The Growth of Queer Portrayals in Media

Main image courtesy of Teaching LGBTQ History.

By Madison O’Connell

There’s no question that media shapes the minds of its viewers, and this is especially the case when the viewers are highly impressionable youth. A deciding factor in the ideals and beliefs that are developed in the teenage years is the media. Whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, or Netflix, these platforms give teens the space to grow and learn.

In the early 2000s, being queer became much more accepted, but there was still a very stereotypical view on queer people. The well-loved show Friends would constantly use being gay as a joke towards the character Chandler, insinuating that being gay made you less masculine and strong.

main characters of Friends TV show posing
Still a popular show today, Friends shaped many viewers’ perceptions on a variety of topics including gender and sexuality. Image courtesy of IMDb.

The show also repeatedly benefited from transphobic jokes. In the storyline, Chandler’s father transitioned and changed her name to ‘Helena Handbasket’. Throughout the episode, the characters would constantly misgender her and use her birth name, while also making inappropriate and demeaning jokes about her anatomy. Friends was not the only show that helped form stereotypes about LGBTQ people.

Shows and movies like Community, Vanishing Point, Glee, Clark and Berry, and Gilmore Girls have all benefited off of queer stereotypes. And that’s just naming a few. People may not necessarily see these stereotypes as harmful and demeaning, but if you’re a kid who’s questioning your identity, these stereotypes can severely affect your confidence in your sexuality.  

feet up on the table with Netflix on the TV
Nowadays, many people’s primary form of entertainment comes from streaming services such as Netflix, which is why being able to see yourself positively and accurately represented in media is so important. Image courtesy of Popular Science.

But, as the world progresses, so does media. We are starting to see more positive representation of different sexual and gender identities. The Netflix series Russian Doll realized the importance of proper representation and asked a queer couple to help create an authentic portrayal of their queer characters. This acceptance of queer people as people and not just a stereotype to make fun of is becoming more and more common.

Sex Education has also become an iconic show about the difficulties teens face when exploring their gender and sexuality. Shows like Sex Education give youth a place in media where they feel represented and safe. Schitt’s Creek is another TV show with positive LGBTQ representation, where the pansexual character David explains his sexuality in a positive and uplifting way that makes people feel safe, not ashamed.

three characters from Sex Education standing by lockers
Sex Education does a wonderful job of exploring topics such as gender identity and sexuality in a way that is diverse, progressive, and inclusive. Image courtesy of British GQ.

With all these TV shows, it has become apparent that you don’t need to use harmful stereotypes to make jokes. Instead, media can allow queer youth to see themselves represented authentically on a screen and can make a major positive difference in their journey of self-discovery and acceptance.

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