Pretty Little Liars is in its deadliest season yet, with the evil Uber A playing its most dangerous game ever with the Liars. It’s no surprise, then, that the bodies are piling up in Rosewood. Tuesday’s episode “Wanted: Dead or Alive” added to the body count with the death of a double agent who definitely had some key information about the A game: Sara. While no one was surprised to see Sara go (she definitely felt like the most expendable person, character-wise, especially now that Jenna is back in town), it’s hard not to cringe at one fact about her death: It adds to a long list of LGBT characters who have died on screen, both on PLL and other TV shows, and fans are rightfully pissed at the trend.
Pretty Little Liars has never shied away from dealing with issues within the LGBT community. Emily coming out of the closet as a lesbian was a major plot point of Season 1, and her struggle to be accepted by her mother was particularly heartbreaking. Though there was plenty of criticism over Charlotte’s transgender reveal in Season 6 — and rightfully so, given the long history of trans villains on screen — I appreciated that the characters never questioned Charlotte’s decision regarding gender, and they seemed to sympathize with Charlotte over her father’s bigotry.
Yet there’s one problem that PLL and plenty of other shows on TV can’t get over, and that’s that LGBT characters are dying in storylines at an alarming rate.
According to Autostraddle, 160 (and counting) lesbian and bisexual characters have died on television since 1976. That’s not even including other members of the LGBT community, and Pretty Little Liars has several queer characters to add to that list. Emily’s girlfriend Maya, who identified as bisexual, was killed by her ex-boyfriend. Shana, a lesbian, was accidentally killed by Aria. Charlotte, a trans woman, was found murdered. Sara, a woman who actively pursued other women, was found dead in the bathtub after being murdered by Uber A. Fans on Twitter noticed the trend and aren’t happy about it.
So another queer woman violently killed, in PLL this time?
This can only happen so many times & still be considered coincidence.
— Grid Ⓥ (@griddles83) August 3, 2016
The truth is, it’s not merely the fact that LGBT characters on TV get killed off that’s the problem; it’s that when they do, it’s merely a speed bump for the series. Oftentimes LGBT characters aren’t written as fully or completely as are straight, cisgender characters. Sara, a character in many ways defined by literally just “lurking,” was murdered not to provide a major emotional moment but to be a symbol of Uber A’s violence. It’s hard to not see the pattern when you look at Shana, a character quite similar to Sara’s (as in, another “lurker”), who was killed and received little emotional investment from the audience. These characters could have been dynamic villains or great rivals for the core cast, but instead, like so many LGBT characters out there, they were disposable.
For a show that tries so hard to give LGBT characters a voice, it’s important for the series to also note the disturbing trends that occur in the cultural sphere. Sure, we have Emily, a complicated, fleshed-out character who happens to be a lesbian, but it’s not enough if the rest of the LGBT characters are so easily tossed aside.