Google ‘first gay Disney character’ and you’ll find tonnes of results bringing up different films and characters.
There’s confusion over when – and if – film studios like Disney first included gay characters, because most of the roles aren’t explicitly LGBT. Rather, they hint at gay culture or nod to it subtly.
LeFou in Beauty and the Beast, Bonnie’s two mums in Toy Story 4, Joe Russo’s character in Avengers: Endgame, Artie in new Disney flick Cruella and – it has just been announced – Betty DeVille in the Rugrats are all examples of LGBT characters in major live-action and animated mainstream movies.
But often these characters are cameos in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scenarios.
Critics say we need celebratory representation which doesn’t hide in the shadows.
Writing for Forbes, arts contributor Dani Di Placido argues: “These minuscule slivers of LGBTQ representation are so brief, so utterly irrelevant to the plot of these films, that they can be easily edited out for socially conservative audiences, as was the case with the quick lesbian kiss from The Rise Of Skywalker .
“Pro-LGBTQ press outlets, starved for representation, will either cheer Disney’s cautious baby steps towards inclusion, or criticize the company’s cynicism.
“None of these queer background characters really stick around in collective memory long enough to make an impression, hence, each time Disney pulls the same trick, it is heralded as the ‘first’.”
Whatever your view on the current level of LGBT representation, here are the gay characters in mainstream live action and cartoons that we know of…
The Rugrats is getting a CGI remake. It’ll follow the same beloved characters which featured in the original 1990s cartoons. One of those characters is Betty DeVille, the mum of two of the main characters, Phil and Lil DeVille.
Betty will be gay, revealed her voice actor Natalie Morales, recognisable as Lucy from Parks and Recreation, who is gay herself. “Anyone who watched the original show may have had an inkling Betty was a member of the alphabet mafia,” she told The A.V. Club.
The ‘alphabet mafia’ is a reference to the LGBT community.
“Betty is a single mom with her own business who has twins and still has time to hang out with her friends and her community, and I think it’s just so great because examples of living your life happily and healthily as an out queer person is just such a beacon for young queer people who may not have examples of that.
“And yeah, Betty is a fictional cartoon, but even cartoons were hugely influential for me as a kid and if I’d been watching Rugrats and seen Betty casually talking about her ex-girlfriend, I think at least a part of me would have felt like things might be okay in the future.”
Bonnie’s two mums in Toy Story 4
This is a really quick exchange, but look properly when Bonnie is picked up from school and you’ll notice her thoroughly modern family.
LeFou in Beauty and the Beast
Given the fanfare around Gaston’s LGBTQ identity created by director Bill Condon when he confirmed it in an interview with Attitude magazine, it’s fair to say the actual LGBTQ representation itself was subtle.
Condon spoke of an “exclusively gay moment” in the film, which caused the film to get banned in Malaysia and Kuwait, given a stricter rating in Russia and boycotted at an Alabama drive-in cinema.
So what actually happened? Keep your eyes wide open during the film’s final moment, as LeFou – the villain Gaston’s sidekick – dances with a man during the scenes from the ball. It’s the very final scene in the movie.
It lasts all of a few brief few dance moments – but it is there.
There’s also the suggestion that LeFou has a crush on Gaston, as during the villain’s eponymous song LeFou is pictured staring longingly in his direction.
Joe Russo’s character in Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame director Joe Russo walks away with the Marvel Comic Universe’s first gay moment in the 2019 movie.
Joe Russo plays an unnamed character attending a grief counselling meeting in the film, to talk about losing his male partner.
More representation within the MCU
And US actress Tessa Thompson has suggested in interviews that her Thor character, Valkyrie, is bisexual. “In the canon, [Valkyrie] is bisexual,” she told Variety. “You see her with women and men, so that was my intention in playing her.”
Valkyrie is bisexual in the Marvel comic books, but there were no discussions about her sexuality in the Thor: Ragnarok film.
And there’s a new MCU superhero movie called The Eternals, pegged for release in November 2021, which will feature an LGBTQ character although details have yet to be confirmed.
When asked about whether there were plans for trans representation, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige said during a Q&A at the New York Film Academy: “Yes, absolutely. Yes.”
Artie in new Disney flick Cruella
British actor John McCrea plays one of Cruella’s entourage in Disney’s new Cruella de Vil origin story, Cruella.
John, who played a school boy who dresses in drag in the West End musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, explained that his character Artie is LGBTQ. “For me, yes, it’s official: he’s queer,” the 29-year-old actor told Attitude.
“But we don’t see him falling in love; there’s no social aspect to the character. It’s not beating you on the head with a stick. But his lifestyle is fabulous, he loves his life and it was so fun to play him.”
More LGBTQ representation
Pixar revealed their first LGBTQ character in a same-sex relationship in their 2020 film Onward, when a female police officer named Officer Specter discusses her partner.
“My girlfriend’s daughter [has] got me pulling my hair out,” she says in the movie, about two brothers trying to resurrect their deceased father to spend one final day with him.
Pixar also released a short in 2020 called Out, about a young male same-sex couple. Greg and Manuel are living together, but Greg is fearful of telling his parents – until one day they show up on the doorstep.
Two shows on the Disney XD paid TV channel also feature same sex couples. TV Show Star Vs. The Forces Of Evil in 2017 featured a same sex kiss, and series Gravity Falls, 2016, also features two gay male characters.
“We’re mad with power… and love,” they say in the show’s finale.