Why We Need LGBT+ Representation in Children’s Media

Why We Need LGBT+ Representation in Children’s Media

Being part of a fandom – or Internet fan base – is both agony and ecstasy. People from all walks of life can bond over the love of one piece of media, but they also make incredibly petty arguments. They discuss which characters would look best in a relationship, which theory about the next season is correct and if leaked screenshots should be reblogged. No detail is too small to debate.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is an animated sci-fi show with an ardent fandom that has been running since June 2016. Produced by Dreamworks Animation, the series revolves around five teen pilots who discover they are the long-awaited warriors needed to form the giant robot Voltron and save the universe from the evil Galra empire.While primarily marketed as a “kids’ show”, the vast majority of fans are believed to range from ages 12-30. It’s been critically acclaimed and is a massive hit with fans. Darker moments of the series include flashbacks triggered by trauma, dark magic, torture via electrocution, and even a cult on a far-away planet at the edge of the universe.

Voltron’s seventh season debuted on Netflix on August 10th of this year. In the runup to the release, the show’s executive producers and showrunners made an announcement stating that the leader of our protagonists, Shiro, is gay.

Shiro is undoubtedly a strong figure. He is wise, kind, and skilled in battle. He fills all the manly man stereotypes, being tall and strong and acting as a sort of father figure to the other (slightly younger) characters.

A huge outpouring of love erupted online from the fandom – viewers were overjoyed, especially because the showrunners had promised LGBT+ rep since the beginning of the show. Fans sent tweets about how much the announcement of Shiro’s sexuality means to them as members of the LGBT+ community. One fan praised, “I’m sure you can feel how big of a deal this is…but as a queer woman who grew up with no one I could identify with, I just wanna say how momentous this is”.

Even more exciting was the promise that in the next season, we would get to meet Shiro’s boyfriend, Adam. Netflix even made cover photos for the next season of Adam and Shiro standing back to back, and a clip of the two was released at the fan convention where the announcement was made.

So on August 10th, fans all over the world tuned in to the new season, ready for the LGBT+ rep they had been promised all along. They saw the clip that had already been leaked. The next appearance of Adam showed him serving as a fighter pilot defending Earth from the Galra invasion. A rapid-fire montage showed all the other fighter jets being shot at and exploding, with radio connections back to the base going dark. Adam struggled to hang on, and screamed as a bright light filled the screen. Then a distant explosion followed and Adam’s communication line back to the Earth military base cut out. Just like that, Adam was killed – as was our hope for LGBT+ representation.

The executive producer released an open letter following the season on Twitter, stating that Adam’s sudden death was supposed to be a major emotional impact for Shiro. However, fans pointed out the flaw in this by citing the show itself. A brief scene towards the end of the season shows Shiro gazing at a wall of all of Earth’s soldiers who have died in the invasion. It’s here he finds Adam’s name listed among the fallen and whispers, “Adam…I’m so sorry”. The scene cuts out with no further dialogue and Adam is never mentioned again in the four episodes to follow.

As if fans weren’t outraged enough, a Twitter user claiming to be one of the show’s storyboard artists stated that the season initially had much more content with Shiro and Adam, but was shut down by Dreamworks. It appeared to many that Dreamworks was fine with a statement that Shiro had been in a same-sex relationship, but not with the actual portrayal of that relationship on screen.

However, this is not the first time this debate has come up. One of the issues that every generation has to confront is the changes in society – what society interprets as “right/appropriate” or as “wrong/inappropriate”.This especially concerns LGBT+ representation in children’s media.

Many LGBT+ adults say they had no representation in media they watched as a child. Because of this, they had no idea that it was acceptable to have those feelings towards the same sex. They say how much representation like that would have mattered. Another Twitter user, @fandomislife remarked, “As someone who is gay, I really want to thank…the Voltron team for giving us some LGBT representation. It means a lot to me and I’m sure it means a lot to others as well”.

Adults (particularly those with conservative leanings) with young children believe nothing of the sort should appear in children’s media. Even among those who aren’t homophobic, parents are concerned that LGBT+ representation should be a conversation for when kids are older. Others worry that young children might not understand what they’re being shown, and refer to themselves and a same-sex best friend as gay. The problem for producers, showrunners, and TV writers is to determine how much, if any, LGBT+ representation would be acceptable to their audience.

Some strides have been made in recent years: the Disney Channel sitcom Andi Mack had a character come out on screen. The hit Cartoon Network series Adventure Time featured a lesbian kiss in it’s series finale. But it’s not enough. LGBT+ representation should not be so rare; in order for it to have an effect, it must be more commonplace.

Here is my view: if you think that your children should not be exposed to LBGT+ media so early, than you have the choice not to let them watch those shows. My mom never let me watch Bratz movies or have Bratz dolls as a kid because she thought the characters were bad role models.

What matters is the lives that LGBT+ representation might affect. Imagine a small child, feeling isolated and alone just because they have feelings for the same sex. They have nothing to look up to, no fictional mirrors for them – which is the point of media, particularly children’s. Without representation, these children might become depressed, and begin to withdraw into themselves. In Canada alone, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and two-spirited youth attempt to commit suicide 4 to 7 times more than their heterosexual peers. LGBT+ representation in media clearly matters, because it greatly affects the self-esteem of LGBT+ children.

It’s time for entertainment giants to wake up and help improve lives of LGBT+ children around the world. If children’s media is supposed to teach kids important lessons, shouldn’t we teach them to accept themselves for who they are?