In early 2021, a report by the LGBT advocacy organization GLAAD revealed that queer representation on television decreased for the first time in five years. Despite the dip, shows like the breakout HBO series “The L Word: Generation Q” and movies like Netflix’s “Single All the Way” have continued telling diverse queer stories helping individuals celebrate their identities.
Leo Sheng plays Micah, a queer trans man on HBO’s “The L Word: Generation Q.” Having played the character for two years, Leo, who also identifies as a trans man himself, shares, “I see Micah as someone who’s just trying to do his best—like the rest of us.”
Growing up, the original run of “The L Word” helped Leo first learn that a trans man existed. After coming out, he watched a lot of videos on YouTube of trans men sharing their experiences with medical transition. “Most of them were white and could be perceived as cisgender,” however, he points out, “it felt like a big disconnect for me and my own experiences.” In fact, Leo explains, “few felt truly representational.”
Now, his character of Micah and the series play a significant role in showing diverse queer people in aspirational careers, with friends and family, in fulfilling relationships, and enjoying life. “I think we’re at a point in the media where it’s not simply enough to say that queer people exist and to see them for a second on screen, but that we must also portray queer stories and lives fully.”
Playing Micah has also provided value for Leo this season. “Watching him grow more confident in speaking up and stating his needs felt important, both for me in my own life, and in watching a Chinese-American queer trans man own his truth.”
I see Micah as someone who’s just trying to do his best—like the rest of us.”
Actor Michael Urie agrees that there’s a connection between these characters’ successes and people feeling seen. Michael played an iconic role in the series “Ugly Betty,” and most recently starred in Netflix’s first gay rom-com, “Single All the Way.”
“These kinds of shows and movies can help young people know what’s possible for their adulthood,” Michael shares, basing much of his outlook on the outpouring of gratitude from viewers. Reflecting on his childhood, Michael experienced a void of LGBT stories he could find comfort in, but a memory that left an impact on him was when his family gathered around the TV to watch Ellen come out on primetime TV. “The memory of watching it in the comfort of my home, with my parents and my queer sister, helped me know I was going to be OK as I came to terms with my own sexuality.”
What inspires Michael in his work today is the impact queer stories on TV, in film, and even on Broadway can have on children who may not have anyone like them in their family. When looking toward the legacy he hopes to leave behind one day, Michael notes, “I hope when the dust settles on all of this, I’ll have helped break the rule that gay is a type.”
As new stories of queer experiences continue to unfold on screen, acknowledgement for queer work is higher than ever. Recently, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis shared that there are more nominees this year than ever before when discussing the 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards. Streaming services included 63 nominees, cable shows received 39 nominations, and broadcast networks received 17 nominations.
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