Below you’ll find a list of all lesbian and bisexual female characters featured on scripted broadcast TV (NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, The CW) in the 2015-2016 season (June 1, 2015, through May 31, 2016). To qualify, a character had to appear in more than one episode.
- 105 scripted TV shows
- Only 64 lesbian/bisexual women
- 17 of those are dead (26% dead)
Why it matters
Stories are powerful. They can move us, they can teach us – they can shape us as individuals or a collective, and transform our worldview or append to it. But this influence is not created in a vacuum, and the cold hard data behind which stories are being told, and for whom, shine a light on how negative portrayals of marginalized communities are being continually reinforced. The numbers and the statistics behind these messages are as shocking as they are heartbreaking, particularly to those part of the LGBT+ community.
It is said that it’s just fiction, just a story, but stories always have and always will shape our culture. That is the overarching purpose of a story, from as far back as humans were able to tell them: to impart a message that can be carried on and form the pillars of our culture and society. We know that television can influence society for better or for worse, and its power has been successfully harnessed by advertisers to influence people for as long as the medium has existed. The breakdown of these statistics illuminates that the power of storytelling is being channeled, intentionally or not, to send the same message they have been for decades – that LGBT+ people are either reduced to tragic circumstances or completely absent from the stories that are meant to mirror our lives.
This alarming trend of LGBT+ character marginalization and death severely impacts the audience who most look to stories for a message of hope and escape; instead, they have their worst fears reaffirmed, that this life will not be kind to them, that they don’t have a future where they can be happy. That lesbian or bisexual characters are so rare, and the few that exist too often only suffer, further underscores the need we have for storytellers to craft messages with real empathy, rooted in better and more widespread representation. A television show may not change the world, but it can change the minds and hearts of those living in it.
These are just numbers on a website. The stories are just fictions. The characters are just characters. But the people who are touched and transformed by them are real. Remember that when you read these.