The LA Times has an interesting article on the phenomenon of gay teen characters coming out and the shrugging, non-reaction of real-life teens. Pictured above are Shay Mitchell as Emily in Pretty Little Liars, Argiris Karras as Riley in Degrassi, Trevor Donovan as Teddy in 90210, and Chris Colfer as Kurt in Glee.
The coming out story has been around long enough to become a TV cliche, but today those stories feature younger and younger characters. This reflects the larger society where, increasingly kids don't feel the need to remain closeted.
"I felt like the world of '90210' was missing the gay characters that it would realistically have," said Rebecca Sinclair, the CW series' show runner and executive producer, on the writers' decision to show teen character Teddy Montgomery's coming-out process. "If I had created the show, I would definitely have made one of the main characters gay. . And honestly, in a genre that depends on the coupling, decoupling and re-coupling of its characters, it behooves us to find the most diverse ways to do that."
It seems odd in retrospect that the original 90210 didn't at least feature a gay best friend for Donna Martin, but it would have caused a huge stink. The spin-off Melrose Place featured Matt, who was, incredibly, the sole gay inhabitant of a West Hollywood apartment complex, but he was hardly ever given a story line. When Ellen came out on her sitcom, there were vocal protests and a boycott of Disney, which owned ABC, and the show was cancelled. Ellen was a grown woman and her show was never a huge hit, but today a major character on Glee, the water cooler show of the moment can come out, be bullied, and find a boyfriend and there is absolutely no controversy. The only character on the show who doesn't like it is the football player bully, who's presented as closeted and violent. There are no calls to boycott Fox and no movement to protect the children of America from the sinful influence of Glee.
The Tony Perkins and Maggie Gallaghers of the world can go on cable news and weep, wail, and gnash their teeth over the "homosexual agenda" all they like, but they've lost the kids and thus, the war. Unlike some other conservative issues, once people open their minds about gay folks, they don't close them.
I do have a bone to pick about TV's depiction of our people, however. TV still tends to present it's gay guys as inoffensive, supposedly stereotype-breaking, overtly masculine jocks. Trevor Donovan's Teddy on 90210 and Argiris Karras' Riley on Degrassi are both jocks. The revived (and recently cancelled) Melrose Place brought out a gay adult character named Caleb, played by handsome Victor Webster, and the network breathlessly claimed that Caleb "smokes cigars, likes the Los Angeles Lakers, collects sports memorabilia, drinks Scotch, likes guys and is not afraid to admit it...He's a very masculine guy." I only like two of those things, so I guess I'm not "very masculine." They even went so far as to say Caleb "is an archetype that hasn't been explored as much on television and the show is bringing that into the fold." Oh please, quit patting yourself on the back. The butch guy who "just happens to be gay" has been a TV staple since That Certain Summer. They're always presented as ground-breaking, but in my opinion, the gay jock is thought to make the audience more comfortable. What distinguishes Glee's Kurt from other gay characters is that he's a Nellie show-tune queen. How often has a character like that appeared on TV, not as a joke, but as a real human being? Not often. Kurt's the real ground-breaker.
Don't even get me started on the super-sexy, straight guy fantasy lesbians.