It seems that Disney still has mixed feelings about gay people.
It's not surprising considering Walt Disney's history. From being founded by a man who, at the very least, reflected his generation's prejudiced attitudes against women, Jews, and homosexuals to allegedly firing their non-heterosexual stars and filling a vault with twentieth century racist cartoons, Disney has a lot of problematic history to atone for before it can be deemed "progressive."
At least all Disney did this week was announce that its queer teen romance TV series, Love, Victor, has been moved from Disney+ to Hulu (also DIsney-owned) after it was deemed not "family-friendly" enough for the original platform. Ricky Strauss, head of content and marketing at Disney+, said in a press release, "All of us at Disney+ are incredibly proud of Love, Victor and know the series will be a perfect addition to Hulu's strong slate of young adult programming." But as Variety reported, "Sources also note that Disney felt many issues explored on the show, including alcohol use and sexual exploration, would not fit in with the family-friendly content on Disney Plus."
Love, Victor is a spinoff series from the 2018 film Love, Simon, which was lauded as the first major Hollywood studio film to feature a gay teenage romance. The PG-13 film doesn't take too many risks, and was mostly rated for its language (including homophobic slurs) and some discussion of sexual acts (like "how slippery everything gets"), plus an award-winning kiss between a same-sex couple. By all accounts, Love, Victor is slated to be the same. According to the synopsis, the series introduces a new star on a "journey of self-discovery, facing challenges at home, adjusting to a new city, and struggling with his sexual orientation."
As netizens soon pointed out, the show's so-called "adult themes"—such as alcohol use and sexual exploration—proliferate on Disney+ in movies and TV shows with the same rating. The teen movie 10 Things I Hate About You, for instance, features heavy underage drinking and gaudy sex jokes. The Mandalorian depicts explicit violence. Also, The Simpsons airs on Disney+, despite never having been deemed "family-friendly" on account of being The Simpsons.
The only difference is that those productions don't feature a queer protagonist.
Amidst Twitter backlash against Disney's inconsistent ideas about what constitutes "family-friendly" content, Becky Albertalli, the author of the book on which Love, Simon is based, defended the corporation. "There's been speculation as for the cause of the platform switch. For what it's worth, it's not based on the show featuring a gay teen love story," she posted. "Disney knew what it was when they got it. There are mature themes such as teen drinking, etc. that led to the switch."
She added, "That said, I completely get why many of us are wary of phrases like 'mature content' and 'adult themes.' They're so often used as homophobic dog whistles, and these concerns are so valid."
While media representation of LGBTQIA+ characters has slowly been expanding in recent years, that progress has come in the form of sidekicks and background characters. Disney-Pixar animation is being lauded for including its first openly gay character in Onward, a feature about two teenage brothers voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. Lena Waithe will voice Officer Specter, a lesbian character who will...also be in the movie for probably a few scenes. Meanwhile, on TV there are still few series that include queer characters, let alone one whose star is grappling with his non-heterosexuality.
As Quartz's Adam Epstein wrote, "So perhaps what Disney really means by 'family-friendly' is not content that simply resonates with families, but rather content that asks nothing of them, content that will not turn away its most narrow-minded viewers…" Sadly, as "the world's most dominant purveyor of culture," Disney is one of the last corporations willing to take a major step forward, as they've shown that inclusivity and diversity are afterthoughts to the bottom line.