If you’re a queer person who’s fallen in love with a queer TV character in recent years, the 2022 Where We Are on TV report by GLAAD confirms what we’ve been screaming about for a while now: Shows with LGBTQ+ characters are getting canceled way too often.
This year’s report, the 18th of its kind, is a deep dive into LGBTQ+ representation on cable, primetime, and streaming networks. We’ve made leaps and bounds on and off-screen since these reports began, and indeed, the 2022 report does highlight some pretty positive changes.
For instance, just over half — or 304 out of 596 — of all LGBTQ+ characters across the three platforms were people of color. This year also marked the first time that people of color made up the majority of the LGBTQ+ characters on streaming services since the platform was added to the report, at 53%.
GLAAD has also begun reporting on non-binary characters as their own category, instead of combining them with transgender people. That’s mostly because there are more of them now, with 25 non-binary characters counted on TV this past year.
Despite these wins, GLAAD does point to some worrying trends: That we’re seeing less of ourselves on TV, and the LGBTQ+ characters that do make it on-screen are disappearing faster and faster.
There Are Fewer LGBTQ+ Characters on TV
Between June 1, 2022 and May 31, 2023, GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV report identified a total of 596 LGBTQ+ characters on scripted TV — a decrease of 41 characters, or around 6% of last year’s numbers — across cable, broadcast, and streaming platforms.
Primetime TV took the largest hit, with its 101 LGBTQ+ characters being 40 less than last year’s numbers. Cable TV counted 139 (an increase of one character), while streaming services Apple TV+ Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, Netflix, Paramount+, and Peacock tallied 356 LGBTQ+ characters (a decrease of two characters from last year’s report).
Of the 596 LGBTQ+ characters on our screens this past year:
- 35% were gay men;
- 30% were lesbians;
- 25% were bisexual;
- 4% were queer;
- 2% were straight trans characters;
- 2% had an undetermined sexual orientation;
- and 1% were asexual.
(Characters marked as ‘undetermined’ are transgender or non-binary characters whose sexual orientations weren’t clearly defined by TV networks.)
Across all platforms, 52% of LGBTQ+ characters were women, 44% were men, and 4% were non-binary.
HBO leads all cable channels with 26 LGBTQ+ characters — a feat it last achieved in the 2014-2015 report, and made possible with the likes of Ellie from The Last of Us, the small-town queer community of Somebody Somewhere, and the glorious gay characters of The White Lotus.
Behind HBO are Showtime’s 24 and Freeform’s 16, with these three networks being home to nearly half of all LGBTQ+ characters on cable.
On primetime TV, all broadcast networks are led by The CW, whose LGBTQ+ characters make up 14.8% of series regulars. Fox and ABC follow with 13.2% and 12.4%, respectively. Overall, however, all broadcast networks had fewer LGBTQ+ characters this year than they did last year.
Among streaming services, Netflix tallied 183 LGBTQ+ characters, or 51% of all the queer characters in this category. This is mostly thanks to the sheer number of original content Netflix produces, though it’s worth mentioning the similarly high number of shows they cancel (more on this later).
It’s followed by Prime Video’s 43 (anchored by A League of Their Own, Harlem, and September Mornings), Hulu’s 37 (Love, Victor and Reboot), and HBO Max’s 34.
The Cancellations Aren’t Helping
One worrying highlight of the report is the impact of the Cancel Your Gays trend: Not only is queer representation on TV down year-on-year, it’s only set to get worse.
Of the 596 LGBTQ+ characters on scripted TV reported this year, at least 175 will not return next year — the majority of whom were lost to series cancellations. That’s worse than the 112 characters from last year that didn’t make it to our television screens this year, and it means that we’re losing at least 286 LGBTQ+ characters in just two seasons’ worth of TV.
The problem is so bad that GLAAD decided to add a section on the report just to cover it. This year’s report tallied 54 series cancellations, which translates to a staggering 140 LGBTQ+ characters we’re saying goodbye to. Another 35 LGBTQ+ characters will not be returning due to their show’s miniseries or anthology format.
For instance, 1 out of 5 LGBTQ+ characters on Netflix will not be returning due to cancellations. 20 out of Peacock’s 24 queer-inclusive shows tallied in this year’s report have been canceled, and many of primetime TV’s cancellations — like ABC’s Queens, NBC’s Ordinary Joe, The CW’s Batwoman, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow — involved multiple LGBTQ+ characters.
And the cancellations keep coming. Just a few days after GLAAD launched this year’s report, Showtime canceled The L Word: Generation Q — a move that wiped out over a dozen queer women and trans characters in one fell swoop.
As of this writing, the fate of other TV shows with large LGBTQ+ ensembles are still undecided, and fans are scrambling to convince the powers that be to save them.
Earlier this month, an Amazon Prime Video leak revealed that the company was eyeing a shortened — and final — second season for A League of Their Own, a joyful, diverse, and well-made series that deserves so much more than four final episodes.
Other shows on the line are Netflix’s Smiley and Amazon Prime Video’s Harlem.
TV shows don’t need to last forever, of course, but the report does highlight the message that channels and platforms send when LGBTQ+ characters and their shows are so easily disposed of after one or two seasons, often without enjoying the marketing efforts of their cishet peers.
It is, after all, a conscious decision to not advertise LGBTQ-inclusive programs while reaping the PR benefits of representation. It is also a decision to cancel these shows with a shrug because of lower viewership, instead of giving them the time, space, and budget to grow an audience.
And with Showtime actually promoting Yellowjackets season two with a pretty cool campaign, we know that making the opposite decision is very much possible.
Why Representation Is So Vital
In her acceptance speech for the Human Rights Campaign’s National Visibility Award, A League of Their Own showrunner Abbi Jacobson spoke about how she realized she was queer a bit later in life at 32. “And while it’s never too late,” she said, “I know deep in my bones that if I had seen our show and the representation within it when I was a kid, it would’ve changed my whole life.”
The data backs her up. In The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBT Youth Mental Health, 89% of LGBTQ+ youth said that seeing themselves on TV and in film made them feel good about themselves — an important finding given the high risk of mental health issues among LGBTQ+ youth.
Gallup’s latest report reveals that 1 out of 5 adult members of Gen Z identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, alongside 1 out of 10 millennials. Together, they make up about half of the US population.
Not only do these numbers point to our moral duty to improve LGBTQ+ representation, they also highlight the still under-tapped opportunity for TV channels and platforms to connect with a loyal and passionate audience year after year, after year.
Jacobson goes on to say how LGBTQ+ characters are also important for cishet audiences. “Seeing characters that are living lives completely unlike our own allows us to more fully understand others’ experiences, [and] what it’s like to walk the world in different bodies,” she explained, describing LGBTQ+ representation as “one of the most significant tools we have in our fight towards progress.”
And what a fight it is.
We’re barely at the end of the first quarter of 2023 and already, it’s been a record year for anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the US Congress. Our trans siblings especially need our support now more than ever, with 23 anti-trans bills passed and 423 in development.
And while TV shows may seem to some as a trivial thing, entertainment media has a transformative potential in the way it can humanize people different from us, sway public opinion, and ultimately, change society.
Sarah Kate Ellis, President & CEO of GLAAD, opens this year’s report by saying, “The power of narrative change and inclusive storytelling is more crucial than ever at this moment.”
We waited decades for broadcast, primetime, and streaming companies to stop straightwashing and actually show us LGBTQ+ characters. And now that they’re on our screens, these characters deserve time to grow and be seen by real-life queer people whose lives they can very well save.