The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean recently stated that Springfield's premier personal assistant Waylon Smithers will finally be coming out of the closet in the upcoming series, revealing himself to be both homosexual and “Burnssexual."
Smithers’ outing is just one of many, with cartoon showrunners and writers eager to make their characters’ sexual preferences public knowledge. This said, we reckon there's a fair few other characters still languishing in the closet too (Velma from Scooby-Doo, we're looking at you), so we've also included some wild speculations we came across in the media - whether in newspaper articles or on the Internet - which, hey, aren’t actually so wild when you look at the evidence.
From Bugs Bunny cross-dressing as early as 1940 to BMO from Adventure Time opting to go without male, female nor neutral pronouns, queer culture has certainly been present in animated shows for a long time. We've decided to list some of the milestone moments in queer cartoon chronology, so read on to see which of your favorites are flying the flag for LGBT rights.
Way Back When
1940 – 1965: Bugs Bunny, Various Warner Bros. Cartoons
Bugs Bunny was the first animated drag queen, taking every opportunity he could to slip into ladies' garments, whether yellow silky lingerie ("The Wabbit Who Came To Supper", 1942), a sultry geisha-get up ("Bugs Bunny Nips The Nips", 1944) or a blue bra, tutu and ballet shoes as he - anticipating RuPaul - sashays away ("A Corny Concerto", 1943). Sure, we could argue he's just mastering disguise to escape the deadly clutches of Elmar Fudd, but with this extensive a wardrobe of women's clothes, we suspect his games of dress up aren’t just for business, but pleasure.
1942: Flower and Bambi, Bambi
Bambi and a male skunk share a moment that feels a little more than friendly. Bambi nuzzles into the skunk and decides he's a flower, to Thumper's ridicule: "He's not a flower!" "That's alright," says the skunk, fluttering his eyelashes as if auditioning to be the new face of Maybelline. "He can call me a flower if he wants to. I don't mind." Since the skunk eventually falls back into heteronormativity via a female skunk called Bluebelle, we're assuming this was his experimenting-while-in-college phase. Oh, sweetie.
1959 – 1991: Snagglepuss, The Yogi Bear Show
We can’t argue that Snagglepuss is gay simply because he delivers his lines in an exaggeratedly arch, theatrical way. But the pink mountain lion made it OK for male cartoon characters to not be traditionally masculine and paved the way for more queer and queer-friendly characters to come. Although never officially outed by the creators of the show, that didn't stop Drawn Together and Saturday Night Live drawing their own conclusions about Snagglepuss' sexual orientation.
1965 – 1990
Things go a little quiet during this period – maybe due to the aftermath of McCarthyism, leaving the American entertainment industry feeling troubled about even tip-toeing around queer topics. Keeping this in mind, here are some much talked about guesses for closeted characters of the time.
1969 – present: Velma, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
Ahh, Velma. So smart that she works for NASA as a research scientist. So why exactly would she continue to hang out with a bunch of knuckleheads and endanger her life on a weekly basis?
Despite the series’ occasional attempts to engineer a romance between her and Shaggy, after kissing him in Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster Velma confirms what we knew all along – there’s no chemistry there and they’d be better off as pals. You know who Velma does seem to have chemistry with? The shapely Daphne. So we’re thinking the only reason she spends so much time with the gang is to act as protection for Daphne (and let’s face it, minus Velma’s smarts the whole gang would have perished a long time ago).
We’re not alone in thinking this. James Gunn, the screenwriter of the Scooby-Doo film said that he was “pretty sure she’s gay.” Linda Cardellini, who played Velma in the film, said “There were a few scenes where Velma comes out of her shell. I wouldn’t say she comes out of the closet.” The actress also added “I thought more along the lines that maybe her sexuality is a little ambiguous.”
1983 – 1985: Prince Adam/He-Man, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
While it’s never stated that Prince Adam likes men, we could speculate that He-Man/Prince Adam’s double life reflects difficulties of living as a gay man in the past. This said, since during the character’s lifespan - in the comics, the '80s TV show, the full length feature film and the 2002 animated remake - Adam never shows any interest in anyone romantically whatsoever, we could also deduce that he’s entirely asexual.
'90s and Beyond
1992 – 1997: Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus, Sailor Moon
Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus are a lesbian couple, but the relationship was censored in the first English dub and they were introduced to the audience as "cousins." If masking their relationship as cousins and showing their intense feelings for each other in this way wasn't weird enough, the American version cut an entire season of the show because they couldn't figure out a way to censor the Sailor Scouts who changed gender when they transformed.
1997 – present: Big Gay Al, Mr./Mrs. Garrison, Mr. Slave, South Park
South Park has always simultaneously mocked and celebrated TV’s urge to be representative – best exemplified by Token, the token black character. So it's no surprise that the show boasted an array of queer characters – from the openly gay (Big Gay Al), to the closeted gay turned openly gay turned trans (Mr./Ms. Garrison), to the openly gay and openly into S&M (Mr Slave).
1998 – 2005: HIM, The Powerpuff Girls
Long before Voldemort appeared in print, The Powerpuff Girls featured a villain so terrifying that his name could not be uttered. "The only safe way to refer to this king of darkness is...HIM." And what did this masculinely-named demon look like? He wore thigh high heeled boots, a jacket trimmed with pink faux fur and was never seen minus his blusher. Was making the scariest villain of the show a cross-dresser just plain old transphobia? Or just part of the show's ultra camp aesthetic, intended with a generous helping of tongue-in-cheek? Answers on a postcard, please.
1999 – present: SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star, SpongeBob SquarePants
In 2012, Ukraine’s National Expert Commission for Protecting Public Morality advised banning SpongeBob SquarePants on the grounds of its “promotion of homosexuality.” The evidence for this? That SpongeBob continuously holds hands with his best friend, pink starfish Patrick, and that he receives boating lessons from a teacher named “Mrs. Puff."
Creator Stephen Hillenburg, however, has always staunchly maintained that SpongeBob is “somewhat asexual."
2000 – present
2000: Jane Lane and Alison, Daria
In the telemovie spin-off of the MTV show, Jane Lane's summer at an artist's colony leads to an inevitable first friendship with a rocking bi lady. Alison's got a crop top, tattoos and is so hip it hurts – when she makes a pass at Jane and gets knocked back, she retorts "I never hit on straight chicks," causing Jane to fall into a self-doubt spiral.
Does being a lady who's into visual arts 'n' bohemia mean she has to hop into bed with women? While she decides that, um, no it doesn't, it set the internet (which had already been spinning saucy Daria and Jane fanfiction for years) rumor mill ablaze.
Though hey, you’ve got to admit – the girl digs boobs. At least the artificial, cosmetic surgery variety.
2002: Waylon Smithers, The Simpsons
Although Smithers is only due to come out in the upcoming series of The Simpsons, his sexuality has long been the show’s worst kept secret. In 2002 episode “Jaws Wired Shut," he rides a float called “Stayin’ in the Closet!” during Springfield’s annual gay pride parade.
2005: Patty Bouvier, The Simpsons
While Smithers was just hinting at forbidden love for Burns in muttered asides, Marge's sister Patty was flying the rainbow flag. In "There's Something About Marrying," Patty tells Marge "I'm gay. You're not disappointed, are you?" Marge titters nervously. "Noooo! Nooooo! Just...surprised." "Yeah, Marge. Big surprise! Here's another bomb: I like beer," quips Homer. Well, quite.
2010 – present: BMO, Adventure Time
Is there a more progressive show on-air, cartoon or non-cartoon when it comes to gender and sexuality? We think not. Beemo the talking video console is genderless and the other characters seem totally cool and supportive about this, referring to BMO using all three (male, female and neutral) pronouns at different times.
In 2014, Olivia Olson confirmed the rumors at a book signing that yes, the weird tension between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen is because they're ex-girlfriends.
In the episode "Princess Potluck," despite Jake identifying as male, he wears make up to a party, explaining the reasoning as "My make up looks pretty. I look pretty!"
2012 – 2014: Korra, The Legend of Korra
Korra shared moments of romance throughout the show with her friend Asami and the final episode of the show ended on the pair holding hands, with one of the co-creators confirming via tumblr that their relationship wasn't platonic.
2013: Stevonni, Steven Universe
In episode "Alone Together," Steven and his pal Connie accidentally fuse into Stevonnie, a character who opts for neutral they/them pronouns (rather than he/she) and who is shown to attract both males and females.
2014: Couple in restaurant, Clarence
The episode "Neighbourhood Grill" shows two men meeting for a blind date. Posed to be Cartoon Network's first gay kiss, the scene originally depicted the men greeting each other with a kiss on the mouth, but then, to our chagrin, was later changed to show them kissing each other on the cheek. Better to get that first kiss over and done with so you can focus on entrees, right?
2014 – present: Herb Kazzaz, BoJack Horseman
Like an inverse of Adventure Time's utopian queer universe, homosexuality in BoJack Horseman is portrayed with brutal realism, highlighting the kind of problems queer people experience on a daily basis. BoJack's mentor Herb Kazzaz is blackballed by the TV network they both work for due to his homosexuality, and loses his job in the process.
And now it's over to you. Do characters coming out of the closet act as a deathblow for the dying world of bigotry, conservatism and suspiciously 100% hetero character casts? Or is confirming the sexuality of a character who was clearly gay all along just a cheap bid for PR under the auspices of being LGBT friendly? Let us know your thoughts, rants and ones we missed below.