WASHINGTON – Within the last decade, entertainment in mainstream media has undergone a cultural transformation that mirrors a broader national shift.
Story lines on television, in movies and in comic books have increasingly featured characters who are gay, something that was once exceptionally scarce.
At the same time, public support for gay marriage surged, President Obama became the first sitting president to announce his support for same-sex marriage and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied benefits to married same-sex couples.
“It’s no coincidence that the support for marriage equality among Americans has grown with the number of TV characters,” says Rich Ferraro, spokesperson for the advocacy group GLAAD. “The idea of what it was to be gay became more realistic for Americans across the country.”
“Glee,” “Modern Family” and “Grey’s Anatomy” are among popular recent shows that feature openly gay characters. Last year, Vice President Joe Biden said on “Meet the Press” that he believes the show “Will and Grace” helped usher in a better understanding of gays and lesbians.
According to a study by GLAAD, LGBT characters in the most recent broadcast television season reached a record high, making up 4.4 percent of “series regulars” as compared to just 1.1 percent in 2007.
Ferraro believes the trend has helped shape a more accepting culture overall in the United States.
“Suddenly, when Americans are walking into voting booths, on issues that impact LGBT people, it’s not about a foreign community,”Ferraro says. “It’s about their friends and neighbors, and it’s about some of their favorite television parents and families.”