This Pride month, many corporations have changed their logos to varying iterations of the Pride flag emblem. Some members of the LGBTQ+ community are quick to treat these decisions with contempt, viewing their activism as merely performative. However, others are celebratory of written statements when they are accompanied by tangible donations and contributions to the preservation of LGBTQ+ history and equality.
However, a pressing issue within many families during Pride month, as well as throughout the year, is LGBTQ+ support in the form of representation in children’s media. The children’s media companies Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, PBS, and Disney Channel have addressed LGBTQ+ subject matter within their content. This representation isn’t limited to the programming itself either; much of the “informative” aspect is provided during commercial breaks, with LGBTQ+ youth speaking about their experiences as well as how they’ve learned to celebrate their gender identity/sexuality.
The primary concern harbored by families is how to explain this concept to their children. They worry that, in a child’s relentless quest to imitate the exact content they see on television, they’ll suddenly *gasp* want to be gay too. The horror!
Regardless of just how ridiculous the concern is, it still persists. Recently, the children’s network Nickelodeon released a message via their Twitter account celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. The message pictured the openly transgender actor Michael D. Cohen from Henry Danger, Avatar Korra from The Legend of Korra (who identifies as bisexual) and, surprisingly, the beloved pop culture icon, Spongebob Squarepants.
Despite the company never confirming nor denying Spongebob’s identity as a homosexual, the post equally sparked both gratitude and outrage from consumers. Many were quick to quote the late show creator Stephen Hillenburg’s words from an interview completed in 2005, in which he dismissed speculation about the sponge’s sexuality.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re trying to do,” People Magazine reported Hillenburg as saying. “We never intended them to be gay. I consider them to be almost asexual. We’re just trying to be funny and this has got nothing to do with the show.”
Those that quoted Hillenburg’s response accompanied it with messages that proved their disgust for LGBTQ+ representation. Many stated that they would never be able to enjoy the show again, and that they didn’t understand why Nickelodeon had to “ruin” the show with this implication.
The question then begs itself: why should it matter? Even if Spongebob is gay, he’s still the same lovable sponge we’ve come to cherish. His sexuality shouldn’t taint current nor future generations’ experience watching the show; if anything, it should enhance it.
Unbeknownst to concerned parents, however, lies deeply embedded within the internet a known fact– Spongebob has long since been an integral contributor to gay culture.
Gay Twitter, an umbrella term for Twitter’s subculture of the gay community, is home to 80s pop culture references, politically-charged conversation, and Gen-Z vernacular. The community is responsible for the birth of some of the most prominent pop culture moments of the 21st century, including the beloved “Kombucha Girl” and “And I Oop-” memes, but one of the most boundless areas in terms of Gay Twitter trends are Spongebob memes. One meme juxtaposes a photo of Spongebob flicking his wrist with the caption “Is he…you know?” as a reference to asking about someone’s identity in terms of where they lie on the spectrum of homosexuality.
In short, parents that oppose LGBTQ+ representation in children’s media must better examine themselves; as human beings, as parents, and as individuals. They must consider the countless number of children with same-sex parents that have yet to be represented in television, as well as the many struggling, queer youth that aren’t able to see their identities reflected in their favorite shows. At its core, media is a reflection of society, and the LGBTQ+ community has consistently been a part of it. Queer individuals have been leading members within our communities, ultimately contributing to them despite the endless stream of intolerance they’ve been met with. Rather than instill children with hate, parents must fill them with love and acceptance.