Without a doubt, society has become accepting of the LGBTQ community in the past fifty years. 92% of the LGBTQ community say that society is more accepting than a decade ago, and the same number are optimistic that the acceptance will continue to grow over the next decade.
This new level of acceptance has been reciprocated in the diversity of television characters. In the 2014 fall television season, LGBTQ characters make up “3.9% of the total number of series regulars on prime-time shows on the five broadcast networks, or 32 out of 813.” This looks fairly representative of the LGBTQ population at first glance because 3.4% of American adults identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, except “no regular characters on broadcast prime-time shows are transgender.” The transgender community has been historically overlooked or forgotten even in the LGBTQ community.
Two of the only shows that have included a transgender regular character are not made by broadcast television, but by their online, streaming television equivalents. Those shows include Amazon‘s Transparent and Netflix‘s Orange is the New Black. Orange Is the New Black even “has more LGBT characters than any other show on broadcast and cable TV.”
Laverne Cox plays Sophia Burset, on Orange is the New Black, who is a transgender inmate in Litchfield. This character emphasizes the treatment of the transgender community in prison when Sophia’s estrogen pills are changed to generic and she’s given a below recommended dose just so the Department of Corrections can save some money. Laverne Cox said at the 2014 Creating Change Conference that “healthcare for trans people is a necessity. It is not elective, it is not cosmetic, it is life-saving… But we are more than our bodies.” Since it is not elective, the prison should honor the lives of these people and give them the proper medical care.
Besides being an advocate for the transgender community on television, Laverne Cox is an advocate in her personal time, including the support of CeCe McDonald, her release from prison, and the documentary made about her. Cox was also the first openly transgender person to have their own Time magazine cover. She also produced a recent documentary on trans youth, The T Word.
And just remember that just because they are being represented, it doesn’t mean that they are being represented accurately or not based on stereotypes. When the transgender community is represented on television, which is not often, it is as some sort of sex worker. Laverne Cox has this to say on this stereotype:
“When folks want to write a trans character, the first thing that they think of is sex work. And part of the reason is that the most visibility, really, that trans folk get is through sex work. And then there is also crazy unemployment rates among transgender people; it’s like twice the national average. If you’re a trans person of color, it’s four times the national average. So, so often the only job opportunities presented for trans folks are in street economies, including sex work. Obviously there are lots of trans women who don’t do sex work, who have all kinds of professions.”
While Orange is the New Black and Laverne Cox are promoting tolerance and equality for all members of the LGBTQ community, it doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t. Just be tolerant of anyone who is different than you and respect their freedom of expression.