A study has found that cartoon series the Simpsons, has helped to enable gay men to come out, because of they way it sympathetically portrays homosexuality.

Erwin In het Panhuis, a German academic, conducted the study, which found that the popularity of characters, such as Homer Simpson, and the way the series as a whole deals with homosexuality during prime time, has been “trailblazing”, for helping positive attitudes towards same-sex couples.

The librarian, based in Cologne, conducted the study over several years, analysing almost 500 scenes from the cartoon series, which he says help to dispel anti-gay discrimination.

The study was published as a book titled Behind the Gay Jokes- Homosexuality in ‘The Simpsons’, he writes that the programme “treats homosexuality as something normal in a media environment which can usually be very hostile to the point of view.”

The author also suggests that Homer Simpson, the main family’s father, is a more complex character than he immediately appears.

He writes: “Homer has kissed other men on the lips more than 50 times throughout the series but despite that he’s happily married to his wife.”

“He is sometimes heterosexual, sometimes gay and sometimes homophobic,” he continues.

The long-running American series, created by Matt Groening, has dealt with the issue of homosexuality on many occasions, and was the first mainstream cartoon series to feature an entire episode about equal marriage.

Other episodes including gay references have included Lisa making her family march in gay pride, Homer chanting “we’re here, we’re queer”, and another in which he is kissed by his gay roommate.

Mr Panhuis studied 70 gay characters portrayed in The Simpsons, including Homer’s boss, Mr Burns, and his relationship with his assistant Smithers.

He wrote: “It is a very complicated relationship full of fear and unrequited love and moments of real tenderness.”

Speaking to The Local, he said: ‘It set the standard for cartoon series … and I believe it’ll always be a trailblazer.”