Did your favorite LGBTQ television character make the cut?
From beloved gay couples like Mitchell and Cameron to trans trailblazers like Sophia Burset, the past three decades have been filled with undeniable LGBTQ visibility on television. Recently, GLAAD reported that the amount of queer characters on our screens has increased by over 100 to a new record, thanks in part to Ryan Murphy’s acclaimed series Pose. To celebrate this milestone, we look back at thirty of the inspiring LGBTQ characters who shaped television history. Who are your favorites?
Willow Rosenberg and Tara Macclay – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Willow Rosenberg and Tara Macclay were one of the first lesbian couples on television, and their romance was the most positive in all seven seasons of Buffy. Fans were outraged when Joss Whedon killed off Tara in the sixth season, accusing him of being homophobic (which was completely unfounded). This tragedy sparked Willow's iconic Dark Phoenix story arc, where she sought revenge by flaying Tara's murderer alive and attempting to destroy the world. In the seventh season, Willow had a new love interest - potential slayer Kennedy (Iyari Limon) - and their love scene was the first lesbian sex scene on network television. Despite this, viewers wished that it would have been with Tara instead.
Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane (Matthew Daddario and Harry Shum Jr) – Shadowhunters
One of the most popular TV couples in recent memory, Alec and Magnus (known by fans as 'Malec'), won the hearts of millions during Shadowhunters' run. They received three Teen Choice Award nominations and Matthew Daddario (Alec) even won two for Breakout Star and Sci-Fi/Fantasy Actor. Describing their romance as one of the most natural and realistic LGBTQ relationships on air, viewers were heartbroken when Shadowhunters was cancelled earlier this year.
Anissa Pierce (Nafessa Williams) – Black Lightning
Celebrated for making television history as the first black lesbian superhero, Nafessa Williams' portrayal of Anissa Pierce is a powerful message for young lesbians across the world. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she said: "Love is love and I'm grateful to tell this story. My hope is that when you watch Anissa, someone feels inspired to walk boldly in their own identity and love themselves exactly how they look." The Pierce family provides a powerful example on acceptance and love - serving as an inspiration for viewers everywhere.
Blanca Evangelista (M.J. Rodriguez) – Pose
All hail the incomparable Blanca Evangelista! Since her introduction in Pose, this queen of the House of Evangelista has quickly become an icon. Her firm yet fair and fabulous heart makes sure her queer family receives all the love and support they need to achieve opportunities she never had herself. With Blanca ruling our screens, we can be sure there will only be 10s across the board. Amen!
Callie Torres and Arizona Robbins (Sara Ramirez and Jessica Capshaw) – Grey’s Anatomy
Callie Torres has become an iconic figure in TV history and the LGBTQ community. Since her introduction to Grey's Anatomy in its third season, she has appeared in 11 seasons and 239 episodes - making her the longest running LGBTQ character on television. Her relationship with Arizona Robbins earned universal acclaim and they quickly became firm fan-favorites, often listed as two of the most beloved lesbian characters on TV.
Connor Walsh and Oliver Hampton (Jack Falahee and Conrad Wayne Ricamora) – How to Get Away with Murder
Connor and Oliver have had an on-and-off relationship since the start of the series. Connor was previously known as a playboy, but was changed by their relationship - and Oliver even helped him get through his drug addiction. In the penultimate episode of the first season, the two got tested for STDs, which revealed that Oliver was HIV positive. This relationship is groundbreaking as they are an interracial couple (which we don't often see) and it is also rare to have such a heavy topic addressed in a mainstream show.
Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) – Orange is the New Black
Laverne Cox's powerful portrayal of inmate Sophia Burset has earned her an Emmy nomination - making her the first transgender actress to be nominated for such an award. Her character faces discrimination as she is denied hormones, put in the SHU for "protection", and has her wig confiscated. For many viewers with little knowledge of the transgender experience, this show serves as an eye-opening exploration of their daily strife.
Cyrus Goodman (Joshua Rush) – Andi Mack
In 2019, the Disney Channel series Andi Mack made history by introducing its first ever openly gay character. The show saw 13-year-old Cyrus Goodman admit to his best friend Buffy that he has a crush on another guy at school, Jonah. At the time, GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis said: “With more and more young people coming out as LGBTQ, Andi Mack is reflecting the lives and lived experiences of so many LGBTQ youth around the country” - making it an undoubtedly landmark moment in both Disney's history and queer representation.
Ellen Morgan (Ellen Degeneres) – Ellen
In the fourth season of her self-titled sitcom, Ellen and her character both came out as gay in what would be nicknamed "The Puppy Episode". This episode was a huge success ratings-wise (42 million viewers) and gained a lot of attention. After it aired, the show got renewed for another season - but was then cancelled for being "too gay". As a result, the careers of both Ellen and guest star Laura Dern (who played her love interest on the show) suffered; Dern claimed that she didn't receive any work for 1.5 years. Despite this, it was an historic moment in TV history as it marked the first time that a main character had ever come out on television.
Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Born Ronald Wilkerson, Tituss Burgess kept his true identity a secret all through high school (even being named prom king) until his wedding day to childhood friend Vonda Jeanne Brooks. Shortly after, he travelled to NYC under the name Titus Andromedon, and made his dream of becoming a Broadway performer a reality. His performance has earned him universal acclaim and four consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor!
Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes) – Will & Grace
Jack McFarland's character in Will & Grace has been subject to a mixed reception due to the perpetuation of gay stereotypes, but he remains one of television's longest-running and most iconic queer characters with 188 episodes across ten seasons. Sean Hayes received an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in recognition of his portrayal and was also nominated for a Golden Globe.
Jack McPhee (Kerr Smith) – Dawson’s Creek
Jack McPhee was originally cast to create a love triangle between Dawson and Joey, but he ended up becoming one of the most influential characters on television. He was the first gay man to kiss another man on network TV, and was one of the only main gay characters on our screens in the 90s. It's safe to say that Jack helped a lot of us come to terms with our identity.
Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner) – The L Word
Mia Kirshner's portrayal of The L Word villain Jenny Schecter was celebrated by critics during the show's sixth season, despite her character facing criticism for her narcissism and selfishness. Nevertheless, her character was featured in many iconic storylines, most notably when she came out and when she was murdered. Her presence played an important role in making The L Word - one of the first lesbian TV shows ever - what it is today; there's no denying she's iconic.
Roger Smith (Seth MacFarlane) – American Dad
Roger Smith is undisputedly the most iconic character in any adult sitcom. An androgynous, pansexual, and selfish space alien, his sadistic antics make us fall in love with him - no matter what. Some of our favorite moments include when he tells Steve he's adopted because he stole his cookie; when his alter-ego puts out a hit on himself; or when he recreated Madonna's Papa Don't Preach video! Roger is not just an LGBTQ icon - but an icon for many generations.
Justin Suarez (Mark Indelicato) – Ugly Betty
Justin Suarez - who didn't come out until the show's fourth season - was an incredibly influential figure with his unapologetic attitude. He was flamboyant, and he loved fashion, not letting high school bullies get him down. Mark Indelicato has shared that he received a lot of fan mail for his portrayal, with young gay kids thanking him for finally giving them a representation on TV.
Patrick Murray (Jonathan Groff) - Looking
If you haven't seen Looking, drop whatever you're doing. Get on HBO, and watch it! Don't forget the movie to help tie up the storylines either. The cancellation of this incredibly real series of what being a gay man is like is one of the biggest travesties in world history. Jonathan Groff's character, Patrick, does such a great job of navigating the sexy life of being a gay man while also exploring real relationships and handling those difficult conversations like open relationships. Must. Watch.
Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) – Glee
From the very start of Glee, Kurt Hummel struggled with his sexuality and romantic feelings for Finn Hudson (Corey Monteith). As the show progressed, he formed a powerful couple with Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss) ― the leader of Dalton Academy Warblers, Glee's rival team. Chris Colfer was widely regarded for his role and even won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis) – True Blood
The late Nelsan Ellis gave an incredible performance as Lafeyette Reynolds in True Blood. The character was originally written to be killed off, but due to its popularity got seven seasons. The main storyline focused on his relationship with Jesús Velásquez (Kevin Alejandro) and then how he ended up possessing Jesús' inner demon when he died. Many underestimated him because of his sexuality, yet time and time again he proved them wrong by defeating them in hand-to-hand combat.
Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) – American Horror Story: Asylum
Sarah Paulson gave a brilliant performance as Lana Winters in American Horror Story. She was an unwavering journalist who was wrongfully committed to the Briarcliff Manor Asylum after trying to expose its torture and mistreatment. Her strength inspired viewers, especially the LGBTQ audience, since she was working in a male-dominated field in the mid-60s and kept her relationship secret due to possible repercussions.
Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino) - Love, Victor
Love, Victor is a follow up to the adorable Love, Simon. Hulu created such an adorable world where Victor Salazar experiences coming out in high school while falling in love with the very attractive barista Benji. This is a must watch for anyone but bring the kleenexes!
Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) – Modern Family
Modern Family has been an immensely popular comedy show for the past decade and Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker have been there in every season. Jesse Tyler Ferguson's portrayal of their characters received numerous Emmy nominations, while Eric Stonestreet went home with two awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor.
Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) – Orange is the New Black
Piper Chapman from Orange is the New Black may not be everyone's favorite character but she has been the face of this Emmy Award winning series for its entire seven-season run. Her relationship with Alex Vause (played by Laura Prepon) has remained a center point throughout, providing viewers with a bisexual female lead character that is rarely seen on their TV screens. The show remains hugely popular since its debut, and holds the honor of being Netflix's most watched original series in history.
Michael Novotny (Hal Sparks) - Queer As Folk
If you are of a certain age, you most definitely have seen Queer As Folk. This was the first series to have so many LGBTQ characters and tackle the real issues impacting our community including hate crimes, HIV, coming out, conversion therapy, and just living our lives. Yes, some of the plotlines verge on the more fantasy world of Liberty Ave, but it's still adorable. Our community has come a long way since this show appeared so yes, some of the references are dated. Yes, we are lacking BIPOC characters, trans characters, and better storylines for our lesbian characters. But much like Will & Grace, this was a groundbreaking show that allows us to explore topics today.
Stewie Griffin (Seth MacFarlane) – Family Guy
Stewie Griffin is an eccentric and flamboyant one-year-old with a plan to destroy the world (and possibly kill his mother Lois). His sexuality has been kept ambigiuous throughout the show - he expresses attraction for both men and women - and even had a muscular man as his phone screensaver. Seth MacFarlane originally planned an episode in which Stewie came out, but scrapped it. However, he later admitted that Stewie is "almost certainly gay". We can all relate to this lovable character on many levels!
Will Truman (Eric McCormack) – Will & Grace
Will Truman, the beloved character played by Eric McCormack, is a popular figure in TV history. He has featured in all ten seasons of Will & Grace, showing people that gay characters can be multi-dimensional. Audiences connected to Will as he balanced kindness and generosity with insecurity and self-involvement. During its original eight season run, there was criticism for straight-washing this character to make him more appealing to heterosexual viewers. Despite this, McCormack has earned an Emmy for his performance and was nominated four additional times at the Emmys and six times at the Golden Globes.
Xena – Xena: Warrior Princess
Xena (Lucy Lawless) and Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) have been embraced by the LGBTQ community as lesbian icons, though their relationship was never explicitly stated during the series. In an interview with Lesbian News magazine, Lawless affirmed that their relationship was 'definitely gay'. She said: “It wasn’t just that Xena was bisexual and kinda liked her gal pal and they kind of fooled around sometimes, it was ‘Nope, they’re married, man.'”
Yorkie and Kelly – Black Mirror: San Junipero
San Junipero was an episode unlike any other - its two leads, Yorkie and Kelly, had a chemistry that won it two Emmy Awards in the Television Movie and Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special categories. Upliftingly, this episode presented the possibility of a happy ending in the midst of so much tragedy; it is often seen as one of the finest episodes in television histor