On Thursday, GLAAD published its annual “Where We Are on TV” report, which examines the number of LGBTQ characters on television.
In the opening paragraphs of the report, GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis states that television plays a crucial role in our culture when it comes to “changing hearts and minds.” She adds that according to a study, “less than one-quarter of Americans have a close friend or family member who is transgender,” which means many Americans “learn about trans people from what they see in television, movies, and news.”
Due to this statistic, Ellis says, the casting of trans actor Brian Michael Smith in Fox’s “9-1-1: Lone Star” is important.
The report then cites an online survey of 2,037 adults conducted by Harris Poll suggesting that 20% of Americans ages 18-34 identify as LGBTQ, and that approximately 12% of overall respondents identify as LGBTQ.
However, according to a 2017 Gallup survey that conducted “telephone interviews with a random sample of 340,604 U.S. adults,” only 4.5% of the U.S. population identify as LGBT.
According to Gallup: “The percentage of millennials who identify as LGBT expanded from 7.3% to 8.1% from 2016 to 2017, and is up from 5.8% in 2012.”
The GLAAD report issued a final challenge to the television industry:
GLAAD is calling on the industry to ensure that 20 percent of series regular characters on primetime scripted broadcast series are LGBTQ by 2025. Further, we would challenge all platforms to make sure that within the next two years, half of LGBTQ characters on every platform are people of color. While broadcast has actually hit this mark two years in a row, cable and streaming have yet to reach this goal. These two steps are key moves towards ensuring that entertainment reflects the world in which it is created and the audience who consumes it.
Even if one uses GLAAD’s survey data as a real estimate of the percentage of LGBTQ persons in the United States, the organization’s challenge that “20% of series regular characters on primetime scripted broadcast series” should be LGBTQ by the year 2025 would amount to severe overrepresentation.
Using GLAAD’s data, LGBTQ television characters would outweigh the actual LGBTQ population by 40%. Using Gallup’s data, the difference would be even more stark, with LGBT characters on television outweighing the actual LGBT population by 77.5% by 2025.
GLAAD’s push for overrepresentation could be a factor in the overestimation of the actual LGBT population by many Americans.
In 2019, Gallup asked respondents: “Just your best guess, what percent of Americans today would you say are gay or lesbian?”
The average respondent believed that 23.6% of the population is gay or lesbian. Broken down further, 35% guessed that the gay and lesbian population was “more than 25%”; 19% guessed that it was between “20% to 25%”; 10% guessed that it was “15% to less than 20%”; and 14% guessed that it was “10% to less than 15%.”
Only 8% guessed that the percentage of gay and lesbian persons in the United States was “less than 5%.”