By Sara Karlovitch
Leslie Shay’s death on Chicago Fire back in 2014 hit Tracy Levesque hard. Levesque, the co-owner of YIKES, Inc — a website design company based in Philadelphia — was furious at the seemingly pointless death of another LGBTQ television character.
“I had had it. I was just like so furious that I yet again, we invest our time in these shows, only for favorite characters die over and over again” Levesque said.
So, the very next day, Levesque and her friend, Mika Epstein, a California based coder who works for Dreamhost building website servers, decided to build a database dedicated to female, trans and non-binary characters on TV. The result was lezwatchtv.com.
Lezwatchtv currently has 3168 characters and 1050 shows as of this writing in its database. The site also has a “Dead Queers” watch on the homepage. It tells you how long it’s been since an LGBTQ female character died and who it was. As of this writing, it has been three months since Mischa Farrell died on Elementary. Her death brings the total death count to 332.
Everything on Lezwatchtv is searchable, with a summary of every show and a timeline of LGBTQ centric episodes. Every show also has a show score, which is out of 100. Epstein and Levesque score each show by hand.
“Essentially each of the four blocks gets is worth 25 points and you have to, in order to get a full score in each block, you have to have things like you can’t kill anyone. You need to be a show that we love and the gold star show, which means that you were made by a Queer female,” Epstein said.
Comedian Cameron Esposito’s “Take My Wife,” is the only show to achieve a perfect score.
“It is the magical Unicorn of shows,” Epstein said.
Lezwatchtv is powered by WordPress, which both Epstein and Levesque are experts on. They actually met at a WordPress conference in San Francisco. Their entire code is open source and can be found on Github.
Levesque and Epstein decided to make their coding open-sourced in order to help other people build websites. For example, they said they would totally be open to helping someone start up a database for gay men on television.
“We would be pleased to share that code with them,” Levesque said.
Epstein and Levesque decided to exclude gay, cisgender men (transgender men are included) from the database for several reasons. Mainly, they wanted to stay in their wheelhouse and focus on something they can relate too: LGBTQ women.
“Our passion lies in fandoms and shows involving non-cis dudes,” Levesque said. “And so that’s where we, that’s where all our energy goes, that’s the world we know and I feel like it would be doing a disservice to cis-dudes to be writings about them, to know as much about those worlds.”
For Epstein and Levesque, their work has grown beyond pure numbers and into advocacy. Their website serves as a way of tracking good and bad LGBTQ representation and advocates the importance of good representation on TV. Growing up, the LGBTQ characters they saw on TV were either killed off or the butt of a joke.
“It messes with your mind, you know, it hurts us as a people, which is also why we feel so passionate about this project,” Levesque said.
“I feel that working on this site, if I can help even just a little bit and make one person who runs the show go, you know what? We shouldn’t kill off the queer character. Maybe we should let this queer character be a hero and just go forward,” Epstein said.
Epstein and Levesque have big plans for the sights future, including making the website accessible through Amazon Alexa. For now, though, the pair plans to keep improving, updating and adding to the site.
“Tell people more about queer television and what’s coming next, what’s awesome, what’s not and keep fighting The Good Fight,” Epstein said.
Which, Levesque added, “Is a great show!”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tracy Levesque and Mika Epstein.
Sara Karlovitch is a junior journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.