The television network that gets the most praise from an advocacy group that monitors content featuring gays, lesbians and transgender people has "family" in its name and targets an audience of teenage girls and young women.
GLAAD said in a report issued Thursday that 74 percent of the programming hours on ABC Family included at least one LGBT character — the highest percentage any network has recorded since the group began issuing content reports in 2007. GLAAD studied the networks for a one-year period that ended May 31.
"We feel it is our responsibility to our viewers to reflect the world that they live in and it's a diverse world," said Karey Burke, executive vice president of programming at the Disney-owned network.
ABC Family's numbers were boosted by the drama "Pretty Little Liars," where one of the lead characters Emily Fields is a lesbian. "The Fosters" follows the story of a lesbian couple. "Chasing Life" featured a bisexual woman and a gay man, although the latter character died of cancer. "Young & Hungry" and "Mystery Girls" both featured gay men, and there were a number of gays and lesbians in the supporting cast of "Switched at Birth."
Network viewers are also anticipating the January debut of "Shadow Hunters," a show based on the book series "The Mortal Instrument" that prominently features a gay couple.
Three-quarters of ABC Family's typical audience is female, with a median age of 29, according to the Nielsen company.
The network is likely to be more inclusive partly because it seeks a younger audience, an age group that is more accepting of gays and lesbians, said Matt Kane, GLAAD programming director.
Seamlessly including these characters in the stories sends a strong message of acceptance that is likely to help young people dealing with their own identity issues, he said.
"I hope that it is something that other networks are taking notice of," Kane said.
GLAAD has consulted with ABC Family on its programming, although Kane wouldn't divulge the group's specific role. The network and its actors have helped GLAAD with some of its activities, including an annual "Spirit Day" that encourages people to wear purple for a day.
Burke said the status as GLAAD's top-rated network "makes us deeply proud.
"We were hugging each other in the halls here," she said. "It's an honor to be recognized."
GLAAD's grade did not reflect "Becoming Us," a nonfiction series about two transgender people in an Illinois community that aired on ABC Family this summer.
That series, which averaged 452,000 viewers per episode, was a ratings disappointment for ABC Family and it has not been decided whether it will come back for another season. Executives aren't sure why it didn't do well, whether the subject matter made viewers feel uncomfortable or whether the attention paid to Caitlyn Jenner's E! docuseries "I Am Cait" drowned "Becoming Us" out.
"We hope it's not a reflection of the subject matter," Burke said.
Despite the inclusive hours, GLAAD said one story line on "Pretty Little Liars" was a disappointment. The series had a mentally ill transgender woman who, in the season finale, attempted to murder both her family and the main cast of the show. GLAAD said it was "the latest in a long series of transgender women portrayed as psychotic killers in mainstream media."
Part of acceptance for LGBT characters in entertainment is having them portray villains as well as heroes, Burke said.
"We don't feel the show has anything to apologize for," she said.