On Wednesday, ABC Family announced a new docu-series about a gender transition, set to be released this summer. That means LGBT representation on television will win a huge victory in the near future.
The reality series, Becoming Us, follows 17-year-old Ben Lehwald as he watches his parent undergo a gender transition, while dating a girl whose father is also transitioning. During his first year of high school, Lehwald’s dad, Charlie, came out as transgender and transitioned into Carly. Becoming Us follows Ben, his parents, and older sister, as they process and experience the change.
While the Lehwalds’ story is interesting in its own right, the show will usher in a new wave of transgender programming on TV. But it should come as no surprise that the home of Becoming Us is ABC Family. The network, which has a key demographic of young adults and teens, is at the forefront of LGBT story-telling on TV.
Every year, GLAAD monitors LGBT representation on television, and publishes two reports that rate networks based on how inclusive they are. Its National Responsibility Index (NRI), which grades original primetime programming from the previous year, rated ABC Family “Excellent” for LGBT content in the 2013-2014 season. Even though it dropped 8 percent from 2013, 42 percent, or 62.5 hours, of the network’s primetime programming featured LGBT-inclusive storylines. It also featured more lesbians characters and LGBT people of color than any other cable network covered in the study: A&E, FX, HBO, History, MTV, Showtime, TLC, TNT, and USA.
The LGBT organization’s Where We Are Now report, which tracks overall diversity in the upcoming year, determined that ABC Family’s The Fosters has the only recurring transgender character on cable TV in the 2014-2015 season.
When the two reports were published last year, GLAAD’s president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said, “Television networks are playing a key role in promoting cultural understanding of LGBT lives around the world, and are now producing some of the best LGBT-inclusive programming we’ve yet seen. As they move forward with new programs and storylines, networks must also keep an eye towards diversity and strive to include significant transgender content comparable to those efforts being made by their online competitors, such as Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and Amazon’s Transparent.”
In the future, GLAAD will only give “excellent” ratings to networks featuring transgender content, so the start of Becoming Us bodes well for ABC Family. But the cable network isn’t alone in becoming more transgender-inclusive. Next week, New Girls on the Block, a reality show with six trans women, will debut on Discovery Life. Teenage trans activist Jazz Jennings will also star in a reality show on TLC this summer.
If the success of shows like Orange Is the New Black and Transparent is any indication, the new series are in a historic position to bring transgender stories to a mainstream audience. They will also continue the normalization of diversity in pop culture, as people realize the stories of different types of people are worth telling.