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Disability Advocates Call ‘Glee’ Portrayal ‘Poor Choice’

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Fox’s “Glee” is generating controversy after depicting a character with Down syndrome bringing a gun to school.

In an episode which aired Thursday night, gunshots are heard during glee club practice, prompting a lockdown at the high school. Ultimately, viewers learn that Becky Jackson, a student with Down syndrome who is played by actress Lauren Potter, brought a gun to school and the shots were fired accidentally.

Potter’s mother, Robin Sinkhorn, told The Huffington Post that she took no issue with a character with Down syndrome being the one to bring a gun to school.

“If Becky’s going to be fully included on the show — which they’ve done such a good job about that and giving her these juicy stories — then why not Becky?” Sinkhorn said. “Whether she has Down syndrome or not, it doesn’t matter … Why wouldn’t it be somebody with Down syndrome because she’s a kid. She’s a teenager. She makes stupid decisions just like other teenagers do.”

But not everyone feels the same way. Officials from the National Down Syndrome Society called it a “poor choice” to depict Becky bringing a gun to school.

“Acting like every other teenager in doing things like sports and going to college, those are things great to portray for Becky,” said Julie Cevallos, vice president of marketing for the organization. “Taking a gun to school is something very serious and would likely come with a mental health condition. That’s not appropriate for someone with Down syndrome and not a stigma they need.”

Meanwhile, comments from viewers on Twitter criticized the characterization for being “disgraceful” and “seriously lame.”

“Thank you Glee for setting Down Syndrome awareness and acceptance back light years. Some people now see our kids in an even worse light,” wrote one viewer known as T21ASDMommy on Twitter.

“Glee” creator Ryan Murphy, however, said in a tweet that the episode is the “most powerful emotional Glee ever.”

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Comments (21 Responses)

  1. Whitney says:

    I saw the episode and I never watch the show very much. If I wanted to make judgement on the portrayal of Becky I would need to see more episodes. I think to say this it is not so much about Becky and Down Syndrome it is about how readily a gun is accessible. That is what bothers me. I never like Glee not because what tried to do for the disability community but the concept is not what interests me.

  2. JH says:

    It wasn’t necessarily the storyline of Becky brining the gun to school that was the real letdown – the discussion between Becky and Britney about being scared of the outside world, and implying that college was not an option for Becky, was horribly uneducated. I turned it off there and will not be watching GLEE again. I’ve had it.

  3. Robin says:

    Where are the comments from our DS community that talk about how Glee trusted Lauren Potter, the actress, with this emotional and dramatic role, and that she absolutely rocked it? We want inclusion for our kids, but do we only want it if it is comfortable? Lauren the person would never bring a gun to school, as most typical kids wouldn’t, but this was an acting role, not real life. The feeling of fear of the unknown, and of the future are very real, for Lauren and I think for every young adult, but this absolutely showed that guns are not the answer and that a bad decision can turn into a catastrophic one! Lauren is an actress and loves what she does. The writers, directors, and producers of Glee gave her this role, and she did what actors do, she acted! If you read posts from the non-DS community, they do not talk about fearing kids with DS because of this, they are talking about the work of the actors in the episode, all of them, and how Lauren Potter did an amazing job. They are not thinking of DS in a negative light, but in a positive one. They are seeing people with DS as having real feelings and emotions, just like everyone else, and they are seeing an actress who just happens to have DS as a viable and competent member of the acting community! Even an episode you don’t like, opens doors to other actors with DS, and helps those doors open wider to give credibility to actors with DS and other disabilities. People are talking! That is a good thing! What we should also be talking about is how to keep guns out of the hands of ALL kids…but that is another topic. Lauren and I love our DS community and we want to continue to make you proud, and to always know that we are sharing the message around the world that people with DS are more alike than different…the comments that we are getting from people are not fear of DS, but acknowledgement of Lauren’s wonderful acting and acceptance and inclusion! Lauren’s Mom

  4. Tania Morse says:

    Way to go to Julie Cevallos for her comment stereotyping of people with mental health conditions. *eyeroll*

  5. howard miller says:

    We hate the ‘R’ word because school kids use it as the ultimate derisive comment. We hate the fact that bullying of kids in special education is so widespread that we must sponsor national movements to combat it. We want everyone to look at people with Down’s syndrome like everyone else. So, when a young woman with Down’s syndrome cracks under strains that most of us cannot imagine and tries to protect herself from those who would mistreat her, why do we find this so objectionable?

  6. Jene says:

    That story line further stigmatizes people with intellectual disabilities, who are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. Additionally, it lumps people with disabilities into the same category as people with mental health challenges. This was not appropriate or helpful to the discussion about violence or guns.

  7. Ainsley Jo Phillips says:

    Due to problems with my television, I’ve not been able to see Glee (though this show sounds like my kind of show, due to, if nothing else, the inclusion of an actress with DS in the cast), but this sounds like a really good and realistic storyline to me. It goes to show that people with DS know about fear and the pain of disappointment just like the rest of us who don’t have that extra chromosome and could very well respond in ways that are wrong just like the rest of us. If the actress and her mother are both okay with this storyline, I would sooner trust their judgment than that of people who want inclusion just so long as it’s always safely-politically-correct and doesn’t “offend” anybody.

  8. Nora says:

    Yes, young people with Down Syndrome can go to college. It would be uneducated to profess otherwise. However, not all young people with Down Syndrome are encouraged to go to college or believe that themselves. I thought an extraordinary message (intended? I don’t know) in this complex story was that this character Becky has not been nurtured in this school to the point where she feels safe or independent enough to go into the next chapter of her life. The character knew she needed help dealing with her fears and reached out, first to a friend, and then to a trusted adult who had nurtured her (Sue). A lot of Glee is about the failed culture of the fictional McKinley High School/Lima, OH world letting people down in a lot of ways, and Becky is let down by that world in much the way others are. Brittany’s involvement in the Glee Club has empowered her to a place where she now has aspirations beyond high school, something earlier this season she didn’t have. The characters are on a journey, and it is a testament to Glee that they have put Becky on as complex a journey as they have others. Becky doesn’t stand in for all people with Down Syndrome or all cheerleaders or all teenagers or any other aspect of her identity. She is all of those things and more, and there are other stories to be told about people of all these identities. My hope is that we will get to meet other characters with disabilities across television programming in the future and more stories will be told. Hopefully sometimes individuals will see themselves in the stories, but it is also valuable to see stories of people who make choices other than those you would make.

  9. Carol Grenstein says:

    I love this show but I think this episode was slow and not enjoyable, I wish they would move away from this type of sensationalism and go back to what made the show great, more of the original cast and, stronger storylines. As a parent of a child with Down syndrome I didn’t like that Becky was the one who brought the gun to school but I think I just hated the storyline in general. I think this has been a rough year for Glee and I hope they can get the show back to when it was great!

  10. Tammy-Mother of a very young child with Down Syndrome says:

    Tammy-Mother of a very young child with Down Syndrome
    As a parent that gave birth to a child with DS almost 3 years ago (knew her diagnosis “before” she was born)….I think this was in very bad taste. Yes there’s the issue of it being “too soon” after the recent shootings, but also….why, why, why why, why make the shooter in this episode be a character with Down Syndrome?????? I am part of our cities DS Society, I have page after page that I am part of on Facebook with pictures and stories about these beautiful, loving, angelic creatures that so many have been blessed to have them put into our lives!!!!! The Sandy Hook shooter’s issues had nothing to do with him having DS. The movie theater shooter in Co. did not have DS. As a follower of Down Syndrome in Arts and Media, I feel that any headway any, any, any of us has made in spreading awareness about this condition that comes only from an extra chromosome upon conception has been completely compromised by such an ignorant episode of GLEE or whatever show decides to air crap like this. Just because an individual has DS or Autism, or ADHD, or ANY SPECIAL NEEDS!!!!!….does not mean they will take a gun to school, or grab and shoot one…..or anything like that. These people had SOCIAL ISSUES, It comes down to them not having the help that they needed to deal with these issues not that they had a special need. Horrible, Horrible, Horrible story line choice from any aspect, anyone that had to do with this episode or the airing of this episode of GLEE!

  11. Beth says:

    I agree that glee made a very poor choice. I feel that they could have done a better job portraying the issues that people with disabilities face when transitioning out of high school. I am a parent of an young adult with ID. I love glee but get real ID young adults are not the ones most likely to bring guns to school.

  12. Sylvia says:

    I have not watched Glee since one of the characters made fun of another character’s dancing by telling him that he looked like he was having a an epileptic fit! The scene was clearly not being used to promote epilepsy awareness.

  13. sandy says:

    I think it was extremely irresponsible and stupid for Glee to portray a person with Down Syndrome in this way! Thanks for feeding into people’s ignorance and prejudice against people with Down Syndrome.

  14. Russell says:

    I missed this episode but I feel the portrayal should be allowed. As a special ed teacher working with 18-22 year old students, I have to deal with emotional and behavioral outbursts from my students with Down Syndrome just as often as from my other students. The disability is not the issue here. The issue is gun violence, how we deal with the widespread proliferation of guns in our society, and the problems this poses when young people have easy access to dangerous weapons. We need to help young people realize that anger, frustration, and pain happen and there are ways to handle it that do not have lifelong negatives attached.

  15. DK says:

    Talk about completely missing the point. Did they even see the episode? Not once in the episode did they connect her disability to her decision to bring a gun to school. She was scared, just like any other student can be, and this story line could have been given to anyone. Glee can’t win. If they gave this story line to a student who is dark-skinned, they would be called racist. If they gave it to a male student, some people would find a way to make them look sexist – just like this article gives an ill-informed view of what actually happened on the show. Giving it to Becky shows that students with down syndrome can be scared just like anyone else and her decision to bring the gun was incredibly ill-informed due to the character herself, who has always been shown as rather naive, as opposed to having any connection to her disability. Disappointed.

  16. Mary says:

    Please don’t connect people with intellectual disabilities or mental illness with violence. Both are more likely to be victims.
    As for the argument that we want inclusion, sorry, that means inclusion in the typical world, not the world of spree killers!!!!!!
    The story line regarding Becky’s fear of the larger world would have been an excellent way to start THAT discussion.

  17. Janet Ann Collins says:

    That sounds like it encourages bigotry.

  18. 2ontheSpectrum says:

    Any time we put people with diabilities in front of people who don’t understand the disorder, it can be dangerous in the sense that they will get mis-information. For example, the Kiefer Sutherland series “Touch” in which his son, who has autism and is completely non-verbal, has a sixth sense about patterns that allows him to mystically figure things out.

  19. R Howarth says:

    I saw the show and I thought it was credibly and compassionately well drawn. It drew attention to issues that many talking heads have never considered. It also portrayed the great and conflicting tensions confronted by teachers on a daily basis.

  20. Janine says:

    I agree with the actresses’ mom. Why NOT Becky? If the show is going to take that big a step, they might as well continue to treat Becky’s character as one of the gang. If one of the other characters did this, would there have been as much of a reaction? Or, conversely, would there be a bigger outcry, with parents afraid other kids would mimic the show & bring in guns as a “joke?” It’s hard to gauge; with better gun control perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue at all…

  21. Amanda says:

    First, I have never met a person with DS. Not because of aversion but simply living in a small town. I have watched glee since day 1 and have always enjoyed and learned from Becky’s character. She has such a personality! The episode regarding the gun did not make me worried about safety should I be with a person that happens to have DS. Instead, the capacity to love and the depth of the bond between Becky and her mentor, were shown to me. The complexity of humanity exists within Becky’s character and I would assume all persons with DS. This actually provided insight to people with DS in a positive way.

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