LGBT Media Visibility and the Traditional Sexual Ethic

Today, LGBT people are more visible in the media than ever before. Many would argue that the LGBT community still does not have enough media visibility. Oppositely, many other people would argue that LGBT issues have too much visibility in the media. Still, some don’t think that it’s important for LGBT people and characters shown on television, in magazines, in movies, etc. to be associated in any noticeable way with their LGBT statuses. Those found in the latter two groups tend to be people who hold to a traditional sexual ethic–often people who mean well, but aren’t sure of how best to approach LGBT issues. However, one could make a strong argument that many of the people campaigning to reduce LGBT visibility in the media are not simply conservative Christians who value traditional teachings on sexuality, but instead are those who hold an anti-gay perspective. Either way, in the eyes of these crusaders, any LGBT media visibility flies in the face of a traditional sexual ethic.

Let’s start by backing up just a bit: we’re sure that nearly all of you, our readers, could identify some instance of the media showcasing sexuality outside the boundaries of a traditional sexual ethic. Some of your examples might even showcase LGBT people and concerns. However, a significant portion of media that feature LGBT people does not say anything about sexual morality. For example, Honey Maid released a 30-second commercial in March 2014 called “This is Wholesome.” The commercial features some different families: a biracial family, a family headed by a single dad who loves his tattoos and drumset, and a family of two gay men and a baby.

In the commercial, the gay couple is featured for 5 seconds. There are zero references to sex. There is nothing sexual that the two men are doing. The men don’t actually show affection to each other; they are showing affection to their baby. There’s nothing to indicate, one way or another, that these characters are having sex. There’s nothing to suggest that the characters are legally married. The words “Dad” and “Husband” don’t appear in the commercial at all.

Yet, many people were incensed that Honey Maid would dare to produce such a commercial. Organizations like One Million Moms were quick to argue that this commercial promotes sexual perversion. We wonder how it’s possible to see LGBT people on television and immediately associate this media visibility with an “attempt to normalize sin.” This same organization accused Disney of “pushing an agenda” when it included a lesbian couple on an episode of Good Luck Charlie. When we watched that particular clip, we did not see any references to sexuality, but found other aspects of the scene that should have been very distressing to people who value marriage, love, and respect.

We can appreciate that some straight people with a traditional sexual ethic feel their beliefs are under attack from many corners of society. However, we’d encourage our readers with a traditional sexual ethic to consider the following observations before holding LGBT media visibility as uniquely problematic.

Media can tell the stories of real people. We’ve noticed that people who are against LGBT media visibility tend not to be aware of any LGBT people in their circles of friends. The idea that your kid might have a friend at school with two moms or two dads is not some hair-brained notion from Hollywood, San Francisco, New York, or DC. It’s the lived experience of real people from all across America and in other countries as well. Additionally, celibate LGBT people are also just as real as non-celibate LGBT people. Some celibate LGBT people even have partners. (And if you’re finding our blog for the first time, take this as evidence that celibate, LGBT, Christian couples do exist.) If a person asserts that LGBT people should not be visible in the media because LGBT people practice a “sinful sexual lifestyle,” then that person is reducing the identities of LGBT people to “sex” while simultaneously denying that LGBT people have just as much diversity in their sexual ethics as straight people do.

Media can give invisible people and groups a sense of belonging and worth. One of the most powerful things about books, television, and movies is how they can resonate with a person’s sense of identity. Most LGBT people, at some point in their lives, experience profound alienation — feeling different, unwanted, shut out from society, and worthless. In these moments, LGBT people can struggle to see themselves as God’s beloved creations. The presence of a visible LGBT person in the media can ease the route of self-acceptance and promote emotional health. For example, Lindsey grew up absolutely enthralled by the space program. Because Sally Ride’s launch date occurred two days after Lindsey’s birthday, Lindsey always felt an affinity towards Sally Ride. However, Sally Ride was not a visible member of the LGBT community until after her death in 2012. Lindsey started asking questions about sexuality and gender identity just as Ellen Degeneres and Rosie O’Donnell had come out, but neither Ellen nor Rosie were people Lindsey especially looked up to. If Ride had been visible as an LGBT person at the time Lindsey started exploring sexuality and gender identity, then Lindsey is reasonably confident that the coming out journey would have been much easier.

Media rarely showcases a traditional sexual ethic, even where straight people are concerned. We hope that this point is relatively straightforward, but we wanted to call attention to the LGBT-straight duality. It’s become increasingly common to see more and more heterosexual sexual activity in the media. Yet, even though people with a traditional sexual ethic are bothered by these developments, one doesn’t see nearly the level of outrage regarding a heterosexual sexual encounter as the ire that manifests when LGBT people are simply visible in the media without any kind of reference to sex. Sarah has been told by multiple acquaintances that they would rather see a heterosexual extramarital affair scene on shows like Grey’s Anatomy than any character on any program identified as an LGBT person. Some have even gone so far as to say that “Adultery is just wrong. But being gay is both wrong and disgusting.”

From our perspective, this last comment is the most telling about how some people view LGBT visibility in the media. We wish straight friends and acquaintances would see that by offering such remarks, they make us feel unwelcome not only in public, but in their own living rooms. Saying that LGBT people should not be visible in the media is not much different from saying that we shouldn’t get to exist at all. We wish these people would afford us space to tell them what celibacy and our self-descriptions as LGBT mean to us. And we wish these people would see us, first and foremost, as human beings.

We’d love to hear from our readers about your reactions to our observations as well as your perceptions of the positive and negative impacts of increasing LGBT media visibility.

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7 thoughts on “LGBT Media Visibility and the Traditional Sexual Ethic

      • I was once talking with a mentor of mine of the media and sexual content. One of the things she also mentioned was how we end up cheering for sin in a way we don’t realize. Example: shows which showcase two people in a marriage. One person begins to have feelings for another person, perhaps starts seeing them. The way it is written is to get us as the audience to ‘root’ for the relationship outside of marriage. Perhaps the marriage is ‘failing’, perhaps the person is not ‘giving the attention desired’ to the person participating in an affair. Slowly, without realizing it, we might find ourselves cheering for the affair.

        It’s sneaky, it’s subtle, but this is another thing we don’t ever call out in media.

  1. Homphobia is sad. The church may not agree with being gay, that’s their conviction but what about showing love to those made in God’s image?

  2. Found this site by seeing it a few times on Twitter what’s popular in your network. Anyway, I like hearing from LGBT that are against the grain of the stereotype of sex fiends and anti-Christian. That seems pushed by some, not all media. I am looking at reviewing my thoughts on characters outside the sexual norm. I agree when Christians are okay with sexual deviancy within heterosexual relationships, it is given a pass, but if it isn’t heterosexual then it is a different story. That seems very hypocritical of the Pharisee type.

    I do make the distinction between same sex attraction and behavior. I met a minister who didn’t. He said that leads to hell, just thinking it. You may have come across folks who throw out the if you think about a person outside marriage in a sexual way, you have already committed adultery. But who among us has not been tempted by the flesh after adolescence? Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Temptation happens to all of us. It is how we react to that temptation. If we believe it to be sinful and try to live out our Christian lives as we believe God wants us and not as man and be reduced to our baser instincts of anything goes sexually-as the cultural elites demand.

    It must be so difficult to remain celibate. I can not imagine the anguish I would have if some medical condition made it so I couldn’t be intimate with my husband. That is the closest way I can try empathizing. Thank you for being role models for LGBT youth that want to remain Christian and live celibate lives.

    I have thought most LGBT people want to just quietly live their lives and get along with folks like all of us do. It seems the activists get the attention. Those who say I am LGBT and you will like me. That kinda behavior works against them. But activists like that have always been loud and heard over the majority, just like street preachers that get pointed to as model Christians. Anyway, I am rambling cuz I am still considering.

    I don’t think I would have any problem with a series that revolved around celibate, Christian LGBT couple as long as that was secondary. That the characters were like the commercial you describe. Two folks who happen to be LGBT. I also don’t think it appropriate to have steamy, soap opera, heterosexual scenes either. Feels like I am being a peeping Tom.

    I do know of gays in our little town. But as I said above, they don’t seem to have I am gay and you are going to like me chip. We can disagree and actually, other than knowing we are conservative Catholics, they may not know where I stand on sexual issues. It doesn’t come up. I wish them happiness and talk to them as people. I think that should be the Christian response. People will live their lives as they believe. Yelling at people won’t bring them to your viewpoint. Showing respect and trying to live out a Christian lifestyle and being humble, not self-righteous. Kinda live and let live. Maybe pray for LGBT that God’s Will in each of their lives comes about, cause God knows best, and leave it in His Hands. I dunno. As I said, I am rambling and still working it out. How to be charitable without condoning what the Church considers sinful. By the way, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says we should respect LGBT folks. Love the person, hate the sin sorta mentality. What a heavy cross the both of you must bear. May Our Lord Bless the both of you.

    • Well said! I am Transfemme and I have absolutely no desire to see sex of any sort when I am watching TV or a movie, lgbtqi+ or het. The story can be told without sex. I don’t even care to see kissing unless it is a love story. It doesn’t matter to me if it is same sex or het as long as it is germaine to the story. I don’t however care to see any two people swallowing each others tongues.
      As for the church, pointing fingers is commonplace. The church I attend had a nasty split. The same people who would condemn the “queers” are the same people who were stabbing the pastor and his wife in the back.
      Whether or not we agree with how people show their love to others doesn’t give us license to denigrate people made in God’s image. We need to be loved too. We hurt, feel pain, cry, laugh and rejoice just the same as everyone else.

      • Yes. When Christians show disrespect to persons and not just sexual sins, we are pushing people away from us as surely as the activists who sue Christian folks because everyone must celebrate their sexuality. No room for civil discourse and agree to disagree within social norms.

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