4 Reasons Why The Simpsons Episode, 'Homer's Phobia' Is Still A Landmark Half Hour Of Television, Even Today

 Marge and John in the episode "Homer's Phobia".
Credit: 20th Television

The Simpsons is arguably one of the greatest animated TV shows of all time, and they’ve tackled so many topics over the years.

And, as somebody who thankfully grew up watching The Simpsons, I feel like I learned a great deal about life and tolerance by watching my favorite family week after week. Case in point, homosexuality, which I definitely knew about back in 1997 when the episode, “Homer’s Phobia” debuted, but I didn’t really know much about. I was 14, and everything I knew about homosexuality back then, I pretty much learned from movies and TV shows.

However, I do remember this one incident in high school where a bunch of idiot jocks ganged up on this one kid in the locker room. They hurled terrible insults at him, claiming he was gay, and I wish I was brave enough back then to tell them to stop, but I lament that I didn’t. Especially since the episode, “Homer’s Phobia” taught me a great deal about ignorance directed toward gay people. And, I still think it can teach a great deal today. Here’s why.

Gay steel workers in the episode
Gay steel workers in the episode

The Episode Addressed A Concern That Many Families Still Have Today, Unfortunately

For anybody who’s never seen the episode (which I’m kicking myself for not including in my list of the 10 best episodes to watch if you’re new to The Simpsons), Bart being Bart, manages to destroy the family drier. In order to pay the bill, Marge decides that she’s going to have to sell an old family heirloom of a Civil War soldier statue that she thinks is valuable.

She takes it to a kitschy store in the mall, where its proprietor, a man named John, informs her that it’s just a liquor bottle, much to her dismay. That said, Homer invites John over to their house so that John can see if any of their other stuff is valuable, and they hit it off really well. In fact, you could say that Homer is smitten by him, thinking he must make his wife very happy back home.

Since this was ‘97, Marge says that she doesn’t think John is married, because as we all know, same-sex marriage didn’t become legal across America until 2015. However, when Homer finds out that John is gay, he becomes terrified that Bart will also grow up to be gay because he’s taken a liking to John. (Because, like, who wouldn’t? John’s hilarious.)

But, this is a concern that a lot of parents still unfortunately have today. Many families don’t want their children to be gay, and this episode shows the absurdity of such fears.

Homer does everything in his power to try to make sure that Bart doesn’t “turn gay.” He makes him sit in front of an oversexualized cigarette billboard for two hours, only for Bart to say that all it really did for him was make him want a cigarette.

Homer also takes Bart to a steel mill, which turns out to be a gay dance club (and Bart asks Homer why he even took him there in the first place). Finally, Homer takes Bart hunting, and the boy has one of the best lines in the episode saying that a bunch of guys hanging out in the woods together sounds kind of gay.

All of these are played for laughs, of course, and they are hilarious. But, it also shows just how stupid people look when they worry about their children being gay. As if that’s a bad thing! Nowadays, we’re fully supportive of queer actors, but back in 1997, for The Simpsons to take a definitive stand for LGBTQ+ characters (as John is definitely the smartest character in the episode) really says a lot. Especially since Homer is such a bigot in this episode.

Bart watching TV on The Simpsons
Bart watching TV on The Simpsons

Even So, By The End Of The Episode, Homer Accepts His Son As Being Gay...Even Though Bart Isn't

I have a friend who came out to me back in high school. He was super nervous about it, since he thought that it might end our friendship. Of course it didn’t, and I told him that I didn’t care. In hindsight, I probably should have given him a hug and told him that it was brave of him to tell me that, but hindsight is 20/20.

That said, I got a sense that he hadn’t told his parents yet, as it seemed like he was testing the waters with me just to see how one might react to the news.

Well, at the end of the episode, after Homer has been “tenderized” by some reindeer (I implore you to watch The Simpsons on Disney+ to find out why), John comes to the rescue with a motorized Santa Claus, and saves Bart and Homer. When they leave, Homer admits that it may be the concussion talking, but that he’s okay with Bart being whatever he wants to be when he grows up, implying that he’s fine with Bart being gay.

And, just wow. One thing I love about TV shows is that characters have to go through an arc in a very short period of time, and Homer went from feeling that gay people were a disgrace to the country, to actually accepting that his own son could be gay.

Bart, of course, has no idea what his father is talking about, and Lisa, low-key being the best character on the show for the umpteenth time, clues her brother in that their father thinks he’s gay, to which we’re ushered out to C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” because of course we are.

But, this is huge! Homer was terrified of his son being gay, and by the end of the episode, he’s openly accepting of it. Talk about a change!

John Waters in The Simpsons episode
John Waters in The Simpsons episode

The Episode Pokes Fun At How Damaging Homophobia Actually Is

The Simpsons, being The Simpsons, of course takes the piss out of any subject it tackles. Whether it’s gun rights in the episode, “The Cartridge Family,” or blind faith, like in one of the best Lisa episodes, “Lisa the Sceptic,” you just knew it was going to show the absurdity in any topic it chose to shine a light on, and there’s no exception when it comes to homophobia.

I mean, the episode’s clever title, “Homer’s Phobia,” plays with that concept. In the episode, we see just how dumb homophobia actually is, as even a stupid 14-year-old like myself could see how ludicrous Homer was acting around John.

Homer peeks out the curtains as if John can’t see him, and thinks taking his son to a steel mill will “fix” him. Hell, even Marge comments on how ridiculous Homer is being, which is something she actually doesn’t do as often as she should. Even she said that Homer was embarrassing them by how bigoted he was being, and he was being embarrassing.

In fact, anybody who gets irrational about LGBTQ+ people pretty much looks like Homer does in this episode, and who the hell wants to look like Homer? I certainly don’t. Do you?

John in the episode
John in the episode

It Stars Gay Icon John Waters In A Supporting Role, And He Helps Guide Homer To His Acceptance

Lastly, this was the episode that introduced me to John Waters, who is one of the greatest directors who helped shape queer cinema. I used to actually wear a Pink Flamingos t-shirt to school, and thought it was funny when somebody once asked me what the hell I was wearing. I mean, I love John Waters!

It all stems from this episode, where Waters’ character, aptly named John, helps Homer through his acceptance of homosexuality. I think this is really important because a lot of people, especially back in ‘97, might not have personally known somebody who was openly gay. And, John’s character made homosexuality seem not only acceptable, but charming.

As a Black person, I personally feel like I always have to make a good impression since I’m not only representing myself, but also my entire race. In this way, I hope that somebody who may not have had a pleasant experience with Black people in the past will have a more open mind the next time they meet somebody, and I hope it will possibly dispel some racism.

I feel like John’s character in this episode helped show that LGBTQ+ people are not to be feared, but to be embraced. We have a lot more examples today of LGBTQ+ characters, and I’m happy about that. “Homer’s Phobia” was the episode that a lot of young people saw that hopefully changed some ignorant opinions, and John Waters’ appearance was a big part of that.

What do you think? Have you seen this episode? For more news on all things The Simpsons-related, be sure to swing by here often.