Capping off a pretty excellent first full day of Comic-Con@Home programming (for me, at least) was “LGBTQ Characters on Television – What’s Next?”. This fully stacked panel consisted of eight (eight!) actors – most of whom are queer themselves – as they discussed portraying LGBTQ characters on TV and what they would improve about the industry.
It wasn’t until after I finished watching “LGBTQ Characters on Television” that it occurred to me how revolutionary the panel was. I’ve been attending comic conventions since 2010, and though a fair few of them have had LGBTQ-themed programming (or are LGBTQ cons), I honestly can’t remember ever having such a star-studded panel devoted to queer representation in media at such a major event. It’s a panel that is long overdue.
Though we are starting to see more and more queer characters on television (the GLAAD 2019 Where We Are on TV Report revealed that last year had the highest number of LGBTQ characters in the report’s 15-year history), I’ve yet to see a panel bring together so many actors for the express purpose of talking about their queer characters. Most LGBTQ panels I’ve been to only consist of a few people, or have been largely geared towards written media (comics, books). To have such a visible display of how the TV landscape is changing makes me extremely happy.
What also made this panel historic was that of the eight actors participating, most of them are openly queer. More actors have had the courage to be out in Hollywood in the last decade or so (panelist J. August Richards just recently came out), and it’s unbelievably empowering to see so many of them on one panel.
Panelists included Jamie Chung (Once Upon A Time), Jamie Clayton (Roswell: New Mexico), Wilson Cruz (Star Trek: Discovery), Tatiana Maslany (Perry Mason), Anthony Rapp (Star Trek: Discovery), J. August Richards (Council of Dads), Harry Shum, Jr. (Shadowhunters), and Brian Michael Smith (9-1-1: Lone Star). The panel was moderated by TV Guide’s Jim Halterman.
The panel discussion was incredible. From Wilson Cruz talking about how the first time he saw himself represented on television was seeing himself on television to Richards talking about how playing a gay character inspired him to publicly come out to Jamie Clayton talking about how amazing it was to be a trans woman playing a trans woman that was written and directed by trans women, the discussion highlighted the importance of seeing queer characters on television as well as getting LGBTQ people into other aspects of production.
“LGBTQ Characters on Television” also brought up the need for more diverse representation. Not just seeing more queer people of color (though that was something several of the panelists expressed a need for), but seeing diversity in queer experiences. For example, Love, Victor and Pose portray vastly different experiences and are both equally important. Cruz and Anthony Rapp also expressed the desire to see more happy queer stories, because for so long the only LGBTQ stories we had were about shame, misery, and often death. It’s more important than ever to see “queer joy”, as Cruz put it.
(Also, to any TV people reading this, give me more ace characters, please and thank you.)
Jamie Chung talked about how glad she was that the producers of Once Upon a Time actually went in the direction that they did. She said that so many people were secretly hoping that Mulan and Aurora would get together, and that the production team saw potential in it and chose to tell that story. This is something I wish would happen more on television; it’s not about catering to fan demands but about acknowledging that perhaps there is something there that is worth exploring.
It is also about how the queer characters are portrayed. Brian Michael Smith talked about how much he emphasized to the production team that his character’s identity doesn’t come up unless it needs to come up (as it would in real life), but also how happy he was that we were first introduced to his character through his job. That he is trans is not his entire personality, so it shouldn’t be his character’s. Harry Shum, Jr. talked about how important it was to make sure the Malec relationship wasn’t watered down for television, that it was allowed to be portrayed the same way a straight relationship would be, and that we were able to see the two of them being quietly domestic.
But though we’ve come a long way, the panelists all stressed that we still have a long way to go. I mentioned before that panelists talked about needing more representation behind the camera, and how having queer people writing and directing these stories helps with their authenticity. But it’s not just about those important roles. For example, Clayton wished for a trans PA so that they could just “be trans together” because she is normally alone on set and it’s very isolating.
Overall, though, “LGBTQ Characters on Television” was a delightful, upbeat conversation about representation, featuring some amazing discussions and a host of actors who were courteous to each other and eager to learn about and listen to their ideas and experiences. There are still three days of programming to come, but I can easily see this panel being one of my favorites from the convention.
This panel makes me glad that CCI chose to do a virtual SDCC this year. While it would have been amazing to experience a panel like this in Hall H or Ballroom 20, the con going remote means that this panel is currently available to everyone. I’m a devoted SDCC attendee, but it’s an event that the vast majority of people will never experience themselves, and while videos from panels almost always end up online, it’s not quite the same. So, having the entirety of this panel broadcast to most – if not all – of the world is a pretty big deal.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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