Nickelodeon's Path To Pride: A History Of The Network's Growing Support For The LGBTQ Community
Happy Pride Month!
Nickelodeon caused a stir last week with a Pride Month celebration tweet that officially revealed Spongebob Squarepants as a member of the LGBTQ community for the first time. The tweet contained a rainbow tinted picture of Spongebob, alongside fellow LGBTQ Nickelodeon characters Korra and Schwoz Schwartz.
The tweet is the latest step in Nickelodeon's journey towards becoming a full supporter of the LGBTQ community.
Let's take a look back at the other steps along the way.
'Rugrats' Showed Support In Clever, Subtle Ways
While it wouldn't have been possible for kids TV shows in the 90s to be openly supportive of the gay community without major push-back, that doesn't mean the support didn't exist, albeit mostly in subtext. For example, one of Nickelodeon's original Nicktoons, Rugrats, got away with a few things that other shows might not have, due the fact that the characters are young children.
In the episode 'Clan Of The Duck', Chuckie and Phil decide to try on dresses and discover they enjoy them, not understanding why girls are allowed to wear dresses and boys are not. After being taken to the park still wearing the dresses, the boys are bullied, but ultimately, the episode teaches that the bullies, and not Tommy and Chuckie, are the ones in the wrong.
And then there was this:
Both these moments are subtle, tilting towards humour more than serious social commentary, but may have been powerful messages for some young people watching.
Spongebob and Patrick Parent a baby Scallop
In the episode 'Rock-A-Bye Bivalve', Spongebob and Patrick take on the responsibility of raising a baby scallop, whom they name Junior. While Spongebob chooses to play the role of Junior's Mother, Patrick takes on the role of Dad.
Again, the situation was mostly played for laughs, but it was a fun little bone to throw the fans who were already speculating on Spongebob's sexuality by this point.
Korra and Asami Become 'The Legend Of Korra's' Endgame 'Ship
Though popular, the Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel series Legend Of Korra often struggled to find and hold onto a place in Nickelodeon's schedule beyond the first season. The majority of the final season premiered online, and while it may have hurt viewership, the lack of executive oversight meant the show's writers were able to build, through subtext, a same-sex romantic relationship between Korra and Asami. The series ends with the two taking a vacation into the spirit realm together.
After the finale premiered, Nickelodeon initially claimed the ending was open to interpretation. However, the show's creators confirmed both Korra and Asami as bisexual, and their relationship is more explicitly confirmed in graphic novel sequels to the show. All that kept them from doing so on TV was the likelihood of a veto from the network. More recently, as proven by the now viral tweet, Nickelodeon has embraced Korra's sexuality.
Out and Proud in 'The Loud House'
Debuting on Nickelodeon in 2016, new animated series The Loud House took bolder steps towards openly supporting the LGBTQ community. First, it did so through supporting characters. Clyde McBride, the best friend of main character Lincoln Loud, is the son of an interracial gay couple, Howard and Harold. Howard and Harold are the first married gay couple to appear in a Nickelodeon animated series, and earned The Loud House praise from organisations such as GLAAD, though unfortunately also lead to the show being heavily censored in some countries.
Nickelodeon weren't scared by the bad press, and in a later episode, 'L Is For Love', one of Lincoln's older sister, Luna, develops feelings for a female classmate, Sam Sharp. By the episode 'Racing Hearts', Luna and Sam begin officially dating, and all of Luna's siblings are supportive of the relationship.
The inclusion of Howard and Harold McBride was done in an effort to include different types of families. In the case of Luna, The Loud House showrunner Michael Rubiner has stated that with eleven Loud siblings, it felt natural to explore the possibility that at least one of them may be gay.
Michael D. Cohen Comes Out As Transgender
In 2019, Michael D. Cohen, who played Schwog Schwartz on popular Nickelodeon sitcom Henry Danger, came out as transgender, having transitioned from female to male in his 20s. It wasn't too long ago that such a move would have been career suicide, particularly for an actor working in children's television.
However, Cohen's decision to come out was largely embraced by both Nickelodeon and the entertainment industry as a whole. The actor is currently reprising the role of Schwog in the Henry Danger spin-off Danger Force.
And The Tweet..
Which brings us to 2020, and the now viral tweet honouring Korra, Schwoz, and Spongebob. While it is clear where both Schwoz and Korra fit, Spongebob's place in the LGBT community is less immediately obvious.
Many jumped to assume the tweet is outing Spongebob as homosexual, however that is not necessarily the case. In a 2005 interview, Spongebob's creator, the late Stephen Hillenburg, stated that he views the character as Asexual. Fans aware of this interview see Nickelodeon's Pride Month tweet as the network finally confirming Hillenburg's statements.
Either way, it's nice to see Nickelodeon now openly encouraging their young viewers to embrace love in all it's forms.
Happy Pride Month!