Here's how a lesbian Disney princess could be great for kids

Senior Editor
Yahoo Lifestyle

Way back in 2013, when Frozen’s “Let It Go” was the song on practically ever 3- to 8-year-old’s lips, a controversial theory emerged: that the story of Elsa — the shunned and self-flagellating princess of Arendelle, who was forced to hide the icy powers from everyone in town — was actually the story of a closeted lesbian princess.

After all, Elsa’s father warns her early on, “Conceal, don’t feel.” By the time Elsa — who is single with a secret — sings “Let it Go” as an outcast rebel, she belts out, “No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free.” That was enough for the song to be embraced as a gay anthem (complete with club remix).

Although there were plenty of horrific outcries over the suggestion that Elsa could possibly play for the other team — namely, from religious extremists who called the movie’s perceived subtext to be “evil” and “a way to normalize and promote the gay agenda” — plenty of queer folks embraced the theory. Idina Menzel (the voice of Elsa) gave approval to the possibility of Elsa’s gayness, and eventually, a supportive hashtag emerged: #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, along with petitions with the same goal and even an actual Twitter page of the same name.

Now, with the much-anticipated release of the movie’s sequel, Frozen 2, coming next year, the sapphic discourse is back. The movie’s writer and co-director, Jennifer Lee, gave friendly-if-vague fuel to the fire when she spoke with HuffPost earlier this week.

“I love everything people are saying [and] people are thinking about with our film ― that it’s creating dialogue, that Elsa is this wonderful character that speaks to so many people,” said Lee, in a discussion pegged to the release of her A Wrinkle in Time. “It means the world to us that we’re part of these conversations.”

She added, “Where we’re going with it, we have tons of conversations about it, and we’re really conscientious about these things. For me … Elsa’s every day telling me where she needs to go, and she’ll continue to tell us. I always write from character-out, and where Elsa is and what Elsa’s doing in her life, she’s telling me every day. We’ll see where we go.”

The decision to make Elsa a lesbian would certainly be a radical one — especially considering that a character touted as gay by filmmakers in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast was largely seen as a disappointing blip. It would be very welcome news to a wide swath of the population — gay and lesbian people of all ages who never see themselves reflected in the realm of Disney romance narratives.

There was plenty of renewed excitement about the prospect in the Twitterverse:

At the Family Equality Council, a national nonprofit supportive community for LGBTQ families, chief program officer Amanda Hopping-Winn was thrilled by the possibility. “I’m overjoyed that Disney is considering walking down this path — which shouldn’t be a controversial one, but is,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I think the hashtag really speaks to this response from the [LGBTQ] community that wants to be seen and wants to be heard, and wants to see media value all types of love and all types of families.”

Hopping-Winn, a mom who has two young children with her partner, notes that they read a lot to their kids, but that “on our bookshelf of 150 to 200 books, we have maybe 10 to 15 that have families that are similar to ours. We just don’t see ourselves represented in mainstream media in a consistent way.” Although not seeing yourself can imply reason for shame, seeing yourself, she says, “is empowering and validating, and lifts up our voices and show[s] that not only are we here but that we are worthy of being normalized.”

According to the latest annual media report card from GLAAD Studio Responsibility Index, which tracks the representation of LGBTQ characters, people, and storylines in film, Disney was given a rate of “failing,” with the explanation, “Walt Disney Studios has the weakest historical record when it comes to LGBTQ-inclusive films of all the major studios tracked in this report.”

It further noted, “In 2016, Walt Disney Studios released 13 films, one of which [Zootopia] included appearances by LGBTQ people, amounting to 8%.” That film, however, did not pass GLAAD’s Vito Russo Test (named for the celebrated film historian behind The Celluloid Closet), which says that a film must contain an identifiably LGBT character, that the character not be solely identified by his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, and that the character must tie into the plot in such a significant way that his or her removal would be problematic.

“Historically, media representation of LGBT people has been very negative,” Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project and a social worker with more than 40 years of experience working with LGBT young people, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “This would help normalize LGBT identities for families and their children.”

Seeing oneself represented in mainstream media, Ryan says, is powerful and vital for everyone. “It tells LGBT people that we’re worthy of love and respect,” she says. “And it can prevent bullying, as it normalizes being different and being a gay person. It builds self-esteem and undermines what bullies are able to do. … This would be a really important step: Disney is a cultural icon, and Elsa is so widely loved.”

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