How are LGBT+ Characters Presented in Sitcoms?

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Across TV, especially sitcoms, there is an increasing amount of good LGBT+ representation. The first ever LGBT+ character I was aware of on TV was Friends’ Carol Willick, who we meet early on in Season 1 following her separation from Ross Gellar because she’s a lesbian. We see it told through his eyes as we find out she’s pregnant with his child, and watch negotiations between them and her new girlfriend, Susan Bunch, over how exactly raising their child Ben Gellar will work. For a nineties TV sitcom this could have so easily not been representative, and Carol and Susan could have been grossly stereotyped, but instead she becomes a fully fleshed out recurring character for seven seasons, becoming much more than just Ross’ lesbian ex-wife.

However, there’s some representation that isn’t so great. Modern Family‘s Cameron and Mitchell are a couple who have an adopted daughter and who are in a committed, long-term relationship, but they’ve never kissed on screen, there are never any comments or suggestions that they may have a physical relationship (unlike the other couples) and they always call each other boyfriends. Not partners, something representative of their commitment, but a term that reduces their relationship to something less serious. ABC said in a 2017 statement that the couple are “demonstrably affectionate” and an episode is coming that shows Mitchell’s “slight discomfort with public displays of affection”, but did it really have to be the only gay couple who happens to not like PDA? Especially considering ABC gave us Ugly Betty, a show that introduced me for the first time to transgender people in the case of Alexis Meade, who transitioned from male to female, had the incredibly sexual Mark St. James, and the best coming out on TV I’ve ever seen in the form of Justin Suarez.

There are also shows that heavily hint at a character not being straight but never confirm it. I understand why they would want to create a mystery around things to keep people coming back, but when they could be the only LGBT+ person in a show then I feel the representation is important. Examples include Elena Shelstrop from The Good Place who is very heavily hinted as being bisexual, and Lily Aldrin from How I Met Your Mother. References have been made about Lily being bisexual throughout every season of the show, but a lot of time it’s just taken as her being a bit obsessed with Robin rather than actually being bisexual. For a very straight show, it’s something that really should have either been clarified, or not used at all.

That said, there is an increasing amount of representation in sitcoms, like the incredibly diverse and LGBT+ friendly Brooklyn 99, with Rosa Diaz and Captain Raymond Holt, The L Word, and so many other shows where LGBT+ people are just there, living their lives, and their whole character isn’t based on their sexuality or gender. That kind of representation is so important for LGBT+ people, for them to be able to see people like them but also for people who aren’t LGBT+ so they can see people who aren’t like them, but acting how they do and not as an “other”.

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Third year PAIR student and live editor. Also the Wessex Scene's Head of Events. Fan of cats, gigs and a tea lover - find me rambling about politics and cats @_Carly_May on Twitter.

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