The LGBTQ+ community has made tremendous advancements in the 21st century — from global pride parades to laws intended to eliminate discrimination against identifying members to incorporation in mass media. Even television conglomerate Disney introduced its first-ever storyline with an openly-gay character in 2017 on the series Andi Mack. As recognition of the LGBTQ+ community progresses, some have responded with inhibitory controversy and discontent, especially with reference to the exposure it imposes on children. Amid the premiere of the 22nd season of the long-running PBS television series “Arthur,” in which marriage between fictional characters Mr Ratburn, a teacher in the show, and his partner Patrick was depicted, the Alabama Public Television department refused to air the episode.
Regarding the issue, Mike Mckenzie, director of programming at APT, said in a statement to AL.com that “parents trust that children can watch APT without their supervision… children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for Arthur also watch the program.” Whether known to APT or not, this statement is ultimately the epitome behind why the episode must be aired. In the opening of the Arthur theme song, the lyrics read: “Everyday when you’re walking down the street / Everybody that you meet / Has an original point of view.”As a cartoon, the series is meant to stimulate its audience and introduce the idea of interacting with others and help children in understanding the fundamentals to engage with people who are different than them, granted that they may have an alternate perspective. To prevent children from the reality of seeing same-sex couples, even in a fictional television series, is to inhibit their understanding if they happen to later encounter same-sex couples or perhaps develop such feelings themselves.
If the argument against Arthur is due to the notion that it is imposing a “gay” agenda onto children, then the lack of hindrance when religious series are aired on television is questionable. Initially, there must be a separation between religion and sexuality, to make the absurdity of such a ban clear. The differentiation between either lies in the aspect that one is a biological and social phenomenon that is primarily inevitable while the other is merely a man-made construction that, in fact, must be exposed to children in order for any of them to be aware of its existence. Children are exposed to religion when they view series such as VeggieTales, a cartoon series in which undeniably teaches substantial moral values. Yet, Arthur promotes the same matter, and the decision to introduce a same-sex relationship is only indicative of a natural occurrence among individuals. Sexuality, unlike religion, and coming from someone who is pansexual, is a biological disposition and children should be exposed to it as they are watching television series like Arthur. It is, though contrary to the belief of APT, possible to expose children to the essence of morality and reality simultaneously.
It is also necessary that same-sex marriages become normalized to children through television because it shows those who have parents in a same-sex relationship or marriage that they are not an anomaly. To stigmatize its occurrence on a television show, in which a rat marries an aardvark, which is relatively a subtle and lighthearted way to expose children to these relationships, further isolates those children. Heterosexual relationships are often shown on TV and marriages are rarely judged, yet the moment the union is between an LGBTQ+ couple, there is inherent outrage. The line between either must disperse, granted that it further confuses children who have already been exposed to such relations.
Perhaps the largest detriment is the internalized harm it causes these children, especially the ones whom, potentially at the end of the spectrum of the viewing age of Arthur, may have developed a slight understanding concerning their own sexuality. According to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation has a tendency to be shaped at an early age. There should be the same level of protection and exposure to children who develop these feelings as those who seem along the lines of “normal” because they are heterosexual. Even showing that an adult, such as Mr Ratburn, is content in a same-sex relationship may allow children a sense of plausibility as they develop feelings surrounding their sexuality. If anything, the primary aim of Arthur is to show a realm of alternate perspectives and different people. The restriction of this cartoon is merely a restriction on the nature of reality, in which same-sex and various LGBTQ+ identities and relationships do exist on a spectrum.
Looking forward, there must be more incorporation of LGBTQ+ couples on television series for children. As of now, the primarily heterosexual atmosphere in mass media is only inhibitory of the development of children who may later identify under different sexualities. To normalize these relationships, in shows like Arthur, will immensely contribute to their sense of belonging in a world that has historically and continuously denied their validation.
Photo via PBS Kids