How the media and the LGBTQ+ community interact By natalie cerf

The media has a lot of power. It has the power to alienate, disappoint and degrade people. However, it also has the power to motivate, connect and inspire. In times of urgency, people turn to the internet, to the news or to TV shows in order to reconnect in some way with people around them. The media is a platform that can be used to set precedents for unchartered territory. It can be the deciding factor on where the majority of people around the world stand on political, social or any other sort of major topic. What people read or see on a screen can dictate how they feel about certain issues that take over daily conversations. It can be the reason why members of minority groups, the LGBTQ+ community in particular, feel accepted or not in our society.

According to a recent Bark survey, 26 percent of students self-reported that they believe the LGBTQ+ community is being represented in the media accurately, and 34 percent think that there is not enough representation to being with.

Junior Layla Isherwood, who identifies as bisexual, has noticed a recent shift in the way that the LGBTQ+ community has been represented in the media. Lately, she has noticed that movies have been released, such as the romantic comedy “Love, Simon,” based on the novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, that have LGBTQ+ persons as main characters of the movie who have happy storylines and happy endings. These narratives are replacing LGBTQ+ movies whose stories revolve around the tragedies or the struggles associated with being apart of the gay community.

Sophomore Natalie Pemberton, who is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community and vice president of the Sexuality And Gender Alliance (SAGA) club, has identified a similar shift in the way the LGBTQ+ community has been represented in the media.

“LGBTQ+ characters are represented more as people than they used to be. It used to be more stereotypical. For example, in [the TV show] Glee, their main gay character was very much a stereotype. It’s okay to have stereotypes represented, but that was kind of the only representation we saw in the media,” Pemberton said. “It’s nice to be able to see characters that are more like real people.”

Media also comes in different forms, one being social media. Isherwood noted that there is also a change in the way the LGBTQ+ community is representing itself through social media platforms.

“People are more willing to talk about their experiences as LGBT. It has been a slow trend over the years; people [are] becoming more willing to talk about their experiences as society becomes more accepting,” Isherwood said.

However, according to junior Spencer McConnell, the president of the SAGA club who identifies as a gay male, social media has not been all that inviting to the LGBTQ+ community. He has noticed on various social media platforms, Tumblr in particular, that there are groups of people invalidating the trans community.

“There are people out there called ‘tucutes’ who give the trans community a very bad rep because they will create new identities and pronouns that don’t actually exist in the society that we live in,” McConnell said.

According to McConnell, this phenomenon has become bigger than its manifestation on social media, as the “tucutes” are going to medical centers and requesting hormone therapy or surgery which they end up later regretting because they never felt the gender or social dysphoria that someone who is truly trans will naturally feel. McConnell said that because of this, people who do have gender dysphoria and wish to take those same hormones or have the surgery have less access to these resources as “tucutes” have already used some of them. This issue has also made its way back to medical professionals, according to McConnell, causing them to question whether or not they should be administering hormones or surgeries to trans people.

“The fact that misinformation was spreading to adults who weren’t even on the internet means that it was giving the LGBTQ+ community and the trans community a very bad rep,” McConnell said.

Isherwood said that even though media has encouraged representation of the LGBTQ+ community more recently, some of what started the representation happened many years ago. She attributed some of the initial spark in LGBTQ+ representation in the media to the AIDs crisis, because the outbreak which resulted in the death of millions was able to bring a new level of awareness of the gay community.

“I feel like [the AIDS crisis] was an issue that brought people together and garnered support for the community and created a necessity to talk about it,” Isherwood said.

Isherwood also said that because of the nature of the AIDS crisis, an issue in representation was created which led to the Bury Your Gays trope. The Bury Your Gays trope is a homophobic cliché in which the gay character on a TV is killed off, ending their storyline much earlier than that of a straight character. It also tends to result in the idea that the gay character is less important or more expendable than their straight counterpart. This trope will often extend even further to create the idea that the gay characters are not allowed a happy ending, according to TVTropes.org.

“Most of the time it isn’t supposed to be a punishment for being gay. However, there seems to be an inordinate amount of gay characters getting killed,” Isherwood said.

Another trend showing up with LGBTQ+ characters, besides seeing the character unexpectedly killed off, is one that represents the LGBTQ+ community through stereotypes.

“It is frustrating that most, or maybe even the only representation we get are these flamboyant stereotypes. The ‘gay best friend’ is a big one that I see: just a side character whose gayness is just a fun, quirky part of their character,” Isherwood said.

Isherwood also noted that this stereotype doesn’t only mean a limited demographic, but also one type of ethnicity and gender.

“It’s usually just skinny, White gay men that are much of the representation that LGBTQ+ people have. It's frustrating because there are gay people of color, or disabled LGBTQ+ people,” Isherwood said. “It’s frustrating to think that [the usual character is a] White, cis[gender], straight man which gets one deviation from that norm instead of all the possibilities that there could be and that are real.”

McConnell has started to see that as newer movies or TV shows come out, they are beginning to stray from those stereotypes sometimes seen in comedies or other types of movies and TV. However, McConnell also feels that a stereotype may not be such a bad thing as there is a reason for stereotypes in the first place.

“Stereotypes derive from a source; they don’t just come out of nowhere. Sometimes someone can be ‘stereotypical’ because they want to openly identify with that stereotype. It’s hard to pinpoint a stereotype and say that it is bad because sometimes that [stereotype] is correct,” McConnell said.

Isherwood, McConnell and Pemberton all felt that despite nonexistent or negative representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the past, there are ways that the community can continue to be represented in the media as our society moves forward.

“Using actors that are actually LGBTQ+ and understand how to take on that character [would increase the amount and accuracy of the representation]. Also, paying attention to people that are LGBTQ+ in our lives because it is important to see that we are all fully rounded people,” Pemberton said.

Isherwood hopes to see something similar in order to have a greater, more holistic representation of the community.

“[It’s important to make] more diverse LGBTQ+ people and [the story shouldn’t just be about] them being gay and the main struggle is being gay. They [should] have a storyline like anyone else would, but they are also gay. We want to see ourselves as happy; we don’t want to die or never find love or be outed,” Isherwood said.

McConnell thinks that this change would be made if directors, authors or anyone else creating a story stopped limiting themselves when it comes to LGBTQ+ storylines.

“I think if they are not afraid of producing companies or higher-ups that are in charge of what gets put into the shows [then we’d see more representation]. A lot of the time people that run these show productions are warned that if they add any representation from certain groups, they may lose their jobs,” McConnell said. “To be more inclusive is to not be wary of what other people think, and to push it through for those who want to see it. The more you are open and proud of your LGBTQ+ representation, the more other people will see it as a normal thing and not judge it so harshly.”

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