History’s Gay Fail: Is The Cable Network Playing It Too Straight?

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It's called the History network, but its own version of history might be a little too heterosexist, according to a new report from the media watchdog Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

On Thursday, the group released its 6th annual "Network Responsibility Index," which maps depictions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community on primetime broadcast and cable television. Out of the 10 cable networks ranked, History had the lowest percentage of LGBT-inclusive content, with just 3 percent of its original programing being rated as LGBT-inclusive. By contrast, Showtime, with shows like "Shameless" and "The L Word," featured LGBT-inclusive content in 46 percent of its original programming, the highest on the list.

This is the first year that History has been ranked on the index, and according to Matt Kane, GLAAD's associate director of entertainment media, there is a lot of room for improvement. "Being a network that predominantly produces reality programs, History can improve by taking diversity into account at the casting stage for these shows," he said.  "As their own reality competition program 'Full Metal Jousting' actually demonstrated, History's distinctive brand of programming gives them the opportunity to tell some truly unique LGBT stories."

Horse trainer Jake Nodar, "Jousting's" only openly gay cast member, recently spoke with Out magazine about competing on the program with "15 alpha-male types." His sexuality is not prominently featured on the show.   

History has been the subject of some criticism over the years, as it has struggled to balance its original directive -- an outlet for documentary-style history programing -- with an ever-changing slate of reality shows and sensationalistic series involving UFOs, monsters and conspiracy theories.

Some have questioned the network's objectiveness as well. In 2011, History cancelled its plans to air "The Kennedys," a controversial miniseries by the conservative writer/producer Joel Surnow. The project had come under fire from some Kennedy historians who said it promoted a blatant right-wing agenda. In a statement at the time, a History spokesperson said, "After viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand."

History did not respond to a request for comment. Despite its low ranking in GLAAD's index, however, there were some bright spots in the group's overall findings. While the total number of LGBT images has stabilized this year, the range of LGBT impressions continues to grow, according to GLAAD, which also monitors the ethnic and cultural diversity of representations within the LGBT community.   

The group also found that Disney-owned ABC (NYSE: DIS), which it praised for its long history of including LGBT stories, earned its highest percentage yet in the Responsibility Index -- with 27 percent of its original programming featuring LGBT-inclusive content. It's worth pointing out that Disney-ABC Television Group is a co-owner of A&E Television networks, History's parent company.

On the down side, GLAAD researchers found that transgender representation continues to be stubbornly low on nearly every network. One "groundbreaking" exception -- according to GLAAD president Herndon Graddick -- was Chaz Bono's much-watched stint on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." The TeenNick drama "Degrassi," which features a transgender character name Adam, was another exception. Kane said he hoped that these small glimpses are a sign that other networks will take similar steps. "In some ways representations of transgender people on television are where representations of gay and lesbian people were a few years ago, in that they're still too rare," he added. "However, we can see that things are starting to move in the right direction as more of the public comes to realize that transgender people are deserving of respect and acceptance."

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