More Representation for LGBT People of Color

Your Take: A lack of diversity on TV and in Hollywood negatively affects racial minorities who are gay.

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HBO; HBO; ABC

According to the most recent census, there are more than 100 million Americans who identify as black (or African American), Latino (or of Hispanic heritage) or Asian, accounting for approximately 30 percent of the United States population. Yet, a look at many daily metro newspapers, a survey of the most popular blogs or a quick flip of the television dial would tell a very different story. 

Consider this: An analysis by the Pew Research Center found that of more than 67,000 news stories that appeared in newspapers or on cable and network television, radio and news websites, between February 2009 and February 2010, 1.9 percent related in a significant way to African Americans, 1.3 percent related to Latinos and only .2 percent related to Asian Americans. 

In the world of entertainment, we see similar percentages play out in a slightly different way. The Los Angeles Times took an exhaustive look at the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- the voting body that decides what is, and perhaps more importantly what isn't, culturally legitimate film. The study found that of the 5,795-member body, 94 percent are white and 77 percent are male; only 2 percent are African-American and less than 2 percent are Latino. In other words, the industry is white and male.

When people look at the world through the lens of the media -- whether the news media or the world of entertainment -- what they're seeing is a world that is overwhelmingly white. A world that does not reflect the diversity of our world. The lack of visibility is also pronounced for an even smaller subset among people of color: those who also identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), and has a large impact.

While the media has made significant strides in telling the stories of LGBT people, those media images, whether in newspapers or on-screen, are just as monolithically white. These portrayals inaccurately promote a world in which it would appear that LGBT people of color do not exist, or that acceptance of LGBT people is exclusive to white populations. And because LGBT people of color are members of two groups who have historically faced discrimination, the effect of that invisibility is compounded.

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If the media won't reflect the reality of these people's lives, and if injustice keeps them out of the mainstream of society, it creates a classic catch-22. How can the issues that affect LGBT people of color become more than just abstract in the minds of voters and politicians if the people impacted by those issues remain invisible?

Although we are slowly starting to see some progress, 74 percent of LGBT characters on cable or prime time are white, according to GLAAD's "Where We Are on TV" report.

In 2011, breakthrough films such as Pariah and Gun Hill Road told the stories of young people and their journeys to be recognized for who they are, providing a glimpse into the experiences of present-day LGBT people of color. And while these compelling and well-acted films received notable praise (Pariah was awarded the 2012 NAACP Image Award for outstanding independent motion picture and Gun Hill Road's Harmony Santana was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for best supporting actress; both are 2012 GLAAD Media Award nominees) the films were overlooked by the Academy -- a move that is indicative of the mindset of the Academy (ahem, The Help).

But this lack of representation has a deeper impact that is larger than awards or recognition.