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?