Over the past few years, we saw the rise of queer characters on TV like a bisexual Batwoman, Max and Aki on the reboot of “Gossip Girl,” and Nick and Charlie on “Heartstopper,” but now, we are seeing them lose their screen time. While there may be more shows about queer individuals, a lot of these shows do not last very long, and end up being canceled despite good ratings, petitions to continue the shows, and strong fan reactions, according to Gay Times.
Queer people have been silenced by Hollywood before. In the 1930s, the Hays Code was created to establish a set of moral rules for American movies, according to ACMI. To adhere to the code, “Topics considered ‘perverse’ could not be discussed or depicted in any way.” This included homosexuality, which was compared to bestiality. Turning to conservatism in post-war America, citizens expected films to reflect “good” Christian morality, making films directed toward the straight, white cisgender man.
Although the Hays Code hasn’t been used since the 1960s, a recent increase in anti-queer laws throughout the U.S. has brought its sentiments back. For instance, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law restricts discussions around romantic relationships and gender in public schools to cisgender, heterosexual encounters, according to NPR. To Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, teaching kids that they can be anything they want to be is not appropriate in America, the land of individualism.
When high-profile politicians like DeSantis push policies targeting queer people, homophobia and transphobia come into the nation’s spotlight and become normalized again. And, with normalized homophobia, companies might feel comfortable losing the facade of rainbow washing.
The Urban List defines rainbow washing as a tool businesses use to increase profit by branding themselves as LGBTQ+ allies without taking action to actually improve things for queer people. It’s a form of performative activism, and the companies that do it prioritize profit over people — after all, businesses can’t run without money.
Keeping money in the pockets of entertainment producing billionaires requires that shows appeal to the most people possible. According to Vox, one of the main reasons TV shows are canceled is due to the struggle to get good ratings. And with politicians pushing anti-queer ideas, streaming services may worry that their users are becoming less tolerant of shows with LGBTQ+ characters.
As someone who identifies as queer, having access to shows presenting LGBTQ+ joy means a lot. Growing up, I had little knowledge of genderqueer experiences, and gender nonconforming characters like Cal from “Sex Education” allowed me to trust myself during a confusing time. As a non-binary person, the two gender nonconforming characters I have seen on TV mean the world to me. To think that we are now being used for profit when it is convenient to producers is not only enraging, but heartbreaking.
Your favorite streaming service may have a designated LGBTQ+ section, but when executives are worried that it will decrease views they respond the only way they know how. Even if shows have queer creators, writers, or actors, if they are not given the same chance to establish themselves — like the plethora of straight led shows with 15+ seasons — it is clear that companies are only doing this for “diversity points.”
And if our views do not help their scheme, they move onto the next big political trend — progressive or not.
Rather than contemplating if running a show will increase profit, appreciating the art of storytelling is a key next step to prioritizing people over profit. We need to support what mainstream queer shows we still have, as well as watching independent queer media. According to NPR, the Hays Code was abandoned because people simply stopped following its rules — if we stop adhering to the unspoken rules of today, maybe we can break them too.