Turning on the TV these days leads to any amount of diversity. People of nearly every race, gender, creed and background appear on that screen. Modern Family, Breaking Amish and Glee are just a few examples of this diversity. However, I have recently noticed that a certain group has been excluded from gaining the full benefits of diversity: children’s cartoons.
Everybody knows about the proposed relationship between Bert and Ernie and Spongebob and Patrick. Go onto Tumblr and you can see any amount of shipping (the act of placing two previously created characters together in a proposed relationship). Heck, some of them are even out: like Brian’s gay cousin Jasper from Family Guy or Mr. Garrison on South Park. But those shows are meant for adults. When was the last time anyone saw an actively out homosexual on a cartoon aimed towards children?
A quick Wikipedia search brought up nothing new; the usual adult-themed programs, mixed in with some Japanese animation series (although the article did note that in the English versions of those shows, the relationships tended to become more heterosexual-friendly). I’m not trying to suggest that Wikipedia is the most accurate of sources. However, I do find it telling that such a mainstream form of information brings up nothing in this sphere. Likewise, Google seems to bring up nothing but discussions over whether such a thing would be controversial, or questioning why it has not happened yet in cartoons. Clearly I am not the first person to ask after the whereabouts of the children’s cartoon LGBTQIA community. And the answer is also just as obvious: nowhere. Or if it is present, it’s nowhere near popular enough for the mainstream society to take notice.
In my opinion, cartoons are some of the most influential modes of communication to young children. They have the potential to broaden minds to the farthest reaches of the universe. Who doesn’t remember play acting as Power Rangers or the Powerpuff Girls? I defy anyone to suggest that kids aren’t inspired to become stronger, braver or kinder based off of a character on TV. The thing about cartoons is that to kids, they don’t feel fake. There’s no chance of wires sticking out, no horrible face make-up. All the characters and their abilities are suited to the world they’re drawn in. To a child avidly watching their favorite after-school program, such things don’t seem so very impossible.
So why not put in a character with two moms or dads? Or have a super-team member who prefers the same sex? The reasoning appears to be that children ought not be sexualized. And yet, there was no problem with Johnny Bravo’s M.O. of hitting on women or the characters in Teen Titans Go! pursuing relationships.
Our society claims to promote tolerance, and yet our kids are not allowed to see homosexuality portrayed in a positive light. Unless they live in a liberal bubble, how are they really going to receive the message that being gay is okay?