Why the Emergence of Gay Parents on Screen Matters

Lea Buecker is a final year English and Film student. Her passions are texts, theatre, and Tabasco. If she’s not reading a book, she’s probably working on an article, writing a play, or watching cat videos online.

[Featured Image: Rachel Berry, protagonist of the hit TV show Glee, holding an ‘L’ over her forehead against a red background.]

Whatever odd or slightly insane hobby I decided to pursue, my mother always had my back. She pushed me in the right moments, gave me enough freedom and space to discover things on my own, and supported me in everything I did. From vaulting over pottery to applying to elite universities abroad, there was nothing she told me I couldn’t do or shouldn’t try. It never occurred to me, that she in her supportiveness was accidentally responding to a stereotype until recently, when the ‘supportive gay parent’ became a trope in popular culture. Whether in musicals such as School of Rock or the teen hit tv-show Glee, gay parents have become a regular feature. They, just as my mother, support their children in any way possible and express in an often relatively exaggerated way that the best will barely do for their precious child. Talent is recognized and pushed by both parents alike and the strong sense of both guardians being interested and involved in their children’s lives and futures is intensified by the fact, that they mostly appear together on screen. No matter if it is only an elementary school Christmas recital, or a degree ceremony, the image of the gay couple waiting and watching off/ backstage with excitement written on their faces and the stereotypical thumbs-up gesture has become a regular feature on our screens. Whilst the stigmatised representation of gay couples is still problematic and does not reflect the reality of most homosexual relationships, they occurrence in popular media is a positive step into the right direction on the way of normalizing and including homosexuality in a less political, entertainment focussed discourse. 

One of the most popular examples is Glee-club starlet Rachel Berry. For six years audiences watched her stubbornly pursuing her dream of becoming the next Broadway sensation, without either sensationalizing or focussing negatively on the fact that she was adopted and raised by two men. Despite receiving outstanding grades, which set her up for a promising academic career, her fathers do everything possible for her to achieve her dream of performing on Broadway. This positive attitude towards their daughter’s passions and goals fits right into the stereotype outlined above. Heterosexual couples, albeit they are also represented as supportive and concerned about their child’s future, tend to be shown as limiting and pushy when it comes to their offspring’s future career. Film and TV show that homosexual parentage does not differ from the disturbingly heterosexually coined parental ideal and that it is often even more beneficial to the child itself. While screenwriters seemingly understand how beneficial and unsurprisingly “normal” it can be for a child to be raised by a homosexual couple, reality often ignores this liberal approach to parenting and falsely insists that children would miss vital parental influences growing up in a queer household.

‘Influences’ missing, according to the general public, are either the predominately male branded things such as the use of tools, shaving, how to play football, and other typical “boy things”, if the child is raised by lesbians. At the same time, children of gay couples supposedly lack any makeup skills, are effeminate and “soft”, or don’t dare to stand up for themselves. Those assumedly gendered traits are neither unique to men nor to women and will or will not be taught to children, regardless of their parents’ sexes. For instance, I had to teach myself how to wear lipstick and wore a crooked grey-glitter eyeliner all through year seven until I finally got it right, but, oh boy, I can paint my own walls and the different kinds of screwdrivers are by now as familiar to me as the various kinds of heels available. Also, I’m pretty sure any father who might dabble in drag would be more than able to teach his son how to draw a killer wing. Which skills and traits are passed on to the next generation is individual and not solely based on gender. This can also be seen in children of single parents, who develop the same interests and pick up similar skills as their friends, which are mostly unrelated to the gender of the parent in charge.

When the former argument is rebutted, the next prejudice is soon to follow. Apparently, it is assumed that children of homosexual parentage are easier victims of bullying and mocked on their parent’s behalf. In all of the 21 years, I have spent on this planet I have honestly, not even once, been made fun of for being my mother’s daughter. Perhaps I have simply been fortunate enough to grow up in a very accepting and nurturing environment (just as every other child ideally does), albeit, you usually wouldn’t call the generic rural small-town community exceptionally accepting or used to homosexuality in their realm. By now awareness and acceptance are finally growing, even though it is a shockingly slow process, however, back then homosexuality was nowhere near to being as common. The only time another child gave me a weird look after I had talked about my mother’s girlfriend a classmate to which I had no special connection or friendship, walked up to her and asked whether said child had a problem with that, in a very aggressive, and to me protective way. Other than that, I cannot recall any incident where my openness about my mother’s sexuality would have caused any inappropriate questions, hurtful comments, or any discrimination at all. Overall, people and especially children were always very curious and, once I had debunked some stereotypes and answered their questions, my parentage faded into the background and the conversation moved on. To this day there has never been anything weird or negative about it. From conversations with other children growing up in situations similar to mine I learned that their experiences are similar. No bullying or discrimination is happening, despite the infuriating heterosexual idea that their sexual orientation makes them the superior and the only legitimate people to properly raise future generations. Fortunately, shows such as Glee or the musical School of Rock do not picture Rachel or Tomica as outcasts who are bullied on their parents’ behalf. Any issues in terms of bullying, or in Tomica’s case the feeling of alienation from her classmates, do not in any sense stem from their openly homosexual parents. 

Assumptions that children are discriminated against because of their queer parents are frankly false and insulting. They are partly leftovers from over a decade ago when being openly queer was perceived as immoral and scandalous and in other parts nothing but homophobic fears. Nowadays, it mustn’t and shouldn’t matter as what or how somebody identifies in terms of gender and sexual orientation. When it comes to raising future generations other things such as personal values, emotional support, and the ability to give them any tool they might need to live a fulfilled and inspired life are of importance. Anything else is not just secondary – it does not matter at all. Therefore, one’s sexual orientation should in no way influence whether a couple is legally allowed to adopt, conceive, or raise a child. Sadly, there are still countries where people identifying as queer are not entitled to do so. However, by putting homosexual couples on screen in a positive light and by showing that they are, in fact, nothing but regular parents as any other heterosexual couple, too, awareness can be raised globally. Only by implementing the queer community in mainstream pop culture which is not treated as a distinguished sub-discourse, we will be able to overcome misconceptions, discrimination, and homophobia. 

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