Have you found yourself getting hot and bothered during Lito and Hernando’s steamy love scenes on Sense8? Or found yourself doubling over in laughter as Denise schools Dev about the art of macking on Master of None? Or even caught yourself envisioning the future as you watch Saul and Robert squabble over confronting a bigoted business owner on Grace & Frankie? These are just a few of the very gay characters and storylines occupying screen time on Netflix’s most popular series. It seems the streaming giant has snatched the torch (and Logo’s wig) in the race for LGBTQ equality in television.
In the 2016 “Where We Are On TV” report, GLAAD estimated that less than 5% of the 895 series regulars on broadcast TV were LGBTQ. And when we dissect how many of these characters were POC, it’s even more depressing. Though we felt like we were making gains on mainstream networks, the feeling was misleading. When we look at the big four, gay characters are almost always relegated to subplots and minor roles. And most of the representation is on shows that are starting to overstay their welcome (i.e. Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, etc.). The coming TV season doesn’t look very promising either. The best NBC could do was a Will & Grace reboot. As happy as I am to see Jack and Karen returning to primetime, isn’t there a new gay story to tell?
Netflix seems to think so. Take the premise of Grace & Frankie for instance. It’s a buddy comedy in which two elderly women bond after discovering their husbands have been having an affair with one another. Though Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are the driving force of the show, Saul (Sam Waterston) and Robert (Martin Sheen) get equal playing time. It’s a series driven by a gay storyline and featuring gay characters who aren’t caricatures or part of disposable subplots.
Looking for queer POC? Denise (out lesbian actress Lena Waithe) is prominently featured in Master of None and even gets her own coming out episode in season 2. Laverne Cox’s Sophia is one of the most hilarious and lovable characters on Orange Is The New Black. Oh yeah, and who doesn’t love Samira Wiley’s Poussey? And there’s Titus Burgess on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
If you’ve got a jones for some classic gay TV, you can stream Queer as Folk and The L Word in full. And don’t even get me started on the deep bank of LGBTQ films.
Does Netflix have a definitive gay show yet? A comedy or drama that’s fully dedicated to an LGBTQ story? It’s got that in Eastsiders, a former web series that hit the big time. But in a sense, I don’t think Netflix needs that because LGBTQ representation is part of the fabric of its programming. There’s a true understanding that its shows need to reflect the diversity of the world it’s broadcasting to. The reason networks like ABC or CBS need a full-on gay show is their lack of understanding around the topic. They continue to take the easy way out and pander to the lowest common denominator. More often than not, that doesn’t include us.
Streaming services seem to take more chances on boundary-pushing entertainment. Netflix doesn’t bat an eye at making a lead character a queer woman of color or including an elderly gay couple in every episode of a hit series. Netflix offers a glimpse of what post-gay TV looks like. There’s less of a need to differentiate or more of an incentive to include.
If there’s one thing the old-school networks could learn from the new kid on the block, it’s that reflecting diversity should be a natural thing. It doesn’t need to feel forced, and it doesn’t need to be ignored. It should just be. Plain and simple. Until they get it, we’re getting our gay fix on Netflix.