Ever since ABC rebooted — then cancelled — Roseanne and spun off the sitcom as The Conners, Darlene’s (Sarah Gilbert) son, Mark, has been portrayed as gender nonconforming. In an early episode before Roseanne Barr was fired over racist tweets about former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, Mark is bullied after wearing feminine clothing to school. He’s more into sparkly sweaters than cowboy boots.
In the second episode of its sophomore season, the 12-year-old student gets in trouble for breaking his school’s “No PDA” rule. His parents are called in to meet the principal, along with the parents of the other student, who is also a boy.
“Somebody posted a picture of you kissing your friend, Austin, at school,” his mother asks. “So Austin’s your boyfriend? How come you didn’t tell me?”
Mark tells her that it was his first kiss. “That was the first time,” he says. “[Austin] only told me he was gay last week.”
Additionally, Mark tells her they kissed because they were so happy and excited that their school cafeteria was going to start serving personal pizzas. It’s an adorable moment that does a great job normalizing LGBTQ+ youth. They’re just like other kids: goofy, easily excited, and in love with pizza.
Darlene — who just so happens to be played by a lesbian icon — embraces her son’s coming out, but it’s not the same for Austin’s parents. In the meeting with the principal, his grandmother tells Darlene and Mark that her Austin isn’t gay.
“Maybe you don't want to accept the fact that your grandkid might be gay, but you scaring him into denying... it’s just gonna ruin his life,” Darlene tells her.
After seeing this, Mark goes home feeling defeated. “You told me I shouldn’t hide who I am and look what happened,” he tells his mom. “My life would be so much easier if I wasn’t gay.”
He even starts removing his nail polish.
Thankfully, his parents are able to remind him they love him for who he is and wouldn’t want him any other way. They’re grateful and happy he came out — and want him to celebrate with him. After receiving their support, Mark smiles and says, “I love myself! I'm glad I'm gay!”
Showing LGBTQ+ youth be loved and embraced by their parents is incredibly important, especially when considering how much of the youth suicide rate is tied to family acceptance. According to research from San Francisco State University, gay, lesbian, and bisexual young people who are rejected by their families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt to end their lives.
Meanwhile, 30 percent trans girls have tried to take their lives, in addition to 40 percent of nonbinary youth and over half of trans boys. These numbers won’t change unless more parents become early allies to their LGBTQ+ kids.
The Conners did something really special by showing Mark coming out at such an early age and giving him parents that understand and love him for who he is. Let’s hope that the parents watching at home, especially those with their own young LGBTQ+ children, learn a thing or two.
You can watch The Conners on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET, as well as on Hulu and ABC.com.