Disney’s Gay Dilemma

Disney’s Gay Dilemma

Openly gay men in a musical?  Who would have seen that coming?  In case you haven’t heard, or just don’t care because, unlike me, you do not have school-aged children pining away to see the new live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, the movie has stirred up controversy recently for being the first Disney film to contain an overtly gay character.  Relegated to his role as the villain’s overly unctuous sidekick in the 1991 animated original, LeFou now has a reason for enduring the perpetual bullying of his buddy Gaston: turns out that in the newer version he sort of has a thing for Gaston.  While some have suggested that the film marks a bold progression for Disney, some in the LGBT community are giving the move no more than an obligatory golf clap for finally doing what they should have done years before.  And then there are those in the conservative arena who are protesting against Disney for including a gay character in the first place.

Since word leaked of the film’s having what director Bill Condon referred to as Disney’s first “explicitly gay” character, boycotts have emerged nationwide.  It all started when the drive-in theater in Henagar, Alabama refused to show the film because the owners believed the film violated their Christian values. This was followed up by a petition with 50,000 signatures from the American Family Association that claimed “Disney wants to normalize homosexuality in its productions.”  And then there was the Facebook post that went viral from “This Modest Mom”, a mother who claimed she was cancelling her family’s $6000 vacation to Disneyworld as a response to her disapproval of the incorporation of a homosexual character.

To be sure, these boycotts are puritanical rantings fueled by pure ignorance and fundamental intolerance.  Blinded by the fear that Disney is somehow going to turn their precious progeny into flaming homosexuals adorned with flashy boas and rainbow flags, these bigots use their disturbingly ample free time to fret about Disney “normalizing” homosexuality.  First of all, to suggest anything to the contrary seems to imply that homosexuality isn’t “normal”, a point of view that would itself be laughable if it weren’t so despicably derogatory to the entire LGBT community.  In a film that’s central premise revolves around implied beastiality, these conservative wing nuts are crapping their pants because one of the characters is gay?  Um, yeah that’s messed up.  Perhaps these folks are unaware that most of the songs from the original Beauty and the Beast were written by legendary songwriter Howard Ashman, an openly gay man who died of AIDS shortly before the release of the film.

Actually, if Disney really wanted to “normalize” homosexuality, shouldn’t the ratio of straight to gay characters in their films be more truly representative of the numbers reflected in today’s society, a number usually estimated at about 10:1?  Given that this is their first gay character amongst the thousands of straight characters they have had over the years, they have a lot of make-up work to do.  To this end, anyday now I’m expecting a LGBT remake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in which a drag queen comes to live with seven middle-aged gay men named Fruity, Pokey, Stiffy, Ballsy, Twinky, Flitty, and, of course, Tranny.

But if these folks really think Disney is going to turn their kid gay, they are hopelessly misguided.  It just doesn’t work that way, you simple-minded bigot.  Kids don’t become gay because of what they see in movies but rather to spite their overly judgmental parents.  Ok, I’m just joking on that one, but gay characters like LeFou don’t make kids more likely to be gay- just more tolerant.

But therein lies the irony of this issue of tolerance because when I went to the Facebook page for “Modest Mom”, it was filled with vitriolic comments aimed at this mom who was simply trying to insulate her child from what she falsely perceives to be the ravages of rampant homosexuality.  While I may find her desire to do so preposterously unnecessary and willfully ignorant, it is her right to do so, and all of us on this other side of the line could stand to be a bit more tolerant of her choice.  She is not taking anyone else’s ability to see the film.  She is merely making her statement by choosing to spend her dollars elsewhere.  In a free market system, the strength of our political statement and its subsequent ability to shape the societal landscape lies in our spending dollar.  In America today, if you want to influence how things are, it pays to literally put your money where your mouth is. The people behind these boycotts of Beauty and the Beast are making their voices heard with their dollars, and I, for one, respect that even though I wholeheartedly disagree with the message itself.

Don’t write anger-filled responses on this woman’s page.  Let her have her point of view, even if it is hopelessly misinformed.  You can have yours, and you need to have faith that the message of love, acceptance and tolerance will inevitably triumph over prejudice.  It already has.  Disney didn’t include a gay character because they were ethically driven to do so.  Disney is a corporation, and corporations listen to the cultural voice as it is expressed in the bottom line of consumer revenue.  While these few backwards folks have had their say by boycotting the film, their voice was drowned out by the resounding echo of the millions who went to see the film in spite of, or perhaps even because of, Disney’s gamble on a gay character.  The film has already grossed $710 million, so I’m guessing Disney could care less what Henagar, Alabama is showing at the drive-in on Saturday night.  As for me, I’ll be seeing it later this week.  There’s no way my seven year old, who is perfectly fine with an openly gay character, would have it any other way.

Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works.  Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com