LGBT History Month: Rowan Ellis on LGBT representation in pop culture

It’s February, otherwise known as LGBTQ+ History Month, the month in which LGBTQ+ people and culture are celebrated and recognised!  Of course the rights of LGBTQ+ people and communities should be fought for all year round, but this month is a chance to bring such issues to the fore. Starting with Scissors launch party, the Union is holding some great events to raise our awareness of the issues that LGBTQ+ communities have had to, and to continue to, face and the steps that we can take for a more inclusionary society. Last week, a discussion was held by feminist and queer YouTuber, Rowan Ellis, on LGBTQ+ representations in pop culture.

In her presentation Rowan highlighted that individuals from the LGBTQ+ community are severely under-represented. When they do appear, they are tragic characters that continually suffer and, ultimately, do not get a happy ending, often being killed off for alleged “shock factor” which, as Rowan pointed out, is the most predictable thing that you can have happen to an LGBTQ+ character – known as the “bury your gays” trope.

Furthermore the narratives of LGBTQ+ characters are predominantly centred around their sexuality and the ways in which it causes them to suffer, making it their defining characteristic rather than but one aspect of a multifaceted identity. Bisexuality is particularly demonised and never outrightly stated, feeding into the perception that bisexuality does not exist or that it is not a legitimate sexuality. Transgender individuals, meanwhile, are grossly underrepresented, with a mere 2.6% of onscreen LGBT characters identifying as transgender, which signifies perhaps a lack of understanding or, more likely, an unwillingness to accept gender as flexible.

Prior to this event, I had not stopped to consider at length the negative and derogatory ways that many media outlets treat LGBTQ+ characters; despite such negative portrayals, we are seeing glimmers of hope for more positive representations, such as Annalise Keating from ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ or Nomi Marks from ‘Sense8’, who serve as fully realised characters in their respective narratives. We will hopefully see more LGBTQ+ character on our screens in the future, and it should be something to campaign for as it would reflect the real world and real life experiences. When LGBTQ+ characters become permanent or recurring figures, just like any cisgender or straight character, I believe we will have made significant progress, as they will be treated like real people rather than plot points or shock tactics. Be sure to visit Rowan’s Youtube channel for more feminist and queer critiques of the media and pop culture!

A major point of this talk, for me, highlighted the extent to which the media, an outlet which significantly influences us, tends to neglect or portray damagingly LGBTQ+ individuals and why this must be brought to the attention of wider society, through LGBTQ+ month and year-round awareness promotion. As students at one of the top universities in the UK, we like to think that we are beyond needing to be taught about matters concerning sexuality, but the truth is that awareness and understanding of LGBTQ+ communities is sadly lacking. Through campaigns like LGBTQ+ History Month we can change this. Difference is what makes us interesting and it should be celebrated. The Union’s campaign this month is definitely something we can all get behind: “Let’s celebrate and be proud of who we are.”

Verity Sowden

(Image courtesy of Rowan Ellis)

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