The LGBTQ Revolution and the Media*

*developed with Professor Larry Gross

Course Description

Few aspects of social change have been as dramatic as those experienced by LGBTQ Americans in the decades since the middle of the 20th Century. In 1950, LGBTQ Americans were defined as criminals, sinners, and mentally ill. They were subjected to discrimination, ostracism and persecution. Yet, starting from this position of vulnerability they were able to form a common identity, redefine themselves, and engage in an ultimately successful struggle for equality, dignity, and inclusion. While the goal of full equality has not yet been achieved, the victories are not yet secure, and discrimination and persecution still exist, there has probably not been any other civil rights struggle that has achieved as much in as short a time.

This course will trace the history of this struggle, with particular attention to the role of the media—entertainment, news, and other domains of popular culture—in reflecting and shaping the images, and self-images, of sexual and gender minorities in the United States.

Because of their “invisibility” sexual and gender minorities provide a unique example of the role of cultural stereotypes in socialization and identity-shaping and can thus illuminate these basic communicational processes. Definitions and images to be analyzed (within a historical and cross-cultural context) are drawn from religious, medical and social scientific sources, as well as elite and popular culture.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the course, students will:

  • Understand how media representations of reflect and shape the life experiences LGBTQ individuals and the formation of LGBTQ communities;

  • Understand the history of LGBTQ media representation and how that history has influenced the contemporary status of LGBTQ individuals in American society;

  • Be able to critically analyze the content of LGBTQ media portrayals through the lens of core course theories;

  • Be able to analyze how different media forms, systems, structures, and contexts shape the types of portrayals of LGBTQ lives possible; and

  • Be able to compare media representations of LGBTQ people across time and cultural contexts with sensitivity to how those factors illuminate the process of media-driven social change.

Required Films and Readings

All weekly films and readings are required. The readings are in Up From Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men and the Media in America, by Larry Gross (2001, Columbia University Press) and The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics, edited by Larry Gross and James D. Woods (1999, Columbia University Press), both available from Amazon. Additional required readings will be posted on Blackboard. All required films will be available through Kanopy, YouTube, Vimeo, etc., and links will be posted on Blackboard.

Description of Assignments and Grading Breakdown

Take-home Papers (30 pts. each)

The take-home paper assignments will both ask you to connect issues covered in the readings, the screenings, and the lectures, to illuminate aspects of the LGBTQ movement and their relationships to media portrayals. Specific writing prompts will be distributed two weeks before each paper is due. Each paper should be a maximum of 1,500 words [6 double-spaced pages] and submitted via Turnitin on Blackboard, no later than the beginning of class on the day they are due. Papers will be evaluated on the clarity of argument, robustness of employed evidence, and comprehension of the theoretical perspectives discussed in the course.

Take-home Final Examination (30 pts.)

The final exam will ask you to relate issues covered in the course to the film showed in our final class screening [TBA], analyzing both the content and context of the film’s portrayals of LGBTQ people and communities. This exam should also be a maximum of 1,500 words [6 double-spaced pages] and submitted via Turnitin on Blackboard, no later than the end of University-appointed examination time for the course [TBA]. Exams will be evaluated on the clarity of argument, analytical precision, and inventive utilization of the theoretical perspectives discussed in the course.

Class Assignments and Participation (10 pts.)

You are required to submit a response memo containing comments and/or questions about the assigned readings and films, which should be posted to the class forum on Blackboard prior to class discussion, no later than 10 p.m. on the evening before class.

A portion of your grade will also be based upon class participation, so you should ensure that you are prepared to discuss the readings if called upon. While attendance will not formally be considered as a portion of your grade, if you do not attend, you cannot receive participation points.

Course Schedule: A Weekly Breakdown

Week 1: Introduction

*** SCREENING: CBS Reports: The Homosexuals (March 7, 1967) ***

Week 2: Coming Out and Coming Together / Other Times, Other Customs

Film: The Boys in the Band


  • “Coming Out and Coming Together,” in Gross, pp. 21–39

  • “Introduction: Being Gay in American Media and Society,” in Gross and Woods, pp. 3–22

  • “Other Times, Other Customs,” in Gross and Woods, pp. 25–30

  • “A Matter of Difference,” by Martin Duberman, in Gross and Woods, pp. 31–33

  • “Intimate Friendships,” by Erica E. Goode, with Betsy Wagner, in Gross and Woods pp. 33–36

  • “Capitalism and Gay Identity,” by John D’Emilio, in Gross and Woods pp. 48–55

  • “Thinking Sex,” by Gayle Rubin (1984) in Pleasure & Danger, edited by Carole Vance (Boston: RKP), pp. 267–319 [excerpts]

Week 3: Who’s a Queer? / Queer Perspectives

Film: Killing of Sister George


Week 4: Inventing Sin: Religion and the Church / Making Us Sick: The Medical and Psychological Establishment   

Film: When We Rise, Ep. 1


Week 5: Gay Power, Gay Politics / Stonewall and Beyond

*** SCREENING: CBS Reports: The Homosexuals (March 7, 1967) ***

Film: When We Rise, Ep. 2


  • “Stonewall and Beyond,” in Gross, pp. 40 – 55

  • “Homo Nest Raided! Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad,” by Jerry Lisker, in Gross and Woods, pp. 364–366

  • “The ‘Gay’ People Demand Their Rights,” by Lacey Fosburgh, in Gross and Woods, pp. 366–367

Week 6: Up From Invisibility: Fictional Representations in Film and Television


Film: Off the Straight and Narrow


  • “At the Movies,” in Gross, pp. 56–80

  • “Television Takes Over,” in Gross, pp. 81–93

  • “Hollywood under Pressure,” in Gross, pp. 143–155

  • “Up From Invisibility: Film and Television,” in Gross and Woods, pp. 291–296

  • “Stereotyping,” by Richard Dyer, in Gross and Woods, pp. 297–301

  • “Where We Are on TV,” by GLAAD (2016)

  • “The Trans/Romance Dilemma in Transamerica and Other Films,” by Traci B. Abbott (2013), in Journal of American Culture 36(1), pp. 32–41

  • “Regressing, Progressing, or Transgressing on the Small Screen? Transgender Characters on U.S. Scripted Television Series,” by Jamie C. Capuzza and Leland G. Spencer (2017), in Communication Quarterly 65(2), pp. 214–230

Week 7: AIDS and the Media

Film: Philadelphia


  • “AIDS and the Media,” in Gross, pp. 94–109

  • “Cries and Whispers: AIDS and the Media,” in Gross and Woods, pp. 387–391

  • “Illness and Deviance: The Response of the Press to AIDS,” by Edward Albert, in Gross and Woods, pp. 393–402

  • “The Second Wave,” by James Kinsella, in Gross and Woods, pp. 402–407

  • “A Test of Who We Are As a People,” by Vito Russo, in Gross and Woods, pp. 408–410

Week 8: Reality TV and Celebrity Culture

Film: Further Off the Straight and Narrow


Week 9: Fit to Print? Journalism

Film: When We Rise, Ep. 3


  • “Journalism’s Closet Opens,” in Gross, pp. 110–130

  • “Fit to Print? Journalism,” in Gross and Woods, pp. 349–353

  • “The Homosexual in America,” by Time, in Gross and Woods, pp. 356–359

  • “A Rebuke for TIME’s Pernicious Prejudice” by Kay Tobin, in Gross and Woods, pp. 359–361

  • “A Minority’s Plea: U.S. Homosexuals Gain in Trying to Persuade Society to Accept Them,” by Charles Alverson, in Gross and Woods, pp. 361–363

  • “Transgender Images in the Media,” by Willow Arune (2006), in News and Sexuality: Media Portraits of Diversity, edited by Laura Castañeda and Shannon B. Campbell (Thousand Oaks: Sage), pp. 110–133

  • “Writing in the Margins: Mainstream News Media Representations of Transgenderism,” by Thomas J Billard (2016), in International Journal of Communication 10, pp. 4193–4218

  • “The Transgender Tipping Point,” by Kathy Steinmetz (2014), in Time

Week 10: Queers in Cyberspace

Films: Tongues Untied and Framing Lesbian Fashion


  • “Old Stories and New Technologies,” in Gross, pp. 221–232

  • “Queers in Cyberspace,” in Gross and Woods, pp. 527–530

  • “We’re Teen, We’re Queer, and We’ve Got E-mail,” by Steve Silberman, in Gross and Woods, pp. 537–539

  • “Logging On, Coming Out,” by Jeff Walsh, in Gross and Woods, pp. 540–541

  • “Breaking Boundaries: The Uses and Gratifications of Grindr,” by Stephanie Tong and Chad Van De Wiele (2014)

  • “‘I Did It All Online:’ Transgender Identity and the Management of Everyday Life,” by Andre Cavalcante (2016), in Critical Studies in Media Communication 33(1), pp. 109–122

  • “Zero Feet Away: The Digital Geography of Gay Social Media,” by Yoel Roth (2016), in Journal of Homosexuality 63(3), pp. 437–442

  • “Disturbing Hegemonic Discourse: Nonbinary Gender and Sexual Orientation Labeling on Tumblr,” by Abigail Oakley (2016), in Social Media + Society

  • “#GirlsLikeUs: Trans Advocacy and Community Building Online,” by Darah J. Jackson, Moya Bailey, and Brooke Foucault Welles (2017), in New Media & Society

Week 11: Queer Youth


Films: Paris is Burning and Pose, Ep. 1


  • “You’re the First Person I Have Ever Told,” in Gross, pp. 216–200

  • “Denial and Erasure: Education and Culture,” in Gross and Woods, pp. 235–239

  • “Pop Tune Can Comfort Teens Unsure of Their Sexuality,” in Gross and Woods, pp. 286–287

  • “Gideon Who Will be 25 in the Year 2012: Growing Up Gay Today,” by Larry Gross (2007), in International Journal of Communication 1, pp. 121–138

  • “Gay—Straight Alliances and School Experiences of Sexual Minority Youth,” by N. Eugene Walls, Sarah B. Kane, and Hope Wisneski (2010), in Youth & Society 41(3)

  • “It’s Time to Write LGBT History into the Textbooks,” by David Carter (2014), in Time

  • “You Can Form a Part of Yourself Online: The Influence of New Media on Identity Development and Coming Out for LGBTQ Youth,” by Shelley L. Craig and Lauren McInroy (2014), in Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health 18(1), pp. 95–109

  • “Fostering Support for LGBTQ Youth? The Effects of A Gay Adolescent Media Portrayal on Young Viewers,” by Traci K. Gillig and Sheila T. Murphy (2016), in International Journal of Communication 10, pp. 3818–3850

  • “I Had 4 Boys—Until One of Them Told Me She Was Really a Girl,” by Kimberly Shappley (2017), Good Housekeeping

Week 12: The Good Parts: Pornography

Film: When We Rise, Ep. 4


Week 13: Gay Marriage and Other Fights

Film: TBA


Week 14: The Transgender Revolution

Film: TBA


Week 15: Where Do We Go From Here?

Film: Screening for final exam


  • “A Niche of Our Own,” in Gross, pp. 233–251

  • “Facing the Future,” in Gross, pp. 252–264

  • More readings TBA

Final Examinations Week


Thomas J Billard