Breaking Boundaries

20 LGBTQ+ characters that changed television forever

In 1971, the inflammatory sitcom All in the Family introduced the first openly gay character to the world of television. Since that instance of imperfect representation, however, we’ve come a long way in respectfully representing the LGBTQ+ community on film. Here are some of our favorite characters that have helped pave the way for a more inclusive Hollywood. 

Our Flag Means Death (Stede & Blackbeard)

We love these characters both individually and as a couple. Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby’s characters Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet fall passionately in love while pillaging the high seas. Both embark on a journey of self-discovery and sacrifice, where in the end their love is greater than any pirate adventure. This show did an extraordinary job flying the rainbow flag, with many other principal and guest characters falling within the LGBTQ+ spectrum. 

Bob’s Burgers (Bob Belcher)

The premise of Bob’s Burgers might seem simple: a family runs a burger shop together. However, the depth and love captured within this family dynamic are truly moving. Although the ever-sweaty and often pessimistic patriarch Bob is married to the lively Linda, there are a fair few times when his pansexuality is casually mentioned. Never is it made a big deal of though, as Bob and his family nonchalantly embrace his spot on the LGBTQ+ spectrum making it a unique and touching win for LGBTQ+ representation. 

Sex Education (Eric Effiong)

You really can’t have a British dramedy show about randy high schoolers without having a few amazing LGBTQ+ characters representing the rainbow. Sex Education does an incredible job of not only portraying queer couples but also individual journeys of discovery and exploration. Ncuti Gatwa’s Eric is phenomenal. As the best friend of the main character Otis, he isn’t afraid to be himself and never stops finding new ways to express who he is. The show does not shy away from the realities of bigotry, and although we have to watch Eric endure horrible treatment, he teaches us how to be brave, bold, and the best friend anyone could ask for. 

Schitts Creek (David Rose)

This show combined hilarious hijinx with some of the most profound and moving character development in decades. The iconic character David Rose begins as an entitled and absurdly-dressed trust fund kid who grows into a compassionate, absurdly dressed individual. Viewers initially assume David is gay but we soon discover with the help of the now famous line “I like the wine, not the label”, that he is pansexual.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Theo Putnam)

Theo Putnam is an intelligent, inquisitive, and caring trans boy and one of Sabrina’s best friends. Lachlan Watson’s Theo begins his journey by identifying as non-binary and later transitions fully to Theo. His friends immediately accept and applaud this news, creating a safe and informative space for the audience that is truly magical. 

Game of Thrones (Renly Baratheon)

“Game of Thrones” quickly became one of the most acclaimed series in TV history. In Season 1, we meet Renly Baratheon, an heir to the Iron Throne and a beloved ruler to many. Renly does not have the same brutality and viciousness that runs through many of the characters, instead being a level-headed and kindly man who is widely known to prefer the company of other men. For a genre often overwhelmed with misogynistic characters and plot lines, it was refreshing to see queer representation amongst the patriarchial riff-raff. 

Xena Warrior Princess (Xena and Gabrielle)

Although it was never explicitly stated in the show that these two hotties were in love, Lucy Lawless, who played Xena has confirmed that in her mind, they were absolutely a couple, and we don’t argue with TV royalty. Regardless of explicit representation, these two characters and their profound connection have long been icons in the lesbian community and are responsible for a deluge of sexual awakenings. 

Brooklyn 99 (Raymond Holt)

As a fantasy of a compassionate, inclusive, and safe police department, Brooklyn 99 made waves as a well-written cop show comedy. Acting as the fictional department’s leader, Raymond Holt is a hilariously reserved police captain. Early on we learn this strong, stoic man with the resonant voice of a judicious wizard is also gay, and married to the equally-aloof Kevin. This show tackled many important social issues and never shied away from respectfully and accurately representing members of the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.

Killing Eve (Villanelle)

There aren’t a lot of murderers on this list, but we really couldn’t leave out this sultry spitfire. The show tells the story of a female intelligence detective on the trail of a notorious psychopath. Villanelle is a riveting polyglot assassin with a pension for getting out of control and as the two characters tiptoe around one another, a mutual obsession begins to form. Perhaps not the quintessential representation of the LGBTQ+ community, but a fascinating and important one.  As the audience, we bear witness to these two women discovering layers of themselves and we get to binge-watch their unorthodox courtship. 

Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Mac)

Not widely considered the most appropriate or affirming show, Always Sunny has done a surprisingly gentle job with Mac’s coming out. Throughout several seasons we watch the Catholic karate kid struggle with his sexuality and body dysmorphia with no help from his friends. There are plenty of times when ‘the gang’ is outright offensive when dealing with these important social issues, but finally, in their 13th season, they allowed Mac to come out with grace, and dare I say it, beauty. In a show where nothing is taken seriously, the modern dance Mac performs for his father after telling him he’s gay is nothing short of moving. 

Dragon Prince (Terry)

It’s no surprise that the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender have developed a show with such incredible and effortless representation. Among the many BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and differently-abled characters of this fantasy adventure, one Earthblood Elf stands out. Terry is a friendly and talkative lad who expresses beautifully that “the other elves saw me as a doe, I always knew I was a buck.” Representation in children’s cartoons is so important and brings so much hope that someone might watch Terry and feel seen for the first time in their lives. 

True Blood (Lafayette Reynolds)

If your favorite True Blood character wasn’t Lafayette, did you even watch the show? Widely considered the most well-rounded and compelling character, Nelsan Ellis’s Lafayette defied stereotypes while simultaneously holding everyone around him together. As a medium, drug dealer, sex worker, and expert line cook, Lafayette emulated what an unforgiving and oftentimes brutal upbringing can do to someone. We watch him deal with the most horrendous treatment and blood-boiling bigotry, and through it all, he remains a powerhouse and a beacon for real LGBTQ+ representation. 

Grace & Frankie (Sol & Robert) 

This show broke ground on several fronts. The first being a realistic representation of aging, growth, and loss. Unsurprisingly the show also expertly dives into a storyline not often discussed or shown on screen; that of the late-in-life coming-out story. We watch as two women’s lives fall apart when their husbands declare that they are in love with each other. The subsequent chaos for the ladies leads to hilarious hijinx, but it also allows a lens into the tender and emotional journey of two men rediscovering who they are, together. 

Modern Family (Mitchell Pritchett)

Although his larger-than-life partner Cam generally gets all the attention from fans and the family, Mitch is a wonderful representation of the LGBTQ+ community. A successful albeit tightly wound lawyer, he still struggles with aspects of being out and proud. Even though his sister, mother, and auxiliary family members accept him without hesitation, there is still great tension between him and his father. With too many members of the queer community who endure similar relationships and treatment, his is a very important character arc to be shown on screen. 

The Magicians (Eliot Waugh)

In a world with so many stories of magical children at their magical schools, it’s nice when one contains the wide array of colors found in our world. Eliot is a fierce and brilliant character and you’ll instantly either want to be him or be with him. Never shying away from accurate depictions of sexual desire and difficult personal growth, Eliot shows us that the bravest thing you can do is be yourself.

Friends (Carol Willick)

Considering it was the biggest show in the world during the ‘90s and 2000s, it’s no surprise Ross’ ex-wife made the list of influential LGBTQ+ characters. During a time when the LGBTQ+ community was still fighting for basic rights, representation, and acceptance, having a gorgeous lesbian on a prime-time show was groundbreaking. Although many Friends jokes and storylines do not hold up well today, Carol and Susan’s relationship showed audiences a strong “non-traditional” family unit. 

American Horror Story (Lana Winters)

Tackling some incredibly triggering and intense themes, AHS Season 2 delved into conversion therapy and unmitigated discrimination through the eyes of undercover journalist Lana Winters. Not for the faint of heart, we watch a clever woman be subjected to horrendous treatments that were common for people in the LGBTQ+ community for decades if not centuries. Though it’s not the most uplifting example of representation, it is important that we as a modern society never forget what was once considered ‘normal’, ensuring it does not happen again.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Emily Malek)

Similarly to AHS, this series based on the acclaimed book, delves into dark histories and practices, bringing them to a new and horrifying modern light. Emily, a successful biology professor is forced like many other women into sexual servitude as a ‘handmaid’. We discover early on that she is a lesbian, and when Gilead is formed must hide that aspect of herself for her safety. What she subsequently endures is a disturbing homage to the abominable medical procedures famously carried out against the will of thousands of LGBTQ+ people throughout history. 

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Titus Andromedon)

No list would be complete without mentioning Kimmy’s effervescent and hilarious roommate, Titus. Most famous for making an entire generation of binge-watchers go out and buy cases of Pinot Noir, this lively LGBTQ+ character blossoms above stereotypes. Adorned in flowing robes and fabulous colors he is one of the most expressive and smile-inducing gays since Jack from Will & Grace

Steven Universe (Garnet)* Spoilers

Honestly, we could have picked nearly any character from this amazing and visually appealing show, but we went with our favorite. Garnet is portrayed as a strong, stoic leader and eventually, we discover that she is in fact the fusing of two very different gems. We are shown the story of Ruby and Sapphire, how they met, and although they are opposites, they are meant to be together. Neither one is fully themselves without the other. The poignant and touching relationships expressed in this show are some of the most impactful and trailblazing in all of TV history. 

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