Television can serve as a portal into the culture and issues of the time it is depicting. An issue that has been brought to the surface in the past decade is lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) rights. A television show that is infusing the culture with the struggles of the LGBT community is Glee, through the character portrayal of Kurt Hummel. The trials and tribulations of Kurt Hummel’s character provide support to the LGBT community and are shedding light on the effects of bullying and coming out. Through the research of gay teens that has been conducted the effects of bullying and coming out will prove Hummel’s impact on society.
Glee is the story of a glee club, “New Directions”, and their struggles to achieve success and respect in their school. New Directions is lead by the main character Will Scheuster, a talented teacher, who encourages his students to express themselves and come out of their shell (“Fox”). Kurt Hummel is one of these students. Hummel is a flamboyant gay teen who is bullied for a majority of the show because of his orientation. Along with bullying at school, Hummel also deals with struggles at home, trying to make his father understand his way of life.
Kurt Hummel’s orientation is released early in the season. Within the fourth episode of the first season, Hummel “comes out” to his father. The episode revolves around Hummel trying out for the football team in order to re-brand himself as a jock to win the acceptance of his father. By the end of the episode an emotional Hummel comes out to his father. His father responds with shock and acceptance. (“Preggers”)
Hummel’s coming out ends in a positive way. However Kurt’s internal struggle with coming out to his father is effectively depicted making it relatable to gay teens. According to a study, conducted by Sue Sharpe, homophobia among teens specifically teen boys is a growing issue. More than two out of five boys considered homosexuality to “always be wrong” (Sharpe 264-276).Young people allow homophobia to exist because they are ignorant and do not directly know anyone that identifies as gay. Therefore, the study suggests that the portrayal of gay people in the media aids the acceptance of homosexuality (Sharpe 264-276). The character, Kurt Hummel, allows people to work through their homophobia by vicariously getting to know Hummel. Through this connection to the character they are able to invest in the character and eventually develop empathy for the character. With strong feelings of homophobia among teens, it is not a mystery why teens struggle with coming out.
Coming out is a large issue among gay teens, the proclamation of their orientation can cause many mixed emotions. According to an article, “Gay Teens on TV”, in the 80’s the average age of teens coming out was 19-23, however since then the age has lowered to 16 (Armstrong, Ram, Stack, and Stransky 34-41) . Teens are becoming more comfortable with their orientation and the status quo is changing. Jason Galisatus, a student ambassador for Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), states “I think that Kurt will become a historical figure.” Galisatus continues to talk about his coming out experience and says, “Well hey, if Kurt can do it, we can’t we?” (Armstrong, Ram, Stack, and Stransky 34-41) . Hummel is clearly sparking conversations and providing support for gay teens that struggle with self-acceptance.
Kurt Hummel’s father also provides a good example for family members. Mr. Hummel handles the news in a realistic, yet supportive way. At first he appears to be in shock but after a minute, he responds by saying, “I guess I’m not totally in love with the idea but if that’s who you are then there’s nothing I can really do about it. And I love you just as much. Thanks for telling me Kurt.” (“Preggers”) This scene is very powerful and captures many emotions. It sets an example for families to be sensitive and accepting of their loved ones who may identify as gay.
Along with the struggle to come out to his father, Kurt Hummel also deals with constant bullying throughout the seasons. However, the bullying is brought to an extreme in the Never Been Kissed episode from season two. In this episode, a football player specifically targets Kurt harassing him for being gay. The football player calls him several names and often physical abuses Kurt. Hummel struggles with the abuse and is reluctant to report the abuse. Kurt visited a local all boys school and finds inspiration in Blaine, a gay teen. Blaine encourages Kurt to defend himself against the bully and educate people in his school about being gay. Blaine says to Kurt: “Refuse to be the victim. Prejudice is just ignorance and you have a chance to teach them, confront them, and call them out.” These words give Kurt the courage he needed to stand up for himself (“Never Been Kissed”).
Towards the end of the episode, Hummel stands up to the football player he responds to the bully by saying: “Hit me cause it’s not going to change who I am. You can’t punch the gay out of me anymore than I can punch the ignoramus out of you”. The shocked football player reacts by kissing Hummel, showing that he was bullying Kurt due to his own insecurities surrounding his orientation (“Never Been Kissed”).
These powerful words give gay teens an example of defending themselves. This episode of Glee depicts a common bullying situation for gay teens. Many gay teens much like Kurt Hummel are enduring abuse every day in the school atmosphere. According to the article “Suicides Put Light on Pressures of Gay Teenagers”, a study found that “9 out of 10 LGBT middle and high school students suffered physical or verbal harassment in 2009, ranging from taunts to outright beatings” (Viadero 11). This alarming statistic sheds light on the abuse that gay teens are suffering in schools. According to the article “Most Teen Students Bullied, Survey Finds”, 33 percent of the respondents said that they have been bullied because their peers think that they identify LGBT (Viadero 11).
The teens are not only suffering at school, this abuse is leading to bigger problems. According to the article, “ Suicides Put Light on Pressures of Gay Teenagers”, Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, and Asher Brown are only a few names to the statistics of gay teens who commit suicide due to harassment in schools (McKinley). These are extremes of bullying, but these effects cannot be ignored. According to the “Gay Teens on TV” article, teens rejected by their families are 8 times more likely to commit suicide (McKinley). These statistics and stories are all indications that there need to be several support systems for teens.
Kurt Hummel’s character serves once again as an example for these teens that feel alone. The way he handles his bullying shows that he is a typical teen through not wanting to report the abuse. After overcoming the fright of the bully, Kurt’s reaction to the bully shows gay teens that it is possible to defend themselves. According to the article: “Teenage Dreams and Nightmares: Talking ‘Never Been Kissed with Ryan Murphy of ‘Glee’”, the author Dave Itzkoff interviews Ryan Murphy a creator and executive producer of Glee. Iztkoff asks Murphy if the idea of Kurt finding another male who is gay, a male student Blaine from another high school, is an easy way out of a storyline because it does not depict Kurt as the lone gay anymore. Murphy responds by saying in regards to Blaine, “But I also think he’s tormented because, as he says to Kurt in the storyline ‘I ran.’ I put my tail between my legs and I left my situation and I regret it” (Murphy). This idea of Blaine showing that he regretted running away from who he is, is a struggle that a lot of gay teens could also identify with.
According to the article, “Gay Teens on TV”, Jarret Barrios the president of Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said “The increasing number of story lines makes it impossible to assume that there are no gay people around you. It makes it uncool to bully” (Armstrong, Ram, Stack, and Stransky 34-41). Barrios make a good point that the more exposure gay teens the more accepting future generations can become to the topic.
Glee was not the first television show to feature a gay character. According to the article, “Gay Teens on TV”, My So-Called Life also featured a gay teen that came out to his parents. The difference between My So-Called Life and Glee is that My So-Called Life took a different outcome for the gay character. At the end of the episode the character laid there bruised and bloodied and abandoned. This approach did not give teens hope or inspiration to be who they are. My So- Called Life only aired for one season before being cancelled and five years later Glee premiered with the first gay teen since (Armstrong, Ram, Stack, and Stransky 34-41). Although there was an extended period of time without a gay teen on TV there were other featured gay roles on television. According to “Gay Teens on TV” some of these shows included the “Ellen DeGenereus show” and “Will and Grace” (Armstrong, Ram, Stack, and Stransky 34-41). These two shows depicted adults comfortable with their sexual orientation, however for that span of five years there lacked anything for teens.
Kurt Hummel has had a significant impact not only on the LGBT community but the nation as well. Hummel has provided gay teens with examples of how to deal with issues that they will deal with. Kurt has broken down barriers and shocked audiences with the cutting edge material and realistic episodes. Through Kurt’s experiences with bulling and his coming out, Kurt serves as an inspiration for gay teens as become comfortable with who they are.
Armstrong, Jennifer, Archana Ram, Tim Stack, and Tanner Stransky. “Gay Teens on TV.” Entertainment Weekly. 28 Jan 2011: 34-41. Print.
“Glee: About the Show.” Fox . Fox , n.d. Web. 07 Mar 2011.
McKinley, Jesse. “Suicides Put Light on Pressures of Gay Teenagers.” New York Times 03 Oct 2010, Print.
Murphy, Ryan. New York Times. Intervew by Dave Itzkoff . 10 Nov 2010. Print. 06 Mar 2011.
“Never Been Kissed.” Glee. Fox: 09 Nov 2010. Television. 08 Mar 2011.
“Preggers.” Glee. Fox: 23 Sep 2010. Television. 08 Mar 2011.
Sharpe, Sue. “‘It’s Just Really Hard to Come to Terms With’: young people’s views on homosexuality.” Sex Education. 2. (2002): 264- 276. Print.
Viadero, Debra. “Most Teen Students Bullied, Survery Finds.” Education Week. 25.8 (2005): 11. Print.