Last night's episode of Glee spotlighted high-school bullying, in the form of Kurt, McKinley High's only openly gay student, who is physically and verbally abused for his sexuality, and Shannon Beiste, the new football coach who threatens Sue's budget exploitation, being made fun of behind her back for her lack of sexual appeal to teenage boys. As I watched the episode, it was impossible not to be reminded of the recent gay teen suicides, and I felt it was a responsible decision by the show's creators to directly address the issue of gay bullying in high schools in a TV show that is increasingly popular among teenagers. I was also relieved to finally see a mainstream television show approaching the topic of the unattractive- by conventional standards, anyway- female teacher who gets picked on by adolescent boys but is not, under social norms, allowed to be publicly upset about it.
The actors playing the bullied characters are happy to raise awareness as well. Chris Colfer (Kurt) struggled with prejudice for being gay himself, as he relayed in a personal message to gay teenagers in his video for The Trevor Project, "It Gets Better". When Entertainment Weekly asked Dot-Marie Jones (Beiste) if it bothered her that Beiste's physical appearance was used as comedy, she answered, "You know what? I think that’s hilarious. It serves a purpose for the message. I wasn’t offended at all. I thought it was hysterical. Maybe it will make people think outside of the show." And the actors aren't the only ones who see the importance of the messages a television show this popular can send. In a New York Times interview, creator and executive producer Ryan Murphy explained that he based the story-line of Kurt's bully on someone he knew, and said, "That episode is completely about accountability. If you can change any young impressionable minds and make them aware of the consequences of their actions and all different forms of cruelty, I think that's a great, great gift."