2SLGBTQ+ Representation in Other Media

2SLGBTQ+ people have been involved in producing their own media for as long as alternative media has existed, but with the advent of the electronic age and cheaper and more accessible electronic devices for production, there has been an explosion of 2SLGBTQ+-produced media of all kinds. The following section explores the ways that 2SLGBTQ+ people have sought to claim space for themselves within media and culture.

Print media

2SLGBTQ+ people have been producing their own print media as far back as 1950, when the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay activist organizations, began distributing pamphlets calling for revolt and demanding human rights. Most major cities in Canada and the U.S. have groups that publish and distribute small run “weeklies” or zines on 2SLGBTQ+ issues and activism – usually available for free at 2SLGBTQ+-friendly businesses or alongside alternative weeklies such as Exclaim! or NOW Magazine. These magazines, also available online, usually report on local matters, music, popular culture and live entertainment and include magazine-style features and articles. Other countries also have their own LGBTQ magazines, such as the United Kingdom’s Pridelife.com.

Comic books are also a popular medium with 2SLGBTQ+ youth and adults and sometimes feature 2SLGBTQ+ characters – although with varying degrees of authenticity. Early on, many comics could not openly tackle 2SLGBTQ+ issues because of the censorship imposed by the Comics Code Authority, which dominated content until the 1990s when the direct sales market began to make it irrelevant. During this period many 2SLGBTQ+ artists and writers produced their own independent comic strips and books. The most important of these was Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, which was one of the first regularly occurring pop-cultural representations of lesbian women. Bechdel’s strip ran from 1983 to 2008 and is perhaps most famous for its elaboration of the “Bechdel test,” a minimum standard by which to judge women’s representation in pop-culture.

Two panels from the Dyke to Watch Out for comic strip in which a character says "I only go to a movie if it satisfies three baisc requirements. One, it has to have at least two women in it who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man."

The Dykes to Watch Out For strip explaining what would later be called the Bechdel Rule or Bechdel Test.

In the late 1980s through the 1990s more mainstream comics and strips began dealing seriously with 2SLGBTQ+ identities, although these early attempts at inclusion were often awkward. One of the first mainstream comics characters to be portrayed as gay was Northstar, a member of Marvel Comics’ Canadian superhero group Alpha Flight. While Northstar’s initial coming out was clumsy at best and the character fell into obscurity for quite some time afterwards, this is still considered a watershed moment for 2SLGBTQ+ people and comic books.

A major stumbling block to including 2SLGBTQ+ characters in comics has been the perception that they are a medium for children, coupled with an insistence that children should not be exposed to 2SLGBTQ+ stories. At the same time, these comics frequently feature hyper-sexualized female characters and a great deal of heterosexual content, highlighting a continued double standard that exists in society. Moreover, this line of thinking ignores the fact that 2SLGBTQ+ youth exist and, just like their heterosexual counterparts, look to see themselves reflected in the media they consume.

Since the 1990s, however, the comics industry has become more open to portrayals of 2SLGBTQ+ characters. Prominent 2SLGBTQ+ characters in mainstream comics include Kevin Keller, a supporting character in the Archie comics who now has his own series of comics, and Batwoman, a lesbian superhero in Batman’s Gotham City who received her own TV series. Wonder Woman is now portrayed as bisexual and Jon Kent, Superman’s son from an alternate universe (don’t ask, it’s comics) is either bi- or pansexual. As well, the explosion of webcomics over the last decade has made it possible for many more voices and viewpoints to be represented and to reach audiences directly.[1]

The cover of Raina Telgemaier's book Drama.

The recent popularity of direct-to-bookstore comics for children and young adults has also led to a considerable amount of 2SLGBTQ+ representation, most notably bestselling author Raina Telgemeier’s Drama. Though Telgemeier’s book is one of the most frequently banned young adult comics[2] – including a brief period of being banned by a Catholic school board in Ontario[3] – she has pointed out the same double standard that was noted in children’s television, saying “if a chaste heterosexual kiss had happened in Drama no one would have batted an eye.”[4]

Despite the many hurdles to inclusivity, the success of various independent works which deal with issues of sexual orientation and identity have influenced the more mainstream publishing companies to explore 2SLGBTQ+ themes within their works. Many queer+ people promote their inclusion in comic books by supporting 2SLGBTQ+-friendly writers and artists and getting involved in online communities such as http://prismcomics.org/ or https://gayleague.com

Digital media

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of online spaces to 2SLGBTQ+ youth;[5] the internet has, for example, been credited with creating the asexual movement by providing an opportunity for asexual people to find one another,[6] and is heavily used by the broader 2SLGBTQ+ community for coming to terms with one’s identity,[7] connecting with others[8] and finding sexual health information.[9] Similarly, research has found that non-binary youth make more media content online than those who identify within the gender binary, and are also more likely to use digital technologies to look up health information.[10] However, while they provide safe spaces and opportunities to connect with their communities,[11] harassment[12] and censorship[13] on social networks are still common. Teenage boys who are gay or questioning are also at a higher risk of being targeted by online predators, who may take advantage of their need for acceptance.[14]

These spaces have influenced how young people have experienced their own sexuality and the process of coming out. For many, being connected to peers who were going through similar things had a more powerful and meaningful impact than seeing celebrities in mass media,[15] while VTubing – making videos with a virtual avatar – has provided trans youth with the ability to live their gender identity online.[16]

Though 2SLGBTQ+ youth have been organizing and forming communities online for decades, Tumblr may be the archetypal “queer social network.”[17] For a variety of reasons, however – a culture that fanned minor differences into online drama[18] as well as a ban on explicit content that led to many 2SLGBTQ+ accounts being purged from the site[19] – Tumblr has in recent years become less central to online queer culture.

The platform that has primarily taken its place, TikTok,[20] has a similarly mixed record. While its “For You” page, which relies heavily on the platform’s inferences about a user to recommend content, has been valuable for 2SLGBTQ+ youth to access an online community and find support online, it may also lead to more harassment as queer users’ videos may be seen by unintended audiences. As one user put it, “Sometimes for some reason — I have no idea why — my transgender videos end up on straight TikTok, or the conservative side of TikTok, or religious TikTok … and then I get the really bad bashing and hateful comments and death threats and stuff like that."[21] As well, 2SLGBTQ+ content is often censored on TikTok – both openly, to appease homophobic governments,[22] and more covertly through having the recommendation algorithm downrank it.[23]

The study Social Media Insights From Sexuality and Gender Diverse Young People During COVID-19 made the following recommendations for social media platforms to better support LGBTQ2S+ youth:

  • ensure that 2SLGBTQ+ content does not get “shut down, shadow-banned, banned or de-monetised without proper justification”;
  • support 2SLGBTQ+ content creators facing harassment;
  • provide and communicate clear and consistent moderation policies;
  • invest more in responses to hate speech;
  • respond to “the fluidity of queer identities and expansive terms” used by 2SLGBTQ+ people; and
  • show a commitment to 2SLGBTQ+ users by “taking a supportive public position on queer issues at all times” and “working closely with community organisations” that support 2SLGBTQ+ people.[24]

For more information on how to respond to homophobia online, see our section on Online Hate.

Video games

Unlike other groups, 2SLGBTQ+ people do not appear to be under-represented in the games industry: a survey done in the United Kingdom found that 21 percent of people working in the industry were gay, lesbian, bisexual or “other,”[25] compared to between 3.1 percent[26] and 14 percent[27] of the UK population. Three percent identified as trans[28],[29] compared to a rough estimate of one percent of the UK population.[30]

Nevertheless, 2SLGBTQ+ people face many challenges in the games industry, on both sides of the screen. There are few 2SLGBTQ+ characters in mainstream video games and those that do exist tend to be caricatures. As well, many game companies still use homosexuality or transgenderism as a gag for heterosexual players, or repeat tropes such as “portraying trans women as heartless murderers…[or] making violent sex criminal lesbians.”[31]

Some game companies do include authentic 2SLGBTQ+ characters. Updated versions of the popular game The Sims allow users to create LGBTQ characters who can marry, have relationships and engage in the Sims sexual act of a “woohoo.” Dragon Raja and Black Desert allow users to choose from a number of hairstyles or outfits independent of the gender they choose for their avatar. Steven Arnold, a player of these games, stated that “picking makeup or a crazy hair color for my avatar was a way for me to affirm my own gender, even if it wasn’t something I was okay with doing in the real world just yet.”[32] The indie release 2064: Read Only Memories allows users to create their own characters choosing their LGBTQ+ identification as well as their preferred pronouns.[33]

The online aspect of many video games has opened up new challenges for 2SLGBTQ+ gamers, with the social aspect of these games often a source of hurt and frustration. As with social media, online games can both provide a safe community and expose users to harassment. For example, Roblox – an online platform in which users create games for others to play – has several 2SLGBTQ+ communities, some with as many as a quarter of a million users, and has in particular been noted as a place where trans youth can explore their gender identities. As with other online games, though, harassment is a frequent experience, and users report that the tools provided to prevent and report harassment are inadequate.[34]

In response to concerns about harassment and the industry’s slowness in developing 2SLGBTQ+ characters or games, many 2SLGBTQ+ gamers (“gaymers”) have organized themselves into online communities of their own. These communities seek not only to create 2SLGBTQ+-friendly spaces within multiplayer online games, but also to increase the visibility of their community to drive home the point to manufacturers of the significant numbers of people they alienate when they engage in negative stereotyping and anti-2SLGBTQ+ practices and policies. While progress for gaymers is slow, they are making inroads.

The online safety organization Internet Matters has published a tipsheet for parents, Supporting LGBTQ+ children and young people online, that includes the following tips:

  • Discuss what your child gets out of the gaming experience.
  • Remind them that it’s their decision what to share online, and what aspects of their identities they’re comfortable sharing (and with whom).
  • Ask if they have witnessed bullying in online games and talk about how to address it.

For more information on dealing with online bullying, see our section on Cyberbullying. For more on recognizing and responding to hate online, see our section on Online Hate.


[1] Steinberg, A. (2020) “10 LGBTQ Webcomics to Read During Pride.” CBR.com. Retrieved from https://www.cbr.com/lgbtq-webcomics-pride-2020/

[2] Parkin, J.K. (2020) “‘Drama’ once again lands on the ALA’s ‘Most Challenged Books’ list.” Retrieved from https://smashpages.net/2020/04/27/drama-once-again-lands-on-the-alas-most-challenged-books-list/

[3] Mastricolo, P. “Drama Survives Ban in Ottawa Catholic Schools.” Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Retrieved from http://cbldf.org/2019/01/drama-survives-ban-ottawa-catholic-school/

[4] Alvedrson, B. (2017) “Interview: Raina Telgemeier on ‘Drama.’” School Library Journal. Retrieved from https://blogs.slj.com/goodcomicsforkids/2017/06/22/interview-raina-telgemeier-on-drama/

[5] Brady, R., Brendan, C., Son, V., Benjamin, H., & Paul, B. (2018). Twenty years of ‘cyberqueer’: The enduring significance of the Internet for young LGBTIQ+ people. In Youth, sexuality and sexual citizenship (pp. 151-167). Routledge.

[6] Brown, K. (2016) “How the internet created the asexual movement.” Splinter News. Retrieved from https://splinternews.com/how-the-internet-created-the-asexual-movement-1793860756

[7] Hanckel, B., & Morris, A. (2014). Finding community and contesting heteronormativity: queer young people's engagement in an Australian online community. Journal of Youth Studies, 17(7), 872-886.

[8] Russell, S. T. (2002). Queer in America: Citizenship for sexual minority youth. Applied Developmental Science, 6(4), 258-263.

[9] Mustanski, B., Lyons, T., & Garcia, S. C. (2011). Internet use and sexual health of young men who have sex with men: A mixed-methods study. Archives of sexual behavior, 40(2), 289-300.

[10] De Coninck, D. (2022) Digital activities and digital skills of non-binary youth: Reconfiguring the gender paradigm. YSkills. Retrieved from https://yskills.eu/digital-activities-and-digital-skills-of-non-binary-youth-reconfiguring-the-gender-paradigm/

[11] (2019) National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2019. The Trevor Project. Retrieved from https://www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/The-Trevor-Project-National-Survey-Results-2019.pdf

[12] Abreu, R. L., & Kenny, M. C. (2018). Cyberbullying and LGBTQ youth: A systematic literature review and recommendations for prevention and intervention. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 11(1), 81-97.

[13] Dias Oliva, T., Antonialli, D.M. & Gomes, A. Fighting Hate Speech, Silencing Drag Queens? Artificial Intelligence in Content Moderation and Risks to LGBTQ Voices Online. Sexuality & Culture 25, 700–732 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-020-09790-w

[14] Wolak J, Finkelhor D, Mitchell KJ, Ybarra ML. (2010). Online “predators” and their victims: Myths, realities, and implications for prevention and treatment. Psychology of Violence 1(5): 13–35.

[15] Lewis, C. (2020) “How queer influencers transformed coming out for Gen Z.” Vice. Retrieved from https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/939y3e/how-queer-influencers-transformed-coming-out-for-gen-z

[16] Lucas, J. (2021) “How trans women are finding safe spaces on Twitch and YouTube.” Input. Retrieved from https://www.inputmag.com/culture/trans-vtubers-twitch-streaming

[17] Byron, P. and Robards, B. (2017) “There’s Something Queer About Tumblr.” The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/theres-something-queer-about-tumblr-73520

[18] Byron, P., Robards, B., Hanckel, B., Vivienne, S., & Churchill, B. (2019). "’Hey, I'm having these experiences”: Tumblr use and young people's queer (dis) connections. International Journal of Communication.

[19] Jackson, G. (2021) “Tumblr Is Trying To Win Back the Queer Audience It Drove Off.” Vice. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en/article/93yyp8/tumblr-is-trying-to-win-back-the-queer-audience-it-drove-off

[20] Longo, J (2019) For LGBTQ Teens, TikTok is the new Tumblr. Mel Magazine. Retrieved from https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/tiktok-coming-out-gay-trans-lgbtq

[21] Perett, C. (2021) “Transgender TikTok creators say the apps mysterious ‘For You’ page is a breeding ground for transphobia and targeted harassment.” Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.nl/transgender-tiktok-creators-say-the-apps-mysterious-for-you-page-is-a-breeding-ground-for-transphobia-and-targeted-harassment/

[22] Jennings, R. (2021) “How TikTok became a haven for queer and questioning kids.” Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/the-goods/22606245/tiktok-queer-fluid-bisexuality-nonbinary-filter

[23] Botella, E. (2019) “TikTok Admits It Suppressed Videos by Disabled, Queer, and Fat Creators.” Slate. Retrieved from https://slate.com/technology/2019/12/tiktok-disabled-users-videos-suppressed.html

[24] Hanckel, B. & Chandra, S. (2021) ‘Social Media insights from sexuality and gender diverse young people during COVID-19’, Sydney, Australia: Western Sydney University

[25] Taylor, M. (2020). UK Games Industry Census: Understanding Diversity in the UK Games industry workforce. The University of Sheffield. Retrieved from https://ukie.org.uk/UK-games-industry-census-2020

[26] Office for National Statistics. (2021) Sexual orientation, UK: 2020. Retrieved from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/sexuality/bulletins/sexualidentityuk/2020

[27] Shrimpton, H. (2021) Sexual orientation and attitudes to LGTBQ+ in Britain. Ipsos. Retrieved from https://www.ipsos.com/en-uk/sexual-orientation-and-attitudes-lgbtq-britai

[29] Taylor, M. (2020). UK Games Industry Census: Understanding Diversity in the UK Games industry workforce. The University of Sheffield. Retrieved from https://ukie.org.uk/UK-games-industry-census-2020

[30] (n.d.) The truth about trans. Stonewall. Retrieved from https://www.stonewall.org.uk/truth-about-trans#trans-people-britain

[31] Degraffinreid, N (2019) “The new Queer tropes in video games series is tired, but sadly, still relevant.” Kotaku. Retrieved from https://kotaku.com/the-new-queer-tropes-in-video-games-series-is-tired-bu-1833048772

[32] Brooks, L (2020) “How video games can help LGBTQ+ players feel like themselves.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2021/03/23/lgbtq-representation-video-games/

[33] Ehrhardt, M (2015). “LGBT Adventure Game Read Only Memories will snatch your heart.” Out. Retrieved from https://www.out.com/popnography/2015/10/08/lgbt-adventure-game-read-only-memories-will-snatch-your-heart

[34] Faber, T. (2021) “’In the game, I knew myself as Hannah’: the trans gamers finding freedom on Roblox.” The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/games/2021/apr/24/in-the-game-i-knew-myself-as-hannah-the-trans-gamers-finding-freedom-on-roblox