For decades, kids in high school theatre have been labelled as “gay”. Male singers and dancers have faced the same labels for their often-feminine expression, and musical theatre as a whole is stereotyped as a place for queer people. But this connection between the queer community and musical theatre is more than just a stereotype. It is clear that both of these communities are well integrated. Musical theatre is a cultural staple of the queer community, and vice versa. This begs the question; how has musical theatre revolutionized the LGBTQ+ experience?
People in the LGBTQ+ community are constantly searching for spaces in which they are represented. As a queer woman, I understand this search. Growing up, movies and TV shows rarely, if ever, showed same-sex couples - much less individuals of varying gender identities. Like many others, I never saw myself represented in media as I was (and still continue to be) growing up. Had I known from a younger age that my feelings were not only valid, but shared within a community, I would hold a stronger sense of identity today.
While many young adult TV shows and movies in the last few years have featured queer stories, they are not free of issues. These storylines can feel ingenuine, the product of a marketing team trying to make more money. Queer characters are flat and used as stereotypes, almost never with a happy ending. And most notably, the biggest blockbuster movies that dare to feature an LGBTQ+ character almost always receive backlash. Musical theatre however, exists as a safe space for LGBTQ+ actors and patrons alike. Discrimination definitely still exists in our corner of the world, but the Broadway community shares such a great sense of acceptance and pride that I have yet to find anywhere else. From La Cage Aux Folles to Kinky Boots, from The Color Purple to The Prom, from Angels in America to Falsettos, Broadway shows have a long history of representing people from all across the spectrum.
The difference I see between representation on screen versus the stage is that TV and movies usually treat their queer characters as one-dimensional stereotypes to support the straight characters. Whereas plays and musicals feature imperfect gay characters. LGBTQ+ people with ambitions and flaws that exist outside of their sexuality. People whose stories deserve to be told in a realistic and inspiring way. I believe it is this nature that pulls many members of the queer community into the world of musical theatre. Such an accepting world also allows writers and directors to feel comfortable sharing their stories and bringing their experiences to an audience.
Broadway not only illustrates queer characters through its shows, but it also recognizes and supports its community of queer actors as well. In June alone, three openly transgender actors made it to Broadway stages. Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS has raised more than three hundred million dollars for people with HIV/AIDS since its inception in 1988. And at its simplest state, kids in high school have a place where their gender and sexual identity is accepted. Down to its core, musical theatre is a place not only welcoming for all, but one that is willing to tell the stories of its community members. The stories that matter, and that represent what the Broadway community stands for; love, acceptance, and pride.