Thomas Mac, meet Andi Mack!
So, tonight something big is happening. Life changing. World altering. And you won’t see it on the news, or read about in the paper. Tonight, a kids channel in the UK is airing a coming out storyline about a 13-year-old gay boy (Andi Mack, 5pm, Disney Channel).
I can’t even imagine how differently my life could have gone if there were similarly aged teens on kids TV for me growing up. Let me paint you a picture: at 13, the most high profile gay was Stephen Gately from Boyzone – who’d been forced out of the closet by those so-called papers I referenced earlier. He was 23 – the age I was when I came out. Maybe if The Disney Channel, or CBBC, or Nickelodeon had chosen to feature storylines with gay characters, I could have seen some positive representation and felt supported in those formative years. And let’s talk about Nickelodeon for a moment, even as late as 2010, they weren’t just blind to LGBT characters, they were actively erasing them from their existing programmes. Thanks to my… overenthusiastic devotion to the life and career of Amanda Bynes, I knew front-to-back all the storylines from her primetime network sitcom, What I Like About You. And when it aired over here in the UK on Nickelodeon, any and all references to even just the word Gay were censored for broadcast on the kids channel. To say I was a little perturbed was an understatement. The censorship got so bad towards the later seasons that I started a letter writing campaign for another channel to broadcast What I Like About You, and through sheer coincidence or due to my efforts, Nickelodeon never actually aired the fourth season – which, as it just so happened, featured Amanda’s character’s dad coming out as gay and marrying his partner. Imagine how differently even just those few years between leaving high school and entering the adult world could have been, if a kids channel in the UK had chosen to acknowledge LGBT people exist!
Whatever the state of the world right now, I’m just glad that right here at this moment in time my nephews will grow up with TV that not only acknowledges the presence of a wide spectrum of sexualities and genders, but actually broadcasts storylines with teenagers representing those sexualities and genders.