Backstage politics: Social change and the "Gay TV" industry

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Sari K. Biklen


Television, Production of culture, Gay, Lesbian, Intersectional ideas, Social change

Subject Categories

Gender and Sexuality | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


While gay and lesbian images have been regular features of television culture throughout the 1990s, the 21 st Century delivered an unprecedented interest in programming designed specifically for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community. This new era of gay media visibility boasts LGBT-specific networks featuring gay-identified cultural producers targeting LGBT audiences. This dissertation examines professionals in this "Gay TV" industry in order to understand their perspectives of these businesses, the products they create, and their relationship with larger society.

For this project I interviewed 20 key players in the Gay TV industry. As members of LGBT communities, these professionals were pleased that their media careers and sexual identities had converged, allowing them to educate audiences and media professionals about gay life in the United States. While Gay TV players overwhelmingly felt they were contributing to a larger social good, their careers in Gay TV situate them in a business, not a community-service organization. In response to this position, many of these professionals negotiate "who they are" with "where they are" by creating production structures--relatively stable patterns of behavior--that allow them to play an important bridging role between their positions in LGBT communities and their careers. As gay television professionals, their intersectional identities led them to describe their careers using both political and business terms--a strategy that constructs the television industry as culturally important and allows them to situate their work within the fight for LGBT equality. While I share the belief that the business of television may promote social change, many Gay TV players overestimate the value of their work by failing to recognize the parameters of this industry.


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