June is Pride Month. This year, in particular, has reminded us all that Pride has always been about protest — the parades only came later.
This year, Nickelodeon is honoring LGBTQ+ individuals who have been part of their programming … including Spongebob Squarepants.
A lot of corporations have some sort of event for LGBTQ+ Pride month.
Sometimes they do symbolic things, like sponsor parade floats and put up a temporary, rainbow variant of their logo.
Other times, companies showcase their real policies and good works to help the LGBTQ+ community, including hiring decisions.
This year, Nickelodeon decided that part of their celebration would showcase characters in the community.
“Celebrating Pride with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies this month and every month,” Nickelodeon tweeted on Saturday, June 13.
Spongebob Squarepants, shown here illuminated by rainbow lights, appears in the tweet.
Canadian actor Michael Cohen, who is transgender, appears on Henry Danger.
And of course Avatar Korra, from the excellent fantasy adventure series Avatar: The Legend of Korra, is bisexual, ending her series with a girlfriend.
Many have interpreted this as meaning that Spongebob himself is gay.
After all, in multiple episodes, he has had quasi-domestic relationships with one or another male character.
In one episode from early in the series, he and Patrick Starr raise a baby together.
In fact, conservatives have often taken shots at the show for having characters who have seemingly gay characteristics.
Nay-sayers quickly pointed out that the tweet referred to “allies.”
While Michael is a real trans man and Korra is a fictional bi woman, Spongebob could always be an ally.
Most people were quick to dismiss this pessimistic interpretation.
After all, Spongebob isn’t waving a flag to cheer on others in the art — he is radiating iridescent light.
However, late Spongebob creator Stephen Hillenburg, who tragically passed away in late 2018, has actually weighed in on this.
Speaking of his characters, he said “I consider them to be almost asexual.”
Of course, context is king, and he was countering allegations of “promoting” some sort of “sinister” pro-gay agenda back in 2004.
At the time, allegations like that by bigoted groups carried even more weight than they do now, and networks were much less inclined to allow a kids’ show to even hint at LGBTQ+ characters.
That said, the asexual community, often referring to themselves as “ace,” are absolutely part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Ace folks exist on a spectrum of asexuality, with many experiencing no sexual desire at any point in their lives.
Like gay, bi, and trans folks, ace folks have been demonized and “treated” by the medical establishment in an effort to “cure” them of who they are.
Additionally, people with gay or bi romantic inclinations can be ace. Trans folks can also be ace.
Anyone who does not experience sexual attraction could identify as ace. And so, too, can Spongebob.
That said, it could also be a joke, as Spongebob (despite having two parents) can apparently reproduce by budding.
Or Stephen may have been using the term “colloquially,” saying that he simply does not think about sexualities of the residents of Bikini Bottom.
Regardless, it seems that Nickelodeon has put more thought into the matter and decided to make a statement about their most popular character.
The network has not always been the most progressive, with former child actors speaking up about how they felt forced into the closet.
Additionally, they may be proud of Korra now, but the network seemed to sabotage the show.
The final season and a half, including Korra walking off hand-in-hand with girlfriend Asami Sato, aired only on the Nickelodeon website.
That said, it is never too late for a network to do the right thing, even if nothing can erase the past.
Earlier this month, Nickelodeon aired a commercial for more than 8 minutes, explaining to their audience how long it took to murder George Floyd.
Some parents furiously complained, sayng that this was an upsetting topic for their children.
Nickelodeon’s reasoning was simple — many children, black children, already have to live with the real threat of police violence fueled by racism.
All people need to understand this so that it can be addressed. Children, too, need to understand how the world is so that they can grow up to improve it.