By Lauren Rearick
After Alabama Public Television (APT) announced its ban on an episode of the television series Arthur that featured Mr. Ratburn, an animated rat teacher, getting married to his male partner, Patrick, one Alabama church announced a free, public screening of the episode.
On May 13, 2019, PBS viewers watched as Mr. Ratburn, an animated rat teacher in the television series Arthur, married his male partner, Patrick. However, Alabama residents did not see the episode that day, as Alabama Public Television (APT), a state member of PBS, chose to air a repeat episode of Arthur instead.
APT director of programming Mike McKenzie claimed to AL.com that the network chose not to show the episode because of the level of “trust” local parents place in the station. “Although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards – parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision,” he said in an emailed statement to AL.com. “We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for Arthur also watch the program.”
In response to APT’s decision, Sidewalk Film Festival and Shout LGBTQ Film Festival teamed up with First United Methodist Church, located in Birmingham, Alabama, to host a viewing party of the episode on June 15, 2019 at 10 a.m.; The Magic City Acceptance Center, also in Birmingham, hosted a screening on May 29, AL.com reported.
“Weddings take places at churches all the time. So First Church seems like a perfect venue for the cartoon in my opinion,” Rachel Morgan, creative director for Sidewalk Film Festival and Shout LGBTQ Film Festival, told AL.com. She added that “[the church] frequently communicates to the community that they are an ‘open place for all,’ and I think this event reflects that statement.” The organizations plan to provide sparkling apple juice and wedding cake to those who attend the screening.
After PBS had shared details of the episode with APT in mid-April, the network made the decision to not air the episode on its original date or on a future date, McKenzie said.
It’s not clear why young viewers would need supervision to understand a same-sex marriage. MTV News has reached out to both APT and PBS for comment.
Marc Brown, the creator of the Arthur book series, told People he was “very disappointed” in APT’s decision. “I’m really proud of that episode. And I will defend it to anybody who wants to talk about it. Why shouldn’t their teacher marry another man? We all know people who are gay, who are trans, and it’s something that is socially acceptable. Why is there this discomfort that it takes a leap into our national media?”
Some parents shared their support for Arthur on social media, saying they have no issue with the subject matter and pledging to show their child the episode. “I watched Arthur when I was younger and my kids watch it now,” one parent tweeted. “I would gladly let them watch this episode. This is amazing.”
In a statement made to MTV, Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD president and CEO, expressed the organization’s displeasure with APT’s decision. “With LGBTQ visibility at an all-time high on television, including in the Kids and Family Programming genre, this attack to censor content is not only mean-spirited, it’s a losing battle,” Ellis said. “The uptick of LGBTQ characters and stories on kids TV shows has been met with praise from families of all kinds, and media need to put context to the extremely fringe anti-LGBTQ organizations and individuals who speak out against any inclusion. TV worlds often reflect our actual world and today that includes LGBTQ parents and families.”
The organization is now calling on social media followers to contact the PBS station and share their thoughts on the decision. “LGBTQ parents and their children deserve to see themselves reflected in media and if leadership of this public broadcasting station cannot serve the interests of the entire public, it’s time to find someone who can,” Ellis said.
In 2005, APTV also chose not to air an episode of Postcards From Buster, a spinoff Arthur series centered on Arthur’s bunny friend named Buster, AL.com reports. In the episode, Buster visited a friend with lesbian mothers, Variety reports. The station had defended that decision, telling AL.com in a 2005 interview, “Our feeling is that we basically have a trust with parents about our programming. This program doesn’t fit into that.”
As pointed out by GLAAD, Arthur isn’t the only recent cartoon to depict LGBTQ+ relationships and characters. Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe is centered on a group of gender-fluid main characters, and the show made television history, airing the first same-sex wedding on a children’s television series. Others cartoons including Adventure Time, Star Vs. The Forces of Evil, Clarence, and The Legend of Korra have included LGBTQ+ relationships and characters.
Kevin Wong, Head of Communications for The Trevor Project, told MTV News that television’s continued focus on LGBTQ+ characters is vitally important for representation and recognition. “Healthy depictions of LGBTQ relationships — in all forms of media, in all states, and for all ages — help ensure that LGBTQ young people know they are deserving of love regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said.
This story has been updated to reflect new information.