Growing the rainbow
Exploring how LGBT representation in cartoons has evolved over the years in the west.
LGBTQ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, and queer. For a long time throughout history, it was illegal to be part of the LGBTQ community. People used to think being gay or lesbian meant that you were crazy. As you can imagine, this was reflected in our media.
All of this is known. However, what happened to the media when LGBTQ was finally legal? In the interest of being more specific, how much did cartoons change once being LGBTQ was legal? How is LGBTQ represented now in cartoons?
Before we focus on that, it is important to mention something. LGBTQ cartoon characters have existed since the 1940s. Although, there were some very noticeable requirements that they had to meet. This was especially true in America.
To start with, LGBTQ characters were made fun of for being queer in any way. For example, Bugs Bunny often dressed in drag and it was played for laughs. If not that, these characters often fit a specific stereotype. Gay men in cartoons were very girly and sassy. There is nothing wrong with a man being in touch with his femme side. However, when that is the only type of representation you get, it is not fun. An example of this is the film, Bambi.
In the film, there is a moment between the characters. Bambi nuzzles into the skunk and decides he’s a flower, to Thumper’s ridicule: “He’s not a flower!” “That’s alright,” says the skunk, fluttering his eyelashes as if auditioning to be the new face of Maybelline. “He can call me a flower if he wants to. I don’t mind.” With this moment, it is implied that the skunk character is gay. Yes, he does end up with a female skunk. However, it could be seen as him ‘experimenting’ when he was younger. If it sounds like we are making this moment more important than it actually is, there is a reason.
Another requirement for LGBT cartoon characters was that, in many cases, it had to be very subtle. For the longest time, the makers of cartoons had to basically hide their characters' sexual preference if it was not straight. If you were lucky, a creator would say if they made an LGBT character years after the show is over. This information was found in highsnobiety.com.
These requirements reflect the main problem with LGBTQ representation. Being LGBTQ was not seen as normal. For many of these characters, it was either extremely obvious if a character was queer. Or it was so hard to discover that you basically had to be a detective. Being part of this community was portrayed as something strange.
There were some exceptions, but this was the norm for a while. This style even continued even when being LGBTQ was legalized in the US. However, it all changed with the creation of two cartoons.
These cartoons were Legend of Korra and Steven Universe. These popular shows featured a form of LGBT representation that completely changed the game. Legend of Kora’s main character was bisexual. This character ended the show with a girlfriend. The creators confirmed right after the show ended with no fear. Steven Universe had multiple LGBT characters and it was confirmed while the show was airing.
Basically, these shows portrayed LGBT characters as something normal. Yes, it is obvious that being LGBT is normal. However, it was not normal for cartoons to acknowledge that. This idea was very revolutionary at the time.
Since these shows were popular, the perception of LGBT characters changed. Studios realized that there was a community that wanted more representation in media. So, they slowly allowed more shows to let their character be something other than straight.
While there is still a long way to go for truly equal representation, we have made many improvements. Harley Quinn and She-ra had female main couples who kissed on screen. It is amazing how far LGBT representation has come.
In conclusion, our media can reflect our views of the world. If our views are out-dated, our media can reflect that. We need to remember always that different people exist. We can’t just pick the ones that we want to exist. Sometimes we can use media to remind ourselves of that. We are happy LGBT representation is becoming more common. Hopefully, we reach a point where LGBT representation is seen in any cartoon. It becomes something that is completely normalized. Hope you enjoyed this piece!