The 22nd season premiere of Arthur was praised by many for its depiction of a same-sex wedding through the character of Mr. Ratburn. For others, it was considered inappropriate.
Alabama Public Television aired a rerun of Arthur instead of “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” when it premiered nationally across the U.S., and the station doesn’t have plans to air the episode at a later date, according to statements provided by APT’s director of programming, Mike McKenzie, to AL.com.
“Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire,” Mckenzie wrote to the website in an email. “More importantly — 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. We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for Arthur also watch the program.”
“The vast majority of parents will not have heard about the content, whether they agree with it or not,” he added. “Because of this, we felt it would be a violation of trust to broadcast the episode.”
McKenzie did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.
A rep for PBS Kids made note to EW that PBS stations are independently run and make local scheduling decisions for programs. The network’s earlier statement on “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” reads, “PBS Kids programs are designed to reflect the diversity of communities across the nation. We believe it is important to represent the wide array of adults in the lives of children who look to PBS Kids every day.”
“Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” depicted a story line in which Mr. Ratburn’s students Arthur, Buster, Muffy, and Francine learn he’s getting married and try to identify his significant other. It’s revealed when their teacher walks down the aisle next to another groom that Mr. Ratburn is gay.
As AL.com pointed out, this isn’t the first time APT refused to air an episode of Arthur due to LGBTQ visibility. In 2005, an episode where Buster the bunny visits a girl with two mothers was similarly pulled from the schedule. A rep for APT at the time told the website, “Our feeling is that we basically have a trust with parents about our programming. This program doesn’t fit into that.”
According to research from the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law (as of March 2019), 117,000 adults 18 years and older in Alabama (roughly 3.1 percent of the state’s recorded population) identify as LGBT. The state doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to same-sex marriage rights. In March of this year, NBC News reported a Republican lawmaker in Alabama introduced a bill that proposed getting rid of marriage licenses altogether in an effort to shield homophobic judges from issuing marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples.
“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,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “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. 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.”
As showrunners of kids programming, like Rebecca Sugar (Steven Universe) and Daron Nefcy (Star vs. the Forces of Evil), explained in the past, LGBTQ visibility may be increasing in entertainment but it’s still largely considered inappropriate for G-rated series.
“By including LGBTQIA content and characters in G-rated entertainment for kids, you tell kids when they’re young that they belong in this world. You can’t not tell them that,” Sugar once told EW. “There can’t be only a certain group of kids who are told someone will love you by all the entertainment that they see. It’s just so unfair.”
This article has been updated with a statement from GLAAD.