Before we can even dive into the rise of LGBTQ+ characters in comics and pop-culture, we need to understand what LGBTQ+ means. LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer.
While we have defined this into the abbreviation of LGBTQ, LGBTQ+ is a term often used by people to refer to all the communities included in the LGBTTTQQIAA. Given below is the complete list of communities included in LGBTQ+:
To describe or refer to the LGBTQ+ community, terms such as ‘Rainbow community’ and ‘Queer Community’ is also acceptable. LGBTQ is the most commonly used term as it is more user-friendly and includes the first initial of the most familiar communities.
Comic Books have served the basic purpose of delivering a message or point to the people of the lesser path followed. The term “Mainstream Comics” is still a bit humorous to me since studies show that only 3% of people in the United States even read comic books on a weekly basis. For those of us who are a part of the 3% we know how awesome these tiny little windows into other worlds can be! Comics are a medium that attracts anyone looking for a great story, regardless of their age, community, sex, or race. These epic stories teach us that we can be whoever we want to be and it is up to us to make the difference we want to see in this world.
Meanwhile back on earth, LGBTQ+ stories are just now starting to be accepted in “Mainstream Comics” (there is that phrase again). For a while now queer content has been marginalized and stories featuring such characters have been rarely told in the U.S., that is up until the last two decades.
Since the beginning of mainstream U.S. comic books, there existed strict rules against portraying LGBTQ+ characters. Comics Code Authority was the biggest organization enforcing such rules where LGBTQ characters could not be portrayed in any books or series. The codes were not given by any government censorship, but some made-up private organizations and publishers seemed to be okay with not portraying any LGBTQ+ characters whatsoever.
There were only a few gay heroes/characters who existed in stories and comic books before the 80s and these printings were not available in most known comic book shops. This was considered real “taboo” stuff yo! I’m talking back alley deals and midnight freeway meet ups. Okay… maybe not that extreme but for reals if you wanted any of this material you would have to ask around at an adult bookstore, or you might find one of these books from an indie zine-fest or backyard makeshift comic-convention.
One of the first openly gay characters to appear in comics was a male character by the name of Andy Lippincott from a comic strip called “Doonesbury.” In a March 1976 issue of the comic strip, Lippincott meets fellow student Joanie Caucas, a 30-something feminist who immediately grows smitten with him. The two chat about legal cases and eventually meet for a dinner during which Joanie is flirtatious and Andy apprehensive. A few weeks later, Andy comes clean and tells Joanie that he is gay. The comic strip was well received at the time and to the surprise of some, there was not a lot of pushback from the mass majority.
Some people might ask why in the world does LGBTQ+ representation matter so much?
My name is Gabe but right now, I’m going to be Frank with you… The inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters in comic books and pop-culture is one of great importance! Let me break it down like this for you. Think for a moment about growing up and feeling all alone or out of place. You look to comics and television for a fantastic escape. You find worlds filled with wonder, awe and excitement, where dreams come true and evil is vanquished on a daily basis. Yet… you soon find out that even in this marvelous world of heroes and villains and magic, someone like you still doesn’t exist. Someone who looks, thinks, struggles, or has romantic feelings like you is just… simply… not there. That is a feeling I wouldn’t wish upon my greatest enemy.
Historically speaking, mainstream comics have not represented LGBTQ+ superheroes respectfully or accurately for quite some time. Two of the biggest publishers in comics, Marvel and DC, have been criticized for their lack of diversity, in my opinion none more so than transgender characters. Although there have been stories in which superheroes or other characters have had their sex altered by alien technology or the classic body switching magic trope, I refuse to believe that this is the sort of representation that the trans community is looking for.
Batman stories for example are considered to be psychological thrillers and have attracted many gay readers who empathize with a broken man who is constantly struggling to cope with the purpose of his own existence. On a side note, Batman has also been an interesting topic to gay audiences and in the fan-fiction genre where some like to imagine Batman’s relationship with Robin is more than platonic.
Anyhow, returning to my original point, even though LGBTQ+ readers might be able to empathize or relate to Batman and his personal struggles, as it stands now, Bruce Wayne isn’t LGBTQ+. So wouldn’t it be nice to see a superhero struggle with the same things you are struggling with day to day? Where are these queer superheroes?
During the 1980s tenure of Jim Shooter, Marvel comics had the policy of ‘No Gays in the Marvel Universe’. Wow… big words, but so much has changed over the years. The X-Men Comics (although not a strictly queer comic book series) have been praised in representing the LGBTQ+ people. In fact the first major gay character created by Marvel comics was a mutant by the name of Northstar.
John Byrne was the creator of Northstar and stated that the character was always meant to be gay since his inception in 1979. Northstar wasn’t officially out as a gay character until 1992. Another X-Men by the name of Iceman was introduced as homosexual in 2015. I would also like to point out that Deadpool has been officially labeled as pansexual, but what gets Deadpool’s heart pumping deserves its own article!
As time goes on we are seeing more and more representation of the LGBTQ+ community in our beautiful world of comics. America is also catching up to the other countries that have been crushing the representation game for years, from Europe’s The Adventures of Tintin to Japan’s Yaoi and yuri culture that have taken the entire world by storm!
The truth is we still have a long way to go before any person young or adult can walk into a bookstore and ask “Where is the hero who represents me?” without getting the head tilt of confusion, but this article is not meant to discourage or dampen but instead lift up and inspire! Beautiful characters that represent our fellow human beings are being created everyday and I encourage you to do your part and seek out these characters and spread the word.
Because you never know what someone else is going through behind the scenes and I believe everyone has the right to dive into these worlds of magic and wonder and look up to characters that represent them and who they are as human being! Keep the love alive!
Below is a quick list of characters that I believe promote good representation of LGBTQ+ themes.
For a look at YA graphic novels that positively show people in the LGBTQ+ community, check out Markie Rustad's article here!