Stronger Than You: How Steven Universe became an LGBT+ icon in a single episode.

Believe in Steven! Steven Universe is a half-human, half-Gem hero who’s learning to save the world with the magical powers that come from his bellybutton. Steven may not be as powerful as the Crystal Gems. Or as smart. But that doesn’t stop him from joining Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl on their magical adventures – where Steven always finds a surprising way to save the day.

(Cartoon Network, 2013)

When Steven Universe started airing in 2013, it was a slightly above average action-adventure show on Cartoon Network. Despite the fact that the show was clearly of higher quality than some others and would tackle large, complicated concepts, there were other shows that did that as well; like, say, Gravity Falls. Steven Universe itself didn’t have something that set it apart from all the others quite yet. All that changed on March 12th 2015, when Jail Break was released upon the world.

Let’s get into the lore of the show first.

In Steven Universe, you’ve got the Crystal Gems. These lovely ladies are aliens, thousands of years old. Their true selves are the gems they carry in their hands (Garnet), chest (Amethyst), head (Pearl) or any other body part. The remaining part of their appearance is a tangible illusion. When this tangible illusion becomes damaged enough, the Crystal Gems will retreat into their gemstones where they can rest until they have enough power to reform their appearance.

The Gems can, if synchronized enough, fuse with one another. Back on their Home World it was common practice for multiple Gems of the same kind to fuse. Five small Rubies, for example, can become one huge Ruby; in the same vein as two kids wearing a huge coat to get into a movie that was rated PG 13. The fusing of two different types of Gems, however, never happened on Home World.

By the way, Garnets are not a thing on Gem Home World. Rubies and Sapphires, however, are.

Okay! Back to the episode.

We start in a cellblock on a spaceship. Steven is locked up on his own in one of the cells. He knocks against the force field that was supposedly keeping him inside, only to find out he can pass through. The force field was made to keep Gems inside after all, not humans. He hears singing and decides to follow the sound.

During his search, he comes across a cell with a Gem roughly his own height. A Ruby. This Gem recognizes him, but he doesn’t recognize her. He decides to set her free anyway. They look for the source of the singing together until he loses Ruby when he stops to talk to another Gem. He decides to continue looking for the singing on his own and finds Sapphire, also imprisoned, and sets her free as well.

A few minutes later, Sapphire hears Ruby call her name. They run towards each other and collide in a tight embrace. Sapphire kisses Ruby, Ruby swings Sapphire around and without much effort, the two fuse into a very familiar face.

Garnet.

She smiles, she giggles and she is genuinely happy. A huge departure from the calm, almost stoic Garnet we got to know in the previous 51 episodes.

This, in a way, was her coming out. Garnet is a fusion and Steven is allowed to know it.

Not much later, Garnet runs into Jasper; the Gem that caused her to unfuse one episode prior in order to take her and the other Crystal Gems captive. Garnet, again, fights Jasper in order to free her friends and safely return them to planet Earth. More self-assured this time, she manages to keep Jasper at a safe distance long enough for Pearl to land the ship (relatively) safely on the beach.

This is where the relevant part of this episode ends. Of course we see more of Ruby and Sapphire in episodes like Keystone Motel, The Answer, Mindful Education and Hit The Diamond. These episodes will not be discussed in this post, though I may come back to these later.

Why is this so important, you may be wondering.

For me, this episode is the reason I started watching Steven Universe at all. I was familiar with the show, but I never felt truly attracted to it. If I’m being completely honest, I only had a very shallow knowledge of what this show was really about. When this episode was released and there was nothing on my Tumblr feed other than Stronger Than You, my interest was piqued. I had never seen a cartoon that featured a lesbian relationship so prominently. In fact, I had never seen a cartoon that featured a lesbian relationship at all; let alone embody it in the leader of a team of superheroes.

How would that have felt for all the little girls that have crushes on other little girls to finally see something of themselves on television? To finally see that they don’t have to unwillingly find a boyfriend when they really want a girlfriend? As Eric Anthony Grollman says, it’s important to see yourself in media, especially if you belong to a minority group that is often faced with prejudice, discrimination and a constant stream of invalidating comments. In fact, representing minority groups in media can help normalize their existence and, in turn, de-normalize the prejudice, discrimination and invalidation that they are met with.

I decided to ask the Steven Universe community on Amino whether or not they think the LGBT+ representation has a positive effect on children. Almost 75% agrees that LGBT+ protagonists have a positive effect on how children perceive members of the LGBT+ community.

Personally, I think it’s pretty cool. The idea that a cartoon show can lead up to the day that “gay” won’t be used as a swear anymore.

Curious? You can watch season 1 of Steven universe for free on Cartoon Network’s website!

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