Lucy Middleton: “Should LGBTQ+ characters only be played by LGBTQ+ people? Nick Offerman's role as a gay man in “The Last of Us” fueled the ever-ongoing debate over who gets to represent the community onscreen. For this piece, we did a deep dive into the many layers of the discussion and how it can differ between roles.”
LGBTQ+ issues are arguably more in the spotlight than they’ve ever been before – both for better and for worse. Shows such as “The Last of Us”, “White Lotus”, and “Heartstopper”, and movies like “Thor: Love and Thunder”, have raised the profile of LGBTQ+ people in the media, and given people much-needed representation.
While huge global progress has been made in raising awareness, growing visibility has brought with it increased hostility and resistance to change. Debate over day-to-day equal rights continues to cast a long shadow over global politics, media, and sports.
Already this year, more than 375 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, primarily targeting trans youth, have been introduced in the United States. In December, multiple European teams were banned from wearing OneLove rainbow armbands during the World Cup, while Russia expanded its ban on so-called gay propaganda to include adults. Vladimir Putin has repeatedly taken aim at LGBTQ+ people in speeches justifying the Ukraine invasion.
These are just a few examples of the scrutiny LGBTQ+ people are under, and the polarization of public opinion has made on-screen representation even more important. Every time an LGBTQ+ person appears on a person’s TV, laptop or phone screen, an opportunity is created to provide more empathy and understanding.
In this reading list, Lucy Middleton, deputy editor of the LGBTQ+ news platform Openly, highlights examples of the impact representation can have and digs into how greater visibility can bring its own challenges.
LM: “This is an insightful interview from actor Emma Corrin, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. They candidly and openly discussed the negativity they received in response to coming out. I think non-binary stars face particularly harsh reactions at the moment – the public are more accepting towards types of sexuality, but there is still this narrative that non-binary people don’t actually exist.”
LM: “I think this survey helps understand the difficulties LGBTQ+ people face in achieving “acceptable” representation to the rest of the world. It shows that nearly half of people in the UK think there are too many LGBTQ+ stars onscreen – despite only 20.8% of movies released by the highest-grossing studios including LGBTQ+ characters! It highlights the often very limited space in which LGBTQ+ people are allowed to exist.”
LM: “While there is a lot of negativity, this feature brings light to the discussion. India has made significant moves towards progress in recent years – decriminalizing gay sex and preparing to hear petitions on same-sex marriage this March – but being LGBTQ+ remains taboo. The feature illustrates the small seeds of change taking root, with multiple Bollywood rom-coms placing LGBTQ+ characters front and center.”
LM: “Kit Connor was one of the leads in ‘Heartstopper’, a Netflix series centered on a gay love story, with a host of beautifully written LGBTQ+ characters. This show made huge steps for representation – particularly as it is about and written for teens – but was let down by fans accusing the actor of ‘queerbaiting’. How do we support LGBTQ+ actors in LGBTQ+ roles without forcing them to come out?”
LM: “This interview with queer filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas highlights the barriers that exist in creating art amid anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. Zabarauska also talks about coming out at Lithuania's national film festival in 2011 and the media attention that brought.”
LM: “I really like this comment piece on the second season of the White Lotus, in which two characters are seen having gay sex. It rightfully talks about how representation is improving and highlights that LGBTQ+ characters written for the delight of straight audiences should no longer be considered enough. Full fleshed out LGBTQ+ characters - who yes, have sex! - are integral to ending stigma.”
LM: “This is a great interview from our editor Hugo Greenhalgh and shows how even young actors landing their first big breaks can use their platform to support other LGBTQ+ people on a global scale. Zach Barack is Marvel’s first openly trans actor and stars in Spider-Man: Far from Home and his support for trans athletes made it a high-performing story for Openly. “
The Last of Us Star Bella Ramsey Says 'There Are More Important Things Than Two People Kissing on Screen' Over Show's Homophobic BacklashSky
LM: “Every now and then there are really popular TV shows that bring fresh topics into homes which wouldn’t normally discuss them! Bella Ramsey has been great at talking about her character in the media and calling out some of the homophobic backlash the show unfortunately got.”
LM: “I chose this Openly opinion piece because it shows the huge impact LGBTQ+ allies can have. Angela Lansbury described herself as a “proud gay icon” and spoke out in support of gay men during the HIV epidemic when the U.S. President remained silent. It shouldn’t be down to only LGBTQ+ people to care about equality. “
LM: “Tennessee became the first U.S. state to ban drag performances in public last month and there has been some criticism of Hollywood for not taking a loud stance against the law. This speech, in just a few words, demonstrated the link between self expression and creativity to a global audience. It also highlights the baffling divide in the states right now - a movie like Everything Everywhere All at Once with huge LGBTQ+ representation scooping the top Oscar awards while rights are being rolled back across the country.”
Lucy Middleton is Deputy Editor of Openly, a global digital platform delivering impartial LGBTQ+ news. She has extensive experience, writing for multiple publications including the Mirror Online and Metro.co.uk. She also previously worked as a broadcast journalist with Deutsche Welle while living in Berlin. She can be found on Twitter as @Miditun.