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Josh Gad is the character La Fou in Disney's 2017 reboot of "Beauty and the Beast," in which the character is gay. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Opinion: LGBT characters in entertainment are not more common, but are more open

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Growing up, I didn’t see many characters that looked like me. I am an androgynous tomboy. I will not be waiting for a prince to sweep me off my feet anytime soon. Despite not having examples from television or movies to copy as an adolescent, I became a member of the LGBT community.

With the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States in June 2015, having out LGBT characters in television and film has become more common. Lt. Hikaru Sulu from “Star Trek” has a husband, the yellow ranger from the new “Power Rangers” movie has a girlfriend, “Orange is the New Black” is packed with LGBT women and Lefou of this year’s remake of “Beauty and the Beast” was confirmed gay by director Bill Condon.

Granted, Lefou never kisses another man, but he does dance with one. That same man, earlier in the film, was dressed by Audra McDonald’s character in a feminine outfit and walked away with a spring in his step.

Recent films such as “Beauty and the Beast” have received immense backlash for these types of scenes. But no one outlawed “Looney Tunes” even though Bugs Bunny wore a dress on more than one occasion. He even kissed a few men throughout the cartoons. In all my research, I haven’t seen cities boycotting, moms angrily blogging or entire countries banning “Looney Tunes.”

I implore you to watch the movies and shows you saw as a child. There has always been behavior associated with the LGBT community in our content. I’m pretty sure Ernie and Bert are more than friends.

What changed? Why is there so much fighting against any inkling of homosexuality or gender-bending in film and television now?

Western society is normalizing being LGBT, and now we recognize these brief moments as meaning more than a small joke. It is supposed to be hilarious to see the male protagonist dress as a woman and dance ballet, as Bugs does in “Looney Tunes.” It is supposed to be funny to see the unnamed man smile and skip away in a gown when the cross-dressing was meant to humiliate him in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Even as a member of the LGBT community, I chuckle at these moments, despite understanding my community is the butt of the joke. I do, however, see a more positive underlying message that being LGBT is OK. The unnamed man is happy. He dances with Lefou in the end. Sulu is happy with his husband.

Having happy, normal LGBT characters contributes to this increasing normalization that was sparked by the national legalization of same-sex marriage. That is where the backlash is coming from. Those in protest and in support of this openness agree that seeing happy LGBT characters will make it seem like it is OK to be LGBT.

They’re both right. That is the point of having happy LGBT characters. What separates the two parties is those in protest do not find this acceptable.

Simply seeing LGBT people, however, will not make you LGBT. I recently wrote an extensive research paper on what actually makes someone LGBT. Research shows people are born that way. Years of therapy — which is illegal in many states — can attempt to silence homosexual or transgender thoughts, but no amount of praying, or electroshock treatments, will remove the desire to be LGBT.

What these films and shows do is attempt to relieve the fear of being what they are born to be. That is why millennials have the highest percentage of people who identify as LGBT than any generation in history. We are not as afraid of it. We see that we can be happy and be LGBT. Isn’t that what being gay means anyway?

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