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There are more LGBTQ characters on television than ever, but GLAAD says TV ‘failed queer women’

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Commander Lexa in “The 100.” The character’s death spurred fans to protest the deaths of lesbian and bisexual characters on television. (Liane Hentscher/The CW)

GLAAD cites record-high LGBTQ representation in its annual report on television diversity, but the media advocacy group says that television “failed queer women” this year, killing off a staggering number of lesbian and bisexual female characters.

The annual “Where We Are On TV” report has analyzed the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer characters on prime-time broadcast and cable television for more than two decades. Last year, the group began tracking characters in first-run scripted series released by streaming networks Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. This year’s report, released Thursday, cites the highest-ever percentage of LGBTQ characters on broadcast television. Out of the five major broadcast networks, ABC has the highest percentage (7.3 percent) of LGBTQ characters who are series regulars. Fox follows at 6.4 percent, larger than the overall broadcast percentage of 4.8 percent.

The group began tracking more comprehensive diversity data in 2005, and this year’s report also identifies record-high percentages of black characters and characters with disabilities. But the group offers a mixed assessment of overall LGBTQ representation on television for the 2016-2017 television season.

GLAAD reports that lesbian representation “decreased dramatically” from 33 percent last year to 17 percent this year. The exception is on streaming networks, where lesbians account for the majority of LGBTQ character representation.

Last year, GLAAD noted the deaths of several queer female characters and called on broadcast networks to ensure that lesbian and bisexual women on TV fared better the following year. But this year’s report cites at least 12 lesbian and bisexual female characters who have been killed off broadcast shows since January, and says more than 25 queer female characters have been killed across all platforms this year.

The report directly references the “Bury Your Gays” trope, a term activists used this year while protesting the deaths of lesbian and bisexual characters, who often see violent deaths or meet tragic ends following happy moments. Fans were particularly outraged after CW’s dystopian teen drama “The 100” killed off a beloved character in March. In response, they formed LGBT Fans Deserve Better, an initiative that has continued to track the deaths of lesbian and bisexual female characters and has raised more than $150,000 for The Trevor Project, which provides a 24-hour, toll-free crisis hotline and other services for LGBTQ youth.

Television keeps killing off lesbian characters. The fans of one show have revolted.

In an intro to the report, GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis wrote that “the decision to kill these characters in droves sends a toxic message about the worth of queer female stories,” adding that LGBTQ characters should have “the same opportunities for romance, nuanced motivation, developed backstory, and the same odds of death” as their straight, cisgender counterparts.

And while overall bisexual representation increased on broadcast and streaming networks, GLAAD says it continues to see harmful tropes played out around characters who identify as bisexual, often portraying them as manipulative or untrustworthy. The report notes that these traits factored into unsettling character deaths on shows including ABC’s “The Catch” and Fox’s “Empire.”

Bisexual women outnumber bisexual men across platforms; out of 21 characters identified as bisexual, only five are men. But GLAAD praised CW’s musical comedy “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and Freeform’s “Shadowhunters” for depicting bisexual male characters whose stories dispel negative stereotypes.

Where are all the bisexual men?

GLAAD says the number of transgender characters has more than doubled since last year. Out of 16 transgender characters, three are on broadcast networks, none of which had shows with transgender characters last year. That means transgender characters will appear across all platforms. The report cites Amazon’s “Transparent” as the most LGBTQ-inclusive series. GLAAD notes that the dramedy, which stars Jeffrey Tambor as a 70-year-old transgender woman, features two other transgender characters (both played by transgender actors) and three other characters identified as LGBT.

The media advocacy group has touted the highest number to date of black series regulars on broadcast networks, up four percentage points from last year’s 16 percent. There was no increase in representation for Asian Pacific Islander characters, who remained at 6 percent. While Latinos accounted for 8 percent of series regulars (up from 7 percent last year), GLAAD points out that figure is still well below the 17 percent estimate recorded in the 2014 U.S. Census. It’s worth noting that this year’s report used the term Latinx, an increasingly favored gender-neutral description for Latinos.

Despite the mixed assessment, GLAAD seems optimistic about LGBTQ representation on television. “Make no mistake, there has been remarkable progress made on television over the past two decades,” Ellis wrote, adding that “there is still a great amount of work to be done to ensure fair, accurate and inclusive stories, and we know there are plenty of diverse and groundbreaking stories yet to be told.”

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Television keeps killing off lesbian characters. The fans of one show have revolted.