Lack of LGBT representation disheartening

The representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other sexual and gender minorities in media has been historically problematic.

In recent years, we’ve seen a turn for the better in the representation of these groups. TV shows like “The New Normal,” “Modern Family” and “Glee” lend a diverse landscape to television, and along with it, a wider variety of three-dimensional LGBT characters.

However, this same shift isn’t reflected in children’s media. There is a glaring dearth of depictions of such characters.

In June 2012, Greg Weisman, producer of children’s superhero cartoon “Young Justice,” was asked about characters of differing orientations within the show. He responded that while the series definitely has LGBT heroes in it, they are not allowed to explicitly mention their orientation. Reaching back even further, the early 2000s cartoon, “Static Shock,” also had a gay character and was similarly not permitted to make reference to his sexuality.

This lack of diversity is not limited to solely children’s television shows. Animated films are guilty of it as well.

“Rise of the Guardians,” “The Lorax” and “The Secret World of Arrietty” were only three of many animated films released during 2012 aimed at children, and none of them contained a single LGBT character.

One film did: “Paranorman.” The character’s orientation was only mentioned in a one-line joke at the film’s conclusion, finishing up a subplot in which a female character flirted with the aforementioned gay male character. Otherwise, “Paranorman” revolved around the protagonist’s quest to save his hometown and curb intolerance.

Some conservative commentators attacked the movie as a result of this, despite that it was done without any mention of sex whatsoever.

Why can’t we have age-appropriate LGBT representation in children’s programming?

Time and time again we see girls in children’s shows crushing on boys, holding hands and spending time together — sometimes even kissing.

Even “Young Justice” has multiple situations in which male characters flirt with female ones.

Children’s programs usually depict heterosexual relationships in a very tame manner. If LGBT relationships were to be portrayed in a similarly mild fashion, would it still be appropriate for the target audience?

Just this year, President Barack Obama explicitly mentioned LGBT people in his inaugural address. More states than ever have legalized marriage equality, and representation of LGBT characters in various media are on the rise.

Why the dearth of characters in children’s media? What is “bad” about two boys or two girls expressing feelings for each other in the same way a heterosexual couple is shown doing so?

 

Reach the columnist at baorteg1@asu.edu or follow him at @BrandoBoySP