Fox’s Glee has gained a reputation for being silly and over the top, but its representation of LGBTQ characters is not something to be dismissed. The show follows McKinley High School’s glee club, the New Directions, as they navigate school, relationships, and, of course, the cutthroat world of competitive show choir. Glee has opened up a conversation about what it means for teens to be gay in today’s society by giving a voice to those who have never before had one, particularly to characters like Kurt, his boyfriend Blaine, and his father Burt.
While I’d like to point out that Glee by no means speaks for all parts of the LGBTQ community, it airs on a major network, where any nuanced representation of LGBTQ characters is significant. Where else could we watch a gay romance unfold from first kiss to marriage proposal or see a transgender character grow from wallflower to diva? For teens who may be struggling with their identities, seeing someone on TV go through similar experiences can be amazing, even life-saving. And for those teens who identify as straight, Glee provides insight about the lives of their LGBTQ peers. Glee is important not because it teaches kids how to be gay or that musical theatre is awesome (although it generally is), but because it teaches kids how to embrace and celebrate each other’s differences.
So, what can parents of LGBTQ kids learn from Glee? If nothing else, it may just be a fun show you can watch together, but it may also provide a launching point for you and your kid to start delving into their own identity, any questions you might have, and what this means for your relationship moving forward. Glee starts the conversation so you can continue it. Without further ado, here are some moments that may help get you talking:
So your kid has recently come out to you and you’re not sure how to respond? Get some tips from Kurt’s dad in Season 1 Episode 4 “Preggers”!
In this episode, Kurt’s dad, Burt, walks in on him in a sequined vest dancing to Beyonce’s Single Ladies with fellow New Directions members, Brittany and Tina. In an attempt to cover for him, Brittany blurts out that Kurt is definitely not into girly things and is in fact on the football team. So, true to teen drama shenanigans, Kurt now has to try out for the team, make it, and get his dad a ticket in time for his first game. Cut to Kurt, in an 80s-workout-inspired outfit, “auditioning for the role of kicker.” Amidst chuckles from the rest of the team, Kurt takes the field and begins rocking out to Beyonce—and of course ends the routine by kicking the ball straight through the goal posts.
Kurt’s moves bring the football team a much-needed win, with Kurt kicking the winning field goal, but it’s Kurt’s conversation with his dad that brings the episode home. After the game, Kurt comes out as gay, to which Burt replies, “I’ve known since you were three.” He tells him he’s not in love with the idea, but that’s who Kurt is and he loves him just as much. This was one of the most touching coming out scenes in recent TV history. Hopefully, this kind of love and positivity will be echoed more and more as kids come out in the future. Burt remains a huge source of support for Kurt throughout the series; their relationship is beautiful to watch and serves as an excellent example for parents of LGBTQ kids.
Is your kid being bullied because of their sexual orientation? Season 2 Episode 6 “Never Been Kissed” may give you some insight.
Fed up with being bullied for being the only out gay kid at school, Kurt tours the all-boys private school Dalton Academy. There he meets Blaine, leading member of a rival glee club, the Warblers, who tells him that at his school, glee kids aren’t lame; they’re rock stars. Dalton presents an atmosphere where Kurt can be accepted, no matter his sexual orientation. Kurt is enamored—and not just with the school. Blaine is comfortable with his identity as a gay man, which is celebrated by his friends. He embodies what Kurt wants to be: out, proud, and happy. Blaine tells Kurt that “prejudice is just ignorance,” and advises him to stand up to his bully, a football player named Karofsky. However, when Kurt confronts his tormentor, he is surprised that instead of punching him, Karofsky kisses him. Kurt and Blaine try to talk to Karofsky about his confusion, but he only responds with more violence. Bullying is largely rooted in insecurity, so Karofsky’s homophobia is his way of processing his feelings for other boys that he isn’t yet ready to confront.
This episode shows us that Blaine’s words ring true: prejudice is just ignorance. Unfortunately, our society puts pressure on boys to be “tough” and “masculine,” which often leaves little room for them to be gay. But by educating ourselves, we (parents and teens alike) can cut through that ignorance, and maybe avoid situations like Kurt and Karofsky’s, where both the bully and the bullied get hurt.
Still having doubts that (gay) first love isn’t as sweet or as pure as (straight) first love? Season 2 Episode 15 “Original Song” will erase all doubts from your mind! This episode also deals with the dreaded “straight girl crush.”
Kurt, now a member of the Warblers and a student at Dalton Academy, admits to Blaine that he feels like it’s often “The Blaine Show,” with Blaine nabbing all of the solos and the rest of them singing backup. After a particularly moving performance of “Blackbird,” in which Kurt sings lead and Blaine sings backup, Blaine realizes what he already knew: he likes Kurt.
The Warblers put it to a vote and they decide that Kurt and Blaine should sing a duet for their upcoming competition against the New Directions. Blaine admits to Kurt that their duet is really just an excuse to spend more time with him. The two share a kiss and it is sweet and moving and sexy, and entirely what a first kiss should be. Too often gay characters are denied any sexuality on television, either being reduced to ridiculous stereotypes or becoming overly domestic and desexualized. Glee’s depiction of Kurt and Blaine’s budding relationship is handled exactly the way a straight relationship would be and does not shy away from showing the two boys kissing. This was definitely a moment to be celebrated.
Meanwhile, back at McKinley High, another first love is not going as smoothly. Glee member Santana is struggling with her feelings for her best friend Brittany. Santana admits that she is in love with Brittany, but Brittany chooses to date their friend Artie instead. Santana is beginning to realize she’s not straight, but isn’t ready to take that leap without Brittany by her side, so she continues to date men, even though she knows it won’t make her happy.
Are you STILL having doubts that gay love isn’t as special, true, amazing, and spectacular as straight love? Watch Season 3 Episode 5 “The First Time.” Just do it.
Rachel and Blaine land the leads in the school’s production of West Side Story, but their performance lacks passion. When director/fellow glee club member Artie challenges them to dig deeper, it becomes clear that Blaine and Rachel are both virgins. This episode gives an honest and sensitive look at teen sexuality in a time when teens often feel pressured to have sex. Both Rachel and Blaine are in loving relationships (with Finn and Kurt, respectively), but they have been waiting for the right time. After both try to force romance with their significant others, they realize sex shouldn’t be rushed or forced, and that it will happen when it’s right. Kurt and Blaine’s first time is depicted as being just as loving and special as Rachel and Finn’s first time, and it is that similarity that makes Glee’s portrayal of Kurt and Blaine’s relationship so positive.
Having trouble supporting your LGBTQ child after they come out to you? Hopefully Season 3 Episode 7 “I Kissed a Girl” will convince you that your support can make all the difference.
Although she and Brittany are now dating, Santana is still not ready to come out as a lesbian. Her friends not only know about their relationship, they support it and want Santana to feel comfortable with who she is. Urged by Finn, the New Directions come together to perform songs written “by women and for women” to celebrate female empowerment. When Santana is less than enthusiastic about their support, Finn talks about the tragedy of teens who commit suicide because they are bullied for being gay or because they don’t feel safe coming out. He tells Santana that if anything ever happened to her and he didn’t do everything in his power to stop it, he’d never be able to live with himself. It is that kind of support that can make all the difference in the life of a gay or questioning teen. Her friends’ confidence in her gives Santana the strength to come out to her grandmother, but unfortunately, she is not supportive and kicks Santana out.
Worried that your kid’s self-expression might make things harder for them? Season 3 Episode 16 “Saturday Night Glee-ver” might surprise you!
Wade Adams, a member of a rival glee club, comes to McKinley to see Kurt and Mercedes (another member of New Directions), saying he’s their biggest fan. Wade confesses to them that he’d like to break out of his shell and be a star, but he is bullied and not supported at school or at home. He asks their advice about performing as his female alter-ego, his true self, whom he calls Unique. Wade feels more comfortable going by Unique and singing in a dress and heels, but Kurt and Mercedes advise him against it. They live in a small town in Ohio, and they are afraid of how their community will react to a gender-bending performance. Despite their protests, Wade performs and absolutely kills it as Unique. It’s amazing that Glee chose to portray a transgender character in such a positive, celebratory light; we can all relate to Unique’s struggle to be true to herself.
Want to see a really cute marriage proposal? Break out the tissues and watch Season 5 Episode 1 “Love, Love, Love.”
With Kurt living in New York and Blaine still in Ohio, the couple has struggled to make a long-distance relationship work, but after breaking up and seeing other people, they realize that they want to give it another shot. To celebrate getting back together, the two break into an adorable duet of “Got to Get You into My Life” (this episode is Beatles-themed). Unbeknownst to Kurt, Blaine doesn’t just want to get back together, he plans to propose. Blaine enlists the rest of New Directions to help, saying he doesn’t just want his proposal to be special for him and Kurt:
“I want this to be a cultural statement. Our generation is at a turning point. People everywhere, except, like, Russia, are beginning to see that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from or even what God you believe in. They’re beginning to see that people really aren’t all that different.”
I love that reference to the situation in Russia. Little one-liners like that are what make Glee culturally relevant.
Blaine also enlists Kurt’s dad, Burt, to drive him to his “surprise proposal,” but Kurt already knows. Kurt confesses that although he loves Blaine, he’s concerned about taking such a big leap because they are still so young. Burt reminds Kurt that he was only 22 when he married Kurt’s mom, and although marriage is hard work, Burt assures Kurt that he doesn’t regret not waiting. You only get so much time with someone and you never know what life may bring. This scene could have easily happened between a parent and their straight child; the fact that Kurt is gay didn’t change the conversation one bit, and that in itself was really exciting to watch unfold on screen. Burt advises Kurt to relax and just hear what Blaine has to say; all he has to do is say “yes, no, or maybe.” From the moment Kurt came out, Burt’s support has been unwavering and without question—something all parents can learn from.
Blaine proposes to Kurt in the very spot they first met, with the most beautiful speech, to which Kurt of course says yes. Their relationship has been beautiful to watch. Love, love love!
Think that Glee is just fluff? Season 5 Episode 15 “Bash” deals with the very real issue of hate crimes, and how we can begin to abolish them.
Now all living in New York, the former glee club members react to a hate crime against a gay man by placing flowers at a memorial. While Glee is generally pretty light, this episode keeps it real. It is important to acknowledge that these prejudices exist and to make teens aware of how to effect positive change moving forward. Blaine, Sam, and Artie discuss that as gay people gain acceptance and civil rights, some people retaliate with hate. Kurt changes the topic, instead focusing on his upcoming showcase at school. Rachel’s performance did not go well, and she is now contemplating dropping out of school to pursue her Broadway career.
Over dinner, Kurt urges Rachel to finish her degree, the two argue, and Rachel storms out of the restaurant, leaving Kurt to walk home alone. He sees someone getting beaten up in an alley outside and rushes to the boy’s aid, but ends up getting attacked himself. The group arrives at the hospital to find Kurt bruised and sedated, but mostly okay. There is also another beautiful scene between Kurt and Burt at the hospital. I don’t want to spoil it, so just watch it. Trust me.
This episode doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to violence against gay people, and that may be scary for parents of LGBTQ kids. No one wants to see their child hurt because of who they are or who they love, but it is a reality in our society. However, with education comes understanding; this episode brings the problem of hate crimes to light so we can work toward abolishing such acts of violent discrimination.
While on the surface Glee seems like a fun, silly show about kids who love to sing and dance, it is taking huge steps to address more serious issues that are often overlooked by mainstream television, not all of which are LGBTQ-related. Glee has introduced other topics that can affect all teens, regardless of their LGBTQ status, including eating disorders, poverty, ability, and domestic violence. If you find yourself at a loss when trying to start a discussion about sexuality, Glee might be able to give you another way to begin. Any one of these other issues can be a conversation starter for you and your teen.
Glee provides parents of LGBTQ kids access to what their children may be experiencing, and it can help broach topics that might otherwise be difficult to discuss. We have yet to see what lessons the final season will bring, but it is safe to say that Glee has grown far beyond its initially light-hearted premise and will surely continue to raise awareness, tolerance, and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. So get watching and start talking!
Audrey Benedetto is a writer, artist, and human being who currently lives in Manhattan. Her passion for gender, sex, and race issues began in college and influences how she sees and moves through the world. She enjoys karaoke, long walks, and french bulldogs. Audrey is constantly learning and would like to share some of what she’s picked up along the way.
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