One of the biggest reasons I love watching kids' TV as an adult is how much the themes have changed throughout my life. I grew up in the 2000s and can't remember ever seeing LGBTQ characters on screen until I was a teenager. Now that kids' media is exponentially more inclusive than it was ten or twenty years ago, I can't get enough of it.
Before we dive into our list, I want to explain the guidelines I used to select the shows with the most authentic and inclusive LGBTQ representation. Not all shows with queer characters or LGBTQ themes are examples of authentic representation of the community. Authentic representation comes down to this: does the show's depiction of LGBTQ characters help real queer humans thrive in our society?
Assessing Queer Representation in TV
In Queer Cinema: The Film Reader, authors Harry M. Benshoff and Sean Griffin describe three ways to assess whether or not a particular piece of media (TV show, movie, book, etc.) can be considered queer. I used these criteria to help parse out the most authentic queer representation in children's TV to share with you: Auteurs, Forms, and Reception.
First, let's look at the TV show's creators. Who made the decisions regarding plotting the story, crafting characters, and world-building, and do they identify as queer? This includes showrunners, writers, directors, producers, and animators.
Then, there are the actors. If an actor portrays a queer character, it helps if they're part of the LGBTQ community themselves.
It goes without saying that queer creators and actors are the best people to portray queer stories because they have lived experiences as a part of the community.
This category isn't quite as self-explanatory, so I'll break it down for you. First, when examining a particular TV show to determine whether or not it features authentic queer representation, you must ask this question: ‘Does the show hint at being queer, or is it explicitly queer?'
One way to determine this is by looking at how supposedly queer characters “come out” to fans on screen. If a character is part of a queer romantic relationship, if they discuss their gender identity with other characters, and there is no question that they are queer, that's called explicit representation.
However, according to data from 2020 compiled by researchers at Insider, some of the most common ways creators of children's shows confirm the LGBTQ identity of characters is much less explicit. The top two most common methods for a character's identity to be confirmed are social media and exclusive interviews with the showrunners.
The thing is, if the creators of the show have to let viewers know that a character is queer, they clearly didn't do a good enough job making that clear in the actual TV show's content.
Authentic representation is only possible when characters are explicitly queer in the text.
It's also essential to assess the stereotypes portrayed in a show. If the show is seen as queer because it upholds many negative stereotypes that harm queer people and further marginalize them in society, then that's not an authentic representation.
Lastly, we must consider the opinions of the queer audience. Is the show's fan base filled with members of the LGBTQIA+ community? What do queer critics say about the show and its messages? Queer media is ultimately created for the benefit of queer individuals, so this part is super important.
With that in mind, here are the kids' TV shows with the most authentic representation of LGBTQ characters. I split this list into two sections: one for younger kids and one for older ones. Of course, I'm an adult and love watching shows in both categories! The shows in the Older Kids category simply tackle themes and concepts that might be more difficult for younger viewers to grasp.
LGBTQIA+ Representation in TV – Younger Kids
Kids deserve to see LGBTQ representation from a very early age. That's why it's essential to give kids access to shows with queer characters, and thankfully, more and more shows aimed at toddlers and elementary-aged kids do just that.
1: Arthur (1996-)
As both the oldest and longest-running show on this list, Arthur promoted feminism, inclusion, and kindness long before other kids' shows focused on these themes.
In 2019, Arthur proved itself as a progressive show yet again with the premiere of the 22nd season titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.”
In this episode, Arthur (Michael Yarmush) and his fellow furry friends learn that Mr. Ratburn (Arthur Holden), their teacher, is getting married. They're all shocked, but not because Mr. Ratburn is gay. They're shocked because the kids have such a tough time imagining Mr. Ratburn in any context but as their teacher.
This episode is extra-special because of lesbian actor Jane Lynch's guest appearance. She plays Mr. Ratburn's outspoken sister, who the kids first mistake as his fiance before they learn the truth.
2: My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (2010-2019)
The My Little Pony franchise's first-ever on-screen queer couple appeared in 2019 when viewers finally met Scootaloo's (Madeleine Peters) family. In the show's finale after nine seasons, the secret is revealed: Scootaloo was raised by her aunts, Aunt Holiday (Jackie Blackmore) and Auntie Lofty(Saffron Henderson), who appear on screen as a romantic pair.
3: The Babysitters Club (2020-2021)
The Babysitters Club is based on Ann M. Martin's famous novels of the same title from the 1990s. The show is updated to take place in the 2020s and to promote more progressive themes like racial justice, climate activism, and embracing differences.
Unfortunately, Netflix canceled the show after only two seasons, so we won't get to see whether or not any of the main characters are queer. However, Season 1 Episode 4, “Mary Anne Saves the Day,” was a game-changer for the representation of transgender kids.
In the episode, Mary Anne (Malia Baker) babysits a kid named Bailey (Kai Shappley) and learns she's transgender. Her friend Dawn (Xochitl Gomez) explains that Bailey is finding her true identity and compares it to finally writing with her left hand after years of being forced to write with her right one.
The next time Mary Anne babysits Bailey, she has to bring her to the hospital because of a high fever. While at the hospital, Mary Anne advocates for Bailey's right to gender-affirming care.
4: Muppet Babies (2018-2022)
The Muppet Babies CGI reboot on Disney+ is a lighthearted show for young viewers. In an episode in Season 3 titled “Gonzo-Rella,” a gender non-conforming muppet named Gonzo (Benjamin Diskin) decides to wear a dress to the ball despite Piggy (Melanie Harrison) saying that “boys dress as knights and girls dress as princesses.”
Gonzo sneaks into the ball as a princess, and Piggy later asks why he didn't tell anyone about his plan. He explained that he felt like Piggy wanted him to conform, and Piggy apologized and encouraged Gonzo to be himself.
5: Adventure Time (2010-2018)
Adventure Time is one of those shows that's creators fought as hard as they could to make it queer in the face of resistant production companies. Without shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and the Legend of Korra, we wouldn't have shows like She Ra and the Princesses of Power or Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts that are much more explicitly queer.
There is one canonically confirmed queer couple found in Adventure Time: the tense and complex relationship between Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) and Marceline the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olsen). They even get an on-screen kiss in the show's finale. It was added in at the end of production when storyboard artist Hanna K. Nyström convinced the producers to go for it.
6: Ridley Jones (2021-)
This show follows the adventures of a six-year-old named Ridley (Iara Nemirovski), who trains to protect a museum whose artifacts come to life each night.
Ridley Jones is groundbreaking because one of the central characters in the show, Fred, the bison, is nonbinary. That makes Fred the first ever regular nonbinary character on a TV show created for preschoolers. Nonbinary actor Iris Menas voices Fred, which is excellent because trans and nonbinary actors are traditionally undercast, even when auditioning for trans roles.
7: Ok, K.O.! Let's Be Heroes (2017-2019)
If you're looking for a show where same-sex relationships are simply a part of life, OK, K.O! Let's Be Heroes is a great choice. In a world full of outcast superheroes, queer couples don't cause anyone to bat an eye.
There are two villains, Lord Boxman (Jim Cummings) and Professor Venomous (Steve Ogg), who are together. Then there's Enid (Ashly Burch) and Red Action (Maddie Willows), a young lesbian couple. In the show's finale, we see the wedding of some minor characters, Nick Army (Chris Niosi) and Joff the Shaolin Monk (James Urbaniak). It's always a breath of fresh air when shows depict queer characters living their lives as themselves without discrimination.
8: Danger and Eggs (2015-2017)
Danger and Eggs is one of the queerest kids' shows out there. It was created by Mike Owens and Shadi Petosky, a trans woman. Owens and Petosky created a world where no one can assume whether or not a character is cis or straight. This refreshing approach spins heteronormativity on its head.
Danger and Eggs is filled with explicitly queer characters. There are gay dads and lesbian couples, but there's also a great deal of trans representation. Zadie is a young trans girl voiced by trans activist and creator Jazz Jennings, and one openly nonbinary character uses they/them pronouns. On top of that, the show celebrates the LGBTQ community by displaying Pride events and arguing that people's differences are worth embracing.
9: Craig of the Creek (2019-)
Former writers of Steven Universe Matt Burnett and Ben Levin created Craig of the Creek. While Steven Universe was game-changing for LGBTQ representation in the early 2010s (we'll talk about it later), Craig of the Creek further pushes boundaries for the queer community.
There are many queer characters in the show, such as the teenage lesbian witch couple and the main character's older sister, Laura (Fortune Feimster). Another same-sex couple is Raj (Parvesh Cheena) and Shawn (Michael Croner), two Honeysuckle Rangers. In addition, three of the kids in the show are explicitly nonbinary and accepted for who they are.
10: Pinky Malinky (2019)
Not only does Pinky Malinky normalize same-sex relationships, but it also normalizes polyamorous relationships. The show follows Pinky (Lucas Grabeel), a goofy hot dog who can walk, talk, and hang out with his human friends. One of his close friends, JJ Jameson (Nathan Kress), has three dads in a loving polyamorous relationship.
11: Chip and Potato (2019-)
Here's another show aimed at preschoolers that helps introduce kids to same-sex couples and gender inclusivity as early as possible. This is one of those shows for young kids that adults can enjoy too. It has more of a complex story arc than other shows aimed at the youngest audiences.
While queerness isn't a hugely dominant theme in the show, little snippets of inclusion get thrown in to help normalize the LGBTQ community. For example, in Season 2, we meet Roy and Ray Razzle (Vincent Tong), a same-sex Zebra couple with twins. The school is decorated with rainbows upon rainbows and subtly points to having trans students; The bathrooms in the school are labeled with gender-inclusive markers.
LGBTQIA+ Representation in TV – Older Kids
While people of all ages can enjoy the shows listed above, the shows that follow are typically best for older kids and teens. That's because many of them include violence, inappropriate jokes, and complex themes that may be too hard for younger kids to grasp just yet.
12: The Legend of Korra (2012-2014)
The sequel to the famous and influential animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of the first popular animated children's shows to display same-sex relationships between characters. Korra (Janet Varney), our brave and sometimes overbearing protagonist, is openly bisexual and enters a romantic relationship with a woman at the end of the series.
Today, The Legend of Korra is celebrated as a show that set the groundwork for other animated children's shows to be more out and proud with their queer representation.
13: Steven Universe (2013-2018)
Another show that broke the mold for animated kids' TV was Steven Universe. In 2015, the show revealed two openly queer women in a same-sex relationship and introduced a few gender non-conforming characters, including a nonbinary Shep (Indya Moore) and Stevonnie (AJ Michalka), who is intersex.
The show also debuted the first-ever same-sex webbing ceremony depicted in a cartoon in 2018. Without shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and the Legend of Korra, kids' shows with more explicitly queer characters wouldn't exist today.
14: She Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018-2020)
Etheria, the planet on which She Ra and the Princesses of Power takes place, is not a world ruled by heteronormativity. In fact, showrunner and trans activist Nate Stevenson wants fans to see the world as the opposite: a place where everyone is assumed to be queer until proven otherwise.
While not every character is explicitly known to be LGBTQ, many are 100% for sure gay. Take Spinnerella (Nate Stevenson) and Netossa (Krystal Joy Brown), a pair of princess wives. Then there are Bow's (Marcus Scribner) two dads. But the most exciting and precedent-setting same-sex relationship is the romance between Catra (AJ Michalka) and Adora (Aimee Carrero), our two protagonists. Their tumultuous love story is central to the plot and makes the show what it is.
15: Never Have I Ever (2020-)
Never Have I Ever tells the story of an angsty high-school student named Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who struggles to cope after suddenly losing her father (Sendhil Ramamurthy). The story shines a light on the experience of Indian American students while also exploring themes of overcoming grief, coming of age, and finding one's place in the world.
There are many queer characters in the show, namely Devi's best friend, Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez). We watch Fabiola struggle to come to terms with her identity and embrace her true self. Since Fabiola is one of the main characters, the show dives deep into her authentic experiences.
16: Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (2020)
This show holds a very special place in my heart. Not only does it have an outstanding soundtrack and racially diverse cast members, but it also promotes inclusive queer representation. Benson (Tyson Coy Stewart), one of the characters in our heroic squad, comes out to Kipo (Karen Fukahara) in Season 1 Episode 6: “Ratland.” She accepts his sexuality without question.
Later, Benson meets Troy (Giullian Yao Gioiello), and they soon fall in love. Their romance is a fluffy and cute side plot. These sorts of relationships are represented all the time by opposite-sex couples, and now it's the queer folks' turn!
17: Dead End: Paranormal Park (2022-)
If you're looking for a show that champions trans representation, you might want to check out Dead End: Paranormal Park. It's a show about two coworkers and a talking pug who go on supernatural adventures at a haunted theme park.
One of the main characters, Barney (Zach Barack), is a trans man struggling to be accepted by his family. This struggle and Barney's identity are revealed beautifully in the series' first episode. Barney's voice actor, Zack Barack, is a trans man who can relate to Barney's journey.
18: The Owl House (2020-2022)
This magical horror fantasy for older kids is full of witches, demons, and weirdos. Our lively main character Luz (Sarah-Nicole Robles), is bisexual, as she's seen fawning over boys and ends up in a same-sex relationship. Amity is Luz's girlfriend, and her voice actor, Mae Whitman, is pansexual.
19: The Hollow (2018-2020)
This action-packed animation for teens is mysterious, and nothing about the world our protagonists wake up in becomes apparent right away. The same goes for the LGBTQ themes in the show. Our main character Adam (Adrian Roman Petriw), slowly reveals that he's gay throughout the show, with little hints thrown in until he comes out and reveals his sexuality explicitly.
20: Heartstopper (2022-)
The number of romance stories for straight teenagers is seemingly infinite. The gays are taking our power back one step at a time by crafting mainstream stories about queer romance in the coming-of-age genre, and I'm so here for it.
Heartstopper follows one openly gay teenager and his best friend, who is less sure about his identity and the journey of their love. It's a classic love story minus the heteronormativity.
21: The Dragon Prince (2018-)
The Dragon Prince is a mystical story about finding the truth and bringing peace to the world. It's one of those shows with LGBTQ representation sprinkled in to normalize the existence of queer people in our own world.
Notable queer characters in The Dragon Prince include lesbian queens of Duren, Annika (Paula Burrows), and Neha (Patricia Isaac); Rayla's two dads; and Kazi (Ashleica Edmond), the nonbinary elf.
22: The Loud House (2016-)
Another show that displays queer people living happy, everyday lives is The Loud House. There are a few subtle yet explicit LGBTQ characters in the show, like Luna Loud (Nika Futterman) and the McBride dads.
23: Andi Mack (2017-2019)
When middle-schooler Andi Mack (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) discovers that the woman she thought was her older sister is actually her biological mother, Andi has a lot to come to terms with. This show is a classic coming-of-age story that centers on the life of an Asian-American girl, her family, and her best friends.
One of her friends is named Cyrus (Joshua Rush), who comes out as gay during the series. Although it's scary for him to come out to his friends, he learns that each of them accepts him for who he is.
24: Gravity Falls (2012-2016)
While this show lacks explicit queer representation, it wasn't for lack of trying on the part of its creator Alex Hirsh, who fought with Disney to include LGBTQ characters in Gravity Falls. While they rejected many of his efforts, he was able to include a same-sex wedding scene in the finale of the show between two minor characters: Sheriff Blubs (Kevin Michael Richardson) and Deputy Durland (Keith Ferguson).
25: Twelve Forever (2019)
Twelve Forever is a wacky story about tackling puberty, navigating middle school, and growing up. And yet, our protagonist Reggie (Kelsy Abbott) isn't love-sick with a boy in her class like many other characters in this type of show. On the contrary, she's more focused on clinging to her creativity and imagination.
However, she does have a crush towards the middle of season one, and it's on an eighth-grade girl, which is so refreshing. Many of the minor characters in the magical land of Endless Island are clearly queer, like Galexander (Steve Agee) and Rance (Spencer Rothbell).
Not only do all of the shows on this list have exceptionally well-crafted stories and characters, but they also prioritize inclusivity and kindness. These are the shows I wish I could have watched when I was ten years old, and I'm so grateful that kids today have access to stories that make them feel seen and accepted.
More Articles From the Wealth of Geeks Network:
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.