LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The creator of the first mainstream American children’s animated series to feature a lesbian wedding has said she had to battle for years to include it in her show, which has been censored in multiple countries.
Animator Rebecca Sugar said her show “Steven Universe”, which airs on the Cartoon Network, was a way for her to support children who felt “alienated” by gender stereotypes in traditional cartoons - as she herself did.
The show’s hero, Steven, is a half-human boy raised by three aliens who take on feminine forms and help him to save humanity, and it made history last year when two of the aliens - known as Crystal Gems - were married.
That took years of work because of sensitivities around LGBT+ content in programs aimed at children, which often have to work for a global market, said Sugar, 32, who is bisexual.
“We are held to standards of extremely bigoted countries. It took several years of fighting internally to get the wedding to happen,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“There are people who see what we’re doing as insidious and ... they’re ignorant.
“So much bigotry is based on the idea that (LGBT+ content) is something inherently adult, which is entirely false.”
Cartoons aimed at teenagers and adults, such as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”, have had LGBT+ characters since the mid-2000s, but it took longer for children’s shows.
Since “Steven Universe” began in 2013 other shows with a young audience to have included LGBT+ themes include “Arthur”, which has featured a gay wedding, and “Adventure Time”, which Sugar previously worked on and which has shown a lesbian kiss.
Sugar recalled the frustration of not being able to be open about her personal experiences in the early years of her career before she made her sexuality public.
“It was also difficult for me as a bisexual person whose own queer experience was so delegitimized over the course of my life. I couldn’t even say that this was true for me,” said Sugar, who came out on stage at a Comic-Con conference in 2016.
“Everyone at the studio supported me in that choice and my staff, and from that point on … (I’ve felt) so much more solid in my own life.”
Sugar mostly identifies as non-binary - neither male nor female. She used the term “gender expansive” to describe herself, and said she only sometimes identified as female - a fluidity reflected in her cartoon characters
Making the show also taught her that mental health problems were disproportionately high among LGBT+ people, who tell her at conventions that they identify with her writing, said Sugar.
“I had no idea that the types of social anxiety that I experienced are very common.”
Today the mood in the industry has shifted so comprehensively that the makers of “Steven Universe” sell LGBT-themed merchandise - a development Sugar is ambivalent about, describing her sense of “whiplash” at the speed of change.
Despite such progress in the media, Sugar said LGBT+ rights were under threat globally.
“Right now what is so critical is just that queer youth understand adults in the world know they exist, appreciate they exist,” she said.
“I really hope the show is a stepping stone to action and to the ability to find one another.”
Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org
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