LGBTQ+ Representation in TV Shows and Movies

It’s Pride month! Amidst the many rallies, parades and events around the world, I decided to write a short blog series about LGBTQ+ representation in media. I’m by no means an expert about media, but I’ve watched many TV shows and movies over the years, and I’ve noticed, and appreciated, an increase in the amount of LGBTQ+ representation over time. Also, I play a fair amount of computer games, and I’ve always enjoyed games that offered LGBTQ+ options in the gameplay, and also representation in the game characters. In this first article, I’ll talk about LGBTQ+ representation in TV shows and movies. My second post is about LGBTQ+ journeys, and you can read it here.

I think having LGBTQ+ representation in TV shows and movies is a huge deal, because of normalization of attitudes, and providing visibility for closeted LGBTQ+ people. I personally like shows that include LGBTQ+ people as characters that have their own lives, motives and actions, and being LGBT is just one part of them. Having such characters makes total sense to me, since LGBTQ+ people are in our everyday life, even if not everyone is aware of us. I believe that having such characters serves to reinforce the true notion that LGBTQ+ people are just like regular people in most aspects, have our needs, wants and desires like everyone else, and are mainly interested in living our lives. It also helps to have such representation in media, to normalize LGBTQ+ in the view of “society”. There is, unfortunately, still somewhat of a stigma of being LGBTQ+ in some communities, and having media that shows LGBTQ+ characters being treated just like other characters serves as an example behavior for people to follow. Also, having LGBTQ+ characters in shows serves as examples for closeted LGBTQ+ people, and they may gain a little more courage to live their authentic lives.

One of my favorite TV show writers is Shonda Rhimes, who is accomplished in many other things too. Besides writing excellent TV shows that have captivating and complex characters, great storylines, and interesting settings, Shonda Rhimes’ shows also have great representation! I can’t say enough good things about them. And it’s not only LGBTQ+ representation; her cast and crew are extremely diverse across different axes, including gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Further, the shows portray this diversity not as something to marvel at, but just as the way things are, or should be. People of all types can rise to prominent positions, achieve great things, and everyone’s journey is unique, yet similar. One of her shows that I’ve followed is Grey’s Anatomy.

The main cast of Grey’s Anatomy Season 1.

I don’t remember exactly when I started watching Grey’s Anatomy, or how I started watching it. There’s been 15 seasons so far (and still going!), and I’ve watched most, if not all, of the episodes, so I must have started many years ago. The series started with Meredith Grey and her fellow interns when they joined Seattle Grace Hospital. As the seasons progressed, so did the characters, and as people joined and left the cast, Meredith Grey and Alex Karev are the only two (I believe) remaining from the original batch of interns. They’ve grown from new, unsure medical interns, into full-fledged attendings at the now-named Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. There have also been other characters who have been in the series since the beginning, such as Miranda Bailey and Richard Webber, whose characters and storylines have also deepened over time.

A new group of medical interns introduced in Season 14 of Grey’s Anatomy.

Grey’s Anatomy has great diverse representation, including LGBTQ+. The first example that many people, including myself, may think of, is Arizona Robbins and Callie Torres. The two women have had a long and complex journey, both together and not, and I won’t spoil the story, but my guess is that they’ve stolen the hearts of many of their fans. One particular episode, that was both touching and unique, was episode 18 of season 7 titled Song Beneath The Song, where the cast sang many different songs. I highly recommend watching this episode if you haven’t already! The premise (spoiler alert!) is that Arizona proposed to Callie, but then they got into a car accident before Callie could reply, and Callie was seriously injured.

Dr. Arizona Robbins (left) and Dr. Callie Torres (right), and Dr. Miranda Bailey in the background.

Besides Arizona and Callie, Grey’s Anatomy has also introduced other LGBTQ+ characters, such as Casey Parker, one of the new medical interns introduced in Season 14. Casey, the character, is a transgender man, and is played by actor Alex Blue Davis, who is a transgender man. Casey was introduced as one of the new group of interns, and there was little, or no, attention brought about him being a trans man. In the middle of the season (spoiler alert!), Casey reveals to Miranda (who is the Chief of Surgery at that time) that he is a trans man, but only because it became relevant in the storyline to do so. I think it is great to have transgender actors play transgender characters, and the way Casey was introduced also served to show that many people probably interact with transgender people on a daily basis, without even being aware of it, since it is largely irrelevant to bring up in most cases, just like how people in general don’t go around declaring their medical history to everyone they meet.

Dr. Casey Parker, played by Alex Blue Davis.

The examples listed above are not the only LGBTQ+ characters in the show; they were simply the first that came to my mind. Truly, being LGBTQ+ has been so normalized in the series that it can be challenging to some degree to think of which characters are LGBTQ+, since it’s just one small aspect of their characters, almost like “Oh yeah, so-and-so is LGBTQ+”. Grey’s Anatomy has also introduced LGBTQ+ subplots and setting with minor characters and episodes, such as patients that require some type of medical treatment, and having a spouse or partner of the same gender. Again, it is wonderful that the show portrays LGBTQ+ people as just one of the many sorts of people at the hospital, because it is a true reflection of the diversity in the world. Also in Season 14, Grey’s Anatomy introduced a multi-episode arc on a transgender woman seeking a groundbreaking vaginoplasty surgery, where the transgender woman character was played by a transgender woman actor Candis Cayne, and that story arc was handled very delicately and talks about the real new medical technique.

Grey’s Anatomy has also had different spin-off series, such as Private Practice and Station 19. I am also currently watching Station 19, and it is set in Seattle, like Grey’s Anatomy, on the same timeline, so characters from one show appear on the other, and there are some crossover episodes where events occur on both shows simultaneously. Station 19 focuses on firefighters who work at Station 19 (hence the name), and the show also has great, diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ ones. For example, Maya Bishop casually mentions that she is bisexual in one of the episodes, and Travis Montgomery is a firefighter whose husband was also a firefighter who had died while on duty, and a (small) part of Travis’ story arc is about him dealing with the loss of his husband, and eventually starting to date again.

Travis Montgomery (right) and Grant (left), and Victoria Hughes in the background.

Shonda Rhimes is an excellent screen writer, and I highly recommend her shows. The stories are great, characters are complex, and has great diversity across many axes. There are many other movies and TV shows that also have great LGBTQ+ representation, not as the major storyline but as part of the diversity of characters, and a couple that I’ve seen and come to mind are: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Game of Thrones, Glee, Star Trek: Discovery, and Workin’ Moms. These not only have diverse characters, they are great shows to watch too!

Having LGBTQ+ representation in movies and TV shows is a great step in normalizing our existence in society, and showing that being LGBTQ+ is just one aspect of a person. I’m glad that there is a higher incidence of LGBTQ+ representation in movies and TV shows in recent years, and I hope the trend continues!

The other parts of this series discuss LGBTQ+ journeys in TV shows and movies, characters in video games, people in animation, and contemporary LGBTQ+ people in shows. Do check them out!

Proud mom, roboticist, software engineer.