Cartoon Character 'Arthur' Has A Gay Teacher... Who Just Got Married

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 15, 2019

The PBS animated children's program "Arthur" features a typical grade-school-aged aardvark — the title character — who lives in a town called Elwood City and attends school with his friends. The long-running Canadian/American series has focused on a variety of social and health issues, including autism and childhood illnesses. As TV Line reports, this week's episode — titled "Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone," the first installment of the show's 22nd season — aired on May 13, and included the revelation that one of the kids' teachers, Mr. Ratburn, is gay. In the episode, Mr. Ratburn got married to his male partner.

But Arthur and friends didn't know the popular teacher was gay at first, and when they heard about his plan to marry they mistakenly thought his intended was a woman they saw giving Mr. Ratburn a hard time. Certain Mr. Ratburn was about to marry the wrong person, they tried to put a stop to it.

Of course, they were right — the female character would have been wrong for Mr. Ratburn — but not for the reasons they initially believed. The joke is given added kick by the fact that the woman is voiced by "Glee" star, and openly lesbian actor, Jane Lynch.

LGBTQ themes have long been part of programs geared for the younger set, noted The Atlantic, which recalled how much pushback resulted in 2005 when a two-mom family appeared on an episode of "Arthur" spinoff "Postcards from Buster," in 2005. The Atlantic referenced a number of more recent programs with LGBTQ characters, including "Gravity Falls," "Adventure Time," and "Steven Universe."

Even Dora the Explorer came out as a lesbian, in a 2013 tweet.

Before LGBTQ characters found their way to kids' television, books for junior readers explained in matter-of-fact and family-friendly terms that some families have parents of the same gender, such as Heather's in the book "Heather Has Two Mommies," or the same-sex penguin dads who adopted a chick in the book "And Tango Makes Three."

Anti-LGBTQ groups (and even some government officials) have long clutched their pearls at the prospect of children hearing fact-based explanations of why some of their classmates might have two mothers or two fathers, or why an aunt or uncle might have a special friend of the same gender rather than a wife or husband. Even the Teletubbies ended up at the center of a 1999 controversy when anti-gay televangelist Jerry Falwell decided that Tinky Winky must be gay. Falwell based his claim on the fact that of the four brightly-colored plush creatures featured in the program, Tinky Winky was a gay color — purple — who sported a gay, triangle-shaped antenna and carried a gay purse. Falwell's horror inspired endless mockery: Most of America laughed while the religious right sputtered and gasped.

It's a sign of progress, boring by contrast as it might be to the Tinky Winky scare, that a tweet from TVLine about the new "Arthur" episode received overwhelmingly positive feedback from nostalgic readers who had grown up with the show.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.