‘Are We Being Served: Lesbians, Gays and Broadcasting’ was a research project undertaken by the Gays and Broadcasting Project between 1985 and 1987. The first part of its title comes from a British sitcom of that time, ‘Are You Being Served’ that featured an extremely camp gay man as one of its central characters.
The project monitored 688 hours of national television and radio in the UK during one week in 1985 to look at the treatment of lesbianism and male homosexuality. Of the 268 hours of television monitored, only 9 hours and 40 minutes (3.8%) had included any representation of lesbians or gay men.
Of the 420 hours of radio monitored only one hour and 21 minutes (0.32%) included lesbian or gay representation. And of the entire 688 hours of TV and radio, only 25 minutes were given over to lesbian representation, most of which was on radio and largely negative; for example, “no more than a minute as an insult in a drama”.
Representations were invariably stereotypes:
“In crime films we have lesbians and gays portrayed always as criminals; in comedies, as buffoons or fools.”
The report also noted that positive representations of LGBT people were tucked away in the late-night slot whilst negative stereotypes were most common at peak viewing time:
“The predominance of this sissy-type image on TV can be explained by its showing at peak viewing time, whereas feature films with gay characters are considered to be “for adults only”.”
For gay men, the report noted that:
“Throughout the monitoring period all references to homosexuality in news programmes are linked to AIDS.”
“…the biggest problem lesbians face is that of invisibility. There are few programmes about us and if we do appear we are ridiculed or stereotyped.”