Inclusion Matters: The 15 Most Groundbreaking LGBTQ+ Moments in Kids' TV and Movies
To recall the first gay character in a kids' movie or the first children's cartoon to feature a queer wedding doesn't require looking back very far. Unlike mainstream entertainment, children's programming has historically been the hardest fought for diversity across all lines, LGBTQ+ representation especially.
This growing list of queer characters now serves as a reminder that inclusion matters — perhaps more for our youngest viewers than any other out there.
For decades, these potentially groundbreaking scenes never aired. They'd be conceptualized and carefully crafted by writers and producers, but then networks would invariably push back. They'd cite age-appropriateness as a reason to scrap whole storylines, character arcs, or even ancillary references to gay culture. Certainly, the TV Parental Guidelines rating system — which has long served as a way for broadcast networks to flag parents about the maturity of a show's content — muddied progress, as have a few powerful conservative parent "watchdog" groups that would threaten boycotts and peddle petitions at even a hint of what they considered "amoral" subject matter.
So the fact that the last decade — namely, the past five years — has moved the needle on children's programming with such magnitude is a clear sign of a cultural turning point not necessarily in film studios, but in the homes of families who now demand inclusion. Families come in many forms, and they all want to see themselves represented on screen. They want their children to see gay characters, bisexual characters, trans and nonbinary characters, just as much as they want to see strong female characters and racially diverse ones.
And what's more, they want these characters to be normalized. One of the clear patterns throughout the milestone LGBTQ+ moments in recent history is that for every multiepisode coming-out story, and for every "very special episode," there are more and more characters whose queerness doesn't even need to be the storyline, to be tokenized. And this growing list of queer characters now serves as a subtle yet strong reminder that inclusion matters — perhaps more for our youngest viewers than any other out there.
Read on for 15 of the movie and TV moments that have helped shape LGBTQ+ storytelling for children's audiences.
When Lesbian Moms Were Featured on Clarence
The Cartoon Network series Clarence follows an 8-year-old boy named Clarence and his best friend Jeff Randell. Turns out, Jeff's parents are a lesbian couple voiced by two famous lesbian actors, Lea Delaria (of Orange Is the New Black fame) and comedian Tig Notaro. The two play EJ and Sue, respectively, and they have appeared a few times throughout the series following their debut in the 2014 episode "Jeff Wins." What sets these supporting characters apart is that they aren't, in fact, set apart. No fanfare is made about their sexuality or queer status — they are just any other couple trying to help their son in a local cook-off competition.
The First Same-Sex Couple on a Disney Channel Show
In one of the final episodes of the live-action Disney Channel series Good Luck Charlie, parents Bob and Amy Duncan debate the names of Taylor's parents, who are coming over for a play date. Amy says the mom's name is Susan, but Bob recalls also meeting Taylor's mom and that her name is Cheryl. In classic sitcom style, they bicker about who's right, but in groundbreaking form, they both are, and the characters treat the truth — that Taylor actually has two mothers — as no big deal.
In fact, a Disney Channel spokesperson at the time said the 2014 storyline was conceived "under the consultancy of child development experts and community advisors" and was "developed to be relevant to kids and families around the world and to reflect themes of diversity and inclusiveness."
When the Final Scene of The Legend of Korra Showcased the Characters' Bisexuality
The final moments of Nickelodeon's The Legend of Korra — in which two women, who have always been at odds over a man, clasp hands before turning and gazing lovingly into each other's eyes — were particularly provocative. It was 2014, and if the last scene alluded to Korra and Asami's romantic relationship, it had to be seeped in subtext. Thankfully, a few days after the last episode aired, the show's creators confirmed that the two were bisexual women in love with each other but that the network, while supportive, had "a limit to how far" they could go with the storyline.
"You can celebrate it, embrace it, accept it, get over it, or whatever you feel the need to do, but there is no denying it," cocreator Bryan Konietzko wrote. "That is the official story."
When Pixar Included a Possible Lesbian Couple in Finding Dory
The internet was abuzz after the trailer for Finding Dory potentially featured — for a split second, anyway — Disney/Pixar's first same-sex couple. The rampant speculation surrounded two women pushing a child in a stroller, and although some (including Ellen DeGeneres herself) thought it was simply two women on a walk, many clung to the Easter egg as a watershed moment for the animation company.
The film's director, Andrew Stanton, handled the 2016 frenzy with a progressive statement: "They can be whatever you want them to be. There's no right or wrong answer." One of the film's producers, Lindsey Collins, said simply, "We never asked them."
The First Biracial Gay Couple on Nickelodeon
Just before Lincoln Loud opens his front door to friend Clyde McBride and his parents in a 2016 episode of cartoon series The Loud House, he looks directly at viewers and says, "This is it . . . time to make history." He then opens the door and greets dads Harold and Howard McBride (voiced by Wayne Brady and Michael McDonald): "Hi Mr. McBride. Hi Mr. McBride." The moment marked the first openly gay couple, who also happened to be biracial, on a Nickelodeon show.
Like with other LGBTQ+ inclusions in animated programming at this time, the introduction is no spectacle. Instead, the plot centers on their protective nature when dropping off their son for a slumber party.
When Doc McStuffins Featured a 2-Mom Family
As if Doc McStuffins wasn't already a beacon of diversity and representation for children (a Black girl as the main character, who also happens to be a doctor!), a 2017 episode, titled "The Emergency Plan," features a family with two moms. Openly gay actresses Wanda Sykes and Portia de Rossi voice the moms in a doll family separated from their two young kids after a dragon causes an earthquake in their home.
"I'm a fan of Doc McStuffins," Sykes said in an interview for GLAAD. "It sends such a great message. My kids watch the show, and with this episode, they see a family that looks like our family."
The First Gay Kiss(es) on Disney
The inaugural queer kiss on Disney wasn't alone for long: within seconds, the milestone moment was followed by a few more. That's because the scene — in a 2017 episode of the Disney XD animated cartoon series Star vs. the Forces of Evil — is of a concert in which the music inspires most of the audience to lock lips. The first instance takes place midway through the band's song, when a male couple kiss. Then, in a sweeping scene when Marco notices his best friend has run off, at least two female couples are locking lips in the sea of smoochers.
The First Full Coming-Out Storyline on a Disney Channel Show
The Disney Channel's Andi Mack made history with the network's first storyline about a gay character coming out. In the season two premiere, which aired in 2017, Andi's friend Cyrus (played by Joshua Rush) begins that journey.
"Starting conversations about trust, love, relationships and family dynamics is easier when you have a show that you can relate to," Rush wrote in an Instagram post at the time. "Andi Mack gives young people and their parents, mentors, and champions a meaningful way to talk about these topics and the power to decide their futures. I'm so proud to bring Cyrus's groundbreaking storyline to life."
The First LGBTQ+ Wedding in a Kids' Series
The Peabody Award-winning animated series Steven Universe — which has long carried a message promoting love in the face of adversity — broke barriers in queer representation by airing the first LGBTQ+ wedding in a children's series when Ruby and Sapphire got married over a beautiful two-episode arc in 2018. Sure, the characters aren't actually human women — they're "living rocks" — but they both present as female and use she/her pronouns, so it counts!
When Mr. Ratburn Came Out on Arthur
The circa-2019 season 22 premiere of Arthur (the series's 240th episode!) is titled "Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone," and it begins with Arthur and his fellow animal friends discovering that their third-grade teacher, Mr. Ratburn, is engaged — it's hard to believe teachers have lives outside of school. To learn more about his future spouse, the group spy on Mr. Ratburn having lunch with an overbearing woman (voiced by Jane Lynch) and show up at the wedding determined to stop the match. In a historic plot twist, that special someone walking down the aisle isn't the woman from lunch but a gay man, er, aardvark, named Patrick. Needless to say, Arthur opts not to break up the same-sex marriage after all!
The First Bisexual Character on a Disney Channel Show
Since its premiere in early 2020, The Owl House has prioritized representation in its characters. Series creator Dana Terrace made Disney Channel history with Luz, the show's 14-year-old Dominican American protagonist who is on a quest to become a witch — she also just so happens to be the network's first bisexual lead character, who, in early episodes, is shown to be attracted to both boys and girls.
Since then, Terrace — who is bi herself — has worked to break more LGBTQ+ barriers. More recently, she welcomed Raine Whispers, the Disney show's first explicitly nonbinary character. Voiced by nonbinary actor Avi Roque, Raine (pronouns: they/them) is the hardworking head witch of the Bard Coven. "Representation matters," Terrace said. "Always fight to make what you want to see."
The First Openly Gay Pixar Character
Onward — about two teen brothers who attempt to use magic to spend a day with their late father — from 2020 is the first Pixar movie to include an openly gay character. The Disney film includes a scene with Officer Specter, voiced by Emmy Award-winning actor Lena Waithe, who is part of the LGBTQ+ community herself. In it, the police officer opens up to her partner about her personal life, saying, "My girlfriend's daughter got me pulling my hair out." It's a quick appearance but an important one for the movie's story arc, as she goes on to add that, at the end of the day, all you can do is be there for your family.
In an interview, director Dan Scanlon said the scene happened organically: "It's a modern fantasy world, and we want to represent the modern world."
When Blue's Clues Hosted a Sing-Along With a Drag Queen
In a special sing-along event on the Blue's Clues & You! YouTube page, Blue and her friends celebrate 2021 Pride Month with a very special guest: RuPaul's Drag Race season 11 contestant Nina West. To the tune of "The Ants Go Marching," Nina welcomes families with two daddies, trans members, nonbinary babas, and more — by counting them out all the way up to 10.
Following the event, the star thanked Nickelodeon for including her: "Reading all the incredible comments about how impactful and powerful the latest Blue's Clues video for Pride has been to so many is inspiring and humbling. Representation matters. Teaching kindness matters. YOU matter."
The First Nonbinary Character on a Netflix Preschool Show
Ridley Jones, the hit animated preschool series that debuted this past summer, features an animated cast that includes LGBTQ+ characters as well as a character who identifies as neither male nor female. Fred the nonbinary bison is the first nonbinary character to appear in a Netflix preschool series and helped the new show earn a place in the streaming service's "Representation Matters" collection. Fred has a central role as one of Ridley's friends and is voiced by Ezra Menas, who is also nonbinary.
When Gonzo Dressed as a Gender-Nonconforming Princess on Muppet Babies
Disney Junior's Muppet Babies reboot went viral following a 2021 episode titled "Gonzo-rella," in which the already-unique little blue alien Gonzo gets to celebrate being exactly who he wants to be. And instead of following suit with Kermit and dressing as a knight to the royal ball, he opts instead to secretly dress as a princess. When he reveals his true identity, he tells Miss Piggy: "You all expected me to look a certain way. I don't want you to be upset with me, but I don't want to do things because that's the way they've always been done either. I want to be me."
The show's executive producer Tom Warburton explained how he'd always planned for Gonzo to celebrate his authentic self and used a stereotypical Cinderella storyline to drive home the point. "Gonzo is always 200 percent Gonzo 347 percent of the time," he said. "We hope he inspires kids watching to be 347 percent of themselves in their own way, too."