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Representation of LGBTQ+ characters has come a long way since the first same-sex on-screen kiss in 1927. While there’s still a lot of work to be done, these best LGBTQ characters paved the way for the representation we see in the media today. Some of these characters are newer (such as Euphoria‘s Jules or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s Theo) while others go way back (like Ellen or Will & Grace‘s Jack), but each has played an important part in shaping LGBTQ+ representation in TV and film.
In honor of Pride Month, we rounded up 20 iconic LGBTQ+ characters who helped to define the millennium in entertainment. From the leads of groundbreaking shows like The L Word and Pose to the characters who made history in TV (such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Willow, who was featured in one of the first LGBTQ+ sex scenes between two women on TV). There’s still a long way to go in terms of LGBTQ+ representation in the media. Straight characters and heterosexual relationships on screen still outnumber their LGBTQ+ counterparts by far, and there’s still the issue of non-LGBTQ+ actors playing LGBTQ+ roles. As we hope for a better future in entertainment, look back on these 20 LGBTQ+ characters to helped get us to where we are today.
Ellen Morgan (Ellen)
Before she was a talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres was one of the first out lesbian actors to also play an out lesbian character on TV. During the fourth season of Ellen, her self-titled sitcom, DeGeneres came out in an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The character, Ellen Morgan, also came out on the show to her therapist, played by Oprah, around the same time. The rest of the series went on to explore LGBTQ+ issues and was one of the first TV shows at the time to center on a gay character.
Kurt Hummel (Glee)
Kurt Hummel, played by openly gay actor Chris Colfer, has been a beloved LGBTQ+ character since Glee premiered in 2009. The character’s romance with Blaine Anderson, a member of a competing glee club at a different school, became the heart of Glee throughout all six seasons.
Jack McFarland (Will & Grace)
Jack McFarland (played by Sean Hayes) is one of two gay main characters in Will & Grace. (The other being Will Truman, played by Eric McCormack.) Though both characters were pioneers in LGBTQ+ representation in the media, Jack has continued to be a fan-favorite long after the first run of Will & Grace ended, as well as when the series was rebooted. Though neither Jack nor Will had a kiss in season 1, the two made a tongue-in-cheek statement in season 2 when the characters kissed outside of NBC’s offices to protest the networking cutting a kiss from a show.
Callie Torres (Grey’s Anatomy)
Callie Torres (played by bisexual actor Sara Ramirez) is the longest-running LGBTQ+ character in TV history. Since the character’s debut in season 2, Callie went on to be a fan-favorite on Grey’s Anatomy for 11 seasons before her final episode in season 12. Callie was also in one of the central romances of the series with fellow doctor Arizona Robbins.
Jules Vaughn (Euphoria)
Jules became an immediate fan-favorite when Euphoria premiered in 2019. Played by newcomer Hunter Schafer, the character was a part of the central storyline in season 1 after Nate Jacobs, a student at Jules’ high school who started an anonymous relationship with her, blackmails her with her own photos. Jules also started a romance with Rue Bennett (played Zendaya), which many fans have shipped.
Eric Effiong (Sex Education)
Eric Effiong (played by Ncuti Gatwa) provides the comedic relief in Netflix’s Sex Education, but the character has also been praised for his more serious storylines, such as Eric’s difficult relationship with his family who disapprove of his sexuality and Eric’s romance with Adam, a character at his high school who bullies him because he’s gay.
Sophia Burset (Orange Is the New Black)
Laverne Cox is a household name now, but many TV viewers came to know her as Sophie Burset in Orange Is the New Black. For the role, Cox became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in any acting category. Since her star-making role in the Netflix series, Cox has been a trailblazer for the transgender community.
Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Willow Rosenberg, played by Alyson Hannigan, became one of the first LGBTQ+ characters to have a sex scene on TV after the character had an intimate scene in season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Though the show premiered in 2003, Willow is also remembered as one of the first main queer characters on a TV show.
Titus Andromedon (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
From his Lemonade spoof to his hilarious antics with Kimmy Schmidt, Titus Andromedon (played by Tituss Burgess) became an immediate fan favorite when Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt premiered in 2015.
Kat Edison (The Bold Type)
Kat Edison (played by Aisha Dee) was in one of The Bold Type‘s central romances with lesbian photographer Adena El-Amin. Since the show’s premiere in 2017, Dee’s character has been praised for her realistic representation of sex, especially among queer women.
Blanca Evangelista (Pose)
FX’s Pose made history in 2018 when it premiered with almost an entire cast of trans actors. Though there are many characters to highlight, Blanca Evangelista, one of the series’ protagonists who starts a competing House, has one of the most complex journeys on the show.
Rosa Diaz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Rosa Diaz is played by bisexual actor Stephanie Beatriz. Like Beatriz, the character is also queer, but among fans of the show, she’s better known for her apathetic, aggressive and stern sense of humor as a police officer with the 99th precinct with the New York City Police Department.
Taylor Mason (Billions)
Played by non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon, Taylor Mason is one of the first non-binary characters to be played by a non-binary actor on television. Since Billions‘ debut in 2016, Dillon has lobbied for awards shows, such as the Emmys and the SAG Awards, to get rid of gendered categories.
Bette Porter (The L Word)
The L Word became a part of LGBTQ+ history when it premiered in 2004 and became one of the first TV series to center on a cast of gay women. The series ran from 2004 to 2009 before it was rebooted with The L Word: Generation Q in 2019. Bette Porter, played by Jennifer Beale, was one of the series’ beloved characters during its original run.
Cyrus Goodman (Andi Mack)
Cyrus Goodman (played by openly bisexual actor Joshua Rush) was a part of one of the the first same-sex kisses on the Disney Channel during the run of Andi Mack, which aired on the network from 2017 to 2019.
Justin Suarez (Ugly Betty)
Ugly Betty, an American remake of the Colombian telenovela Yo soy Betty, la fea, was praised at the time for its representation of a Latinx family, but the show also deserves applause for Justin Suarez (played by Mark Indelicato), who was one of a few gay teen characters at the time.
Lafayette Reynolds (True Blood)
True Blood, a fantasy horror about vampires living in a small town in Louisiana, was a ratings hit for HBO when it premiered in 2008. The show also included a gay queer character in its cast in Lafayette Reynolds, played by Nelsan Ellis.
Theo Putnam (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)
Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina documented Theo’s transition as a trans boy in Greendale. The character is played by non-binary actor Lachlan Watson.
Mitchell Pritchett (Modern Family)
Mitchell Pritchett and his husband, Cameron Tucker, were one of the central couples on Modern Family, which ran from 2009 to 2020 and was one of the first TV shows at the time to feature a gay married couple in its cast. Mitchell is played by openly gay actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
David Rose (Schitt’s Creek)
Played by openly gay actor Dan Levy (who is also a co-creator on Schitt’s Creek), David Rose made headlines in 2015 when he became one of the first openly pansexual characters in TV. In the series, the character opened up about his sexuality and he “likes the wine, not the label” in reference to how he dates both men and women.