As the only openly gay student at the fictional McKinley High, Kurt Hummel faces the same sort of harassment and torment that many teens experience on a daily basis. But last night’s episode of the Fox megahit Glee paved a hopeful road for Kurt, in which he not only bonds with a gay teen from a rival glee club, but also finally finds the courage to stand up to his tormentor. And in typical Glee fashion, the result comes as something as a surprise to both Kurt and the audience.
The episode “Never Been Kissed” begins with Kurt growing increasingly frustrated by the regular bullying he endures and the blind-eyes being turned by his peers and the school’s faculty. Despite Mr. Schuester’s attempt to reach out, Kurt’s feelings of alienation reach a breaking point after his song ideas are roundly rejected by the other boys in glee club. As a result, he agrees to spy on a rival school his team will soon be competing against in sectionals, where he makes an unexpected friend.
Unlike the often oppressively homophobic McKinley High School, the Dalton Academy has a zero-tolerance bullying policy, and it’s there that he meets Blaine (played by newcomer Darren Criss). Confident, talented, and popular, Blaine is practically a walking, talking “It Gets Better” video. He also understands Kurt’s pain all too well, having gone through the same thing at a previous school, and tells Kurt to remember his courage.
Sure enough, the next time his bully slams him against his own locker, Kurt finally confronts the brutish Dave with Dave’s own insecurities. In case you haven’t seen it yet, we won’t spoil the episode any further. But needless to say, Dave is sent running. You can watch the full episode here.
Despite this moment of triumph for Kurt, the episode doesn’t fabricate a magical solution to Kurt’s bullying, and it’s to the show’s credit that the writers took a more (sadly) realistic direction. However, Glee did give Kurt two very important things that can be shared by all young fans who might find themselves in the same painful situation; the knowledge that he is not going through it alone and the hope that his life can and will change for the better.
A recent Entertainment Weekly article called Kurt Hummel “one of the most socially important characters on television,” but his story is no mere afterschool special. More importantly, the article also points out that Kurt “has unequivocally become the heart of the series,” which demonstrates how powerfully his story has resonated with a wider audience. Chris Colfer’s portrayal of Kurt was even nominated for an Emmy Award after just one season of the show, which also won the award for Outstanding Comedy Series at the 21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards.
Glee was recently included in a blog post highlighting the rise in negative media words and images about the transgender community, but it is clear that the show's producers are committed to sharing powerful stories about the struggles and harms faced by LGBT teens today. In fact the episode featured an additional storyline about the alienation felt by the gender non-conforming Shannon Beiste, the school's football coach, which made for another powerful message about the emotional damage of being ridiculed and ostracized.
GLAAD applauds Glee for not only being one of the first scripted television programs to tackle this difficult yet vital topic, but also for handling it with wit, sensitivity, and genuine emotion. Given the show’s enormous audience among adolescents, Glee is in a truly unique position to make an impact and give hope to millions of young bullying victims, perhaps by simply giving them a truly unique young hero to root for.