The GLAAD Media Awards honor media for fair, accurate, and inclusive representations of LGBTQ people and issues. Last year, GLAAD introduced the Outstanding Children’s Programming category to celebrate the continued growth in representation within the genre. The category recognizes television programs created for younger children that showcase LGBTQ people and families. This year’s nominees include an expanded category with 10 nominees, including ”Berry Bounty Banquet – Part 2″ Strawberry Shortcake: Berry in the Big City (WildBrain Studios/YouTube Kids), City of Ghosts (Netflix), “Family Day” Sesame Street (HBO Max), “Gonzo-rella” Muppet Babies (Disney Junior), “Joie de Jonathan” Fancy Nancy (Disney Junior), Ridley Jones (Netflix), Rugrats (Paramount+), Summer Camp Island (Cartoon Network/HBO Max), We The People (Netflix), and “Whatever Floats Your Float” Madagascar: A Little Wild (Hulu/Peacock).
2021 was a groundbreaking year in the realm of children’s programming. From characters like Fancy Nancy’s Jonathan who would rather play dress up than basketball to Madagascar: A Little Wild’s nonbinary character Odee, there is more gender diverse representation for children on screen than past generations could have ever imagined. By meeting, and even relating to these characters, children learn about the important values of inclusivity and acceptance. And have access to a whole new world of individuality and expression.
“Joie de Jonathan” is the season 3 premiere of Disney Junior’s Fancy Nancy. Nancy is having a fashion show and Jonathan is the star. He is having the time of his life with his friends when some neighborhood boys invite him to come play basketball with them. They are confused when he reveals he’d rather participate in the fashion show, stating “I’ve just never seen a boy do that before.” Embarrassed, Jonathan joins the boy’s basketball game. Nancy can tell he’s unhappy. “He’s trying to be like the other boys instead of being himself! How can I remind him that being yourself is the most important thing you can be?” she exclaims. With his friend’s support, Jonathan realizes that doing what you want to do is much more fun than doing what’s expected of you.
Disney Junior’s Muppet Babies features an episode titled “Gonzo-rella.” In it, The Muppets are preparing for a traditional royal ball. When Gonzo reveals they’d like to wear a dress, the other muppets are confused. Miss Piggy explains that according to tradition, only “princesses” wear dresses. At first, Gonzo is disappointed but soon decides to go to the royal ball in a beautiful gown anyway, disguised as Gonzorella. At the ball the muppets realize how boring many of the outdated traditions are and realize how exciting it can be to find new alternatives. After the ball, Gonzo reveals they were Gonzorella all along. When asked why they kept their identity a secret, Gonzo reveals; “You all expected me to look a certain way and I don’t want you to be upset with me. But I don’t want to do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done either. I want to be me!” The Muppets agree that being true to who you are is far more important than any tradition.
“Whatever Floats Your Floats” is the eighteenth episode of Madagascar: A Little Wild, streaming on Hulu and Peacock. It’s time for the zoo’s Animal Pride Parade. When a new animal arrives, who appears to be a mix of a giraffe and a zebra, the others are unsure of what float they belong on. Odee is a nonbinary Okapi. They don’t feel right identifying as a giraffe or a zebra, stating: “I don’t always feel like one animal. Sometimes I feel like all of them!” Odee explains they would rather be defined by their talents and interests than the way they look. The animals learn the valuable lesson that, “It doesn’t matter what we are as long as we’re proud of who we are!”
Odee was not the only nonbinary character introduced to kid’s TV screens in 2021. The Netflix series Ridley Jones features a nonbinary bison named Fred. When asked if Fred is a “he or a she” their friend simply responds, “they’re just a Fred!”
City of Ghosts and Summer Camp Island also feature nonbinary characters as series regulars. Thomas from City of Ghosts is a nonbinary member of the ghost hunting team voiced by transmasculine actor Blue Chapman. Puddle is a nonbinary alien on Summer Camp Island who uses he/they pronouns. The very existence of these characters allows children to understand that gender exists beyond the binary. Puddle and Thomas aren’t defined by their gender identity, it’s just one aspect of who they are.
Parents gaining an understanding of different gender identities and expressions is just as important for them as it is for kids. According to The Trevor Project, “Affirming LGBTQ youth’s gender by using pronouns that align with their gender identity has been shown to improve mental health outcomes.” In their 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health it was found that transgender and nonbinary children who have their pronouns respected were 50% less likely to attempt suicide than those who’s pronouns are not respected. Many of these programs also enforce that the use of they/them pronouns when unsure of someone’s identity is a valuable lesson for people of all ages.
What all these programs have in common are the themes of individuality, inclusion, and respecting each other’s differences, values that are important to have at any age. Children’s television programming has come a long way in recent years in terms of diverse representation. The media children consume should reflect the world around them as it is used for more than just entertainment, but also a teaching tool. As Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” When children who exist outside of the gender binary are exposed to characters like these, not only is their identity validated, but they learn that they are not alone.
The 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards nominees were published, released, or broadcast between January 1 and December 31, 2021. The GLAAD Media Awards ceremonies, which fund GLAAD’s work to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance, will be held in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday, April 2, 2022 and in New York at the Hilton Midtown on Friday, May 6, 2022. To purchase tickets for the ceremonies, click here. You can keep up with the latest developments by following GLAAD on Twitter and Instagram.