Representation of queer relationships and identities has been severely lacking for a long time, especially in cartoons. However, in the early 2010s, “Adventure Time” and “Steven Universe” began to change this with relationships like the one between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline and characters like Garnet, the result of the love between Ruby and Sapphire, and Stevonnie, who is nonbinary. The creators and writers who wanted queer representation fought tooth and nail to get it into the final product and it’s very lucky that they did, because otherwise, we wouldn’t be seeing the amount of LGBTQ+ representation that we see today.
However, not all representation is good representation. Sometimes, queer characters fall victim to harmful tropes and stereotypes as a result of writers caring more about wanting to appear inclusive than about their queer audience and how poor representation may impact them. It’s important that we uplift quality LGBTQ+ representation so that creators and writers know that it is the kind of representation that we want and make sure that queerphobic stereotypes aren’t perpetuated amongst younger generations.
One cartoon made within the last few years sporting good examples of LGBTQ+ representation is “The Owl House,” which comes from a surprising place: Disney. Disney has a pretty rough history when it comes to queer representation. The company has been hesitant for years to include LGBTQ+ characters in their films and TV shows, and many Disney villains are queercoded while most other characters are not, reinforcing the ridiculous belief that LGBTQ+ people are evil. This makes it both astounding and phenomenal that series creator, Dana Terrace, convinced Disney to allow the representation in “The Owl House”.
“The Owl House” is about a teenaged human girl named Luz who ends up in another world instead of at the juvenile detention summer camp she was supposed to go to and becomes the apprentice to a witch named Eda. Luz makes all kinds of new friends in the magical world she’s found herself in, including Amity Blight. Though they get off to a rocky start at first, it is implied a few times that Amity has a crush on Luz. This is confirmed by multiple interactions they have in the episode “Enchanting Grom Fight,” including one where the pair share a dance to defeat a fear demon (and when it’s revealed that Amity was planning on asking Luz to go to the Grom Dance with her). As one Twitter user wrote: “There is no heterosexual explanation for this”.
When asked why they think “The Owl House” provides good queer representation, a queer friend of mine who requested to remain anonymous said: “[The representation] doesn't play into stereotypes in any way or make the characters who are LGBT the ‘bad guys’, which is something we're all tired of.
“It's good rep to me because it paints a positive portrayal of LGBT characters and it doesn't make their entire character about their identities, and the characters don't exist to be that representation,” they continued.
There’s also good representation is Netflix’s “The Dragon Prince,” which is less of a cartoon and more of an animated series.“The Dragon Prince” is about the princes of a human kingdom that must return the egg of the Dragon Prince to the dragons with the help of an elven assassin named Rayla. LGBTQ+ characters in “The Dragon Prince” play much smaller roles in comparison to “The Owl House”: the only canonically queer characters so far are Annika and Neha, the queens of the human kingdom of Duren, and Runaan and Ethari, Moonshadow elves who are like uncles to Rayla.
Though the queer characters in “The Dragon Prince” are all supporting characters, their inclusion is still vital because it normalizes queer relationships for kids. The relationships are not looked down upon or viewed as unnatural or “other,” but are portrayed as normal facts of life, even though there are fewer queer relationships in the series than heterosexual relationships. Affection between the queer couples in “The Dragon Prince” isn’t shied away from, either, which means a lot to queer individuals who aren’t used to seeing affection between queer characters.
Some of the most prominent examples of quality queer representation come from Netflix’s “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” the 2018 reboot of the 1985 series “She-Ra: Princess of Power”, about a fifteen-year-old girl named Adora who discovers that she can turn into the legendary warrior princess She-Ra, and deserts the Evil Horde that raised her in order to help the Rebellion expel them from the planet.
The planet’s society is, simply put, homonormative: all the main characters are LGBTQ+, a large chunk of the supporting characters are as well, and no characters bat an eye at this. The show contains varied depictions of queerness, and none of these variations are criticized or mocked as being an incorrect depiction.
The marriage between Spinnerella and Netossa, two princesses of the Rebellion, is sweet and loving, and is even explored a little more in-depth in Season 4. The ease with which they show affection to each other is no less than or different from that of heterosexual couples in cartoons, and their relationship is never painted as annoying, gross, or over-the-top. The same can be said about the dads of one of Adora’s friends, Bow. Bow’s dads’ names are George and Lance, and they are portrayed as loving, protective, and embarrassing the same way any parents would be. While Spinnerella, Netossa, George, and Lance are all supporting characters, you can tell that they have distinct personalities that don’t revolve around them being queer. This is important because it shows audiences that LGBTQ+ people aren’t defined solely by their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Double Trouble is a nonbinary shapeshifter and mercenary introduced in Season 4, and while their appearance is stereotypical (they are skinny and very alien-looking, with light green skin, a tail, and long, pointy ears), their inclusion in the series is still important because it allows nonbinary people to see themselves represented in a way that they typically aren’t. Double Trouble could be improved to be a better representation of nonbinary people and more gender-queer characters could (and should) have been included in the show, but they are a step in the right direction.
By far, the most important LGBTQ+ representation in “She-Ra” are Adora and Catra, and their crazy best-friends-to-enemies-to-friends-to-lovers relationship. Throughout the first four seasons, Catra, fueled by the hurt that Adora’s desertion of the Horde caused, spends almost every waking moment working to defeat Adora and her new friends. Adora and Catra reunite in the fifth and final season after Catra realizes that she’s been on the wrong side since day one, and the two confess in a heartfelt moment in the season finale.
Their relationship before Adora’s desertion is built throughout the seasons slowly and deliberately, showing the closeness and tenderness between the two and how this grows into romantic love. While Catra and Adora’s relationship is undoubtedly a huge part of their characters, it is not who they are as a whole, and yet it isn’t an afterthought thrown in for diversity points, either. The progression is natural and feels real, and the characters around them have no problem with their relationship and see it as normal.
Ultimately, the normalcy with which the relationships in these cartoons are handled within their respective universes contributes to normalizing them out in the real world for kids who are watching as well, allowing them to be more inclusive and accepting of LGBTQ+ people in their own lives and to have characters that they can relate to if they themselves are LGBTQ+.