Up until the late 1990s, one would have been flipping the channels endlessly if they were in search of a relatable LGBTQ character. Thankfully, those days are long behind us and a slew of amazing television shows have brought us a fair share of amazing LGBTQ characters. Here are the ones that can be called the most beloved and iconic.
1. Ellen Morgan – Ellen
When it comes to an iconic LGBTQ character in a TV series, one of the most recognizable names ever would have to be Ellen Morgan from famed 1990s sitcom Ellen. When the show got its start in 1994, audiences assumed that the main character was straight — and they had every right to think so. Up to that point, a gay leading character had never been seen on television. However, that would all change with the third season’s The Puppy Episode.
Ellen came out to Susan (portrayed by Laura Dern), and unpacked that with her therapist, played by Oprah Winfrey. Things didn’t exactly go well for the show after this. While the two-part episode drew in a 42 million viewers and expanded the show’s fanbase, it got cancelled a year later for becoming “too gay”. Ellen and Laura Dern have gone on to state that their careers were slowed significantly for some time afterwards.
2. Anissa Pierce – Black Lightning
Anissa Pierce of Black Lightning fame has been a milestone in more ways than one. She stands as the first black lesbian superhero in the history of television. Nafessa Williams, the actress who plays Anissa, said the following during an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “I believe love is love. I’m just really grateful to tell the story for young lesbians – and black lesbians in particular – who don’t really see themselves on TV.”
She further stated, “My hope is that when you watch Anissa, a young lesbian is inspired to walk boldly as who she is and to love herself and to love herself exactly how she looks. I hope that our family on the show is an inspiration for some families just to be open and accept your children and love them. The Pierce family does a great job of doing that.”
3. Jack McFarland – Will & Grace
It goes without saying that Will & Grace was one of the most popular shows of the late 1990s and early 2000s. From the four main characters, the outspoken, loud, flamboyant, witty Jack McFarland was one of the most beloved. With his enthusiastic and comedic approach to almost everything, it isn’t hard to see why.
That said, the icon didn’t hit TV screens across America without receiving some serious backlash, and not just from haters of the LGBTQ community. The character of Jack McFarland was accused of perpetuating gay stereotypes. That said, it didn’t stop Sean Hayes, the actor behind Jack, from winning an Emmy Award for his role. While in retrospect he may have been at times very stereotypical, his visibility was crucial, and helped open the door for more LGBTQ characters in media.
4. Jack McPhee – Dawson’s Creek
Along with shows like 7th Heaven and Felicity, Dawson’s Creek was everything a 1990s television show was supposed to be. Centered around the young and beautiful, it was emotional, dramatic, and full of heartbreak. The heat was turned way up during the show’s second season when Jack McPhee entered the scene.
While he was initially there to form a love triangle between Joey and Dawson, he ended up becoming an LGBTQ television icon. As the episodes flew by, he eventually came out of the closet, and ended up making TV history by sharing the first same-sex kiss on network television. While it’s common on today’s television shows, two decades ago, this simple act was nothing short of revolutionary.
5. Will Truman –Will & Grace
While Jack McFarland was beloved, his screen costar Will Truman is also one of the most popular LGBTQ icons to ever hit television screens. He didn’t play into stereotypes the way most LGBTQ characters did at the time, and instead showed TV audiences everywhere that there are multiple facets to LGBTQ individuals, just like anyone else.
One can go as far as to claim that because he was more subdued, the character of Will was more relatable to a wider audience. This could be attributed to his complicated relationship with his own sexuality. That said, people also had their criticisms of Will, just like they had for Jack McFarland. Many pointed at the character and said that his characteristics indicated he was straight-washed for the sole purpose of making him palatable for the public.
6. Mitchell Pritchett & Cameron Tucker – Modern Family
In a time when a lot of 30-minute sitcoms were coming up stale, let alone inspiring laughter, Modern Family stood out as an oasis. With an all-star cast sporting big names like Ed O’Neal, characters like Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker did more than their fair share when it came to keeping the show afloat for 11 seasons.
While Mitchell and Cameron are far from being the first gay couple on prime time TV, they are likely the most recognizable one at this point in time. One could make the claim that while many LGBTQ couples on time were there simply to be an LGBTQ couple and to give some form of representation, these two were stand-alone characters who went beyond the sphere on their relationship status; their identity as LGBTQ was important but incidental.
7. Cyrus Goodman – Andi Mack
Disney has always been known for releasing conservative and very reserved material. However, the empire made history back in 2017 when they introduced Disney audiences to the hit show Andi Mack. It not only became an instant Disney Channel classic; it made history through the character Cyrus Goodman.
The 13-year-old broke ground by becoming the first LGBTQ character on that particular network. The show’s fans found this out when he admitted to Andi that he had a crush on a boy named Jonah. The president of GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis, went on to say about this important television moment, “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.”
8. Sophia Burset – Orange is the New Black
When it comes to groundbreaking characters in the prison drama Orange is the New Black, one cannot overlook the sheer raw talent embodied in Laverne Cox, one of the most visible and active transgender celebrities ever. Her portrayal of Sophia Burset garnered her a nomination for an Emmy Award and the title of being the first transgender person ever be nominated for an Emmy.
The nomination should shock no one, as she had some of the most compelling storylines on the show. Any fan can recall when she got her wig stolen, or how throughout the whole series she was constantly being denied her hormones on a basis of discrimination. She was even thrown in solitary confinement, and all the while tried to navigate her relationship with her son. What’s more, she was able to get released from prison, showing there can be hope for rehabilitation.
9. Blanca Evangelista – Pose
When it comes to people who can own a room with a glance, nobody can outfox Blanca Evangelista from the Ryan Murphy series Pose. The show gives us a unique, rare look into New York’s ballroom scene of the 1980s, set deep inside the world of working-class gay, trans, and queer black and Latin characters. While there a ton of great characters, all of whom are importantly played by actual trans women, the most eye-catching and complex would have to be Blanca.
In a world where LGBTQ people of color are ostracized and rejected (and where they are rapidly dying from AIDS), they build their own families, called ‘houses’, competing against each other and showing off their fashion and dance skills in balloroom pageants. Blanca brings rejected characters together and creates a home for them, encouraging those around her to succeed through tough love, all the while dealing with her own HIV-positive diagnosis. While Pose is relatively new, Blanca is instantly iconic.
10. Justin Suarez – Ugly Betty
If you found yourself watching television between 2006 and 2010, chances are you’ve immersed yourself in or at least heard of Ugly Betty. With America Ferrera’s character of Betty aside, one of the most talked-about characters on the show was Betty’s nephew, the character of Justin Suarez.
For the first three seasons of the show, Justin was the center of a lot of speculation. Many wondered if he was LGBTQ due to certain visual cues, as he was quite fashion-conscious and flamboyant. During the show’s last season, fans finally got the answer they were looking for when he came out of the closet. What makes the character so iconic is that he wasn’t shy about it or apologetic. He knew who he was and embraced it.
11. Jenny Schecter – The L Word
The L Word’s Jenny Schecter is iconic in a very unique light. The character was never so beloved by the masses, as she was often pointed out as being selfish and even narcissistic. That said, she was the centerpiece of the show’s two most engrossing storylines.
Who can forget the epic storyline centering around her coming out of the closet? Even more gripping was when she was murdered and the whole entire last season was dedicated to finding her killer. It goes without saying that The L Word, which is the first lesbian-themed television show to ever hit the screen, would have been far less without her iconic car crash of a character.
12. Lafayette Reynolds – True Blood
When it came to the plethora of personalities on the hit HBO show True Blood, one of the epic and key characters is Lafayette Reynolds. On the surface, he was just a short order cook. But if one watches on they’ll soon find that he’s a dealer, an essential part of Jason Stackhouse’s road crew, a Wiccan, a medium, and one of the most iconic gay characters on television.
Due to his sexual preferences, Lafayette was often looked over by some of the people he fought alongside with. However, once they got a load of his actual combat abilities, he would quickly be established as a total badass by his road crew.
13. Lana Winters – American Horror Story: Asylum
Lana Winters is definitely among the best and most iconic lesbian characters on television. She’s a massively successful journalist with the cards stacked against her in a male-dominated field in the 1960s. In an effort to expose the mistreatment of patients in a mental ward, the journalist ends up being wrongfully committed. From there, she experiences the hardships and terrors of asylum life for herself.
On top of that, she had to hide being a lesbian from everyone, as back then it was something that could legitimately result in one being in an asylum. Openly lesbian actress Sarah Paulson, who appears in many of the show’s other seasons in various forms and time periods, skillfully portrays this arresting character.
14. Piper Chapman – Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black exploded onto the scene in 2013 and was a hit all the way through its close in 2019. While the character of Piper Chapman wasn’t exactly the most beloved out of the many, she was the face of the series, as it focused on her journey from comfortable middle-class suburbia to women’s prison.
One of the most amazing parts of watching Orange is the New Black is seeing endlessly-complicated Chapman’s relationship with Alex Vause develop, even as Piper drifted away from her boyfriend in life outside of prison. It was gripping characters like Chapman that made the series the most popular show to ever grace Netflix. She is a perfect example showing that same-sex acts between women can be more than just exploitative; they can have great depth.
15. Willow Rosenberg & Tara Maclay – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Today, audiences will see no shortage of lesbian couples on television. However, back in the 1990s, one could find themselves endlessly flipping the channels in search of one. This changed once Buffy the Vampire Slayer took the airwaves by storm, and we were introduced to Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay.
It goes without saying that the relationship between Willow and Tara was the most healthy and positive in the whole series. However, nothing good lasts forever, and creator Joss Whedon eventually killed off Tara. This led to people accusing Whedon of being homophobic. However, he’d later prove them wrong, as Willow would later go on to break more ground by having the first same-sex love scene. However, sadly, it wouldn’t be with the beloved Tara.
16. Callie Torres & Arizona Robbins – Grey’s Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy has been met with great acclaim since its television debut back in 2005. Since then, it has introduced us to a slew of diverse characters. One of the best-received is Callie Torres. The LGBTQ character first showed up in the third season, and ended up making television history.
As of today, Callie Torres is the longest-running LGBTQ character in TV history. No doubt, the character’s most praised storyline was her relationship with Arizona Robbins. The marriage between the two started off sweet, but eventually took a heartbreaking turn. Despite that, their presence on one of television’s biggest shows represents bringing LGBTQ characters to the forefront of entertainment; written out for long, they are here to stay.
17. Connor Walsh & Oliver Hampton – How to Get Away with Murder
Going as far back as the first season of How to Get Away With Murder, audiences were able to see sparks fly between Connor Walsh and Oliver Hampton. Before becoming entangled with Oliver, Connor was a playboy with a substance problem. However, this lifestyle was something that wouldn’t last forever.
The on-and-off again relationship did wonders for Connor, as Oliver was eventually able to help him change his ways. The two also tackled difficult situations within Oliver’s own character. Fans can all recall when he came up as HIV-positive in the first season. Tackling these serious issues on mainstream television, let alone being an interracial gay couple, has propelled these two to television icon status.
18. Kurt Hummel – Glee
The most outspoken and visible of the LGBTQ characters on everyone’s favorite musical high school comedy-drama, Kurt Hummel is held near and dear to the hearts of Glee fans everywhere. He is unique in the fact that audiences got to see this character grow into his identity. Going back to the first season, we saw a young Kurt struggle with his own sexuality, unsure of how to define it or live it.
Most of his struggle early on stemmed from his romantic feelings for Finn Hudson. As the seasons passed, audiences watched this character blossom significantly. He and the lead member of the Dalton Academy Warblers, Blaine Anderson, became a power couple — and Finn became his stepbrother, a straight guardian to watch out for him. Chris Colfer, the openly gay actor who portrays Kurt, has been met with heaps of acclaim for his performance, winning a Golden Globe for his performance.
19. Titus Andromedon – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
In terms of character development, audiences are really taken on a wild ride when it comes to Titus Andromedon. The character takes us back in time to an era in his life when he wasn’t open about his LGBTQ identity, which is a far cry from the character we learned to love on TV.
Throughout his high school years, he was regarded as straight, even going as far as being crowned prom king and marrying his childhood friend Vonda Jeanne Brooks. Shortly after getting married, he flew to New York, set himself free, and became an ostentatious and liberated Broadway performer.
20. Xena – Xena: Warrior Princess
While there was no concrete evidence of Xena being LGBTQ back in the ’90s, her close relationship with her sidekick Gabrielle was the talk of the town. While both had romantic relationships with the opposite sex, none of those flings matched the devotion that the two seemed to have with one another.
Seeing the characters unsubtly coded as queer, the LGBTQ community has since embraced Xena and Gabrielle as icons. During an interview with Lesbian News magazine, New Zealander actress and Xena star Lucy Lawless went into detail about the relationship. She stated, “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.’”
21. Yorkie & Kelly – Black Mirror: San Junipero
If one wants to have a dark yet thought-provoking visual experience, they should look no further than Black Mirror. That said, one episode in their library can actually be listed as more on the uplifting side. The season three episode San Junipero is about Yorkie, a shy young lady in the ’80s, meeting a more outgoing woman named Kelly.
There is an immediate attraction between the two and they fall into a beautiful, sensitive, and healthy love affair. Once Yorkie loses contact with Kelly, she must search for her in different spaces and across the years. When found, Kelly is in pretty bad shape, and admits to Yorkie that she was never looking for a relationship with her. While it was a single episode in a vast series, the impact it has had cannot be denied.
22. Alec Lightwood & Magnus Bane – Shadowhunters
No same-sex romance has sparked the kind of sensation quite like the one between Shadowhunters’ Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane. The couple has been affectionately named ‘Malec’ by fans, and they have become the center of tons of discussion — not to mention steamy fan fiction and art.
Their joint popularity has earned the TV couple three Teen Choice Awards nominations. Sadly, the relationship has come to a standstill, as Shadowhunters was taken off air in 2019. As one can imagine, a lot of fans were left heartbroken. That said, through this day, the relationship between Alec and Magnus has been deemed one of the most realistic LGBTQ relationships on TV that constantly left viewers asking for more.
23. Frankie – Better Things
FX’s Better Things continues to break new grounds with its progressive, inclusive take on life. As such, the show has no lack of beloved LGBTQ characters. However, one of them definitely steals the show, and that’s Frankie. Portrayed by Hannah Alligood, Frankie is Sam’s middle daughter. It goes without saying that she is extremely mature and reserved for her age.
While her gender queerness isn’t exactly talked about on a huge level throughout the series, it is eventually touched upon by Sam and Mikey in season two. It’s a topic well worth exploring, so hopefully, we will be able to hear more about it in the seasons to come.
24. Taylor Mason – Billions
With television more diverse and inclusive than it ever has been, it isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world for a new show to hit the scene and break new ground. However, the popular financial drama Billions has managed to do so with the help of the character Taylor Mason.
Taylor Mason is portrayed by Asia Kate Dillon. Asia is the first gender non-binary actor to be in a starring role. While the character of Taylor Mason probably didn’t seem like much after first popping up on season two of Billions, the character later became essential to the show, and now stands as one of the most central characters.
25. Leila – The Bisexual
The Bisexual is a six-episode Hulu series that introduced us to Leila, a bisexual woman. She ends a long-term relationship with a girlfriend and then goes back to to being with men. The show takes its audience on one heck of a wild ride, and no one was more set to drive us than Desiree Akhavan, the actress who portrays Leila.
Not only is Desiree the lead actress, but also the creator and writer. Desiree grasps situations from her own experiences, and explores topics such as identity, belonging, and cultural differences. The show was met with rave reviews and it isn’t hard to see why.
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