With the percentage of LGBTQ series regulars reaching a record high in the current television season, GLAAD is now urging the TV industry to increase its LGBTQ representation to 20% by 2025. And according to the panelists discussing the result of the media advocacy group’s annual TV report at United Talent Agency on Thursday, increasing the amount of on-screen inclusion is a matter of creating more off-screen inclusion as well.
“I’ve been seeing a lot more nuance in storytelling, especially around the trans and trans-masculine characters I’ve been able to see on TV,” said “9-1-1: Lone Star” actor Brian Michael Smith, who is trans. “We’ve come a way since the tipping point … and I feel like a lot of that has to do with not having people write for queer characters, but having queer people write in the room.”
The panel, moderated by Deadline reporter Dino-Ray Ramos, included Smith, “One Day at a Time” showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett, “Carol’s Second Act” actor Sabrina Jalees, “Supergirl” actor Nicole Maines, UTA television agent Jacob Fenton, and GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.
“I think it’s really about empowering queer voices,” said Calderon Kellett. “I know that the story lines on our show are made excellent because we have a largely queer staff, and I think that it is lifting up those voices and making sure that they’re learning the process of showrunning, which is really important to [co-showrunner] Mike Royce on our show.”
The hope, she said, is that her show’s staff writers will become showrunners themselves, noting that she “had to create a TV show to see myself on TV.”
Jalees, whose background is in stand-up comedy, said she’s been in writers’ rooms where she “felt like the diversity hire,” and conversely been in rooms where she felt like she was there because she had a story to tell. Building off of the realism of real-life experiences is “what brings [LGBTQ} stories to 100% of the demo,” she said.
“Big Mouth” co-creator Nick Kroll and others on the show, for instance, have a genuine desire to be inclusive of the community, added Jalees, who has also served as a writer on the Netflix animated series.
“They realize that they’re building a world around them that their kids are going to see on TV, that it makes a huge, huge impact,” she said.
GLAAD, which broke down in its annual report on the state of LGBTQ representation on the small screen, is now calling upon the industry to ensure that half of all LGBTQ characters are people of color.
Smith is “over the moon” about playing a black, trans, out, real-life hero as a first responder on Fox’s “9-1-1: Lone Star,” he said, and feels an “incredible responsibility” for the role.
And for many viewers across America, watching Smith as a first responder, Jalees as a doctor or Maines as a superhero may be their introduction to either a character or an actor from the LGBTQ community. Maines, the first trans superhero on television, said what’s been most “shocking” to her is the support she’s received from “Supergirl” fans outside the LGBTQ community.
“Its really heartening for me to see that our characters are resonating with people outside the community,” she said. “I think that’s really powerful and speaks to how, as a society, we’ve come a long way.”