Strategies for Engaging with LGBTQ2S+ Representation in Media

Though 2SLGBTQ+ characters, situations and themes are becoming increasingly prevalent in the media, it is sometimes difficult to interpret representations.

After all, like other human beings, 2SLGBTQ+ people can be villains, fools or rivals, and many “negative” characters are richly portrayed and written. Never having a 2SLGBTQ+ villain would be just as poor a decision as the tradition of portraying 2SLGBTQ+ people as only the butt of jokes or as sociopaths. The following questions can help in contextualizing these representations:

  1. For whom was this media work made? What is its purpose?
    All media works construct the realities that they present to their audiences. The images we see are representations that are often simplified for ease of consumption or tied to commercial interests. How would different audiences respond to the work? Might commercial considerations (including industry “conventional wisdom” that might not actually be supported by financial reality) get in the way of authentic representation?
      
  2. Whose voices and interests are being represented? Whose are absent?
    This is a very important part of critically engaging with media because it asks the question of who has control over meaning and identity. Is queerness being represented from its own perspective or is it being represented as it appears to an outsider?
      
  3. What do the images and narratives say about 2SLGBTQ+ people?
    When 2SLGBTQ+ characters and situations appear, are they presented as being representative of the entire 2SLGBTQ+ community, or is queerness presented in a way that acknowledges difference?
      
  4. If the representations in question utilize humour, are 2SLGBTQ+ people in on the joke? Or are they the joke?
    This is an important distinction to grasp and can sometimes be quite tricky depending on the media work under scrutiny. Ridiculous and humorous representations serve a wide variety of purposes and humour can often broach topics that would otherwise be too sensitive or difficult to deal with. That said, there is a difference between a humour that “others” people and one that is inclusive.

Sexual orientation, gender identity and Canadian broadcasting policy

Canada’s Broadcasting Act, last amended in 1991, outlines industry guidelines for portrayal of diversity.

According to the Act, Canadian broadcasting should “serve the needs and interests, and reflect the circumstances and aspirations, of Canadian men, women and children, including equal rights, linguistic duality and the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society, and the special place of aboriginal peoples within that society”; as well, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is specifically directed to “reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada” and other broadcasters are instructed to “reflect Canada’s regions and multicultural nature.”[1]

Voluntary diversity codes

In 1999, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB), created a voluntary code for portrayal of diversity in the media. The guidelines under the Equitable Portrayal Code require that broadcasters’ commitment to cultural diversity be reflected in hiring and training practices. Nearly all Canadian media outlets are members of the CAB and as such are expected to:

  • Ensure balanced coverage of news and respect the principle of equitable portrayal of all individuals.
  • Refrain from broadcasting stories, news items or imagery that may incite hatred or contempt of others, based on ethnic or national heritage, skin colour or religion.
  • Be sensitive to the use of offensive language or stereotypical portrayals of minorities.[2]

The CAB’s Code of Ethics prohibits the broadcasting of abusive or discriminatory material based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.[3]

The application of these guidelines is overseen by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), an industry organization that hears viewer complaints about programming content and tries to resolve them through mediation at the local level, between broadcaster and complainant. Most complaints are resolved this way.

The Canadian newspaper industry is not regulated in the same way as television and radio. Many print and online news outlets are members of the National NewsMedia Council,[4] which also provides links to resources such as the GLAAD media reference guide. While the Council does not have a code of practice regarding diversity issues, it does adjudicate complaints on those issues. Quebec also has its own press council, the Conseil de Presse du Québec.[5] The Canadian music and video game industries currently have no guidelines on diversity portrayal, but consumers can complain directly to the companies that make these products and may influence racially and culturally diverse portrayal in media by choosing to support works that portray diversity in a positive way.

See MediaSmarts’ guide Talk Back! How to Take Action on Media Issues for more information on how to make a complaint with a media or regulatory organization.

Resources for further reading

 2SLGBTQ+ Organizations

Print Media

Comic Books

Online

YouTube

  • It Gets Better - The “It Gets Better” project channel started by Dan Savage

Gaming

Media and Culture

  • Gay-nerds.com - General interest, nerd culture
  • Towleroad - General interest, gay culture
  • OUTtv – “Canada’s only National LGBTQ TV Network”
  • Autostraddle - Geek- and pop-culture site for lesbian women

History

News

  • After Ellen - Popular culture site geared towards women
  • NewNowNext - Popular culture, celebrity gossip, and music

Film and Television

  • The Feminist Spectator - Professor Jill Dolan’s film blog
  • Ad Respect – Resource on 2SLGBTQ+ representation in advertising
  • Flow – Media and popular culture criticism
 

[1] Broadcasting Act (S.C. 1991, c. 11) Retrieved from https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/B-9.01/

[2] (2008) Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Equitable Portrayal Code. Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Retrieved from https://www.cbsc.ca/codes/cab-equitable-portrayal-code/

[3] (2002) Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics. Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Retrieved from https://www.cbsc.ca/codes/cab-code-of-ethics/

[4] (n.d.) Member News Organizations. National NewsMedia Council. Retrieved from https://www.mediacouncil.ca/about-us-ethics-journalism/member-news-organizations/

[5] (n.d.) Welcome to the Quebec Press Council. Conseil de presse du Québec. Retrieved from https://conseildepresse.qc.ca/en/

Diversity in Media Toolbox

The Diversity and Media Toolbox is a comprehensive suite of resources that explores issues relating to stereotyping, bias and hate in mainstream media and on the Internet. The program includes professional development tutorials, lesson plans, interactive student modules and background articles.

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