Just as Glee talks about issues dealing with gender, it also portrays experiences that students have based on their sexual orientation.
When talking about sexual orientation there are a couple of key terms that are important to understand. The first is heterosexism, according to Friend (1998) heterosexism is the “privileging of heterosexuality” over other sexual orientations such as homosexuality (pg 139). The second key term is homophobia, which is the “fear and discomfort” of homosexuality. This can include the fear of homosexuality within others as well as within one’s self (pg 141).
The next topic to discuss, is the issue of “coming out.” I am sure most of you have heard someone say, “I think he is still in the closet” or “I just wish he would come out already.” People say these types of things when they believe that someone if homosexual. These phrases develop from the idea of heterosexism, where the “norm” is to be heterosexual. But if that is the “norm,” then people who do not identify as heterosexual must tell their families or “come out” about being homosexual in order to express themselves (pg 140). This can be very difficult for a lot of people due to the risk of rejection (Blumenfeld 2000).
Glee works to prove that rejection is not always the answer and that kids should feel comfortable talking about their sexual orientation. In the show the character who most heavily deals with sexual orientation is Kurt, who identifies as a gay man. Throughout the seasons Kurt struggles to tell his father that he is gay and is viciously tormented by students and even staff at McKinley.
When Kurt finally tells his father that he is gay, his dad simply laughs and says he has known for a long time and will always love him no matter what. Kurt’s dad later becomes his support system, and works to keep close “family ties” and fight homophobia within Kurt’s school.
Not only is the issue of “coming out” discussed in Glee, but homophobia is one of the biggest reoccurring events related to sexual orientation. As I said earlier, homophobia can be the fear in one’s own homosexuality. Kurt is tormented by a character named Dave Karofsky, who in fact is gay himself but is struggling to come to terms with it. Because of his fear of his own sexuality, Karofsky takes his frustrations out on Kurt, who in reality is probably the one person who would actually understand him.
Continuing on with homophobia in Glee, Blumenfeld (2000) talks about the four different types of homophobia. There is personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural homophobia. Both interpersonal and institutional homophobia can also be seen in Glee. Interpersonal homophobia is when the personal homophobia (one’s opinion) leads to “active discrimination” through name calling, teasing, or physical violence (pg 268-270). When Coach Sue Sylvester calls Kurt names such as “Lady,” “porcelain,” or “tickle-me dough face” she is showcasing interpersonal homophobia. These names suggest that Kurt is feminine and delicate, which can be insulting because he is not a woman but rather a man who is simply attracted to other men.
The second type, institutional homophobia, is the discrimination of homosexual people through the government, educational system as well as other organizations (pg 268-270). This can be seen through McKinley’s school rules. When Kurt was being tormented by Karofsky he went to the principle to see how to stop it. The principle said there was nothing he could do since Kurt had no hard evidence and that Karofsky was not threatening him, but rather calling him names (not to be mention the physical violence, which the principle seemed to ignore). These rules enforce the oppression of homosexual students by allowing the negative behavior to continue.
While heterosexism and homophobia take place within McKinley High many of Kurt’s friends such as Rachel, Mercedes and his step-brother Finn do support Kurt and his sexual orientation.This support, shows viewers that there is nothing wrong with having a sexual orientation other than being heterosexual.
Blumenfeld, W. J. (2000). How homophobia hurts everyone, (pp. 267-275). In Adams et al. (Eds.), Readings for social diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge Press.
Friend, R. A. (1998). Heterosexism, homophobia, and the culture of schooling. In S. Books (Ed.) Invisible children in the society and its schools (pp. 137-166). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.