Saturday, 22 October 2016

A - Z of Queer Kids TV

The A-Z Guide to LGBTQ+ Themes on Children's Television

Although I'm always interested in 'coded' characters - I mean, according to the End Times News Ministry I was myself homosexualised at an early age by the camp hand puppets on Rainbow - for the purpose of this post I've gone for shows that deal explicitly with LGBTQ+ themes. At the very least their creators have to be on record that it was their intention to deal with them, even if circumstances didn't allow them to be as explicit as they would have liked with it.

In terms of what constitutes 'Kids' TV', my view is that it broadly covers anything aimed specifically at those under the age of majority (i.e. 18 in the UK). In this post I've mostly skewed down to below the age of consent (16), because the point is to highlight stuff that's suitable for teens and younger, rather than teens and older, which is likely to be better known just by virtue of having a larger potential audience. Because there are some good shows out there, and they're not all weirdly animated US cartoons either - or even The Simpsons / Futurama!

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A - Adventure Time

Adventure Time was a big hit for Cartoon Network almost from the outset in 2010, and is scheduled to run until 2018. The creators have confirmed that Marceline the Vampire Queen is bisexual, and at one point dated Princess Bubblegum; still, anything more than subtext is said to be unlikely due to Cartoon Network's (not unfounded) fear of alienating foreign markets.

Adeventure Time

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B - Byker Grove

Byker Grove was a BBC show based around a youth club, aimed at older children and young teens. It was also the first UK kids' show to feature a gay kiss when Noddy Fishwick came out in 1994, which has made the episode just as infamous as you might imagine - for all that a chaste peck on the cheek at the front of the cinema is invariably recounted as a passionate snog on the back row! The storyline moved slowly throughout series six, before blowing up in S6:E17 and leaving Noddy to deal with the fallout in E18, E19 and E20. I've done a longer write up of the scene and its response HERE.

Byker Grove

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C - Cross Dressing

This has long been a staple of kids TV - right from Bugs Bunny in the 1942 short 'The Wabbit Who Came To Supper' to 2012's 'SheZow' and RuPaul's guest appearance as a drag queen sea snail on pre-school show Bubble Guppies in 2015 - sometimes with overtones of it meaning something, more often without. But it's not always played for laughs, at least not as the totality of the joke, and CBBC's The Boy in the Dress is one of my favourite pieces of kids' media ever. Originally airing over Christmas 2014, it's a light hearted adaption of David Walliams' book of the same name, and quietly addresses the truth that what you want to wear need not have any correlation to your sexual or gender identity.

The Boy in the Dress

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D - Degrassi

Degrassi is an incredibly long running Canadian teen show. It originally began life as an after school special in 1979, and is still going today as Degrassi: Next Class. Degrassi Junior High was dealing with confusion over sexuality and coming out stories way back in 1987, and in 2010 the franchise introduced its first trans character, Adam Torres, who would later die in a texting while driving accident in 2013. For more on the show's LGBTQ+ credentials, check out its Wiki.

Degrassi Junior High

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E - Educational Material

This is the stuff that is made - or is used - to educate children on the topic with little to no attempt at actually being entertaining. For the USA we're talking shows like 2002's Nick News Special Edition: My Family Is Different and CBS Schoolbreak Specials What If I'm Gay? (1987) and Other Mothers (1993).

Then there is the programming made specially for schools, like Stonewall's FREE (2014) and FIT (2010), and the short films which have become synonymous with school study units. 1987's Two of Us was originally produced by the BBC for schools, though they later shifted gears and broadcast it after the watershed for fear of falling foul of Section 28. [Section 28 of the Local Govt Act '88 forbade LEAs from promoting 'the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality...'] These days, the BFI recommends An Afternoon (2015) and Code Academy (2014), for instance, while the EU Rainbow Project suggests Omar (2010), Shark Bait (2009), and Danny's Parade (2007).

If you throw the net still wider, you could also include kids chat shows, current affairs programmes, etc, which will deal with LGBTQ+ issues through news stories, interviews, and so on. Long running Icelandic kids' variety show Stundin okkar (Our Hour) received a lot of media interest in 2015, for example, after featuring an interview with pop star Páll Óskar about what it means to be gay - you can watch the clip on YouTube.

Fit

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F - BraceFace

Braceface is a Candian cartoon which originally aired between 2001 and 2004. In S3:E8 'Game, Set Up & Match' main character Sharon attempts to play matchmaker for her pal Dion, trying to fix him a date with her new gay friend Houston. (I heard about this ep through the Stop It, Show blog which has a better write up.)

Braceface

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G - Grange Hill

BBC's long running kids' drama Grange Hill was the first kids' show in the UK to feature an explicitly gay character, when the rumours flying around about art teacher Mr. Brisley were confirmed in 1993. (The reveal unfolds over S16:E18 and E19 - they're up on YouTube HERE and HERE.) Mr. Brisley's home life and partner, Don, were referred to semi-regularly through the rest of his tenure, actor Adam Ray eventually leaving the show in 1998.

In later series Grange Hill would tackle lesbian themes a couple of times, in 2001 (E20 has a good scene where Kelly does a stand-up routine to highlight the hypocrisy of her classmates prejudice) and again in 2004 when Emma Bolton was the victim of homophobic bullying.  To be fair, Grange Hill dealt with pretty much everything during its 30 year run!

Grange Hill

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H - Hey Arnold!

Hey Arnold! originally ran on Nickelodeon from 1996 to 2004, following the exploits of fourth-grader Arnold, and his friends and family. Series creator Craig Bartlett has since confirmed (in 2004) that teacher Mr. Simmons is gay, something which was hinted at particularly heavily in S3:E14, 'Arnold's Thanksgiving'.

Hey Arnold!

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I - ITV

CITV, the children's arm of ITV (the UK's original commerical television), has given us a few of the titles on this list. But here are a couple more, just for good measure! Britannia High, for example, was the British answer to High School Musical, and ran for one series back in 2008 with an openly gay character in Jez Tyler, whose storyline involved his dad slowly coming to accept his sexuality.

A decade earlier SM:tv LIVE, ITV's youth Saturday morning strand, beloved by children, teenagers, and hungover adults alike, was pushing subtext to the limit with its Captain Justice sketches performed by hosts Ant and Dec. Based on consumer affairs programming, Captain Justice (played by Ant) would tell children and celebrity guests how to get redress when things went wrong. And then flirt with Dec, apologising for his overplayed confusion with the line, "Sorry, I misread the signs!" Dec would then finish off the sketch with some variation on, "There goes Captain Justice - always disappears with a poof." (I've giffed one on Tumblr HERE.) In 2002 SM:tv LIVE also gave the UK its first openly gay presenter on a kids' TV show, Brian Dowling of Big Brother II fame.

(The Brian Dowling factoid is oft quoted, but it's worth pointing out that Michael Sundin had actually presented Blue Peter for the BBC in 1984/5, although it was widely believed that his tabloid outing was a key contributor to him being dropped from the show, and John Barrowman was presenting Live & Kicking in 1993, the same year he met his husband. Other out presenters who have worked in kids' TV since include Andrew Hayden-Smith, Adrian DicksonSimon Amstell, Stuart MilesAnthony Crank, and Nick Grimshaw. Mark Curry too, who presented Blue Peter in the early 1980s, though he was advised to keep his orientation quiet by producers.)


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J - Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson is a prolific children's author who introduces all kinds of issues into her works. She is also the creator of Tracy Beaker, CBBC stalwart. The Dumping Ground, a spin-off to Tracy Beaker Returns, attracted little media attention when S1:E5 'What Would Gus Want?' dealt with the topic of gay fostering / adoption, with characters debating its merits before Gus finds a new home with a lesbian couple. Later, in S3:E19 'Coming Round' we learn that care worker May-Li Wang is also a lesbian with two adopted children - and a badass grandma!

The Dumping Ground

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K - The Legend of Korra

The Legend of Korra is an animated Nickelodeon spin-off of the hit film, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Originally airing between 2012 and 2014, the show was praised for the way it dealt with numerous issues, from terrorism to sexual orientation. Main character Korra, and her friend Asami, are both depicted as bisexual and eventually embark on a romantic relationship together in the series' final episode. You can get the whole show on DVD or check it out on YouTube.

The Legend of Korra

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L - The Loud House

The Loud House is an animated Nickelodeon comedy series which began airing in the US in May 2016. It follows the trials and tribulations of Lincoln Loud, an 11-year-old boy growing up with ten sisters. His nerdy best friend, Clyde McBride, is the only child of overprotective fathers, Howard and Harold McBride.

Episodes featuring them were skipped over by VIMN Africa, though were available for online streaming in South Africa. (I've not heard of issues in any other market, but it's still a pretty new show.)

The Loud House

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M - Sailor Moon and Anime

Although these elements were removed from the English dub, Sailor Moon features a number of homosexual characters. Most notably, instead of cousins Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were originally depicted as a lesbian couple - unfortunately inconsistent censoring only encouraged the idea that not only were the girls gay, they were also engaging in an incestuous relationship! Similarly, villains Kunzite and Zoisite underwent a transformation from gay couple to the latter becoming an androgynous woman.

The same is seen with other anime that makes it onto western television, not least because the age range of its new audience will tend to be younger than was originally intended. Cardcaptor Sakura lost references to same-sex relationships when it was picked up by Nelvana for English language distribution, for example, as well as undergoing extensive changes to make the show more appealing to the new target demographic of pre-teen boys. For more on LGBTQ+ themes in anime more broadly, see THIS article.

Sailor Moon

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N - Cartoon Network

Cartoon Network are mentioned a few times in this guide. Another of their relevant shows, Clarence, has been airing since 2014 and, although the network refused to allow a male/male kiss on the lips, they did greenlight a gay couple kissing each other on the cheek in S1:E21 'Neighbourhood Grill'. Clarence's friend, Jeff, is also shown to have two moms, in S1:E29 'Jeff Wins' and again in S1:E46 'Breehn Ho!' I've linked the episode titles to YouTube for your viewing convenience.

Clarence

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O - Coming Out on a Teen Soap Opera

There are a lot of these soap opera-esque shows out there, aimed at older teenagers, and a lot of them will have featured LGBTQ+ storylines. (And a lot of those will have been coming out and then swiftly moving off the show...) I'm lumping them all together because they often air outside specific children's programming blocks, and just generally sit awkwardly within the remit of this post. Still, disclaimer over, here are some examples:

 Dawson's Creek. (USA, 1998 - 2003)
 Glee. (USA, 2009 - 2015)
 Hollyoaks. (UK, 1995 - )
 One Tree Hill. (USA, 2003 - 2012)
 Rownd a Rownd. (UK, 1995 - )
 Skins. (UK, 2007 - 2013)
 Sugar Rush. (UK, 2005 - 2006)
 The O.C. (USA, 2003 - 2007)
 Waterloo Road. (UK, 2006 - 2015)

There are also other genres which make it into teen programming strands, like Kyle XY, an ABC family sci-fi drama which deals with the school's policy of excluding same-sex couples from their dances in S2:E7 'Free To Be You And Me', that was broadcast under the BBC Switch brand in the UK.

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P - Postcards From Buster

This live-action / animation meld was a spin off of the popular PBS cartoon, Arthur. In Postcards From Buster, Arthur's best friend Buster travels around the States, meeting children who tell him about their lives and their local culture. S1:E33 'Sugartime!' saw Buster visit a family with two mums, back in 2005, who taught him all about making maple syrup. Religious pressure groups were outraged, and PBS buckled under the pressure, choosing not to air the episode (though some individual member stations did take the plunge).

Postcards From Buster

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Q - Queer Film

There are some kids' shows out there that were made specifically with gay audiences in mind. The most obvious example is Dottie's Magic Pockets, a really sweet pre-school show that introduces characters with two mums, or two dads, etc, and was released straight to DVD in 2007. There are a few clips and lots more information up on the official website.

Another example is Buddy G, My Two Moms and Me, a 15 minute show which was also released to DVD in 2007.

Dottie's Magic Pockets

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R - Rosaline

Rosaline is an original Hulu animated short which follows the story of a young lady on a quest to win the heart of a beautiful princess. It's a great successor to their 2015 short, The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived, about a knight who gets his man. They're both super cute and perfect for younger kids.

Rosaline

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S - Superman

The Warner Bros produced Superman: The Animated Series originally aired from 1996 to 2000. For our purposes, the most interesting moment is S2:E25 'Apokolips...Now, Part 1' when Maggie Sawyer finds herself hospitalised. An unnamed woman is shown at her bedside, who was later confirmed to be her comicsverse girlfriend, Toby Raines, by developer Bruce Timm on the audio commentary.

Other comic adaptions were not so lucky in terms of carrying over representation from their source material. Dwayne McDuffie, the co-creator of Static Shock, based on DC Comics Static, has said he wanted Rich Foley (i.e. Rick Stone) to be gay but the idea was vetoed by Warner Bros.

Superman: The Animated Series

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T - Transgender

In some ways Trans issues are easier to deal with in kids media, because you're stripping out the sexual and avoiding accusations of encouraging children to think in those terms. So it's kind of surprising how thin on the ground depictions are. What is about is largely documentary, like the 2005 Dutch piece From Lucas To Luus which followed future model Loiza Lamers as she talked about transitioning. Other examples include The Day I Decided to Be Nina (Netherlands, 2000), and My Life: I Am Leo (UK, 2014).

From Lucas to Luus

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U - Steven Universe

Steven Universe is an animated Cartoon Network series which has been on the air since 2013. It's about, well, even after reading a dozen or so synopses I still can't work out what it's about. (I dunno, I've never been much into cartoons.) Anyway, there's a young boy named Steven Universe, and the show follows him in his world of aliens, gem people, and random other stuff. It's very popular, that much I do know, and apparently deals with lots of LGBTQ+ themes.

Steven Universe

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V - Wizards vs Aliens

Wizards vs. Aliens is a CBBC show which follows wizard Tom Clarke and his best friend, Benny Sherwood, as they battle against the forces of an alien race called the Nekross. The show was created by Phil Ford and Russel T Davies, originally airing between 2012 and 2014 when it was put on hiatus. Anyway, in S2:E13 'All Out War!' Benny comes out to Tom, telling him: "I'll go on a date one day ... just not with a girl." There's a clip of the scene up on YouTube.

Wizards vs. Aliens

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W - Welsh

Created by Mike Young, SuperTed was an early hit for Welsh language channel S4C, and was soon dubbed into English for its BBC debut in 1983. The main characters of SuperTed and his alien friend, Spotty Man, are widely considered to be a coded couple and, as for the bad guys, Mike Young has said on record: "we had a gun-slinging cowboy, a flamboyantly gay skeleton and a fat guy who had jokes made about his weight." You can get all three series on DVD, or watch them on YouTube.

SuperTed

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X - Disney (XD)

Gravity Falls, an animated series that ran on the Disney XD network between 2012 and 2016, revealed that recurring characters Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland were a gay couple in the show's final episode (S2:E20 'Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back The Falls'). For the younger audience, the Disney Channel sitcom, Good Luck Charlie, featured a lesbian couple who drop off their kid for a playdate in the show's penultimate episode (S4:E19, 'Down a Tree') in 2014. It created controversy way out of proportion of what was actually being shown, though the episode deals with it very sweetly - you can catch it on YouTube HERE.

Good Luck Charlie

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Y - Young Justice

Young Justice, a cartoon about young superheroes and sidekicks, was created by Greg Weisman for Cartoon Network in 2010. Weisman has said that he would have liked to see explicit LGBTQ+ representation, but the network wasn't interested. Although cancelled in 2013, there is currently talk of Netflix picking the show up, which could mean much greater scope for Weisman.

Also on the topic of Greg Weisman, he has also gone on the record to say that Lexington, one of the characters in his show Gargoyles (Disney, 1994 - 97), is gay.

Young Justice

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Z - Lost In Translation

(Because 'Z' features in some foreign languages, right? ... It's been a long slog!) I've already mentioned Sailor Moon, and the difference a dub can make, but there are other shows too which have lost representation when they have crossed markets. The UK hates the idea of risque cartoons, for example, because we struggle to get past the idea that cartoons are only for young children; the result is that a lot of the US cartoons on this list haven't made it to Blighty's shores unscathed. (Eg. scenes in Steven Universe were removed or toned down.)

Many more never make that jump in the first place. This is the space for all those shows which I don't know about because they aren't available in English translation... Let me know about them! :)

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