“Grey’s Anatomy”. “Teen Wolf”. “Torchwood”. “The Secret Life of an American Teenager”. “Bones”. “Degrassi: The Next Generation”. “Pretty Little Liars”. “Glee”. “Law and Order”. What do all of these shows have in common? Yes, they are fairly well-known, popular shows among many different types of audiences, but there is something else—all of these shows feature at least one openly gay or lesbian character. And that is just to name a few of what seems like a never-ending stream of today’ major television shows embracing the gay community. This recent flood of gay characters has left much of our conservative population wondering: What happened to the way television used to be?
Believe it or not, homosexuality is not really new to T.V. the concept of implied homosexuality has been around for—a very long time. For example: “Bachelor Father” (aired in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s) features a male character (the uncle) that takes in his orphaned niece, Kelly and raises her through her teen years. The uncle never marries and solicits help with the more challenging aspects of raising a teenage girl (i.e. dating) from his man servant, Peter. Maybe this is just a happy coincidence. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. However, I would like you to keep in mind some of the other, less suggestive shows of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that featured unusual family values or dynamics, depicting single parent households and non-stereotypical racial roles, such as: “My Three Sons”, “To Rome With Love”, “Julia”—All of which helped to redefine the social structure of America and pave the way for a new generation of television shows, like “M*A*S*H”, the first show on public television to depict a cross-dressing character.
So, all this talk about the historical progression of controversial characters brings us to the question: Why put these characters on T.V. in the first place? Well, a simple, surface answer would be: “to broaden the fan base”. With more and more people embracing and supporting the struggles of societal underdogs (single fathers and mothers playing roles not typically assigned to their gender) it only seems natural for major networks to reach out and cater to the desires of these new audiences. It is the same way now. With Gay Rights at the forefront of both political agendas and media coverage, adding these gay characters is just the networks’ way of shifting along with the sway of social acceptability.
But, if your are looking for more than just a surface answer, you could ask yourself this: What if it’s not the networks catering to the shift in what we think is socially acceptable, but instead, the people who are catering to the idea of a larger truth hidden within these popular shows? Slowly, as more T.V. families have been portrayed as having nontraditional family dynamics, society as a whole has learned to accept that single mothers can be strong and independent, and that single fathers can be caring and compassionate. Similarly, television shows now are depicting gay and lesbian characters as “just another character” (because typically their homosexuality is not the central premise of the show). This realization has made an quite an impact on how many people define what it means to be gay by breaking down many of the stereotypes associated with homosexuality. For instance, if we think about individual characters, it’s easy to see that each one has different interests, hobbies, and personalities, just like every other person in the world. Some like sports, some like dance or choir, some are shy, some are outgoing, some like fashion, others are lucky if they match every morning, some are feminine, some are masculine and some are gay. As more people come to terms with these differences, society changes and so does television, conforming to the reality that gays and lesbians are just people.