the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity

Gay people are stereotypes, jokes or almost invisible on youth TV

Lesbian and gay people appear realistically & positively in just 0.6% of most watched shows, finds new research

Unseen on Screen front cover

Groundbreaking research published today by Stonewall has found that ordinary gay people are almost invisible on the 20 TV programmes most watched by Britain’s young people. Just 46 minutes out of 126 hours of output showed gay people positively and realistically. Three quarters of portrayal was confined to just four C4 and ITV1 programmes: I’m a Celebrity…, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale and How to Look Good Naked. BBC1 transmitted 44 seconds of positive and realistic portrayal of gay people in more than 39 hours of output.

Young people from across Britain interviewed by researchers said that gay people on TV are largely stereotyped, leading unhappy lives, are bullied and rejected by their families. They also said they rely on TV to learn about gay people.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive, said: ‘Of course it’s welcome that some of the most obnoxiousness unpleasantness of people such as Jeremy Clarkson is now being edited out before transmission. However, it’s hardly surprising that there’s still almost endemic homophobic bullying in Britain’s secondary schools when, even if gay people do appear on TV shows watched by young people, they’re depicted in a derogatory or demeaning way. It’s tragic that in 2010 broadcasters are still underserving young people in this way, particularly when young people themselves say they want to see real gay people’s lives on TV.’

Seventy one per cent of secondary school teachers polled by YouGov (Teacher’s Report, 2009) said that anti-gay language in the broadcast media affects the levels of homophobic bullying in schools.

The new report, Unseen on Screen, found that half of all portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people was stereotypical, including gay people depicted as figures of fun, predatory or promiscuous. Where programming depicted homophobia, three fifths went unchallenged. One 16 year-old interviewed by researchers said ‘TV gives the wrong view of gay people because every storyline is about them being beaten up and discriminated against. They are never accepted by their family. In real life they just want to fit in.’

Recommendations included in Unseen on Screen are that broadcasters should work with Ofcom to develop guidelines to ensure more positive portrayals of gay characters. The report also recommends that programmemakers share good practice on how to develop authentic lesbian, gay and bisexual characters in continuing dramas. Broadcasters should also monitor their output to ensure lesbian, gay and bisexual representation.

‘Rather than review output which broadcasters claim to be targeted at young people, we wanted to review the programmes they actually watch,’ said Ben Summerskill. ‘Tomorrow’s generation of TV viewers clearly want programmes which portray modern Britain the way it actually is. Broadcasters who fail to recognise this risk commercial failure and will certainly not be able to justify a universal licence fee in the decades ahead.’  

To download Unseen on Screen click here 



  1. The 20 television programmes most watched by young people (BARB 2009) are The Bill, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Harry Hill’s TV Burp, I’m a Celebrity…, Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, the X Factor, You’ve Been Framed (ITV1), Blue Peter, EastEnders, Football Focus, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, Merlin, the One Show, Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1), Hollyoaks, How to Look Good Naked, The Paul O’Grady Show, The Simpsons (Channel 4) and the Gadget Show (Five). BBC2 had no shows in the top 20. BARB viewing figures were used to determine the top 20.
  2. In the past year alone violent anti-gay assaults carried out by young people include the attempted murder of James Parkes – a trainee Police Officer in Liverpool – and the murder of 62-year old Ian Baynham in the middle of London’s Trafalgar Square in October 2009.


Good report

I don't tend to watch a lot of TV but, when I do, I find the issues raised in this article are relavant and need to be addressed. I currently work for the police and spent six years in the military so find it hard to relate to some of the characters that invade our screens.

John, 31 August 2010


I agree that the media portray all LGBT members in a particular way, but beening "trans" I find it even more so,especially in that the TV will use Genetic females to play Trans folk, ie Haley in Coronation Street. I feel sure that there is a wealth of Trans actors out there that will play the parts and produce a more realistic and plausable demonstration to the public of the issues that are encountered each and every day for most Trans folk

Danni, 24 August 2010

Unseen on screen

This is such a great piece of work, working with young people I am aware of how much influence the TV has on the attitude of young people have to LGBT issues. We need more positive role models on screen and not the stereo typical characters. Why can't we have LGBT people portrayed in various jobs and not the cliche jobs? This will raise the positive attitude to Gay people and raise the aspirations to our next generation of LGBT young people.

Fulvius , 20 August 2010

Television depiction of Gay People

Excellent, if sadly unsurprising, survey. TVs 'depiction' of gay people is cowardly - we are either invisible or 'issues' or the butt of Politically Incorrect 'jokes'. It seems to me the television moguls think a genuine drama and/or comedy series about normal gay people will not make money and - therefore - they don't allow anything such as "Queer as Folk" appear on our screens now.

Alan Maughan, 10 August 2010

I am so very pleased that you have looked into this. You've touched on the long over-looked fact that while it is inappropriate to discriminate or degrade a person on grounds of race or religion on television, gay people remain fair game. I wish broadcasters would give a more balanced account of being gay. We are either mincing around making a studio audience roar with laughter with pathetic single-entendres, or mail ordering surrogate mothers from the states to satisfy our ultimate consumer right.The subliminal messages this kind of television gives children is both a detriment to their self-esteem and a reinforcement that they are lesser people for being gay. This has to stop.

Anon, 23 July 2010

Being ordinary and gay

I have a much loved brother who is gay and such an everyday person who some aquaintances of mine would treat different if they realised his sexual preference, I guess he would be too boring to portray as a character in a tv show for the same reasons that my freinds would expect him to mince in to the pub if they realised he was gay.

Jon, 22 July 2010

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