Throughout the last decade, queer people have seen unprecedented advancements in basic human rights and acceptance. However, there are still many misconceptions of the LGBTQ community, especially how it is portrayed in media.
One such issue is queerbaiting, which happens when companies and studios hint at or subtly include an LGBTQ character or theme in media, only to portray them as a villain, refuse to develop their personality, not give them screen time or even kill them off later in the show.
This is usually done for the purpose of gaining support and money from queer fans, who companies hope will watch the show to gain those precious few moments of relatability and representation in a character.
Those characters and stories can both positively and negatively impact LGBTQ viewers like economics sophomore Dylan Scifo.
“Queerbaiting sets up queer people for disappointment,” they said. “[It] implies that queer people are more useful to get views rather than being used to share stories and be represented.”
In recent years, companies have used the queer community as an untapped demographic.
From slapping a rainbow on a product to momentarily showing a supposedly gay character on screen, the bare minimum has been all queer audiences could get for years.
Marketing sophomore Mike Messina was part of that audience.
“A lot of TV shows that I grew up watching didn't really have a lot of characters that were LGBT or very open about it,” he said. “And if there were, it was very, very subtle.”
One character he remembers counting as “representation” was Sharpay Evans’ (Ashley Tisdale) brother Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel) from "High School Musical," despite the franchise never confirming the character’s sexuality.
“But there was never really any storyline that he had. It was just, he was allowed to sit there constantly,” Messina said. “But it was just obvious that we knew who he was and what he was about.”
Many queer people feel insecure and alone growing up, nursing senior Rachael Thompson said, which is how queerbaiting affects them on a deeper level than just ruining a show or movie.
“I think it's super important from a young age to see that it's okay to be yourself and that there's other people like you,” Thompson said. “Seeing that positive representation in media can help boost your self esteem as a queer person.”
She said she wishes she’d seen that representation while growing up but is happy that it’s become more available for the next generation.
“I really didn't see anything positive in the media [until] I was probably, like, in my later years of high school,” Thompson said. “Now I see kids seeing more in the media, and they're super excited to see it. And I'm super happy that they have that now, but like, it would have been cool to also have it whenever I was growing up.”
Like Thompson, Messina said having a show with a character he could relate to would have helped him feel less alone as a child. Now that he’s older, the effects of queerbaiting run far deeper than just underdeveloped characters in a show.
“The problem is that these companies try to appeal to the gay community so that they can get more of what they want out of [us],” Messina said. “On the flip side, they probably don't support or donate anything to organizations that go to our community. And it's very disheartening, because it's almost like you're using us as props.”
Like anyone else, queer people want to feel heard and see people on screen who they can relate to, Messina said. For media that actually represents queer people as real people, he recommended "Pretty Little Liars" or "Love, Simon (2018)."
Thompson said the TV show "One Day at a Time" means a lot to her because it casually represents queer characters instead of promoting stereotypes.
“It was just very, like, nonchalant and not aggressively trying to make it seem like they were adding something,” she said. “It was just so nice to see it as a general concept.”
Many times queer characters are added for shock value, Messina said, and they aren’t true to most queer people’s everyday life. When a show includes casual representation, it shows that queer people are just as human as non-queer people.
“We're alive and we're breathing, and people honestly just need to know about who we are and what we're like,” Messina said. “We're here, and we're not going anywhere.”