Over the last decade, Disney has taken cautionary baby steps towards LGBTQ inclusion and representation. Until recently, however, most of these characters either just queer coded or their gayness and story are so small it was easily forgettable. The recent releases of Jungle Cruise and Cruella
Have you ever heard the term before Queer Coding/baiting? It’s when a character is designed to appeal to the LGBTQ community without being explicitly queer. Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid is an excellent example of this. The character of Ursula is based upon the 1970’s drag queen Divine. Other queer coded characters in Disney’s pantheon are Jafar from Aladdin, underworld god Hades from Hercules, Governor Ratcliff from Pocahontas, and Captain Hook from Peter Pan.
What do they all have in common? They’re all villains, and that’s a problem. These characters break with heteronormative expectations. Often these characters frighten easily, wear flamboyant clothes, or have feminine mannerisms. They exist outside of the norm and most times are made fun of for it.
In recent movie history, the live-action Beauty and the Beast featured an “out” LeFou who was obviously enamored with Gaston. Here they’ve softened him and made his character into more than just a bumbling bafoon. This version of the character has compassion and is won over by the good side rather than following Gaston blindly. In the end scene, LeFou can be seen dancing the waltz with another man as the camera quickly pans over the cast. It’s something, it’s more than we had before, but is it enough?
Blink and You’ll Miss It
Besides LeFou’s dance shot, two lesbians stand in the background of a scene from Toy Story 4, Officer Specter from Onward briefly mentions her wife, there’s a super short shot of two women kissing at the end of Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.
In 2016’s Zootopia, Judy Hopps finds herself living next to a pair of male Oryx who are listed in the credits as Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson. A hyphenated married name perhaps? Additionally, in Frozen the sauna owner Oaken briefly implies that he has a husband. Did you blink, did you miss it, did you have any idea at all?
Hope For The Future
All this aside there is hope for the future even if there is no such thing as “Disney’s first gay character.” The one character I know for sure, without a doubt, that’s queer is Luz from the Disney Channel’s Owl House. The entire show is about her and the relationships she forms when she’s permanently(?) stuck in a different dimension. We watch and follow her journey as she begins to fall for another girl at school. There’s no queer coding, queer baiting, just queerness for Luz and Amity and it’ gives us hope that with the great reception Owl House has been getting, that more entertainment produced by Disney in the future will be as open and well represented as those two animated girls are.
There may be no “official” Disney’s first gay character, but they are there and creeping closer and closer to the front of the stage. We’re not just here for it. We’re queer for it!!!