LGBT Success in TV Industry Perpetuates ‘Gay Affluence’ Myth

Recent media reports highlight that some of the world’s highest-paid TV stars are, in fact, LGBT. This is a significant achievement for the community, but it’s important to keep things in perspective.

The news originates from Variety’s annual review of big TV earners, released in October of last year. The review shows the staggering income earned by top TV talent, as well as what is now possible for openly LGBT entertainers.

For example, ranking first — along with with his other Big Bang stars — is Jim Parsons, who earns $1 million per episode of the hit CBS show. It’s estimated that bisexual songstress Miley Cyrus earns a jaw-dropping $13-$15 million annually for judging The Voice, while everyone’s favorite chat show host Ellen DeGeneres rakes in $20 million per year.

And that’s not all.

Mental health advocate and actor Wentworth Miller is among the top earners at $175 thousand per episode of the revived Prison Break. CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Bravo’s Andy Cohen also top the list.

Why is this worth celebrating?

We might take for granted that, in today’s world, actors and hosts who are open about their sexuality sit among TV’s top earners. After all, if they’re good at what they do, there should be no barrier to achieving this astounding financial success.

However, the TV industry is still grappling with LGBT representation. While reviews like GLAAD’s annual inclusion reports show that TV is outpacing film on this front, there remains a lack of LGBT talent — particularly openly bisexual and trans talent – in the industry at large.

That’s because, at the lower rungs of the business, individuals may be treated as ”packages” to be sold to studios. Anything that might be perceived as a potential negative — for whatever reason — is hushed up. Thus, for many years, stars like Wentworth Miller felt pressure to keep their identity a secret.

Given that Miller, Parsons and DeGeneres, to name just a few, are now among TV’s top earners, it’s a significant moment in the sun for LGBT representation — but that doesn’t mean our work is done.

There is still a distinct lack of trans and gender non-binary talent visible on our screens. Of course, there are some “out” actors like Laverne Cox who are sure to be among the top earner in the years to come, but she is among only a handful of trans actors currently being given roles by major networks.

Putting the high earners in perspective 

Even while celebrating the fact that LGBT talent is earning the big TV bucks, there are some qualifiers. It is still difficult to find LGBT actors in major film roles, for instance.

There are exceptions, of course, likeTV-turned film actor Zachary Quinto. Meanwhile, Sherlock’s Andrew Scott has enjoyed high-profile roles in movies like Pride and the James Bond film Spectre.

Even so, the number of LGBT Hollywood stars is difficult to gauge because the big studios tend to want radio silence if actors are not heterosexual. And it’s a pressure that women, in particular, must deal with in an industry where sexism is also rampant.

Strictly examining earnings, however, there’s another crucial point to make.

The right wing has continued to push the “affluent gays” myth for many years now, and while it is true that there are some high-profile LGBT people — usually white gay men who can enjoy that privilege — in the arts and in big business, there are still significant barriers for most of the LGBT community. In fact, LGBT people are far more likely to be poor than their heterosexual counterparts.

Recent studies show that homelessness among LGBT teens remains a major problem. In addition, it can be a challenge to receive an education as a trans person in states that attack civil rights to access public accommodations. Both of these factors mean that the likelihood of LGBT people getting the same quality of education as their heterosexual counterparts is lower — and that may put caps on their future earning potential right out of the gate.

Furthermore, a lack of explicit federal and state protections for LGBT people — and the recent push to use religious rights to discriminate against LGBTs — means that individuals may be fired simply for being open about their sexuality or gender identity. They may also be denied housing and other opportunities. While there are legal remedies to this, all of these factors further limit LGBT earning potential.

None of these details should detract from the significant achievements of LGBT talent. Indeed, it is a milestone worth celebrating: LGBT people are being recognized for their abilities in the TV industry. However, the next time an LGBT rights critic points to these top earners as evidence that LGBT people are affluent or  undeserving of employment and housing protections, know that those top earners are rare. LGBT people are far more vulnerable than this news might lead us to believe.

Photo Credit: Peter Pham/Flickr


Sarah H
Sarah Hill8 months ago

It seems like they can't make entertainment without making a political statement. Why can't we just have entertainment for entertainment's sake?

Marie W
Marie W9 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Tin Ling L
Tin Ling L10 months ago


Nang Hai C
Nang Hai C10 months ago


David C
David C10 months ago

thanks, noted

Leo C
Leo Custer11 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Hent c


Hent c


Richard E C
Richard E Cooley11 months ago

Thank you.

Joanne p
Joanne p11 months ago