The list of nominees for the 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards gives a pretty comprehensive look at what queer representation currently looks like in media, highlighting particularly notable films and TV shows that feature queer characters. While it’s a massive sign of progress to have a multitude of shows for GLAAD to consider, the actual narratives of these films and TV shows are not all award-worthy, with some media providing more substantial representation than others.
The comedy television nominees — while most of them do not have queerness as the show’s premise — feature remarkably unique storylines making clearly visible previously untold stories. In its latest season, “Big Mouth” introduced a transgender girl character, Natalie, voiced by trans actress Josie Totah, as Jessie’s summer camp friend, and followed the coming-out story of the continuing character Matthew; both were handled with surprising grace for the usually crude “Big Mouth,” making it a show worthy of the nomination. Likewise, “Sex Education”, sticking true to its name, presents a wonderfully educated and nuanced view of asexuality in one of its episodes, in addition to centering the romantic endeavors of Eric and other queer characters. These stories arguably have the most value not because their queer narratives necessarily are central to the plot, but because they remain wholly honest and educational to their core, allowing unexpecting audiences to experience lesser-known facets of queer identity, especially in their unabashed portrayal of teen sexuality.
In the drama TV category, queerness is much more relegated to the sidelines, such as in “Supergirl,” a show that has been accused of queerbaiting its audience while only displaying queerness on the periphery through the show’s side characters. Even more problematic is a show such as “Ratched,” which, while led by queer actress Sarah Paulson, is too convoluted to provide any representation of substance. Fortunately, other nominees do better in some respects, such as Amazon’s “The Wilds,” as it features multiple queer main characters, one of whom is Indigenous, from a female writing and showrunning team.
Lastly, it’s important to note that leading the charge with 10 nominees, the maximum nominees in a singular category, is the “Outstanding Kids & Family Programming” category. While the representation here isn’t as explicit as it might be for any adult-centered show, it’s incredibly monumental that the next generation of kids can see themselves in the media they’re consuming now, to the same degree that adults can, and much more so than in years past.
However, these nominations show that representation in the media still isn’t enough. It’s clear to see that queer representation still has a long way to go, especially in comedy. Is the punchy side character really what we’re considering monumental representation worthy of a queer-focused award nomination? Many queer people are tired of being the tokenized comedic relief or inclusive side plot to balance out a straight-centered story; instead, they want their own shows, designed to be watched by queer people. Stories of queer happiness and normalcy — not necessarily free from struggle, but far off from the torturous and tragic route that queer stories often take in dramas.
The biggest issue by far with the state of queer representation in media at this moment, most clearly shown by the GLAAD awards, is that queer media isn’t diverse enough, but rather is too saturated by the most privileged voices. Few of the nominees are actually shows created by queer people and with queer writers at the helm. And even when queer writers are present, they’re hardly ever queer people of color. The biggest exception, of course, is Lena Waithe’s “Twenties,” featuring Black lesbians at the helm in both the writing and acting of the show, in its lesbian main character and in Waithe herself.
However, “Twenties” benefits from its existence on the Black Entertainment Channel rather than on a standard cable network, in that Black representation is the standard, rather than the exception, for that network’s programming. Most major networks and streaming services can still improve the quality of their representation, providing more diverse and queer-centered stories than they have in the past, building off of their already prevalent representations of queer people as simply white side characters.
Even the much-applauded “Schitt’s Creek,” which previously won a GLAAD Media Award for outstanding comedy in 2020, depicts a same-sex relationship between two white men, which at this point, is nothing revolutionary. Even if Dan Levy’s comedic writing skills continue to make the show heartfelt for all audiences to enjoy, “Schitt’s Creek” isn’t pushing the boundaries of what representation should be or telling a previously untold story.
Unlike most award show nominations, the GLAAD award nominees provide a unique introspection into the media that queer people can most easily see themselves reflected in. And for that reason, deconstructing these stories and why they’re chosen over others can be a useful tool for deconstructing which parts of queerness are seen as most acceptable, even among the queer community itself.