When you look back on your childhood, you might be surprised how many queer TV characters there were.
Especially if your formative years were during the 90s, as LGBTI people were slowly gaining acceptance.
Many writers of TV shows back then used codes and stereotypes to convey queerness in the most mainstream of settings: kids TV.
Some dropped small hints through dress or character, and some went full rainbow, and some even did or eventually made those characters’ sexuality explicit.
So let’s turn back the clock and see exactly who are the 16 most queer characters from 90s kids TV.
1. Spongebob Squarepants
The friendship between Spongebob and Patrick has long been considered homoromantic not only by LGBTI fans, but by Christian conservatives as well.
Not only is there intimacy between the two, but Spongebob is often coded as queer. By combining a preference for male intimacy with a camp and emotionally open personality, he is the fun and friendly cartoon that became a phenomenon.
In 2005, creator Stephen Hillenburg revealed he thought of Spongebob as asexual.
2. Betty DeVille (Rugrats)
There were suggestions Rugrats producers originally intended Phil and Lil to be raised by a single mom: a feminist who was not only capable but also extremely accomplished at taking on ‘traditional’ male gender roles. In the final show, she had a husband in Howard who was her counterpart – a guy who liked baking and other ‘traditional’ feminine stuff.
Other than Lil’s pink bow, the twins are raised completely gender-neutral and are dressed alike.
But there are still instances Betty could have almost intended to be lesbian: the female sign on her shirt, the interest in sports, the intimacy of her friendship with Tommy’s mom Didi.
3. HIM (The Powerpuff Girls)
If you delved into the mind of the homophobe, you might find they all think every gay guy is HIM from The Powerpuff Girls.
The effeminate male in the devil’s form, HIM wore lipstick, thigh high heeled boots and a skirt. His voice was a singsong hiding a veiled rage.
While some thought HIM could be transgender or non-binary, creator Craig McCracken uses male pronouns for HIM.
— Craig McCracken (@CrackMcCraigen) June 11, 2015
When Daria got to college, she could have very easily realized she ‘s bisexual.
Not only did she and Jane seem to spend time exclusively with each other for the first three seasons, she wasn’t interested in men at all.
And when it did come to interest in guys? It ended up being Jane’s brother and her boyfriend. A lot of queer girls have done the same thing to get a girl’s attention.
5 & 6. Bloaty the Tick and Squirmy the Ringworm (Rocko’s Modern Life)
Looking back on Rocko’s Modern Life today, you’d be surprised it was ever considered kids TV at all.
Using animals to satirize modern life, Bloaty and Squirmy were two parasites that lived on Rocko’s miniature bull terrier Spunky.
Shown to live together and take trips together, they leveled each other out as Bloaty was the excitable one and Squirmy was more of the cynic. In a way, they parallel Cam and Mitch on Modern Family.
7 & 8. The Gromble and Oblina (Aahh!!! Real Monsters)
Two very different types in coding with the Aahh!! Real Monsters. With The Gromble, the antagonistic teacher at the school for monsters, he shares similar characteristics with HIM from The Powerpuff Girls: Even down to the red heels and the black belt.
But with Oblina, the coding is a little more subtle.
Essentially the Hermione Granger of the three main characters, Oblina was awkward but extremely able in her abilities. Her power to induce nightmares could be a metaphor for mental anguish.
Christine Cavanaugh, the voice of Oblina, said she tried to base her voice on Agnes Morehead – the Bewitched actress heavily rumored to be a lesbian.
9 & 10. Ren and Stimpy
Now even though they were a cat and dog, this lovable doofus couple bathed together and often showed their intimacy for each other.
But were they just two bros or was there something homoromantic about the surreal show?
Show creator John Kricfalusi has gone from saying ‘it’s none of his business’ to saying they canonically gay. They were explicitly gay in the adult-spin off.
The main response he has given is that the duo are only gay ‘when it’s funny’.
11. Mystique (X-Men: The Animated Series)
This might be cheating, of course, considering villains Mystique is canonically queer in the comics.
But in the 90s animated show (with the best theme song of all time), the shapeshifting mutant is hinted at still being in a relationship with future-seeing Destiny. Both were the adoptive mothers of Rogue, and shared an intimate relationship.
12. Maggie Sawyer (Superman: The Animated Series)
Again a slight cheat, but one that works. The head of Metropolis Police’s Special Crime Unit, her sexuality was only obliquely referenced to in the show.
While her divorce and struggle to get custody of her daughter is explicitly mentioned, a brief scene makes it clear. While injured in hospital, she is being attended to by an unnamed woman. The credits and DVD commentary is revealed to be Toby Raynes, her long-term partner in the comics.
13 & 14. Robert Simmons and Eugene (Hey Arnold)
Hey Arnold was an adult show, and was not afraid to talk about issues a lot of kids TV shows wouldn’t dare talk about.
Teacher Mr Simmons was gay, and had a ‘close friend’ named Peter.
Creator Craig Bartlett confirmed fan speculation in an interview last year.
‘We figured Mr. Simmons was a gay character without having to make a big deal of out it, or have it be a special episode or anything like that…it was just part of the show’s fabric,’ Barlett said.
‘And then you have Eugene. We figured he’s not gay yet because he’s still a kid. But he will be when he grows up!’
15. Lexington (Disney’s Gargoyles)
Lexington’s sexuality was long hinted at in the show and comics, but that wasn’t always the plan.
Gargoyles creator Greg Weisman said: ‘We didn’t plan it from the beginning…Over time, we learned more about the characters. And towards the end, it occurred to us that Lexington was gay but that he didn’t know it. It wasn’t “liberal Hollywood’s” plan. It was just the way the character played out.’
But ultimately, Weisman could never show it on screen.
‘We were working for a company that would never let us be open about that in those days, so we just tried to write with consistency, if not with courage. And, by the way, the lack of courage is not something I’m particularly proud of.’
16 & 17. Sailor Uranus and Neptune (Sailor Moon)
In the Japanese original, it was clear and factual Sailor Uranus and Neptune were in a relationship. They were intimate together, they were rarely apart, and they lived together to raise an infant.
Weirdly, the American dub made them cousins as they were afraid of broadcasting homosexuality on TV.
Fans then thought the couple were incestuous, which was probably not what the censors had in mind.
18. Smithers (The Simpsons)
When Smithers made his debut as a speaking character in 1990, he was like many of these characters on this list.
His sexuality was hinted at, played with, joked about, but it was never made canon.
If The Simpsons had ended in the 90s, then it probably would have stayed that way.
The benefit of The Simpsons continuing is that as times changed, then characters can be explored.
So that was why, after nearly three decades, Smithers finally came out as gay to his love and to his boss Mr Burns, in an episode last year.