In 2014, the television show Good Luck Charlie made history on Disney Channel by being the network’s first show to feature a same-sex couple. Susan and Cheryl, the lesbian couple featured, in no way serve as the basis for the plotline of the episode because they are only featured for one minute. However, the fact that they are appear at all demonstrates that Disney Channel slowly may be moving towards broadcasting more diversity in their television shows. A short clip of the show makes a big statement, and although it is not perfect, it definitely is a step in the right direction for the television network. This decision to show a same-sex couple was met with mixed reviews from the public and from parents of the children who watch the television show. Conservative Christians were especially against the episode and protested against the network. However, hopefully, by exposing children to the fact that families do not always have a mom and a dad, these children will grow up to be more accepting of diversity than their parents. As a whole, the scene brings forth an attitude of acceptance and normalcy towards Susan and Cheryl, and it sets the stage for more children’s shows to follow in its path.
Disney Channel handled the introduction of their first lesbian couple far better than one would expect. It would be easy for the introduction of Susan and Cheryl to be a major plotline just for laughs or for the show to follow the cliché outline of a character originally not accepting a gay character but seeing that the individual is “just like everybody else” by the end of the episode. However, the show uses Susan and Cheryl to make a subtle statement. The couple only appears in a minute of the show, and while the scene does bring forth some laughs, it is at the expense of Charlie’s parents, Bob and Amy, instead of Susan and Cheryl. In the clip, Amy tells Bob that she has invited one of Charlie’s friends over for a playdate and that she also invited her friend Taylor’s mother, Susan. This confuses Bob because he already had met Taylor’s mom and thought her name was Cheryl. The couple argue over which person is right about Taylor’s mother’s name, but they soon realize that they both are right because Taylor has two moms. Amy and Bob treat Cheryl and Susan the same way that they would treat any other couple, and the entire encounter treats the issue very casually. The scene is funny because of the fact that Amy and Bob so blindly assumed the heteronormative standard, and the fact that the network makes makes fun of this is a subtle protest against the fact that people assume that a male-female couple is the norm.
Because the show is geared towards children and tweens, it is especially refreshing that a lesbian couple is featured. Disney Channel and the shows that are played on the network serve as an important model for kids on what is “cool,” and it also gives kids role models through the lead actors and actresses in the programs. Young children are easily influenced, so many of their opinions and reactions to ideas are reflections of the beliefs of the people around them. Because of this, the morals conveyed in the TV shows that they watch religiously are absorbed. This causes an appearance of a lesbian couple to be more impactful in a children’s show than in one made for adults. Because Amy and Bob are accepting and react positively towards Susan and Cheryl, this paves the path for the tween viewers of the show to have similar reactions towards same-sex couples. Although Charlie’s parents are a little surprised at first, they both are very welcoming and treat Susan and Cheryl in the same way they would treat any set of parents. Neither Amy nor Bob make any statement that conveys any sort of negative reaction. This reaction generates an outline for children to follow if they are confronted with a similar situation, and Bob and Amy teach children that all couples should be treated the same.
Despite these positive aspects of the episode, it is by no means perfect. To an adult, the episode makes it very clear that Susan and Cheryl are in fact a couple. However, this fact may not be obvious to younger children who have never been exposed to any sort of LGBT individuals. Susan and Cheryl are never addressed as being a romantic couple or even in a partnership. When Susan introduces Cheryl to Amy, she does not introduce Cheryl as her “wife” or “partner.” Instead, she introduces her as “Taylor’s other mom.” This introduction implies a romantic relationship, but this implication might go over the heads of young children. If a child has never met a LGBT couple, he or she may not jump straight to the conclusion that Taylor’s two moms form the same sort of union as a mom and a dad. Kids may just think the fact that Taylor has two moms to be weird and move on without wondering or asking any questions. This distinction of referring to the two women as “Taylor’s moms” instead of “Susan’s partner” or “Cheryl’s wife” is further enforced when Bob makes the connection to Amy. He express, “Oh, Taylor has two moms!” which potentially further distances children from making the connection that Susan and Cheryl love each other. This issue over how the two women are referenced may indicate that Disney Channel did not fully commit to the task of exposing children to the LGBT community. The couple is present, but it is clear that Disney tried to make the fact that they were a couple indistinct so that it would go over the heads of children.
One of the other problems with the clip is that no diversity is expressed within the whole scene. Susan and Cheryl are white and portrayed to be middle-class, which further enforces the stereotype that gay couples are all white, wealthy, and in long term relationships. Both are also very feminine, and at first glance, it would not be clear that either of them were lesbian. While this could be viewed as a positive because it teaches the cliché lesson that “gay people are like everyone else,” this does not serve as an accurate, universal depiction of being a lesbian. Generally, lesbians on TV shows and in movies are portrayed to be on the feminine end of the spectrum, similarly to Susan and Cheryl. Therefore, this television episode sets the stage for the stereotype of rich, white, female lesbians to be wired in the brains of children from a young age. If this episode is the first time a child is exposed to a LGBT couple, the fact that the couple fits this stereotype has the potential to influence what he or she believes to be a “normal” gay couple.
Despite these problems with the scene, there is one especially subtle detail that even if not planned, adds another dimension to the episode. Susan and Cheryl’s daughter is named Taylor, which is a gender neutral name. One top of this, Taylor does not have what is traditionally considered to be a female haircut. She has a short, boy-like pixie cut, which is typically not seen in young girls. Most moms choose to let their daughters grow out their hair and have long curls or pigtails, but Susan and Cheryl did not do this with Taylor. Although not much else is revealed about how Susan and Cheryl parent, these two details reveal that at least in these instances, the couple does not enforce gender norms on their daughter. Disney Channel is generally associated with the sparkly outfits of Hannah Montana and having characters that clearly fit gender norms, so the fact that Taylor is not incredibly girly is another subtle aspect of the clip that potentially signals changes for Disney.
For many, the fact that Susan and Cheryl appeared on the show was considered to be a positive step for Disney Channel. However, the episode was met with backlash, especially from the Christian conservative group “One Million Moms.” This group campaigned against the decision to showcase a same sex couple and sent an email protesting the scene, urging Disney to “avoid controversial topics that children are far too young to understand” (Kuruvilla). It is expected that the episode would be met with criticism, but the group’s argument is illogical. If children are too young to understand a gay couple, can it not be argued that that would also mean they are too young to understand a straight couple as well? Even though the fact that Susan and Cheryl are a couple may go over the heads of some kids, if LGBT couples become more present in children’s television, hopefully they will learn to accept all people. This possibly can cause even the children of the makers behind “One Million Moms” to see why the views of their parents are outdated.
The fact that Disney Channel showcased a same-sex relationship on a television show for young children demonstrates progress, even if there were flaws with the depiction. As a whole, the scene maps out a start for expanding the diversity of sexual orientations of characters on the network. Hopefully this was only the start and LGBT characters will become common in all television. If children are never taught that being gay is different or abnormal, then as their generation grows up, equality will become more of the standard. This one episode of Good Luck Charlie clearly cannot make this difference, but it may be a sign that Disney Channel is taking the initiative to take this step.
Hadamsj. “Good Luck Charlie- Susan & Cheryl.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 26 Jan 2014. Web. 1 Feb 2016.
Kuruvilla, Carol. “Disney Channel Debuts Lesbian Couple on ‘Good Luck Charlie’.” NY Daily News. NYDailyNews, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 7 Feb. 2016.