The Bisexual Index

The Invisible B at the BBC

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In late September 2010 the BBC published a report on the portrayal of LGB people on television (in drama, documentaries, news, comedies) and what their audience thought of it.

The findings are not very surprising. (PDF, various sizes)

Bisexual people, used to not seeing bi representation, noticed the gay and lesbian portrayals, and approved of them - seeing them as being the closest they'd get to seeing any bisexuals. They were particularly annoyed to notice that although bisexuality sometimes cropped up as behaviour, it was never celebrated as a valid identity.

Gay and lesbian people, on the whole, didn't notice the lack of bisexual portrayals. The group "uncomfortable heterosexuals" found bisexual portrayals especially confusing. Bisexuals don't.

As part of the launch of the report (and their commitment to do better to represent LGB people) the BBC next released a wealth of material from their archive here.

While some of the clips may mention bisexuality in passing, none of them have this mentioned in the summaries. And the page is about "Gay Rights", which is the fight for "gay and lesbian equality" in the UK. All very familiar, sadly.

So the BBC's first step after releasing the report isn't as inclusive as we'd hope. There's more B's in the URL, frankly.

But here at The Bisexual Index we do still hope that the portrayal of bisexuals improves. Bisexuality needn't be the plot, the hook, the scandal of a character, or the joke in a comedy, or the focus of a news story. People could be bisexual in the daytime magazine shows without "saying/claiming they're bisexual". We're used to incidental characters, why not incidental sexualities?

The report calls for a review to see how they've done in two years. We hope that between now and then bisexuals around the country will continue to push the BBC to include us in their output.

But it's not just the BBC we need to push. Sadly the reporting on this study has already taken a predictable turn. "LGB" is too cumbersome for some, so it becomes "Gay"...

Comedienne Sue Perkins has responded to the BBC's study on lesbian and gay visibility by claiming that homosexual characters need more on-screen authenticity.

Writing for the Guardian she said:

"Although the BBC and Channel fare well in this report, there is much left to do. The responsibility must fall on the biggest hitters soap operas. Watched by millions of middle Englanders week after week, they could change the perception of gay people where it matters most.

"What saddens me is that the same issues keep arising. For gay men, it's the predominance of the camp cliche. For lesbians, despair at the outdated butch-femme stereotypes. Gay women generally are under-represented, unless you count the number of times the word "lesbian" or "dyke" features as a lazy comic's punchline."
From the Pink Paper

Her article is reported the same way in other places such as Digital Spy, but they at least do notice the report is on "LGB", unlike the LGBT Pink Paper.

Why? Her original comments in the Guardian only use the word bisexual once - when quoting the name of the BBC report. It goes on to explain how gay men and lesbians could be better portrayed. Although we've been assured by her that it was entirely unintentional on her part (she'd only been asked to comment on lesbian portrayal, and chose to throw in the comments about gay men to "widen it out"), what happens next shows how bisexual erasure works even without being deliberate. The piece is then picked by others who drop "bisexual" even from the report's name and it's easily done; if none of the pull-quotes from Perkins' piece mention "B" at all, why call it an LGB report? That wasn't how the author meant it, but by then it's too late.

The report is welcome, overdue, and sadly the reporting of it confirms the findings. Bisexuals need better inclusion in the media.

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