By Isaac Ahn
As a junior in high school, I avidly watched a series on The WB called Jack & Bobby. It was a pivotal time in the development of my gay identity. I was in the closet and really did not associate anything positive with being gay. One episode of Jack & Bobby, “The Lost Boys,” really challenged my thoughts on my bourgeoning sexuality because it was the first time I had seen a gay character featured on a television show. In the episode, a gay friend of the titular character Jack, commits suicide after discovering that neither his mother nor his friend supports him when he comes out to them. I was hooked on the storyline and the character. For the first time, I saw reflected on television the deep shame and confusion I had been feeling. To this day, I still remember feeling the chills after watching the episode. Despite the depressing ending, I was empowered by what I saw. I knew my life would never get that bad.
Now, with five years under my belt, I understand how important visibility is and I know I’m not alone with this sentiment. Last week, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences hosted a night titled “LGBT: Youth in Television ‘Tweens, Teens and More!'” The evening, hosted by Kathy Griffin (see right), saw a slew of celebrity panelists speaking on how their respective shows approached their gay storylines and how they originated. An opening speech from Mr. Robert Bradley Spears, the Executive Director of The Charles R. Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, started the night off by rolling out bleak statistics of what queer kids are subject to growing up to emphasize how necessary positive portrayals of the LGBT community are. The discussion then jumped into producers, writers, and actors from Greek, Law & Order: SVU, Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, Prayers for Bobby, and Degrassi: The Next Generation speaking about their experiences with the gay characters and storylines on their shows. My favorite panelist was easily Martin Ritchie, a gay model who appeared on the Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, who offered the unique perspective of a being both deaf and gay. A lot of the people on the stage spoke about how the networks were completely open to having gay characters. I also heard a lot about how great most of the response has been to these shows and how great they are to aid discussion of issues such as Proposition 8. It was quite empowering to see a stage full of queers and allies speak about how great everything was. I was also entertained by the backstage stories that one normally wouldn’t hear about.
However, I didn’t see a single queer person of color on stage. I didn’t hear a single mention of AIDS. During an event sponsored by the so-called “Diversity Committee,” how can these be overlooked? I wish the discussion pushed the boundaries a bit more than it did. All we got was an almost idyllic presentation of a Hollywood that has come so far and is open to more change. Yes, great strides have been made since the 1950s, but is this all we can hope for? None of the speakers, who are directly related in producing content for the American audience, gave any acknowledgement to our community’s goals and what to expect in the future.
Regardless of whatever criticisms I may have, I still had fun. Kathy Griffin was quite entertaining. I, along with the rest of the USC students who attended, enjoyed mingling with the celebrities (see left) after the discussion at a meet and greet hosted by Lifeworks Mentoring. It was heartening to see that people do exist in the industry who are striving for more and better portrayals of queers, and are taking special care to give due diligence to LGBT youth along the way.