UCD LawSoc ran it’s second collaborative debate with the LGBTQ+ Soc this week on the motion that this House regrets the portrayal of LGBT people in media. The debate saw a range of arguments put forward, from how media perception feeds into public perception, to the idea that less can sometimes be better.
Speaking first for the proposition was Anna-Elizabeth Quinn, Public Relations Officer for the LGBTQ+ Soc, who spoke of the need for ‘authentic representation of the community to raise our voices.’ Quinn said that the majority of the representation of the LGBT community in media was based on negative stereotypes and therefore harmful to them. They went on to say that the issue was not just one of representation, but rather an issue of misrepresentation as they claimed occurred so often in the media. This was a particular problem with regards to the portrayal of trans people in the media.
Quinn claimed that a large part of the issue in the portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community in the media was the fact that the writers and director are typically cis men who cannot understand the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community. These writers and directors in the mind of Quinn ‘overstep their bounds.’
Speaking first for the opposition was Christopher Seeley who highlighted that in 2017 6% of main or major characters in TV or film were LGBTQ+. In response to a point from the floor, he said that any form of representation is good to an extent. He spoke of how the stories of the LGBTQ+ community that are portrayed are hugely positive, such as stories of people coming out to friends and family.
Seeley also noted that while the current portrayals and levels of representation may not be where the community wants it to be, it is still significantly better than where it was even ten years ago. He also explained that it was unrealistic to expect the industry to change overnight given their overriding motive is not to make everyone feel included in media, but rather to turn as large a profit as possible.
Sam Brophy, the LBGTQ+ Soc Auditor, was second up for the proposition and imminently attacked the point made by Seeley with regards to the number of LBGTQ people in the media. Brophy pointed out that 2017 only saw a 1% increase in the number of LBGTQ characters from 2016, and that nearly 50% of these characters were dead by the end of their arcs. This was according to Brophy a result of media groups wanting to cash in on diversity but not truly embrace it. They argued this may be played off as the character being ‘too good for this world’, but for the community, it was insulting.
They also attacked the regularly inaccurate representations in the media, say that given how little representation they had as a community, they needed it to be accurate at the very least. This is particularly in reference to the over-representation of certain aspects of the community, particularly gay men. This contrasts with the massive under-representation of trans people or bisexuals.
Odhrán Stynes was speaking next for the opposition and spoke first against the idea that movies or TV shows needed to portray the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community at all. He went on to argue that media was a sort of entertainment, and did not always need to be making some political point. It was not according to Stynes, the role of movies to portray the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community in the 21st Century.
He went on to say that the media often reflects the views of society and that we cannot expect it to make massive leaps in a very short space of time. He did however also point out that strides had been made in placing LGBTQ+ characters in the heart of movies and developing them beyond one-dimensional characters. Finally, he asked the LGBTQ+ to reflect on their status in the world as a minority, and that they cannot expect to see a dramatic rise in the levels of representation as they are at the end of the day, not the biggest social grouping out there.
Alice Breen-O’Driscoll was the final speaker for the proposition and highlighted that both sides had in fact agreed on the need for positive representation of the LGBTQ+ community in media. O’Driscoll said that currently, certain areas of the community were only likely to see ‘one positive in a sea of negativity.’ She also came back to the issue of overrepresentation of certain aspects of the community, particularly cis-gay men. This she compared to the utter lack of any ace characters in media and asked what kind of message that sent to people who were still trying to work through their sexualities.
She also attacked the system of ‘queer coding’ in the media, where characters are never explicitly referred to as members of the LGBTQ+ community, they display stereotypical characteristics associated with certain aspects of the community. This she said was just another way for the media to exploit the desire for diversity, while not paying its dues.
The final speaker for the opposition and the debate as a whole was Jack Widger the Postgraduate representative for the LGBTQ+ society. He spoke less of the entertainment media that had taken centre stage in this debate, and more of the current affairs and news media in Ireland. He argued that the media in Ireland were not afraid to tackle the issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community, such as HIV or more recently drug use. This shows that while representation may be poor in the entertainment industry, the newsrooms are more than willing to give the community its due.
Next week’s debate will be ‘This House would abolish the Presidency’ to be held in the Fitzgerald chamber at 6:30 on Tuesday.
By Aaron Bowman – CoEditor