With more attention than ever before being paid to television as the place for LGBT representation, ABC is working hard to win kudos. Most of the major series with prominent LGBT characters—including Grey’s Anatomy and Pretty Little Liars—have aired on ABC. The network’s only real competition comes from streaming platforms such as Netflix (Orange is the New Black) and Amazon Prime (Transparent).
You might expect a Disney-owned company to be less than enthusiastic about LGBT diversity, but ABC is clearly in the vanguard as far as primetime is concerned. Indeed, GLAAD’s ranking of 2013’s most LGBT-friendly TV programming shows ABC and its affiliates having a strong lead. Although the network was bested by NBC and FOX, those networks arguably offered more cursory forms of LGBT representation (e.g., LGBT judges on reality shows and gay athletes in the Olympics). ABC Family ranked second behind a tie between FX and MTV, both of which claim only “semi-regular” LGBT characters.
The report did recognize one area in which ABC—and especially ABC Family—were uncontested leads. The majority of LGBT characers on television are white males, but many of the most visible exceptions were or are on ABC: Think of Greek, from 2007, or The Fosters, which debuted last year. Each of ABC’s flagship programs has had major recurring characters who broke the white guy mold: Callie from Grey’s Anatomy and Emily from Pretty Little Liars, for instance.
The situation is less clear cut in terms of transgender representation, but ABC is again something of an outlier among the big networks. The Fosters, for example, has featured a transgender teenage character, played by a transgender teenage actor.
GLAAD’s report makes it clear there’s still much room for improvement across the board. ABC’s recent programming suggests the network’s interest in being a trendsetter. How to Get Away with Murder, from Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, has only aired two episodes, but its pilot included an interracial gay couple hooking up (according to one of the series’ head writers, this couple is going to figure significantly in the first season).
As one critic at Bustle put it, “There is so much to praise about the pilot of what is totally going to be everyone’s new favorite show, but the intentional choice to tell a solid LGBT storyline and treat it no different than any heterosexual storyline should be commended every time a showrunner and a network work together to make that happen.”