It bothers me that, in this day and age, we have to normalize something that is completely normal (being LGBTQ), but I recognize the need for it. Children who come from LGBTQ families or who identify that way themselves need to see themselves positively represented. All children need to stop seeing LGBTQ people as being on the periphery of society. When second grade teacher Michael Patrick came out to his students, he explained, “I came out because my LGBT students deserve to know that someone else like them is out there. I came out because I could no longer let gay people be people who exist in parallel lives to our students.”
I have been pleasantly surprised of late to see children’s programming helping to do just that: increase LGBT visibility to promote respect and understanding. It’s by no means widespread, but I think the creators and producers of such children’s media deserve our kudos. It takes some bravery when you’re coming up against criticism and accusations of promoting the “gay agenda.” (There is one, by the way. It’s just that the agenda is love, family, and respect.) Here are a few shows I’d like to highlight:
1)The Loud House: This summer Nickelodeon debuted a new cartoon series with character Clyde McBride and his “two imperfectly perfect gay dads.” Not only are Harold and Howard a gay couple, they’re also interracial! There’s not a lot of hubbub about the sexuality of the dads. Instead, the show focuses on their overprotective nature in a very funny way. What’s important is that they are caring parents; their sexual orientation is a nonissue. This is the first time a children’s network has featured a same-sex married couple on a show…and it’s awesome! It’s doing well too, beating SpongeBob with kids ages 2-11.
2)Finding Dory: Twitter did a double-take when the trailer for this much anticipated sequel came out and apparently showed a lesbian couple. In the “blink and you’ll miss it” scene, a toddler is knocked over by a stroller. Two women who appear to be her moms pick up her dropped sippy cup and are much taken aback to discover a swaddled octopus in the stroller! Many people were excited to see a hint of what might be Disney-Pixar’s first same-sex couple but were subsequently disappointed when filmmakers refused to confirm or deny it. That’s unfortunate, but I still think it’s a move in the right direction. I kind of like that they are just there without any further explanation. Rather than pointing a metaphorical finger at them, kids get to see gay parents as part of the landscape of everyday life.
3)Sesame Street: This show has long been a pioneer in children’s television with its diverse cast and positive messages about differences. (I think I plug it every chance I get!) So it’s not really a surprise to see the show tackling gender expression. In an episode titled “Dress Me Up Club,” Abby Cadabby and friends learn that they can dress up any way they want. At first, Abby’s friends discourage her from being a superhero because girls have to be princesses. Elmo explains that girls can be heroes too and that boys can play tea party and ballet. I love this message of inclusivity that allows for an expansive view of gender!
I know there are more than three examples, but you have to dig pretty deep to find them. I think we’re ready for more. There’s currently a #GiveElsaAGirlfriend campaign that’s urging Disney to make Elsa its first lesbian princess. It may be a long shot, but there is reason to hope. Disney has a history of making changes to reflect societal norms, featuring princesses of color and upending the damsel and distress narrative. Zootopia’s antelopes Bucky and Pronk share the same last name (Oryx-Antlerson), the hyphenated name suggesting they are a married couple. Also, on the Disney Channel’s “Good Luck Charlie,” one of Charlie’s friends has two moms. If a giant like Disney can take that next step by explicitly including an LGBT character, we’ll be well on our way.
I hope this post is a first installment of many in which I can continue to share with you excellent programming containing family and gender diversity as well as LGBT people. Seeing LGBT characters in popular entertainment is beneficial to all children. One way we can defeat prejudice is by exposing children to people who are different, and children’s programming is a vehicle for that. If a show keeps even one kid from engaging in bias-based bullying or helps one child feel better about themselves, it will have been worth it. Children can only benefit when we, to quote Patrick, “prepare them to develop and maintain relationships with people who look different, sound different, love different, eat different, or have any difference within the gamut of human experience.”