Why Glee Matters

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

Jarrett Barrios

Just as Kurt and Karofsky finally make amends, someone else is wreaking havoc at McKinley High. This time, it's not a homophobic high school football player, but anti-gay culture critic Dan Gainor who blasted this week's Glee episode and its groundbreaking storylines about gay teens.

Despite his commentary on ABCNews.com that the real America has -- or, at least, should have -- no gay or transgender people, the facts are different. Every high school in this country has students wrestling with issues like those seen at McKinley High. Many of these kids are misunderstood by their parents -- like on Glee. All of them struggle with the acceptance and respect of their peers in school -- like on Glee. And according to education group GLSEN, over 80% of these LGBT kids report physical bullying on school premises -- like on Glee.

That's one of the reasons why Glee matters so much. Gainor and his not-so-funny-now sidekick, former SNL cast member Victoria Jackson, seem to long for a 1950s version of the American high school experience. Remember? Back when gay people lived in closets, resigned themselves to an inferior status and regular harassment and physical abuse. But that's not the world for teens today -- that's a good thing. Every high school in America has gay and transgender teens who are out of the closet or who are still struggling with how to come out. Like Kurt and Santana on Glee, all of these kids are working hard to find their place in the crazy, high-pressure world of high school life.

These gay and transgender teens aren't alone in navigating the difficulties of high school. I see my older son, who's not gay, struggle with acceptance from peers. He struggles with the moral dilemmas his sought-after acceptance often creates for him. Glee not only captures that experience for teens -- the pressures to conform that so many of the characters undergo -- but specifically acknowledges and includes those teens whose struggle is with their own sexual orientation and others' approval of that identity. Glee matters for the very reason that Gainor abhors it: because it allows viewers to see that kids struggling with their sexual orientation aren't unlike those who think they're not pretty enough, or popular enough, or the host of other pressures that kids face today.

Glee will matter until Kurt can kiss the person he loves without making headlines. Glee will matter until Santana isn't made to feel like she has to hide her crush on fellow cheerleader, Brittany. Glee will matter until Karofsky doesn't feel like he has to beat up kids as a way to hide his own sexual orientation.

But most of all, the growing trend of gay-inclusive television shows for teens like Degrassi, Pretty Little Liars and 90210 will all matter until people like Gainor go away, or at least give up on their losing fight to turn back the clock and send gay people back into the closet. Until then, these shows' steadfast commitment to giving credit to all those teens struggling with their self-esteem including -- gay kids -- will change hearts and minds. And thank God for that.

Check out GLAAD's latest work to stand up against anti-gay critics of the show.

Follow Jarrett Barrios on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jarrettbarrios

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jarrett-barrios/why-glee-matters_b_856495.html

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