LGBTQ+ representation: Why it should still make news headlines

Written by Kelly-Anne Taylor

Illustrated by Emily Birch

“I just don’t think being bisexual should make headlines anymore. It’s the 21st century, sexuality shouldn’t be news.”

A man sat behind me in my lecture mutters this to his friends. It’s Monday morning. I don’t say anything. Instead, I sit staring at the indecipherable shapes on the whiteboard in front of me.

I mooch around campus mulling the comment over. I should have asked him what he meant. I should have asked him why he said it. I should have said something. Anything.

Two days later I’m walk-running to Old Street station. There’s a light-drizzle that at any moment could give way to downpour. Hayley Kiyoko’s song ‘Girls like Girls’ blares through my headphones and suddenly, I realise why my classmate’s comment bothers me. 

When I first heard Kiyoko’s song I was in my second year of university, watching in awe as a woman, cigarette hanging from her mouth, danced around my bedroom. 

In the aftermath of that night, I must have watched the music video of ‘Girls like Girls’ more than 50 times. I was obsessed with its raw portrayal of same-sex coming-of-age love.

So much of the LGBTQ+ content I consumed as a teenager and young adult helped me to navigate my own feelings. Amidst the secrecy of sexuality, the media is an important tool because it’s physically invisible and yet sparks people to talk and come together in solidarity.

An increasing number of women are identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual according to a report released by the Office for National Statistics earlier this year. In 2012, 326,000 or 1.25% of women in the UK identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. In 2017, this increased to 1.89%, the equivalent of 486,000 women. 

The age group with the largest increase of people identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual was women aged 16 to 24. The figures highlight the number of women more than doubled between 2012 and 2017, from 81,000 to 163,000.

Celebrities have become increasingly more open about their sexuality. The Gay Times reported that 53 celebrities had come out in 2018. High-profile women such as Ellen DeGeneres, Cara Delevingne, Janelle Monáe and Tessa Thompson have helped to encourage LGBTQ+ visibility in the media. 

Janelle Monáe in music video PYNK (Source: YouTube)

The film, television and music industries are also diversifying their content with far more depictions of LGBTQ+ narratives.

In 2013, ‘Orange is the New Black’ graced our screens – displacing conventional heterosexual plot lines in lieu of realistic, intricate explorations of same-sex relationships. It was unprecedented. Netflix revealed that 105 million users had watched at least one episode of ‘Orange is the New Black’ making it the most-watched original series on the platform.

The show gives a voice to a diverse range of marginalised narratives which audiences love. However, it hasn’t just been the fictitious romances of the show that has brought LGBTQ+ love into the limelight.  

If Poussey Washington didn’t capture enough hearts onscreen than the real-life romance which bloomed between Samira Wiley (the actress who plays Washington) and Lauren Morelli (a scriptwriter) definitely did. 

Samira Wiley (left) and Lauren Morelli (right), (Source: Cosmopolitan)

In 2014, Lauren Morelli wrote an article for Mic magazine titled ‘While Writing for Orange is the New Black, I Realized I Was Gay’. She said: “In Piper and Alex, I’d found a mouthpiece for my own desires and a glimmer of what my future could look like.”

Morelli concludes the op-ed with:

“This is my story, which is messy and nuanced and a constantly moving target, but one I’m grateful for. I encourage you to embrace your own narrative, whatever that may be. It will be worth the effort. I promise.”

Contrary to my classmate’s opinion, I believe, wholeheartedly, that coverage of LGBTQ+ celebrities is essential. When people openly and comfortably talk about their sexuality through a narrative they control and within a space which is respectful and safe, they give hope and guidance to many others. It is this sort of coverage that lets us know – we are not alone. 

The Author

Kelly-Anne is training to become a journalist at City University. She writes articles on feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, love, travel, books, poetry, events and food. Her other work includes a portfolio of poetry and a work-in-progress novel set in Ancient Greece.

Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous and Ruby Hinchliffe

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