Every year, GLAAD publishes a report of its findings on the visibility and representation of LGBT characters on scripted television. In 2014, for the first time in the eight years that GLAAD has been publishing their study, three networks have come out on top: HBO, MTV, and ABC Family scored high on GLAAD's TV report. While the percentage of broadcast shows that feature LGBT regulars isn't the highest it's ever been, it's higher than it was in 2013. However, just as impressive as the fact that these three networks have scored Excellent on GLAAD's report is the fact that MTV's specific demographic is the teen and youth market. The fact that MTV has managed to present such great LGBT representation to the next generation, normalizing it for them in a way many parents would have benefited from, is commendable.
According to the GLAAD report, MTV has two specific shows that feature LGBT characters as leading or supporting characters: Faking It and Scream. They also have two shows that feature LGBT characters as part of the reoccuring cast: Awkward and Teen Wolf. Faking It is one of MTV's new shows from the 2013-2014 season, revolving around the premise that two heterosexual women pretend to be lesbians in order to become popular at their alternative Texan high school. At the time, this premise got a lot of criticism from many groups, though GLAAD was not among them.
Now in its second season, it's easy to see why they didn't raise a red flag. Not only is Faking It following one of its main characters, Amy, through her journey to figure out her own sexuality after discovering genuine feelings for her female best friend, but the show also broke new ground with the revelation that Amy's step-sister, Lauren, was born intersex. On the other hand, Scream has yet to actually air, but TV Line reported that the teenage cast of Scream features one youth named Audrey Jensen who is "the bi-curious daughter of a Lutheran pastor". Bicuriosity and intersex issues are rarely given visibility on television, let alone on broadcast cable shows, and MTV's efforts to raise visibility of them have been noted as "ground-breaking".
Awkward and Teen Wolf might not have have their LGBT characters as part of the regular cast, but they're no less visible. Teen Wolf devotes attention to openly gay teen Danny Mahealani, who even got a romantic storyline and steamy make out session of his own in Season 3, and Awkward had Ricky Schwartz, Clark Stevensen, Theo, Shane, and Cole — though the latter three are recent additions to Season 4. All four of these shows are geared toward the coveted 18-24 demographic that MTV does very well at courting, so the fact that all of them also went out of their way to make sure that LGBT youths could watch them and feel represented is amazing.
The fact of the matter is, MTV might be tied with HBO and ABC Family for giving the most visibility to LGBT characters, but it deserves special credit for having so many shows that explore the complicated and difficult process of coming to terms with one's sexuality as a teenager. Being able to turn on your TV and see someone struggling with the same issues as you do — or, even better, being treated no differently than the heterosexual members of the cast either individually or in a romantic plot line — is important to help young people know that they are not alone, they're not different, and that tolerance is not an impossible dream.
Being a teenager is a transitive time in everyone's life, no matter what their sexuality, and the years of high school and college is when we all begin the arduous process of figuring out who we are and what we like. Every time a teenager watches as Faking It contrasts Amy, who is still questioning her sexuality, with Shane, who is out and proud and mentoring her, they are seeing the question and the answer to a struggle they or someone they know might go through. Every time a teenager watches Teen Wolf and sees Stiles Stilinski become visibly flattered to hear Danny accept his open request for anyone to take his virginity, they are seeing the tolerance that is possible if we work toward that future.
Between homosexuality, bisexuality, bicuriousn, intersex, lesbian, and the upcoming appearance of transgender actress Laverne Cox on Faking It, MTV seems to be trying their hardest to give as many points on the sexuality spectrum as much visibility as possible. I'm glad their efforts are being recognized.
Image: MTV (2)