Representation of LBGT people in mainstream media

The media portrayal of LGBT people refers to the varying and evolving ways in which the media depicts or portrays the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Similar to race-, religion-, and class-based caricatures, these stereotypical representations vilify or make light of marginalised and misunderstood groups. For example, in many forms of popular entertainment, gay men are portrayed as promiscuous, bitchy, and bold, while lesbian is portrayed as being butch and hate all men.

Media representations of bisexual and transgender people tend to either be depicted as morally corrupt or mentally unstable. As well as Gay and lesbian families who are also commonly misrepresented in media because society frequently equates sexual orientation with the ability to reproduce.

Although lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals are generally indistinguishable from their straight or cisgender counterparts, media often represents them as visibly and behaviourally different.

Historically, the portrayal of the LGBT community in media has been negative, reflecting the intolerance for the LGBT community seen in cultures; Issues of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination are commonly occurring, for example, gay and lesbian characters are rarely the main character in movies; they frequently play the role of stereotyped supporting characters or portrayed as a victim or villain.

The LGBT community has taken an increasingly proactive stand in defining its own culture with a primary goal of achieving an affirmative visibility in mainstream media. This positive portrayal or increased presence of the LGBT community in media has served to increase acceptance and support in the community. The increased publicity reflects the coming-out movement of the LGBT community. As more celebrities come out and start to share their experience the more gay-friendly shows develop, such as the 2000 Queer as Folk (US) and 2004 show The L Word.

Despite the stereotypical depictions of gay people, the media has at times promoted acceptance of them with television shows such as Will and Grace and Queer Eye. Some say it can be partially explained by the contact hypothesis (aka intergroup contact theory).

What is Contact Hypothesis/theory?

In criminology, psychology, and sociology, the contact hypothesis has been described as one of the best ways to improve relations among groups that are experiencing conflict.

Gordon W. Allport (1954) is often credited with the development of the contact hypothesis. Allport’s proposal was that properly managed contact between the groups should reduce these problems and lead to better interactions, which could help ease tension between rival groups. The premise of Allport’s theory states that under appropriate conditions interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority group members.

Contact fails to cure conflict when contact situations create anxiety for those who take part. The Contact situations need to be long enough to allow this anxiety to decrease and for the members of the conflicting groups to feel comfortable with one another. If one has the opportunity to communicate with others, they are able to understand and appreciate different points of views involving their way of life. As a result of new appreciation and understanding, prejudice should diminish.

Additionally, if the members of the two groups use this contact situation to trade insults, argue with each other, resort to physical violence, and discriminate against each other, then contact should not be expected to reduce conflict between groups. To obtain beneficial effects, the situation must include positive contact. Some of the criteria are as follows:

Equal status

  • Both groups must engage equally in the relationship.
  • Members of the group should have similar backgrounds, qualities, and characteristics
  • Differences in academic backgrounds, wealth, skill, or experiences should be minimised.

Common goals

  • Both groups must work on a problem/task and share this as a common goal, a goal that can only be attained if the members of two or more groups work together by pooling their efforts and resources.

Intergroup cooperation.

  • Both groups must work together for their common goals without competition.
  • Groups need to work together in the pursuit of common goals.

Support of authorities, law or customs. 

  • Both groups must acknowledge some authority that supports the contact and interactions between the groups.
  • The contact should encourage friendly, helpful, egalitarian attitudes and condemn ingroup-outgroup comparisons.

Personal interaction.

  • The contact situation needs to involve informal, personal interaction with outgroup members.
  • Members of the conflicting groups need to mingle with one another.
  • Without this criterion they learn very little about each other and cross-group friendships do not occur.

Allport (1954) claims that prejudice is a direct result of generalisations and oversimplifications made about an entire group of people based on incomplete or mistaken information. Because many LGBT people chose not to openly talk about themselves, their peers and families may either have no idea or a negative perception about what it is like to be a LGBT person. Thus, LGBT people may be misrepresented in the media.

The change in representation of racial diversity in the LGBT community is advancing towards a more equal standpoint. In the early stages of television there was hardly any media representation of people of colour at all, let alone LGBT people of colour. However, as media and its audience are evolving the willingness to show more racial diversity on a global scale.

This attempt at equality is to make people of all gender, race, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation feel as though they are represented fairly and evenly.

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