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e/em/eirs (genderfloren)
a very cool person
writer of poetry, fiction, and op-eds
aspiring artist

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Message to Readers

Here's my final piece, I hope you all enjoy it. Thank you so much for all the suggestions and comments, they were really helpful. Good luck everyone, and keep writing!

Disney's Heteronormative Standards and Why They Need to Change

March 16, 2021

As a kid, I sat with my eyes glued to the TV, watching The Little Mermaid over and over again. I was, in short, obsessed. But as I grew older, and came out as LGBTQ+, I realized that Disney gave me zero representation, aside from blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments that amounted to virtually nothing. Although Disney makes millions of dollars every year with their heteronormative movies, it teaches younger kids, who are easily influenced, that being heterosexual and cisgender is “normal,” and gives no representation to LGBTQ+ youth.

Understandably, Disney makes billions of dollars every year with their movies and may lose some of that money if they included LGBTQ+ characters because they would lose the support of homophobes and transphobes. While their characters and messages have been improving, like in the 2017 film, Beauty and the Beast, where Gaston dances with a man near the end, they still refuse to give LGBTQ+ youth the representation they need and deserve. In the end, Disney needs to take a larger step forward and create a movie with a leading LGBTQ+ character.

Every year, Disney makes billions of dollars. In 2018, they made 12.6 billion. In 2019, they made 11.05 billion. They are able to pay their 32,000 workers at Disneyland a total of 19.68 million a day. So clearly, they aren’t having any financial issues. Making a little bit less money from a movie? Not a problem for them. So if they made a movie with a LGBTQ+ lead, and if it didn’t make as much money as their heteronormative ones (which it might not), they still wouldn’t have money problems. And that’s assuming that it won’t make as much money. This is a common misconception. Although it might not appeal to the homophobes and transphobes, it will appeal to the LGBTQ+ community and everyone else. Steven Universe, a TV show created by Rebecca Sugar, is decidedly popular with a net worth of 7.5 million dollars ( 1,572,000 people watched the movie (based off of the TV show), and both pieces have numerous LGBTQ+ characters. If Disney created a movie with a LGBTQ+ lead, they would not only gain a large sum of money, they would also gain the admiration and respect of LGBTQ+ people and allies. Disney says they seek to entertain people, so why don’t they start entertaining everyone?

LGBTQ+ people aren’t just teenagers realizing their sexual and gender orientation. Little kids, even three-year-olds, know who they are. And when little kids, who are much more malleable than older ones, see heterosexual characters kissing and bringing people back to life, causing fireworks, and making flowers grow, what do they think? They think that they are supposed to be heterosexual and cisgender and not be who they are or love who they love. This then contributes to internalized homophobia and transphobia, which is detrimental to LGBTQ+ people's mental health, and is incredibly harmful.

Another problem is that homosexual kisses are shown to be disgusting or “unnatural.” As Renee Davidson, the author of Why Are There No Gay Disney Characters?, said, "Far from breaking spells and sparking fireworks, signs of queer sexuality generate only ridicule and disgust. When Timon and Pumbaa accidentally touch lips in The Lion King, both immediately appear stunned, horrified and even queasy. The opening scene of Princess and the Frog similarly remarks on the laughable nature of queer sexuality. When Tiana exits a street car, she leaves a would-be [male] suitor to make an advance on the man who’s taken her place, causing the man to frown with deep disapproval and the suitor to ashamedly shrink away." Little kids are taught that this is wrong, and that is not okay. They need and deserve representation, and Disney needs to give them that.

Davidson’s point also brings up another problem that Disney has: queercoding. Queercoding is when creators give a character stereotypical aspects of LGBTQ+ people, e.g. a male villain who is soft spoken and feminine, and unfortunately, Disney only does this to their villains. This then teaches kids that queerness and femininity in men directly corresponds to evil. And not only that, but Disney also has included queerbaiting in their movies.

As Rogan Shannon, the author of Queercoding and Queerbaiting, says, "Queerbaiting is the practice to hint at, but then to not actually depict, a same-sex romantic relationship between characters in a work of fiction, mainly in film or television. The potential romance may be ignored, explicitly rejected, or made fun of."

Disney does this all the time. They create two male or female characters (because there will never be a non-binary person in one of their movies) who clearly show affection for each other, and when the audience asks if they are a couple, what does Disney say? There are two possible responses. 1. “Eh. It’s up to the audience to decide.” What does this really mean? It means this: “We will never make a homosexual relationship canon.” Then there is the second response. 2. “What? No no no. They’re just friends.” Translation: “Oh no! We made them gay and the audience actually noticed! Let’s just backtrack and pretend this never happened.”

Really, Disney? We all know you can do better.

One of the largest problems is this: little kids are much more malleable than older ones. What you’re taught as a young kid stays with you your entire life. And Disney’s movies are targeted towards a younger audience. Their movies teach kids that heterosexuality leads to magic and fireworks and wishes coming true. There is no LGBTQ+ representation, other than barely noticeable moments that the little kid won’t even remember, and those moments are only in newer movies. When you have little to no representation, you assume that what isn’t there is unaccepted by society.

Disney is supposed to be the company that created The Happiest Place on Earth. But how can it be that if it flat-out refuses to give an entire community the respect they deserve?
Works Cited

Bevan, Harry. “Have Disney Movies Always Had Poor LGBT+ Representation?” Little White Lies, 16 Mar. 2017, Accessed 23 Sept. 2020.

Blakemore, Erin. “How Disney Movies Teach Straightness | JSTOR Daily.” JSTOR Daily, 7 Oct. 2016, Accessed 20 Sept. 2020.

Cleveland, Wilson. “Why I’m Done Being Queerbait in Disney’s Mouse Trap.” Medium, 29 Feb. 2020, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

connsociology. “Gender Norms and Heteronormativity in Pixar and Disney Films.” Sexgenderandsociety2016, 8 Feb. 2016, Accessed 23 Sept. 2020.

Davidson, Renee. “Why Are There No Gay Disney Characters?” Salon, 1 June 2013, Accessed 27 Sept. 2020.

Editor, The Gryphon Web. “We’ve Still Got Jafar to Go: The Queer-Coding of Disney’s Villains.” The Gryphon, 23 Feb. 2018, Accessed 20 Sept. 2020.

Gupta, Harshita. “Disney Needs More LGBTQ Characters in Its Children’s Movies.” 34st.Com, 23 Oct. 2019, Accessed 20 Sept. 2020.

Lindy. “Will There Ever Be an LGBTQ+ Disney Princess?” Medium, 10 Nov. 2018, Accessed 20 Sept. 2020.

“Queerbaiting.” Wikipedia, 10 Oct. 2020, Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

Shannon, Rogan. “Queer Coding and Queerbaiting.” Rogan Shannon, 16 May 2018, Accessed 24 Sept. 2020.

Staff, Julie Lim | Senior. “Deconstructing Disney.” The Daily Californian, 6 July 2019, Accessed 23 Sept. 2020.

Stewart, Dodai. “Researchers: Disney Movies ‘Elevate’ Heterosexuality.” Jezebel, 25 June 2009, Accessed 23 Sept. 2020.

Terzigni, Carly. “It’s Costing Disney HOW MUCH To Close The Theme Parks?! | the Disney Food Blog.” The Disney Food Blog, 27 Mar. 2020, Accessed 24 Sept. 2020.

Watson, Amy. “Walt Disney Net Profit.” Statista, 11 Mar. 2020, Accessed 24 Sept. 2020.

Wayne, Harper. “Heteronormativity & Disney.” Coven, 3 Feb. 202AD, Accessed 20 Sept. 2020.

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  • _mack

    I love this piece. It is so true too.

    about 2 months ago
  • A. Penderwick

    This is such a good piece! I definitely agree with what you're saying, Disney needs more representation, and they need to stop making excuses. I'm straight, but have many many friends who identify as LGBTQ+, and it pisses me off that they don't get any representation in animated films. I get especially furious when people say that homosexuality isn't 'age appropriate' for little kids. Little kids can be gay too! Anyways, great piece and good luck with the competition!

    2 months ago
  • Writing4Life

    I'm straight, but I do think it's sad that the lgbtq+ have no representation. I can sort of see why Disney is trying to step away from it, trying to be "kid friendly", but I don't think that's really an excuse. I think just as we need African-Americans to be in more lead roles, I think gay couples should be added in. If you've seen Onward, there is one line about a girl being a lesbian, and in one country they legit had to change that line! I think it's a bit more than them just being homophobes; I think there would be a lot of issues, and (if we're being honest) a lot of parents who don't want their kids watching that. It's really sad.

    2 months ago