Why Doesn’t A+E Networks Like Gays?

GLAAD just released its 2015 Network Responsibility Index, looking at LGBTQ representation across the television landscape. The good news this year is that representation is up overall — even TLC (which is owned by Discovery Communications, home of the anti-gay Duggars) received an “Adequate” rating. The bad news? Two channels receiving failing grades, and both channels — History and A&E — are owned by the same group, A+E Networks.

History was given a shocking 0 percent  grade in terms of representation, and A&E didn’t do much better at 8 percent. Worse, A&E’s had its best year since GLAAD started tracking the channel in 2008. History, on the other hand, has only been tracked since 2011 — its peak year with a whopping 3 percent score. GLAAD only looked at original, new programming; no reruns, syndicated programming, sporting events nor non-TV movies.

glaad, representation, lgbtq, television
GLAAD’s methodology at a glance

On A&E, The Returned was the only show to consistently feature any LGBTQ characters… and it was cancelled after one season. Beyond Scared Straight, the reality program taking troubled kids inside prison featured two episodes set in the LGBTQ wing of a Georgia prison. Donnie Wahlberg’s two programs for the channel, Wahlburgers and Donnie Loves Jenny, featured fellow New Kid On The Block, the openly gay Jonathan Knight.

Still, A&E did better than History, where GLAAD could not find a single instance of LGBTQ representation. This is down from last year, when GLAAD was able to find one instance. History also produces the most original programming of the cable channels in the study.

Lifetime, also owned by A+E Networks, was not featured in the analysis, but GLAAD did mention LGBTQ appearances on Witches of East EndProject Runway and Tori Spelling’s reality series True Tori, which featured some of Tori’s gay friends… but also implied that was the extent of it.

tim gunn, project runway, representation matters, lifetime

Why is this the case? You might not expect History to lead the charge, but when channels like ABC Family have a 74 percent rating from GLAAD, 0% seems particularly absurd. It’s not like History is stuck in the days when it was just documentaries about Hitler and weird pseudoscience; History’s increased its slate of reality programming like Ice Road Truckers and scripted programming, like Vikings.

It should be easy to put in LGBTQ characters in historical fiction… Downton Abbey, anyone? And that’s not even mentioning the rich vein of LGBTQ subjects for original documentaries; subjects like Harvey Milk, Stonewall, UpStairs Lounge, or, even one of History’s favorite topics, the Sumerians.

A&E’s lack of representation is particularly surprising; A&E stands for Arts & Entertainment: two things gays are notoriously known for. And yet, aside from a few appearances in reality shows and one cancelled show, there’s nothing. Why don’t any LGBTQ individuals have their own reality show? Why aren’t there more LGBTQ characters on their scripted programming?

The other strange thing? A+E Networks is owned by Hearst and Disney-ABC. Beyond A+E Networks, Disney-ABC also owns ABC Family (again, with an “excellent” rating from GLAAD) and the ABC broadcast network, which GLAAD gave a 32 percent/”Good” rating, and the top of the big three networks, bested only by FOX and the CW.

Does A+E Networks not realize they’re leaving money on the table? They should have a clear template on LGBTQ representation between Disney-ABC’s “excellent” rating and Lifetime’s popular Project Runway (though it should be noted, a show Lifetime did not originate; they took over Project Runway from Bravo, owned by NBCUniversal). At this point in our history, LGBTQ programming shouldn’t be seen as a risky venture.