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What Disney’s queer ‘inspiring content’ really amounts to

Bob Chapek has pointed to a short list of small choices

Gaston (Luke Evans) stares down LeFou (Josh Gad) in a screenshot from Beauty and the Beast Image: Walt Disney Studios

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Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

When news outlets reported that The Walt Disney Company donated money to legislators who supported Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Disney CEO Bob Chapek sent an internal memo to the company saying Disney would still “unequivocally” support its LGBTQ employees.

“I believe the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support,” Chapek wrote in the memo.

But while Chapek’s words might imply that Disney has a productive history of creating “inspiring” queer content, a group of Pixar employees penned a letter in response to Chapek’s statements, and specifically called out that line.

“We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were,” the letter reads. “Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.”

Viewers have certainly come up with their own queer readings of Disney and Pixar stories alike, but it’s debatable whether the studio has delivered the “inspiring” content Chapek seems to think it’s using to help change the world. Below, we’ve laid out the milestones in Disney’s history of queer content.

2013: Oaken and his family in Frozen

a family in a sauna Image: Disney

When Frozen came out, many viewers pointed to the brief moment where burly shopkeeper Oaken says hello to his family, revealing what appears to be a hunky blonde man and four other figures in a sauna. There have been no official statements from the filmmakers about this scene, however, so the character’s sexuality is unconfirmed.

2014: Susan and Cheryl in Good Luck Charlie

two blonde women in a doorway Image: Disney

Disney Channel’s first lesbian couple debuted on Good Luck Charlie in 2014. The couple appeared in one episode, when the Duncan parents invited them over, since they were the parents of the titular character’s good friend from daycare.

According to E, a spokesperson for Disney told TVGuide:

“This particular storyline was developed under the consultancy of child development experts and community advisors. Like all Disney Channel programming, it was developed to be relevant to kids and families around the world and to reflect themes of diversity and inclusiveness.”

February 2016: Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland in Gravity Falls

two animated police officers excitedly throwing their hands in the air Image: Disney

In the Gravity Falls series finale, it was confirmed that the two police officer characters, who often shared affectionate words throughout the series, were in love. Series creator Alex Hirsch has repeatedly said that he wished he could do more in terms of representation.

June 2016: A Finding Dory couple

two women look shocked... are they gay? we simply do not know Image: Pixar

A pair of women caring for a toddler in Finding Dory sparked a debate among viewers about whether they were a lesbian couple. Director Andrew Stanton and producer Lindsey Collins gave USA Today this response:

“They can be whatever you want them to be,” said Stanton. “There’s no right or wrong answer.”

“We never asked them,” added producer Lindsey Collins.

“We have not asked that of any of the couples in any of our shots in any of our movies,” Stanton said.

Other Pixar movies have also included background couples that many have wondered about, even if the filmmakers have not confirmed. Still, these kinds of images have come up often enough for certain conservative groups to call attention to them.

2017: LeFou in Beauty and the Beast

lefou in the arms of a man Image: Disney

In 2017, director Bill Condon, who is gay himself, told Attitude Magazine that in his version of Beauty and the Beast, Gaston’s henchman LeFou (Josh Gad) would have a crush on Gaston (Luke Evans). And he promised LeFou’s queerness would be reflected onscreen in a key scene.

“It is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie,” he said.

Within the movie, there are some lines that allude to LeFou’s crush on Gaston, and in the final dance number, LeFou and a strapping young man accidentally end up in each other’s arms for a brief second. Condon ended up retracting what he’d previously said about the character, telling ScreenCrush that it had “all been overblown.”

October 2017: Cyrus in Andi Mack

Andi Mack, Disney Channel’s live-action coming-of-age show, featured the first character in the channel’s history to come out. Friendly middle-schooler Cyrus had an emotional coming-out arc, which kicked off in the show’s second season, where he confided to his friend Buffy that he had a crush on their friend Jonah.

Two years after coming out, Cyrus also became the first Disney character to say the words “I’m gay” out loud, when Cyrus casually told another friend about his sexuality.

“Through Cyrus’ journey both in this episode and the series at large, I hope that audiences understand this — that we’re all worthy of being heard, seen, and loved by the friends and family with whom we surround ourselves,” wrote Jonathan Hurwitz, the scene’s writer, in a guest post for GLAAD.

April 2019: Joe Russo’s Avengers: Endgame cameo

joe russo tearfully talking about dating again in a support group Image: Marvel/Disney

A scene at the beginning of Avengers: Endgame features Captain America running a support group for people who lost loved ones to Thanos’ finger-snap. A man, played by director Joe Russo, talks about how hard it’s been since losing his male partner, and how he’s tentatively planning to go on a date soon.

“Representation is really important,” Joe Russo said. “It was important to us as we did four of these films, we wanted a gay character somewhere in them. We felt it was important that one of us play him, to ensure the integrity and show it is so important to the filmmakers that one of us is representing that. It is a perfect time, because one of the things that is compelling about the Marvel Universe moving forward is its focus on diversity.”

December 2019: High School Musical: The Musical: The Series

seb and carlos slow dancing in high school musical: the musical: the series Image: Disney Plus

Student director Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez) and farm boy Seb (Joe Serafini) go to homecoming together in the fifth episode of Disney Plus’ High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. They aren’t the only queer couple in the show — it’s also revealed that main character Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) has two mothers.

Throughout the show, Carlos and Seb officially get together and go through similar relationship hurdles as the other couples onscreen.

December 2019: A kiss in Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker

two women kiss Image: Lucasfilm/Disney

In 2016, right on the heels of The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams said that of course gay characters would be coming to Star Wars.

“When I talk about inclusivity, it’s not excluding gay characters. It’s about inclusivity. So of course,” he said.

There were no queer characters in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi. But three years later, in The Rise of Skywalker, Commander Larma D’Acy (Amanda Lawrence) and her pilot partner (who gets a name in The Rise of Skywalker: The Visual Dictionary, but not in the film) share a kiss in the background of a celebration scene. The interaction was edited out for some foreign releases.

March 2020: Officer Spector in Onward

a purple cyclops cop shines a flashlight in pixar’s onward Image: Pixar

In Pixar’s Onward, cyclops cop Office Spector (Lena Waithe) mentions her girlfriend in one scene. This was edited out in the Russian release of the movie, and also caused the movie to be banned in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

June 2020: Greg and Manuel in Out

A red-bearded white man in a furry hat with earflaps and a dark-skinned man with poofy hair smile over a portrait of themselves together in Pixar’s short Out Image: Pixar Animation Studios

Out comes from director Steven Clay Hunter, who wanted to make a film about his own experiences as a gay man. As the name might imply, this Pixar SparkShort focuses on one man moving out of his small town and into a big city, and coming out to his Midwestern parents in the process — after resisting and frantically hiding his sexuality from them, until a magical body-swap outs him.

August 2020: Luz Noceda and Amity Blight in The Owl House

amity and luz dancing against the light of the moon Image: Disney

Teen witches Luz and Amity, two main characters in Disney Channel’s animated series The Owl House, were revealed to be queer in the episode “Enchanting Grom Fright.” Amity’s crush on Luz is made apparent throughout the episode, and the two share a romantically charged dance. The couple got together officially in the season 2 episode “Knock, Knock, Knocking on Hooty’s Door,” which aired about a year later.

May 2021: Artie in Cruella

artie in cruella Image: Disney

Vintage-store owner Artie does not mention his sexuality in Cruella, but John McCrea, the openly gay actor who plays him, says he read the character as queer and portrayed him as such.

“It depends on who you’re asking, I suppose — but for me, yes, it’s official: He’s queer,” he told Attitude magazine. McCrea also said the character was allegedly written as a drag queen in early drafts, so he may’ve always been intended to be queer.

June 2021: Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Loki lifting two flutes of champagne in bisexual lightning Image: Marvel Studios

While many MCU characters have queer counterparts in the comics, the first to be confirmed onscreen was Loki (Tom Hiddleston). In the third episode of Disney Plus’ Loki, the trickster god and his female counterpart Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) catch each other up on their lives, including previous romantic dalliances.

“How about you?” Sylvie asks Loki. “Must’ve been would-be princesses or perhaps, another prince.”

“A bit of both,” Loki replies. “I suspect the same as you.”

July 2021: McGregor in Jungle Cruise

two people look out of a steamboat, with dwayne the rock johnson peering out a window behind them Image: Disney

In Jungle Cruise, proper McGregor (Jack Whitehall) confesses to Dwayne Johnson’s Frank that he never married because his interest lay “elsewhere.” The two share a toast to that “elsewhere,” and McGregor elaborates a little, saying that he would’ve been ostracized from society because of who he loved, had his sister Lily (Emily Blunt) not stood by his side.

“I think it was a really well-written scene, and one that we certainly thought about and talked about,” Whitehall told Variety.

July 2021: Raine Whispers in The Owl House

raine whispers in the owl house, lounging on a couch Image: Disney

Non-binary bard witch Raine Whispers made their first appearance in The Owl House in the season two episode “Eda’s Requiem.” The character is voiced by non-binary actor Avi Rocque. In the episode, it is also revealed that Raine and owl lady Eda were once in a romantic relationship.

November 2021: Phastos and Ben Stoss in Eternals

Phastos has a eureka moment in a big black spaceship in Eternals Image: Marvel Studios

In the Eternals, Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos is married to a man named Ben and the two of them are raising a child together. He kisses his husband onscreen and says he wants to spend his days with his family. The movie was banned in several Middle Eastern countries, and the kiss was censored in others, but even the censored version shows the two men as happily married with a child.

After various Disney creatives voiced their outrage, Chapek released a public shareholder statement clarifying the company’s stance and said that Disney had not donated to politicians specifically because of the bill. He donated $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign — but it was rejected by the HRC, which issued a statement about not accepting money from Disney “until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates.”

On Friday, Chapek sent out another internal memo to Disney, apologizing directly to the company’s LGBTQ employees.

“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights,” Chapek wrote. “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”


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