Disney has been no stranger to controversial headlines this year. In March, the live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” was banned in theaters across the world for including an openly gay LeFou. In August, Disney broke ties with popular YouTube star Jake Paul following a series of bad press regarding unsavory behavior linked to his YouTube account. And last month, the public was outraged to learn that a new white character was being added to live-action “Aladdin.”
Now, Disney is back in the news, but this time for good reason. A new storyline in the second season of “Andi Mack” will follow the coming out narrative of one of the show’s main characters. Title character Andi Mack (Peyton Elizabeth Lee, “Shameless”) has just started dating middle-school-dream-boat Jonah Beck (Asher Angel, “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn”). Andi’s best friend Cyrus Goodman (Joshua Ross, “Parental Guidance”) confides in his friend Buffy (Sofia Wylie “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn”) that he has a crush on a boy — and that boy is Jonah. This is a first for the popular tween network, which has previously featured a same-sex kiss and a lesbian couple, but never a plot centered around a character coming out as gay.
For a show targeted to tweens, “Andi Mack” has been consistent in its ability to tackle difficult topics in a way that makes sense to its young viewers. Over the course of the last season, Andi found out that the woman she thought was her sister is actually her biological mother, and that her mother is really her grandmother. These are subject matters that people may view as too advanced or improper for a young audience to deal with, but what better way to teach a child or growing teen about mature issues than through a world they recognize and a show they love?
Unsurprisingly, the news of Cyrus’s homosexuality has caused a stir among opponents and proponents of gay rights alike. Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of the pro-LGBTQ media-monitoring organization GLAAD said: “With more and more young people coming out as LGBTQ, Andi Mack is reflecting the lives and lived experiences of so many LGBTQ youth around the country. Television reflects the real life world and today that includes LGBTQ youth who deserve to see their lives depicted on their favorite shows.”
Not everyone is so pleased with “Andi Mack.” Everyone’s favorite part-conservative/part-can-I-speak-to-your-manager group “One Million Moms” criticized Disney Channel in a post on their website that claimed the channel is “abandon[ing] family-friendly entertainment” and “choosing to sacrifice … children’s innocence.”
Within those denunciatory words lies the exact reason why what Disney Channel is doing with “Andi Mack” is so important. Homosexuality should not be regarded as something that is inherently obscene. Parents should not be shielding their children's eyes when two men kiss on a television screen. Introducing a young, gay character into a popular tween television show is the perfect opportunity for parents to talk to their children about a topic that should no longer carry a taboo in our contemporary world.
Kids below the age of thirteen are perhaps the most genuine and accepting people. They ask questions, and are truly curious to hear the answers. They don’t understand the political fights across their dinner tables. So when children see things on TV, like a boy liking a boy, or a puppet with autism, they do not have their innocence ripped away from them. Rather, their curiosity is piqued and an opportunity opens up to make them into more empathetic and compassionate people.
Whether or not parents like it, children are going to be exposed to homosexuality. As the world continues to progress to become more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, soon it won’t be a big deal that there is a gay character on a children’s TV show. In an ideal future, every marginalized group will have the proper representation to demonstrate to the world that there is no “default” individual — you don’t have to be straight and white to be accepted by society. But until that future comes, shows like “Andi Mack” and others have to continue to step up and teach children to embrace their differences.
Because in the end, these characters aren’t for a corporation trying to get good press or an organization aiming to push an agenda. They’re for the girl who’s had a crush on her best friend since first grade and is still too afraid to tell her. They’re for the boy who kissed another boy on the playground and prays that his parents won’t find out. They’re for the kid who likes the boy on his soccer team, but also the girl in his art class, and he doesn’t know if what he’s feeling is valid and real. We have these characters not for the adults that analyze and create them, but for the kids watching, struggling with their identity, to tell them that what they’re feeling is okay, and that it deserves to be celebrated.