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Television and Homosexuality

By Gary F. Zeolla

"the sons [and daughters] of this age are [more] prudent [or, shrewd] in their own generation than the sons [and daughters] of the light" (Luke 16:8).

 

When I was growing up in the 1960s-70s, homosexuality was considered to be abnormal, a psychological imbalance, queer, even disgusting to the point that the mere thought of homosexual sex or of just two men or two women kissing would gross most people out. Anyone considered to be a homosexual could be subject to teasing, ridicule, and even bullying.

But today, anyone who would dare to express such negative comments or have such negative reactions towards homosexuality would be the ones who would be ridiculed and vilified, called names like bigot and homophobe, and forced to publically apologize, though they would never be forgiven.

What caused this dramatic societal shift in less than half a century? I believe it all began with Jack Tripper of Three’s Company. He was the first salvo in the television industry’s shrewd plan to change the minds of Americans from disgust to acceptance of homosexuality.

 

1970s to Early ‘80s TV shows

 

At this writing (May 2016), this writer is in his mid-50s. The first homosexual character I remember being portrayed on TV was not a real homosexual at all. He was the late John Ritter’s character of Jack Tripper on Three’s Company, which aired from March 15, 1977, to September 18, 1984.

Jack was only pretending to be gay so that he could share an apartment with Janet Wood (portrayed by Joyce DeWitt) and Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers). This was because the landlord, first Stanley Roper (Norman Fell), then Ralph Furley (Don Knotts), would not agree to renting a room to a single man and two single women. But if the man was gay, then he would not try to seduce the women, and the hardnosed landlord would not object to them rooming together.

Jack would act like a stereotypical effeminate homosexual man when the landlord was around, but when he was not, Jack was a straight, women-chasing man, though he never did seduce Janet or Chrissy.  It made for a funny and very popular plotline and sitcom. But in retrospective, this writer sees it as the first part of a long-range plan by the TV industry.

By introducing the American viewing public to the homosexual lifestyle via a man who was not really a homosexual, the viewers could laugh at his antics and stereotypical behavior without having an adverse reaction to the idea of homosexuality. Since he was not really a homosexual, we knew it was all an act. Thus we did not need to accept a homosexual lifestyle to be a fan of Jack and of Three’s Company in general.

But another TV series of the time had three recurring characters who were actual homosexuals, but they were portrayed in such a light-hearted way that their homosexuality was more of a joke than a serious lifestyle. The TV series was Barney Miller, which aired from January 23, 1975, to May 20, 1982. The first homosexual was Officer Zatelli (Dino Natali). To be honest, I really do not remember this character, but Wikipedia describes him as, “A gay officer. Particularly loathed by the homophobic Lt. Scanlon, who desperately wants to find a reason to fire him; after he was outed by a careless remark by Wojo, he was promoted to a position as Administrative Assistant at Police Headquarters.” Note that the term “homophobic” is anachronistic, as such a term would not have been used at that time. But Wikipedia further says, “Officer Zatelli's coming out, initially to Captain Miller but eventually to the entire squad, was the first gay-themed story arc on American television.”

But who I remember on Barney Miller was the gay couple of Marty Morrison (Jack DeLeon) and Darryl Driscoll (Ray Stewart). Marty was a stereotypical gay, always wearing rainbow clothing and acting in an effeminate manner. He was often brought in as a suspect, but never convicted of anything. But Wikipedia describes Darryl as, “Marty’s somewhat more sensible and grounded lover, who lends Marty moral support during his visits to the precinct.” Thus Darryl was anything but a stereotypical gay.

The contrast between these two gay men could not be more pronounced, and their appearances were always very lighted-hearted and humorous, with Darryl always trying to tone down his partner’s stereotypical behavior. I can even remember him saying to Marty, “Stop perpetrating stereotypes!” But they were never shown kissing or displaying any more overt sexuality. Thus viewers could laugh at their behavior without really laughing at homosexuality per se. And their recurring appearances provided another non-offensive introduction of the American public to homosexuality.

Interestingly, Wikipedia states about these three character, “Series creator Danny Arnold worked closely with the National Gay Task Force in developing the characters of Darryl and Marty. … and Arnold again worked with the NGTF to develop it [the arc about Officer Zatelli's coming out].” Thus these characters were not flippantly portrayed, but a gay-advocacy group was involved in their portrayals.

According to Wikipedia, there were a few other homosexual characters on TV during this time period, but they were all on British or Australian TV or were on short-lived American series.

 

The Mid-1980s and Early 90s

 

During most of this time period I did not watch too much TV due to attending seminary and not even owing a TV from 1988-90, along with not finding much of an interest in TV, as it was apparent to me it was becoming more and more immoral. With my then new found Christian faith, I did not want to subject myself to that influence. But I do remember watching a few TV series from this time period that featured homosexual characters. In fact, true homosexual characters made increasing frequent appearances on TV shows.

The first I remember was on Hill Street Blues (1981-1987). It had two gay characters: Eddie Gregg (Charles Levin) and Officer Kate McBride (Lindsay Crouse). Wikipedia states about the first, “Eddie was a gay male sex worker who becomes friends with Mick Belker (Bruce Weitz) after helping him take down his pimp. He would guest star in a few episodes of the show before dying of AIDS in the episode ‘Slum-Enchanted Evening’.”

This character was clearly a true homosexual with his sexuality clearly on display. But sympathy rather than disdain for him was garnered by first portraying him as a victim of his pimp and then as a victim of AIDS.  Meanwhile, Officer Kate McBride “comes out after being falsely accused of sexually harassing a female prisoner.” Thus again, the audience was made to feel sympathetic for her due to the false charges.

There were also lesbians on two lawyer shows, LA Law and Law & Order, C. J. Lamb (Amanda Donohoe) and Serena Southerlyn (Elisabeth Röhm), respectively. The first only made a brief appearance, but the latter had a recurring role, appearing in 85 episodes. But she only came out as a lesbian in her final appearance. This gave her coming out a dramatic effect, but it also led the audience to accept that homosexuals are just normal people, no different than anyone else, as it was never hinted at before this that she was a lesbian.

There were other TV shows with homosexual characters, but there were mostly in minor roles or on short-lived TV series. It still seemed that if TV shows were too blatant about featuring homosexual characters, the TV series would not be that popular, but that would soon change.

 

The Mid-90s to the ‘00s

 

Due to health problems I began experiencing in the mid-90s I started to watch much more TV, and I became increasingly distraught with the direction it was taking. It was bad enough that pre-marital sex by this time was the norm on just about every TV series, but now homosexual characters became even more frequent, with much more aggressive homosexual sex suggestive scenes.

NYPD Blue (1193-2005) led the way as a popular TV series with recurring homosexual characters, though I only watched the first couple episodes of it as I could quickly see the immoral direction it was going. But ER (1194-2009) was another popular series of this time period that I did watch for quite some time. There were seven different homosexual characters that appeared on it during its 15 year run, but the main one was Dr. Kerry Weaver, portrayed by Laura Innes. Wikipedia states about this character

Weaver arrived at County General as Chief Resident and later became an attending physician. She was promoted to Chief of Emergency Medicine and finally Hospital Chief of Staff. Her administrative position often forced her to make unpleasant decisions that drew hostility from her fellow physicians, as when she fired Jeanie Boulet in Season 4. Having had some heterosexual relationships, Weaver was eventually revealed to be a lesbian. Her sexual orientation was a key point in some of the episodes, particularly when she fought in court to keep her son, Henry.

The storyline about her son was again a way to garner sympathy for this lesbian. But the main thing I remember was when a minor character whose name I don’t remember said to her after she came out, “You know you’re going to hell, don’t you?” It was said in such a way that he was made to come across as an idiot. ER gradually became more focused on the sex lives on the main characters, including pre-marital, extra-marital, and homosexual sex, than it did on the actual emergency room stuff that I stopped watching it. In fact, it was during this time that I started then stopped watching many TV series because of the increasing immorality on all of them.

But one series I continued to watch to the end that I probably shouldn’t have watched at all was Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). The violence, magic, and much pre-marital sex should have been enough to keep a Christian from watching it, but I have always enjoyed Sci-Fi/ Fantasy type of shows, and this one was very well done. But on top of all of the preceding, there were various minor characters that came out as gay during the series. But that was usually for just one episode.

But then in season four, the major character of Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) began an ongoing relationship with Tara Maclay (Amber Benson), that despite the fact that Willow had a relationship with Daniel “Oz” Osbourne (Seth Green) earlier in the series. The depiction of the lesbian relationship was just as much sexually suggestive as the earlier heterosexual one. That is when I almost stopped watching the series, and probably should have, but it would be the last time I would keep watching a TV series after a depiction of homosexual sex.

I would now enter a phase when I would stop watching series after series due to its depiction of homosexuality. And with the increasing depiction of homosexuality on TV, there became fewer and fewer TV series that I would watch and more and more times I would start to watch a TV series but then stop watching it due to its immorality, including its positive portray of homosexual sex.

A good example was the Sci-Fi series Torchwood (2006–2011). It was a spin-off of Doctor Who. The latter is still on TV after 50 years and is one of the few TV series I still watch. It introduced the character of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barroman). He is described by Wikipedia as a “Omnisexual character from the 51st Century.” Wikipedia says of Torchwood, “The series’ creator, Russell T Davies (who is gay), has described Torchwood as ‘a very bisexual series.’” It is thus a show created by a homosexual about bisexuals. And it was very sensual. I thus only watched parts of a couple of episodes, but that was it as I just could stomach the constant homosexual overtones. There are some homosexual hints on Doctor Who, but they are nowhere as overt as on Torchwood.

Similar to Doctor Who would be Battlestar Galactica (December 2003 to March 20, 2009). There were homosexual characters, but only “Six” (a Cylon) was a regular character. She was in fact a very sensual character in general, but my love for Sci-Fi kept me watching despite that.

 

The 2010s

 

Now in the 2010’s, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the homosexual promotion on TV. One of the few TV series that I watched this decade was Parenthood (2010-2015). I liked it as it was one of the few non-Sci-Fi/ Fantasy series that was not about cops, lawyers, and doctors but about “ordinary’ people. But it had quite a bit of immoral sex, both pre-marital and extra-marital, in it. But I kept watching it for something different.

But then at the end of the season five, Haddie Braverman (Sarah Ramos) came home from college with her “female friend” Lauren. I pretty much knew as soon as she got out of the car with her “friend” where it was heading. I watched it just long enough longer to confirm my fear, then stopped the recording and deleted it and the series recording from my DVR. I can even remember posting a message on Facebook about my frustration over yet another TV series being ruined by homosexuality. It really was getting almost impossible to watch anything that did not at some point have homosexuality in it. Always, of course, presented in a positive manner.

But about that time one of my Facebook friends who says she is a Christian posted a message saying, “Modern Family is the funniest show on TV.” I have never watched that series, so I cannot comment as to whether that claim is true or not. The reason I never have watched it is I knew from its in initial promotion that it is centered around a homosexual couple and their adoptive daughter. I cannot understand how someone who claims to be a Christian can watch a show that is clearly being used to promote acceptance of homosexuality.

Now I know that Modern Family has won many awards and is still on the air after seven seasons (having starting in 2009). But I have often wondered if it has received so many awards because it is so funny, or if people have just been led to believe it is so good because of the awards. In other words, does Hollywood keep giving it awards just so people will keep watching it just so it can continue to promote homosexuality?

In any case, another “different” series I watched at this time was Make It or Break it (2009-2012). This TV series was about a group of female gymnasts training for the Olympics. As part of their training, they were not supposed to have romantic relationship but to focus on their training. But of course, they did not follow that rule. One of them even had to leave the team due to getting pregnant. That was actually a somewhat heartwarming scene in that her teammates and coach wanted her to get an abortion, but she chose to give up gymnastics so that she could have the baby. At least she had her priorities straight.

But then in the midst of the premarital sex, much of it between the female and male gymnasts, one male gymnasts was “confused” about this sexuality and kissed a female gymnast and a male gymnast in the same episode. But fortunately, that storyline was not pursued, and I was able to watch the series to the finale. It ended with all of the main characters of course making the Olympic team, just before the real 2012 Olympics started.

Then the only new TV series of the 2015-2016 season that I tried to watch was Blindspot. The episodes are usually rated TV-14. As such, I probably shouldn’t have even tried to watch it, as a while ago I decided to only watched PG-rated TV shows and movies. But when I heard the setup for this series, it really intrigued me: an amnesiac women covered head to foot in brand new tattoos is found in a duffle bag in Time’s Square. The name of an FBI agent is tattooed on her back. That agent is brought in on the investigation. As it turns out, the tattoos on the woman contain encrypted clues to forthcoming terrorist attacks and other major crimes. “Jane Doe” thus becomes part of the FBI task force investigating these clues.

Further adding to my intrigue is the actress playing the amnesiac woman is Jamie Alexander. I really liked her as “Jessi” on the Sci-Fi series Kyle XY. I thus began watching Blindspot, and it is really well done and has already been renewed for a second season. But being TV-14, it does have more violence and sexual content than I care to watch. And lurking in the background was Bethany Mayfair (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), Assistant Director of the NY FBI office. It was made clear early on that she was a lesbian, but she was not in a relationship, until a recent episode. Distraught over something or other, she went to a bar and got picked up by another female, and that is when I stopped watching the series.

 

Frequency of Homosexual Characters

 

During the first half of the ‘10s down to today (2016), there have been or still are homosexual characters on probably dozens of TV series, as a glance at the Wikipedia pages listing homosexual characters on TV dramas and sitcoms referenced below will demonstrate. Most of these series I’ve never watched or even heard of, as I now barely watch any TV series anymore.

However, looking over the sheer number of homosexual characters, one would get the impression that something like a quarter of the American population is homosexual or bisexual. But in fact, according to the CDC, “Based on the 2013 NHIS data, 96.6% of adults identified as straight, 1.6% identified as gay or lesbian, and 0.7% identified as bisexual. The remaining 1.1% of adults identified as ‘something else,’’ stated ‘I don’t know the answer,’ or refused to provide an answer.”

Thus only 2.3% of the US population identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual. At that rate, there should only be 2-3 homosexual or bisexual characters per 100 TV characters. Given that, “Typically, most stories have four central characters: the hero, the anti-hero, the love interest and the buddy” (How Stuff Works), and add in maybe a half dozen minor or recurring characters, and you have about ten regular characters in an average TV series. There should thus be just 2 or 3 homosexual characters for every 10 TV series. But in fact it is now almost impossible to watch any TV series without a homosexual character showing up, and I mean any TV series.

 

Once Upon a Time

 

One TV series that I have been watching from its inception on October 23, 2011 is not on the aforementioned lists, but I am sure it will soon be. It is Once Upon a Time. For those who are not familiar with this TV series, it is about fairy tale and other well-known imaginary characters, from Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) to Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West (Rebecca Mader). But the way the characters are depicted is often far from their traditional roles. Thus rather than Snow White being a damsel in distress waiting for Prince Charming to come and save her, she is fighting alongside Prince Charming against the various villains that keep showing up on the series, while Dorothy is all grown up and patrolling Oz with a bow and arrow, protecting the Munchkins from the Wicked Witch, whose real name is Zelena.

Also on the show a while back was Little Red Riding Hood (Meghan Ory). But “Red” (as she is called) is also now all grown up. And as it turned out, she and the Big Bad Wolf are one and the same. Seriously, she is a werewolf who unbeknown to herself would turn into the wolf during the full moon. But once she found this out, she set out to find her pack. Her journey takes her to Oz, where she meets Dorothy. But Dorothy is not too pleased with Red at first as she causes Toto to run off and be captured by the Wicked Witch. But during their adventure to try to get Toto back, they start to hit it off, and … well you know where this is heading.

As I watched the episode developed, I was shaking my head and thinking, “No, no, no, they cannot possibly do that!” But before the two can kiss, two of Zelena’s flying monkeys show up and chase them, and they are separated. Apparently, Dorothy gets captured, and the Wicked Witch takes a clue from her sister the Evil Queen and puts a sleeping spell on Dorothy. Just like Snow White, the only thing that will wake Dorothy from the deep sleep is “true love’s kiss.” Red thus sets off to find Aunti Em, as Dorothy had told her that her aunt was the only person who had ever truly loved her. But for reasons that are too complex to explain, Aunti Em is not available.

But then Red express her grief over this situation to Snow White, and then she confesses her feelings for Dorothy. Snow sighs and smiles and tells Red that she is the one to give Dorothy that kiss, as she is Dorothy’s “true love.” Snow then says something about how wonderful it is that they found each other.

The whole scene was very well done and obviously designed to get the whole audience to sigh and smile along with Snow and also to think how wonderful it is. And thus TV has accomplished its goal of changing people’s attitude from being grossed out over the mere thought of two people of the same gender kissing to sighing and smiling in approval at it. But as for this writer, it was then that I stopped the recording and deleted Once from my now very short “Favorites” list on my DVR. And I will never be able to watch the Wizard of Oz and look at Dorothy the same again.

 

Conclusion

 

Like Jesus commending the shrewd steward (see Luke 16:1-8), I have to commend the TV industry for its shrewdness. They have done a masterful job of changing an entire culture’s attitude toward homosexuality in less than two generations. So much so that I will probably be called a homophobe or worse for daring to express my disgust over not even being about to watch a TV show about fairy tale characters without having homosexuality shoved in my face.

But the fact remains homosexuality is a sin, and I prefer not to watch a TV series promoting this sin, any more than I care to watch a TV show prompting the sins of pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, senseless violence, foul language, lying, stealing, cheating, disobedience to parents or other authorities, and the like. But all of that is of course prevalent on TV, and it leaves me with few TV series to watch, with less and less all of the time. It is truly a sad situation. In fact, Paul describes today's TV situation very well:

26Because of this, God gave them over to dishonorable, lustful passions, for even their females exchanged the natural use for the [use] against nature, 27and likewise also the males having left the natural use of the female were inflamed in their craving for one another; males with males committing shameful behavior and receiving back in themselves the penalty which was fitting [for] their deception [or, perversion].

28And just as they did not think it was worthwhile to be having [or, keeping] God in [their] true knowledge [or, consciousness], God gave them over to a disapproved [fig. debased] mind to be doing the [things] not proper, 29having been filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetous desire [or, greed], malice; full of envy, murder, bitter conflict, deceit [or, treachery], maliciousness; gossips, 30back-biters, God-haters, insolent persons, arrogant boasters, schemers of evil [things]; disobedient to parents, 31senseless, untrustworthy, without natural affection, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32who having known the righteous judgment of God, that the ones practicing such things are deserving of death, not only are doing them, but they are also approving of the ones practicing [them] (Romans 1:26-31).

 

References:

Many of the details for this article are taken from the respective Wikipedia articles for the mentioned TV series and their characters, along with the following two Wikipedia pages:

List of situation comedies with LGBT characters

List of dramatic television series with LGBT characters

Also:

CDC. Sexual Orientation and Health Among U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2013.

How Stuff Works. How Writing a TV Show Works.

Television and Homosexuality. Copyright © 2016 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).


The above article was first published in the free Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this Web site May 1, 2016.

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