The co-authors of children's books featuring LGBTQ+ characters are calling for Hollywood to be more inclusive.
Adam Reynolds and Chaz Harris, who founded New Zealand based publishing company Promised Land, have released two LGBTQ+ themed fairy tales, Promised Land and Maiden Voyage, and are working on a third.
This week, they launched an online campaign, #HearUsShowUs, urging better inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters across children's media. They believe Hollywood fails to provide the kind of representation that LGBTQ+ kids and their peers need.
"We need more positive stories with LGBTQ+ characters centred in the narratives — especially in family entertainment," Reynolds says. "We believe the continuing loss of queer kids to suicide is a result of this lack of LGBTQ+ education and visibility, and it's causing kids to develop unaccepting attitudes towards our community. It's literally killing us — we have to change that message."
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They hope to one day take their own books to the big screen but say in the meantime, Hollywood needs to end ambiguous LGBTQ+ representation and finally "hear us and show us" queer characters in family entertainment.
"We've seen several films recently praised for token inclusion only to discover it's ambiguous representation and never explicitly shown or stated," Harris says. "That's why we need characters like us centred in stories and for more LGBTQ+ creators to be telling them."
#HearUsShowUs was launched on the same day that the makers of Sesame Street released a statement claiming that popular characters Bert and Ernie cannot by gay because they are puppets. It followed comments by writer Mark Saltzman that he wrote the two characters as a gay couple and ignores the fact that puppets like Miss Piggy and Kermit are romantically involved and that others, such as the Count and Oscar the Grouch, have wives and girlfriends.
Harris says the act of denying Bert and Ernie's sexuality is bad enough, but to feel the need to issue a "no, they're not" statement feeds prejudice.
"They are creating shame and making it seem like it's inappropriate for kids to know about LGBTQ+ and see characters who are," he says. "We want to normalise LGBTQ+ characters for young people and for kids to see that these people exist whether that be a family member, peers at school or in books and films."
Since starting Promised Land in 2017, Harris and Reynolds have received much supportive feedback including from Star Trek's George Takei and British stage and screen star Sir Ian McKellen. Harris acknowledges there have been detractors who say showing children LGBTQ+ characters will influence their own choices.
"But I've been exposed to heterosexual media my whole life and I'm still gay," he quips. "These are just the kind of comments you have to deal with. We are just trying to create a more accepting world."