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Why Animators Should Include LGBT Representation in Animation

“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.”

Barbara Gittings, Activist

In TV and film, LGBT representation has always been rather half-baked or forced; even mere references would have to be thoroughly discussed between writers and executives or face the possibility of criticisms or backlash. What more when it comes to LGBT representation in animation? 

In 2018, the animated series “Steven Universe” featured an LGBT wedding and LGBT marriage for the first time. This animated same-sex wedding has made history yet makes you wonder, ‘Why only now?’’

While key figures and even the general public have campaigned for diverse storylines and better LGBT representation in animation, there’s still a long way to go before the world could wholly embrace positive LGBT representation rather than just tolerating it. 

In an interview with Variety magazine, Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar shared that she has never seen animated characters that looked like herself, referring to herself as a non-binary person. She further shares, “It’s very important to me that all the characters are gender expansive and that ‘Steven Universe’ is a gender-expansive show.”

For the longest time in animation, there has been a stigma when it comes to including LGBT characters, plotlines, or mentioning anything related to the LGBT community. Animators in TV and film have tirelessly sat with executives and discussed whether or not to include certain LGBT storylines in their animated series or films.

Having various characters color their plots is integral to creating modern and relevant stories –– such stories not only attract clients and prospects to watch but also foster an inclusive and dynamic community, accepting of all persons’ sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression, or their SOGIE.

In this blog post, we’ll expound on the subject and discuss different LGBT characters in animation and why animators should include LGBT representation in animation.

LGBT Characters in Animation 

catra is a form of lgbt representation in animation through the show she-ra and the princesses of power

GIF by dreamworks via GIPHY

As more and more LGBT characters in animation get greenlit, animators and animation studios are given the opportunity to create well-rounded and complex characters inclusive of all genders and sexualities. 

With that, LGBT representation in animation has slowly begun to grow. It’s been recognized by general audiences for quite some time. And while there are still some stereotypes and misconceptions alive in certain characters or plotlines, audiences and critics alike have noted the serious change within the animation industry.

This change is seen in certain animation series, such as “The Simpsons,” “Adventure Time”, “The Legend of Korra,” and, as previously mentioned, “Steven Universe.” Below are some examples of LGBT characters in animation that you should be familiar with.

Garnet From Steven Universe
garnett from steven universe is seen as a hallmark for lgbt representation in animation

GIF by Cartoon Network via GIPHY

Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe has been considered a hallmark for LGBT representation in animation, most particularly queer representation. With its characters, Steven Universe has broken gender norms and conventions. What makes it all the more impressive is that it’s an animated series targeted at a younger demographic.

In the animated series, most of the main characters, known as Gems, are females. When they fall in love, these gems fuse their bodies together, becoming one new entity –– According to creator Sugar, this fusion is a metaphor for a romantic, loving relationship.

A character in the series, Garnet is the fusion of Ruby and Sapphire, members of the Crystal Gems. The Crystal Gems are a group of Gems in the animated series who are considered the Rebels. Because most of the Gems are considered female, Garnet is considered to be the embodiment of a lesbian relationship. 

In The Answer, Steven Universe’s 22nd episode of the 2nd season, audiences learn about Garnet’s backstory, how Ruby and Sapphire met each other, fell in love, fused together, and joined the Crystal Gems. 

The episode was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award under the category of Short-Format Animation.

But that’s only one of the LGBT characters in Steven Universe. The series often briefly features LGBT representation in animation, such as when Steven fuses with another character named Connie and uses they/them pronouns. 

Princess Bubblegum And Marceline From Adventure Time
adventure time broke the stereotypical mold of lgbt representation in animation

GIF by cartoon_network_emea via GIPHY

With the creation of characters Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward helped break the stereotypical mold of LGBT characters in animation. 

Although their romantic feelings toward each other were not explicitly stated throughout the main series, hints were always dropped here and there, and the series finale, “Come Along With Me,” officially gave audiences what they were hoping for. 

The series finale shows the two girls finally sharing their long-awaited kiss. In the episode, they kiss after Marceline saves Princess Bubble from GOLB, the series’ embodiment of evil, chaos, and disorder. The epilogue further shows these LGBT characters in animation in a relationship together.

It was greeted with such positive reception, with fans going wild as they finally got the official confirmation of their romantic attraction. 

Furthermore, in the second episode of the ensuing miniseries, “Adventure Time: Distant Lands – Obsidian,” audiences learn about the past, present, and future relationship of Princess Bubblegum and Marceline. It also features Marceline’s love song to Princess Bubblegum, called “Monster.”

Waylon Smithers Jr. From The Simpsons
the simpson was ahead of their time in lgbt representation in animation

GIF via GIPHY

The Simpsons is a show that definitely hasn’t shied away from pushing the norms while exploring whacky storylines and misadventures among its leading characters. The long-running animation series has also given us tons of LGBT references in animation, albeit some more stereotypical than others.

Waylon Smithers is The Simpsons’ highest-profile LGBT character. He first came to the small screen as semi-closeted gay man. Only in a 2016 episode entitled “The Burns Cage” did he openly come out as gay.

He is the personal assistant and self-proclaimed best friend of Charles Montgomery Burns or Mr. Burns. For the longest time, the animated series’ writers have toyed around with the relationship of Waylon Smithers and Mr. Burns, ultimately leading to Smithers finally coming out as gay in the aforementioned 2016 episode. 

Besides Waylon Smithers, The Simpsons have also created other LGBT characters in animation, such as Patty Bouvier, Brunella Pommelhorst, Dewey Largo, and the homosexual couple Grady Little and Julio Franco. 

But those are not the only openly LGBT references in animation The Simpsons has put out. In an episode entitled “Homer’s Phobia,” the animated series explores the ignorant side of Homer Simpson in a way that’s completely in line with his character. 

To put it briefly, the 1997 episode showcases Homer’s homophobia (hence the episode title) and insensitivity toward John, an openly gay man, and how he deals with his fear that his son might turn gay from hanging out and imitating him.

Korra And Asami From The Legend Of Korra 
korra and asami were the first form of lgbt representation in animation from nickolodeon

GIF by nickelodeon via GIPHY

These LGBT characters in animation are one of the first queer main characters in Nickelodeon history. This may explain why, similar to Adventure Time’s Princess Bubblegum and Marcelines’s love story, The Legend of Korra did not openly show Korra and Asami’s queerness until the end of the series. 

The big difference? The end scene cuts before anything more than their queerness is revealed.

The Legend of Korra, commonly shortened to LOK, is the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender. At the beginning of the series, Korra and Asami are pitted against each other, in love with the same guy. However, as it progressed, audiences watched as the two LGBT characters in animation grew closer and more intimate.

As with the other animated series, fans held out hope for the two girls. And by the series finale, the stage was set for the two women. With clasped hands, they lovingly gaze into each other’s eyes. For a glimmering moment, everything seems perfect. All that’s left is something to seal their relationship – A kiss.

But it never comes. 

Because the kiss that fans had anticipated never happens, the animated series co-creator Bryan Konietzko wrote a lengthy blog post explaining everything. He wrote, “We approached the network and while they were supportive there was a limit to how far we could go with it,” implying that they did the best they could do for the two LGBT characters in animation.

However, that doesn’t make Korra and Asami’s relationship any less meaningful. Konietzko also wrote, “Just because two characters of the same sex appear in the same story, it should not preclude the possibility of a romance between them… The more Korra and Asami’s relationship progressed, the more the idea of a romance between them organically blossomed for us.”

She-Ra And The Princesses of Power
she ra and the princesses of power had a reboot with lgbt representation in animation

GIF via GIPHY

Produced by DreamWorks Animation and Distributed by Netflix, She-Ra And The Princesses of Power is packed with LGBT characters in animation. Its leading characters, Adora and Catra, are even queer themselves.

The animated series is set on the planet of Etheria and focuses on the journey of Adora, She-Ra, as she joins the Rebellion to free their land from the evil of the Horde, and her conflict with her former best friend, Catra. When it comes to its LGBT representation, the show is swarming with it.

For starters, there’s the fact that most of the characters in the series are LGBT, such as Netossa, Spinnerella, Perfuma, Scorpia, Bow, Bow’s fathers George and Lance, Jewelstar, and Double Trouble, among other characters. 

Another thing to consider is that the show’s creator Noelle Stevenson intended to make a more inclusive series that strengthened the importance of LGBT representation in animation, most particularly queer women’s visibility.

In an interview with the entertainment website PRIDE, Stevenson shared, “As a gay woman, this is how I see the world… Characters get to just be who they are, and there’s no judgment at all.”

And finally, there’s the shared confession of love and the iconic onscreen kiss between friends-turned-enemies-turned-lovers Adora and Catra. In an intimate and raw moment in She-Ra’s fifth and final season, Catra finally confesses her love to Adora and seals it with a kiss. This has had fans screaming, and when it comes to LGBT representation in animation, critics have regarded the scene as a revolutionary moment in history.

EJ Randell, Sue Randell, And Kevin From Clarence 
clarence was able to have lgbt representation in animation aimed towards a broader audience

Image via Cartoon Network

Created by animator Skyler Page, Clarence is a sunny and quirky animated series following the everyday adventures of the titular character and his two best friends, Jeff and Sumo.

In an episode entitled “Jeff Wins,” we’re introduced to the parents of the block-headed character and best friend, Jeff, who just so happens to be two women. EJ (Eleanor-Josephine) and Sue Randell, Jeff’s moms, are even voiced by LGBT actors Lea Delaria (from Orange is the New Black) and Tig Notaro.

The creator has also confirmed the orientation of minor character Kevin as an LGBT character in animation. There was even supposed to be a brief kissing scene between Kevin and his boyfriend at one point. However, the network nixed the kiss and replaced it with kisses on the cheek instead.

Spencer Rothbell, the animated series writer and one of the voices of Clarence himself, later posted on Twitter what was meant to happen in the scene. In response to a fan asking how hard it was to have a gay couple on the series, he shared, “Originally the guy had flowers, and they kissed on the mouth.” 

He referenced the kiss again in a post on his Tumblr account, “It's such a minor throwaway moment, but I guess it's better than nothing."

The characters and animated series above are only a handful from the complete list. Other series with LGBT representation in animation include DuckTales, Arthur, Star VS The Forces of Evil, Gravity Falls, The Owl House, and Disenchantment, among others.

The Importance Of LGBT Representation In Animation

It’s worth noting, however, that while the animation industry has taken strides towards becoming more inclusive and welcoming of all genders and sexual orientations, there’s still a lot more to be done. Consider the fact that censorship continues to run wild in major networks that animators and writers still have to cut or cover up LGBT representations in their shows.

As an animator, you play an active role in shaping the way people look at LGBT representation in animation. This includes both individuals and big corporations. 

So it’s essential you understand the importance of not simply having LGBT characters but of creating accurate and fully-formed representations of LGBT characters in animation.

Accurate LGBT Representation In Animation Fosters Acceptance And Understanding

lgbt representation in animation allows better acceptance and understanding

GIF via GIPHY

The media is a powerful medium in shaping public opinion and impacting change. Therefore it is paramount that they portray the real world and its pressing issues as it is, especially when it comes to minorities and oppressed groups. 

In a report by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the organization known as GLAAD, the number of regular LGBT characters on TV is consistently increasing. However, it’s worth noting that about 83% of the LGBT community continue to hide their sexual orientation because of the general stigma that still comes with coming out of the closet.

While there has been a positive impact over animated shows being more inclusive of the LGBT characters in animation, there’s still much work to be done. 

By continuing to include more LGBT representation in animation, animators can act as a bridge toward general acceptance. 

Seeing accurate depictions of the LGBT community allows individuals and communities to initiate important conversations that will lead them to understand their realities. These conversations further bolster a more just and informed community and can even help combat prejudice.

Take the issue of queer coding for instance. Queer-coding is the practice of TV and movies giving villains stereotypically queer characteristics to signify to audiences that they’re the antagonists. This is a dangerous and all-too-common practice that promotes a negative image of the LGBT community.

However, by presenting real and accurate LGBT representation in animation, viewers are encouraged to understand their truths. Thus become more accepting and understanding.

More Diverse Stories And Characters Can Be Created

lgbt representation in animation allows diversity like in the simpsons

GIF via GIPHY

As an animator, you’re a storyteller. As storytellers, you’re in charge of creating different worlds filled with culture and complex emotions. You’re also tasked to craft unique storyboards with relatable and fully-formed characters to exist within your stories. LGBT representation in animation leads you to do such successfully. 

Being more inclusive with LGBT representation in animation will broaden your perspective when it comes to creating stories and will open up interesting and more authentic plotlines. This will help your animations connect to people, and it’s key to becoming a well-rounded animator and storyteller.

Furthermore, when operating a business, you must forge meaningful relations with people of different backgrounds. Creating accurate LGBT characters in animation allows you to reach out and connect to particular demographics you once might’ve considered inaccessible.

LGBT Audiences Deserve To Be Seen In Animation

lgbt representation in animation is tailored for an audience that deserves to be seen

GIF by cartoonnetwork via GIPHY

How often have you watched an animated series and caught yourself trying to relate to the main character or any character for that instance?

And imagine how much more meaningful a movie or series is to you whenever you see yourself in its characters.

Relatability is something everyone looks for in the content they consume. This is the chance for one’s personality and unspoken thoughts to be expressed, which is relieving and cathartic for most.

Cisgender heterosexual people often find themselves relating to animated characters. However, those in the LGBT community don’t have such a luxury. Everyone deserves the chance to be seen, to have someone they relate to. And as an animator, you have the opportunity to do right by this and amplify queer voices through creating LGBT characters in animation.

Why Should Animators include LGBT Representation in Animation?

Progress has definitely been made in becoming more inclusive of LGBT representation in animation. Characters such as Garnet from Steven Universe, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline from Adventure, and She-Ra and The Princesses of Power, among others, manifest these strides that have been made.

However, that doesn’t mean we should all just lay back and forget about it.

As animators, storytellers, and businessmen, it’s important you know the value of including LGBT representation in animation. Accurate LGBT representation encourages respect and understanding, allows you to create unique stories, characters, and conflicts, and gives the LGBT audience a chance to be seen completely.

Furthermore, not only is being inclusive toward all sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions something that will help build your career but it’s also reflective of your basic human decency and sense of respect. 

And what’s the point of a successful career if you aren’t a decent human being?

For more tips on developing your business skills as a freelance animator or animation studio owner, you can join our informative free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!

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