Media representation of people in the LGBT community is something that has been discussed at length both in academic circles and in the popular arena. In the GLAAD- Where We Are on TV 2016 Report, only 4.8% of series regular characters on primetime television were identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. While this is the highest number they’ve ever found, they also reported that a lot of those characters still fall under stereotypes about their sexuality. There is still a lot of work to do in terms of reaching equality in numbers and quality of LGBT characters on television.
Over the years, a few lesbian and bisexual characters have left a major impression on me. These characters are well developed, three-dimensional, and are not used as punchlines or confined to background roles. They either have helped me to identify traits that I want to develop in myself or find in a partner, helped me to better accept myself, or have simply reassured me that there are other people out there who feel things similar to what I feel.
Korra (Avatar: The Legend of Korra)
The main character of the Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel/spin-off show, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, is one of my favorite characters of anything I’ve ever seen. Korra starts out at age 17 in the show and is strong, rebellious, talented, and determined to reach any goal she sets for herself. By the end of the series, she has mellowed. She is still strong, talented, and determined, but she is less rebellious and stubborn and has grown into a fully realized Avatar (master of all four elements). She puts the needs of others before herself, but remains true to herself by doing things in her own way.
Korra is also an amazing example of diversity. She is a woman of color, experiences Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the last season after being nearly killed in a fight at the end of the third season, and her body type isn’t the general “pretty” body type a lot of women are depicted as having. She is shown with defined muscles and curves that aren’t excessive.
Oh, and did I mention she’s bisexual?
Over the course of the show she is shown in a relationship with a man, Mako, but by the end of the show she is shown beginning a romantic relationship with another woman, Asami. Their relationship had a lot of build up, particularly in the last two seasons. The two women were shown developing a close friendship and supporting each other through very difficult times before they became romantically involved.
As mentioned, Korra is one of my favorite characters, especially after her character development in the third and fourth seasons. She learns to recognize when she needs help and accepts that help, something that a lot of people struggle with both in media and real life. Her struggles with PTSD, shouldering the responsibility of protecting the world, and trying to still be a somewhat normal young adult are surprisingly relatable, and I adore her quick wit, physical and emotional strength, and her willingness to stand up for what she believes is right. She is the kind of woman I wish I could be.
Santana Lopez (Glee)
I mentioned in a previous article that the character Santana Lopez on Glee helped me to figure out my own sexuality. She also is one of the first lesbian characters I remember seeing in anything (another would be Emily Fields on Pretty Little Liars).
There were a few things about Santana that stuck with me. One, her coming out was not perfectly smooth- which is what a lot of people like to pretend when they think about coming out. Santana did not have an easy time coming out, between being publicly outed in a political ad, blaming being outed on a friend, and certain members of her family not being supportive. Her grandmother- with whom she was incredibly close- was not willing to accept her as lesbian, and so basically disowned her. That was incredibly hard to watch, but it also added a reality to the situation that is frequently missing in depictions of characters coming out.
Another thing that stuck with me was her own hesitance to come out to the people in her life. It is so easy to just stay quiet and in the closet, but once you are honest about yourself it can feel so much better- as if a weight has lifted from your shoulders. I felt that struggle and relief was shown pretty well during her character arc, which is something I definitely appreciate.
Santana showed me that it was okay to be honest about what you want- and that while it might not be easy, you just might end up having a beautiful wedding with the woman of your dreams.
Clarke Griffin (The 100)
This next character might be a little controversial due to some fandom issues, but Clarke Griffin from the CW show The 100 is a character that matters to me (to be fair, I still haven’t watched season three and so am mostly basing this off the first two seasons). She is only 18 in the show, but assumes a leadership position in her society out of need to make sure her people are alright. Her initial skills are as a healer, not a fighter, unlike in most sci-fi dystopian fiction.
Since she is only 18, she makes mistakes. Yes, her mistakes in the show have much worse consequences than the mistakes of normal eighteen year olds, but she does try to do the right thing. Clarke tries to learn from her mistakes, and works to forgive those who have wronged her.
She is also bisexual. Over the course of the first and second seasons, she shows romantic interest in both male and female characters. To be fair, Clarke has not said she is bisexual, but the showrunner did explicitly say on Twitter that she is bi. She is not treated like her sexuality is the most important part of her character, which is something that all too frequently happens on CW shows. It’s nice to see her still treated as a person, and not just a sex object.
Laura Hollis (Carmilla)
There are a lot of things I love about the webseries Carmilla– there are only a total of four male characters, the majority of the characters aren’t straight, there is some really great character development from all the main characters, and they have non-binary representation- but the main character Laura Hollis is definitely one of the main reasons to watch the series.
She starts out as a bright-eyed, idealist college freshman who thinks she can change the world by uncovering the evils of the world. Laura believes in standing up for what is right, believes in speaking up for those who can’t, and is extremely outspoken in her belief that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness. She is the ultimate do-gooder, at least until the end of the second season when her morals are put to the test.
After she realizes she isn’t quite as perfectly upright and moral as she used to believe, Laura undergoes substantial character development. She does her best to make amends, but learns there are some things that can’t be fixed.
Laura openly identifies as a lesbian, and a large part of the show revolves around her on-again-off-again romance with the titular character Carmilla. I’ll admit that I am a bit of a sap when it comes to romance, so I really love their relationship. Each season has at least one episode with a declaration of love, and each of those episodes moved me to tears. Laura is an eloquent character, and so of course she has beautiful speeches about love. I hope someday to be as good at expressing myself as Laura Hollis.
Meg March (The March Family Letters)
Finally, in The March Family Letters, the modern web series retelling of the classic novel Little Women, Meg March is in love with a woman. The character John Brooke is adapted as Joan Brooke, making it possible for the story to remain the same while changing Meg’s sexuality.
Growing up, I read Little Women at least three times. Watching the web series, I was so happy to see that while Meg was changed in one major way, nothing else about her character changed. She still was neurotic, a little vain, and the mom-friend. It is always wonderful to see directors, writers, and actors recognize that someone’s sexuality doesn’t define them, but is just another piece of them, like any other personality trait or physical characteristic.
There’s no question that the media and society as a whole has a long way to go in terms of LGBT representation.There are still huge issues with the over-sexualization of characters based on their sexuality and acting like the character’s sexuality has more weight than any other part of their personality. This is extremely harmful, as it makes it look like there is only one way to be if a person is LGBT. We need more varied examples of LGBT characters in order to have representation of different people as LGBT- we are by no means all the same.
Obviously, the over-sexualization is another problem because of the way it makes a relationship- especially a relationship between two women- something merely for the excitement and pleasure of (usually) men. Rarely do those relationships get shown as something deep and real rather than just as two hot girls making out.
However, knowing that some shows are heading in the right direction is reassuring. I was very happy to see that this year had the largest amount of LGBT series regulars than any other year previously, and I am hopeful that the increasing LGBT character trend will continue.
Liked this article? You can subscribe to more like it right here: