Stereotypes about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are conventional, formulaic generalizations, opinions, or images about persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Stereotypes and homophobia are perceptions learned through interactions with parents, teachers, peers and the mass media.
Historically, lesbian and gay people have simply been invisible in the media. Between 1930 and 1961 the Motion Picture Production Code (which went by several names over the decades) formally ensured that lesbian and gay characters did not appear in mainstream Hollywood films or appeared only in subtle, coded forms. Fearing network censors, television producers followed suit.
In the 1970s, gay characters began to appear, but they were limited to two treatments. One treatment was the coming-out story, and the other was the "queer monster" story. Furthermore, although the 1970s ushered in primetime shows about gay characters, they were typically played by straight actors and marketed to a straight audience.
Other network television programs in recent years that have featured homosexual characters are typically predicated on their lighthearted travails in a heterosexual world. Notably, Will and Grace is the first television series that focuses on the intimacies of an urban gay male culture and the first (at this writing, still only) to achieve significant critical and ratings success with a lead character who is openly homosexual.
When gays and lesbians do appear on screen, it is more often than not in ways that uphold stereotypical notions, such as the "pansy" male or the "hardboiled" woman. In this respect, their treatment parallels that of other cultural groups? most notably racial minorities, but also, for example, women and the handicapped, all of whose depth and variety of experience have been sacrificed over the years to the perceived requirements of a largely white, Christian, middle-class audience.
DC Comics recently announced one of its major characters would be reintroduced as gay, and they came through, sort of. Green Lantern is one of the company's oldest heroes, but he has seen and will continue to show up in many different forms; "Green Lantern" series writer James Robinson told AP that Alan Scott is the new version of the Lantern whose first appearance came in the pages of "All-American Comics" No. 16 in July 1940. Robinson said Lantern's sexuality isn't a major issue, but noted he understands that a mainstream gay superhero will not appeal to everyone.
As a society, we value the power of storytelling -- we use it to amplify voices. Will & Grace was not just a sitcom -- it told the story of two gay best friends. Countless LGBT characters have become beacons of hope for so many young people: Kurt from Glee, Cameron and Mitchell on Modern Family, Emily and Maya from Pretty Little Liars, to name a few. Each of these characters has changed LGBT perspectives on their respective shows, and as these characters transform the lives of their TV show counterparts, they change the landscape of America -- viewers begin to realize that their stories are just as funny and sad as anyone else's -- no difference.
Is the increase of gay characters on TV shows in the West a reflection of greater tolerance, or is society more tolerant because of Glee, Modern Family, Queer as Folk and The L Word? In China, like many countries, gay characters are banned from state administered TV, film and radio. For five years Beijing-based website Queer Comrades has been getting around the censors and broadcasting talk shows, news, documentaries and fiction on LGBT-related topics.
Homosexuality is still a taboo in much of the world, and while some audiences may tolerate a gay character, they may be completely squicked out by shows of affection and sex scenes with gay and lesbian characters, no matter how tame they may be. So television shows and other media don't push the envelope too much on gay affection. There may be a hug, or a meaningful handhold, but never a kiss unless it's heavily promoted and advertised; so basically, you can have gay people and gay couples but they can't be shown actually behaving like a couple.
Will and Grace may also have a negative effect on viewers because, although it challenges the cultural belief that gays are not accepted by most in society, it still weakens the challenge by reinforcing the belief through the depiction of another gay character. Although Will is presented as a fairly modest and everyday gay person, Jack, on the other hand, is an extreme example of the stereotypes that are used to describe gays. Jack has a lisp and uses a lot of gestures and hand movements as well as exaggerated expressions.
By 1978, the National Gay Task Force provided the networks a list of positive and negative images which it considered to be of greatest importance. From the negative perspective, the organization wanted to eliminate stereotypically swishy gay men and butch lesbians as characters as well as inhibit the portrayals of gay characters as child molesters, mentally unbalanced or promiscuous. In contrast, positive images would include gay characters within the mainstream of the television milieu; these images would reflect individuals performing their jobs well, who were personable and comfortable about their sexual orientation. Additionally, the NGTF asked to see more gay couples, more lesbian portrayals and instances where gayness was incidental rather than the focus of a narrative controversy centered on sexual preference.