02/07/2013 11:36 BST

The Simpsons 'Helps Gay People Come Out' Says German Academic Erwin In het Panhuis

The cartoon series The Simpsons has been credited with helping gay people come out because of its positive portrayal of homosexuality.

A new study has analysed how Matt Groening's programme has been "trailblazing" in changing attitudes toward gay people and countering discrimination.

German academic Erwin In het Panhuis analysed 500 scenes from The Simpsons, noting that Homer kissed men on the lips 50 times in the series.

The Simpsons has been credited with changing attitudes towards gay people

He said that The Simpsons treats "homosexuality as something normal" and noted that the cartoon was the first to dedicate an entire episode to gay marriage.

In his book, Behind the Gay Jokes - Homosexuality in 'The Simpsons,' Mr Panhuis said: "[The Simpsons] treats homosexuality as something normal in a media environment which can usually be very hostile to the point of view."

He says on his website: "Despite the recourse to stereotypes is at the Simpsons almost always an intelligent, fair and entertaining when dealing with homosexuality."

The front cover of the book by Erwin In het Panhuis

More than 70 gay characters feature in the cartoon, with Homer even conducting a gay marriage for his sister-in-law Patty Bouvier in one episode after Springfield legalises gay marriage in a bid to encourage tourism

Lisa also encourages her family to march in a gay parade, in an episode that shows Homer chanting "we're here, we're queer" and Homer being kissed by his gay roommate.

Panhuis devotes an entire chapter to Smithers and Burns, commenting their relationship is "very complicated.. full of fear and unrequited love and moments of real tenderness."

Fox channel has been broadcasting The Simpsons, for 20 years despite its conservative news coverage. In het Panhuis told the Local he thought the network might have continued to show the Simpsons as a “liberal fig leaf” in its entertainment package to appear diverse.