We Need LGBT Representation in Children’s Media Now More Than Ever

By: Cathy Smith

 

The 2010s have been a decade of broken barriers in the realm of children’s television in regard to LGBT representation. The Legend of Korra¬†shocked us all in its finale with the two female leads, Korra and Asami, sharing a romantic gaze as they are whisked away to parts unknown in Spirit World. With that one moment, a world of future possibilities opened. Even if they didn’t share a kiss and the development of their relationship was subtle, it gave the hope that maybe one day it will finally be acceptable to fully portray a same-gender relationship on a show targeted toward children. Shortly after, Steven Universe entered the fray with a veritable treasure trove of LGBT themes. Here, the romantic relationships among the feminine-presenting gem race act as a stand-in for real life romantic relationships among women. Whether it be the ups and downs of a healthy relationship such as Ruby and Sapphire’s or the more complicated relationship between Pearl and Rose Quartz, Steven Universe presents same-gender relationships with the same complexity that straight relationships have enjoyed in high quality children’s television. In addition to this, the show has also challenged traditional conceptions of gender with the character of Stevonnie (a fusion of the characters Steven and Connie) and a memorable scene where Steven dons a skirt and heels to the sound of cheers rather than ridicule.

What’s interesting here is that these barriers are being broken in the realm of children’s animation rather than live-action children’s shows. I can’t say for certain why this is the case, but it is an interesting trend nonetheless. Furthermore, while The Legend of Korra and Steven Universe are among the most notable trailblazers, they are not the first animated children’s shows to attempt any sort of LGBT portrayal. There is at least one other. Back in 2005, an episode from the Arthur spinoff Postcards From Buster featured several lesbian couples as parents. Only select PBS affiliates chose to air the episode, with some of them doing so in prime-time. Clearly neither Korra nor SU could have accomplished what they have if they had been created just a decade ago. The political climate has changed to a degree to allow for more creative freedom in this respect.

Then again, some things haven’t really changed at all. As some of you may have guessed by the title and the timing of this post, this is a response to the tragic events in Orlando that took place on June 12th. Allow me to be frank: What the shooter did was nothing short of a homophobic hate crime. Regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, that is simply what it boils down to. People across the nation and I imagine around the world are asking themselves how something like this can be prevented from happening again. There are several sides to this debate, but one aspect that is being neglected is what we teach our children. They absorb messages, both positive and negative, from everything and everyone around them. It’s a tired saying, but it rings true: Children are our future. If we want the next generation to be tolerant and accepting, we have to counter the prejudices present in our culture. To do this, we need to present those in the LGBT community as ordinary people in the stories we tell. You could argue all day and night about whether or not these issues are “appropriate” for children to handle, but in the meantime steps toward tolerance are being met with hatred and violence. If you want to truly change the world, why not consider starting with the kids?

I’m a person.
 

6 Comments

  1. Cathy Smith June 15, 2016 at 12:14 am

    I just realized after this got published that I completely forgot about Marceline and Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time. (I don’t watch that show…I probably should, but I have a long list of things I want to watch and I’m very lazy about it.) However, with what information I found it seems they’ve zigzagged with that pairing and there was only any confirmation of it just two years ago, whereas Korrasami was confirmed right after the finale aired. Which really says something about how it’s only recently that things have begun to change.

     
    • Tyrone Wells Jr. June 15, 2016 at 4:03 pm

      Bubbles and Korra, yup.

      I think anime led the charge when a lot of it was redubbed and straight-washed for american TV. Card captor sakura and Sailor Moon are prominent examples of companies taking out gay characters. I could see how this initiated a generation of kids that were aware or used to gay cartoon characters.

       
  2. Tyrone Wells Jr. June 15, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Also noting the cops from Gravity Falls. I loved their constant flirts and I think they got officially paired in the finally among all the chaos in the finale. Bug from King of the Hill also had a thoughtful episode on the subject (but it was kind of a character defining thing, it felt forced).

    The thing I love about SU is that “gay” is the last thing that would come to mind when describing someone like Pearl or Ruby, or any of the the gems or characters. When it’s brought the the forefront, it’s such a non-issue. I like that the best and speaks so much of the character strengths. If I were to describe another gay pair like Sailor Neptune and Uranus, I can’t really say anything about them aside from being mysterious and gay. If you were to also look at HIm from the Powerpuff girls… I mean there’s definitely something going on there that isn’t strictly conventionally straight. Not sure what you’d label it–but either way, my point is this:

    Instead of just having gay representation in cartoons–taking whatever we can get–let’s raise the bar and ask to have *good* characters that can be identified as gay and not defined by it.

    On a complete side note.

    I don’t like Korra as a person, and she doesn’t deserve a person like Asami, male or female. Shots. :p

     
  3. Sam June 16, 2016 at 10:27 am

    I tried to think of gay characters in cartoons but coudlnt think of any! Anyway, I think video games have a bigger impact on kids than cartoons, at least for little boys. Games where you can play as a character with “gay” options does way more as far as understandign what it’s like to be gay than cartoons when you think about it. Mass effect is a good example as most players play as a customized femshep (over 50%) and also most players have Liara as a romantic interest, and also most players are male–that means there’s a lot of dudes out there who are understanding or literally putting themselves in the shoes of a queer female in a leadership position in a world where none of those things are particularly defining and never brought up because it isn’t remotely the most interesting thing or even abnormal.

    I think there’s way more better examples of gay characters done right in video games plus being able to understand what its like as a virtual avatar makess video games a better pioneer for children’s media than cartoons but we need them in cartoons too ( I just think the medium of video games has best impact).

     
    • Dylan Hysen June 16, 2016 at 6:13 pm

      Both seem very important.

       
  4. Samuel Nguyen June 16, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    Candian here, and I totally agree with you that America should have more LGBT representation in cartoons. The lack of representation in the US also negatively affects us. Canada has been generally more relaxed with LGBT representation in children’s media. We have/had Candian cartoons with explicitly gay characters like in an episode of the cartoon Braceface, the main character tries to set up her gay friend with another gay guy and in an episode of 6teen, one of the characters Niki thinks she’s being hit on by a lesbian friend/co-worker and tries her best to let her down easy. Although I’m proud that Canada has the freedom to make LGBT cartoon characters, most of our animated shows suck. Canadian cartoons are generally not well written or interesting; they’re made to be loud and draw in viewers and most shows are done in Flash, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s cheap looking Flash. Most of the cartoons aired here come from America and we love them just as much as you guys do. Most of Candian media is Ameican, and because of that, when there’s low LGBT representation in your media the same goes for us. It’s super frustrating because Canada is ok with LGBT representation, but we have no influence on US censorship laws. It makes me feel so powerless and angry, That being said, shows like Steven Universe, Legend of Korra and Adventure Time make me so happy and it gives me hope that we are progressing, even if it is slowly. I hope that in the future we can have openly gay characters in a cartoon and have it not be a big deal.

     

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