Back in August, a new controversy hit Twitter in the form of the children’s TV show Muppet Babies. An episode of the show, titled “Gonzorella,” featured a storyline that many adults found offensive. What was it? Simply the character Gonzo, who, so far, has been a male character, wearing a dress. In the episode, Piggy hosted a party, saying all girls would dress as princesses and all boys would dress as knights. When Gonzo’s request to wear a dress was denied by Piggy, a fairy Godfather appeared and granted Gonzo’s wish to dress as a princess, similar to the Disney story of Cinderella.
Many people were upset by this episode of a children’s show, saying it pushed “the trans agenda.” Candace Owens, who famously tweeted “Bring back manly men” after Harry Styles wore a dress on the cover of Vogue, was very vocal about her thoughts on this episode, saying it was “perverted” and “predatory” and called for people to “bring back manly muppets.” A clip from Fox News also showed the participants of Fox and Friends expressing their discontent over the episode.
If we ignore the fact that Gonzo has been wearing dresses since the beginning of the Muppets, and that it’s simply part of the character, it still seems preposterous that there was so much outrage. Gender was never discussed; the words transgender and non-binary were never used in the episode. Gonzo only said, “I want to be me.”
To some, the reason for this outrage may seem obvious, and to others, it may be a little more obscure. The problem lies in the lack of diversity on children’s shows. Very recently, there has been a push for more diversity in the media, but this push has not extended to children’s shows. In 2019, the Disney show Andi Mack gave us the first gay character with Cyrus, who they showed coming out to his friends. However, the show was sadly cancelled before we could see any more developments. Another example is the queer representation in the Netflix show She-Ra. While there are many shows with gay characters today, there hasn’tbeen much of pushing the boundaries on LGBTQ+ characters in children’s TV shows.
While people realize their LGBTQ+ identity at many different ages, many people know they are queer by the time they finish high school. Media, especially TV, is a powerful way to spread a message and educate the masses on experiences that are different from their own. Showcasing diversity on children’s shows teaches people from a young age that they can be who they want to be and that someone different from you deserves respect and love.
Introducing 2SLGBTQ+ characters to children’s shows could also help decrease the hypersexual stereotype of queer people as is shown as in media. There is a false narrative that children are ‘too young’ to see gay and trans people on TV, or to learn about the 2SLGBTQ+ community. Heterosexual relationships are shown all the time on children’s shows, and children are exposed to gender stereotypes from the second they are born. In the media, the LGBTQ+ community is more often than not linked to mature themes that are not suitable for children. This creates the idea that all queer people are constantly doing things like this in their lives, when the reality is that queer people experience partying, sex, and drugs in the same amount that heterosexual people do.
By adding LGBTQ+ characters into children’s shows, it reduces the false narrative that the 2SLGBTQ+ community is not suitable for children and creates an accurate portrayal of young queer people. It also gives the opportunity for young queer people to see themselves in media and know that they aren’t alone, that there are other people out there and on TV, who are having the same experiences as they are. Representation matters.
Adding 2SLGBTQ+ characters would also create an environment where an entire generation of children would grow up with respect and love for the 2SLGBTQ+ community. By showing queer characters as classmates, friends, and family members, it creates a culture of acceptance where queer people are not enigmas.
While it is almost impossible for a show with LGBTQ+ characters to exist without it being accused of “pushing an agenda,” this continues to show the need for these characters. Instead of forcing queer people to become more ‘palatable’ for a mainstream audience, we should be introducing children to the LGBTQ+ community in all it’s joy and glory. Instances like the backlash that Muppet Babies faced should not become a trend. Children need to see people who represent them as they’re growing up because it is important for children to know that they can be who they are without the fear that they will be hated.