6:05 am EDT, May 24, 2016

#GiveElsaAGirlfriend and #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend are symptomatic of Disney’s major LGBT problem (opinion)

After the success of the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend hashtag, fans are calling for Marvel and Disney to Give Captain America a boyfriend.

Whether you believe Frozen‘s Elsa and Captain America’s Steve Rogers are the best options for mainstream LGBT representation or not, one thing is clear: Fandom is fed up with Disney’s LGBT erasure.

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Just over a month ago, GLAAD came out with a damning report, which revealed that Disney — including its Marvel and Lucasfilm subsidiaries — had exactly zero LGBT characters in their 2015 movies. In what is supposedly an enlightened age this is, in no uncertain terms, completely unacceptable.

LGBTQ+ people exist all around us, all the time; they have kids and fall in love and work hard at their jobs, and of course Hollywood needs to start being more inclusive of this segment of the population. I’m not even sure why this is up for debate at all.

Related: Is Star Wars setting up Poe Dameron as its first queer protagonist?

As Disney currently holds the monopoly on mainstream heroes and heroines, the behemoth company needs to lead the charge against LGBT erasure, not uphold it. This massive company is shovelling in millions of dollars daily — if anyone can take a stand, it’s them. So why haven’t they?

While ‘token’ gay characters certainly exist as part of ensemble casts (just not Disney’s), the idea of a lead character in a franchise film being LGBT seems absurd to some people, who somehow confuse “liberal propaganda” with “we’re literally just asking for one character to represent the entire LGBT community.” Likely, Disney’s hesitance to commit to LGBT representation is some misguided worry that it would somehow damage their family-oriented brand (and, let’s be real, their ability to make absurd amounts of money) — but, ironically, it is exactly the LGBT families facing horrific discrimination every day who need Disney’s support the most.

But no more erasure, if fandom has anything to say about it!

We’ve covered the rise of the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend movement, and now comes her other half (irony intentional), #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend, the Twitter hashtag that took over social media this week.

The hashtag was started by a student named Jess Salerno, who explained to Metro UK why she believes Captain America is the right character to spearhead this movement:

“I feel like it sucks that people in the LGBT community don’t get the representation that they deserve and it would be so amazing for something like Captain America or Marvel to be able to portray that. and maybe just let people know that it’s okay to be who you are. you know? You don’t have to be scared, especially to be able to have children grow up in that way, I feel like it would do amazing things for the future.”

The significance of using Captain America as the face of what is ultimately a call for more mainstream male LGBT characters in franchise films is obvious: As the name implies, Captain America is meant to represent good American values, and giving him a male love interest — making him bisexual, seeing as he’s already had several female love interests — would symbolize America embracing a new age of acceptance and inclusivity.

Credit: MTV

Cap himself would certainly be the first person to march in a Pride parade, and, as many fans are quick to point out, his relationship with Bucky is already practically a romance in all ways but the physical. And, whether or not you subscribe to this specific ship (there are plenty of people calling for Steve/Sam or Steve/Tony instead), there is no actual reason Steve Rogers the character couldn’t be bisexual — except, of course, the false assumption that it would somehow make him ‘less’ than what he is, that this iconic piece of American pop culture somehow needs to be held ‘above’ a non-straight sexuality.

Assuming for a moment that someone reading this article wouldn’t be against another Marvel character being LGBT, as long as it wasn’t Cap or [insert list of other main characters here] — why? Why couldn’t it be him? What possible reason could you give for needing to keep Steve Rogers straight, as though his non-straight sexuality would somehow impact his ability to be a hero or a leading male character?

Questioning the need to ‘keep Captain America heterosexual’ (an actual movement, as though the very concept of heterosexuality is somehow under threat) is especially relevant after Civil War, which felt the need to include one of the most universally panned romance plots in recent history. With Steve so consumed with saving Bucky, it seemed counter-intuitive to shoehorn his comic book romance with Sharon Carter into the already bloated plot, especially seeing as it had no narrative consequence for either character. And yet that is exactly what happened. Even if you don’t believe he’s bisexual, did the movies need to give him a love interest at all? Or was this simply one giant #NoHomo sign by Marvel, to appease the leaders of the gay panic movement?

Credit: LGBT Group Project

Whether it’s Bucky, Tony, Sam, or someone else, giving Cap a male love interest would have no actual impact on his character. It would simply prove that Disney isn’t as square-headed and heteronormative as they appear to be. It would be a big gesture, but frankly, the time has come for big gestures, whether it’s Elsa, Steve, or another major franchise character (Poe Dameron is another popular option).

But don’t take my word for it: Here are some fantastic fan responses to why Disney should Give Captain America a boyfriend:

Reality check

As fantastic as both the Captain America and Elsa campaigns are, the sad reality is that, if and when (“Within the next decade,” Feige said) Marvel introduces LGBT representation, it’ll likely be a minor character, rarely seen, his or her romantic plot only implied as opposed to explicitly part of the narrative (see Joey on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).

As for an LGBT Disney princess, as brilliant as Elsa would be, unfortunately we’ll probably have to wait for a new character, who can be specifically branded as “the lesbian princess,” kept separate and defined purely by her sexuality.

But wouldn’t it be great if Disney actually caught up with the 21st century and practiced what they preached in North Carolina, using some of their most popular, established characters (whether it’s Cap and Elsa or someone else) to show the world that a character can be LGBT without their entire story having to revolve around that plotline? That a hero or heroine can be first and foremost defined by their actions, their sexuality accepted by the worlds they inhabit and their romance stories treated as equally valid to those of their straight peers? It’s not that crazy — it happens on television all the time (even if there’s a whole new set of problems there, like the fact that lesbians tend to die a lot).

Both the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend and #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend campaigns are symptoms of audiences’ growing discontent with a heteronormative Hollywood. While it is unlikely that Disney would heed these particular campaigns (as much as we might want them to), hopefully they pick up on the wider sentiment: That zero LGBT characters in their movies is unacceptable.

As strong and positive of a message it truly would send, it doesn’t have to be Captain America or Queen Elsa. It just has to be somebody.

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