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Gay Characters? Disney Channel Needs a Lesson from Buster Baxter

15 Feb

AfterElton has a fascinating interview with Disney Channel President Gary Marsh, on the topic of gay characters on Disney Channel shows. The topic is introduced by this quote from Marsh, from 2008:

“Well, just to speak sort of in the 30,000-foot level first, we don’t deal with sexuality on the Disney Channel in general. That’s just sort of not where our audience’s head’s at. They’re really a pre-sexual audience, for the most part, and so sexuality is not how we look to tell any kind of stories.”

I’ll echo AfterElton’s sentiment: It’s not meaningful to talk this way about same-sex couples. For example: How is it not sexual for a kid to know he has parents of opposite sexes, but somehow sexual for him to know that some other kid has parents of the same sex? And hey, why isn’t it sexual when Zack and Cody are ogling all those girls?

The article goes on to make it clear that Marsh is okay with characters on the Disney Channel being widely interpreted as gay, but that those characters won’t ever be coming out in any way.

We leave it up to our audience to interpret who these characters are and how they relate to them. It’s great that this child has interpreted [Shake It Up! character] Gunther [as gay] and that it speaks to him in a way that makes sense for his life. And that’s what we’re trying to do — create a diverse cross section of characters on television that kids can have different access points and entry points to connect with.

It’s like the Hays Production Code all over again: You can have gay characters, they just can’t be identified openly. (Of course, Disney’s moved quite a bit forward from Hays, in that gay characters don’t have to die horribly at the end of the story, or suffer in silence — they can go on to Julliard instead.)

I can’t imagine the Disney Channel budging on this issue anytime soon, due to what I’m sure they perceive as market pressure. So, is it better to have coded gay characters like Ryan Evans, who’s widely interpreted as gay but may convey the message that it’s not okay to be out? Or is it better to only have clearly heteronormative characters on kids shows? I’m not satisfied with either option.

When my home state began recognizing same-sex marriage, many people felt that the world would fall apart somehow. But as the years have rolled by, it seems like less and less of a big deal (except, of course, for those whose marriages are now recognized, for whom it is enormously important). If mainstream television networks like the Disney Channel had an openly gay character now and then, perhaps the social order wouldn’t really be rocked for all that long? After all, glee‘s been pretty darn successful (in some part because of a fabulous openly gay character), and many parents already shun Disney Channel for being a bad influence on their kids, and ban it from the living room (just look at these google search results).

Yeah, an openly gay character on the Disney Channel would probably make executives and stockholders a little nervous. But I can’t help but wonder if people were nervous when my grandfather was lobbying for Bill Cosby to be cast in a leading role in I Spy. Sometimes change makes you nervous. Too bad.

And hey, if you’re looking for an example of an excellent (and thoroughly non-sexual) portrayal of lesbians in a children’s television show, this clip from Postcards from Buster is for you:

“Boy, that’s a lot of Moms!”

Guerrilla Art: Mr. and Mr. Disney Wedding Pins

7 Feb Mr and Mr Wedding Pins at Disney Earport MCO
Mr and Mr Wedding Pins at Disney Earport MCO

Spotted at the MCO Disney Earport

Spotting this “Mister and Mister” wedding pin set at the MCO Disney Earport store a couple weeks ago, I couldn’t help but wonder. Did someone put the two grooms pins together on one card just to make a point about same-sex marriage? Or was this the aftereffect of a lesbian couple rearranging the pin cards so that they could have the two brides pins? Or perhaps it’s a bit of impromptu performance art?

In any case, it made me smile.

Jentasmic!: A Fairy Tale Wedding

24 Apr

There are so many reasons for me to smile at Walt Disney World! But in the last couple years, there’s been one in particular that chokes me up every time I take the monorail past the Grand Floridian, as chronicled in this week’s Jentasmic! column at StudiosCentral:

… in years past, I’d feel bittersweet when we’d glide past the wedding chapel at the Grand Floridian, knowing that it was reserved only for opposite-sex couples. Same-sex couples could purchase some types of Fairy Tale Wedding plans, but not those most exposed to the public eye, such as the glass carriage ride through Disney property. These highly-prized opportunities were only available to those with valid wedding licenses, which the state of Florida reserves only for opposite-sex couples.

But for the last couple years now, when the announcer reminds me that “Couples may exchange vows in a fairy tale setting complete with a picturesque backdrop of Cinderella Castle,” I can smile wholeheartedly, knowing that Disney opened up all Fairy Tale Wedding packages to all couples in April of 2007, shortly after the gay news and commentary site AfterElton.com published an article critical of their previous policies. Does this change affect the experience that most Guests have when they visit Walt Disney World? I think not. I’d wager that the average Guest knows nothing of the controversy, much less its resolution. I suspect that very few same-sex marriages have been performed at the Grand Floridian wedding chapel, if the ratio of same-sex/opposite-sex weddings is anything like that of Massachusetts. (Bottom line is, after working through the initial backlog of same-sex couples who’d waited years or decades for marriage rights, there hasn’t been the flood of same-sex marriages that some had expected.) But it makes a big difference to this Guest, and I’m sure it matters to other queer people too, as well as our allies.

We still have a long way to go….same-sex marriage is legal in only 8% of US states. But that’s 8% more than just a few years ago, and sometimes when I see how far we’ve come I can’t help but well up.

I watched the movie Milk recently, and it really took me back to my childhood growing up outside San Francisco, and to my late teens coming out as queer in a fabulous group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth. I always find myself going back to Harvey Milk’s (perhaps apocryphal) kid from Altoona, Pennsylvania.

(text available here)

When I watched Sean Penn and Dustin Lance Black accept their Academy Awards for their work on Milk, I thought of that kid in Altoona, and hoped she or he was watching, and heard that there are lots of Us’s, that there’s hope. Those acceptance speeches reached into far more living rooms than most newspapers do, nowadays.

And if it can give a kid hope to know that someone like her can be elected to public office, just think of how it feels to some isolated kid, or even a scared and closeted grownup, to know that someday they too could waltz their prince or princess through the Grand Floridian, and marry in the shadow of Cinderella’s Castle.

It’s just gotta make a difference.

Stop Gay Marriage? Heck No!

27 Oct

Do I even have to tell you that I’m in favor of same-sex couples’ right to civil marriage? Well, I’m sure I don’t, especially if you’ve read my posts on the first same-sex wedding at Disneyland, or my reaction to the California Supreme Judicial Court decision which made it possible. Or if, oh, you just happened to notice that I’m pretty darn passionate about queer politics and culture.

But just the same, I’m gonna tell you again…and encourage my California readers to vote no on Proposition 8. I know in a lot of cases I’m preaching to the choir here. But I also want to assure those of you who might be on the fence that in fact we’ve had same-sex civil marriage here in Massachusetts for a few years now, and not only have opposite-sex marriages still managed to thrive, but even some of the folks who were nervous about the change have (mostly) gotten pretty chill about it.

I have seen many, many marriages I thought should be stopped…but never because of gender! When you wish upon a star, it shouldn’t matter who you are.

Who Will Have First Same-Sex Civil Marriage at Disneyland?

16 May

I was sitting in an airport lounge yesterday afternoon when I saw the news that California’s Supreme Judicial Court had ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry, under the state’s Constitution. I know there are still some hurdles, I know that there are plenty of groups working to stop this and that the Pope disapproves . . . I am sometimes tired and bitter and worried that there will be backlash, but all the same I choked up with tears to see the couples rejoicing, to read about a woman calling her partner of 19 years to finally propose marriage, to see my friend and musical collaborator Allison on TV talking about the California ruling with her legally-wed, Massachusetts wife.

I was in the middle of the airport, surrounded by people who couldn’t understand the depths of my joy. It felt as if a national holiday had suddenly been declared, and nobody but me knew about it. Thank goodness for the twitterverse and my crackberry . . . I could text and twitter with likeminded friends. One of my buddies had a great question for me on twitter: Will Disney do something special for the first same-sex couple to wed there? And I have to say, while I doubt Disney would go out on the political limb to do anything officially special, I’ve just gotta believe that the first time a same-sex couple is legally wed on Disney property, there’s gonna be Cast Members there who really get that this is a historic moment, and I’m sure plenty of them will go out of their way to find just a little bit of extra pixie dust. After all, same-sex couples can use the wedding facilities at Disney World (and maybe the non-US parks too?) . . . but can’t be legally wed in that state.

Twenty nine days from now (assuming same-sex marriage foes don’t find a way to stop it), same-sex marriages will begin in California. And honey, we all know that this isn’t enough time to plan a wedding! But hey, if anybody out there hears when the first same-sex couple has arranged for a Disneyland wedding, please please please drop me a note. I wish I could be there to throw rice, but at the very least I can celebrate with them in my heart.

Same-sex Partner Foiled in WDW Injury Lawsuit

3 Nov

Sometimes people wonder why same-sex couples want marriage rights so badly. Why can’t they just make wills, give each other power of attorney, etc? Or isn’t domestic partnership enough? Well . . . there are some rights that you just can’t get without having your relationship recognized by the state, and the varying levels of recognition come with varying rights and responsibilities.

Here’s an example, from GayCityNews:

A federal judge ruled on October 23 that the same-sex partner of a New Jersey woman injured on a Walt Disney World theme park ride in Florida may not recover damages for “loss of consortium,” defined by New Jersey courts as the “right of a husband or wife to receive compensation for loss of affection, comfort, companionship, society, assistance, and sexual relations as a result of the other’s personal injuries.”

Loss of consortium is a legal concept recognizing that when somebody is injured, their spouse may also be harmed through deprivation of their normal relationship due to hospitalization or physical or mental restrictions that result.

The New Jersey Civil Union Act, which went into effect in February 2007, provides that civil union partners may sue for loss of consortium, but this case involves an incident that took place in June 2004, at which time the couple did not have any legal relationship to each other. The state provided no such recognition then.

Notice that the question decided by the court here is not whether the injured woman had the right to sue (which she most certainly does . . . though I haven’t found any details on that part of the lawsuit). The question here is whether her partner has the right to sue for “loss of consortium,” which her partner could have sued for had they been married.

I know Disney’s a for-profit corporation, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they’d defend themselves against personal injury lawsuits using whatever legal defense is available and effective. I kinda wish they hadn’t. But even more, I wish the laws in every state protected the rights and responsibilities of same-sex couples to the same degree they protect those of us in opposite-sex marriages.

More Thoughts on Fairytale Weddings for Same-Sex Couples

11 Apr

It’s been interesting to watch the conversations online responding to Disney’s decision to allow same-sex couples to purchase their Fairytale Weddings. It’s been great to watch people start to plan weddings they simply couldn’t have before.  And it’s been sad to watch others say hateful things in opposition to the change of policy.

Most interesting though is some of the social commentary, like this article by John Roberts. He writes:

Last week, the Walt Disney Co. changed its policies regarding their “Fairytale Weddings” program to allow gay couples the equal opportunity to hold their commitment ceremonies at locations previously accessible only to straight couples.

While I completely applaud this decision by such an influential company, I have to wonder about their motives for the change. Sure, Disney has always been “gay-friendly” by offering “health benefits to same-sex partners of employees” and “allowing ‘Gay Day’ celebrations at its theme parks…” (ABC News, April 6, 2007), so this policy change shouldn’t come as a shock. But then again, $8,000 is still quite a bit of money. That is the starting price for Disney’s fairytale wedding program.

I’ve seen similar comment in a number of places, reminding us quite appropriately that Disney is in fact a company, concerned primarily with continuing to function profitably.

Being a bit of a weathered queer activist, I find myself thinking of the hours I spent at the Massachusetts State House years ago, lobbying for the Gay Rights Act (it took 17 years, but eventually it did in fact become law). And I think, were we really fighting for the right to buying expensive wedding packages? Some would argue that this is the height of bourgeois conspicuous consumption.

And well, those people would be right.

But when we were walking the halls at the State House, we weren’t fighting for the right to be any smarter, better, or more stylish than your average citizen. We were lobbying for equal protection under the law.  Including, yes, the right to expensive, bourgeouis weddings if we plunk down the cash.

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