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From 'Schitt's Creek' to 'Batwoman,' LGBTQ characters on U.S. TV are at an all-time high

"There's a lot of great numbers to celebrate, but there's still work to be done," Megan Townsend of GLAAD said. "Progress is also still found in clusters."
Image: Ruby Rose Batwoman
Ruby Rose as Kate Kane/Batwoman.Jack Rowand / The CW

For the fourth consecutive year, broadcast television has featured a record percentage of LGBTQ characters, according to a report released Thursday by the media advocacy group GLAAD.

Last year, GLAAD called on the broadcast networks to have 10 percent of its regular characters on prime-time scripted series identify as LGBTQ by 2020. According to its 2019-20 "Where We Are on TV" report, the networks more than exceeded that goal.

Of the 879 regular characters scheduled to appear this season, 90, or 10.2 percent, are LGBTQ. This is the highest percentage GLAAD has found in the 15 years it has kept such a count.

"We made a specific call, and to see the networks surpass it is really noteworthy," Megan Townsend, GLAAD's director of entertainment research and analysis, told NBC News. "It's especially exciting to see the number of trans men on TV more than double this year, which last year's report really pushed television networks to do, and to see that for the first time, LGBTQ women outnumber LGBTQ men on broadcast."

Among the other significant findings are a marked increase in the racial diversity of LGBTQ characters on broadcast. For the second year in a row, LGBTQ people of color outnumber white LGBTQ characters, with 52 percent of queer regular characters being of color on broadcast series. There are also nine characters with HIV/AIDS on broadcast television, an increase from the seven characters counted last year.

Though considerable progress has been made, Townsend said there were still steps networks needed to take to ensure more equitable LGBTQ representation, which is why GLAAD's Media Institute works with networks and shows to consult on storylines, find queer talent, train writers' rooms to talk about LGBTQ issues and promote projects.

"There's a lot of great numbers to celebrate, but there's still work to be done," Townsend said. "Progress is also still found in clusters. Even though there are hundreds of cable networks, 44 percent of LGBTQ representation on television can be found on just three networks: Showtime, Freeform and FX."

GLAAD also found that only 26 percent of LGBTQ characters on television identify as bisexual+ — a number that is not reflective of their presence, given bisexual+ people compose the majority of the LGBTQ community.

Another gap in representation includes LGBTQ characters with disabilities. While GLAAD counted 27 characters with disabilities this year, the highest percentage its reports have ever noted, this number still falls short of the U.S. population of people with disabilities. Additionally there is only one asexual character across all platforms — Todd Chavez on Netflix's "BoJack Horseman" — which is a drop from two asexual characters on television last year.

This year GLAAD is calling for 20 percent of characters on prime-time scripted broadcast series be LGBTQ by 2020, and for half of all LGBTQ characters on every platform be people of color within the next two years.

"From 'Batwoman' to 'Legends of Tomorrow' to 'Schitt's Creek' to 'One Day at a Time' to 'The Politician,' there's so many great shows already out there and many upcoming projects we're looking forward to," Townsend said. "The key is making sure it's never left to one character to be the voice of the community."

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