Winter 2023 • Brandon Hooks He/They
The impact of seeing oneself and community reflected on a television screen is profound, especially for those who live at the intersection of different marginalized communities. For many, a television show or single character can completely transform how you see yourself. These stories we see told on the screens reflect our own, and most importantly offer a sense of community we may not have in our daily lives.
LGBTQ+ stories, plots and characters have become increasingly more prevalent on our screens in recent years. From award-winning films like Moonlight to characters such as Michaela Jaé Rodriguez’s Blanca in Pose, queer stories are being told more than ever before. The importance of this representation cannot go unnoticed, especially at a time when the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ people — and the very right for LGBTQ+ people to exist, for that matter — are under attack nationwide.
We live in an age of reboots. No matter which television channel or streaming network you watch, there is likely a new take on an old classic. In this era of revisiting the past, we have seen a proactive effort to not just expand on the stories being told, but give a voice to those communities who originally may have been left out of the fold.
A primary example of this is Amazon Prime’s "A League of Their Own" — a series that pulls inspiration from the cult classic 1992 film of the same title. The series follows the Rockford Peaches, a team within the newly formed All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and the ways in which each member creates community alongside their teammates. Co-creators Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson knew they had to explore stories and characters untold in the original. In an interview, Graham shared how he was motivated to find “the real stories, the hidden queer stories, and the idea that there was a real queer community here.” He went on to say how it was not just about LGBTQ+ stories, but those of Black and Latinx players who existed in history but whose stories had largely gone untold. This dedication to telling more stories reflective of our full community is evident in the first season. Whether it’s Carson’s (played by Jacobson) growing relationship with Greta (D’Arcy Carden), Max (Chanté Adams) navigating her coming out experience or Bert (Lea Robinson) showing the lived experience of being transgender in the 1940s, we see stories that are pushing past the LGBTQ+ representation we originally saw in television. The stories and characters in "A League of Their Own" aren’t asking for space — they’re demanding it. Our hope is that the show receives the second season renewal it deserves so these stories can continue to be shared.
At HRC’s National Dinner in October 2022, we honored the show and the team behind it with our Visibility Award for its work putting queer stories at the forefront. Abbi Jacobson reflected on the importance of the show for so many LGBTQ+ people, especially those still discovering who they are.
Television shows are not just looking to the past challenges our community faced, but the present dangers we see from coast to coast. 2022 saw the largest number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced nationwide, and we expect an even higher number in 2023. These bills range from bans on gender-affirming care for transgender youth to legislation censoring queer history in schools.
"We’re Here," HBO’s hit show featuring drag artists traveling the country changing hearts and minds, is tackling these topics head-on. The latest season touched on the legislative attacks against LGBTQ+ people, including attempts to ban drag shows and drag events such as storytelling hours for kids. In the first episode of the season, we saw a drag storytelling event originally planned by showrunner Shangela suddenly canceled due to threats of violence — something we continue to see to this day nationwide.
HRC recently talked with Bob the Drag Queen, one of the stars of "We’re Here," about the longstanding impact of the show and efforts to ban drag. “It’s not about drag performers [. . . ] it’s about casting a net with these laws that will harm trans people.” And it’s true: These bills are not just trying to silence drag queens, but erase the very existence of trans people.
In the face of adversity, the show continues to bring a bright light (and oftentimes tears) in its episodes. We get to hear the lived experiences of so many LGBTQ+ people and allies in cities across the country simply trying to make a difference. As Bob shared in our interview, the show is called "We’re Here" for a reason; it’s made for us.
Arguably one of the most powerful stories we see in season three is in the two-part finale based in Florida, a state that has become an epicenter of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation with the passage of its “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill. We hear the stories of Dempsey, a 9-year-old trans girl, and Mandy, a trans woman who came out at the age of 70. Their stories reflect the full spectrum of coming out and how living authentically is always possible. Within their time in Florida, Eureka, the final member of the showrunner trio, is so inspired by Dempsey and Mandy that she herself comes out as trans after years of struggling with her identity. In real time, we see the impact that sharing these stories can have on healing and helping us.
The wave of LGBTQ+-centered content on television in recent years is phenomenal for sharing our stories and giving people the representation they deserve, but this is only the start. More stories need to be shared. More characters need to be created that give us a way to see ourselves. And most importantly, more voices need to be heard so that our rights and our lives are respected.