Come Out and Play

Posted on: Sunday 07 July 2013 4:04pm by John Kent


The Government reckons between 5 and 7% of the population are gay, and research tells us that most children know their sexual orientation by the age of 12. Is TV doing enough to reflect gay people?

Top 10 Takeaways

  1. Most children know their sexuality by age 12.
  2. Gay characters are rarely featured in chldren’s TV.
  3. Gay characters should become part of the landscape on TV, not an exceptoional feature
  4. When a gay couple were shown within a CBeebies show, no one objected
  5. Suicides are high amongst gay teenagers, because they don’t always feel ‘normal’
  6. Everyone has a right to have their story told
  7. It’s not just gay protagonists – gay characters should just be part and parcel of the story
  8. Don’t forget the B and T of LBGT
  9. Children’s TV rarely touches any kind of sexuality – gay or straight.
  10. Do we need a new version of Grange Hill?

Mark Jennett works with schools to address issues around homophobia. His observation is that stories featuring heterosexual relationships – like knights and princesses – are almost standard from a very young age. But homosexuality is rarely reflected.

In his experience the issue (should) have an impact on three groups of children:

(i) An increasing number of children do not have a traditional family. they might have two mums or two dads – or both. Yet they rarely  see their family reflected on TV.

(ii) Children need to know there are gay people in the world.

(iii) Children wanting to come out as gay should have their lives reflected on screen

Rachel Murrell and Susie Day were quick to point out that gay protagonists were less of an issue for pre-school, where children are too young to be sexualised. But she felt that gay relationships could be included in a pre-school show without it being highlighted or exceptional. Rachel used the example of a scene she wrote for CBeebies’ – What’s the Big Idea, where two women swung a child between them, and as the shot changes, they share a hug in the background. The audience can choose to see it or choose to ignore it – it’s their choice, and just part of the scene, just as its part of some children’s life.

The question that the panel kept on returning to was why gay people and gay relationships rarely feature on TV shows, and if they do, then homosexuality is often featured as a problem  (eg. victims of bullying), eccentric or follow stereotypes. Gay characters are rarely ‘real’.

Towards the end of the session Anne Brogan was asked whether TV shows were doing enough to reflect the diversity of the audience. Her view was that there’s still a long way to go – but not just about being gay, adopted children, disabled children all need to be celebrated… “the stories we tell about ourselves are very empowering. If you don’t have a story about yourself it’s disempowering” she said.

Anne also pointed out that on kids’ TV even heterosexual relationships are rarely explored beyond a simple “she fancies him”, and on that basis perhaps we’re doing all children a disservice. In the past this would have been story that could be explored on a show like Grange Hill – but those vehicles no longer exist. With so many changes happening to children at around 11 or 12 – schools, friends, hormones – just as they step away from children’s TV – there is an age group un-served.

A rich seam for future CMC debate?

I’ll leave the final comment to @h4nchan on twitter:

Kids live their lives in a variety of different ways and all of them should be represented on screen. Simple enough, right?!

Anne Brogan – Kindle Entertainment
Susie Day – Author
Mark Jennett – Trainer, writer and consultant
Rachel Murrell – Scriptwriter and Development Consultant

Moderator and Producer – Julian Scott
Exec Producer – Sue Nott

Event Reports

John Kent, Digital Director – Kids Industries

About the author

John Kent

Kids Industries, Digital Director

John is a content strategist and producer with more than 20 years experience, and now works as Digital Director at Kids Industries – developing strategy and producing sites and apps. Recent work includes a new strategy and relaunch for Al Jazeera Children's Channel and new branding and relaunch for licensing… Read more