Stonewall study hits out at TV portrayal of gay people

Gay characters on television are either invisible or represented as predatory or comical stereotypes, a study by Stonewall has found.

The ground-breaking study, Unseen on Screen, found that lesbian, gay and bisexual people were portrayed positively and realistically for just 46 minutes in 126 hours of television programmes and almost invisible on the 20 TV shows most watched by Britain’s young people.

Reality TV shows and soaps gave most screen time to LGBT characters and issues, with programmes such as; I’m a Celebrity… , Hollyoaks, Emmerdale and How to Look Good Naked whilst BBC1 transmitted just 44 seconds of positive representation in more than 39 hours of output.

Young people who were interviewed by researchers said that gay people on TV are largely stereotyped, bullied, rejected by their families and leading unhappy lives. They also said that they relied on television to learn about gay and lesbian people.

Chief executive of Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, said: “It’s hardly surprising that there’s still almost endemic homophobic bullying in Britain’s secondary schools when, even if gay people do appear on TV shows watched by young people, they’re depicted in a derogatory or demeaning way. It’s tragic that in 2010 broadcasters are still under serving young people in this way, particularly when young people themselves say they want to see real gay people’s lives on TV.”

When a storyline depicted homophobia, three fifths went unchallenged. One 16 year-old interviewed by researchers said: “TV gives the wrong view of gay people because every storyline is about them being beaten up and discriminated against. They are never accepted by their family. In real life they just want to fit in.”

Unseen on Screen suggests that broadcaster should work with Ofcom in order to develop guidelines to ensure more positive portrayals of gay characters in the future. The report also proposes that programme makers learn how to introduce authentic lesbian, gay and bisexual characters in continuing dramas.

Unseen on Screen can be downloaded from


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