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The appearance of LGBT+ characters and themes are far from new concepts within digital media: with the first openly gay characters appearing on television as far back as the 1970’s. However, it is clear that the ways in which the LGBT+ community is portrayed is still far from perfect.
The progression of gay relationships on television have been notoriously delayed by both show-runners and television networks. Many on-screen gay relationships show diluted intimacy to allow writers to focus on the ‘allowable’ aspects of gay relationships, with the first same sex kiss between women on public television not being until 1991. This was 20 years after gay characters first appeared onscreen. For many years gay characters and storylines were minimal, if present at all, within both film and television. Hardly any shows focused on bigger issues within the LGBT+ community, such as gender identity, establishing relationships or active social prejudice. Instead, they focused on how other characters coped with finding out that people they knew were members of the gay community.
However, in recent years, the implementation of the LGBT+ community within both society and media has allowed these themes to reach a new, younger demographic. The increasing normalisation of LGBT+ themes has allowed writers to add gay representation into many children’s shows. Shows such as: Cartoon Network’s ‘Steven Universe’ and ‘Adventure Time’, as well as Disney’s ‘Andi Mack’, have become notable frontrunners of this change within children’s media. All of which feature LGBT+ characters in their main casts.
Created by Rebecca Sugar, ‘Steven Universe’ is a show which, both implicitly and explicitly, relays a number of LGBT+ themes to its viewers. Many of the show’s characters choose not to adhere to gender stereotyping, and most recently within the series the show presented audiences with a wedding between two of its female characters. Even the show’s main character is used by Sugar to present gay themes. While identifying as male, the titular character, Steven, is initially referred by a number of characters as female. When asked about the importance behind such inclusivity within children’s shows, Sugar stated:
‘We need to let children know that they belong in this world…When you don’t show any children stories about LGBTQIA characters and then they grow up, they’re not going to tell their own stories because they’re going to think that they’re inappropriate and they’re going to have a very good reason to think that because they’ve been told that through their entire childhood. You have to tell them while they’re still children that they deserve love and that they deserve support and that people will be excited to hear their story.’
Rebecca Sugar, quoted by Nick Romano.
Sugar’s suggestion that children need representation for relatable themes, especially for those struggling with LGBT+ issues, rings true in our current sociological climate, with reports from 2017 revealing that in the UK, 1 in 50 people found themselves identifying as a member of the LGBT+ community. While in the U.S 11% of the population identified as LGBT+, with that percentage increasing each year as varying amounts of the population begin to relate and identify with LGBT+ themes.
These new themes are refreshing examples of how society is changing to become more inclusive and accepting of all experiences, not just those shared by the majority. By implementing these themes into various forms of media: games, films, books, magazines, TV shows etc, many writers are allowing younger demographics a chance to experience or relate to the new themes being presented to them.