As a kid in the 2000s, I grew up watching classic Disney Channel shows and movies like “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical.” I’ve seen princes and princesses fall in love hundreds of times, in hundreds of different ways. The idea that there could be a different way to tell these stories, that instead it could be two men or two women who fall in love, never occurred to me as a kid. It occurs to me now, though, that if I had been able to see that type of love story it would have made it easier for me to come to terms with being gay.
Even though great strides have been made in recent years when it comes to LGBTQ representation, many creators in kid’s television shows still have to fight hard to portray queer characters on-screen. Rebecca Sugar, creator of popular children’s cartoon “Steven Universe” is one of those people.
“By including LGBTQIA content and characters in G-rated entertainment for kids, you tell kids when they’re young that they belong in this world. You can’t not tell them that. There can’t be only a certain group of kids that gets told someone will love you by all the entertainment that they see. It’s just so unfair,” Sugar said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
Sugar is just one of many creators that fights to put queer characters and themes in her show. The show “Danger and Eggs” on Amazon Prime was created by a trans woman, Shadi Petosky, and features many queer characters voiced by queer actors. Many kid’s cartoons such as “Gravity Falls,” “Clarence,” and “The Loud House” feature gay couples. In the series finale of “Adventure Time,” many fans were overjoyed when Marceline the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum finally kissed.
Even though these portrayals of queer characters are widely regarded as a positive thing, there are still those that protest. People who oppose LGBTQ representation often claim that LGBTQ content is too mature for children and that it could influence kids to turn gay.
Many people assume that gay people are inherently more sexual than straight people. So when Mark Saltzman, a writer for “Sesame Street” in the ‘80s, says in an interview with Queerty that he wrote Bert and Ernie as a reflection of his relationship with his longtime partner, Arnold Glassman, people were outraged.
Despite the fact “Sesame Street” has shown characters like Kermit and Miss Piggy in a straight relationship without a problem, as soon as someone even suggests Bert and Ernie could be a gay couple there is immediate backlash. After Saltzman’s statement, “Sesame Street” even felt the need to release an explanation in a now-deleted tweet, assuring people that Bert and Ernie are just friends and that puppets don’t have a sexual orientation.
It’s hard to say whether or not seeing Bert and Ernie as a gay couple would have had an impact on me growing up. I can say, though, they should be able to be in a loving relationship now. Exposing kids to this type of LGBTQ representation would only help further expand their worldview and would have more of an impact than if Bert and Ernie were just friends.
In December of 2017, Seventeen tweeted a link to an interview with directors from Disney that said there could soon be an LGBTQ Disney princess. In the replies of the tweet, there were many people saying how this “isn’t normal” and that Disney is “pushing things into kids minds.” These types of reactions are disappointingly common when it comes to LGBTQ representation in kid’s movies because many people still believe that seeing gay people on-screen could influence children to become gay themselves.
I can say from personal experience that seeing gay people on-screen does not make people turn gay. I don’t remember watching any show or movie that had clear LGBTQ representation until I was in high school, and by then I had already started coming to the slow realization that I like women. When people say that seeing gay people on screen can influence others to become gay, it completely diminishes how difficult it is for many queer people to come to terms with their sexuality.
The idea that someone can turn gay just because they saw two men kiss on-screen also ignores the fact that kids can be queer. I grew up watching Disney princess movies and if I had seen a lesbian princess on screen I know that it would have made it so much easier to accept myself. Queer kids deserve to see themselves represented the same way straight kids do.
LGBTQ representation has come a long way since I was a kid in the 2000s. There are more options than ever for all kids to see themselves represented on-screen. There is still a long way to go, though. Hopefully, kid’s shows and movies in the future continue to become more diverse and represent what growing up is like today.