Gay people are stereotypes, jokes or almost invisible on youth TV

Lesbian and gay people appear realistically & positively in just 0.6% of most watched shows, finds new research

Groundbreaking research published today by Stonewall has found that ordinary gay people are almost invisible on the 20 TV programmes most watched by Britain’s young people. Just 46 minutes out of 126 hours of output showed gay people positively and realistically. Three quarters of portrayal was confined to just four C4 and ITV1 programmes: I’m a Celebrity… , Hollyoaks, Emmerdale and How to Look Good Naked. BBC1 transmitted 44 seconds of positive and realistic portrayal of gay people in more than 39 hours of output.

Young people from across Britain interviewed by researchers said that gay people on TV are largely stereotyped, leading unhappy lives, are bullied and rejected by their families. They also said they rely on TV to learn about gay people.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive, said: ‘Of course it’s welcome that some of the most obnoxiousness unpleasantness of people such as Jeremy Clarkson is now being edited out before transmission. However, it’s hardly surprising that there’s still almost endemic homophobic bullying in Britain’s secondary schools when, even if gay people do appear on TV shows watched by young people, they’re depicted in a derogatory or demeaning way. It’s tragic that in 2010 broadcasters are still underserving young people in this way, particularly when young people themselves say they want to see real gay people’s lives on TV.’

Seventy one per cent of secondary school teachers polled by YouGov (Teacher’s Report, 2009) said that anti-gay language in the broadcast media affects the levels of homophobic bullying in schools.

The new report, Unseen on Screen, found that half of all portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people was stereotypical, including gay people depicted as figures of fun, predatory or promiscuous. Where programming depicted homophobia, three fifths went unchallenged. One 16 year-old interviewed by researchers said ‘TV gives the wrong view of gay people because every storyline is about them being beaten up and discriminated against. They are never accepted by their family. In real life they just want to fit in.’

Recommendations included in Unseen on Screen are that broadcasters should work with Ofcom to develop guidelines to ensure more positive portrayals of gay characters. The report also recommends that programmemakers share good practice on how to develop authentic lesbian, gay and bisexual characters in continuing dramas. Broadcasters should also monitor their output to ensure lesbian, gay and bisexual representation.

‘Rather than review output which broadcasters claim to be targeted at young people, we wanted to review the programmes they actually watch,’ said Ben Summerskill. ‘Tomorrow’s generation of TV viewers clearly want programmes which portray modern Britain the way it actually is. Broadcasters who fail to recognise this risk commercial failure and will certainly not be able to justify a universal licence fee in the decades ahead.’

Unseen on Screen can be downloaded from


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