Haasch: Stop killing queer characters: why TV representation matters

Positive representation of LGBT individuals is necessary in order to normalize queer identities.

Palmer Haasch

LGBT characters like Lexa of The 100 are being killed at alarming rates on television for shock factor, and the implications of this extend far past the screen. 

Television wields tremendous social clout. Whether it’s being able to discuss the latest possible incestuous affairs occurring on Game of Thrones or the newest season of American Horror Story, it provides viewers with valuable social currency. 

As a widely viewed medium, television also has the power to normalize and “otherize” identities, a capacity that has a particularly strong impact on people of color, LGBT individuals, and women. As Nicole Martins, an associate professor at Indiana University’s media school, told the Huffington Post, “There’s this … idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant.”

For LGBT individuals, media representation has been crucial in promoting acceptance of LGBT identities and educating viewers. Shows like Will & Grace and The L Word were crucial in exposing the general American public to queer characters. In the past 10 years, LGBT characters have become more prevalent a variety of genres with shows like Netflix’s Orange is the New Black or Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe gaining extreme popularity. 

As a bisexual woman, seeing queer characters on TV is not only validating but also emotionally rewarding. Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra was of particular importance to me as it was the first time I had ever seen other bisexual women on television. 

However, not all representation is good representation. The GLAAD report, a yearly analysis of the diversity of characters on traditional and streaming shows, focused on a troubling trope that is becoming increasingly prevalent in television that has been frankly dubbed “Bury Your Gays”. The term became common in online discussions after Lexa, a queer female character on The CW’s The 100, was killed for what fans argued was shock value. 

While it’s certainly disappointing to see my favorite queer characters die as a fan, as a young queer individual, it’s dangerous. For example, the same show killed its only gay character almost immediately after he came out to his father. His death was unanticipated and was directly linked to the act of coming out. The message that this sends to young LGBT individuals is blunt and clear: your identity is still not accepted and will lead to tragedy.

At a time when Americans are becoming more exposed to LGBT issues due to the current political climate, accurate and positive representation is more important than ever. While much of television programming is fictional, it is still crucial in educating and helping to form opinions about LGBT individuals for many members of the public.

I’m not arguing that LGBT characters need to be granted comprehensive immunity. In fact, I’m pretty sure that would be impossible on shows like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. I am saying that we need to advocate for better representation on TV because the lives of real people may depend on it.