259 LGBTQ Characters in Cartoons That Bust the Myth That Kids Can’t Handle Inclusion

From early Bugs Bunny to Disney villains like Ursula in “The Little Mermaid,” queer culture and gender transgression have always been present in animation.

Historically, that inclusion has been illustrated through subtextual representation, leaving viewers to extract what they will — or won’t — from coded characters and storylines.

But in the past decade, small-screen animation has undergone a noticeable shift. Representation in children’s cartoons in particular has increased in frequency, nuance, and overtness.

This change is a significant step forward despite a decades-long effort — through internal and external pressures on the industry — to keep representation discreet.

The media has often focused more on historic wins than incremental progress. Never before has this expanding timeline of LGBTQ inclusion in kids’ cartoons been presented and contextualized this way.

Although there’s been other databases that have tracked LGBTQ characters on TV, Insider has produced a first-of-its-kind database featuring more than 250 LGBTQ characters from animated TV shows to track the historical presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, and other sexual- and gender-minority characters with confirmation in animated children’s television in the US.

We spoke with showrunners, writers, voice actors, designers, parents, and more about how this inclusion boom is affecting them. We found that much of this inclusion is hidden behind a paywall. We also discovered that queer and trans women were behind most of the inclusion efforts but are fighting to ensure that characters don’t succumb to stereotypes. And LGBTQ creators of color are dealing with workplace abuse even while pushing for inclusivity on screen. And while studio executives often blame many factors for a lack of progress, experts say the onus is on them to enact change.

The full ASME and GLAAD-nominated package was first published by Insider at June 21, 2021.


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