What’s the Point of an LGBT Character?

Barry Quinn

Barry Quinn is an English Language and Literature graduate and a Creative Writer MA studier. He is an aspiring creative and professional writer and is currently in the process of writing his first novel. His writing blog can be viewed here: https://barrygjquinn.wordpress.com You can follow him on Twitter at: @mrbarryquinn

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Gay and lesbian characters are, sometimes, portrayed so perfectly on television and film that it is easy to understand exactly why the character was given a particular sexuality. It may be to highlight issues faced in the LGBTQ community, or it may be to show the struggles that someone goes through in coming-to-terms with and accepting their sexuality. And then there are characters that are dubbed as gay or lesbian simple for the sake of it, often in a throwaway line, leaving the viewers pondering why exactly a character was labelled that way if it isn’t going to advance the storyline in anyway at all.

Let’s start with the positives. ‘Glee’ has numerous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters in the form of Kurt and Blaine, Santana and Brittany, and Wade. Kurt and Santana each had a coming out storyline, highlighting the struggles that many people go through in coming to terms with their sexuality, as well as the struggles that they may face from their peers who aren’t accepting of their sexuality. Dave Karofsky even attempted suicide, and it was handled perfectly, showing why he may want to kill himself before showing that life can and will get better.

Each of these have brought something to the show and have, understandably, received a lot of positive critical praise. Wade on the other hand was introduced in the third season and it gave the impression that the writers had said “what other controversial storyline can we cover?” Don’t get me wrong, I do love the character but I feel like she hasn’t really been portrayed amazingly; there was no coming out storyline to highlight these issues that a lot of people are afraid to talk about and it felt like the character was only introduced for the sake of it. Hopefully there will be a better storyline for her next season since Alex Newell has been upgraded to season regular status.

‘Ugly Betty’ had two prominent gay characters; Justin and Marc, as well as a transgender character in the form of Alexis Meade. Alexis was introduced for the shock value, yes, but along the way we did see her facing struggles that I am sure a lot of people in the transgendered community face. It fundamentally showed that the character was happy with the changes that she had gone through and that life can get better. Justin was also positively portrayed. His storyline was a slow-burning one, running throughout all of the four seasons and culminating in a truly amazing coming out storyline that brought tears to many viewers’ eyes. It was a brave move to show a young character coming out but I, and many other people, knew as well at such a young age.

‘Orange is the New Black’ should also be noted for its many lesbian characters, but it is Sophia Burset that I am going to focus on. Sophia is transgendered, a character that isn’t often portrayed (positively) in television, and yet Sophia has been exceptionally well received. Her storyline has included, through flashbacks, her coming to terms with her changes and the affect that it had upon her family, as well as the animosity that she faced from others that didn’t and wouldn’t try and accept her. She is a fan favourite and she is one of the main reasons why I love that show.

On the other hand, a lot of the time a character is labelled gay simply for the sake of it. For example in ‘Lost’ Tom Friendly is hinted to be gay and later revealed to be gay in a flashback, but it begs the question why. Friendly’s sexuality is never explored and it is only fleetingly referenced so it is easy to understand why people were confused as to why it was mentioned at all. It brings literally nothing to the storyline and it seems as though the character was only labelled as gay because a lot of fans has speculated that he was. So what if he was. Was it really necessary to make something of it?

In ‘Heroes’ Claire was straight for three seasons before falling for her friend Gretchen, but this also begs the question why. She has identified as straight for three seasons and has shown no hint at being interested in women so why did she suddenly change? Was it simply for the sake of it, because the character had had so many unsuccessful relationships with men that she may as well have an unsuccessful relationship with a woman too? It is possible that her sexuality would have been explored in the fifth season before ‘Heroes’ was cancelled, but we’ll never know. At the time it felt as though the character was only developed in this way in the hope of drawing in more viewers, which ultimately didn’t work.

Finally, in ‘Fringe’, Jasika Nicole is a lesbian in real life but her character Astrid’s sexuality is never mentioned. This is what Jasika said on her character’s potential sexuality: ‘When people say, “Oh, do you want Astrid to be like … do you want her to have a gay story line?” I don’t care. If that serves her character or the story, then that’s great. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t need to be there because it’s just a relationship that she’s having with another person.’

This is how I think it should be. A character shouldn’t be gay just for the sake of it, or so that the show represents all minority groups. A character should be gay because it is necessary to the storyline, or because it highlights certain struggles that people in real life face. So are LGBT characters necessary? Yes, definitely, if they are handled correctly. But if their sexuality isn’t going to bring anything to the show or the character then it really doesn’t need to be brought up, just for the ‘shock factor’ – it’s the 21st century people. Gays aren’t shocking anymore, as much as we may want to be.