Duolingo is an American educational tech company that has exploded in popularity over the past several years. Founded in 2011, it has become one of the most popular language learning apps in the world, providing both handy learning apps as well as language certification. Due to its user-friendly apps, Duolingo has also become very popular in the homeschooling community.
A concerned parent emailed recently and noted that while her son was using Duolingo, an LGBT storyline was featured, so I dug into the app a bit more. As regular readers of this blog will know, virtually every entertainment platform and large corporation has worked to include LGBT content under pressure from groups like the Human Rights Campaign, and so parents have to use both oversight and discernment in order to ensure that their children are not being exposed to propaganda without their knowledge.
It didn’t take long to find that Duolingo is a proud “LGBT ally” and prominently advertises that fact – although many parents might be unaware of it. In June 2021, they published an article on their official blog titled “LGBTQIA+ representation in Duolingo Stories and characters.” According to Duolingo:
We have three established queer characters: Lin, Bea, and Oscar. Lin dates women, Bea dates both men and women, and Oscar’s into men (although he’s as discerning with men as he is with his cheeses and pretty much everything else).
Duolingo’s goal with these characters, according to their website, is “normalizing queerness in Duolingo stories”:
Since the beginning, our Stories have included everyday depictions of LGBTQ life, even before we created Lin, Bea, and Oscar. From ‘The Honeymoon’ to ‘The Song,’ it’s been important for us to show queer people living their lives in an unsensationalized and normal way.
Allowing an LGBTQ character to exist without specifically drawing attention to that identity – this is something we believe should be a best practice in storytelling. In order to normalize something, you simply present it as normal, which means you don’t draw attention to it when depicting it.
That’s why there’s very little focus on these characters’ queerness. They simply happen to not be heterosexual; it doesn’t define them, and there’s not much discussion around their sexual orientation. It’s just a single part of their identity and their story.
That’s also why some parents may have missed it. Five years ago, it might have been a big deal that LGBT characters and storylines were included in a popular learning app. But many companies are moving from representation – pushing the Overton Window – to normalization. Thus, noticing these storylines means you’re part of the problem, since you should believe that there is no difference, morally speaking, between the lifestyle of the bisexual and anyone else.