Gay Grown-Ups on Kids' Television: Air or Err?

Kids' TV has long used a heavy hand to reflect a diverse and inclusive world. On kids' television, white, black, Latino, Asian, single-parent, nuclear, extended, rich, poor, and differently-abled families lovingly coexist. Barney, for one, often seemed to be running some kind of child care program for the United Nations.

But for all that inclusion, there’s barely a proud gay relationship to be found anywhere in the kids' TV universe. Whereas gay rights are being debated across the nation, gay Americans are serving openly in Congress, and gay teens are popping up on MTV reality shows (as if there’s an app for that), the very subject is virtually verboten in kids' media, but for a few exceptions:

In 2007, J.K. Rowling publicly outed Harry Potter's Albus Dumbledore, saying he had fallen in love with fellow wizard and friend, Gellert Grindelwald.

The Simpsons' Waylon Smithers has been outed before, though he may just be Burnsosexual.

Ernie and Bert represent the world's first "bro-mance," but anything more is pure conjecture.

The Teletubby known as Tinky Winky was called a “gay role model” by Jerry Falwell in 1999, but it turns out he was just accessorizing. Tinky, not Jerry.

Arthur’s bunny friend Buster came the closest to exposing gay life to young kids in 2005, visiting a child who introduces Buster to “my Mom and Gillian” as part of the Postcards from Buster road trip to Vermont in 2005. Then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings condemned the show and asked for a reimbursement of federal funding. WGBH admirably aired and made it available anyway, but without PBS or federal support. Apparently in this test, Spellings counts.

Main Street America is clearly not ready for young gay depictions on mainstream TV, but like it or not, gay grown-ups are out and about, and more of them are raising children than ever. According to govenment statistics, between 8 and 10 million children are being raised in gay and lesbian families. The 2000 Census revealed that 96 percent of all U.S. counties have at least one same-sex couple with children under 18 in the household.

It’s not forcing homosexuality down anyone’s throat, but it is mirroring modern life as we know it. Also, furthering models of strong, positive commitment between loving people is not taboo—it’s today. And if we want our kids to grow up with open minds, we need to start with our own.

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