Some are overt, some are more subtle, but for this list, I want to focus on the LGBT characters in cartoons that were either downright offensive in their depictions, or that caused controversy at the time when it was revealed they were LGBT.
1. Silver Spooner – Dexter’s Laboratory.
In one of the mini stories featured in Dexter’s lab, the Justice Friends are celebrating a birthday party and the main villain and his side-kick The Silver Spooner do their best to disrupt proceedings. The episode was banned in the UK, The US and Canada for it’s offensive portrayal of a gay character. The Silver Spooner is depicted as a stereotypical homosexual male, with simpering mannerisms, and way of talking.
2. The Buffalo Gals – Cow & Chicken.
The segment featuring the Buffalo Gals was only ever broadcast once after it was heavily condemned for it’s depiction of lesbians. The gals are described as a motorcycle gang who randomly break into people’s homes and chew on their carpets. They are drawn as all wearing jeans, with vest tops and short cropped hair and wearing Buffalo heads. The stereotype of the butch lesbian did not go down well with viewers.
3. Him – The Powerpuff Girls.
One of the girl’s enemies, Him, is depicted as a red devil in a tutu and thigh high black boots covered in makeup. He goes from a high voiced smooth talker to a violent raging psychopath in the blink of an eye. The character has always been seen as controversial due to the obvious comparisons with drag queens or transgender individuals.
4. John & Friends – The Simpsons.
In the episode Homer’s Phobia, the character of John is introduced. He brings out the worst in Homer’s prejudices and is seen to influence Bart to become more flamboyant, but the episode takes a more controversial twist when John takes Bart and Homer to a gay steel mill. The men there are what one would call obviously gay, and the public, while praising the stance against homophobia the episode took, felt uncomfortable with the depiction of the mill workers and the cliched way they were represented.
5. Herbert Garrison/Big Gay Al/Mr Slave – South Park.
While South Park has never exactly been one to shy away from the controversial and offensive, the characters of Mr Garrison, Big Gay Al and Mr Slave use all the worst types of gay depictions possible. From Mr Garrison teaching pre-schoolers to put on a condom with his mouth, then transitioning to female, and back again, to Mr Slave having a whore-off contest with Paris Hilton eventually winning by forcefully inserting Ms Hilton up his ass. But, South Park being South Park, the characters are more controversial, than offensive, because the whole show is offensive to literally everyone.
Hold on a moment I hear you say, Frozen caused controversy? That whimsical children’s musical comedy about an ice princess. Well yes it did, by a moment that lasted less than 5 seconds. When Anna is looking for winter clothing and Kristoff is looking for supplies they go into Oaken’s shop and Sauna, where they are greeted by the loveable and friendly man himself. The moment that caused the parents to explode was when Oaken offered to throw in a trip to the sauna, where he greets his family already in there with the friendly “ooo hoo, Hi family” In the sauna is a similar aged man to Oaken and 4 younger looking children. Many people saw this as a subtle nod to the fact that Oaken was in a gay relationship and the parent groups were livid.
7. Princess Bubblegum & Marceline – Adventure time.
In 2014, although it was confirmed the two had dated, which explains the sometimes strained relationship between the two, the voice actress had to quickly retract her statements, because Adventure Time is broadcast in countries where same-sex relationships are illegal. The storyline is significantly played down and in some cases, completely erased in those countries. Even in America, it isn’t obvious that the two had a romantic history with each other. Some fans feel that by not making the relationship obvious, it denied the pairing of them and made lesbianism in the series next to invisible.
In 2005 Marge’s sister Patty came out as a lesbian and by the end of the episode was married to a woman. The controversy sprung from the shows depiction of gay marriage, which was still a boiling pot of controversy at the time, and many groups came out against the storyline of gay marriage, rather than the character herself and the episode even had a parental advisory warning at the start. Due to the initial backlash, the writers of the show had to state that they didn’t take any position on any issues, they just examined them from all sides.
9. Ruby & Sapphire/Garnet – Steven Universe.
While the characters are essentially genderless (they are alien humanoid gemstones) they choose to present as female, and are frequently fused together as Garnet, which shows their strong love and bond toward each other, even in the series Garnet is described as “Love” indicating that the two presenting as female characters are in a relationship and the character of Garnet is shown as being stronger when made up of Ruby & Sapphire, than when the two are separated. The show presents strong LGBT themes, and has faced much criticism for doing so.
10. Mitch Downe – Paranorman.
Throughout the film the main character’s sister is smitten with the hunky jock and spends most of it trying to win his affections, until right at the end the character states “You’re going to love my boyfriend, he’s like a total chickflick nut” thus making Mitch the first openly gay character in a mainstream animated feature. Naturally this caused some controversy from the parents groups who panicked that children would ask questions about why the man had a boyfriend… sigh.