With Pride Month 2019 coming to a close, it may feel like we’re nearly at the end of the rainbow. We believe that LGBTQ animation is important to support year-round, whether it’s the characters on-screen or the creators behind the scenes. Fortunately, there has been a recent boom in diversity and inclusivity, with different sexualities and gender identities finding the representation they deserve — particularly on family-friendly cartoons.
Forward-thinking content producers like Netflix and the Cartoon Network have helped the industry make massive strides for Pride, though there is still work to be done. In fact, a recent GLAAD study found young people in the US were significantly more uncomfortable with LGBTQ individuals than they were a few years ago. Animation plays an essential role in building empathy among children and audiences of all ages, and television representation is essential to that.
Many animated series only include blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments — think: on The Legend of Korra when the eponymous character embarks on a new romantic adventure with her friend Asami. In the case of Japanese anime, character histories may be rewritten altogether. My Hero Academia’s transgender villain Magne uses female pronouns in the Nippon original, but in the English dub of the show she is referred to with male pronouns. The American version of Sailor Moon also famously initially rewrote Uranus and Neptune as cousins instead of lovers (this was amended later).
Things are looking up; according to GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV Report 2018, LGBTQ representation on television hit a record high, with 8.8 percent of series regulars openly identifying as gay, trans or queer. Among that group, people of colour outnumbered white characters for the first time ever. On the creator side, Punanimation has built a platform to search for women, trans and non-binary artists.
Change is not only afoot in the entertainment industry, but it is proudly marching forward. Keep reading to discover five family-friendly LGBTQ animated series that are here and queer, and making a difference for representation on television.
LGBTQ cartoons for the whole family
Rebecca Sugar has made it a point to include LGBTQ representation on the Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe, the broadcaster’s first show created solely by a woman, who also happens to be a member of the community herself. It follows the titular young boy and the Crystal Gems —magical, crystalline aliens— as they go on adventures and journey through their interpersonal relationships. Steven Universe became the inaugural animated series to win a GLAAD Media Award in 2019 and featured the first same-sex proposal on a mainstream children’s program when Ruby asks Sapphire to marry her in “The Question”, episode 21 of the fifth season.
Sugar is quoted by Variety as saying, “I wanted to really create an image of a queer couple that makes sense together. Usually the couple is a man and a woman. But you don’t show that love can exist between two men or two women. I wanted to create equal-opportunity love stories for children.”
While PBS Kids’ animated series Arthur does not centre on LGBTQ characters, it inspired massive conversation (and controversy) this year when it depicted the titular eight-year-old aardvark’s third-grade teacher Mr. Ratburn marrying his boyfriend in the episode “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone”. For the most part, fans took to social media to praise the move, with one tweeting, “Mr. Ratburn is the gay icon I never knew I needed”. Not everybody was happy for the newly weds, however, with Alabama Public Television (APT) refusing to screen the episode and airing a repeat instead. (Editor’s note: Arthur is created using Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Toon Boom Harmony by Oasis Animation.)
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Netflix and Noelle Stevenson’s acclaimed reboot of She-Ra: Princess of Power follows the eponymous royal as she joins other magical princesses in a rebellion against the evil Hordak and his horde. It was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Kids & Family Programming, depicting a same-sex romantic relationship between characters Spinnerella and Netossa, an undefined attraction between Adora and Catra, and the season two appearance of Bow’s two dads, Lance and George.
The Bravest Knight
Having premiered this Pride Month on June 21, Hulu’s The Bravest Knight might be the boldest LGBTQ children’s series streaming right now. Based on Daniel Errico’s 2014 book The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived, the show follows a mixed-race gay couple, Sir Cedric and Prince Andrew, as they raise their 10-year-old adopted daughter, Nia, and train her to become a knight. The Bravest Knight’s 13-episode first season also includes guest appearances by LGBTQ stars RuPaul and Wanda Sykes.
After 10 seasons, Adventure Time finally confirmed that Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen. The two royals kissed after fighting a giant monster in the series finale last autumn, with the bloodsucker saying, “I don’t want to ever lose you again” to the princess after a close call during the battle. While Adventure Time and its Dadaist humour may be over, their love will live on in the hearts of fans everywhere.
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Banner image source: Cartoon Network