Henry Lamb/Photowire/BEImage
May 24, 2016 01:45 PM

One of TV’s power players a disturbing entertainment trend head-on.

Empire executive producer Ilene Chaiken, who was honored at this year’s GLSEN Respect Awards, spoke to PEOPLE on Monday night about the "Bury Your Gays" trope in film and television.

“In what I do, which is make popular entertainment, it’s been a lifelong battle for representation,” Chaiken, 58, tells PEOPLE. “I think there’s nothing more important than seeing ourselves reflected in the media, in our entertainment, in characters that speak to us. It means everything. It saves lives, it builds futures, it builds hope.”

The most recent wave of outrage built after The CW’s The 100 killed off lesbian fan-favorite Lexa in this middle of the show’s third season this past March.

So far in 2016, 19 queer women – or 40 percent of representation – have been killed off on television. This brings the total to 156 dead queer women on TV.

And though the statistics just this year are fairly staggering, this consistent killing off of LGBT characters dates back to the 1950s, when gay relationships could only be portrayed if they ended in tragedy.

Two lesbians recently died on Empire, but Chaiken told Variety that they are not part of the phenomenon.

“I wasn’t aware of it for the longest time,” Chaiken tells PEOPLE. “There is some legitimacy to the outrage. [The 100] didn’t know what they were doing. Now that it’s been flagged, I predict that it will change and change fast.”

Fans of The 100 have raised over $125,000 for The Trevor Project and created an international movement, LGBT Viewers Deserve Better and LGBT Fans Deserve Better.

“I don’t think it’s an excuse, but I don’t think it was done knowingly and consciously,” Chaiken continues. “Now that they’ve been made to understand what they’ve done, you’ll see it change.”

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