When Will We Get LGBT Characters in Cartoons?

Representation of LGBT people in games, movies, cartoons, and other media have made progress as acceptance within the wider culture has become more main stream. The representation isn’t always perfect but we have started moving away from harmful stereotypes and cliches. One area that seems slower to change are cartoon series aimed at kids.

Adult aimed cartoons have long had LGBT characters at least in bit parts for years now and there is some cross over with the audiences. Simpsons, which I watched when I was kid, had an episode back in 1997 dealing with Homer meeting a gay man and freaking out about it.

Other kid aimed media is starting to become more inclusive.  The stop motion film ParaNorman has a reveal at the end of the movie that one of the characters was gay all along and the early trailers for Laika’s new film Box Trolls blatantly included same sex families. The Disney Channel this year included lesbian moms on an episode of their live action show Good Luck Charlie.

But cartoon television series, at least Western ones, are still hesitant to take the step. I would say it is a combination of the popular idea that there is something more childish about cartoons, GLBT people are somehow inherently more “adult” then cisgender heterosexual people, and studios just not wanting to be the first to deal with the controversy to follow.

Of course the idea that GLBT characters are to “adult” for kids cartoons is kind of laughable when you consider some of the mature themes cartoons handle. Avatar: The Last Airbender tackles the issue of war and genocide but we are supposed to believe a girl liking another girl on the show would be to much?

Show Vs Tell

Of course there are a lot of GLBT people in shows! Just look at what the creators say or  source material or anywhere but in the show!

Unfortunately that is where we are at currently. As far as I am aware, any character that is canonly GLBT, well gay and lesbian really but that is another post for another day, is only because the creators stated it outside the show or it was part of other media.

I am glad the characters are confirmed to be LGBT but mentioning it and not actually reflecting that in the show doesn’t really help representation. Especially when we find out after the show is over or we will never see that character again anyways. I am looking at you J.K. Rowling.

But isn’t it good that their sexuality isn’t a big thing? Don’t want to just make an offensive stereotype where being gay is all they are!

I hear this a lot really. That if the character’s sexuality is erased to the point it could be cut and nothing would change, that is positive representation. But Mr Strawman, we don’t expect the same thing of heterosexual characters. Characters get to have heterosexual crushes and even dating in media without it being the center of their character. There is a middle ground between the two extremes and creators seem to be able to find it for heterosexual characters.

It is important to show the character’s sexuality as a part of their character like you would other character traits. Not just tell us about them. Just telling us a character is funny is terrible writing. You have to give them funny things to say and do.  I am not saying have the character go around kissing people all the time, sexuality is much more then just that.

Baiting the Hook

Not having the characters be out  doesn’t mean the characters aren’t given hints that they might be GLBT. This ranges from mannerisms coded to be read by the viewer as being GLBT related such as a guy being camp, to lots of subtext about a relationship between two characters.


 Harley and Ivy and are heavily implied to be in a relationship in Batman: The  Animated Series when they team up. This was later confirmed by Paul Dini and  further expanded in the comics.


Adventure Time  in the episode Something Missing, had a scene where Marceline  sings to Princess Bubblegum a song that many read as having subtext of a girl  singing to her ex-girlfriend. Whether or not that was the intention of the  creators,  future episodes interactions seemed to further tease this subtext with  things like the reveal Bubblegum sleeps in the shirt Marceline gave her long time  ago and that she smells it when she wakes up. Something coming off much more like something you would do with a shirt a lover gave you then something a friend gave to you.

Depending how willing you are to accept it this subtext that can border on text can range from being seen as the creators doing the best they can within the constrains of the network to queerbaiting to get GLBT fans (and those that are fans of GLBT relationships) to watch without wanting to actually committing to a queer character.

Why Do You Have to Make Everything So Political?

Of course there is the pushback to the idea of including LGBT characters to cartoons. From those who believe it morally wrong to those that just like things as they are and don’t want people messing with it for the sake of “Political Correctness”. Unfortunately LGBT lives are inherently political due to our lives must often be fought for in order to live them, as people seek to deny us rights.

Of course when you are fully represented in media, you are less likely to see an issue as being an issue.

Why do LGBT people need to push into cartoons? That doesn’t help anyone focus on REAL discrimination!

Well Mr. Strawman there is a pretty simple reason why LGBT people want to see themselves in all media. We exist. Adding an LGBT character might seem contrived but I find it much more contrived that no one apparently is queer in this world that is being created. There is no natural reasons why character’s can’t be diverse, the creators have to choose, consciously or subconsciously, everything about this world they are creating.

You may see people wanting representation and think it only applies to people like me, adult fans, but the series are primarily for kids. Whether they are out yet or still don’t understand it, there are GLBT children also watching these show and seeing representations that matter to them are important. It validates their identities and boosts self-confidence. It combats homophobia and transphobia they may absorb in their daily lives.

Beyond LGBT  kids, representations of LGBT people in cartoons helps break down stereotypes kids learn young and helps humanize  an oppressed group. Teaching tolerance not through hamfisted PSAs or lessons of the week but through creating relatable, likeable characters you start to care about.

Who and When?

I guess it is kind of bad I asked a question but don’t really have an answer. I think it will happen soon and slowly after that it will become a much more common thing, but I am not sure who will make that plunge first. When they do though it will be important to show support for the move because, while I think majority of people will be on board with it or at least indifferent, those that oppose it will be the loudest and most heard.


8 thoughts on “When Will We Get LGBT Characters in Cartoons?

  1. I love that episode of The Simpsons! I think it’s in season 8, and it’s called “Homer’s Phobia.” That was pretty good in the context of when it first aired, but of course now there are still issues with having the majority of LGBTQ representation in media focusing only on the white male “G” portion of that acronym.

    And questions about whether or not stating the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of characters in-canon, ON THE SHOWS WHILE THEY’RE STILL GOING AND NOT AS SOME KIND OF SECRET BONE TOSSED TO FANS BEHIND THE SCENES, is somehow making the show or character “about” said sexual orientation and/or gender identity just doesn’t hold up. Straight orientation and cisgender identity is seen as the default and there are no objections to portraying it or making it part of the story. You can’t claim that sexuality has nothing to do with the story when you have straight characters crushing and kissing on each other all over the place, and therefore there should be no objections to giving representation to other sexualities.

    What I’m saying is, you can’t have Sokka wanting to hook up with Suki and Aang pining after Katara while saying that Toph can’t also be crushing on Suki, or realizing that sex just isn’t her thing.

  2. Fantastic article. A great read and especially enjoyed the stern look at JK Rowling. That’s some of the laziest ally work ever. Give the queer identity to the dead old man who we never saw in a relationship. Course, we all knew Harry and Ginny were both gay. Actually makes their relationship tolerable. XD you’re a great writer.

  3. Pingback: When Will We Get LGBT Characters in Cartoons? | The blog of COOPER APPAREL. Find us at https://www.facebook.com/Coopertees

  4. Excellent article, and I do agree with most of it. But (you knew that there was a but, didn’t you?)
    In many cases (certainly not all) cartoon characters are generic non-race non-sexual. Would it be accurate to describe Goofy as male or female? White or black? Hetero or LGBT? The answer is none of the above. Goofy is an anthromorphic gender neutral race neutral dog with the ability to walk and speak.
    If you wanted to get really finicky you could say that Bugs Bunny is a male nudist who occasionally dresses in women’s clothing. (A transvestite rabbit?)

    You mentioned Harley and Ivy from one of my favorite cartoons, “Batman the Animated Series”.
    There’s certainly a lot of subtext for the Harley and Ivy relationship, enough so that the creators have acknowledged that they were surprised they could slip so much by the censors. Harley most certainly has a crush on the Joker (Mr. J) and most certainly has deep feelings for Ivy. Ivy used to date Harvey Dent and yearned for a normal life as a housewife with a husband and 2.5 kids, but also has deep feelings for Harley.
    But what about the other characters on Batman? In most cases we can infer a character’s race and gender, based on how they’re drawn (as opposed to many animated animal-based cartoon characters who we can _assume_ are male, but could be male / female / or neuter). Only in a few cases are there any clues as to their sexual orientation.

    Is Alfred gay, straight, bi, or trans? There never was any episode with any indications (a platonic friendship with a woman is not proof of anything). How about the Penguin? Leslie Thompkins? Bullock? Montoya?

    Montoya’s actually an excellent example. She was a new character for the cartoons and made it into the mainstream comic books. In the comics she’s stated to be a lesbian, but in the animated series her sexuality is never mentioned. AND IT SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN. She’s a background character, and was always seen in a professional working situation. If you’re arrested by a cop in real life for a traffic violation – you don’t know whether or not the cop is straight or gay – it just isn’t part of that situation. If a cop appears at work in a fictional story the same should apply.

    Hypothetically there could have been a background scene where we find out more about Montoya’s private life – how she decided to become a cop, whether or not she has kids, if she likes to needlepoint in her spare time, or anything else about her background. If those hypothetical stories existed it would be appropriate (but not absolutely necessary or required) to tell us about her sexuality. The comics are different just because there’s more room to tell stories, especially details about background characters. With those details can come out information about their personal backgrounds, culture, religion, and sexuality.

    Yes there should be more LGBT characters in cartoons, and other forms of literature. Yes there should be more minority characters. Yes there should be a more equal gender ratio. But in many cases – it just doesn’t matter if any of those points are part of the storyline.

    • “Would it be accurate to describe Goofy as male or female?”

      You do realize they created an entire cartoon and movie line around Goofy being a father and husband having a heterosexual family right? Just because a character is an anthropomorphic animal doesn’t mean they aren’t gendered and given specific sexualities. They might be a bit race neutral but that depends on how they are written.

      Literally no one but people throwing up straw men are suggesting that we need to add sexuality to cartoons where sexuality is completely absent but even in the

      “AND IT SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN. She’s a background character, and was always seen in a professional working situation. ”

      They could have had an episode about her in non-professional circumstances. Seeing her outside of work for a scene or two. If they can have an episode centering around some random guy Joker decided to torment, they could have an episode about Montoya. You make it sound like it was impossible to have her in any other sort of scene. And she clearly became more then a simple background character.

      “But in many cases – it just doesn’t matter if any of those points are part of the storyline.”

      They may not matter to the storyline but they do not detract from it. And they matter to the people watching which is the important thing.

      • I was thinking of primarily the classic Goofy and (barely) aware that there was even a Goofy movie, much less the plot. But my point is many cartoon characters have no race, (barely) have a gender (in fact what is Tweety’s gender is a gag in one cartoon), and no real sexual orientation.

        Yes, Batman Animated had a story where the plot was about a random guy the Joker was tormenting. But the episode was not about the minor one-shot character – it was about the fact that the Joker was insane enough to go to that much effort to torture a random guy who’s only ‘sin’ was a little road anger.

        Montoya was an actual supporting character, but I wouldn’t say she was an important character (I do respect your that your opinion is different from mine, but I disagree with it). She was added to the show for racial diversity, but was not a token Hispanic. (as opposed to the lame non-white superheroes added to the SuperFriends in the 1970s who were just window dressing. Fortunately they quickly disappeared and never entered the mainstream continuity.)

        I’m glad that in the comics it’s stated that she’s a lesbian, but as I noted previously, there’s far more space and quantity in comic books to tell more in depth stories and feature background characters. (One of my favorite B-storylines in 1970s comic books was “The Private Life of Clark Kent”, treating Clark Kent as a supporting character. Not something which would work in a cartoon or live action format other than as a one-shot.)

        But should it be _REQUIRED_ to have a background scene in an animated episode mentioning that Montoya’s gay just because she’s lesbian? (Or Hispanic for that matter.) IMHO that would be unfair to the writers to demand any particular storyline or scene.

        I am not saying that “it was impossible to have her in any other sort of scene”, I’m just saying that it didn’t happen. We also never saw the background for why/how Dick Grayson decided to hang up his Robin cape and become Nightwing which is _FAR_ more important to the Batman mythos.

        Heck, I would have loved it if Bullock asked Montoya, “So what are your plans tonight?” and she replied, “I’m meeting my girlfriend tonight for dinner and a movie” and leave it at that. Those who know from the comics that the character is a lesbian can interpret that as a romantic date, and those who don’t can interpret “girlfriend” in a more generic way.

        Maybe that idea never occurred to the writers, maybe it did and there was no time to squeeze it into an episode (even two lines is difficult to squeeze into a script – cartoon scripts are extremely tightly packed and must come in on time), or maybe a dozen other reasons. I don’t know and won’t try to speculate on their thoughts.

        I’m for adding more LGBT characters (and any who aren’t typical WASPs), whether it’s major characters, supporting, or background. Several years ago I publicly berated a couple of “Star Trek” producers because they never had any real storylines with gay characters. Ironically the excuses they gave “It has to be part of the story, it can’t be a story we do just to have a gay character, etc.” were the same excuses other television shows gave in the 1960s for not portraying interracial relationships. I responded why not have a two men in the background holding hands? You’ve had plenty of cases of a man and a woman holding hands. They acknowledged that I made a good point, but it was too late because “Enterprise” had ended and they weren’t involved with the J.J. Abrams movie.

  5. addendum – apparently Montoya is going to be a supporting character in the new “Gotham” Batman prequel live action series this fall. According to the description I read she’s dating James Gordon’s former fiancee.

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