‘The Simpsons’ Has Made The World More Gay

For decades now, The Simpsons has been credited with making the world laugh. But has the show’s portrayal of gay characters helped advance gay acceptance?

German librarian Erwin In het Panhuis, who has analyzed over 490 “gay” scenes and over 70 homosexual characters that have been featured in the show, argues yes in his new book Behind the Gay Laughter: Homosexuality in “The Simpsons.”

He contends that the show has been a “trailblazer” in fostering acceptance of gay people, and that Homer Simpson in particular has represented America’s evolving but complex relationship with the community.

“[The Simpsons] treats homosexuality as something normal in a media environment which can usually be very hostile to the point of view. Homer has kissed other men on the lips more than 50 times throughout the series but despite that he’s happily married to his wife,” In het Panhuis notes. “He is sometimes heterosexual, sometimes gay and sometimes homophobic.”

In het Panhuis credits the character Waylon Smithers Jr., nuclear power plant-owner Mr Burns’ long suffering assistant, for  broadening from his unrequited love for Mr. Burns and becoming a character of substance.

“It is a very complicated relationship,” In het Panhuis says, “Full of fear and unrequited love and moments of real tenderness.”

Indeed, long time viewers will recall Smithers has increasingly been seen living his own life apart from Mr. Burns, from vacationing at a Fire Island resort, writing his own musical in dedication to the doll Malibu Stacy, and helping local bartender Moe Szyslak expand his bar by appealing to the older gay gentleman.

While it may be argued these qualities qualify Smithers as a stereotype rather than a fully fleshed out character, he has demonstrated a number of other traits, including loyalty, cunning and integrity, that have even helped him go against Mr. Burns’ wishes when he perceives Mr. Burns to have gone too far.

Smithers, quite apart from the above, may have also considered gender reassignment as evidenced when he tried to buy Marge’s estrogen pills, though to identify him as trans would, without further evidence, seem a stretch.

An example of a transexual character may be Judge Constance Harm who explicitly identifies as having been born male.

The Simpsons memorably caused ire among religious conservatives in 2005 when it became the first show of its kind, and among the very first of any mainstream show, to depict same-sex marriages in its “There’s Something About Marrying” episode where Homer realized that, because local priest Reverend Lovejoy would not marry same-sex couples, there was money to be made.

The same episode saw Marge’s older and mostly celibate sister Patty, twin of the oft-married Selma, reveal that she is a lesbian.

Other episodes have also devoted themselves to the topic of being gay, including a relatively early episode called “Homer’s Phobia” that saw Homer grapple with his prejudices over openly gay nostalgia store owner John, who he had adored before finding out about John’s sexuality, and whether Bart associating with John would turn him gay.

That all this should occur on the Fox network, which has traditionally censored gay content or actively promoted anti-LGBT sentiment through its news channel, is a credit to the show’s creator Matt Groening, and is not something In het Panhuis overlooks.

“They have set standards for many other animated series that followed,” In het Panhuis is quoted as saying.

A substantial list of The Simpsons’ LGBT characters appears over at The Simpsons Wiki where you can relive some of The Simpsons more memorable LGBT moments.

Image credit: FOX under fair use terms, no infringement intended.

88 comments

Stacey Toda
Stacey Toda2 years ago

Cool article, thanks

Biby C.
Biby C.3 years ago

Well said, Joseph!

lisa o.
lisa O.3 years ago

What a fun show and I love the way it gives a new perspective to social issues. I do think some people have evolved with Homer.

Anders Jonsson
Anders Jonsson3 years ago

Thank You for an interesting article!

Edo R.
Edo R.3 years ago

Thanks for sharing!

Debbie Williamson

Thanks for the article. Good show. Maggie's still my favorite. That kid knows a lot and keeps her mouth shut. Good role model for all of us.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener3 years ago

Okay?!

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle3 years ago

Where in the article does it state that the Simpsons has made the world more gay? The article doesn't show Heir Panhuis making any case for the show making the world more gay. The title of the article is a little inflammatory. A little journalistic creativity for attracting readers?

Judy S. If people would let gay people live their lives like everyone else this would not be an issue. If gay people had the same rights as the rest of us then we wouldn't have to try to correct this wrong and make it so much of an issue that you get upset by it. Niether do equal rights supporters or gay people are "SHOVING YOUR WAYS ON OTHER PEOPLE". All we ask for is what the Constitution guarentees. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I'm sorry equality upsets you so much. Contact your legislative representatives in the House and Senate and demand that they support equality. The sooner the unjust laws come of the books and gays receive equal treatment to the rest of us, the less you will have to hear about it. They'll just be your neighbors, family members and not angry victims of injustice.

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance3 years ago

I never like the Simpsons from the very beginning and so never got in the habit of watching it. Now I don`t have cable so I can`t start. But based on the article and some of the comments, I might very well watch it if it is exploring current social issues. Kudos!

@ Judy S --- ``THINK OF SOMEONE ELSE FOR A CHANGE INSTEAD OF YOURSELF!!!!! THIS WORLD WOULD BE A BETTER PLACE IF YOU DID!!`

You have a big case of projection! It would be very nice if you would take your own advice.