|EXTRACT FROM “NEVER BLEND IN: THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILK”BY DAVID WATTERS
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|“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.” Harvey Milk|
|THE DEADLIEST OF SINS The transition through adolescence is challenging for many as this is a period where identity is most vigorously being shaped. If, during this time, a young person realizes that he/she is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender then the societal pressures can be amplified. These teenagers live in a world where heterosexist values are dominant, where their sexuality is perceived as deviant, where there is a potential for verbal or physical attack and perhaps rejection by family and the wider community.
Those youths identifying as LGBT are more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience feelings of depression and low self-esteem. Growing up within a society which teaches them to hide, and even to hate, their sexual orientation can be a key factor in the increased instances of academic failure, substance abuse and suicide amongst members of this group.
Surviving these teenage years intact and negotiating the coming-out process is better achieved when a LGBT individual has support and understanding from peers, family and friends.
Just as we should acknowledge and respect the spectrum of different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs, we should also advocate an atmosphere where respect is given to all people regardless of sexuality.
As we move through our teenage years into adulthood we all need visible and positive representations of ourselves in the media and society in general. It is necessary, not just for the validation of each LGBT individual but for social progress that all cultures, genders and sexualities are fairly represented.
SURVIVING THE STEREOTYPES
In mainstream movies and television LGBT characters are, on the whole, written in an inoffensive two-dimensional manner; the gay best friend being a staple favourite.
Programmes such as Will & Grace took sitcoms into a new area where gays went from mocked to self-mocking. Healthy as it might be to have a sense of humour about oneself, the joke soon gets old. Perhaps, due to the nature of this genre, stereotyping is du jour because accurate depictions of any group are simply not funny enough.
This phenomenon is not unique only to the LGBT community; society as a whole is still presented, through our television screens, in very simplistic, non-challenging terms.
We need to move beyond stereotypical and simplistic depictions, since these merely touch the surface and limit our view of the true variety of characters which make up the LGBT community.
Thankfully, progress has been made in the area of serious television drama, with well written shows such as The L Word and Brothers and Sisters, where LGBT characters are given much more rounded identities and where their sexuality is not the sole focus.
It is also vital that other sources of affirmation, validation and inspiration are available. One key would be a greater visibility of LGBT role models who can present, through example, a wider palate of career and lifestyle options.
There is a great weight of responsibility on programme makers to produce balanced depictions of ALL social groups and to eradicate the tired and dangerous stereotypical portrayals which are currently offered.
The BBC, in the UK, is paid for by the license payers yet there is minimal attention paid to those viewers who identify as LGBT.
The presentation of stereotypes is insulting and demonstrates a lack of imagination or commitment to LGBT viewers.
It takes little research to understand the wide diversity of people who identify as LGBT and broader programming options could and should be available.
It is only through reasoned, balanced and philosophical discussion that preconceptions can be altered and public awareness broadened. Stereotypical views of any group in society limit our understanding of that community’s diversity. This steady shift in public perception, and a growing understanding that sexuality is as innate as gender or race, is what will ultimately move society forward. This is not a time for silence but a time to speak out and share our humanity. As Harvey Milk said, “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you… And you… And you… Gotta give em hope.”
NEITHER VICTIM NOR VILLAIN BE…
The LGBT community continue to be portrayed as either Victims or Villains. Representations of gay men as only weak, lesbians as only butch and masculine damage society and hold us all back from our true potential.
There are relatively few openly LGBT faces on the BBC, or in the wider media, but I would point out that our greatest and most inspiring role model, Stephen Fry, has played an enormous part in “normalising” societies view. Sadly, he is in the minority.
The view presented is predominantly stereotypical and negative. Weak gay characters pass through soaps, having failed at relationships and become victims of pathetic, emotional crisis caused by the characters inability to emotionally handle their sexuality.
ldentifying as LGBT need not, in itself, be an issue. What does impact upon someone who identifies as LGB or T is the discrimination and/or oppression from and by society. Portrayals or representations of homosexuals in the media also have a powerful effect and a lack of family support can destroy the developing identity to a point where self-esteem is low and true potential is not fulfilled.
We all have a moral duty to nurture and support our children, to understand their needs and their vulnerabilities. If we fail in this obligation, the results, as we hear daily, can be devastating; with children finding no better option than to harm themselves in order to escape the intolerable despair resulting from perceived or actual rejection, religious intolerance, harassment and a lack of any visible positive inspirational figures.
Openly LGBT and successful role model figures can play an enormous part in highlighting the wealth of possibilities available to young people. These people, who are successfully modelling admirable qualities and character traits such as determination, diligence, vision and consistent effort, can only serve to inspire and encourage the younger generation, or anyone questioning their validity, to lead a balanced, fulfilling and dignified life.
The LGBT community would be fortunate to survive an hour of television without an anti-gay slur or a “joke” about their sexual identity being presented as entertainment. If the same were the case for cultural or religious minorities, the BBC would be inundated with complaints.
Gay characters, as I have said, are 2 dimensional and rely on stereotypes. Factual programming sensationalizes sexual orientation and game shows are heterosexist in the extreme.
The media is focussed on making money and caters to the majority of viewers. Sadly, this means minority groups are ignored and the message to younger viewers is that they are not an equally valid part of society.
Major events such as the anti Hate Crime candlelit vigil in Trafalgar Square last year were not even covered. The public remain unaware of the social inequality faced by the LGBT community as it is ignored in the news or in factual programming. Where were the reports on Proposition 8 in the US or the story about marriage inequality in this country? The Ugandan Anti Homosexual Bill has had little coverage that I am aware of. Representation is not adequate.
The LGBT community is as diverse as the heterosexual community. No group of people can be fully represented and not all viewers will be satisfied. I believe that it is true of all social groups that only a very narrow 2 dimensional view is offered to viewers.
The most under represented group are the lesbian community (besides the transgender community which is not the purpose of this particular article) and this should also be addressed. Lesbians are viewed more so as women who choose their sexuality. Often characters flirt with lesbianism as a choice following a failed heterosexual relationship. This is true for a minority but, like gay men, the sexual orientation is not a choice but is as innate as eye colour.
Factual programming is respectful but caution must be taken in light programming. Racist slurs or laughter at the expense of a cultural minority is not acceptable but we still face mockery and are made to feel less than equal to heterosexuals in the language that is allowed in reference to the LGB community
Broader research into the greater diversity that exists and for this to be portrayed accurately. Stereotypes of all social groups keep humanity in a frozen state and can be dangerous. Honest representation is what will break down social barriers to a point where our similarities are embraced and our differences valued.
Hate crimes against any group are caused by ignorance and if all that a white heterosexual audience is shown on television are “queer” representations, there will be hate. Worse still, the young LGB people who watch television will only learn to hate themselves and engage in self destructive behaviours.
The responsibility is huge since the media plays such a large part in shaping our individual and cultural identity.
Now is the time for us to be fully aware of how poorly represented we are as a community and find creative methods of counteracting the inherent bigotry within the dollar focussed media.
Our silence demonstrates apathy, or worse an acceptance that our marginalisation in the media is deserved.
Join the movement, use your voice and refuse to accept the socially imposed second class status that you have been given.
To contact David Watters: email@example.com