Bury Your Gays

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Synonyms: Dead Lesbian Syndrome, Lesbian Death Trope
See also: Queer Fandom, Sapphic Fandom, Sapphic Show Cancellation Pattern of the 2020s
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Spoiler Warning: This article or section contains spoilers about character death. If this bothers you, proceed with caution.

Bury Your Gays describes the trope in fiction that requires that LGBTQ characters die or meet some other type of unhappy ending. The trope is also known as Dead Lesbian Syndrome due to the tendency for lesbian and bisexual female characters to be the targets. Transgender characters have also been subject to this trope fairly frequently.


While the trope invokes gay within its name, it is often used as an umbrella term for any LGBTQ character that is killed or meets some other kind of untimely end, usually unmerited or singled out.

LGBT Fans Deserve Better defines it as follows:

This trope applies when an LGBT character is killed off, and is especially harmful when it happens shortly after or alongside a positive development with regards to their orientation, further linking the character’s orientation to the death of the character.

Historically, LGBT characters have not been allowed happy endings. Once mandated by the broadcasting standards Hayes Code, “deviant” characters (including all LGBT characters) must not be made sympathetic or rewarded, and narrative punishment for this behavior remains pervasive even now that mainstream attitudes and laws have changed. The key problem isn’t merely that LGBT characters are killed off, but the tendency that these characters, and in particular lesbian and bisexual female characters, are killed off far more often than straight characters.[1]

There have been odd cases where LGBT characters did indeed meet their end via this trope, but were still portrayed sympathetically, with their deaths being considered tragic rather than deserved. The 1970s manga Claudine...! was an example of this, with the transgender hero committing suicide. They are still often considered examples, as they imply hopelessness and are often not portrayed with the best of intentions.

This trope came into play a lot in early yaoi and yuri anime and manga, due to Japan's views of homosexuality.

Development of the Term

Before the more encapsulating term of "Bury Your Gays" became common use, "Dead Lesbian Syndrome/Trope" was used when describing this trope in relation to female characters. After the death of Tara McClay in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Judith L. Tabron wrote in her 2003 essay Girl on Girl Politics: Willow/Tara and New Approaches to Media Fandom:

Tara lying dead, and Willow thus being inspired to run amok and try to destroy the world, are images that reinforce rather than subvert or escape the dead evil lesbian clichés that have run rampant throughout popular media (and at least, I would add, since the publication of the horrifyingly influential novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928).[2]

While Dead Lesbian Syndrome is still referred to today, Bury Your Gays has developed into the more common term. The TV tropes page first referring to Bury Your Gays was created in 2008[3] and has aided in the acknowledgment of the term.

The history of lesbian representation on television is rocky — in the beginning, we seemed exclusively relegated to roles that saw us getting killed/attacked or doing the killing/attacking. And until the last five or so years, lesbian and bisexual characters seemed entirely unable to date an actual woman or stay alive for more than three episodes, let alone an entire run, of a show. Gay and lesbian characters are so often murdered on television that we have our very own trope: Bury Your Gays.[4]

History and Discussions

Bury Your Gays is rooted in the history of American cinema and television where censorship codes meant that any depiction of queerness on screen had to be met with a tragic and often violent end for the character as a form of punishment.[5]

The death of Lexa in The 100 in March 2016, and the resulting LGBT Fans Deserve Better movement, sparked a massive backlash and discussion of Bury Your Gays and Dead Lesbian Syndrome.

Lesbian media website Autostraddle compiled a list of dead lesbian characters that exemplified the scope of the problem and proved invaluable to the discussion, as several more lesbian and bisexual female characters died in the weeks after Lexa's death. Another tally was made by Autostraddle, one of which looked not only at how many lesbian characters lived or died, but what the outcome of their stories were, most of which in some way partially unhappy.

"We need hope in stories. We need light in stories. And we need stories to work their magic in the lives of the people who would oppress and persecute us because we’re gay. Stories are fatal to bigotry." [6]

In April 2016 the website io9 ran a post that summed up both the development of femslash fandom and its new visibility in the wake of a series of character deaths across several TV shows since the beginning of the year. The canonical appearance of numerous lesbian pairings had helped to develop popular fandoms, and the enthusiasm of these femslash fandoms led to enormous attention focused on shows both old (The Vampire Diaries) and new (The 100, Empire) as these ships lost one or both partners.

"The furor has not let up since. Media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair and Variety have all commented on The 100 hullabaloo, with Mo Ryan of Variety being particularly outspoken. The hashtag #LGBTFansDeserveBetter even continues to trend sporadically on Twitter and fans have even succeeded in getting sponsors to drop the show."[7]

Vox explained why the backlash to these deaths was so intense:

The fact that gay character deaths are so common is crucial to understanding why they provoke such huge responses. Even in cases where a gay woman's death might serve the story, the greater history of gay and bisexual women dying onscreen is so damning that it casts any situation in which a gay woman dies as a loaded — and sadly typical — choice.[8]

In June 2016, NPR's All Things Considered interviewed a writer at Vox about a study they did on the prevalence of lesbian deaths in U.S. television during the 2015-2016 season.

"About 10 percent of the deaths that I counted were gay, bisexual or otherwise queer women, which, when you think about it proportionally, is kind of nuts because not many television shows, unless it's "Orange Is The New Black" or something, have more than one or two maybe gay, bisexual or otherwise women. And the fact that most of them - a lot of them end up dead is troubling." [9]

The outcry from fandom about lesbian deaths was included in widespread coverage about the "entitlement" of fans when it came to the way stories were being told, as well as to how entertainment projects were developed.

"As the barriers between fans and creators get knocked down with hashtags and Tumblr questions, some creators are straight-up terrified by the new wave of interactive fandom that wants so much more from them than, say, a written fan letter might once have asked." [10]

Bury Your Gays versus Anyone Can Die

The problem of Bury Your Gays has led to more sensitive parts of a fandom to assume all LGBT character deaths are this trope. While this is completely understandable due to just how many times it's been used in the past, others argue that it's unrealistic to expect that no LGBT character should ever die in a series with a high body count already.

Please note that sometimes gay characters die in fiction because in fiction sometimes people die (this is particularly true of soldiers at war, where Sitch Sexuality and Anyone Can Die are both common tropes); this isn't an if-then correlation, and it's not always meant to "teach us something" or indicative of some prejudice on the part of the creator - particularly if it was written after 1960. The problem isn't when gay characters are killed off: the problem is when gay characters are killed off far more often than straight characters, or when they're killed off because they are gay. This trope therefore won't apply to a series where Anyone Can Die (and does). -All of the Tropes's entry on Bury Your Gays

On the other hand, GLAAD, an LGBT media advocacy organization, noted that even most "Anyone Can Die" shows have their "bulletproof characters, the ones you know are never actually in any real danger," and "these safe characters are invariably straight." Megan Townsend, GLAAD's director of entertainment research and analysis, said in an August 2017 article:[11]

We need more safe LGBTQ people at the center of the story. The safe character who can't be killed, the one whose story is nuanced and fully developed—rather than being stuck in the ensemble, which is still where we see a lot of LGBTQ characters relegated to.

When Shiro's ex-boyfriend Adam was killed in action on Voltron: Legendary Defender, fans were livid as they felt this trope was in play. Other fans were quick to point out that Adam was just one of many who died to the Galra's invasion of Earth, and that his entire fleet was attacked and destroyed by Sendak. This point was later driven home by the death of Admiral Sanda, a heterosexual woman. Additionally, one of Voltron's bulletproof characters was the main team's LGBT member; Shiro was confirmed as a gay man (albeit late in the show's life) and was kept alive due to his immense popularity with the wider audience.

Ace Attorney was also accused of this trope in Dual Destinies, due to the death of Metis Cykes. However, it was not Metis who was the confirmed lesbian but her partner Aura Blackquill, who was alive and remained so throughout the story. Furthermore, Metis's sexuality was never even brought up; while Aura/Metis was a popular ship, the game never stated whether or not she returned Aura's feelings for her.

Notable Examples


Some characters and texts subvert this trope in various ways. Often it involves the character being brought back to life after having been killed:

Other times it involves almost a meta attempt at not killing off a queer character in situations where they might have done so in other shows:

  • Nicole Haught from Wynonna Earp is shot in Season 1, but reveals she was wearing a bulletproof vest.
  • Nicole Haught appears to die in a Season 4 cliffhanger. In the last line of the episode, Jeremy says, "I know how this looks, but I'm asking you to trust us". This line was all the reassurance Earpers needed, as they took to social media to express their trust in the production. Nicole was revived in the next episode.

It also may occur when a character previously thought to be dead is revealed to not have died in the first place.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who has a history of subverting the 'bury your gays' trope in some interesting ways.

  • Captain Jack Harkness - Killed by Daleks in season 1. He is resurrected and made immortal by a Rose Tyler who has the power of the time vortex. (While Jack is immortal, his queer friends and love interest are not as lucky, with Ianto Jones and other queer Torchwood characters dying in 2009)
  • River Song - Dies in her first story. However, her consiousness is uploaded to a giant database where she is able to live on. What's more, both the audience and The Doctor experiences her journey afterwards, but backwards along her timeline.
  • Jenny Flint - Dies in The Name of the Doctor, and is very quickly brought back to life.
  • Clara Oswald - Dies in Face the Raven. However, in the S9 finale, her death is paused just before her last breath. Clara then goes off to travel the universe in her own TARDIS with her own companion.
  • Bill Potts - Dies in World Enough and Time. However, she is then converted into a cyberman, before being turned into a sentient puddle of oil by her love interest Heather. The two then go off to travel the universe together.