Gay characters still stereotyped by TV, say researchers

By staff writers
July 22, 2010

Despite changing attitudes to homosexuality, new research suggests that "positive and realistic" portrayals of gay people are almost absent from the twenty television programmes most watched by Britain's young people.

The research is published today (22 July 2010) by the charity Stonewall, which campaigns for the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

Their report, Unseen on Screen, reveals that only 46 minutes out of 126 hours of output showed gay people “positively and realistically”.

Researchers found half of all portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people to be stereotypical, including gay people depicted as figures of fun, predatory or promiscuous. Where programming depicted homophobia, three fifths went unchallenged.

The researchers say that BBC1 transmitted 44 seconds of positive and realistic portrayal of gay people in more than 39 hours of output. They add that three quarters of portrayal was confined to just four Channel 4 and ITV1 programmes – Hollyoaks, Emmerdale, How to Look Good Naked and I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

Young people from across Britain interviewed by the researchers routinely said that gay people on TV are largely stereotyped, leading unhappy lives, are bullied and rejected by their families. They also said they rely on TV to learn about gay people.

One 16 year-old interviewed for the research said, “TV gives the wrong view of gay people because every storyline is about them being beaten up and discriminated against. They are never accepted by their family. In real life they just want to fit in.”

Stonewall's Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said, “Of course it’s welcome that some of the most obnoxious unpleasantness of people such as Jeremy Clarkson is now being edited out before transmission. However, it’s hardly surprising that there’s still almost endemic homophobic bullying in Britain’s secondary schools when, even if gay people do appear on TV shows watched by young people, they’re depicted in a derogatory or demeaning way”.

Seventy-one per cent of secondary school teachers polled by YouGov last year said that anti-gay language in the broadcast media affects the levels of homophobic bullying in schools.

Recommendations included in Unseen on Screen are that broadcasters should work with Ofcom to develop guidelines to ensure more positive portrayals of gay characters.

The report also recommends that programme-makers share good practice on how to develop authentic lesbian, gay and bisexual characters in continuing dramas. Broadcasters should also monitor their output to ensure lesbian, gay and bisexual representation.

“Rather than review output which broadcasters claim to be targeted at young people, we wanted to review the programmes they actually watch,” explained Summerskill.

He added, “Tomorrow’s generation of TV viewers clearly want programmes which portray modern Britain the way it actually is. Broadcasters who fail to recognise this risk commercial failure and will certainly not be able to justify a universal licence fee in the decades ahead.”


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