Lesbian teens have become something of a staple in American primetime programming, appearing on teen-centered dramas like The O.C. and One Tree Hill in a coming-out storyline (then usually melting back into the woodwork). Despite these shows’ high school-age characters, the shows themselves are aimed at a slightly older audience. Programs that are actually targeted toward teens and their younger siblings, the “tweens,” have rarely engaged with gay or lesbian storylines.
Canada has taken the lead in this kind of teen programming. In 2003, the teen drama series Edgemont, set at a suburban Vancouver high school, featured a storyline about Asian-Canadian student Shannon (Grace Park, who now appears on Battlestar Galactica) who developed feelings for a new classmate, Laurel (Kristin Kreuk of Smallville). And last year, one of Canada’s longest-running teen franchises, Degrassi: The Next Generation, which now airs in the U.S. on cable channel The N, introduced a gay storyline about two boys.
This fall, Degrassi is poised to debut its first lesbian storyline, centered on bad-girl Alex and queen-bee Paige.
Currently in its fifth season, Degrassi: The Next Generation is the latest in a Canadian television franchise begun back in the early 1980s with The Kids of Degrassi Street, a series about teens in Toronto that dealt with the troublesome issues of the time. Degrassi: The Next Generation even features some characters from earlier installments of the franchise, who have since grown up and now send their own children to Degrassi Community School. In addition to several related television series and documentaries, the franchise has also spawned books, CDs, and a website (degrassi.tv) that is heavily integrated into the current series.
The series has consistently tackled hot-topic issues including abortion, school shootings, drugs, and date rape. As series co-creator and producer Linda Schuyler stated in 2004, “Part of making stories about the next generation involves tackling social issues relevant to today’s adolescents, even if that means pushing the envelope of what’s conventionally seen in youth-oriented programs.”
In 2004, Degrassi: The Next Generation introduced the series’ first gay teen storyline with the characters Marco (Adamo Ruggiero) and Dylan (John Bregar). In the episode “It’s Raining Men,” the two boys went on a date and even kissed on-screen, a first for the series.
Pushing the envelope has garnered the series many awards, and last summer the series’ critical and popular success was underlined when it won both the Teen Choice Award for Choice Summer Series and the Television Critics Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children’s Programming.
In an upcoming two-part episode titled “The Lexicon of Love,” Degrassi Community School students Alex Nunez (Deanna Casaluce) and Paige Michalchuk (Lauren Collins) discover that they are attracted to each other, setting the stage for an exploration of coming-out and the fluidity of sexuality.