Why I Think the LGBT Storylines on GLEE Are Important

As with any television show, people tend to love or hate it in a general sense and then in a meta sense when they delve in subtle plot points. This is particularly true when a show “delves” into issues that are typically stereotyped, downplayed or even dropped – storylines about LGBT characters, but its true of others as well — we would cringe if “Mike and Molly” did a very special episode about Carl experiencing racism.  (Not having cable, I have no point of reference to the plethora of teen/tween shows so CBS comedy lineup is the best I can do analogies.)

GLEE has two prominent LGBT storylines: Kurt’s experiences as a gay young man, including his family relationships and his sexual experiences. The other is Santana’s process of coming out as a lesbian, moored to the simply accepted reality that Brittany is a bisexual young woman.

A few things I like about these storylines:

The outing of Dave Karofsky and his subsequent struggle to accept his identify and even his suicide attempt were handled dramatically, but I think authentically. Rather than have Kurt as the composite gay character who lives out all of the LGBT storylines, they incorporated Dave.  Yes, Kurt befriending his former bully seems a stretch but it does show his personal growth and capacity to reflect the unquestioning love & support of his father, Burt.

Santana’s coming out to her abuela was also a nice way to mirror Kurt’s relationship with his dad. Not nice in the sense of her reaction, but another dimension of reality. Santana referenced that her parents are fine with her revelation, but clearly the loss of her grandmother’s acceptance is deeply painful. I can’t assume her family knew about her sexual choice prior to this disclosure, but the hypocrisy of accepting Santana when she was having sex with lots of boys and being a pretty vicious person then turning her back on her when she begins to reconcile all of this and have a relationship with Brittany is that element of culture we all experience. “Girls will be girls” until “girls will love girls?”

Nonetheless, Santana clearly mourns the loss of her grandmother  as she stated in a recent episode but she’s also having what seems a happier life now that she’s outed herself.

There’s a lot of objection to the use of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” which is not about coming out. But its a show choir show that needs to use popular music to stay true to its larger themes. It was a fun, cute segment about her friends coming to her defense when she encountered rejection from another student.  If we are going to review the egregious musical choices, I would point only to the predictable use of The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” immediately turning Rachel into a crusher on Will Shuester. Really? The only thing I liked about those moments is that they shortened the hateful (to me) meme of a student/teacher relationship. Until Puck took up with … well, that’s another post.

The infusion of Rachel’s Dads was also a nice touch. It was exactly what you would expect and still delightful to see the “dinner theater” connections among the trio, but the scene where the dads are discussing their deep concern for Rachel’s decision making was great – they were parents, gender aside. Parents who clearly love their daughter and want her to be happy. I have my own issues with this wedding storyline, but it has nothing to do with their sexual orientation.

I just did a quick count of all of the LGBT identified characters – Kurt, Santana, Brittany, Dave, Blaine, Sebastian, the Berry dads — EIGHT characters in one show. That’s unprecedented for a mainstream 8 PM network television show. And those who have been with us for other storylines are “more than gay” – Kurt worrying about his future, Santana’s general bad attitude and various schemes, Dave’s struggles to “fit in” in a larger sense – he rejected GLEE after the Thriller episode, Blaine being the new very talented guy in the GLEE club, Sebastian just being a general jerk. Yes, the dads are somewhat one dimensional but they’ve only been on the show for a total of 30 minutes or so over three episodes so what would we expect?

Its not perfectly done, but if nothing else GLEE gave us the single best father-son relationship in the history of television and has invested a lot of time into that relationship.  Burt Hummel raised the bar on parenting in many senses and the scene where he confronted Finn Hudson, a boy he was beginning to embrace as his own family, over a homophobic comment was one of the best moments in television history. The scene in which he discussed sex with Kurt  was another masterpiece of awkward “the talk” moments and deep abiding love that actually reflected how the sexual decisions of  a young gay man differ from a heterosexual young man.

I think if every young person who says “That’s so gay” or uses “fag” as a slur were to be confronted by an informed adult in that manner – wow. And we can only hope that as the current generation grow into parenthood there will be conversations along these lines.




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