The 8 First Openly Gay Characters of Disney
Jul 5, 2023   •   Matthew Arcilla
8List.ph is published by ID8, Inc.
Jul 5, 2023   •   Matthew Arcilla
Pride month has come to an end, and as such, it feels like the right time to write about the various gains in representation that have been made in popular media for LGBTQIA+ people. No other pop culture factory has done it better than Disney, whose various offerings under the Lucasfilm Group, Pixar Animation, Walt Disney Pictures, and Marvel Studios have continued to push the boundaries for queer rep.
And they’re not shy about it. Year after year, Disney proclaims these new cultural milestones by issuing statements of how proud they are to have their first openly gay character. They’ve done it several times! Each time is the first time a Disney character is gay… and openly! Amazing, that’s the representation you can’t beat. Here are just eight of the first openly gay characters from Disney.
When this live-action remake came out, marketing charged forward to declare this film’s version of LeFou, the comical sidekick to vain antagonist Gaston, as the first-ever LGBTQ character for Disney. Director Bill Condon described LeFou as someone “who wants to be Gaston and… wants to kiss Gaston,” a confused sidekick who gets a payoff in the form of “a nice, exclusively gay moment.”
A moment indeed! At the end of Beauty and the Beast, we see LeFou dancing with another man for three whole seconds. Representation win!
In the run-up to the conclusion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s long-running ‘Infinity Saga,’ a report from Deadline Hollywood declared this film as one that “breaks ground on a cultural level,” by introducing the first openly gay character in a Marvel movie. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, co-director Joe Russo appears as an average guy who is part of a post-Snap support group.
In the scene, Russo’s unnamed character talks about going on his first date since losing his male partner. It’s almost an entire minute of uninterrupted dialogue, and really gives gay people a face, but not a name, amidst a pantheon of heterosexual superhumans.
As an all-ages franchise patterned after classic movie serials and wholesome faerie tales, the Star Wars galaxy is not known for romantic excitement, least of all gay characters. But The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be a big deal in this regard, with director J.J. Abrams saying, “In the case of the LGBTQ community, it was important to me that they feel they’re being represented in the film.”
When pressed if his remarks meant there’d be an LGBTQ character in the film, Abrams replied, “I’m giving away nothing… but I did just say what I said.” And for about two seconds, two characters we’ve never met with no lines share a lesbian kiss! They’re the first openly gay Star Wars characters!
This urban fantasy road trip movie from Pixar is the most interesting example of representation insofar as the LGBTQ character in question is actually one with a speaking part. Lena Waithe plays a police officer named Specter who briefly mentions her girlfriend. The line goes by fast, but it’s an incontrovertible assertion that the character is a lesbian, and goes unremarked on, as it should be.
But the strangest thing about Specter is that the representation her presence gave wasn’t mentioned at all in the promo for Onward. You’d think Disney would have wanted everyone to know about the first openly gay Pixar character.
One of many attempts by Disney to adapt one of its amusement park rides into a movie, Jungle Cruise features British comedian Jack Whitehall as an openly gay character who makes mention of his disinterest in marriage to a woman because his “interests happily lie elsewhere.” That’s the last we hear of Whitehall’s romantic interests, making him the first openly gay character in a theme park feature.
The representation at Marvel Studios didn’t stop with Avengers: Endgame. In 2021, the house that Kevin built released Eternals, which stars a diverse ensemble of godly extraterrestrials. Among them are Phastos, the first openly gay superhero in the MCU, and one with an actual husband and son. A brilliant engineer, Phastos would invent wonders such as the plow, the steam engine, and the atom bomb.
In an unbelievable scene, we learn that Phastos (Bryan Tyree Henry) was there at Hiroshima after the bombs fell. That’s right — Marvel’s first gay hero is indirectly responsible for war crimes against the Japanese.
While promoting Thor Ragnarok, actress Tessa Thompson said on Twitter that Valkyrie, the scene-stealing, booze-swilling warrior she plays, is bisexual. Thompson drew inspiration from the comic book version of the character, who smooches anthropologist Annabelle Riggs. A scene was filmed showing a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom but was ultimately cut for pacing reasons.
It wasn’t until Love and Thunder that Thompson would be able to confirm her character’s sexuality when she kisses the hand of a godly maiden for one entire second. Aw yisss, I’m feeling seen.
If you didn’t even know this movie existed, don’t worry about it. Disney did almost nothing to promote this animated science-fiction adventure starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gabrielle Union, and Dennis Quaid. In it, Jaboukie Young-White plays Ethan and is the first openly gay Walt Disney Animation character. He has an open crush on a schoolmate who later becomes his boyfriend.
Without any marketing, this film was sent to die at the box office. But that’s understandable as movie audiences probably weren’t ready for the first Disney actor to openly impersonate the FBI.
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