Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The LGBT Community and Media Representation

There have always been characters in the media that the public has been able to image perceive as gay, even when it has not been explicitly said.  One such example can be found in the movie Ben Hur (yep Charlton Heston didn’t even get it at the time) . When Judah Ben Hur is reunited with his childhood “chum” and they embrace, it is clear that more went on than sharing childhood follies. 

Today, being a member of the GLBT community means that you still exist as a body that is “othered”.   The instances of gay bashing or assumed heterosexuality, prove that we have a long way to go to ensure that we have a tolerant and equal society.  The media is an agent of socialization and therefore; the more normalized images of the GLBT community become, the greater chance there is of  influencing those who still exist with prejudicial beliefs.

According to the New York Times:

Glaad reviewed more than 4,900 hours of prime-time programming on the five major networks and more than 1,200 hours on 10 cable networks, such characters are represented in 42 percent of HBO’s programming hours, and 26 percent of Showtime’s. ABC led the broadcast networks with 24 percent, with CW at 20 percent, Fox at 11 percent, NBC 8 percent and CBS 5 percent.

You will note that Fox was excluded but judging from their record of “fair and balanced programming,” one can hazard a fair guess as to why it was excluded. I think that it is encouraging to see that HBO came out at 42%; it certainly signals that the cable network is interested in diversifying who it chooses to give attention to.

Hidden within these statistics though is a lot of erasure.  Many times a GLBT identity is represented by a gay white male and this simply recreates the same image form of exclusion that GLBT activists have spent lifetimes fighting against.  If an increasing GLBT presence in the media means creating more images like the movie Milk, it ensures that those members of the community that are of color or transgendered, are being ignored to privilege the identity of the oppressed white male.

It is a rainbow flag for a reason; a GLBT identity encompasses all bodies across race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, and age.  The one dimensional view that the media portrays continually makes the diversity of the community invisible thereby further marginalizing POC, and trnasgendered people  amongst an already oppressed group.  Even within oppressed groups, we continually take on the master’s tools because that is how we have been trained to think.

When was the last time you saw a differently abled lesbian of color represented and yet they most certainly exist?  How about an older gay man, who was not busy chasing young men or whining, over his misbegotten youth?  It is not enough to press for more representation, if it continues to make vital members of the community invisible.  It is inaccurate and further builds divides in a community that needs every single member to engage in the battle for equal rights.

When we look at the criticism of Barack Obama, what we constantly see on the news shows is a White gay male pitted against a Black male (sometimes gay as well) on opposing sides.  Why are people contributing to the angst between same gender loving people of color and the rest of the community by participating in something that is clearly designed to be racially divisive?

Why is it acceptable for the media to continually portray members of the GLBT community as affluent, when we know that many suffer in poverty?  Where is the call to hear their stories and the ways in which homophobia has reduced access to things like jobs and health insurance? 

While I’m at it, what about the silent B and T?  You will note that the representation of openly bisexual and transgendered characters is ridiculously low. One or two characters on HBO cannot represent the wonder and achievement of these people and yet there is silence about their erasure.

Some may see the above statistics as a positive sign of change however; I see much still needs to change.  I should not have to struggle to show my child positive images of the GLBT community in the media.  Acceptance means portraying the community equally and ensuring that all voices are heard.  Until that day happens we are not far removed from the 1950’s Leave it to Beaver model that conservatives love to celebrate.