Gay-oriented TV shows first entered the mainstream in the 1990s. Shows like Will & Grace, Ellen, and Queer As Folk pushed censorship boundaries and defined what it meant to be queer on television. But too often gay characters on mainstream television shows are flamboyant and good-looking; these roles often comic relief that is rife with stereotypes and unintended white privilege.
The Fosters changes how LGBTQ people are represented on television.
Unlike their prime-time counterparts Modern Family and The Real O’Neals, The Fosters sidesteps stereotypes by writing gay characters who experience the ups and downs of normal life. Centered around the family of mixed-race lesbian couple Stef and Lena Adams Foster, the show breaks established tropes of television homosexuality and challenges the assumption that shows must star white males.
In stark contrast, The Real O’Neals, starring gay actor Noah Gavin as Kenny O’Neal, sticks to established tropes. This show is a sitcom and these stereotypes are intended to be comedic, but the unwitting viewer will not see the real queer experience in this show.
Real World Issues
Stef and Lena’s adopted son Jude has perhaps become the most important gay characters in the series. His sister Callie struggles to adapt to her new home as a rape survivor, but Jude’s challenges highlight another real problem in the U.S. and worldwide: teen homelessness. Nearly half of all homeless teens and teens in the foster system in the U.S. are gay or transgender. Of the estimated 2.8 million homeless teens, almost 1.4 million identify as homosexual. Through Jude, The Fosters shines a light on this epidemic as no other gay-oriented show has.
Love and Humor
The Fosters adds levity and humor to issues which are core to family dramas—school shootings, suicide, rape, mental health, and domestic violence. But its greatest success is in portraying queer characters as complete human beings, neither hiding their sexuality nor becoming a caricature.
The Fosters Season 5 premieres on July 11, 2017, on Freeform.