The New Yorker brought a smile to many of our faces with its latest cover, showing Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie embracing while they watched news of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision. I had mixed feelings about this, though, for the cover drove home to me once again how little representation of LGBT families there really is for the youngest age groups—even on a show known for its groundbreaking depictions of families of color, children with disabilities, and single moms.
I’ve gone on at length about this before, so I’ll refer you back to my previous column on the subject, “LGBT Families on Public Television: the Time Has Come.” I wrote that in 2009, and think it is even more true today. Sesame Street once maybe-kinda touched on the idea of a child with two dads, but has been silent otherwise. Is Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind the show, afraid of losing funders, including government funding? What about PBS, which runs the show? Are they being extra cautious since Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo, publicly came out as gay when he was accused of having a relationship with an underage teen? I have no idea.
LGBT-headed families are more visible than ever. And LGBT children may realize their identities as early as elementary school. The Disney Channel is planning to show a two-mom family on an episode of its Good Luck Charlie show next year, which targets children seven years old and up. Sesame Street could do a great service to the even younger age group—and if they don’t move fast, Disney Junior could steal their thunder.
There have been a few earnest and fun (if rough-around-the-edges) independent attempts to create LGBT-inclusive shows for young kids, including Dottie’s Magic Pockets, BuddyG: My Two Moms and Me, and, most recently, Family Restaurant. We should support such efforts while also pushing for mainstream inclusion.
Sesame Street has not been afraid to have LGB people guest star. (They have had no transgender guests, to the best of my knowledge.) The guests have included Lance Bass, Margaret Cho, Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Etheridge, Harvey Fierstein, Jodie Foster, Neil Patrick Harris, Martina Navratilova, Rosie O’Donnell, Sally Ride, Michael Stipe, Lily Tomlin, and BD Wong. (Who’d I miss?) Would it really be that hard to have a pair of moms or dads move in down the street from Oscar’s trash can? Sure, Hooper’s Store might have to stock up on extra hummus and granola, but I think they could manage. (Of course, a Pride Parade down Sesame Street would count among the Best Things Ever in my book, but I’m happy to take things one step at a time.)
All children need to see themselves represented in the media, including children of LGBT parents. LGBT children need to see themselves represented and to have models of what their lives could be like when they grow up. Other children need to see LGBT characters in order to learn more about the diversity of the world around them.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Adrienne Rich, poet, lesbian, and mother, from her Blood, Bread, and Poetry (1986):
When those who have power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you, whether you are dark-skinned, old, disabled, female, or speak with a different accent or dialect than theirs, when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in to a mirror and saw nothing. Yet you know you exist and others like you, that this is a game with mirrors. It takes some strength of soul—and not just individual strength, but collective understanding—to resist this void, this nonbeing, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.
Help our children be seen and heard, Sesame Street.