Comment: Lots of children’s programmes already have LGBT characters
During his campaign for Liberal Democrat leadership, Norman Lamb suggested there should be more LGBT characters in children’s cartoons.
A lot of people assumed this meant that same-sex relationships and LGBT identities should be shoehorned onto existing, beloved character. Like Peppa Pig.
It might be headline grabbing to suddenly make Peppa Pig a lesbian. But the point of having more LGBT characters in cartoons is to normalise it. To make it ordinary and every day, just like LGBT people are in real life.
Aside from the fact the character of Peppa Pig is a young child, if her being a lesbian was a newsworthy event, it suggests to children that lesbians are different and strange enough to make the six o’clock news just by virtue of being lesbians.
However, if Peppa Pig met a new friend who had two mummies or two daddies, that’s much more like the sort of thing children who are watching would encounter in their own lives. It normalises it.
And of course, Norman Lamb did not become leader of the Liberal Democrats. But we can still have LGBT characters and themes in children’s cartoons. We already do.
Adventure Time is very much a children’s programme, but it’s also wildly popular with adults. For good reason. For children, it’s a fun show about Finn the Human and his magical dog friend who go off on all sorts adventures with all sorts of magical creatures.
What they might not pick up on is that it’s set in a post nuclear apocalyptic society in which Finn is the only human and the magical creatures are the result of nuclear fallout.
Kids would also be unlikely to realise that the bass guitar played by Marceline is shaped like a lesbian pride symbol. They wouldn’t see her relationship with Princess Bubblegum as anything more than friendship. They’re not going to go on the internet and read the creators confirm that the two characters are definitely in a relationship.
Which is a shame. It should and could be made clearer to children that these two women love each other, and that’s a good thing.
Perhaps they thought they’d have problems with the network or advertisers if they make it more obvious.
And then along comes Steven Universe, a cartoon about a boy and the alien women, known as gems, who look after him.
Garnet is one of the gems who Steven lives with. Steven discovers that she is actually two gems, Ruby and Sapphire, who are in love and choose to spend their time “fused” into one being. It’s impossible to view that storyline as anything other two women who are in love, even for children.
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Then there’s Pearl, another of Steven’s guardians who, it transpires, was in love with Steven’s mother. She tries to teach Stevens friend Connie to fight so she can defend him, the way Pearl defended his mother.
But it soon becomes clear that pearls love for Steven’s mother was unhealthy and obsessive. Which is a big step in itself. In the same show we have a spectrum of lesbian relationships. Good and bad, healthy and unhealthy. Just like real life.
In Adventure Time we also find BMO, the talking video games console. BMO is adorable, helpful, friendly and genderless. BMO appears to use male, female and neutral pronouns at different times, and other characters roll with this without questioning it. Like it’s no big deal. Because it isn’t.
Steven Universe also manages to go one better on gender diverse characters too. While BMO is a fantastic character, it can be argued that a robot being genderless isn’t exactly groundbreaking.
On one occasion, Steven and his friend Connie accidentally become “fused” into Stevonnie. This is a whole new character, who isn’t given a defined gender, but seems to attract romantic attention from both boys and girls.
Like all good cartoons, these are examples of real world issues being dealt with in a fantasy setting. Representation matters, and these cartoons are doing it right.