Watching shows featuring Gay/Lesbian characters could lessen homophobic prejudices

The nineties, especially the late nineties early 2000s, experienced somewhat of a “Gay explosion” in television and culture. Shows like “Will & Grace”, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “Queer as Folk,” and “The L Word,” (and “SpongeBob Squarepants” if you believe the homophobic neoconservative conspiracy theorists) seem to have brought Gay/Lesbian characters into the mainstream of television, and broke down old barriers that prevented people of the LGBTQ Community from being represented positively and realistically in the media. Slowly but surely, seeing characters who belong to the LGBTQ Community is becoming less taboo and contraversial. Sure we’re given characters who display some of the over exaggerated stereotypes of Gay men and Lesbian women; Gay men are hyper-effeminate and Lesbian women are “butch.” Still, television and Pop-Culture have made significant strides in portraying the people of the LGBTQ Community in a positive and non-homophobic fashion.

For the viewers, this could have positive affects as well. Simply seeing more and more Gay men and Lesbian women in television, certainly in shows that happen to be the audiences’ favorites, could possibly reduce and perhaps even squash any anti-LGBTQ prejudices they could harbor. According to this newsbyte from G.L.A.A.D., a study done by the University of Minnesota found this to be true…

New studies by University of Minnesota researchers have found that watching positive portrayals of gays on television can reduce anti-gay prejudice. In three separate studies, researchers measured the attitudes of a total of 475 college students toward gay men before and after watching episodes of Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” NBC’s “Will & Grace” and HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” In all three instances, exposure to portrayals of gays resulted in a significant reduction in prejudice, the university reported.

“The more they learned about gay men as a group, the more their attitudes toward gay men moved in a tolerant direction,” said lead researcher Edward Schiappa, a U of M professor of communications. The amount of change was greatest among those with little or no prior interpersonal contact with gay men.

From their studies, the researchers have created a theory called the Parasocial Contact Hypothesis, which contends that positive experiences with minority characters can reduce prejudice in a manner similar to direct contact with people. “Through the medium of television, viewers actually develop a relationship with the characters,” Schiappa said, “and this parasocial relationship leads to lessened prejudice.”

It could be argued that this is quite similar to when more African-Americans were featured in television and movies in the early seventies and how it affected White people’s view of that particular community. Or even women featured in more positive and progressive roles. The more one views a group of people in entertainment and Popular Culture with positive and progressive depictions, the more likely they are to develop an open-minded opinion of this group. It’s probably one of the best ways a society could rid itself of bigotry against those who have historically been at a disadvantage, especially when it came to culture and the entertainment world. With it becoming more and more common place to see people of the LGBTQ Community in television and movies, the possibility of ending cultural and hopefully legal discrimination against them seem to be greater. It’s about damn time.

Then of course, there is the homophobic backlash to all of this. Such as the neocons’ “SpongeBob Squarepants conspiracy” of an “extremist homosexual agenda even in cartoons, that’s trying to turn kids gay.” Yeah……sure there is. Maybe show children and people in general that people of the LGBTQ Community are not the “perverted, mentally ill deviants” as some belligerent homophobic politicians and organizations try to portray them as. We still have a ways to go.

Oh, one more thing. Amp and I decided not to change the blog’s name. So all of you can stop planning a coup d’etat against us. Thank you :-)

This entry posted in Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer issues, Popular (and unpopular) culture. Bookmark the permalink. 

9 Responses to Watching shows featuring Gay/Lesbian characters could lessen homophobic prejudices

  1. 1
    alphabitch says:

    I like the name; glad you’re keeping it. – And good post; always glad to see an interesting study out of my alma mater!

  2. 2
    audio-visual says:

    Pseudo-Adrienne wrote:

    Slowly but surely, seeing characters who belong to the LGBTQ Community is becoming less taboo and contraversial. Sure we’re given characters who display some of the over exaggerated stereotypes of Gay men and Lesbian women; Gay men are hyper-effeminate and Lesbian women are “butch.”? Still, television and Pop-Culture have made significant strides in portraying the people of the LGBTQ Community in a positive and non-homophobic fashion.

    First, an observation: there are no butch-dyke main characters on TV. None. Sometime a butch will show up as a minor character, but no main characters are really butch in any major way. Just pointing that out. What it means that our pop culture will let men be girly but not let women be manly is open to debate.

    Next, I want to say that although I am overjoyed that some of the media is helping improve the social acceptance of some GLBTQ people, I take some issue with your above comment. I ask: is it always bad to have major characters who fit a stereotype? Is it possible to portray in a positive manner characters whose personality type happens to fit J. Random TV-Viewer’s stereotype? Are effeminate men and butch women less deserving of representation because they fit the queer stereotypes already floating around in pop culture?

    I do not think that characters who fit a stereotype are by nature a negative thing. Rather, I think that it is limited, shallow, and otherwise negative portrayals that are bad. Why can’t an effeminate gay man be intelligent or emotionally strong? Why should a butch-dyke always be a dumb thug? Is femininity by nature stupid or weak, or masculinity violent? I think it is these shallow portrayals of femininity and feminine men, and masculinity and masculine women that are the real negative things here. I think that a better way of combating negative social reactions to queer people would be to have both stereotype-y and non-stereotype-y queers, and portray both as the complex people that their real-life counter points are. Please recall that it is still the butch women and effeminate gay men who get the worst social prejudice, although I do not mean in saying that to diminish the social prejudice that ‘straight-seeming’ queers get.

    Oh, one more thing. Amp and I decided not to change the blog’s name. So all of you can stop planning a coup d’etat against us. Thank you :-)

    I’m glad! Reading Alas just wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t Alas :-P

  3. 3
    Sarah says:

    I agree with PA’s comments. But it will be nice if eventually we can see more characters who just happen to be gay, rather than gay characters, if that makes sense?

    I’m thinking of the similar situation regarding women characters, in some television/movie genres more than others. You feel sometime that by trying to create a “woman character” the writers have written the character into a much more constrained and stereotyped personality and role than if they’d just developed the character and then let it be a woman.

    Science fiction has been particularly guilty in this way, I feel, though it’s certainly not alone and has improved immeasurably in recent years, with things like the remade Battlestar Galactica. This is an interesting example, because it really is a case where roles were originally written for men (and by extension, written as full rounded human characters rather than the writer’s idea of what a woman should be like) and then played by women in the remake. But this is a drift, sorry.

  4. 4
    Pseudo-Adrienne says:

    audio-visual,

    What Sarah said in her first paragraph pretty much echoes my point. I don’t think those stereotypes are negative either, but they do seem to constrict and limit the personalities and aspects of the character. Not to mention they’re a “dead giveaway” of the character’s sexual orientation and they make the viewers say to themselves, “oh yeah, he/she is definitely…,” and the focus remains on that rather than anything aspect of the character. The character becomes solely defined by their sexual orientation and not by anything else they do or are. Even if they’re the protagonist or their character is a judge or a doctor, and the show supposedly centers around the “goings on” of a courthouse or a hospital. I’ve really never seen a show where a hetero-character is constantly defined by their heterosexuality and that’s the only thing the show focuses on. Maybe the show focuses on the hetero-person having lots of sex, but we don’t get the reinforcement of “they’re hetero, they’re hetero, they’re hetero,…” in the way that we do with shows with LGBTQ characters.

  5. 5
    Amanda says:

    The problem with portrayals of people who “fit the stereotype” is that in the shallow world of TV, it’s difficult and time-consuming to unwind the stereotype in the viewers’ minds and get them to see another side of it. However, it can be done. Witness the way “Buffy” evolved the character of Cordelia from a stereotypical beauty queen to a nuanced person with courage and humanity.

  6. 6
    Jay Sennett says:

    Great post and comments, too.

    I echo one of your points:

    How does a reduction in prejudice translate into access to healthcare, marriage and so on?

    As a transsexual man and lifelong activist, I’ve seen people change their attitudes towards individuals through TV (and its reality equivalent “The Panel Discussion”). I wonder though if they know what to do with it afterwards.

    People understand that Will and Jack are great. But do they understand how, well, heterosexist they are, or more importantly, how do they actively reduce/relinquish/give up/turn over their privilege?

    Thanks for all your hard work on this blog. It such a breath of fresh air.

  7. 7
    Jasper says:

    OK but all this completely ignores the “other” side of the equation–how do these characters affect GLBT people? I mean if their presence on tv reduces prejudice, that’s good, but let’s not pretend that what straight people think is the only important part of the equation. Sometimes it seems a message is sent to young GLBT people through these representations, “you can be cool and accepted too, if and only if…you fit into one of these stereotypes, the entertaining gay man, the sexy lesbian chick, etc.”

  8. 8
    Jay Sennett says:

    Jaspar, I think your post begs the larger question: how does TV make any of us feel?

    For me, it makes think evil things about people so I don’t have cable.

    After thinking about this post more, I realize that the ability to reduce homophobia is not the same as ending heterosexism.

    I agree that reducing homophobia is a good thing. But until TV addresses systemic oppression (imagine a TV show where a het couple honestly addresses the heterosexism currently imbedded in marriage) merely reducing negative feelings will not end oppression.

  9. 9
    Amanda says:

    Reduction in prejudice in the majority group has tangible benefits for a minority that has to petition the majority for rights. Anti-marriage propaganda, for instance, tries to make it seem like gay men are blood-sucking monsters who molest children. The sheer hysteria of the propaganda leads me to believe that average Americans already think it’s sort of unfair not to extend marriage to everyone and they have to have gays and lesbians dehumanized in their minds to justify the anti vote. If they can think of gays and lesbians as human beings, it will be harder to propagandize them into voting for unfair treatment.

    And you don’t need to convince more than 51% of people. Pro-gay-rights is standing in the high 40%, so a little warm TV programming doesn’t have to make a massive difference.

    Not trying to sound cold, just the hard, cold politics of the issue.