The Disney Channel is about to introduce the network's first ever gay character
In recent years, we've seen a positive improvement in the representation of LGBTQ characters in movies and on TV - especially with shows and films aimed at younger audiences. Steven Universe, Legend of Korra and the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast all feature canonically queer figures.
However, even with this significant growth in showing and supporting diversity on screen, LGBTQ relationships have still been pushed to the background of shows. The truth is that affection between gay, lesbian or bisexual figures is almost never explicitly shown in the same way that it is with heterosexual couples.
Fortunately, it looks like that's about to change.
Andi Mack, a comedy-drama that focuses on the life of the titular 13-year-old character, will make Disney Channel history on Friday with its season two premier. During the episode, Cyrus Goodman, who is played by 15-year-old Joshua Rush, grapples with his sexuality as he realises his feelings for another boy in his friendship group are a little more than platonic.
This will be the first time that the Disney Channel has featured an explicitly queer character and a "coming out" narrative.
A statement released by the network expressed their belief that showing a young person struggling with their feelings is a "powerful message":
"Andi Mack is a story about ‘tweens’ figuring out who they are. [The show's creator] Terri Minsky, the cast and everyone involved in the show takes great care in ensuring that it’s appropriate for all audiences and sends a powerful message about inclusion and respect for humanity."
But why is it important that narratives like this get included on kids' shows?
For many young people, the concept of relationships between anyone other than one man and one woman can be confusing, simply because heterosexuality is most common across society. For children who grow up to be straight, this can lead to feelings of animosity towards LGBTQ couples - as they were never taught that it is perfectly normal.
And for kids who realise that they are not straight, it's even worse. A lack of representation across the media and other sectors such as education, leads them to believe that they are not an accepted part of society. In reality, queer people comprise between three and five per cent of everybody in the world (which makes it more common than having red hair), and LGBTQ relationships are only misrepresented due to a long history of prejudice and homophobia.
“Television reflects the real life world and today that includes LGBTQ youth who deserve to see their lives depicted on their favorite shows," said Sarah Kate Ellis, the President and CEO of the queer organisation, GLAAD. "Disney has been a leader in LGBTQ inclusion and there are so many young people who will be excited to see Cyrus’ story unfold.”
Walt Disney Co. also released the statement about Andi Mack's portrayal of a gay character, saying that:
"Our stories are timeless because they speak to the heart; our characters appeal to children across gender, ability, and experience because they're defined by kindness, loyalty, humor, courage, wit and other traits that make a good friend. Disney remains committed to continuing to create characters that are accessible and relatable to all children."
No doubt some people will see this and argue that homosexuality is being 'forced' on children; but, in reality, it's always been the opposite. Gay relationships have always been hidden away, and parents find it difficult to explain LGBTQ people to their kids because they have no age-appropriate resources to draw on. Meanwhile, children who do grow up to be queer tend to reject the notion, as they have had straight relationships forced on them for their entire lives.
Hopefully, this will be a turning point.