From Nickelodeon’s The Loud House to breakout Disney Channel series Andi Mack, representation of LGBTQ characters in children’s television has come a long way. But according to GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, who represented the US-based advocacy group at yesterday’s Kidscreen Summit session entitled “Creating LGBTQ-Inclusive Content for Kids,” more story lines featuring inclusive and diverse LGBTQ characters should be making their way onto screens—and into children’s lives.
These sentiments were echoed by fellow panel presenter Chris Nee, executive producer of Disney’s Doc McStuffins and Vampirina, who said, “Adult dramas and comedies are finally in 2018. But kids TV has been stuck in 1994 for a long time. Maybe we’ve shifted a bit…and are finally in 1995.”
Moderated by Cort Lane, SVP of animation and family entertainment at Marvel Entertainment, the session—the first of its kind at Kidscreen Summit—also included Andi Mack creator and producer Terri Minsky, PBS KIDS programming VP Linda Simensky, and Kevin Sullivan, who is a staff writer on The Loud House.
These panelists have created major moments in children’s television over the past couple of years, including Nee’s Doc McStuffins episode that came out in August 2017 featuring Portia de Rossi and Wanda Sykes as a gay couple. Minsky crafted a scene during Andi Mack that saw main character Cyrus coming out to his friends in October 2017. Sullivan, meanwhile, wrote two scenes for The Loud House that featured gay dads (July 2016) and a Loud sibling having a crush on another girl (June 2017).
Lane is in the midst of writing a storyline for Marvel Rising where one character comes out to her friends at dinner, even though she has conservative Muslim parents. And he is excited about how that will play out on screen and in conversations people have about the show.
Of course, these strides in kids television have not been lost on GLAAD, which for the first time is introducing a kids and family category in its annual GLAAD Media Awards. This year’s five nominees are Andi Mack, Disney Channel; Danger & Eggs, Amazon Studios; “The Emergency Plan,” Doc McStuffins, Disney Channel; Steven Universe, Cartoon Network; and Loud House Nickelodeon. (Award winners will be announced at a ceremony on April 12.)
Ellis believes that if more LGBTQ-inclusive content continues to be made, the group’s awards could expand to include multiple categories like teen, tween and preschool. And as Lane noted, GLAAD’s awards can be an incentive for broadcasters and executives to include more of these stories.
The motivation should also be toward helping kids cope with their own identities. Ellis said that in terms of raw numbers, LGBTQ kids have higher suicide and homeless rates than other youth, and more representation on TV can really change how these young people view themselves. Plus, television can reach places that advocacy groups can’t.
As for backlash from conservative groups opposed to LGBTQ representation in children’s television, Ellis said GLAAD has strategies in place to support producers and broadcasters airing this important and necessary content. “We’ve got your back,” she promised.