The “bury your gays” trope: increasing LGBTQ+ representation in the horror genre

By Riley Dauber

Opinion Editor

Possibly more than any other genre, horror films utilize many different tropes and storylines over and over again. While some are classic and reliable – and parodied to this day – other tropes are harmful to not only the genre, but the audience members as well.

The “bury your gays” trope is when the LGBTQ+ characters are killed early on in the film or show. Their death is usually due to their sexuality, or occurs after confessing their feelings to their romantic interest.

According to TV Tropes, “The problem isn’t merely that gay characters are killed off: the problem is the tendency that gay characters are killed off in a story full of mostly straight characters, or when the characters are killed off because they are gay.”

The trope not only takes several steps backward in terms of LGBTQ+ representation, but it is damaging to viewers who identify and relate to the characters on-screen.

When it comes to the horror genre, many LGBTQ+ characters are notoriously painted as villains. According to NME, “Thanks to the Hays Code, from 1934 to 1967, the film industry censored anything of a ‘perverse nature,’ meaning queer characters could be smuggled in if they were evil.”

The article mentions many examples, including Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and “Psycho,” as well as “Sleepaway Camp” and “Silence of the Lambs.” The inaccurate and villainized portrayals of the LGBTQ+ characters in these films exclude LGBTQ+ viewers; because this type of portrayal was so frequent in the genre, it created a harmful stigma around the community.

Fortunately, many recent horror projects have worked towards increasing positive LGBTQ+ representation on-screen. One example is the horror trilogy “Fear Street,” which was released on Netflix in July 2021.

At the center of the three films is the relationship between Deena and Sam, two teenage girls separated by homophobic parents and distance. The first film, “Fear Street: 1994,” takes place in the titular year, but director Leigh Janiak didn’t want to be deterred by the time period, according to IndieWire.

“There’s been a million slasher movies. We saw them in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and then the ‘90s reinvented it,” Janiak said. “There were queer people in the ‘90s and ‘80s and ‘70s. There were Black people. There was a whole swath of people that are underrepresented in horror movies or die very quickly.”

Throughout the trilogy, the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC leads survive and grow as characters. They don’t die first, and the couple at the center of the film fights to stay together.

The films also successfully make references and homages to classic horror films like “Friday the 13th” without sacrificing its representation. They prove that horror films can have both: classic tropes and accurate representation.

Another positive and recent example of LGBTQ+ representation in horror is the “Chucky” television series on Syfy. The show, created by Don Mancini, picks up from where the seven-movie “Child’s Play” franchise left off, now showing a young, LGBTQ+ teen named Jake buying the killer doll at a yard sale.

Mancini, who worked in some capacity on all seven films in the franchise, wanted to incorporate his own experience identifying as LGBTQ+. The series depicts a “final boy” in Jake, who is figuring out his own sexuality and crush on a male classmate while also dealing with Chucky’s killing spree.

According to NME, “At Chucky’s core is a tender coming-of-age story…and Jake’s burgeoning queerness is cleverly presented as both instrumental and incidental to the plot: it’s naturalistic and matter-of-fact that his first love happens to be male, while Chucky arguably represents (and the doll itself manipulates) his inner-turmoil.”

In a reverse of the “burying your gays” trope, Jake’s homophobic father is killed in the first episode, showing just how far the horror genre has come in its portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters. If this was a slasher of the ‘80s, ‘90s, or – let’s face it – the early 2000s, Jake would be the first to go, and the straight characters in the series would take over.

The LGBTQ+ representation in horror films is an important facet, given the audience and fanbase of the genre. Members of the community can relate to the “otherness” many of the characters in horror films face, so it only makes sense to explore LGBTQ+ themes in these films.

According to Janiak, “It made sense that everyone…feels ‘other’ and feels like they’ve been told by the world that they’re not good enough for whatever reason…it made sense that our central love story that was pushing us forward was one that wasn’t represented very often, and was a queer love story.”

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Chucky” creator Don Mancini, left, incorporated his own experience as an LGBTQ+ teen when creating the TV show and the lead character Jake, played by Zackary Arthur, right.

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