Misrepresentation in media portrayal of the LGBT community

Story and slideshow by Adrienne Purdy

See a slideshow of media misrepresentation of gays and lesbians.

Our lives include so much media and television that we often take in what we see without question. But should we? Are groups being represented accurately? Or do the media depict stereotypical images of Asians, African Americans, women and lesbians and gays?

For instance, “Modern Family” is a multi-award-winning TV show that features a media stereotypical gay couple: two middle age white, upper class, extremely flamboyant men who are trying to adopt. But is that how all or even most gay couples are? Or are a wide variety of lifestyles represented?

From Ellen DeGeneres, one of the first high-profile celebrities to come out in 1997, to the many entertainers who have done so in 2012, Hollywood is showing that coming out does not have to include the fanfare of magazine covers and daytime talk shows. For instance, Jim Parsons became one of the first gay men to allow a reporter out them in a story.

In a New York Times profile, the key sentence does not come until more than three quarters of the way through the two-page article: “The Normal Heart resonated with him on a few levels: Mr. Parsons is gay and in a 10-year-relationship and working with an ensemble again onstage was like nourishment, he said.”

Other actors are working to defy stereotypes of gay men. For example, Matt Bomer plays Neal Caffrey in “White Collar”, a white-collar criminal who helps the FBI catch other criminals. He also plays a stripper in the hit “Magic Mike.” Bomer shows that the stereotypical image of a gay man is not only incorrect most of the time, but not important.

Dave Kirtley, who identifies as straight, says, “Celebrities have definitely paved the way for coming out of the closet. Ellen DeGeneres paved the way. Rosie O’Donnell paved the way. ‘Will and Grace’ is huge for the gay community. The LOGO station for gays and lesbians, I mean, they even have their own TV channel.”

But what about celebrities who are the subject of rumors about coming out but will neither confirm nor deny them?

Entertainment Weekly reported, “The media are becoming less tolerant of celebrities they believe to be unforthcoming about their sexual orientation.”

Actors who are openly gay are also showing that coming out in no way hurts their career. Take Chris Colfer, for example, one of the youngest openly gay actors in Hollywood. Stemming from his success on “Glee as one of the only gay kids at the fictional McKinley High School, he is now releasing a new movie that he has written, executive produced and starred in.

Some may say that coming out can hurt an actor’s career. But, as Entertainment Weekly’s Matt Harris wrote, “If your greatest ambition is to be the star of a series of Nicholas Sparks-style sincerity-in-the-rain romantic melodramas, being an out gay man is still probably going to be a handicap. Could an openly gay actor, for example, have gotten cast in Channing Tatum’s role in ‘The Vow’? It’s doubtful. On the other hand, could an openly gay actor have gotten Channing Tatum’s role in ’21 Jump Street’? Absolutely.”

Does this speak to the stereotypes the media portray? If an out gay man can convincingly portray a heterosexual romantic lead better than a straight man, shouldn’t he get the role?

These boundaries and barriers may take some time to break down.

Kristina Spainhower is a UPS driver. Her handle was “Wild Child” until she turned 40, and then she shortened it to “Wild.”

Her partner, Wendy Judson, is a critical care nurse who also happens to be a movie aficionado.

“We vote, we pay taxes, we have jobs, we come home to pets, we donate to charities,” Judson says. “We are just like anyone else. We’re no different.”

Spainhower says that most media portray gays and lesbians in a stereotypical and often-times biased light.

One TV series that Spainhower believes shows situations accurately is “The L Word.”

“The L Word” was a TV series that ran from 2004-2009 about the lives of a group of close-knit lesbians and their interactions with friends and family members with differing opinions about their orientation.

“It’s pretty close to life,” Spainhower says. “The family situations and interactions are very good as well. It’s not something that’s talked about a lot on channels 2, 4 or 5 or in the news or mainstream media.”

Others, like Kirtley, feel that the family situations in “Modern Family” aren’t true to life. “I think that Cam and Mitch [the gay couple] are the quintessential stereotype, and since ‘Modern Family’ is such a successful show and has such a large viewership some people who may not know many gay couples may get the idea that all gay couples are like them which isn’t true,” Kirtley says. “I think Hollywood and the media in general need to portray gay couples, and lesbian couples for that matter, more accurately and with more diversity.”

Jacob Stokes feels that although “Modern Family” does a good job portraying one kind of relationship, it is not the standard of every gay relationship. Stokes, who identifies as gay, says, “As with any culture, you have people on either end of the spectrum and everywhere in between. There certainly are gay couples consisting of flamboyant men who want to adopt children. There are conservative couples whom many would not believe to be gay except for the fact that they like other men. Some men want children, others do not. I think Modern Family has done a good job at portraying one type of couple, but it certainly does not extend to every gay man or relationship,” he said in an email interview.

Spainhower says that neither lesbian nor gay couples are portrayed enough in the media, let alone accurately. She also feels that two women together are more accepted in media and culture than two men are.

Stokes says, “I think that widespread stereotypes take a lot of work and time to change. Just as stereotypes about African Americans or any other historical minorities still linger it will certainly take time for people to regard homosexuality without discrimination or prejudice.”