Cultural Representations of GLBTQ Peoples and Communities in the Mainstream Media
Attitudes and laws in American society concerning the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and queer (GLBTQ) communities have changed in substantive ways in recent years, and many observers credit the cultural representations of these communities in the mainstream media as contributing to this progress. Notwithstanding the progress to date, though, some observers suggest that the status of the GLBTQ communities today is still comparable to the status of women and blacks a half century ago and there is clearly a need for greater understanding of these alternative lifestyles communities by the general American public. To this end, this paper provides a review of the literature concerning current GLBTQ issues in American culture followed by a discussion concerning the manner in which interpretation of mainstream media content such as films, television shows, books, plays or events can provide fresh insights into the relationship between American culture and GLBTQ communities. Finally, a summary of the research and important findings concerning the future of GLBTQ communities in America are provided in the conclusion.
GLBTQ Issues in American Culture
There is more information about the GLBTQ communities available today than ever before, and people who subscribe to alternative lifestyles such as members of these alternative lifestyle communities have access to an increasingly wide array of resources that focus on the main issues confronting them in American culture today. In some cases, these resources are generalist in nature while others are more specifically focused on different groups within the GLBTQ communities and the most important issues facing these groups. The editors of afterellen.com, for example, explore issues that are specifically related to lesbian/bi lifestyles, including sex, dating and "coming out" (About 3). Likewise, originally founded as afterelton.com, The Backlot (http://www.newnownext.com/franchise/the-backlot/) also explores gay themes in motion pictures, television, music, books, and news about celebrities.
These trends have been credited with reducing negative perceptions about these alternative lifestyle communities among the general American population in ways that have reduced so-called "gay-bashing" and the incidence of violence against the GLBTQ communities (Swartz). Nevertheless, there are still some compelling and complex issues confronting members of alternative lifestyle communities in American culture today, including most especially the following:
• GLBTQ individuals can still be fired, simply for being who they are;
• Sexual orientation and gender identity remain unprotected under the hate crime statutes of more than 20 states;
• Some states still consider consensual sex illegal;
• Sexually active gay men are still banned from donating blood;
• Same-sex parents struggle for the custody rights that heterosexuals are automatically granted;
• GLBTQ individuals are excluded from some major religious denominations;
• GLBTQ individuals are not adequately protected by anti-bullying initiatives;
• Sexual health education often does not include gay and lesbian sex;
• GLBTQ individuals are frequently provided with inadequate health care due to stigma and discrimination; and, • Some GLBTQ are denied visitation with their sick or dying spouses in hospitals (adapted from Clifton 2-3).
As a result, there are growing calls among many educators for including accurate information about the GLBTQ communities in curricular offerings to further educate the American public concerning the issues facing these alternative lifestyle communities in the U.S. today. For instance, Swartz reports that, "Issues relating to [GLBTQ] people should be formally and permanently integrated into existing courses across the curriculum and homophobia and other diversity workshops should be implemented for the entire campus community to sensitize and educate staff, faculty, and administrators" (12). Given the growing impetus of these trends throughout American society, it is important to determine how the presentation of these alternative lifestyles in the mainstream media can be interpreted in order to reveal new insights into the relationship between American culture and GLBTQ communities and these issues are discussed below.
Interpretation of mainstream media to reveal new insights into the relationship between American culture and GLBTQ communities
The seminal research by Vito Russo contained in his text, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (1981) makes it clear that depiction of alternative lifestyles in the mainstream media is not a recent phenomenon. For instance, Piontek reports that, "When it comes to analyzing the representation of homosexuality in American films no book has been as been as influential as Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet" (123). Indeed, Russo's book is contains an exhaustive listing of a century's worth of the manner in which homosexuality was treated in motion pictures, beginning with silent movies such as a short movie featuring Stan Laurel, "The Soilers" (1923), a parody of the 1914 Western, "The Spoilers," which was the first movie to even make a reference to male homosexuality (Piontek). Interestingly, some of the motion pictures analyzed by Russo such as Andy Warhol's "Lonesome Cowboys" (1969) and Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" (1974) have been American classics (Piontek).
These media representations have played an important role in reshaping views about the alternative lifestyle communities among the American public. Until fairly recently, and to some extent today, though, many members of the GLBTQ communities were widely regarded as not only being "different," they were regarded as potential threats. For instance, according to Whitt (2014), "The [GLBTQ] community is in the formative process of constructing a media identity -- one that breaks away from being either a tragic oddity or…
Sources Used in Documents:
About. (2016). The Backlot. Web.
Clifton, Derrick. (2014, July 1). "11 Major Obstacles to Equality that LGBT Americans still face." Identities.Mic. Web.
Doughty, Howard A. (2013, January 1). "What's the Trouble with Human Rights?" The Innovation Journal 18(1): 1-4. Print.
Kilday, Gregg. (2000, October 10). "Queer as Folk in America." The Advocate 62. Print.