NEW YORK (AP) - The advocacy group GLAAD rated ABC Family as "excellent" in its portrayal of gay and lesbian characters, only the second television network to get such a designation in the five years the group has monitored television content.
ABC Family, the top-rated cable network among viewers ages 12 to 34 and particularly strong among girls and young women, was cited for both a large number of gay and lesbian characters and the way those characters fit naturally into the shows.
The only other network judged "excellent" by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation was MTV last year.
"We're incredibly proud to be honored and acknowledged by GLAAD," said Michael Riley, ABC Family's chief executive. "It's very important for us."
The network's young audience expects the nation's diversity to be reflected in the programming, he said.
ABC Family's popular "Pretty Little Liars" features Emily, one of four teenage girls, as an athlete who came out as a lesbian. "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" also had several gay and lesbian characters in the past year, including a mother who told her son that she was a lesbian. "Make It or Break It" has a recurring character who is a bisexual. The just-concluded series "Greek" has had four GLAAD Media Award nominations, and included the love story of a gay fraternity brother.
Viewers can relate to many of ABC Family's characters because they are multidimensional people who happen to be gay and lesbian -- it's not the sole part of their on-air identity, said Herndon Graddick, GLAAD's senior director of programs.
"It gives the audience an opportunity to learn in a way they might not have," Graddick said.
The young audience that ABC Family seeks expects diversity in the characters presented, Riley said. The network has been particularly successful lately: July represented the first time it was No. 1 among all cable networks in viewers ages 12 to 34 and among women of the same age group, according to the Nielsen Co.
ABC Family started in 1977 as an extension of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. Even though it was sold to the Walt Disney Co. in 2001, ABC Family is contractually required to air Robertson's "The 700 Club." A network revamp in 2006 brought its current focus on teenagers and young adults.
GLAAD saw little change among the broadcast networks that it studied over the past year. The youth-oriented CW network has the highest percentage of prime-time hours where lesbian and gay characters are featured, while CBS has the least, the group said.
GLAAD said lesbians and transgender people are particularly poorly represented on TV. Its study showed that 73 percent of the time when a gay or lesbian character was part of the mix, it was a gay male.