Watching TV” by IslandJoe/ CC BY 2.0/ Edited from original

In today’s modern society, it would be thought that equality in regards to gay rights should be moving forward. However, we see this isn’t exactly the case in real life — and many of today’s TV shows subtly reflect the inequalities that still exist.

Recently, there has been some media attention on the “Bury Your Gays” trope. By definition, a trope is a pattern in storytelling, and in this instance, it’s a pattern of killing off queer characters in TV shows — predominantly gay women. This usually happens after a character has a good moment, sending the message that queer characters can’t have a happy ending. Many shows have fallen into this trope, even some of my favorites, including: The Vampire Diaries, The Walking Dead, The 100, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sons of Anarchy, Pretty Little Liars, American Horror Story, True Blood, and many more. (Click here for a pretty good list.)

One of the first knee-jerk reactions I’ve heard to this argument is that, well, hey, straight characters die all the time too. So let’s talk about that for a moment. First of all, queer characters are already marginally represented on TV shows. So among the abundance of characters, a small percent of them are not heterosexual, and a large majority of them end up dead.

While it is true that we are currently at a high for the representation of queer characters on TV, further analysis has shown that for queer women on TV especially, it isn’t as good as it may seem. Queer women are dying at disproportionate rates as compared to the rest of deaths shown on TV. From the beginning of 2016 alone, 25 lesbian and bisexual deaths have occurred (as of the fall), and most of these deaths often did not serve a purpose within that character’s story plot. These lesbian and bisexual characters were dying to usually further a more central, more straight character’s storyline.

So what kind of message is this sending? Certainly not one that values having the voices and stories of queer female characters. It’s important to remember that everything we see on screen, from major plot to minor detail, is a choice. Killing off queer characters at disproportionate rates is the result of multiple choices — most saying that the worth of these characters are far less than their straight counterparts.

This isn’t to say that this always holds true since sometimes these characters will die just because people die in fiction! It’s problematic when queer characters are dying in a plot with primarily straight characters. Most queer women characters don’t get a fully developed story outside of their sexuality and love interests, and I say it’s time we call out screen writers on this.

We need strong queer characters; we need role models. We need to say that we deserve more than this — and some are! Fan fiction has become a popular means for continuing story lines of queer characters who have been killed off to give them a real chance at happiness.

Let us hope that 2017 brings positive change for the face of queer characters on TV.


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