GLAAD yesterday released its latest annual “Where We Are on TV” report, which looks at the number of LGBTQ regular and recurring scripted characters on network television, cable, and streaming services. Let’s look at what they discovered about LGBTQ inclusion in children’s shows—while I wildly speculate about some LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books that I’d love to see made into shows.
The good news that there’s been “significant growth” in programming for children and families in recent years, “and the space continues to grow rapidly with new LGBTQ stories premiering on all platforms.” GLAAD therefore this year announced a second GLAAD Media Awards category to honor outstanding LGBTQ programming for young audiences—an Outstanding Children’s Programming category in addition to the existing Outstanding Kids & Family Programming category. Stay tuned to hear the results at the 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards later this year.
Let’s focus here on shows for the younger age group. GLAAD informs us that in 2020, Cartoon Network aired the final episodes of Steven Universe Future, a limited-series epilogue to Steven Universe. They don’t tell us what the LGBTQ representation was in the miniseries, however, perhaps assuming that we’ll know the main series (which ended in 2019) was one of the queerest kids’ shows ever. This queerness carried over into the epilogue, with an episode in which one female character has a crush on another, and an episode with a character who uses they/them pronouns and is dating a female character. A show storyboarder has also tweeted that another character is asexual and aromantic.
Other inclusive shows listed by GLAAD include:
- Nickelodeon’s The Loud House, with bisexual character Luna Loud and her girlfriend Sammy, as well as the two dads of protagonist Lincoln Loud’s best friend Clyde.
- Nickelodeon’s Danger Force!, which had one episode that included two gay dads who recently adopted a son.
- Disney XD’s DuckTales, which introduced a two-dad couple, the parents of Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s friend Violet. I’ll add that co-executive Producer Frank Angones has said that while they “do not play a huge role in the story thus far,” he’s “well aware that the ‘queer representation through parents and background characters’ trope is an issue, and “We do have some themes and ideas coming up that address relevant LGBTQ+ narratives.” Other episodes, GLAAD tells us, focused on a new character named Penumbra “who was confirmed to be a lesbian by the episode’s writer and director on Twitter. The character is not expected to return.” Half credit if the queerness has to be confirmed separately and the character is only temporary?
- The Disney Channel animated series The Owl House, which developed a romantic storyline for bisexual protagonist Luz and a female classmate.
- The finale of Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, which confirmed that the two female lead characters were in love. While that might seem like yet another example of queer inclusion being revealed only when the show was on its way out, the show in fact has had many queer secondary characters, some in same-sex relationships, one nonbinary, and others who are gender creative. In this case, keeping the main characters’ love for each other as a reveal at the end was about building romantic tension (which was pretty obvious in earlier episodes).
- Netflix’s animated Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, which included central character Benson, in love with another male character, Troy. The series has ended, however.
- Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club, a reboot of the 1990s show, which had one episode where one of the main characters is asked to sit for a young transgender girl, played by 9-year-old transgender actor Kai Shappley.
- And one possible future show, the animated series Little Ellen on HBO Max, which follows the 7-year-old Ellen DeGeneres on various adventures. I have been unable to find a premiere date for it; given accusations of a toxic workplace environment on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, I have to wonder (though I have no evidence one way or another) if the kids’ show is in jeopardy.
Other queer-inclusive “family” shows on streaming services seem aimed at teens and up, so I won’t recap them here, but I encourage you to go read the full GLAAD report if you’re interested in shows for that age group.
Amazon has quietly shown characters with same-sex parents on its ongoing animated shows for young children, Pete the Cat and Bug Diaries, but GLAAD has not included them in its report, so I assume those characters did not appear in 2020 episodes. And the only kids’ show on a mainstream network to center on a child with LGBTQ parents, Hulu’s The Bravest Knight (about which more here), dropped its first season in 2019 but has not yet announced a second.
So: Progress? Yes. Where we need to be? Hardly. We need both LGBTQ characters who populate the world as secondary characters and LGBTQ characters and those with LGBTQ parents who are the stars of the show (without necessarily focusing the show on their LGBTQ identities).
Original television programming is one way to achieve the latter. Another is to use the accelerating number of LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books as starting points. Here are just a few of many possible ideas, which I offer with absolutely no inside information on whether any such things are in the works or if the authors would even be interested:
- I’ve said before that Kyle Lukoff’s Max and Friends series, about a young transgender boy and his classmates, would make a terrific foundation for an animated series. And while there are happily many young trans actors who could voice the main role, my dream casting (not only because of his acting skills, but because of the attention it would bring to the show) would be Elliot Page.
- Daniel Haack’s Prince & Knight, which is getting a sequel this year, feels like a natural fit. In my 2018 review, I even said the images have a “Disney-like” quality. Since Hulu’s The Bravest Knight focuses on a girl with two dads, and Prince & Knight focuses on the same-sex couple themselves, they seem sufficiently different.
- Lesléa Newman’s classic Heather Has Two Mommies has the name recognition to be a hit. Expand it into “Heather and Friends” or “Heather and Her World” and it could work as a series about the adventures of a young girl.
- The four-book Magic Misfits series by actor Neil Patrick Harris, about six friends and aspiring magicians (one of whom has two dads), seems ready-made for an ensemble-cast show, either animated or live action.
- Emma Donoghue’s two books about the Lotterys, the multiracial, multiethnic, neurodiverse family of two same-sex couples co-parenting seven children, has the kind of controlled chaos that could make it a fun television romp (or even a feature film).
- Dana Allison Levy’s four books set in the universe of her Family Fletcher, which include a family with two dads and one with two moms, feel like they could translate into a live-action show for older kids and tweens.
I’d also love a show in which a two-mom family (preferably a family of color) and their kids fly around the galaxy in a spaceship meeting diverse people and aliens and learning STEM lessons each episode. Clearly there is no end of ideas; we just need the networks and streaming services to commit to increasing further the LGBTQ representation in children’s programming. Are they tuning in?