This pride month, it’s a good time to think about how far the LGBT community has come in terms of increased visibility and representation, as well as all the battles we still have left to fight. One such battle is fighting for more LGBT representation in children’s media. Raven Symoné recently spoke in an interview about why she didn’t come out earlier in her career. She stated that Disney had branded her a certain way, and as we all know Disney stars have traditionally been expected to fit a certain image. Because of this, she didn’t feel comfortable coming out because she was worried it would harm her image. She was the star of That’s So Raven and a main character in The Cheetah Girls, coming out might not have seemed like the ‘right’ business decision.
This is upsetting to hear for multiple reasons. For one, being in the closet and going so far as to date people you’re not attracted to in order to keep your sexuality under wraps can’t be a pleasant experience. Lying about your identity for such a long period of time is exhausting, and it takes a toll on people. Staying in the closet and having people make negative comments about LGBT people around you, or praise you for trying to ‘settle down with a nice boy’ can only serve to reinforce feelings of shame, and drive people further into the closet. People shouldn’t have to come out until they feel comfortable and ready to do so, but we shouldn’t create an environment that scares people into thinking they’ll have some job opportunities closed off to them if they do decide to come out.
Additionally, when people don’t feel comfortable coming out while they’re young, or when their work is still marketed towards young people, it reinforces the idea that LGBT identities are inherently more sexual or ‘adult’ than being cisgender and heterosexual. Young people, no matter how sure they feel they are of their identity, will be told ‘it’s just a phase’ or ‘you can’t be sure’ when they come out. No one ever tells the straight kids that. Women who like women are almost always shown in hyper-sexual situations in media. Women complain often about how quickly conversations can become sexual and invasive if they mention having a girlfriend.
There are young girls out there coming to terms with liking girls too, and young boys finding out they’re not attracted to girls the way their friends are, and they deserve representation. When they don’t see actors or characters like them, they’re more likely to feel alone, or weird, or abnormal. In my native Nigeria, we have so little representation of LGBT people, so they’re not even seen as regular people by a lot of the population, which makes it harder to advocate for more inclusive laws. In countries where LGBT equality has advanced further, representation in children’s media shouldn’t even be a big deal anymore. Shows like Steven Universe show that it doesn’t have to be a big deal to have two female (or female-coded) characters be in a relationship with one another. It’s not going to ‘confuse’ the kids. They’re just going to see people in love, and some of them will see themselves in those characters, and that’s powerful. Think of the children. Let there be gays.