There’s the theory: The positive representation of minority groups in media is important to give people of different backgrounds and identities potential role models. But while this sounds nice in theory, it can be difficult to wrap your head around what, exactly, this means — why these fictional role models matter so much in the first place.
On Twitter, Mary Swangin, who works at a comic book store in Indiana known as DCBS, gave a concrete example of why this kind of representation matters so much for LGBTQ people. In a series of tweets, she told the story of a recent shaken-up customer who was able to come to terms with her sexuality through the TV show Supergirl, in which a major character came out as gay: Read The Tweets By Clicking Here.
This example is particularly touching, but it’s also representative of a bigger shift that media has helped push through over the past few decades. With shows like Ellen, Will and Grace, Queer as Folk, and Six Feet Under, there were more and more media examples of gay folks just being human that helped show the rest of America that this isn’t a group of people you have to fear or treat unfairly in social situations or through the law.
LGBTQ groups argue this is one reason they were able to build support for same-sex marriage so quickly over the past few years (from 27 percent in 1996 to 60 percent in 2015), as individuals coming out and better media representations showed Americans that LGBTQ people are normal people trying to live their lives just like anyone else.
As a gay man, I went through something similar. I always knew that my parents were accepting of gay rights, and that they would love me no matter what. But knowing that is frequently not enough — the mind is very good, especially in your teen years, at getting you to doubt yourself and your place in the world at every turn. So when I saw my parents watching Will and Grace for the first time and laughing with the characters, it gave my sense of my parents’ acceptance a concrete example.
I wouldn’t come out for a few years. But when I did, I can genuinely thank a show like Will and Grace for making it easier. It became less about waiting until my parents were ready and more about waiting until I was ready.
And I had the privilege of knowing my parents accepted me all along. In a situation like the girl who visited the comic book store where Swangin works, it doesn’t seem like it was that easy. In those cases, when a person has no one around her accepting who she is, it’s even more important that she can turn on the television and see that, at the very least, someone out there in the world will accept and love her no matter what.
Source: Vox. (https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/12/5/13834432/lgbtq-representation-media-supergirl) German Lopez, December 2016.