Bringing Pride to Screens: With “Andi Mack” being first Disney show with prominent gay character, students, film teacher reflect on LGBTQ+ representation

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“You’re no different,” are the words said to Cyrus, Disney Channel’s newest gay character on the children’s tv show, “Andi Mack.” According to the Washington Post, the show is making history with the network’s first story line about a gay character coming out.

The outburst on social media caused by this show’s announcement raises the question of whether lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representation is abundant enough in the media. Kiley Gardner, Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) president and senior, said there is not enough representation and the environment at CHS reflects this. However, according to Gardner, with strides being taken in media with tv shows such as “Andi Mack,” there is hope to make CHS a more open-minded community as well.

“My non objective opinion is that I don’t think there’s enough (representation),” Gardner said. “Obviously that’s coming from the perspective of someone who’s biased, but I think that we have a long way to go not only with how often we’re representing LGBT people in media but also who we’re representing.”

According to research by Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a media force that tackles tough issues to help shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change, from the major studios of 2014, only 20 of 114 releases contained characters that identified as LGBT and the majority of those are gay white males.

“I think that a lot of the issue with representation in media has to do with the fact that a lot of the time, main characters, key characters aren’t really introduced as gay or bisexual or members of the (LGBT) community. A lot of the times companies are trying to make money, that’s their goal and society’s just not there yet,” said Maya Birhiray, Co-president of the GSA and senior.

Jim Peterson, director of theater and film at CHS, said, “Media helps influence society and society helps influence media so it’s kind of give and take. So any kind of media would be a reflection of what is acceptable in society. I know that a lot of filmmakers will try to push that envelope and try to swing the pendulum of society with their work just like most artists do.”

As the show made its announcement, although being applauded for making leaps to achieve a more accepting society, they also received backlash. “OneMillionMoms.com,” a division of the American Family Association, recently set up an online petition to “cancel the controversial program immediately.” According to their website, by choosing to abandon family-friendly entertainment with “Andi Mack”, Disney’s inexplicable choice to move toward more “adult” fare may ultimately prove to be a huge mistake.

However, Peterson said that because Disney is such a large company and have so much to lose, if they are willing to risk their viewership to air controversial content like “Andi Mack,” it is possible that society has reached the level of acceptance necessary to display this content.

“Historically, Ellen (Degeneres) came out for her show and it killed it. Her show just died, and it took her years to recover from that, but now she has the hottest emmy award-winning talk show,” he said. “So even if this does happen with Disney and viewership drops, I think come a few years, the pendulum will swing and it’ll be a lot more acceptable and it’ll be successful. It’s really hard to predict society.”

For Gardner, the level of tolerance at CHS depends on which students she associates with.

“I think (the level of acceptance) kind of depends on who you talk to because obviously it’s a very big school and there’s a lot of diversity in viewpoints. I surround myself with people who are open-minded and who accept gay people because it would be kind of weird if I didn’t, but I know there has been a lot of hatred that people have faced,” said Gardner. “(The GSA) has locker signs and a lot of people, myself included, have had the signs ripped off… Sometimes my pins and buttons like pride stuff gets stolen so it can be kind of hostile and I think that’s why I think it’s important we have the GSA and it’s important that you find those people you can be yourself around.”

Birhiray said,“I definitely think that CHS can become a more accepting student body by taking a moment and stepping back and thinking about how you would feel if you were being discriminated against or bullied or called names, so on and so forth, about something you can not control.”

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