Love starts young

Over the past few years, the media has become more open to portraying characters in TV shows, books and movies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, the main character, Joe, is bisexual. In Modern Family, a gay couple, Cam and Mitchell, adopt and raise a girl. Orange Is The New Black has several lesbian characters and one transgender actress, and the BBC drama show In The Flesh has a gay zombie couple, with one of them being pansexual, which means he doesn’t consider gender in his partner preferences.

While all of this representation is a step in the right direction towards acceptance, most of it is aimed towards teens and young adults. There are hardly any children’s books or shows that portray LGBT characters.

But on Dec. 18, the Nickelodeon animated series The Legend of Korra aired its finale episodes online after being moved from TV to the Internet. Korra is a sequel to the extremely popular show Avatar: The Last Airbender. At the beginning of the series, Korra and her friend Asami both dated and fought over a boy named Mako. By season three, the three were just friends. But Korra and Asami, both females, seemed to be becoming closer in every episode.

The online fan-base who hoped that Korra and Asami – nicknamed “Korrasami” – would end up together never thought that it would actually happen. Korra is a kids’ show, after all. But the final scene of the last episode showed the two holding hands and turning to face each other before stepping into a portal to take a trip to the spirit world. The gesture was obviously romantic, and creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino both stated in separate blog posts that Korra and Asami are, in fact, bisexual.
Another instance of children’s media portraying LGBT characters is in Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, an extension of the popular Percy Jackson series. Nico, one of the male characters, finds that he has feelings for Percy, who is also a male, and struggles with being jealous of Percy’s girlfriend, Annabeth. But by the end of the series, although Nico admits to Percy his true feelings, he becomes close with a boy named Will and their relationship grows from there.

It may seem like it’s too early to teach children about sexual orientation. Many parents wouldn’t want their children to be exposed to something that’s been so controversial in the media. But by only letting them view their favorite characters through a heterosexual lens, we are forcing them to be confused about sexuality until as late as their teen years. I didn’t fully understand what being gay was until middle school, and I learned even later than that about what it meant to be transgender. What about the children who grow up knowing that they feel different from their friends, but they’re not sure why? Why should they be left in the dark?

On Dec. 28, a seventeen-year-old transgender girl named Leelah Alcorn committed suicide for this exact reason. She left a suicide note on Tumblr, saying that she felt that she would never be accepted and that her family would always think of her as their son Josh, not their daughter Leelah. She never even knew what being transgender was until she was 14. She had felt like a girl trapped inside a boy’s body since she was 4. Yet, if she had been exposed to LGBT characters in books and shows when she was little, she may still be alive today. Maybe she wouldn’t have felt so alone.

The road to acceptance has to start young.

The only way to a society that treats everyone as equals, no matter their sexual orientation, is by teaching children from the start that it’s just as okay to be gay or bi or transgender as it is to be straight.