Orange is the New Black, Rogue, Black Sails, Master of Sex and The 100 all have one thing in common: They each killed off a major lesbian or bisexual female character in the last two years.
A recent study by LGBT Fans Deserve Better, a website dedicated to “educating people on the importance of positive LGBT representation in the media,” found an alarmingly high 62 lesbian and bisexual female characters died over the past two television seasons. This is the highest number of lesbian and bisexual character deaths in a two-year period since the trope of killing LGBTQ characters was first analyzed in 1976.
The 2015-2016 year had the single highest number of lesbian and bisexual female deaths, 42 in all, for a season of television. These deaths accounted for 10 percent of the deaths on scripted television shows for that year. This statistic is noteworthy because lesbian and bisexual women comprise of less than 10 percent of the characters on TV.
“The key problem isn’t merely that LGBT characters are killed off, but the tendency that these characters, and in particular lesbian and bisexual female characters, are killed off far more often than straight characters.” LGBT Fans Deserve Better explained. “Given the low overall numbers of LGBT characters in the media and the important representation those characters provide to viewers, the loss of any one of those characters is more keenly felt.”
In 2016, GLAAD also reported on the high death toll of lesbian and bi female characters in their annual “Where We are on TV” report. Commenting on the statistic, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said, “Most of these deaths served no other purpose than to further the narrative of a more central (and often straight, cisgender) character. When there are so few lesbian and bisexual women on television, the decision to kill these characters in droves sends a toxic message about the worth of queer female stories."
In earlier times, the decision to kill off LGBTQ characters could be attributed to the social impact of the Hayes Code, moral guidelines established by movie studios, which demanded that LGBTQ characters be punished for their “deviant” behavior. The fact that the “Bury Your Gays” trope still exists in 2017 is unsettling. It suggests that predominately heterosexual writing staffs are not interested in telling stories that are LGBTQ inclusive.
"Their ideas of inclusion and diversity are often the fact that they offered up a queer character at all -- they don't put much thought going forward into what that character is about outside of her sexuality," Trish Bendix, editor of the LGBTQ women’s publication GO Magazine, said in a 2016 interview with NBC OUT.
Let’s hope the 2017-2018 season has fewer LGBTQ fatalities.