By Crystal Earl
On March 6 of this year, Disney-Pixar released its newest film, “Onward,” a story that follows the journey of two teenage elf brothers who embark on a quest to discover if there is still magic left in the world. Prior to its release, the film instantly became a topic of controversy, as Disney announced that “Onward” would be their first official animated-feature portraying an LGBTQ+ character. The character, voiced by openly gay actress and screenwriter Lena Waithe, is a purple cyclops cop named Officer Specter, who self-identifies as lesbian. While the unexpected appearance of this character comes to the surprise of many, it also puts into focus the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in children’s television, something that was often overlooked and even discouraged in the past.
Today, we are living in a new age of children’s broadcasting that is beginning to defy and test the limits of what the typical American household has traditionally allowed. Long gone are the days of the Jetsons, the Flintstones, the Smurfs, and many of the other cartoons we grew up watching as kids. Now, nonbinary and LGBTQ+ characters are being introduced to audiences of all ages. Popular shows like “Avatar: The Legend of Korra,” “Steven Universe,” “The Loud House,” and the preschool series “Julie’s Greenroom” have all depicted LGBTQ+ characters in a primary or supporting role.
The more members of the LGBTQ+ community who are included in the media, the more they are actually seen by society as opposed to being rendered invisible. According to Psychology Today, when people are able to see something represented, especially through media, they are better able to understand and grasp unfamiliar communities and people, which helps drive an important shift in society that requires including people from a range of different backgrounds.
When children questioning their sexuality and identity see representations of others like them in the media, this can foster a sense of affirmation of who they truly are. According to Psych Central, feeling affirmed in one’s own sense of self can boost positive feelings of self-worth. When society fails to recognize the LGBTQ+ community within popular media, it sends a message that members of this community are abnormal, insignificant, or, even worse, that they do not exist. It then becomes crucial that uncertain youth are able to see others like them and know that they aren’t bad or different for identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Being a child can be tough, especially when one can’t identify with anyone around them. Having content that mirrors their lives can, in fact, save their own. We all know that it isn’t always easy for children to articulate what is wrong or what they need. That is why seeing characters in their same situations can be a tremendous help.
Although it is important for children to feel their identities affirmed through characters in television and media, it is also essential that they see their families represented as well. A recent study by the Williams Institute at UCLA revealed that nearly 6 million adults and children have an LGBTQ+ parent. There are more than 125,000 same-sex couple households with nearly 220,000 children under the age 18. These children, like everyone else, go to school and are active members of their communities. Their identities and home life deserve to be portrayed and represented in media just as much as anyone else’s.
Although “Onward” seems like a big accomplishment for the LGBTQ+ community and its supporters, it is only the beginning to the growth of minority representation in popular television and media. Disney, among others, still has a long way to go in providing equal screen time and attention to LGBTQ+ characters compared to others.