‘Give Elsa a Girlfriend’ Campaign Highlights Absence of Animated LGBT Heroes

Major animated films have traditionally shied away from featuring openly LGBT characters.
(Photo: YouTube)
May 2, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Disney’s Frozen won over audiences both young and old thanks to its catchy tunes and message of female empowerment. But with plans for a sequel in 2018, some fans of the animated hit are asking Disney to consider making the next installment more LGBT friendly.

The hashtag #GiveElsaAGirlfriend started circulating on Twitter over the weekend, encouraging Disney writers and executives to present their first lesbian female princess in Frozen 2 through beloved heroine Queen Elsa.

“Seeing a lesbian princess [would] open so many doors for young gay girls who aren’t really sure about who they are,” Alexis Isabel Moncada, the 17-year-old high school student who started the hashtag on Saturday, wrote in an email to TakePart.

“I know growing up you get all of these feelings that you don’t quite understand, and so many people go through a sad journey of self discovery with their sexuality, and this [would be] a stepping stone to make that journey feel less alone,” Moncada wrote.

The request for Disney to feature a lesbian princess coincides with the release of GLAAD’s fourth annual Studio Responsibility Index, which catalogs LGBT representation in films released from the top seven major studios. Along with Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios did not feature a single LGBT character in its 2015 film slate. Both studios received a failing grade—as did Warner Bros. for its stereotypical portrayals of LGBT characters—in GLAAD’s report.

LGBT representation in film has stagnated as a whole across major studios, according to the report. Out of 126 films released in 2015, only 17.5 percent featured LGBT characters. That figure is identical to last year’s analysis of major films released in 2014.

While Disney certainly isn’t alone in its dearth of LGBT characters, GLAAD’s report notes that of the seven studios tracked over the past four years, the Mouse House has the weakest history of LGBT inclusion in its films. Walt Disney Studios did not respond to TakePart’s request for comment.

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It’s worth mentioning that GLAAD also considers Disney one of the most widely recognized studio names, and with that popularity comes increased scrutiny. GLAAD officials pointed to Disney’s Star Wars franchise as the “most obvious place where Disney could include LGBT characters.”

“Films that exist in worlds of their maker’s own creation have the opportunity to create unique societies beyond the biases that exist in our world,” Megan Townsend, a strategist for GLAAD, wrote in an email to TakePart. That includes animated films in which the heroine, such as Elsa, can turn the town square into a skating rink with a tap of her foot.

“We would love to see a popular and loved princess be an icon for our community,” Moncada wrote. “Elsa would be an excellent fit, as she’s already established this sense of ‘be who you are without apology,’ which is what the LGBT community truly stands for.” Moncada said pairing Elsa with a female love interest also makes sense for the sequel, because she did not have a romantic story line in the first film. Many have already speculated that Elsa is gay and that the anthem “Let It Go” is something of a coming-out story.

Gay characters in animated family films are a rare find, and their sexuality is often open to interpretation. Some people believe Frozen hinted that one character, Oaken, might be gay. Oaken, who appears briefly in the film as a shop owner, seems to be married to a man, as he points to his family of an adult man and four children in another room. DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 featured a quick comment from hulking Viking Gobber about the real reason he didn’t get married. Laika Studio’s 2012 stop-motion zombie comedy ParaNorman is considered the first major animated film to feature an openly gay character, which garnered it both praise and censure. Some critics feared children wouldn’t be able to comprehend a gay relationship or that it was inappropriate.

The “Give Elsa a Girlfriend” campaign has stirred similar concerns about whether LGBT relationships are suitable for young audiences.

Townsend argues that not only are children ready to see same-sex relationships, but these story lines can prove valuable.

“Representations of LGBT characters in ‘all ages’ programming is incredibly important,” Townsend wrote. “These portrayals both help real LGBT youth to recognize they aren’t alone and their identity is valid, and also foster understanding and acceptance in peer groups, creating a safer environment for LGBT young people.”

Moncada added that children can watch straight couples in animated films, so they should also be able to see same-sex romantic story lines. The teen added that those who worry a gay romance will negatively impact their children should perhaps consider Disney’s 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast.