One year after same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, the political and personal realities for LGBTQ+ Americans are still fraught. Just this week, 49 people were killed in a gay-friendly nightclub in Orlando, simply because of who they are and whom they love.
Children’s television programs are meant to not only entertain and occupy the time of impressionable children, but to teach them lessons to prepare them for life. But when programs reflect a white, heterosexual supremacy rather than the diversity of the real communities and identities children live in or around, they’re failing to engender pride or tolerance for difference.
It hasn’t been easy to get queer characters into children’s shows. When Sailor Moon debuted in the U.S., Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were changed from girlfriends to cousins. Lest you think this was just a thing that happened in the 1990s and earlier, in 2014 the Cartoon Network censored a kiss between two men on the show Clarence, and Adventure Time has been unable to run an explicit storyline about the relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline.
This April the new Powerpuff Girls included a transgender storyline that seemed great in theory but crashed and burned in practice. The episode featured a pony that wanted to be a unicorn, but saw the pony forcibly outed by Buttercup (who continually mocked the pony throughout the episode), tokenized by Bubbles (who only helped the pony because she always wanted a unicorn for a friend), and then terrified by the Professor, who warned that a pony-to-unicorn procedure could go really badly before literally turning the pony into a monster. Here we are later, and we still need to do better.
Openly queer characters are still scarce in children’s programming, and outside of fanfiction (read the zine Queer Sailor Moon Fanfiction Saved My Life to get an idea of how important these characters can be), we’ve generally had to look to ambiguous characters for visibility. When television shows for children break heteronormative barriers, they stretch…