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You cannot possibly have missed the media hype around the openly gay characters appearing in Disney films and the Power Rangers but, and perhaps I’m alone in this, I don’t consider it particularly ground breaking. I mean, did no one notice the gay family in Frozen, with Oaken’s brooding partner and children? Or have you stopped to ever considered why Let It Go rocketed to become a coming out anthem? If we are on a roll, then let’s look a little further back to Ursula in the Little Mermaid too? Frankly, there was a drag queen-cum-surly lesbian depiction if you ever wanted one.
It was, however, also hard to miss the disappointing furore in some more conservative Muslim countries, for example Malaysia or Kuwait, about the ‘gay moment’ in Beauty and the Beast. I didn’t hear of Frozen causing the same ruckus or being cancelled in as many countries and cinemas, so what makes this one so special?
I hear arguments about families and children’s best interests all the time so it was not alien to me when these countries used morality and innocence of their younger children as an excuse to block the film from viewing, preferring to push the matter into the shadows. In this though, I think, they underestimate both their children’s intelligence and ability to identify love in its various forms but also their acceptance of various family models. My nephews love it when my partner and I come to see them (possibly even loving him more than me!); Karen, my business partner, has a son who always asks when we’re both coming over next, not seeing any difference between us and his parents’ relationship. If it is so easy for a child to accept then I wonder again if these countries are protecting the adults, rather the children.
You could say children are young and more easily influenced, asking parents difficult questions all the time. They play fancy dress, gender blur and challenge adults’ perceptions and social norms. Maybe instead they are trying to protect their children from ‘becoming gay’ (as if it were a choice!) or not to encourage it. The argument carries little weight though as it is nonsensical to believe a person’s sexuality it is going to be determined because they watched LeFou in Beauty and the Beast – you might as well ban glitter pens and rainbows from a child’s stationary box in that case.
We might look on at them in confusion but it is not outside of living memory when homosexual relations and families were not accepted within the UK. This 27 July marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in England & Wales between two consenting men over 21 years of age. Sometimes it is easy to forget (or for those in younger years, to have never known) that it also took until 2001 for the age of consent to be equalised between straight and gay to 16, and even then the 1967 decriminalisation did not apply to armed forces personnel.
We celebrate the strides forward made in recent years for marriage equality and employment legislation, but despite the advances it was still a long slog for the Government to get to a point to pardon historical convictions based on homosexuality and required the court’s intervention to consider extending the rights for single gay dads to be able to have a child through surrogacy this year. Germany recently likewise pardoned over 50,000 gay men for post-WWII convictions and gave compensation to boot!
It is good to remind ourselves of progress and how we could lead other cultures in protections and human rights. We have some great laws which help to prevent HIV discrimination, harassment because of a person’s transgender identity, give the right to marry and have a child of their own through adoption or (save for single gay dads) through surrogacy. The law adapts and evolves; sometimes ahead but more frequently behind society. Films like Beauty and the Beast and the cuffuffle around it’s release help to show the further work required around the world in order to help children know it is acceptable to be ‘different’ and breaking down those anxieties many children hide, even hurting themselves or running away, too confused and scared of being different. Having a family and helping children grow up free from discrimination here or abroad still needs our attention and focus – regardless of which glitter pen you use to do it!