Steven Universe has gained a huge following for many reasons. It's a beautifully animated show with a sweet message, the characters are well crafted and the story is compelling. There's a lot to love about this show, and actually love is a huge reason why Steven Universe has so many fans.
But it's not just the overwhelmingly positive message about compassion: Steven Universe has broken ground by being one of the first children's TV shows to feature recurring queer characters. And while it's been subject to censorship from the most surprising of places, that LGBT positive message shines through regardless.
Yep, It's Been Censored
While there are unquestionably queer characters in Steven Universe, a lot of this is very subtle. When we analyze it of course the LGBT message is there: the Gems are all technically 'agender' (feminine identifying) aliens and quite a few have expressed attraction to other Gems. The most obvious of these examples is Garnet herself, the living embodiment of the love shared by two Gems...
Ruby and Sapphire's story doesn't dominate the show, but their relationship stands as an allegory for queer relationships, and the fact that they're seen as repulsive by Homeworld only emphasizes this. Yet they're not the only queer characters on the show: Pearl's crush on Rose Quartz is very evident, and this is where the censorship issue comes in.
'We Need To Talk' is the episode which has had the Internet buzzing. It features an extended flashback to when Rose Quartz was alive, highlighting Pearl's jealousy over Rose's relationship with Steven's father, Greg Universe. In one of the show's fantastic dance sequences, Pearl takes it upon herself to flaunt her intimate relationship with Rose while Greg watches. The sexual tension between the two of them is tangible. Or at least, it's supposed to be...
In the UK version of the episode, shots of Pearl and Rose Quartz close together are replaced with shots of Greg's amazement. The sequence isn't hugely altered but the change is obvious when you think of the overall impression: the original makes it clear that Pearl has a crush on Rose, whereas the edited version doesn't.
Cartoon Network Defends The Decision
When the issue first came to light, Cartoon Network were quick to defend the BBC's decision to censor the episode. And honestly this isn't surprising, as all changes would have to be run by Cartoon Network anyway. Here's what they had to say.
"In the UK we have to ensure everything on air is suitable for kids of any age at any time. We do feel that the slightly edited version is more comfortable for local kids and their parents. We have an ongoing dialogue with our audiences and our shows reflect their preferences. Research shows that UK kids often watch with younger siblings without parental supervision."
This is honestly a bit ridiculous. The two characters aren't shown having sex, or doing anything otherwise lewd or violent.
There's nothing offensive in their actions, unless you take homophobia into account. And actually, if we look at the UK guidelines for PG television, this just gets even more aggravating. The guidelines allow...
"Mild sexual behaviour (for example, kissing) and references to such behaviour."
By these rules, even if Pearl and Rose Quartz had kissed then that should have been fine. The above frame isn't as obvious as kissing, and yet it was still banned. I wonder why that could be.
The weird thing is, this doesn't even make sense. The BBC have previously encouraged LGBT representation in their family orientated TV shows. Doctor Who has featured several queer characters, and the BBC producers were even going to have the main character of The Sarah Jane Adventures come out as gay (unfortunately, the show ended before this was implemented). Unfortunately, with the BBC refusing to comment on the issue, the reasoning behind the Steven Universe censorship remains a mystery.
But if you're angry at this blatant discrimination, fear not! There's one LGBT positive aspect which cannot be censored: Garnet herself.
They'd Have To Delete The Entire Show
Or at least, eliminate entire episodes from their programming. If it wasn't obvious already that Garnet exists as proof that two women (ok, agender feminine Gems) love each other, then 'The Answer' definitely made this clear.
The episode tells of Ruby and Sapphire's first meeting, and why they decided to live together as Garnet. It's a brief, but very sweet love story, and the romance element is clear. The entire episode is framed as a question about the nature of their relationship, and when it's revealed, the answer was clear all along...
GARNET: "Why am I so sure that I'd rather be this than anything I was supposed to be? How was Ruby able to alter fate? Why was Sapphire ready to give up everything?"
[in the present]
STEVEN: "So what was it? The answer?"
So there you have it: Ruby and Sapphire loved each other. It doesn't matter how many little intimate shots are censored, that fact has been made clear over many, many episodes. Even though queer representation is still an uphill battle, Steven Universe still stands out as a shining example of how things could be... even when it's censored.