There was a time, not long ago, when it was rare to see gay characters in TV shows. Occasionally there was a supporting player who viewers suspected may be gay, but it was never spoken of outright. Never
And, on those rare occasions when you would see lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender characters, they usually appeared as tragic victims or twisted killers. Seldom were they represented as whole human beings.
The times have definitely changed, and now LGBT characters are seen on almost every network. So, with Netflix binge-watching season officially in full swing, we thought it would be fun to list some of the gayest TV characters to ever grace the silver screen.
Dr. Smith, Uncle Arthur and Jane Hathaway
Lost in Space’s Dr. Zachary Smith alternates between being an entitled man of exquisite taste, and a panicked pansy needing rescue — both of which fit gay stereotypes at the time. Actor Jonathan Harris was considered a gay icon.
Uncle Arthur was the flamboyant brother of Samantha’s mother, Endora (who many likened to a drag queen) in Bewitched; plus, actor Paul Lynde wasn’t shy about hinting at his homosexuality considering the times.
Jane Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies was married to her job, showed no interest in hunky Jethro, and wore sensible shoes; plus, actress Nancy Kulp implied she was a lesbian late in life.
Doug Salter (Hal Holbrook) in ‘That Certain Summer’
Holbrook played a divorced father who reveals his sexual orientation to his teenage son, and Martin Sheen played Halbrook’s younger lover. It was a trailblazing TV movie for 1972 and won numerous awards.
Jodie Dallas (Billy Crystal) in ‘Soap’
Jodie Dallas was one of the first regular LGBT characters on TV who alternated between breaking stereotypes and reinforcing them. This show, a spoof of soap operas, was created, written, and produced by Susan Harris, who later produced Benson, Golden Girls and Empty Nest.
Steven Carrington (Al Corley and Jack Coleman) in ‘Dynasty’
TV’s first openly gay character on a prime-time drama eventually became bisexual, which was in response to the conservative political atmosphere at the time. However, in the 1991 Dynasty miniseries “The Reunion,” Steven is finally seen in a long-term relationship with his partner, Bart Fallmont.
Russell Weller (David Marshall Grant) & Peter Montefiore (Peter Frechette) in ‘Thirtysomething’
For the first time on primetime television, two men were seen in bed together — and it caused incredible controversy. ABC lost more than $1 million in advertising revenue and five of the series’ ten sponsors; they subsequently pulled the episode from rebroadcast.
‘One Life to Live’
In 1992, Billy Douglas (played by a young Ryan Phillippe) became the first gay high schooler on network TV, garnering widespread acclaim for the series. Then between 2004 and 2005, Mark Solomon (William M. Cavenaugh), came out while at Llanview University and later is revealed to have been having an affair with a married man Daniel Colson. Most recently, Oliver Fish (Scott Evans) and Kyle Lewis (Brett Claywell) made their debuts, garnering the show more attention before its cancellation.
Enrique ‘Rickie’ Vasquez (Wilson Cruz) in ‘My So-Called Life’
Primetime’s first recurring gay teen character, Rickie dealt with real-world problems of gay youth facing violence and homelessness. Openly gay actor Wilson Cruz returns to TV this season playing Kenji, a gay nurse, on Fox’s Red Band Society.
Matt Fielding (Doug Savant) in ‘Melrose Place’
This was one of the hottest shows on TV at the time. Sadly, Matt didn’t have as much sex (or visibility) as the other characters on the show, but the series did tackle topics like workplace discrimination, gay bashing, and the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy before killing the character off in 1997.
Ellen Morgan (Ellen DeGeneres) in ‘Ellen’
In 1997 the worst-kept secret in Hollywood finally came out of the closet: Ellen — both the actress and the character in the popular sitcom of the same name — was gay. Despite threats from advertisers and religious groups, this two-part episode was an enormous ratings success, won multiple awards and became a cultural phenomenon. While the series was canceled the next season, and both DeGeneres and guest star Laura Dern faced career backlash, it paved the way for the future of gays in television. It also led to DeGeneres’ current success as the queen of daytime TV talk shows.
Will Truman (Eric McCormack) & Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes) in ‘Will & Grace’
Following Ellen’s cancellation came a show about a gay man, his best girlfriend, her pill-popping booze guzzling besty, their wacky gay buddy — and how their lives were just as rich, complex and funny as any straight sitcom characters’. Will & Grace featured many firsts, including the first gay male kiss on a major network primetime TV show, and is credited for creating better acceptance of gays and lesbians.
Toby Beecher (Lee Tergesen) & Chris Keller (Christopher Meloni) in ‘Oz’
HBO didn’t shy away from these characters’ story lines. With complex plots motivated by intense love and steamy sex scenes, it’s no wonder why these two characters became fan favorites.
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) & Tara Maclay (Amber Benson) in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’
At the height of her popularity, Willow falls in love with a witch named Tara – and one of the most successful lesbian couples on U.S. television was born. Though there was some resistance to their dating at first, the relationship became so beloved that when Tara died there was an enormous backlash against the series creators.
‘Queer as Folk’
Practically everyone in this Showtime series was gay, allowing it to cover both mainstream and LGBT-specific stories like no other series. Over its 5-season run the producers didn’t shy away from sex either, making it a guilty pleasure for all viewers.
David Fisher (Michael C. Hall) in ‘Six Feet Under’
As the series started, David was seen struggling with his homosexuality. However, over this series’ 5-season run his relationship with sexy cop Keith Charles (Matthew St. Patrick) develops into something that’s complex, flawed, tender, and feels very real.
‘The L Word’
Following the success of Queer as Folk, Showtime produced a series in 2004 featuring a small, close-knit group of lesbians living in Los Angeles. Panned by some in the gay and straight community, it ended up lasted longer than many other network shows.
Marc St. James (Michael Urie) & Justin Suarez (Mark Indelicato) in ‘Ugly Betty’
While Marc seemed to be Betty’s nemesis at the series opening, her compassion towards the hungry assistant turns his attitude around. Adding to Marc’s development is Betty’s nephew Justin. Over the series run, Marc becomes a mentor of sorts to the young Broadway-loving teen, helping him to eventually come out in the second-to-last episode.
Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw) in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’
After being plagued with gay drama — think back to the Isaiah Washington / T.R. Knight debacle — the show took on a lesbian relationship that has featured a wedding, near death, betrayal, babies and more. Just as the show is known for making color a non-issue, so too have dramatic LGBT stories become the norm.
Kevin Walker (Matthew Rhys) and Scotty Wandell (Luke Macfarlane) in ‘Brothers & Sisters’
Their relationship had a rocky, but after Kevin sees how lonely his closeted Uncle Saul (Ron Rifkin) is, he proposes to Scotty. This results in a truly beautiful gay wedding.
Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) in ‘Torchwood’
This Doctor Who spin-off featured a bisexual lead — or should we say pansexual, because he will “sleep with anything, if it’s gorgeous enough.” The show featured some seriously steamy scenes, and multiple plots revolved around Captain Jack’s ex-lovers.
Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt) in ‘Mad Men’
This story of a closeted gay man struggling with his homosexuality in the early 1960s, was one of the really emotionally-charged plots in Mad Men. It rang true to the realities of the time, with Batt’s character ultimately losing his job because he was gay.
Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis) in ‘True Blood’
In the world of vampires, demons and other creatures of the night, sexuality is a fluid thing; but the gayest stories in this series belong to Lafayette Reynolds, the sassy short-order cook at Merlotte’s restaurant.
Few shows have ever offered a more diverse collection of LGBT characters. It started with Kurt Hummel (out actor Chris Colfer) who’s gone through every gay growing pain you could think up, ultimately ending in a relationship with his dreamy boyfriend Blaine (Darren Criss). Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) came out as a lesbian and dated bisexual Brittany S. Pierce (Heather Morris), and later in the series Wade Adams (Alex Newell) joined the cast as the transsexual Unique.
Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) & Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) in ‘Modern Family’
These committed parents are just as funny and flawed as their straight counterparts. With their daughter Lily in tow, they show just how normal gay families can be.
Danny (Keahu Kahuanui) in ‘Teen Wolf’
Being gay doesn’t seem to be an issue for star lacrosse player Danny. Indeed, his relationship ups and downs seem normal compared to the werewold activity in town. MTV’s hit shows just how far LGBT charatcers have come from the days of Jodie Dallas.
Greg Corbin & Terry Bates in ‘American Dad’
Cartoons have had openly gay characters before (as opposed to Vanity Smurf, Cringer from He-Man, or Bugs Bunny dressing in drag — all of whom left us wondering) these guys were the real deal. They’re co-anchors on the W-ANG-TV news show, Greg is a Log Cabin Republican, Terry is closeted, and they own a French Bulldog named Heath Ledger.
‘The New Normal’
Though it lasted only a season, this half-hour comedy followed Bryan(Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) on their quest to have a baby. There were laughs, tears, fights, and resolution as the couple had their baby and got married by the series finale.
‘Orange is the New Black’
This award-winning Netflix series about women in prison features a mix of LGBT characters: bisexaual Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), her girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba) who is obsessed with Piper, Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) who’s had sex with women, Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) a transgender woman, Lorna Morello (Yael Stone) who has casual sex with Nicky Nichols, Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), Tricia Miller (Madeline Brewer), Carrie “Big Boo” Black (Lea DeLaria)… oh, heck, just go through the entire cast here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Orange_Is_the_New_Black_characters
Mort / Moira (Jeffrey Tambor) in ‘Transparent’
Premiering this month via Amazon Studios, Transparent is a comedy-drama about an LA family whose father Mort comes out as being transgendered. Mort / Moira’s daughter is also a lesbian, and her relationships will be a part of the series.