(Photo by Jadelyn Villa)
“...If you don’t see yourself represented or reflected in society or in media, you essentially don’t exist".
I lived through Dr. Gayla Pitman’s quote since childhood as a closeted lesbian. I wasn’t nearly as interested as my sisters when it came to princesses and talking animals, but an unfamiliar cast caught my eye. My youngest sister sat gleefully as two female characters, Amity and Luz from Dana Terrace’s “The Owl House”, shared their romantic feelings in a passionately awkward teen fashion– one I adored. My inner child took over, and I finished the episode with her.
I then watched the entire series myself.
At the time, my sister didn’t know I had a girlfriend. After watching, I decided to tell her, and it wasn’t long before the words “like the girls on my show” came out and left me in tears. In general, children are seeing more LGBTQ+ representation and joining the discussion in positivity. According to this article by the NCTA, the American organization GLAAD helped screenwriters produce inclusive projects and had to expand their award categories for family programming. One of their directors, Megan Townsend, said they hosted “the first-ever LGBTQ-focused panel” at Kidscreen, one of the biggest kids’ programming conferences. For allied youth and their family, this is essential.
Naturally, there are diverging opinions. Many believe only traditional dynamics are suitable for kids and that gay depictions sexualize children’s media. This mindset dates back decades, like when Leslea Newman’s ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ was the 9th most banned book of the 90s. However, education on LGBTQ+ identities is critical to eradicating ignorance and prioritizing mental health. In a survey conducted by The Trevor Project in 2022, it is confirmed that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth in America considered suicide, a staggering statistic stemming from limited support and visibility. Alternatively, claiming children are sexualized through representation is inaccurate; Rebecca Sugar, creator of ‘Steven Universe’ makes the same argument for heterosexuality, explaining in Michael Cavna’s write-up for The Washington Post, “No one is horrified to talk about how Charlie Brown likes the Little Red-Haired Girl”.
Inclusivity in children’s media is also valuable to older generations. Creators like Sugar noticed the restrictive characterization. When sent discouraging messages surrounding LGBTQ+ portrayals from executives, she realized she had been indirectly subject to these mindsets since childhood. But creators like her are rewriting history, with GLAAD confirming in their 2021-2022 report that representation reached “new record highs” as of 2022. I never identified with a main character so adamantly before Luz Noceda in ‘The Owl House’-- A sapphic Hispanic teen with a love for writing and fantasy. If I had seen a girl like her, my welcome into queer love would’ve been easier. LGBTQ+ representation is vital for the children of this generation to observe while also serving those who never had it.