Forenote: This article is intended to log the promotion and progression of LGBT related subjects in all South Park media. Therefore, the term "South Park" is referring to the franchise in general unless stated. It should be taken as a "real-world" analysis with South Park being viewed outside of its universe unless stated. Therefore information is aimed to be on-topic and story events only used to help explain the progression of the series on this matter. It should be noted that South Park is widely seen to be accepting in its offensive humor in that by having any subject matter up for ridicule, it is being inclusive. The creators have asserted this. Therefore the promotion of LGBT is done in an unusual manner when compared with shows.
When South Park began, it was a time where it was unusual for an openly gay character to exist in a cartoon, even an mature one. Critics and audience members praised it at the time for social innovation by having homosexuals be incorporated into its cast. Even for some time after, it was widely recognised that South Park was pioneering by ‘normalising’ the gay community and for being inclusive.
In an early episode, a character named Big Gay Al in essence promoted acceptance of the gay community. In the episode "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride", homosexual animals were seen to be shunned and brought into shelter by Big Gay Al, who took the character Stan on a boat ride to explain how accepting his gay dog back into his home is the right thing to do, as well as how changing him would be wrong; he should instead understand his pet's sexual preference and love him for what he was.
The later episode "Cartman Sucks", the character Butters is sent to an institution that aimed to force children into Christianity and heterosexuality. This was a negative portrayal of such attempts and shows the majority of children there depressed or even suicidal, with the latter being acted on constantly in the episode. This dark portrayal of forcing young people to not be who they are is typical of South Park and by the end of this episode the youngsters and Butters' father who sent had him sent there came to the realisation and acceptance of homosexuality, although it may be notable that it is likely that Butters did not fully understand these tendencies though he was indeed accepting in what he perceived. In the episode "My Future Self n' Me", Butters tried to reveal his 'supervillain' persona to Stan, exclaiming, "Now you know my terrible secret!" However, Stan responded with, "You're gay? It's fine if you're gay, Butters. I don't care". Even though this moment is used for humour, the rapid acceptance of the latter character over a perceived sexual orientation is nonetheless positive to promoting LGBT.
Herbert Garrison has been used extensively throughout the series and has had a complicated character arc, described as going “full circle” by the creators. Initially a homophobe, Mr. Garrison was a closeted homosexual and fiercely opposed acceptance of gay people in general. However, he would later have a personal journey to acceptance of himself as a gay man and had a loving relationship with the character Mr. Slave. They would later grow apart as Mr. Garrison transitioned to being female and was known as Janet Garrison for some time. She was still attracted to men, but this could be seen heterosexual for Garrison was fully transitioned to being female, having had a sex change operation. In the fallout of Janet and Mr. Slave breaking up, she became hateful towards homosexuality again but it is in the character of Garrison that this was in anger towards Mr. Slave for their breakup, despite the proposition of appalling acts against the lovers. She would lead the town in a debate and opposition against the allowance of gay marriage in their state, although this would eventually pass. She could later be seen as bisexual, for in the episode "D-Yikes!" she would have sexual relations with lesbians that frequented a bar that catered exclusively to lesbians. Garrison would later become unhappy and transition back into being ‘Herbert Garrison’, a male homosexual, with a fictional reverse sex change operation (although it is indeed possible for personal identity to change, it is not currently possible to fully revert a person to their original outward gender).
Mr. Slave is not seen often and has been previously mentioned to have a relationship with Mr. Garrison. However, he would become frustrated over Garrison's transition, not in ill acceptance but for not discussing how it would affect their relationship. This deemed selfishness ended the relationship between Garrison and Mr. Slave, the latter of which would develop a relationship with Big Gay Al. They later got engaged to each other then married.
In South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Satan was seen to be in a complicated relationship with Saddam Hussein who was seen to be abusive and manipulative of Satan. This portrayal of a complex homosexual relationship was also seen positively by critics. The pair would later break up in the movie and Satan would be in a deep relationship with Chris in an episode that aired later. To further the complexity of gay relations in South Park media, Satan was seen to be caught between the two and ended up not having relations with either for he decided he needed some personal discovery alone.
There existed a fan ‘shipping’ of the two young characters, Tweek Tweak and Craig Tucker. This was explored in-cheek during "Tweek x Craig". It began as a reference to the shipping but as the episode developed, the two ended up officially being together. Their relationship has stuck albeit ‘on-and-off’ as during the game South Park: The Fractured But Whole the player must convince them to get back together, but they do by the end of the game.
In the episode "The Cissy", there is an exploration of possibility for different gender identity for the South Park Elementary students, used for comedic effect as there is confusion over which bathroom can be used for which identity. However, the identities of being cisgender, transgender and a transvestite are all explored in the episode, as well as that none of these behaviors necessarily dictate one's attraction to the opposite or same gender. It may be worth noting that in this episode both Cartman and Wendy declared a different gender identity to their previous one, though for both this is almost certainly in pretence; Cartman having wanted access to the girls' bathroom then to have his own, and Wendy in revenge, or perceived justice, over this. Stan also showed confusion over his sexual identity.
Further to the game franchise, the first game in the new franchise South Park: The Stick of Truth had the player character be forcibly male (although there exists an unofficial modification for the game where the character can play as female, albeit being referred to with male pronouns in the game). But, any item of wear typically deemed ‘female’ can be worn by the player character. Indeed, there is a section where the player character must go ‘undercover as a girl’ and there is a parody dress-up style section; any item chosen here is available for the rest of the game. So despite the player character being forcibly male, it could be interpreted otherwise. For, in the sequel, it can be retconned according to the player's decision. There is a deliberate, tongue-in-cheek amount of availability of backgrounds and sexual orientation but a shortlist of possible declarations that the player can make about their character include being cisgender (male or female), transsexual (male or female), bisexual; asexual, gay (lesbian or homosexual), heterosexual, pansexual etcetera. Many combinations are possible and any decision made can be remade. No matter what the player decides their character is referred to as male by pronoun in most instances. However, there is tongue-in-cheek dialogue that is possible to hear from characters that have a suspicion about the player character's true personal identity. Indeed, some residents will know outright how the player has declared themselves.
Mayor McDaniels has been implied to be bisexual or sexually explorative; she has been seen reading pornography with a busty woman on the cover. However, it has been heavily implied that she has had sexual relations with Officer Barbrady, as well as confirmed with Chef. Officer Barbrady himself has been seen in suspender-style 'female' underwear, though in secret, in the midst of a possible intimate moment or aforementioned sexual relations with Mayor McDaniels. Kenny has also cross-dressed, assuming the role of female character 'Lady McCormick' during the episode "Black Friday", then later as 'Princess Kenny' during "A Song of Ass and Fire", "Titties and Dragons" and "South Park: The Stick of Truth". The characters are accepting of this and include Kenny as a central role of their game in the episodes and he could still be seen as an important character during the Stick of Truth, the only commentary being by Cartman who privately says to the player, "Don't ask why Kenny wanted to be a chick, it's just how he seems to be rolling now".
In South Park, there are occasional celebrity characters used in a way that could be seen to be promoting LGBT, whether it is agreed to have represented the true-life person or not. In the episode "Dead Celebrities", Ike is possessed by Michael Jackson, refusing to move on without first enacting his dream of embodying a young girl. The boys, even through their motivation was to free Ike, made no commentary against this and indeed helped with this goal. The only such commentary was made by Ike when he was no longer possessed.
Randy and Gerald Broflovski have masturbated in front of each other in a hot tub, seen in the appropriately-titled "Two Guys Naked in a Hot Tub". They decide that the act was homosexual but not as a true attraction to each other beyond their normal friendship. Randy was later seen to dress as, and assume the identity, of female singer Lorde; in-universe, he actually is the singer and effectively "identifies as 17 year old girl from New Zealand" through temporary transitions, to then revert to being a cis male. He is seen briefly as Lorde performing at the end of "Gluten Free Ebola". In "The Cissy", it is heavily implied that, like Cartman, he is transitioning into Lorde on-and-off in order to use the ladies' toilet during lunch breaks. Stan discovers the secret that his father is Lorde during the episode and his wife off-screen. Perhaps of note, Butters is seen dancing to 'Lorde' in a tutu, but it could be argued that small subtitles such as this go a long way. They are tolerant of Randy's behavior but assert a good image for young girls in "#REHASH", but his normal performance is made through audio manipulation and was pushed into performing live. With his ordinary singing causing a negative audience uproar, in an act of desperation he mimicked female masturbation (to further negative attention). Randy later tried to fix a test of his heritage to show that he was Native American in the episode "Holiday Special" by kissing a Native American named Bill Yellow Hawk. Though Randy was not interested in a relationship, Bill Yellow Hawk pursued him and tried to enter a regular relationship with him. He brought his parents to meet Randy, who were supportive of his homosexuality or possible bisexuality.