LGBTQ film and TV writers want to remind Hollywood gatekeepers that progress on queer representation has been slow and incremental at best, issuing an open letter Friday to urge the industry to “dig deeper and do better.”
“It is present-day Hollywood’s responsibility to make right all the harm caused by Hollywood’s past,” the leaders of the LGBTQ+ Writers Committee of the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) wrote in the letter, pointing out that many aspects of Hollywood’s history of silencing queer voices have not improved as much as industry leaders probably assume.
Nearly half of LGBTQ film and TV writers in a WGAW survey last month said “they have hidden their identity — or felt compelled to do so — in an industry environment,” including 25% of them as recently as the last five years, according to the letter. More than 22% of respondents said they’ve experienced overt discrimination or harassment over the last five years, and 57% said they’ve experienced microaggressions in the workplace.
Historically, queer creators in Hollywood had to hide their identities, and under the Hays Code, which enforced morality standards for Hollywood movies until it was replaced by the current ratings system in 1968, most queer characters “existed solely in subtext, trapped in a celluloid closet.” While the industry has at least inched toward the right direction, the writers pointed out that, to this day, LGBTQ creators often have to fit their stories into certain established narratives and tropes.
“Even in a post-Hays Code landscape, the prevailing narrative has not allowed LGBTQ+ characters the full scope of our humanity,” they wrote. “Too often, we are reduced to our collective traumas — coming out, victimization, the AIDS crisis, being murdered for our identities.”
“The stories we tell, the stories you greenlight, determine the future that LGBTQ+ youth envision for themselves. What we see on-screen and how we are represented informs what we believe is possible.”
The letter also calls out industry gatekeepers for treating queer representation with a “‘there can only be one’ mentality.” The writers said that 25% of survey respondents “reported they were ‘always’ or ‘often’ the only LGBTQ+ writer in the room.” Like other writers from underrepresented groups, queer writers remain mostly at the bottom of the ladder. And the levels of representation are even worse when taking intersectionality into account. Most queer writers who’ve “made it” in Hollywood tend to be white, male, cisgender and non-disabled.
“Unfortunately, this is the same type of box-checking other underrepresented groups face, and it must stop across the board,” the writers wrote. “We refuse to feel fortunate to simply be allowed a seat at the table, only for our presence to be used as a ‘rainbow shield’ while our perspectives are ignored.”
The letter contains a series of recommendations that encapsulate how Hollywood gatekeepers still have many steps to go in ensuring a more equitable and inclusive industry. It’s hiring queer writers and making sure they are given an environment where they are supported and can advance in their careers, not just stuck at the bottom of the ladder. It’s creating greater working conditions and protections, like providing gender-neutral facilities and health care coverage that includes gender-affirming care for transgender people.
The writers also urged Hollywood leaders to take a bigger stand, such as vocally opposing anti-trans laws. So far this year, at least 33 state legislatures have introduced legislation that discriminates against trans people.
“Many of our productions are in these states,” the writers said in the open letter. “Hollywood must stand up and vociferously speak out against the wave of anti-trans legislation, not simply with words, but with actions. The industry has spoken out against anti-abortion and anti-voting laws in the past. We must do the same now.”
On a more fundamental level, the writers reminded industry leaders that they have an immense responsibility in interrogating what kinds of images Hollywood and pop culture puts in front of audiences.
“The stories we tell, the stories you greenlight, determine the future that LGBTQ+ youth envision for themselves. What we see on-screen and how we are represented informs what we believe is possible,” they wrote in the letter. “The notion that even a single queer character will be deemed too much of a risk in our increasingly global market is unacceptable. Reject this idea, or knowingly choose to reject us.”