Though the entertainment industry through film, television, and other media reflects positive social changes for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the U.S., we currently know little about the progress toward full inclusion of LGBT performers in entertainment.
This study expands the research on diversity and inclusion in entertainment and provides the first insight into how sexual orientation and gender identity influence performers’ experiences working in the profession. In this study, we compare the working conditions and professional outcomes of LGBT performers with those of non-LGBT (non-transgender heterosexual) performers. We explored the ways in which performers find work in the entertainment industry and the climate in which they are working through an online survey of 5,700 SAG-AFTRA members conducted in fall 2012.
In general, SAG-AFTRA provides a supportive union environment for LGBT performers, with members holding very supportive views about LGBT people – much more so than the general public. Respondents were generally supportive of LGBT people playing heterosexual and non-transgender roles. For example, 80% of respondents agreed that transgender women should be considered for roles written for women and that transgender men should be considered for roles written for men.
However, we found that LGBT performers may have substantial barriers to overcome in their search for jobs.
- About a third of respondents believed that casting directors, directors, and producers may be biased against LGBT performers, meaning sexual orientation and gender identity could factor into their hiring decisions.
- 53% of LGBT respondents believed that directors and producers are biased against LGBT performers in hiring, and 34% of non-LGBT respondents reported this same perceived bias.
- 31% of all respondents indicated they think casting directors are biased against LGBT performers.
- Though respondents generally thought that LGB actors are “marketable” as heterosexual romantic leads, they also believed that producers and studio executives think LGB actors are less “marketable” to the public than heterosexual actors: 45% of LG respondents strongly believed that producers and studio executives think LG performers are less marketable, whereas 27% of bisexual respondents and 15% of heterosexual respondents strongly agreed.
- Over half of LGB performers have heard directors and producers make anti-gay comments about actors. About a fifth of LG performers have experienced casting directors making comments about their sexual orientation or gender expression that made them uncomfortable.
- LGBT respondents are less likely than heterosexual respondents to have an agent, which may put LGBT performers at a disadvantage when looking for work.
- Nine percent of LG respondents reported that they had been turned down for a role due to their sexual orientation, while 4% of bisexual respondents reported this.
When LGBT performers find work, their treatment on the job is different in some ways and similar in some ways to the treatment of non-LGBT performers. Our findings suggest that differences in on-the-job experiences and discrimination continue to put LGBT performers at a professional disadvantage.
- On set, more than half of LGBT performers had heard anti-LGBT comments, and over a third had witnessed disrespectful treatment that has also been noticed by non-LGBT performers.
- Judging from their most recent jobs, LGB performers are getting similar types of roles and jobs as heterosexual perform-ers. But their earnings outcomes suggest differences in opportunities: bisexual men earned less over the year, while lesbian and gay actors had lower average daily earnings than heterosexual actors.
- The percentage of non-LGBT respondents who reported directly witnessing discrimination against LGBT performers, 13%, is very close to the 16% of LGBT respondents who reported experiencing discrimination or harassment.
- Gay men were the most likely to report they have experienced some form of discrimination, with one in five reporting an experience. Bisexual actors were about half as likely to report discrimination as gay or lesbian actors.
- Gender nonconforming gay and bisexual men were more likely to experience discrimination, as were men who were out professionally.
Findings from our survey suggest that when a performer plays an LGBT role, that experience may have an impact on them and their future roles. Most heterosexual performers (71%) have never played an LG role over the course of their career, but 58% of lesbian and gay performers and 33% of bisexual performers have. Only 4% of all respondents have played a bisexual role. Notably, respondents were less likely to have played a transgender role. Fourteen percent (14%) of LG perform-ers and 8% of bisexual performers have played a transgender role. Few non-LGBT performers (3%) have played a transgender role. The dearth of transgender roles is likely to be one reason for this difference.
- More than a third of survey respondents (about 35%) agreed that performers in LGB roles will be thought of as LGB themselves.
- While most respondents who played gay roles believed it had no impact on subsequent roles, a quarter of LGB respondents and one-fifth of bisexual respondents believed it affected their later work.
Our survey suggests that coming out is an important decision for LGBT performers, a decision with potential effects on those performers’ careers. They worried that being out will hurt their professional life, while at the same time they saw that being out can result in potential improvements to their sense of well-being and their ability to improve their professional prospects.
- Lesbian and gay performers were more likely to be out professionally than are bisexual actors. A small minority of lesbian and gay actors said they are not out in their professional lives, while a majority of bisexuals said they are not out.
- LGBT actors were less out to industry professionals with more decision-making power or influence than they are out to others in their professional lives.
- Being out as an LGBT performer is a complicated concept and not necessarily completely under the control of LGBT performers since many reported that other people can tell they are LGBT, especially for those who are gender non-conforming.
- Among lesbian and gay respondents who were out, 72% said it had no effect on their careers, and many would encourage other LGBT performers to come out. Despite the barriers for LGBT per-formers described in this report, most respondents, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, saw opportunities improving for LGB actors and for transgender actors. Almost no one thought that opportunities for LGBT actors were getting worse. The pattern that emerges from the survey results suggests both positive conclusions about progress for LGBT performers and indications that more work will be necessary to make the workplace an equal and fully welcoming place for LGBT performers.
Among lesbian and gay respondents who were out, 72% said it had no effect on their careers, and many would encourage other LGBT performers to come out.