The news was met with almost immediate backlash. While it should be noted that Disney’s reasoning was not entirely based on outdated attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community – alongside “sexual exploration”, they also mention fears over depictions of “alcohol use”, for example – it’s not difficult to see why the move was received harshly. As the LGBTQ+ community has made its slow march into the socio-political mainstream, and has become more and more accepted, it has had to deal with increasingly subtle attempts at smear. Increasingly, one sees that critics aren’t opposed to being gay per se, provided it “isn’t a personality trait”, “isn’t shoved in their face” and – especially timely – “isn’t shoved in their kids’ faces”.
A community that has been kept forcefully out of the zeitgeist for so long is naturally going to develop its own culture
These points of view often come from a place of ignorance. A community that has been kept forcefully out of the zeitgeist for so long is naturally going to develop its own culture, hence some LGBTQ+ people viewing their sexuality as an important part of who they are, or it becoming a “personality trait”. Meanwhile, the community often lobbies for its tolerance and acceptance in deservedly strong terms, emboldened by recent strides such as the 2014 legalisation of gay marriage. To see this as too strong or unnecessary – to see campaigning as “shoving it” in your or your kids’ face – tends to come from a position of privilege. If you don’t know what it is to have to fight for equality, or to be turned into an ambassador for your group in front of hostile or at least not actively supportive peers, you’re less likely to understand why that group is so fervent in its drive for acceptance.
To see Disney play into this ignorance was frustrating to say the least. To say the most, it was spineless and an insult. The attitude that the LGBTQ+ community is an adults-only issue is insidious, and deserves close analysis as to why.
There is immense benefit to introducing LGBTQ+ issues to children, for a number of reasons. First, it improves tolerance: to grow up with something is to see it as natural, meaning that children educated about LGBTQ+ issues are less likely to bully their queer counterparts. This is desperately needed, given Stonewall’s claim that nearly a half of LGBTQ+ students are still bullied because of their sexuality. These students themselves benefit from inclusive media when they see that the feelings with which they are struggling are natural, normal and – though difficult – can open up a path that concludes with self-love and pride. Transgender children especially need self-acceptance at an early age if they’re to transition before puberty hits, and makes the process considerably more difficult.
Disney are likely aware of all of this, and still chose the course of action that best suited their branding and their bottom line. This is to be expected of any company looking to maximise profit, not social welfare, but that doesn’t make the news any less of a blow.