Representation in TV is super important. Although we like TV to be an escape from real life, if we’re supposed to believe it’s based in reality, then it should definitely have some diversity. Having more LGBTQ+ characters on the small screen not only gives lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer & questioning people some characters that they can relate and look up to, but it can also inspire them to be themselves. For non-LGBTQ+ folk, it’s good for them to be exposed to a life different from their own so they can begin to understand it better.
While there is still a long way to go as far when it comes to equality of all kinds, these awesome characters are moving us along in the right direction. These characters are strong, badass, inspiring, hilarious and just so happen to be LGBTQ+.
1. Sophia Burset, Orange is the New Black
Played by: Laverne Cox
Sophia’s journey as a transgender woman was tough, but she handles everything with grace and is strong as hell. Bonus points because this trans character was actually played by a transgender woman IRL which is so rare in the entertainment industry and adds a level of authenticity to Sophia as a whole.
2. Lafyette Reynolds, True Blood
Played by: Nelsan Ellis
Lafyette is a great friend, hilarious and confident. He doesn’t mind being different in a town in the deep south, it’s full of supernatural creatures but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to interact with his fair share of bigots. His commentary on everything is consistently on-point. Sadly, the actor who played Lafyette, Nelsan, died just last month from heart failure related to alcohol withdrawal syndrome. He was only 39.
3. Ilana Wexler, Broad City
Played by: Ilana Glazer
Network: Comedy Central
Ilana is the definition of fluid when it comes to sexuality. It isn’t exactly clear if she’s bi or pansexual, and honestly, it doesn’t really matter. This KWEEN is confident even if she doesn’t fit in a box and we love her for it. FYI: Ilana describes herself as having fluid sexuality IRL, too.
4. David Rose, Schitt’s Creek
Played by: David Levy
David is literally one of the best characters on TV and his explanation on being pansexual may have been the best we’ve every seen. Using red wine as an analogy for his sexuality, he says, “I do drink red wine. But I also drink white wine. And I’ve been known to sample the occasional rose. And a couple summers back I tried a merlot that used to be a chardonnay, which got a bit complicated.” That’s amazing. He’s always himself no matter his environment, which is inspiring AF.
5. Titus Andromedon, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Played by: Tituss Burgess
Titus is a little over the top at times but seriously, he’s everything. The character grew up in Mississippi where he felt he had no choice except to stay in the closet until he moved to the Big Apple. He’s a great friend to Kimmy (usually) and doesn’t ever let the haters bring him down, making him our favorite character on the show.
6. Emily Fields, Pretty Little Liars
Played by: Shay Mitchell
Emily’s sexuality wasn’t really the forefront of her character development for most of the series, but in the first couple seasons, they show her process of coming out to friends and family while starting to find herself in same-sex relationships. In the later seasons, they didn’t really focus on her sexuality but more her confusing relationship with her BFF, Alison. That said, she kind of had bigger things to worry about, like the mysterious A.
7. Mac McDonald, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Played by: Rob McElhenney
After literally 12 seasons, Mac finally came out of the closet. While some may think that the show just pulled that one out of nowhere, there was actually a ton of evidence throughout all the seasons that he had been repressing his sexuality. We love that he is finally embracing his true identity.
8. Darryl Whitefeather, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Played by: Pete Gardner
Network: The CW
Darryl’s representation of male bisexuality is refreshing — as so often female characters are the bisexual ones. Even Ilana Glazer talks about how it’s harder for the mainstream to accept a man with more fluid sexuality! Looks like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is trying to change that. The man got his own coming out song and it was truly stuck in my head for days.
9. Cosima Niehaus, Orphan Black
Played by: Tatiana Maslany
Network: BBC America
Cosmia is another character whose sexuality isn’t the most important or interesting detail about her. She’s smart, interesting and badass. She’s completing her Ph.D. and considering this whole clone thing, there’s a lot more to focus on with Cosima than just her sexuality — but that’s a good thing!
10. Connor Walsh, How to Get Away with Murder
Played by: Jack Falahee
Connor is smart, sly, openly gay, and has a “rampant” sex life. He has no shame in his game, which is why we love him. While he used to hook up with a lot of different people, he’s found himself in a relationship with Oliver Hampton (played by Conrad Ricamora) and not gonna lie, they’re adorable together.
11. Annalise Keaton, How to Get Away with Murder
Played by: Viola Davis
It’s awesome to see a successful, well-respected and multifaceted woman come out as bi on a TV show with such recognition. This shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise considering Shonda Rhimes has committed to what she calls “normalizing television” by showing more diversity in all of her shows. Annalise inspires us to be our true and best selves.
12. Tara Chambler, The Walking Dead
Played by: Alanna Masterson
Tara was the show’s first gay character, but it’s really NBD when we find out about it — which is how it should always be, IMO. In the show, Tara’s character sadly lost her girlfriend right after she told her that she loved her which sparked outrage among fans, as it’s ~yet another~ example of “Dead Lesbian Syndrome,” which basically just describes how frequently TV shows kill off their gay characters — gay women in particular. We won’t stand for it any longer. This means the show can never kill off Tara, right?
13. Cyrus Beene, Scandal
Played by: Jeff Perry
Another one from Shondaland! Sure, Cyrus is not the greatest dude in the world, but it is worth noting that he is an openly gay Chief of Staff to the President of America, which is pretty badass. We hardly ever see gay political figures and Cyrus shows us that it’s way overdue. We may not like him personally, but we do love to watch him.
14. Piper Chapman, Orange is the New Black
Played by: Taylor Schilling
Piper is probably bisexual even though she never really says it. She seriously dated Alex, then was engaged to Larry… and then back with Alex. Love her or hate her, there’s no question that there would be no OITNB without this character — and the Netflix Original does great things for LGBTQ+ representation.
15. Alex Vause, Orange is the New Black
Played by: Laura Preppon
Alex is one of the most complicated characters on the show, just like her relationship with Piper. She stays true to herself through it all, though, and you’ve gotta respect her for that, right?
16. Tiana Brown, Empire
Played by: Serayah
It’s a little surprising that FOX’s show, Empire features such a strong, bisexual character because the network actually killed The O.C.‘s plan to explore Marissa’s sexuality further than just her shortlived relationship with Alex. But in Empire, this pop star is openly bi. She deals with her dad rejecting her for her sexuality and she, too, finds herself confused about it. Even so, Tiana stays strong despite all the drama and it’s inspiring to watch her pull through!
17. Clarke Griffin, The 100
Played by: Eliza Taylor
Network: The CW
Clarke is a badass leader whose bisexual sexuality has never been brought up as an issue — yet it’s still a part of her life. She shared a kiss with another woman, Lexa, in season two and a show that didn’t have a lot of fans suddenly started trending on Twitter. The showrunner said of this moment, “The introduction of Lexa and [of] Clarke’s bisexuality definitely gained a lot of respect [from critics] for pushing boundaries, which I think is kind of ridiculous, [because] that shouldn’t be pushing boundaries in this day and age.” True, but here we are. Clarke was the CW’s first openly bisexual lead character.
18. Lexa, The 100
Played by: Alycia Debnam Carey
Network: The CW
Remember when we were talking about The Walking Dead and the hate they received for killing off one of their LGBTQ+ characters? Well, The 100 got railed for their decision to kill off Alycia’s character right after she and Clarke had sex for the first time. It seemed like a cause-and-event type of situation; a punishment for being gay. That’s so effed up. We’re literally never getting over the loss of Lexa.
19. Willow Rosenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Played by: Alyson Hannigan
Network: The WB
Buffy was named of the “gayest” shows on TV back in 1999 by the Boston Herald. Willow was to thank for that. After dating Oz for two seasons, he leaves to learn to control his wolf (literally, he’s a werewolf) and a heartbroken Willow throws herself into her witchcraft to get over the pain. In her Wicca group, Willow meets Tara and the love they grow has its ups and downs but they are literally soul mates. After Tara sadly dies (yep — another one), Willow continues dating women but they never mean quite as much to us as Tara did.
20. Tara Maclay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Played by: Amber Benson
Network: The WB
Another dead lesbian?!?! When Tara got shot by a flyaway bullet that was supposed to hit Buffy, I think I can speak for all viewers when I say we were devastated. The death causes Willow to go bad — which was kind of badass and provided one of the cutest BFF moments of the series when Xander talks her down. Fun fact: Amber was supposed to come back as The First Evil in season 7, but the actress refused because she didn’t want to mess with the memory of Tara like that. Blessed.
21. Magnus Bane, Shadowhunters
Played by: Harry Shum Jr.
Speaking of supernatural teen drama, this one’s a bit more recent. Malec (AKA Magnus + Alec) is one of the biggest ships right now on any show and this here Magnus Bane is one-half of the power couple. Magnus is bisexual or pansexual, and has owned his sexual orientation throughout all 400-odd years of his life! Unfortunately, when Malec ~finally~ had sex for the first time, viewers were P.O.’d because it didn’t necessarily show Magnus consenting to sex. Basically, Alec comes over lookin’ to get lucky for the first time and Magnus voices a lot of legit concerns about wanting to make sure the first time for them is perfect. Despite his reservations, the two start kissing and wind up having sex and the audience never sees proper consent given. Annoying.
22. Kurt Hummel, Glee
Played by: Chris Colfer
Okay, maybe Empire‘s bisexual character shouldn’t have been too much of a shock because Glee is also on FOX and there was no shortage of LGBTQ+ characters on the musical television show. Kurt you can’t help but love from the beginning. He’s a sweet and lovable yet bullied at his high school because of his sexual orientation. Unfortunately, this is just all too relatable for a lot of gay teens in high school and it’s tragic.
23. Blaine Anderson, Glee
Played by: Darren Criss
Couldn’t put Kurt on here without including his better half. Blaine is Kurt’s love interest throughout most of the series and together they make one of the most-loved couples on Glee. We love his positive outlook on life and his strength, and he’s a rock for Kurt which makes the last episode all the sweeter.
24. Santana Lopez, Glee
Played by: Naya Rivera
Like we said, there was no shortage of gay and lesbian characters on this FOX hit. Santana, although she doesn’t come out until later in the show, winds up in a relationship with her high school BFF, Brittany. While Britt is bisexual, Santana identifies as a lesbian. Brittana is thee best couple on Glee and we don’t care who knows it.
25. Marco Del Rossi, Degrassi
Played by: Adam Ruggiero
Network: Teen Nick
Where would we all be in life without Degrassi? The show opened our pre-teen eyes to basically every teen issue known to man: eating disorders, pregnancy, school shootings, consent, and — of course — coming out as gay. While Marco was in the closet in the beginning of the show, he eventually comes out in what I can confirm is one of the most emotional scenes in all bajillion seasons of the show. He does have to deal with bullying because of his sexuality, but eventually, he learns to accept himself to live confidently as his true self.
26. Brian Kinney, Queer as Folk
Played by: Gale Harold
Brian leads a glamorous and self-indulgent lifestyle, rejecting heteronormativity. This means he doesn’t believe in gay marriage or monogamy and sis alternative views make him super interesting and super controversial among viewers of all types. But still this was a groundbreaking show for the gay community in 2000 and Brian holds a special place in our hearts for opening our eyes to new ideas.
27. Maura, Transparent
Played by: Jeffrey Tambor
While this trans character is played by a cisgender actor, which isn’t good, her story is still pretty groundbreaking for TV so we had to include her on our list. Maura comes out late in life which can be difficult, but she stays true to herself through it all. The best part is seeing her unapologetically embrace her true self, even when backlash comes up.
28. Arizona Robbins, Grey’s Anatomy
Played by: Jessica Capshaw
There’s nothing not to like about this Seattle Grace pediatric surgeon. She loves kids, her job and is sweet AF. She tragically lost her leg, but even that doesn’t stop her from keeping a positive attitude and killing it with the ladies. So inspiring.
29. Shane McCutcheon, The L Word
Played by: Katherine Moennig
I think probably even straight girls found themselves crushing on Shane from The L Word. She’s jsut so damn cool. As an androgynous lesbian character who keeps it real, her famous character has a heart of gold that continues to be relevant even long after the show has ended. She’ll be back for the reboot and we can’t freakin’ wait.
30. Bette Porter, The L Word
Played by: Jennifer Beals
Bette is an affluent, biracial woman. She and her partner Tina were the long-term couple of the group but that didn’t stop them from having some serious relationship woes. Her smart and sexy demeanor made us love her and we’re super enthused to hear that she, too, will be back for the reboot. We’re not sure if Tina’s actor, Laurel Holloman will be returning but there is no Bette without Tina so our fingers are crossed.
31. Spencer Carlin, South of Nowhere
Played by: Gabrielle Christian
Network: The N
Spencer is a high school student who, once she begins to explore her sexuality, realizes she is a lesbian. She at first is afraid of how people will treat her and her parents even try to get a therapist to “reverse” her sexuality (which is not going to do a damn thing, but OK, parents). She’s super resilient and eventually her parents learn to accept her. She goes through a lot, but ends up she ends up going away to college with her girlfriend, Ashley! #Spashley4ever
32. Rickie Vasquez, My So-Called Life
Played by: Wilson Cruz
My So-Called Life was seriously so ahead of its time. Like, it was 1994 and prominently featured a gay character who is also Latino. Good on them — but also a bummer that this show didn’t make it past one season. Rickie has awesome style, the best eyeliner EVER and is an amazing friend. Anybody who didn’t feel like they 100% belonged related to Rickie.
33. Alex Danvers, Supergirl
Played by: Chyler Leigh
Network: The CW
Alex is a smart bio-engineer. She’s courageous, independent and badass. She initially struggles to accept her sexuality, but her relationship with Maggie helps her to realize she is gay and when she comes out, it’s beautiful. The CW will never get away with it if they try to kill her off, so there’s a good chance Alex will be around for good.
34. Sara Lace, Legends of Tomorrow
Played by: Caity Lotz
Network: The CW
Another show in the Arrowverse that’s totally killing it with LGBTQ+ representation. Boo-ya, baby! Sara’s entrance to the show is a little ~confusing~ considering she was brought back from the dead but LoT would be nowhere without her. She finds love where she least expects it with Lindsay Carlisle. Isn’t that how the best love is formed? While she was on Arrow, there was some subtext of her sexuality but there was too much drama with her and Oliver Queen AKA the Green Arrow for it to really be explored.
35. Jack McFarland, Will & Grace
Played by: Sean Hayes
Sure, this show was supposed to be about Will and Grace but you’d be lying if you said you didn’t watch for Jack and Karen. This guy is one of the most iconic gay characters on TV. His charismatic, funny personality is hard not to love. Am I the only one who can’t wait for the reboot? I didn’t think so.
36. Marshall Gregson, United States of Tara
Played by: Keir Gilchrist
It’s so rare that you see a gay character who is so young but Marshall is the “baby” of the family of United States of Tara and yet is kind of the only person being honest about who he is to the rest of the group. He does have a girlfriend in the show, but ultimately after they have sex he resolves that he’s for sure gay. His sexuality isn’t really a focal point of his character, but although his mom is super supportive, his mom’s alter, Buck (she suffers from multiple personalities) is kind of homophobic towards Marshall.
37. Nomi Marks, Sense8
Played by: Jamie ClaytonNetwork: Netflix
A Sense8, a great show gone too soon. Nomi is a political activist/hacktivist. She’s a proud trans woman and lesbian (and brownie points because Jamie, too, navigates life as a transwoman IRL as do the two showrunners). Even though the character’s parents didn’t understand or accept their child’s transgender identity, she continues to be herself.
38. David Fisher, Six Feet Under
Played by: Michael C. Hall
David’s sexuality is repressed throughout most of the show, but by the end, he’s finally able to accept who he is to settle down with his partner, Keither. Many critics have cited David Fisher as the first realistic portrayal of a gay lead male character and for that, we say “THANK YOU.”