Gay characters have been on TV since the ‘70s with Billy Crystal on “Soap.” And we’re now seeing more LGBT family life than ever before, especially on sitcoms like “Modern Family” and “The New Normal.”
But these characters are written — as one would expect on a sitcom — broadly. How do they sit with real-life LGBT families? We found some in our area and asked.
“We get this question all the time,” says Brent Almond, a Kensington, Md., resident who’s raising nearly 3-year-old son Jon with his partner of 15 years, Nick Pirulli. “We adopted our son about the same time Cam and Mitch did on ‘Modern Family,’ plus we are a couple consisting of a larger southern guy and a smaller, bearded lawyer. We’ve been watching it from the beginning and love it. I think, you know, I don’t know that our personalities are too much like theirs, but they look like real people to us. The guys on ‘The New Normal’ are almost too pretty. I know people like that but they’re not really our friends. They don’t seem as quote-unquote real to me.”
Not everyone is feeling the warm fuzzies though. Alexandra Khalaf, who’s raising 9-month-old daughter Camille with her spouse of three years, Amy, says Hollywood’s fascination with gay men is disappointing.
“Of course I DVR’d ‘The New Normal’ hoping that any new gay show would be helpful for our cause,” she says. “But I find myself really frustrated watching the show. First, it’s always gay men on these shows, minus ‘The L Word,’ which was all straight women and horribly done. Second, the show of course portrays the very wealthy gay men living in a beautiful home in California, a stereotype for all gay men — good looking, fit, rich. Then he has a black ‘helper’ — again, stereotype. It’s not realistic at all.”
She’s also concerned at how easy the show made the parenting process appear.
“My wife and I went through so many things to have our daughter — lawyers office multiple times for documents that might help should be wife and I separate or God forbid die. We had to deliver in another state other than where we live in Virginia in order to both be on the birth certificate. It’s not like a puppy where you walk up to a window and say, ‘Awwww, honey I want that one.’ And then the surrogate just gets pregnant on the first try. Seriously? This show makes it look so easy for our community to just pop out a kid … if the shows can’t be real, then don’t bother putting it on.”
Steve Majors, who works as communications director for Family Equality Council and has two daughters — 8-year-old Claudia and 7-year-old Shoshana — with partner Todd Leavitt, says while some of those observations are good to keep in mind, these shows ultimately do more good than harm.
“I know many families who gather around these shows with bowls of popcorn and their kids and it’s important for these kids to see their lives reflected in pop culture,” he says. “We know that LGBT families live everywhere. We live in 96 percent of the counties in the U.S., in every state. We are friends and neighbors and church goers just like everyone else and so when you have these shows that identify LGBT families, it goes a long way to let other people, our friends, neighbors and community members, know we exist and we are out there.”
But while the representation is seen as good by many LGBT TV fans, could there be a backlash? One can almost imagine grumbling remarks in middle America with straight viewers saying, “Here we go again — you know they had to throw in a token gay character.”
Majors says no.
“What you’re seeing is the normalization of our families on TV and it’s just part of that process,” he says. “Yeah, you may have people think, ‘Oh, there goes our requisite LGBT character, but that’s all part of the part of us being in the pop culture conversation. It’s no longer something that’s seen as unique, edgy, controversial or cliché.”
Majors says pop culture is always a reflection of where society is in general.
“On ‘Will & Grace’ there was a lot of narrative about the search for a partner, a husband or a long-term spouse but we’re at a point now where more and more Americans support the freedom of LGBT people to get married and create families so as that has become more of a reality, it’s changing the narrative of how we see that reflected in films and TV. It’s not that unusual for there to be [LGBT] family storylines because that’s where we are right now as a community.”