Top 5 Times "Steven Universe" Included LGBTQ+ Representation - And Why It Matters

    With the release of Steven Universe in May 2013, Rebecca Sugar made history as Cartoon Network’s first female showrunner (though it is important to note that Sugar has since then come out as non-binary, while still using she/her pronouns). Not long after, she broke even more boundaries by leading Steven Universe into being CN’s first program to explicitly depict queerness. Before Sugar, the network, like most others which air children’s television, had refused to air anything with LGBTQ+ representation included for fear of controversy.

    “... These stories are not considered appropriate, are not considered G-rated content, and because they’re not, they’re kept out of media for kids. And I think that that is profoundly sad and awful,” said Sugar in an interview with PBS.

    Despite an originally strong pushback from executives and a call for the show to be censored, Sugar still included countless queer aspects. Being a bisexual woman myself, it’s hard to capture exactly how much her persistence means to me and the millions of other LGBTQ+ fans. Very few of us were given the chance to experience LGBTQ+ stories as children. This, personally, made it incredibly difficult to come to terms with my own sexuality.

    “What you learn as a kid when you don’t see any of those stories or relate to any of those stories, is that you are denied the dream of love. You are denied the idea that your own feelings are pure, innocent, lovely, romantic feelings. and to me, that’s what this is all about,” said Sugar. “... You should get to appreciate and love and trust your own feelings. And if you can’t do that, it becomes impossible to appreciate and love and trust yourself.”

    Creators like Sugar are teaching a new generation of children that their feelings are nothing to be ashamed of, and are encouraging tolerance from all viewers. From the main protagonist, Steven, living with an entirely female cast of alien superheroes known as the Crystal Gems, to including an on-screen same-sex kiss, the inclusive message of the show is impossible to miss.

    Here are the top five times Steven Universe included queer representation and fought to normalize LGBTQ+ identities for children of all ages.

5. Steven’s Femininity  

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    In the episode “Sadie’s Song” which aired September 17, 2015, Steven was seen wearing a two-piece dress, heels, and makeup while performing the song, “Haven’t You Noticed (I’m A Star)”. This was the first time we saw Steven so visually embrace his feminine side, though his character has always been openly vulnerable and influenced by the women surrounding him. There was no punchline to his choice of outfit, just that Steven looked fabulous and fully comfortable while performing.

    Steven wore a traditionally feminine ensemble once again in the episode “Familiar”, which aired on December 24, 2018, showing that the choice was not meant to be a one-time bit. While this is not explicit LGBTQ+ representation, it’s incredibly important to provide children with moments like these, so they understand there is nothing wrong with being gender non-conforming.

    Steven and his best friend Connie also create a Fusion named Stevonnie - which is what happens when two Gems, or in Steven and Connie’s case a half-gem half-human and human, physically combine through their mutual feelings of love to create a stronger being. Stevonnie is referred to with they/them pronouns, unlike other Fusions in the series who go by she/her. Decisions like this promote progressive thinking and the overall acceptance of trans identities. Being taught this at a young age can directly help kids explore and understand their identities without feeling ashamed.

4. “Stronger Than You”

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    The episode “Jail Break”, which aired on March 12, 2015, introduced the characters of Ruby and Sapphire, who were later revealed to be a Fusion, implying the two have a strong emotional bond. Fused together, the two create Garnet, who is the leader of the Crystal Gems and one of Steven’s guardians. The representation doesn’t just come from the existence of their Fusion, but rather from their tender reunion and the subsequent song Garnet sings about the situation.

    Sapphire, who the audience does not recognize at this point, rushes into Ruby’s arms after spending the beginning of the episode searching for her inside of an enemy’s prison ship. The two tearfully embrace, and Sapphire plants a small kiss right above Ruby’s lips. As they begin to fuse together, they are revealed to be Garnet, who then sings “Stronger Than You” to their captor. The song includes the lyrics, “I am made of love” and “I can see you hate the way we intermingle, but I think you’re just mad cause you’re single,” both of which heavily imply that the two are romantically involved. While this is far from the most explicit instance of LGBTQ+ representation on the show, it was the first time Sugar’s mission became abundantly clear.

3. Steven & The Crystal Gems Go to a Pride Parade

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    While this did not occur in an episode of the show, the officially licensed comic book based off Steven Universe from Cartoon Network and BOOM! Studios just released a new series entitled “Fusion Frenzy” on March 13, 2019, which included Steven and the Gems attending a gay pride parade in the first issue. There is even a clever easter egg, which implies that Garnet took part in original pride demonstrations and perhaps even the historical Stonewall Riots which happened on June 28, 1969. Several panels depict almost the entire population of Beach City, the fictional town where Steven Universe takes place, celebrating their “differences” while parading with banners and pride flags, surrounded by rainbow confetti.

    It’s true that these comics are not as mainstream or widely consumed as the actual cartoon is but “Steven Universe: Fusion Frenzy #1” promotes pride in a way never seen by such a popular kid’s media title.

2. Pearl and Rose Quartz

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    A massive part of Pearl’s, who is another one of Steven’s guardians and a main member of the Crystal Gems, motivation is the fact that she is in love with the late Rose Quartz. Rose was Steven’s mother, and founder of the Crystal Gems, who willingly gave up her physical form in order to give birth. Pearl acted as her deeply devoted servant on Homeworld, but after falling in love with her commander, began to embrace an independent lifestyle beyond the restrictions of their home planet.

    Pearl’s feelings towards Rose were first introduced in the episode “Sworn to the Sword” which aired on June 15, 2015. Pearl sings the song “Do It For Her” while teaching Steven’s best friend Connie to sword fight, during which she reveals how every time she fought, she was doing so to protect Rose.

    This storyline was explored further in several following episodes but was solidified as explicit LGBTQ+ representation in “Mr. Greg,” which aired on July 19, 2018. In the episode, Pearl sings “It’s Over Isn’t It?” as she laments over Rose’s choice to love Greg, Steven’s father, over her. There is a conversation between Pearl and Greg afterwards, where Greg states, “I knew how you felt about Rose and I stayed anyways.”

    Writers also included proof of Pearl’s sexuality in the episode “Last One Out of Beach CIty” which aired on September 8, 2016. The episode saw Pearl flirting with and receiving the phone number of a “mystery girl” with pink hair and several piercings. Since then, there have been numerous references to Pearl’s general feelings towards Rose and other women.

    I can only imagine how much I would have benefited from witnessing a character I looked up to experience feelings towards another woman growing up, but it is a comfort to know that there are plenty of children out there who now can.

1. Cartoon Network’s First Gay Wedding

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    Topping the list, of course, is the wedding of Ruby and Sapphire. The historical episode “Reunited” aired on July 6, 2018, and included Cartoon Network’s first on-screen same-sex marriage.

    Just two episodes beforehand, Ruby got down on one knee and proposed to Sapphire in the episode “The Question” which aired on July 4, 2018. Though the couple has been together for over 5,000 years, the proposal is meant to represent that even when they do not fuse into Garnet, the two Gems are always connected. The following episode covered the planning of their wedding, leading up to “Reunited” which began with Steven and the Gems setting up a beautiful private ceremony.

    Sapphire wears a traditional tuxedo while Ruby is dressed in a white gown, and walks down the aisle to a piano rendition of “Stronger Than You,” the song that started it all. The couple tearfully exchanges vows and rings, ending with a completely visible, full on-the-lips kiss to seal the deal.

    I remember watching the episode and crying right along with the characters. While there are plenty of romantic moments between Ruby and Sapphire throughout the series, this episode made it a concrete and completely unavoidable fact that they are gay and in love, something I never thought I would see from such a prominent network.

 

    Steven Universe is not the only property created for children which includes LGBTQ+ representation, but it is certainly the first mainstream program to do so this freely. Slowly but surely, LGBTQ+ pride is becoming something that isn’t inherently labeled as inappropriate “adult” content, and we have artists like Sugar, who is openly bisexual and non-binary, to thank.

    “I think that by excluding LGBT content from children’s media, a clear statement is being made that this is something that should be ignored, and that people who are feeling this, their feelings should be ignored, they should be ignored,” said Sugar. “And I think that that is wrong.”