When Glee tackled the topic of gunshots at school during April 11’s Season 4, Episode 18: "Shooting Star," the usually light-hearted show threw in a shocking twist right at the end of the hour.
It turns out that Becky (Lauren Potter), a high school student who has Down syndrome, was the one holding the gun. The sweet cheerleader had no intention of harming anyone — she only hoped that carrying her father’s gun might help protect her from an increasingly frightening and unfamiliar world.
The choice to make Becky the one responsible for the gunshots has raised more than a few eyebrows. Wetpaint Entertainment spoke exclusively with Diane Grover of the International Down Syndrome Coalition to hear her reaction.
Diane says that many in the Down Syndrome community are concerned that Glee’s storyline might confuse some people in the general public, and lead them to draw mistaken conclusions. In many school shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School just four months ago, mental illness has been labeled an underlying factor. To be clear, Glee’s Becky is not mentally ill. Down syndrome is a genetic condition, not a mental illness.
However, Diane says that focusing too much on the McKinley high school weapon scare makes everyone miss the bigger picture. “The gun in this episode detracts the viewers away from the bigger issues,” she says.
Facing graduation, and forced to leave the safe environment where she has been supported and cared for, Becky repeatedly says that she felt very frightened about her future. This issue is all too real for people who have Down syndrome, Diane says.
“Meaningful employment, social life, community inclusion after leaving school, for many, is non-existent,” she says. “State budgets are trying to cut funded opportunities for older teens/adults. Deep cuts in most states have been done already.”
To combat this problem, Diane hopes that Congress will pass the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2013, which was introduced to both the US Senate and House of Representatives on February 13. If passed, this act would create tax-free savings accounts to help cover the costs of education, housing, and transportation for individuals with disabilities. In other words, Becky’s future after she leaves high school would feel less frightening and uncertain.
“While others are discussing whether or not the gun scene is appropriate, accurate, or possible, we would rather discuss why Becky might be fearful of her future,” Diane says. “Glee did a good thing by presenting the fears that people with Down syndrome might have about life after high school, but the gun issue has distracted us from the message.”
Instead of focusing on the negative, she hopes to raise awareness about ways the U.S. can combat the root cause of Becky’s fears. “If that episode can bring that to light, some good can come from this controversial episode, whether it is realistic or not.”