Sensitivity without Stereotyping: Navigating LGBTQ+ Character Portrayals

The Impact of Stereotypes

Stereotypes are harmful generalisations that reduce complex individuals to one-dimensional caricatures based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. These stereotypes often perpetuate bias, discrimination and stigmatisation. When such stereotypes seep into literature, they can hinder the growth of inclusive storytelling and harm the LGBTQ+ community. Understanding this impact is crucial in the fight against stereotypes.

LGBTQ+ literature has come a long way in challenging these stereotypes, but there’s still work to be done. In the quest for authentic representation, it’s essential to create characters that are more than just their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Creating Well-Rounded Characters

A well-rounded LGBTQ+ character is one who feels like a genuine person, with depth, complexity and a unique identity that goes beyond their sexual orientation or gender identity. Encourage authors to think about their characters as individuals with their own personalities, experiences and motivations. While their LGBTQ+ identity is a crucial aspect of who they are, it should not be their sole defining trait.

Authors can start by developing a comprehensive backstory for their characters. What are their hopes, dreams, fears and challenges? What are their interests and hobbies? By delving into these aspects, authors can create LGBTQ+ characters who are relatable and engaging, rather than relying on stereotypes as shortcuts.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

It’s vital to identify and avoid common stereotypes that have plagued LGBTQ+ character portrayals for years. Some examples include:

The “Sassy Gay Best Friend”

This stereotype often portrays gay men as flamboyant and sassy, serving as the humorous sidekick to a straight character. Authors should steer clear of using this trope and instead allow their LGBTQ+ characters to have a range of personalities and characteristics.

The “Tragic Lesbian”

This stereotype portrays lesbian characters as doomed to tragic endings, often meeting untimely deaths. It’s essential to move beyond this stereotype and allow LGBTQ+ characters to experience a full spectrum of emotions and outcomes.

The “Bury Your Gays” Trope

This trope involves killing off LGBTQ+ characters for dramatic impact. Authors should challenge this narrative and provide their LGBTQ+ characters with the same opportunities for happiness, growth and fulfillment as their heterosexual counterparts.

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Photo by Ece AK on

By recognising and avoiding these common pitfalls, authors can contribute to more authentic and respectful LGBTQ+ character portrayals.

Intersectionality and Diverse Experiences

It’s essential to acknowledge that LGBTQ+ individuals, like all people, are incredibly diverse in their backgrounds, identities and experiences. Recognising this diversity and portraying characters with various intersections is a crucial aspect of authentic representation.

LGBTQ+ individuals come from different racial, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. They may also identify with multiple marginalised groups, such as LGBTQ+ people with disabilities. Authors should reflect this diversity in their characters, creating well-rounded LGBTQ+ individuals who represent the complex reality of the community.

two men about to kiss
Photo by Joshua Mcknight on

The Role of an LGBTQ+ Authenticity Reader

This is where the role of an LGBTQ+ authenticity reader comes into play. Readers with expertise in LGBTQ+ literature can provide invaluable guidance and feedback to authors seeking to create authentic and respectful character portrayals.

An LGBTQ+ authenticity reader, sometimes called a sensitivity reader, understands the nuances of LGBTQ+ identities, experiences and language. They can help authors navigate the fine line between authenticity and stereotype. They offer feedback that ensures characters are well-developed, multi-dimensional and free from harmful clichés.

Authenticity readers assist authors in crafting LGBTQ+ characters who feel real and relatable to readers. They help authors avoid common pitfalls and provide insight into how to authentically represent diverse identities within the LGBTQ+ community.

Moreover, an LGBTQ+ authenticity reader can help authors stay up-to-date with the evolving language and terminology related to LGBTQ+ identities, pronouns and cultural competence. This ensures that characters and their interactions are portrayed with the utmost sensitivity and respect.


Creating authentic LGBTQ+ characters while avoiding harmful stereotypes is a responsibility that falls on both authors and editors. By understanding the impact of stereotypes, developing well-rounded characters, avoiding common pitfalls, recognising intersectionality and enlisting the help of LGBTQ+ authenticity readers, authors can contribute to a more inclusive and accepting literary world.

The power of literature lies in its ability to reflect the diversity of our society. By crafting LGBTQ+ characters with sensitivity and depth, authors can tell stories that resonate with a broad readership and, at the same time, elevate the voices of the LGBTQ+ community. Together, we can navigate the path to authenticity and representation, ensuring that every character shines in their uniqueness and complexity.

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Editor and proofreader specialising in LGBTQ+ writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

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