Being a superhero is a tough and sometimes thankless job: fighting crime, battling super-villains, and constantly updating the look of your costume for every new movie. It’s even worse for LGBTQ heroes and heroines who we have yet to be featured in any of the blockbuster movies that have graced the screen in the recent decade. The small screen of television has been only a little better about featuring bisexual heroes, mostly women, but certainly not as progressive as many might like. There is a definite job discrimination going on in Hollywood against superheroes of the LGBTQ community, but maybe that just means that they are following the trends set by the rest of the country.
It is important to portray a diverse range of superheroes in blockbuster movies, not just minority or positive women heroes, but LGBTQ as well. Why is that important- which we hear you ask with our super-hearing? Because according to the Harvard Political Review, superhero movies promote and enforce social norms and roles. Due to their prominence in our cultural these modern myths consciously and subconsciously dictate the way we see ourselves and the world. Diversity among our heroes is important, and Marvel, DC, and all the rest have begun to get better about positively portraying racial and gender diversity, and Aquaman. -He has long been a target for ridicule and discrimination, but that is for another article.- However, even as LGBTQ characters are on the rise in other media and films, they are still curiously absent from the superhero movie genre. In fact, more often than not, the entire idea of homosexuality is glanced over or ignored, much like LGBTQ issues in the non-pulp fiction world.
The Unambiguously Gay Discrimination
Now we, here at The NYRD, have talked about gender identity and sexuality before, but we did not get to cover some of the legal issues and challenges that face members of the LGBTQ community. You see, even as marriage discrimination in the United States is finally at an end for gay and lesbian couples, their struggle for equality is far from over. Much like a super-villain that refuses to stay dead -even after we clearly saw him fall into that vat of acid,- discrimination always seems to return in new and different ways. The sad part is that even though same-sex couples can now legally get married, they can also still be legally fired from their place of employment due to their sexuality. Only 19 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based upon gender identity and sexuality. Other states have executive orders or bans on sexual discrimination, but they are not always enough. Additionally, according to the ACLU 31 states have no explicit employment protections for transgender people. If an LGBTQ person is fired in one of those state they have no recourse fight back, save for vigilantism, but we don’t endorse that.
Last year, President Obama signed an executive order that gave employment protection to LGBTQ employees of Federal contractors, and the EEOC helps protect the rights of Federal employees, but those rights do not always extend to private sector or public state-level workers. Even worse the order could be easily overturned by President Lex Luthor or whoever will be sitting in the chair next. A federal law to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of protected classes would be the most effective in preserving LGBTQ civil rights, but any attempts to do so or create laws that protect LGBTQ workplace employment, housing, credit, education, federal financial assistance, jury service, and/or public accommodations usually ends up deader than Uncle Ben on a bad night.
This is a surprising statistic considering 69% of Americans favor laws to protect LGBTQ civil rights, and 75% of Americans currently -and incorrectly- believe that it is illegal nationwide to fire someone based upon their sexuality or gender identity. Yet, in Congress laws like the 2007 Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or the more recent 2013 Employment Non-Discrimination Act, have either been killed in the Senate or refused to be heard in the House, respectively. This means that Senators and Representatives have actively ignored or struck down modern laws which would keep actual human beings from being fired or discriminated against due to biological urges and factors they have no control over. We are going to hum the old Batman theme song while we let that idea sink in for you… Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da… Batman…
A lot of the resistance by Republican Senators and Congressmen comes from the fact that they are beholden to a small religious subset of people who mistakenly believe that granting LGBTQ members their civil rights will somehow impinge on religious rights and freedoms. This sort of backwards argument can be seen most recently when Ellen Page interviewed Presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz, all while he his holding someone’s meat.
The interview -as frustrating as it seems- actually illuminates the thought process of a lot of the ultra-religious right. There is a victim mentality, as if people who are religious believe they will lose their freedom to fire an employee or refuse to sell services or goods to customers based upon their religion. Ted Cruz tried turning the infamous case of the Christian baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple on it’s head. However, the main argument of that case is less valid than Clark Kent’s birth certificate. It tends to focus on the wrong elements, as if it exists in a vacuum. Even more importantly, a Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that “the act of designing and selling a wedding cake to all customers, free of discrimination, does not convey a celebratory message about same-sex weddings likely to be understood by [a reasonable observer.]”
That is really the crux of the argument against this supposed religious persecution of Christians by the LGBTQ community. After all, what if that Christian baker refused to make a bar mitzvah cake or a cake for Ramadan? -Also, yes we know that Ramadan is a month of fasting, but they can still have cake after sunset. Ms. Marvel would.- The Colorado court’s ruling basically says that offering your goods, services and/or employment opportunities to another human being, is not the same as participating or even endorsing that person’s lifestyle or religion. A reasonable observer would conclude that a business that bakes cakes for all occasions, would reasonably bake a cake for a wedding, gay or otherwise.
Now, some will always try to argue the extremes, but there are extremes for every circumstance. Maybe a Jewish baker should not be forced to make a swastika cake for a the Red Skull’s birthday party. Maybe you can fire someone for dangerous sexual behavior, but the problem with applying those arguments in this situation is that you are equating an LGBTQ person with extreme or deviant behavior. Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer is not any of those things, and most people, even many religious ones, agree with that stance. According to the Public Religion Research Institute 60% of all American believes that businesses cannot deny service to gay or lesbian people. In fact, even 42% of white Evangelical Protestants believe that gay and lesbian people have a right to be provided professional services, by Christian businesses regardless of religious idolatry, but in the end it still comes down to perception.
Midnighter at the Apollo
In some ways we have come far from the old stigma of gay and lesbian stereotypes. However, there is always more work to do. Being lesbian or gay still holds a connotation of being something other than normal. For a man it is equated with being effeminate, or for a woman it means being butch or manly. Our cultural norms, on the other hand, still lend themselves toward the ideals of the knight and the princess. Popular culture, in particular, still likes its “men to be men” and “women to be princesses-in-need-of-recusing-by-men-who-are-men,” and a lot of LGBTQ issues and heroes suffer because of that.
For example, when notable bisexual hero John Constantine, appeared in his own short-lived -though well regarded- network series, the decision was made to make the character straight, because it was believed a bisexual titular hero on TV might be too hard to handle for viewing audiences. As opposed to all the black occult magic and demon killing, which they thought we could handle just fine. The sad part is that Constantine’s sexuality was never a big part of the hero’s identity in the comics. It is barely touched upon, and it would have been too easy for NBC to not even confirm or deny it on the show. Instead, they “straight-washed” him much to the dismay of many LGBTQ nerds and geeks, and the problem is even worse on the big screen.
In the world of superhero films, gay heroes simply do not exist, but a one would go a long way to further normalizing LGBTQ issues in the public arena. Additionally, this obvious omission in superhero diversity is puzzling, because comics have already stepped up to the plate and tackled -sometimes very poorly- issues of gay, lesbian, and transgender characters. Northstar, was Marvel’s first superhero to come out of the closet, and despite his flaws -he’s Canadian- he is still considered to be one of the most respectable representations of a gay hero in comic history. He was even recently married in a ceremony in Central Park, and has faced a number of real and believable issues due to his homosexuality. His status as a member of the LGBTQ community does not define him as a hero, but it is a part of who he is. Also, Northstar is not alone. There are more and more LGBTQ superheroes in comics. So, how long will it be until we see one in theaters?
Bad News for Batwoman
Unfortunately, there is no hope on the horizon. Kevin Feige, in a very roundabout way, basically confirmed that there could be a gay superhero one day in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but probably not anytime soon. Iceman of the X-Men has been confirmed as being gay in several alternate alliterations in the comics, but it seems like his movie counterpart is straight and crushing on Sookie Stackhouse. Thus, barring some kind of extreme bromance situation at the end of Batman V. Superman, it seems unlikely they we will be seeing an LGBTQ superhero soon, which is a missed opportunity. Tackling these sorts of issues will be what helps move the superhero genre from frivolous popcorn movie to a forum for lasting impact.
Life and art always imitate one another, and if we are not willing to see gay as heroic than it is no wonder that they are still being discriminated against in the workplace and in our communities. Imagine how empowering it would be for a thirteen year old boy or girl, dealing with issues of sexuality, to be able to look up to a superhero and realize that being gay or lesbian does not mean you can’t be the hero, or a real man, a real woman, or anything you want to be in this world. After all, if we can’t get an LGBTQ person a job saving the world, than how can we ever expect them to get fair employment anywhere else?