The fall TV season is approaching, and predictably, the powerful lobbyists at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) are already demanding that Hollywood develop more positive gay characters.
But this year, GLAAD's study of gay TV characters goes beyond numbers to quibbling about percentages. They claim that out of 710 series regulars who will appear this season on the broadcast networks, gay, lesbian and bisexual characters make up less than two percent of the total. They say it's a false depiction of their community. As GLAAD's Damon Romine complained, "This is a shocking misrepresentation of reality and of the audience watching these programs."
Is GLAAD again promoting the myth that 10 percent of Americans are homosexuals? If so, it's rather curious. A raft of gay groups signed on to a 2003 amicus brief in the Lawrence v. Texas sodomy-law case before the Supreme Court that suggested otherwise. That brief touted: "The most widely accepted study of sexual practices in the United States is the National Health and Social Life Survey. The NHSLS found that 2.8 percent of the male, and 1.4 percent of the female, population identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual." That averages out to about two percent of the population, or exactly what GLAAD maintains Hollywood is depicting.
And guess who signed on the dotted line of this brief? Yes, GLAAD. How can they complain to Hollywood about "reality" when they're still debating it with themselves?
But there are further problems with the GLAAD character-counting method. First, a good chunk of these 710 characters they're counting are child actors not even old enough to be sexual. Second, how is it that we know that 98 percent of the 710 characters are, in fact, heterosexual? Do TV writers give us the inside details of every character's personal life on every show? Is every single character who is not explicitly gay therefore straight?
Try a different twist on this. How many TV characters are portrayed as practicing Catholics? Catholics make up almost 25 percent of our population. Can you name two characters on TV who are practicing Catholics? Using GLAAD's logic, Hollywood is failing to represent the reality of Catholics. Using real logic, however, we can conclude that if a character's religious orientation is irrelevant, it will be omitted from that character's identity. The same holds true for sexual orientation. When Paul Lynde played the role of Uncle Arthur on "Bewitched," was he a gay or straight warlock? Was Festus on "Gunsmoke" heterosexual? Homosexual? Bisexual? Who cares?