February 20, 2005
On Fox’s popular prime-time soap "The O.C.," one of the central characters is exploring a lesbian relationship during the February sweeps period. On The WB, "One Tree Hill" recently introduced the show’s first bisexual character.
And even one of the characters on the long-running animated series "The Simpsons" will reportedly come out of the closet tonight.
Almost everywhere you look on TV nowadays, there seems to be a gay or lesbian story line.
"Gays are the new black," Valley comedian Kass McPherson says. "I don’t think it’s a flash-in-the-pan type of thing."
McPherson — who didn’t come out of the closet until she was 27 — credits Ellen DeGeneres with paving the way for the acceptance of openly gay characters on TV with her groundbreaking ABC sitcom "Ellen," which aired from 1994 to 1998.
"I think it took the initial shock off society," says McPherson, 33, of Scottsdale. "It’s like when blacks started getting on TV back in the day. You can’t fight it.
"You’re going to see it pop up all over the place because it’s accepted now. . . . It took a long time coming to grind down and put us in television and movies, but we did it."
McPherson says shows such as Showtime’s "The L Word" and NBC’s "Will & Grace" also have helped gays become more socially accepted.
"These are water-cooler shows," McPherson says. "People talk about them. . . . I didn’t know any gay people when I came out. I didn’t know where to go. It wasn’t what it is today. Now it’s a lot easier for people to come out."
‘IT’S CACHET NOW’
Buddy Early, managing editor of Echo magazine, a biweekly Valley entertainment magazine with bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender content, is pleased to see gays and lesbians being portrayed as real people.
"Gay characters used to be used to get sympathy or to be beat up or to be flamboyant additions in the cast," says Early, 33. "In the last 20 to 25 years, it has come pretty far. People are more open to it. It’s cachet now. It’s a little hip. It seems like everyone wants to have some kind of gay character or gay scene in premise.
"And also a lot of people are really recognizing that there’s a target audience that has a disposable income. Advertisers are wanting to advertise on the show that gays and lesbians will watch."
Jeff Stensland, media relations coordinator for Arizona State University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer Coalition, says that he thinks people will become even more open-minded in the coming years.
"I’m not trying to force anyone to live my lifestyle or to do what I do, but just to respect me for what I am. And I think that’s what a lot of people are facing," says Stensland, 22, of Tempe.
In addition to scripted TV series, gays and lesbians also are being featured on reality TV shows such as Bravo’s "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and "Boy Meets Boy," and ABC’s "Wife Swap," which recently featured a lesbian couple from the Valley.
Nikki Boone, 30, says she went on "Wife Swap" with partner Kristine Luffey to show viewers the life of a lesbian couple.
"We wanted to be able to put out there for America what a real lesbian couple with kids looks like and let them see that our lives pretty much run the same as any other family," Boone says.
In the episode, Luffey went to live with a Christian family in Texas while a conservative black woman moved in with Boone and her 8-year-old daughter. As a result, sparks flew over opposing views on homosexuality.
Although the Valley couple didn’t form a friendship with the Texas family, Boone says she is pleased with the way things turned out.
"I was impressed from the beginning that ABC even considered the production, let alone go through and put it on the air," she says.
STILL A DEBATE
Not everyone is pleased with the abundance of gay and lesbian story lines on television. PBS recently pulled a controversial episode of the children’s series "Postcards From Buster," in which a camcorder-toting cartoon bunny explores different cultures and communities.
In one episode, criticized by new U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, Buster visits a real-life Vermont lesbian family.
Ed Vitagliano, a spokesman for the American Family Association and news editor of the AFA Journal, says the content of the episode wasn’t appropriate for a show geared to children ages 4 to 8.
"The problem that we have with a program like that is that whenever these issues seem to be discussed in the media, it’s always one-sided," Vitagliano says. "There’s only a particular perspective that is allowed. These shows don’t show problems that exist with that lifestyle.
"As evidence from the last election, homosexuality is still a very controversial issue. People that promote programs like that usually feel that the debate is over. It’s not."
Vitagliano says that the American Family Association — a Christian organization that deals with issues on television — will contact advertisers and urge them to remove their commercials from the network if they see something questionable on television.
Like Vitagliano, Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America, says homosexuality on TV is still a litigious concern.
"There is a full-court press to portray homosexuality as normal and desirable, and Hollywood has been pursuing this for more than two decades now," Knight says. "Rarely do you see the downside of homosexual life, and the rarest person of all on the screen is the ex-gay, a person who has overcome homosexuality. That’s the most invisible group in the country, and yet there are thousands of people out there who have overcome homosexuality."
MORE TO EXPLORE
Although gays and lesbians have come a long way in the media, there are still some things that remain to be seen.
"One of the aspects that hasn’t been tackled is raising a family," McPherson says. "Gay couples and children — just family orientation. That’s the show I want to watch."
"Wife Swap’s" Boone says she’d like to see something on the transgendered community.
"We really haven’t seen anything that deals with that on a TV show," she says. " ‘Wife Swap’ is going to do (an episode) with husbands. That will be interesting, to see how the dynamics from their show differ from ours and to see if there is more of a learning curve. We’re on the right track to having the community represented fairly and accurately across the board."
Echo’s Early says he would like to see TV shows delve into long-term gay relationships.
"Everyone loves ‘Will & Grace,’ but (central character Will) really hasn’t been in a long-term relationship yet. So exploring gay relationships really hasn’t hit network TV yet.
"And I’m kind of wondering when they’re going to add a same-sex couple to Wisteria Lane on ‘Desperate Housewives.’ I see that coming."