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social sciences

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On the ABC sitcom Roseanne (1988-1997), Sandra Bernhard played Nancy, a bisexual character who reinforced the stereotype of the fickle bisexual by first coming out as a lesbian, then switching back to men with little explanation, only saying glibly, "Don't label me." The character of Nancy remained on the show as a humorous oddity, a token rather than a developed bisexual character.

Even a fairly gay-positive film such as Mike Nichols' The Birdcage (1996) relies heavily on the humor of the stereotypically mincing, self-absorbed, effeminate, funny gay man played off against the masculine, gay "straight" man. Though there is enough reality behind the stereotypes to elicit laughs from gay audiences, neither image reflects much depth. Straight audiences learn little about the queer experience from these depictions, and too often the characters serve to perpetuate the stereotypes they demonstrate.

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The good-natured stereotyping of a television show such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (2003) is benign enough, but it plays off some unpleasant stereotypes of gay men as neat freaks and fashion mavens.


Stereotypes, in general, foster prejudice and discrimination. Decisions are often made about individuals based on their membership in groups. When the stereotypes of the groups are negative and inaccurate, as they are for glbtq people, the potential for damaging individuals is all the greater.

Perhaps equally damaging, stereotypes may also be self-fulfilling prophecies, especially for young queers just coming out. Having internalized the stereotypes, they may think, for example, that to be a lesbian, one must be hard and anti-male or that to be a gay man one must be flighty and bitchy. Although such stereotypes are inaccurate and one-dimensional, many glbtq people have attempted to conform to them in efforts to find their niche in the queer subcultures.

Tina Gianoulis

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arts >> Overview:  American Television, Situation Comedies

American television sitcoms have consistently reflected the presence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, often in distorted and stereotyped ways, but occasionally in ways that acknowledge our humanity and complexity.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homophobia

Homophobia was originally defined as a "dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals," but it is now sometimes used to describe any form of anti-gay bias.

social sciences >> Overview:  Misogyny

Beliefs and actions described as misogyny range from intense hatred of women to a more subtle disdain that considers women as inferior beings who must be dominated by men.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sexual Harassment

The question of whether glbtq people in the United States are protected from sexual harassment under federal law has been a major issue for courts in the past 30 years.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sociology

As an academic field, sociology has only recently begun to examine sexuality, and members of the profession are divided over glbtq concerns.

social sciences >> Overview:  Stigma

Stigmas--physical or personal attributes and behaviors that discredit the individuals and groups who possess them--affect all glbtq people.

arts >> Bernhard, Sandra

Sharp-tongued comedienne, writer, singer, and actor Sandra Bernhard is known almost as well for her amorphous sexuality as for her cynical wit.

social sciences >> Bryant, Anita

Former beauty queen, popular singer, and orange juice pitchwoman, Anita Bryant became the poster-girl for homophobia in the late 1970s; her name continues to be a byword for bigotry.

arts >> Hayes, Sean

Actor Sean Hayes gained renown and awards for his role as a gay character on the hit comedy series Will & Grace, but did not come out publicly as a gay man until 2010.

arts >> Lane, Nathan

Highly-acclaimed actor Nathan Lane is not only openly gay himself, but has portrayed gay characters in several plays and films.


"Debunking Stereotypes about Gay and Lesbian Relationships." Argtosexuality: Livin' da Life.

Doty, Alexander. Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Dyer, Richard. "Stereotyping." The Columbia Reader on Lesbian & Gay Men in Media, Society, & Politics. Larry Gross and James D. Woods, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. 297-300.

Link, Bruce G., and Jo C. Phelan. "Conceptualizing Stigma." Annual Review of Sociology (2001): 363-83.

Paul, Annie Murphy. "Where Bias Begins: The Truth About Stereotypes." Psychology Today 31.3 (May-June, 1998): 52-57.

Troiden, Richard. Gay and Lesbian Identity: a Sociological Analysis. Dix Hills, N. Y.: General Hall, 1988.

Walters, Suzanna Danuta. All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gianoulis, Tina  
    Entry Title: Stereotypes  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 31, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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