One of the hottest issues in television today is LGBTQ representation and the current lack thereof on many series. Not only is there an overall lack of queer representation, but several prominent lesbian characters have been killed off of series in recent weeks, causing viewers to become angry that so many shows have fallen victim to a longstanding trope known as Bury Your Gays. The writers of the Canadian medical drama Saving Hope, which just began production on Season 5, decided that instead of just talking about tropes and representation, they were going to do something about it.
With the backing of Saving Hope showrunner Adam Pettle, writer and co-executive producer Noelle Carbone, drafted a pledge outlining how the writers in their room will/won’t treat LGBTQ characters on any show they work on, currently or in the future. Carbone recently discussed with The TV Junkies the pledge (which can be seen in full below), its origins and why her team felt it was so important to take a stand in this way.
The TV Junkies: How did the idea for the pledge come about?
Noelle Carbone: Some friends and I got together to discuss the controversy surrounding Lexa’s death on The 100, and the pile up of queer female TV character deaths that followed close after. Michelle Mama who’s a writer, producer, director, as well as a queer activist, introduced me and Sonia Hosko (Saving Hope producer) to Gina Tass who’s a behavioural therapist who works a lot with youth. Gina was paying very close attention to what young fans were saying online, and was aware that some of them were upset and self-harming. So she started an online fundraiser where fans could channel their anger, disappointment and hurt into a positive endeavour: raising money for The Trevor Project.
So the four of us started emailing back and forth and meeting up to discuss what we could do to effect some positive change. And the idea for the pledge was borne out of those discussions.
For me and Sonia and Michelle who’re industry insiders, it was our way of saying “We hear you. We acknowledge that we’re not doing right by you. We promise to do better.” And it gave Gina the ability to go back and tell the kids she’d been reaching out to, “Hang in there. Change is coming.”
TTVJ: What was Adam’s reaction and the reaction of your fellow writers when you presented the idea to them?
NC: Adam and the SH room had the same reaction I did when I first started reading about The 100 controversy. “There but for the grace of God go I.” At the time the controversy started, we had already started breaking a story about a recurring lesbian character who was being treated at Hope Zion. And it seemed like the most dramatic way to tell that story was for that woman to die. We debated whether or not, as a hospital show where patients often die, we were beholden to the same rules as other shows. Is it playing into the Bury Your Gays trope if you kill a lesbian character who was already quite ill when she first showed up? We went back and forth a lot and had many days of spirited debate. And while we were debating we kept reading all of the incredible, detailed coverage in the press about the issue. Ultimately, we came to understand that the underlying issue is actually pretty simple: queer characters are so underrepresented on television that killing off even one makes a tremendous negative impact.
We’re not trying to be self righteous about this. We’re trying to do our little part to make things better on our show, and in any future story room we might find ourselves in.
And we’d like to encourage other writers and producers to do the same, by singing along with us, or by drafting pledges of their own.
TTVJ: How did you go about drafting the pledge and the main points of the pledge? Did you consult with any sources within the LGBTQ community?
NC: As more and more articles kept surfacing in the press about the Bury Your Gays controversy, we began to understand just how multi-faceted the issue actually is. It’s not just about killing queer characters. It’s also about engaging with your fans openly and honestly. (Which I’ll admit, I haven’t always done the best job of.) It’s about acknowledging that the trope itself is harmful on a psychological level because it perpetuates a message of despair when what we really should be saying is, “Hang in there. It gets better!”
TTVJ: Why was it important to include the social media aspect into the pledge as well?
NC: Social media is a relatively new frontier for showrunners and writers to engage with their fan base on a regular basis. That is a blessing but it can also be a curse because a lot of us have no idea what the hell we’re doing. By including a social media clause in the pledge it will force us to be hyper vigilant about our fan engagement and ensure we’re doing it responsibly.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.