LGBTQ Representation on Television Is Expanding, but Lived Experiences Are Still Vital

Representation is always a hot button issue and it seems to be flowering of late, particularly with the transgender community. Within the last two months, J.K. Rowling has put out harmful anti-trans statements, while actress Halle Berry came under fire for taking on the role of a trans man; she would eventually give up the project after the backlash.

This was at the heart of San Diego Comic Con’s latest panel, entitled “LGBTQ Characters on Television: What’s Next?” The panel brought together eight actors who have either played or are currently starring as queer characters to discuss where representation currently stands and where it has room to improve. If you think this might be an outside topic for a comic convention, think again. For Anthony Rapp, star of “Star Trek: Discovery,” “the queer experience has been part of the geek fandom for forever.”

The world of science-fiction and fantasy have often lent themselves to “creative content creators,” said Rapp’s “Star Trek: Discovery” co-star, Wilson Cruz. Whether it be via coded characters or the process of “shipping” two characters today, queer characters have come to dominate genre landscapes.

But amongst the love the panelists have for breaking barriers, they still constantly worry about insecurity and fighting for more authentic experiences. For Jamie Clayton, star of “Sense8” and now on “Roswell, N.M,” she worried that her character on the Netflix series would turn off fans, considering she was a trans woman playing a trans woman and lesbian in love with a woman of color.

The group also discussed where shows are falling short. In the case of Fox’s “911: Lone Star,” trans actor Brian Michael Smith said there were no trans writers in the writer’s room. This allowed him to give suggestions on the character, like not constantly putting his character into conflicts that were generally because he was trans. “We don’t have to bring this up every time. Let the audience forget […] so they can walk in my shoes and they can deal with it in the same way I deal with it,” he said.

At one point during the panel, Cruz praised hiring those with lived experiences.

“This is why we ask for trans people to be able to play the trans parts that are written,” he said.

Ironically, there wasn’t any discussion with regard to having straight actors play LGBTQ characters, such is the case with panelist Harry Shum, Jr. of “Shadowhunters” or Jamie Chung of “Once Upon a Time,” both straight actors playing queer characters.

Smith said more representation in these arenas takes the pressure off trans people to represent. “We have a mission here to make lives better for other people,” he said. Clayton said there also needs to be more opportunities for trans actors to just play regular characters. “I want to see nonbinary and trans-identified people to play all kinds of people,” she said.

You can watch the full panel below.

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