BBC fails gay people, Stonewall report finds

New research finds that just 1.7 per cent of the BBC’s most popular youth programming features gay t

The BBC is not reflecting gay life in its most popular youth programming, new research conducted by the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity Stonewall finds.

Just 1.7 per cent of the BBC's most popular programmes included references or portrayals of gay people or issues, compared with 6.5 per cent on Channel 4 and 5.6 per cent on ITV1. The charity says that, of the 126 hours of programming monitored by Stonewall for the survey, only 46 minutes featured "realistic and positive" depictions. Of this 46 minutes, 44 seconds was to be found in BBC programmes.

Overall, the charity found that 49 per cent of all depictions was stereotypical, with gay people shown to be "figures of fun, predatory or promiscuous". A third was "realistic but negative", featuring gay people upset or distressed, most commonly about issues arising from their sexuality.

The focus groups surrounding the research seem to have demonstrated the effect that this imbalance has on young viewers. William, aged 13, said that "a lot of bad stuff happens to them", while Adil, also 13, said that "they're always having arguments and crying". Later on in the report, Adil adds that "bisexuals seem greedy".

For me, the most telling statistic refers to the type of programming. Thirty-nine per cent of all portrayals was in soap operas, with only a "negligible" representation in magazine shows and none at all in dramas. The research used the top 20 most popular programmes among young people, including The One Show, Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, Coronation Street, The Bill, How to Look Good Naked and The Simpsons.

The recommendations in the Stonewall report, though worthy, are dispiriting in themselves. "Broadcasters' existing race, gender and disability policies and practices should be mirrored in relation to sexual orientation," it says. And: "Fact-based programmes should also ensure they include issues particular to gay people, both positive and negative, in the same way that issues concerning other population cohorts are often discussed."

That either of these is a recommendation at all is perhaps more shocking than the statistics themselves. There is still a way to go, it would seem, in placing negative portrayals of different sexualities squarely under the heading of "discrimination".

Read the full report from Stonewall here.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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We argue over Charlie Gard, but forget those spending whole lives caring for a disabled child

The everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over life and death.

“Sometimes,” says the mother, “I wish we’d let him go. Or that he’d just been allowed to slip away.” The father agrees, sometimes. So too does the child, who is not a child any more.

On good days, nobody thinks this way, but not all days are good. There have been bright spots during the course of the past four decades, occasional moments of real hope, but now everyone is tired, everyone is old and the mundane work of loving takes a ferocious toll.

When we talk about caring for sick children, we usually mean minors. It’s easiest that way. That for some parents, the exhaustion and intensity of those first days with a newborn never, ever ends – that you can be in your fifties, sixties, seventies, caring for a child in their twenties, thirties, forties – is not something the rest of us want to think about.

It’s hard to romanticise devotion strung out over that many hopeless, sleepless nights. Better to imagine the tragic mother holding on to the infant who still fits in her loving arms, not the son who’s now twice her size, himself edging towards middle-age and the cliff edge that comes when mummy’s no longer around.

Writing on the tragic case of Charlie Gard, the Guardian’s Giles Fraser claims that he would “rain fire on the whole world to hold my child for a day longer”. The Gard case, he argues, has “set the cool rational compassion of judicial judgement and clinical expertise against the passion of parental love”: “Which is why those who have never smelled the specific perfume of Charlie’s neck, those who have never held him tight or wept and prayed over his welfare, are deemed better placed to determine how he is to live and die.”

This may be true. It may also be true that right now, countless parents who have smelled their own child’s specific perfume, held them tightly, wept for them, loved them beyond all measure, are wishing only for that child’s suffering to end. What of their love? What of their reluctance to set the world aflame for one day more? And what of their need for a life of their own, away from the fantasies of those who’ll passionately defend a parent’s right to keep their child alive but won’t be there at 5am, night after night, cleaning out feeding tubes and mopping up shit?

Parental – in particular, maternal – devotion is seen as an endlessly renewable resource. A real parent never gets tired of loving. A real parent never wonders whether actually, all things considered, it might have caused less suffering for a child never to have been born at all. Such thoughts are impermissible, not least because they’re dangerous. Everyone’s life matters. Nonetheless, there are parents who have these thoughts, not because they don’t love their children, but because they do.

Reporting on the Gard case reminds me of the sanitised image we have of what constitutes the life of a parent of a sick child. It’s impossible not to feel enormous compassion for Charlie’s parents. As the mother of a toddler, I know that in a similar situation I’d have been torn apart. It’s not difficult to look at photos of Charlie and imagine one’s own child in his place. All babies are small and helpless; all babies cry out to be held.

But attitudes change as children get older. In the case of my own family, I noticed a real dropping away of support for my parents and disabled brother as the latter moved into adulthood. There were people who briefly picked him up as a kind of project and then, upon realising that there would be no schmaltzy ending to the story, dropped him again. Love and compassion don’t conquer all, patience runs out and dignity is clearly best respected from a distance.

All too often, the everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over who gets the right to decide whether an individual lives or dies. I don’t know any parents who truly want that right. Not only would it be morally untenable, it’s also a misrepresentation of what their struggles really are and mean.

What many parents who remain lifelong carers need is adequate respite support, a space in which to talk honestly, and the recognition that actually, sometimes loving is a grim and hopeless pursuit. Those who romanticise parental love – who, like Fraser, wallow in heroic portrayals of “battling, devoted parents” – do nothing to alleviate the suffering of those whose love mingles with resentment, exhaustion and sheer loneliness.

There are parents out there who, just occasionally, would be willing to set the world on fire to have a day’s respite from loving. But regardless of whether your child lives or dies, love never ends. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.