The lack of representation of the LGBTQ+ community in children’s television has been prevalent throughout the years. Only recently has a handful of good representation begun to surface. When the rare occurrence of representation is given the green light to air, heavy discourse on the level of appropriateness is sure to follow. On June 18th, 2002 Nickelodeon aired a program called Nick News Special Edition: My Family Is Different. The program spotlighted children who came from gay families talking to children who came from households opposed to the concept of equal rights for gay families. When this programed reached people’s televisions, it received heavy backlash. Many believed that the program pushed a "pro-homosexual agenda" and the episode was deemed inappropriate for children to view. This was the first time that Nickelodeon has aired anything feature the LGBTQ+ community. It wasn’t until December 19th, 2014 that Nickelodeon took a second chance at representation in their programming. In the last season of The Legend of Korra, the final episode featured the lead protagonist Korra and Asami holding hands. The Legend of Korra was the first western children’s animation that featured major LGBTQ+ characters. This led to massive blowback online with the debate of “queer representation in children’s media.” Even with the massive uproar from people, LGBTQ+ representation is something that is needed in children’s cartoons. Representation of LGBTQ+ within cartoons allows for children to construct a point of reference, teach acceptance and tolerance, and even can act as a lifeline for children who fall under the umbrella term of LGBTQ+.
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Representation of the LGBTQ+ community in children’s cartoons allows for children to construct a frame of reference to a group of people who might not be prevalent in their daily lives. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts was the first show ever to use a label when discussing people who like people of the same gender. The show started off by having a main female character, Kipo, and a main male character, Benson. In most children’s television shows, this is the start of a romantic subplot that would soon be explored later in the show. The show kept up that idea until an episode named, “Ratland” aired were the two characters go to a rat themed theme park together. The scene is set up with clips of them laughing together and holding prolonged eye contact as music plays behind each scene. The music suddenly turns slow as Kipo stares at Benson on top of a Ferris wheel. Kipo suddenly has a burst of confidence as she shares to Benson that she likes him. The slow music stops as Benson sputters before telling Kipo that he, “is gay.” With Benson using the word gay, it finally brings a name to something that children and young adults might have never seen or heard of before. For many young adults and children, the representation and the interaction that they have with the LGBTQ+ community can be scarce. The ability for them to see Benson, who falls under the LGBTQ+ community, and to be able to watch him live his own life can give these young adults and children relatability that some may not be able to establish from their daily life. By seeing Benson and his friends solve problems that are thrown their way in 20-minute episodes, and not just be seen as his sexual orientation, allows for any potential stereotype the watcher might have to become void. It gives the viewers a look at the perspective of other people in the world. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts saw the line that shows prior had made with representation, the subtleness of romantic gestures, and completely blew past that benchmark. They gave a name that described the subtleness. The Legend of Korra is a perfect example of subtleness. The two main characters, Korra and Asami, are portrayed holding hands in the last episode and giving each other a loving look as the final season closed. It wasn’t until the final episode aired that the creators of the show confirmed the sexuality of the two characters on Tumblr and clarified their sexual orientation. Kipo gave a frame of reference for the children watching by giving Benson a label, and then later in the show giving him a boyfriend. They not only gave reference for what sexual orientation Benson was, they even showed it. This type of representation that uses labels to describe same sex relations allows for kids to know about people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. This type of visual representation also gives them exposure which leads to acceptance and tolerance, and it can allow for children to even put a name to what they might be feeling.
By having LGBTQ+ representation, it allows for children to become more accepting and tolerant of people who fall under that category. When Benson from Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts came out as gay, and later showed him liking and developing a crush on a boy named Troy, it not only gave name to his sexual orientation, but it also showed it. By having such a loveable, happy-go-lucky personality, and supportive character be gay, it gives excellent representation of the LGBTQ+ community and allows for children to have exposure to the community. Another show that gave excellent exposure was Steven Universe. The creator of the show, Rebecca Sugar, wanted to give representation to young children because she knew how important of a role it played into creating acceptance and tolerance. Like Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Steven Universe was the first ever cartoon that showed a lesbian proposal and first ever lesbian marriage. They showed a wedding between two of the main characters. With Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts and Steven Universe both going against the grain and teaching children the value of acceptance and tolerance, it allows for the erasure of negative stereotypes that the young viewers might have. The United States is a melting pot of different cultures, values, and morals. However, even with the diversity that is within the states, there are still heavily underrepresented groups in today’s media. With the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters in kid’s television, it can allow for the young adults and children to learn tolerance and acceptance. Kid’s media is the perfect place for realistic representation to occur- it allows for a well-rounded visual to be placed in their mind. This would mitigate any harmful stereotypes that could possibly have been there prior. When future heterosexual adults and young children are exposed to someone who isn’t like them, it doesn’t give them a knee jerk reaction to immediately cut them off. This can all be avoided because of one of their favorite childhood shows has given solid representation. It allows for children to be given good, realistic picture of people who fall under the LGBTQ+ community.
Representation of the LGBTQ+ community even can act as a lifeline for children who fall under the umbrella term of LGBTQ+. With Benson coming out in Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts it can make growing up as a part of the LGBTQ+ community a little easier.Growing up can be a difficult task that can be even harder without being able resonate with the people around them. Even at a relatively young age, children and young adults can know who they like. Children, young adults, parents, and even their friends might fall under the umbrella term that is LGBTQ+. Having a character like Benson that you can lean on and that can mirror the young adult or child’s life can be a savior for them. It’s a difficult task for children to put into words what they need or what isn’t okay, and that is where it can be a massive help for them to be able to turn on the television and see a character like Benson that they deeply resonate with go through their daily life and live out their truth. Even a show that doesn’t use labels to describe the characters can be an insanely good tool for children to find relatability. The Owl House created by Diana Terrace “…is an animated fantasy-comedy series that follows Luz, a self-assured teenage girl who accidentally stumbles upon a portal to a magical world where she befriends a rebellious witch, Eda, and an adorably tiny warrior, King” (The Owl House). The main character in this show is Luz, who is Disney’s first ever bisexual character. It hasn’t been explicitly announced in the show, other than subtle gestures that would hint towards the character’s sexuality, but Terrace confirmed the sexuality of the main character and plans to have a coming out scene. Another one of the characters, Amity, has also been confirmed as a lesbian and is the main love interest to Luz. The Owl House has a wide representation of sexualities. It allows for anyone who might identity as bisexual or lesbian to find a connection between the two characters. The wide variety of sexualities in this show allows for young adults and children to hopefully find a character that mirrors their own life and helps them develop a positive self-view.
A counter argument that could be made about why representation of the LGBTQ+ community could be found from comments on the review page for The Owl House. A comment made by Arianna Kendrick explains, “This show is a kids show. Why'd they have to put bi charecter in the storyline. Im lucky my 7 yr old did not see the last episode. absiloutly disgusting. Absolutely ruined her favorite show. A friggin kid show why would they put that in there ?” The fact that it is a kid’s show is the perfect reason that the representation should be there. Many children and young adults know at a young age, or have an inkling, of who they like. It is good for them to be able to find someone relatable. By arguing that it is not a topic appropriate for children is a double standard. If it were a straight relationship, it would be okay. But since it is a homosexual relationship it isn’t fit for a kid’s television show? The comment is based in a rudimentary mindset. If the author of the comment had seen representation on the screen when they were younger, they would have had exposure to it which would have made them more tolerant and accepting towards people who fall under the LGBTQ+ community. It would have mitigated any harmful stereotypes that the commentor would have had instilled in them as a child. It would allow future straight adults and young children to be more understanding of those who are not like them. This can all be avoided because of one of their favorite childhood shows has given solid representation.
While LGBTQ+ representation in kid’s media has only just begun to surface, the positive effects are far reaching. The representation of the LGBTQ+ community has many positive outcomes, it teaches children and young adults a point of reference, tolerance and acceptance, and can even be their lifeline. However, representation still has a long way to go. There has only been representation of people who like the same gender, but there hasn’t been representation of people who are transgender. The representation that is presented is a good start but is nowhere close to what it needs to be.
pride_site. “6 Reasons It's Important to Have LGBT Characters on Children's TV Shows.” Gay Pride - LGBT & Queer Voices, PRIDE.com, 24 May 2017, www.pride.com/tv/2017/5/24/6-reasons-its-important-have-lgbt-characters-childrens-tv-shows.
Sechrist, Radford, director. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. Netflix, 14 Jan. 2020, www.netflix.com/search?q=kipo&jbv=80221553.
Terrace, Dana. “The Owl House .” Disney, 2020.
Konietzko , Bryan, and Michael Dante DiMartino. “The Legend of Korra.” Nickelodeon, 2012.
Sugar, Rebecca. “Steven Universe.” Cartoon Network, 2013.
Kendrick , Arianna. Google, Google, www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS857US857%2Cthe+owl+house+reviews.
“LGBT Children's Television Programming.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Dec. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_children's_television_programming.
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