We’ve come a long way when it comes to representing the LGBTQ+ community on contemporary television shows. We’re seeing more and more adorable queer couples appear on popular programs, seen the emergence of diverse families on shows like Modern Family and are finally (although it’s still very rare) seeing transgender actors playing trans characters on screen. Three cheers for equality! If there’s anything that all the controversy surrounding a gay Disney character has stirred up, however, it’s that we still have a heck of a long way to go when it comes to defeating homophobia and accurately representing all people in the media.
LGBTQ characters are frequently killed off their shows, cis-gender stars are continually chosen to represent queer characters, and LGBTQ+ audiences are being queerbaited to in order to financially benefit the series without the show actually doing anything to become an advocate for the gay community.
Queerbaiting (also sometimes called gay-baiting), for those of you who don’t know, is when a show works to attract queer viewership without turning off their homophobic viewers. Basically, the LGBTQ+ community is seen as a resource to tap for money and yet the writers, producers, or whoever is calling the shots won’t actually take a stand against homophobia and give queer characters the representation they deserve. Surprisingly enough, even series that do feature an openly queer person or couple can be accused of gay-baiting! Warning: Some of your favorite ships might be found on this list so remember… don’t shoot the messenger!
Shadowhunters has a few out-and-proud gay characters, so many of you may be wondering how it could possibly queer-bait!
After Malec (Magnus & Alec) became a couple, people couldn't help but notice how the trailers for certain episodes would be focused on the pair, while the actual episode would have very few romantic scenes.
A good example of this came in season two, when the two guys decided to have sex for the first time. Not only was this scene problematic because it contributed to rape culture (Magnus did not give consent on camera after clearly communicating reservations and concerns about getting intimate), but also the ads solely teased the couple "finally" deciding to make love...despite that scene being cut short to show a straight couple having sex. Many viewers felt that the vague nature of their decision to do the deed showed favoritism towards hetero couples.
A Shadowhunters stan who goes by @mightymalec on Twitter @'d the showrunner saying, "We're not asking for a sex scene here. We're asking for Malec to get the same intimacy, at least, as Jace and some random girl did." EQUAL REPRESENTATION. We agree.
In basically just a half a season, Riverdale has already wriggled its way into our hearts as one of our fave shows ever. On the outside, the show seems fairly "woke" — using episodes to talk about difficult issues like slut-shaming, racist microaggressions and mental illness. However, it's also been accused of queerbaiting Beronica. Lili Reinhart, who plays Betty, has even said that the girl-on-girl relationship between her character and Veronica will never happen because they don't have a sexual attraction at all.
Yet a "sexy" kiss between the two ladies seemed to say otherwise. Since then, we've seen Cole Sprouse and K.J. Apa pose for a photoshoot with signs that say "Beronica is Endgame." Why? To appeal to queer fans who ship the pairing. Make no mistake though, the writers have no intention of making Betty/Veronica endgame at all.
Photo: The CW
While the show does have openly gay side characters, all those who get major airtime seem to be explicitly in the realm of heterosexuality. That is, of course, except Stiles.
Dylan O'Brien's character teased gay fans in the first couple of seasons due to his moderate obsession with being attractive to Danny. Later, when Stiles/Derek ("Sterek") became a popular ship among viewers, the showrunners added a bit of a flirtation between them, as well. By "flirtation," of course, we mean a relationship that could be perceived as a budding romance if the viewer desired OR just a tight bromance for those not ~compelled~ by a gay storyline.
Jeff Davis himself said that they've "always hinted" at Stiles' bisexuality, but talking about it during a fan event (after being directly asked about bisexual representation on TV) is far different than adding it as an actual explicit element to a show.
Pretty Little Liars
Again, we do have an openly gay character at the center of PLL, which should totally be applauded. That said, people actually remarked that the show seemed to "de-gayify" itself as the seasons went on. Yes, Emily, our resident queer character, had herself quite a few romances, yet LGBTQ audiences felt they were never given the same amount of screen time as Hanna, Spencer or Aria's relationships.
Then there was "Emison," the ship between Emily and Alison that had fans BEGGING for writers to make a reality. Yet, despite the show's near CONSTANT teasing (with the help of the actual showrunner tweeting that she "hears" Emison fans), it looks like fans are going to have to wait until the last couple episodes to see if they get together in the end. For those of you who have stuck around through all the BS, you've showed real commitment.
You basically can't talk about Supernatural without talking about queerbaiting, since the two have become so intertwined over the years. While there is a ton of subtext insinuating that Dean and Castiel are both bisexual and have something a little more ~steamy~ than friendship goin' on, the showrunners refuse to make it anything more than an innuendo. Furthermore, the incestuous relationship between brothers Dean and Sam is excessively queerbaited, too. There's a huge "Wincest" ship and it actually will never happen (according to basc everyone working on the show, at least), but they throw in some jokes and subtext to give false hope to Wincest shippers and keep them enthralled in the show.
Photo: The CW
One Upon a Time
Gay fairy tales should be all the rage right now, yet it took OUaT a loooong time to follow through, and along the way they pissed off a lot of their LGBTQ audience with blatant queerbaiting. As if the unrequited romance between Mulan and Princess Aurora wasn't bait-y enough, Emma and Regina's "platonic" relaysh really sealed the deal — at least for some people.
Actually, whether or not this show does queerbait its audience has been a pretty divisive topic in the fandom. While some are crystal clear that the writers are hinting at a lesbian love affair between Emma and Regina, others claim that the "SnowQueen" shippers are grasping at straws. Who's correct? That's for you to decide.
Smallville was around before queerbaiting became such a central topic of discussion, so many aren't really sure whether this show actually falls into the qualifications.
Basically, tons of fans shipped Lex and Clarke together so much that the writers caught on. It appeared once the pairing gained so many hopefuls, the writers decided to add a little bit of bromance-bordering-flirting interactions in there to let the the people know they heard their desires. Yet, mostly everyone knew that it was never going to actually happen and alas — it never did.
Photo: The CW
Hey, remember those two literal seconds when Marissa Cooper was bisexual? Well, we can't actually blame the writers of The O.C. for this terrible queerbaiting, but we can blame Fox.
In sum, after the main character and Alex started a same-sex romance story line on the show (which many felt was actually just to 'turn on' straight audiences), the latter suddenly leaves Orange County...and suddenly Marissa is back to only liking dudes. So was the relationship just to gain LGBT audiences before leaving them high and dry? Although that wasn't the intention, but it was the reality.
The writers and producers were going to have Marissa maintain her bisexuality throughout the rest of the series, however the network was strictly against it and vetoed her future female romances. Talk about effed up!