ready to see a more real depiction of life as I know it. I want a more colorful, queer world on my TV.
This is what I know: We must press on to create a world where a young gay person, whether white or of color, can see themselves as the hero.
Growing up, I rarely got to watch anything where I actually saw myself in the hero. Instead, people like me were usually the flamboyant villain, the shameful oddball, or the servant. Eventually, I graduated to the sassy best friend or co-worker. The whole Latino thing is also worth its own rant, but in all seriousness, we haven’t shifted far enough away from this dilemma.
LGBT characters deserve to be more than the co-stars in straight people’s lives. We must be the protagonists too.
We do a lot more than just come out or go to prison or help our friends through their problems. We have rich, vast lives, and we must challenge ourselves to deliver LGBT content that will appeal to all audiences. And the more opportunities we are given to be the heroes, the greater chance we have of acceptance and empathy in the real world.
We need gay comedies. We need trans dramas. We need lesbian-driven mysteries.
All of these voices matter and should contribute to the media landscape.
Now is the time to take these chances. Now is the time to be bold. I want my Gay TV. And you may not know it yet, but you do too. Try seeing life through the lens of a gay man of color. Or an older trans woman. Or a bi college student. We are all made better by trying to see the world through all kinds of eyes. And, hell, you may even like what you see.