Gay Bean-Counters Give Networks Cookies for Airtime

Note to TV networks: Don't even think about downsizing the disproportionate airtime you give gay characters and issues. The bean-counters at GLAAD are watching.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), in its fifth annual "Network Responsibility Index," recently ranked 15 networks based on their inclusion of LGBT characters on original primetime shows that aired nationally.

The report showed that nine networks (NBC, CBS, ABC Family, A&E, FX, HBO, Showtime, TBS, and USA) increased their coverage of LGBT issues from the previous year, while four networks (CW, Fox, ABC, and TNT) slightly decreased coverage of LGBT issues.

Of the 10 ranked cable networks, the inaptly named ABC Family was the most pro-homosexual, with 55 percent of its programming hours featuring inclusion of LGBT issues. Showtime (37 percent), TNT (33 percent), HBO (31 percent), AMC, (29 percent), and Syfy (22 percent) were ranked as 'good' by GLAAD.

Handing out the pats on the head, GLAAD's Herndon Graddick applauded this trend, declaring that "Viewers expect to see television environments that accurately reflect what it's like to be a young adult, and today that includes young adults who happen to be gay."

The increase in homosexuality in cable programming has not gone unnoticed by insiders in the entertainment industry. Entertainment Weekly's James Hibberd noted that "Overall, networks have dramatically increased the number of gay portrayals in recent years." The Culture and Media's analysis of homosexuality's portrayal in television over the years confirms this statement.

But the near-ubiquity of homosexual characters on television flies in the face of demographic reality. Current studies indicate that the homosexual population in the United States is around 2 to 4 percent. The Williams Institute's (which the Huffington Post called the "Brookings Institution" of the gay rights movement) demographer-in-residence Gary Gates estimated that about 4 percent of the US population is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (he estimates that 1.7 percent of the U.S. population is gay or lesbian, 1.8 percent are bisexual, and .3 percent are transgender).

But GLAAD has good reason to reward TV's distortion of reality. GLAAD's own report states that "Of the 19% who reported that their feelings toward gay and lesbian people have become more favorable over the past 5 years, 34% cited 'seeing gay or lesbian characters on television' as a contributing factor." GLAAD's acting president, Mike Thompson, crowed that, "As television audiences get to know our community and the common ground that we all share on the screen and in their own lives, acceptance is growing."

And also, the mistaken notion that homosexuality is widespread in America is growing. An April Gallup poll revealed that more than half of Americans believed that the homosexual population in America is over 20 percent. The poll cited entertainment as a possible factor, declaring that "This [poll] suggests Americans have had even more exposure to gays and lesbians, be it in their personal lives or through entertainment or other means."

So if it seems that you can't flip through the channels today without running across gay characters or story lines, you're right. You can't. And GLAAD's there to make sure of it.