Degrassi: The Next...

Degrassi: The Next Generation Marks 20 Years of “Pride”

by Sarah Leung
Jobs People Do | JobsPeopleDo.com

Many Canadians have likely heard of the iconic youth drama series Degrassi. Beginning as The Kids of Degrassi Street in 1978, Degrassi transitioned into telling the stories of high school teens. The most prominent iteration of Degrassi was 2001’s Degrassi: The Next Generation, which began 10 years after 1991’s Degrassi High.

The core identity of Degrassi remained the same: to showcase the stories and lessons experienced by Canadian youth. Degrassi didn’t shy away from taboo topics such as teen pregnancy, drug use, gang violence, and school shootings. The series often carries the associated phrase, “it goes there.” The kinds of stories told on Degrassi were more groundbreaking than Canadian youth media at the time. This month, on October 8, the series reaches a 20-year milestone since the confirmation of its first out gay lead character, Marco Del Rossi. On October 8, 2003, Degrassi: The Next Generation aired part one of the Season 3 episode “Pride.”

The Context of “Pride”  

Degrassi: The Next Generation introduced Marco, portrayed by Adamo Ruggiero, as one of the new characters in Season 2. He becomes friends with the existing main cast, and sparks a quick relationship with fellow newcomer, Ellie Nash, portrayed by Stacey Farber. However, he questions his sexuality during this period. They agree to keep fake dating to keep Marco safe.

Marco and Ellie join a couple other Degrassi students for a beach day in the first part of “Pride.” In this episode Marco meets Dylan, the older brother of his close friend Paige. Dylan is an out gay teen, who easily combats homophobic comments. Marco directs his attention at Dylan, neglecting Ellie in the process. Ellie and Marco’s following break up leads Marco’s friend Spinner to set him up with another girl. The episode ends on a powerful scene with Spinner confronting Marco about his lack of interest in his date: Marco comes out, a very important milestone for the series and for Canadian youth television.

The Impact of “Pride”

“Pride” released at a time when same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Canada, meaning that LGBTQ+ rights and representation was much smaller than today’s society and media. It acted as a step towards representation in Canadian TV, and especially important to youth, who go through a lot of personal growth in the teen years.

Marco’s story also impacted the world outside of TV, including his own actor’s life. Marco’s coming out journey helped his actor come out. “What Marco gave me is a community,” Adamo Ruggiero said in an interview with AV Club. “In the promotion of the show, I connected with a queer world.” Marco helped Ruggiero enter a world that he also shared. Ruggiero came out in 2008 and continues to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in Canada.

LGBTQ+ rights in Canada continue to improve, but still face resistance from some. Just last month, many people across multiple provinces gathered to protest sexuality and gender identity (SOGI) education in schools. LGBTQ+ representation like Marco in Degrassi: The Next Generation provides one way to comfort LGBTQ+ youth who may not feel supported in their everyday lives.

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