In 2022, animated LGBTQ+ characters are people. Or sometimes even pink lions. But
rather than tokens to satisfy some sort of quota, they’re fully rounded parts with stories
to tell in which sexuality can be entirely secondary. We’ve come a long way from
‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – even when worst-kept secrets are involved – do remember
Kenneth Williams appeared as an apparition of himself as Willo The Wisp.
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How did we get here? Let’s have a look at some seminal shorts.
When the fledgling franchise – only four episodes old at the time – announced George
Clooney as a guest voice, the media were agog at the coup. And giving him the part of
Sparky the gay dog – where he literally just barked and growled – set much of the
irreverent tone of South Park moving forward. LGBTQ+ characters are treated solely
on the content of their character. Big Gay Al may be the most wholesome part in the
whole show (also shoutout to Mr. Slave, who’s perhaps the first leather character not
to solely be a cartoon…although he’s in a cartoon) while Mr. Garrison goes through
gender reassignment surgery twice and ends up as Trump.
Of course, another South Park episode was Simpsons Already Did It – and with respect
to sexual identities – almost. An ensemble cast includes many openly LGB characters
and even non-binary (Raja Gemini) and heteroflexible (Disco Stu) parts. However,
while the show had its first gay one-off appearance right around the same time as
South Park – John, voiced by John Waters in 1997 – it took them until 2005 for Patty
Bouvier to (attempt to) have a same-sex marriage before a recurring role took their
spot in Springfield. Handled more sensitively than South Park (although that wouldn’t
be difficult), we do see Marge moving from ambivalent feelings to being supportive
of her sister, winning praise from GLAAD. Of course, being a staple of the show
means entry into the Simpsons pop culture lexicon, the licenses, the albums, the video
games, the movies, the action figures…
Rick And Morty
Meanwhile, Justin Roiland’s juggernaut has eschewed being absolutely everywhere in
a way those two predecessors didn’t – possibly wary of annoying a carefully cultivated
and extremely devoted audience. There’s been a mobile game, Pocket Mortys, as well
as other digital media. There’s an appearance as an online slot from Gala Casino,
where the characters and branding can be seen front and centre of the slot, and it acted
as the most-recent digital representation of the show until the console game, High on
Life – scheduled to release this December – almost a decade after the show premiered.
With the premise of the duo warping around infinitely populated planets, they make a
point of relating representation back to Earth. The episode ‘Rixty Minutes’ showed
interdimensional politicians trying to outlaw a race of ‘trunk people’ who were capable
of having sex with any and all other races and genders.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
On a specific other planet – Eternia – the 2020 Netflix (who’ve also been working
animation into queer live-action series with Heartstopper) reboot of the
1980s Masters Of The Universe spinoff has wholeheartedly embraced lesbian,
intersectional and trans identities. If it’s a bit of a stretch to say the OG She-Ra was a
lesbian icon, it was certainly one of the first cartoons to show that female characters
didn’t need a male rescuer. Indeed, men had very little part to play other than the
opening premise that She-Ra was He-Man’s twin sister. What’s perhaps most
heartening is creator ND Stevenson was fairly coy about the queerness of the reboot in
its early episodes. A groundswell of support from fans over the course of the five
seasons spurred the writers to embrace it, leading to the finale
of…(well, DigitalSpy tells the story just in case this is a spoiler).
It seems appropriate that animation has put LGBTQ+ characters and storylines firmly
on our small screens. When writers are not bound by physicality, why should they be
bound by identity or sexuality?
Last Updated on 13th December 2022 by Nonchalant Magazine