As expected, the lingering effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic can already be felt on the general landscape of television — especially when it comes to the subject of LGBTQ representation.
GLAAD's new "Where We Are on TV" report, notes that the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer characters has in fact decreased for the first time in four years, going from 10.2 percent to 9.1 percent, especially with some new series like ABC's Stumptown or Netflix's I'm Not Okay With This being renewed, only to get cancelled due to the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of all the broadcast series currently on the air, only one features an LGBTQ lead: The CW's Batwoman. The show made headlines last summer when lead actor Ruby Rose announced she would be departing the series, however, they've since found her replacement in actress Javicia Leslie, who will be playing the lesbian Ryan Wilder, the latest wearer of the bat cowl. (Leslie herself is an out and proud bisexual woman, a fact celebrated by many fans.)
This means that once again, The CW boasts the highest percentage of LGBTQ series regulars across their shows, with 14.2 percent of their characters identifying within the LGBTQ umbrella. This includes multiple characters in larger ensembles like DC's Legends of Tomorrow (Sara Lance, Ava, John Constantine, and Gary), as well as the one or two regulars that grace shows such as Black Lightning (Anissa and Grace), Supergirl (Alex and Nia), Charmed (Mel and Kevin), and even Nancy Drew (Bess and Lisbeth).
But while the GLAAD report does note that the number of trans characters has decreased from last season, it also states that the percentage of those played by actual transgender actors has increased from 82 percent to 90 percent. Among those included in this number are newer characters like Supergirl's Nia Nal (AKA Dreamer), who made her debut on the superhero series last season. However, it is notable that next season will be the show's last, which will affect this number going forward. Similarly, Star Trek: Discovery also made history this year, by introducing the franchise's first trans and non-binary characters in Gray and Adira, played by trans actor Ian Alexander and non-binary actor Blu del Barrio, respectively.
The report also highlighted the many strides that have been made in kid and family-oriented programming, with new shows like Disney XD's The Owl House making the news for featuring a bisexual lead character. However, it also pointed out that while much-lauded series like Cartoon Network's Steven Universe, Netflix's She-ra and the Princesses of Power and Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, all featured meaningful representation and proved groundbreaking in their approaches, they also all aired their final episodes last season, which could cause the numbers to drop once more going forward.
"LGBTQ-inclusive shows dominated the conversation in 2020, with series like Schitt’s Creek, Batwoman, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Veneno, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and others celebrating high viewership, critical acclaim, and passionate fanbases," said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis in a statement. "However, with LGBTQ inclusion in the industry still being led by a concentrated number of creatives and several inclusive series ending in this year’s study, networks and streaming services need to be taking note of the value of this dedicated audience. It must be a priority to introduce nuanced and diverse LGBTQ characters in 2021 and beyond, ensuring that this year’s decreases do not become reverse progress as the industry continues to evolve and adjust to this unique era’s challenges."
Batwoman is set to premiere on Jan 17. on The CW. You can read the full GLAAD report here.