It’s becoming clearer by the day that the Republican Party is betting that animus toward LGBTQ Americans is a big winner this election year. Now Kansas’ junior senator is taking his culture war fight to Hollywood — and making it about kids.
Roger Marshall led four fellow GOP senators in sending a letter to the board of the TV Parental Guidelines — a congressionally mandated consortium that provides content ratings for television shows — asking it to update its criteria for the warnings it puts on children’s programming. Citing “parents raising legitimate concerns on sexual orientation and gender identity content on children’s TV shows,” the letter evokes “the motivations of hypersexualized entertainment producers striving to push this content on young audiences,” calling the creators “suspect at best and predatory at worst.”
Pretty heavy charges. When a Star reporter asked for a list of this nefarious programming, the examples included Netflix’s cartoon “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” and Nickelodeon’s “Danger Force.” Also, a Pixar job listing for an actor and the fact that Disney airs a public service ad.
The glue holding all this offensive content together? Transgender people. Some of them young.
The clear point of Marshall’s letter is the ridiculous idea that kids seeing LGBTQ characters on screen might just turn them. When he warns darkly about “modeling behavior” that influences children, he’s confusing depicting sexual situations with simply featuring people who aren’t heterosexual or gender-conforming.
Nobody is having sex on the shows and TV spot Marshall’s office highlights. The programs simply acknowledge the fact that there exist people outside gender or sexual orientation norms by showing them.
Caitlyn Jenner, likely the most famous out transgender person today, is a highly conservative Republican. In an especially moving part of her coming out on a 2015 Diane Sawyer special, she talked about keeping the secret she’d recognized in early childhood until retirement age. “I would say I’ve always been very confused with my gender identity since I was this big,” she said, holding her hand a couple feet above the floor.
LGBTQ people learn who they are on their own timetables. Jenner knew she was different at 8 or 9. Some people don’t realize they aren’t so straight after all until they’ve had three kids and hit middle age.
Did the generations of children who watched Bugs Bunny pin back a blond wig and squeeze into a pencil skirt to pull one over on Elmer Fudd all turn into cross-dressers?
We often hear, “Representation matters.” That’s why Marshall’s grandstanding is so misguided. While looking at a photo of herself at the highest point of a superstar Olympic career, Jenner wistfully told Sawyer that she saw “a confused person at that time — running away from my life, running away from who I was.” There were no transgender people on TV when she was 8. Might she not have felt so scared, so alone, if she’d realized she wasn’t the only one?
And let’s get real about how any type of relationship is depicted in entertainment. Every time a virile prince sweeps a girly princess off her feet with an embrace and a kiss, that’s a potent message about sexuality, love, lust and all the other emotions that go into why humans are attracted to other humans. Where are the protests against the sexy smooching and swooning in “The Little Mermaid” or “Aladdin”? (Never mind the ick factor of the princes of “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty” laying their lips on young women who are passed out and certainly can’t give consent.) So why should it be such a problem if occasionally a fantasy cartoon shapeshifter is also gender nonbinary?
Today’s kids are growing up with a smartphone in their pocket and direct access to millions of other young people all hurting through the same growing pains together. Ratings on a TV show are far from parents’ biggest concern — and if there’s ever a call for parental responsibility, this is it. If you don’t want your kids seeing it, turn off the television.
Think about yourself and the first time you realized what kind of person turned your head. Could watching a cartoon possibly change that? Would a female character on your favorite action show who liked girls make you think, “Oh wow, I should try that, too”? Of course not. That’s not how people work. Simply seeing LGBTQ characters on TV is no threat to our children’s well-being.
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