The ‘stigma’ of playing LGBT on TV

Barry Quinn
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LGBT representation in cinema and television often causes controversy, despite the fact that we live in the 21st Century. This controversy comes from a varying bag – some of which is due to actor insecurities, and some of which is due to simply saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

The LGBT community is very vocal in its declaring something wrong or undermining – and rightfully so. Some of the examples we have collected are downright appalling, whilst some are clearly a case of miscommunication. Whatever the reasons, some of these are really hard to believe. They bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘gay for pay’.

Luke Grimes – True Blood

Introduced in the sixth season as a heterosexual love-interest for Jessica, Luke Grimes’ James Kent was everything a True Blood hunk needed to be – broody, domineering and intoxicatingly beautiful with an impressive body. What’s not to like?

Oh, the fact that Grimes didn’t want to play gay.

Touted as ‘creative differences’ towards the end of 2013, Grimes stated that his abrupt departure months after being upgraded to series regular ‘had nothing to do with storylines’ and rather was simply to do with his blossoming movie career. Which is fair enough.

But the seventh season inevitability attracted questions from the fans as to why James had been recast so close to the show’s end. So much so that Nelson Ellis, who played the effeminate-become-butch gay character Lafayette for seven years, said: ‘I’m just … I’m over him. You quit your job because you don’t want to play a gay part? As if it’s … You know what? I’m going to stop talking.’ If that’s not confirmation, we don’t know what is.

Both HBO and Grimes himself have since refused to comment on Ellis’ words, but it clear that Grimes’ career will suffer due to his so-called ‘creative differences’. Either he’ll be seen as unprofessional or homophobic. Maybe even both.

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Thomas Dekker – Heroes

Way back in season one of NBC’s Heroes, Thomas Dekker recurred as Zach, a high school friend of main character Claire Bennet. Zach was instrumental in helping Claire accept her abnormalities and become comfortable with herself – that in itself sounds like a gay storyline.

Zach was originally gay, and a line in the ninth episode of the first season would have confirmed this, with Zach saying to Claire: ‘I would take you to homecoming but you have to know that I don’t like girls that way.’

Reportedly Dekker’s manager didn’t want him to go down this route. Heroes producer Brian Fuller said: ‘The actor Thomas Dekker’s manager threatened to pull him from the show because he was up for the John Connor role in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and she didn’t want him playing a gay character because it might affect Fox’s interest in hiring him. It got really ugly.’

That was clearly a smart move to make because, you know, The Sarah Connor Chronicles was a HUGE hit (note: sarcasm intended).

Since being written out midway through the first season, Dekker has gone on to star in some seriously terrible roles such as Adam Conant in The Secret Circle (what? Exactly) and Kaboom, a film bizarrely circulating around non-heterosexual relationships.

Perhaps this goes to show that in leaving his role in a high-profile television show (at the time, anyway), Dekker’s career has spiralled downwards somewhat. Maybe he should have played gay after all.

Well, there’s always the upcoming continuation, Heroes: Reborn

Brendan Fehr – The Night Shift 

Despite playing a gay hustler in the film Sugar, Brendan Fehr seemingly had a problem with play gay character Drew Alister in NBC’s medical drama The Night Shift.

Fehr said that it was ‘really uncomfortable’ for him to kiss his onscreen boyfriend Rick Lincoln because ‘[he] doesn’t like kissing guys, it doesn’t do anything for [him].’ There are several problems which manifest upon such a statement, but Fehr’s dubious comments aren’t without a little redeeming.

Firstly, it has nothing to do with whether Fehr is or isn’t comfortable with kissing other men – a lot of actors do things as part of their roles which they aren’t necessarily comfortable with. Lena Headey, for example, probably isn’t into having sexual relations with her real-life brother (if she has one, that is) and yet this doesn’t stop her hooking up with her onscreen brother in Game of Thrones. Likewise, Damien Lewis probably isn’t comfortable with killing millions of people in real life, but that didn’t stop him from playing the role of Nicholas Brody in Homeland. Again, the sarcasm here is intended.

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And secondly, kissing guys apparently doesn’t do anything for Fehr, but so what? No matter the situation, we highly doubt it would be at all possible to get turned-on during filming a kissing or sex scene (unless you’re into voyeurism perhaps) so there wasn’t really any need in making such a non-entity of a statement.

We’re pretty sure that Taylor Launtner didn’t REALLY relish the thought of pretending to be interested in Kristen Stewarts one-dimensional role of Bella Swan, but he didn’t make a whole song and dance about it either.

Fehr, we suppose, can be redeemed somewhat, due to him actually taking the role whilst others have balked at such positions. So kudos, for not being a complete homophobe. All of this could have easily been avoided though, so maybe keep it shut in future Fehr.

Neve McIntosh and Catrin Stewart – Doctor Who

In their handful of episodic appearances Madam Vastra and her human cohort Jenny have gone through a blossoming romantic relationship. They first began as lovers and later married, before series eight’s ‘Deep Breath’ saw their domestic life and their first on-screen kiss.

Their kiss wasn’t without its problems through. Despite being a means of saving Jenny’s life, the kiss warranted SIX complaints to Ofcom from viewers we declared it as ‘unnecessary’ and ‘gratuitous’.

But that’s not all. It gets worse.

The lesbian kiss was cut for Asian viewings so as not to offend audiences, resulting in some declaring the BBC as homophobic. Had the kiss not been removed it wouldn’t have been able to be aired on Asian networks, so it is entirely understandable why the BBC decided to cut the scene. After all, it doesn’t necessarily add or take away anything from the overall episode. That said, it is also understandable why this removal annoyed some of the fans.

It should be noted though that it isn’t the BBC who is being homophobic here, but rather the Asian networks who refused to air the episode as it was. The BBC was only providing an alternative so that the show could still air for Asian viewers. Perhaps this one is a case of people reading too much into it.

Sean Hayes – Will and Grace 

Whilst the show as a whole was positively received for its representation of the gay community, Sean Hayes’ portrayal of flamboyant Jack McFarland was met with a more sombre affair.

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Jack received a mixed reception, with a lot of critics believing he perpetuated gay stereotypes. This is easy to see why – Jack is overtly camp and effeminate and often can be regarded as predatory due to his lustful nature. He rarely works, but rather bleeds his lovers dry, and aspires for a life in show business. He is rather callous and cares not for his friends but for his own vanity. He also has a fag-hag in the form of Karen. As such, Jack is the epitome of a gay stereotype.

It could be argued that Jack was played in such a way to highlight these so-called stereotypes, but by saying ‘There are no straight men. Only men who have not met Jack,’ this seemingly confirms the predatory nature of his character.

Other elements of Will and Grace have been noted for their negative portrayal of the LGBT community, such as the frequent self-appropriation of pejorative terms. The characters are always referring to themselves as ‘mos’ (a shortening of ‘homo’). In claiming these terms as self-referential, many critics believe Will and Grace hindered, rather than helped, LGBT representation.

Rebecca Romijn – Ugly Betty/Alex Newell – Glee 

These two examples are grouped together because their cause and effect is likewise.

Both Ugly Betty and Glee are teen ‘dramedies’ which portray a number of lesbian, gay and bisexual characters. The inclusion of trans characters, however, to some, was apparently a step too far.

In the case of Ugly Betty, Alex Meade transitioning into Alexis Meade and rising from the dead was thrown in for the shock value, and whilst the show did ultimately look through the emotional and physical journey Alexis went through (and did so rather tenderly), it will forever be remembered because of the masked woman’s unveiling. Pure shock, little substance.

Furthermore, in the case of Glee it appears as though the producers thought ‘what other minority can we represent in a cheesy, demeaning manner?’ before introducing Wade/Unique. Newell’s portrayal has been exceptional, but Unique’s story wasn’t given the screen time to prosper.

As such, this only affirms the belief that she was only introduced because the show had already dealt with gay, bi and lesbian coming out stories; racial prejudice; and prejudice against disabled people. They needed another minority to represent.

Had they done more with Unique it would have justified her inclusion, but they didn’t, so it doesn’t. Thankfully this was rectified with Coach Beiste in season six.

About 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: You can follow him on Twitter at: @mrbarryquinn