Thursday, May 23Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

LGBTV: Representation on television

People often seem to underestimate just how powerful it can be to see someone like you in a book, on a stage or screen, or anywhere else for that matter. For members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially young people, representation can be the difference between feeling alone and feeling seen and validated, especially if they are struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Here are just a few of the most influential LGBTQ+ characters who we count ourselves lucky to have witnessed the journeys of.

Arizona Robbins, Grey’s Anatomy 

This angelic Pediatric Surgeon gave a heart-warming portrayal of a sapphic woman, in one famous scene proudly referring to herself as ‘lesbianic’. 

Her popular but turbulent relationship with her wife Callie is admired for giving a sometimes brutally honest, other times gloriously romantic portrayal of a female same sex relationship. Together they demonstrate how gay couples go through the same joys, trials and tribulations as heteronormative couples do. 

The audience hears of her past challenges and sees how she has blossomed into a woman secure in her sexuality, something many young female viewers aspire to be. Later in the series, Arizona becomes disabled after an accident. Seeing her fight through her trauma to recover both physically and emotionally is incredibly valuable since disabled queer representation is still sadly lacking. 

Cal Bowman, Sex Education

In its most recent season, Netflix’s revolutionary show introduced an outstanding non-binary, black character. Gender nonconforming representation is another especially neglected area, so it was delightful to see such an informative, empathetic portrayal of who will certainly be a relatable character to many. 

Cal’s journey throughout this season explores so many essential things including body image, relationships, and how there is ultimately no right or wrong way to be a part of the queer community. 

Significantly, Cal has the courage to stand up to the headteacher of the school who expects students to follow the ‘rules’ of the gender binary, especially when it comes to their uniform. In one of many educational scenes, Cal is reluctant to wear the so-called girl’s uniform, but also feels uncomfortable in the boy’s version. This has likely opened the eyes of many to the very real struggles endured by non-binary and transgender people, and reassured those going through the same experiences that they are not alone.

Ritchie Tozer, It’s A Sin

BBC’s phenomenal drama took the country by storm. Its heart-wrenching reframing of the AIDS crisis in the UK follows the lives of four gay male friends, taking the audience on a moving journey as they suffer through one of the hardest times to be gay in history. 

The writer of the series Russell T. Davies deliberately ‘cast gay as gay’, recognising the gravity of representation. While not an easy watch, It’s A Sin is another example of eye-opening, much-needed representation. There is unfortunately still a disgraceful amount of stigma surrounding HIV, and this 5-part drama addressed the facts of the epidemic without forgetting about the real trauma experienced by so many.

Alongside this, the show sensitively explores the difficulties of being in the closet. Sadly, those difficulties are still relatable to today’s young queer community. However, a large percentage of the gay community died during the AIDS crisis, losses that still affect LGBTQ+ individuals now who don’t always have adults they can relate or look up to. The story this series tells connects the current generation with people they never got the chance to know, which is a beautifully heart-breaking thing in itself. 

Kat and Adena, The Bold Type 

This WLW power couple are a central part of the feminist series. Adena is a proud gay Muslim woman who goes through many relevant issues, from immigration troubles to being criticised in Iran for her progressive artwork. Kat, meanwhile, doesn’t embrace putting a label on her sexuality, despite her love for Adena.

Fighting for all the right things both in and outside of their workplaces, the two women embark on a touching journey of love and self-discovery, ultimately leading to Kat accepting her new identity as a bisexual woman. 

Actress Aisha Dee who plays Kat shared a bravely honest post on Instagram calling for more diversity behind the scenes to match what the representation shown on screen, for the sake of everyone. We need more people and stories like this. We have come a long way, but change still needs to be made for the better. 

Read Aisha’s powerful post here: