latest on decider

'Transformers: The Last Knight’ Rakes in $37.5 Million in Just Three Days

'Transformers: The Last Knight’ Rakes in $37.5 Million in Just Three Days

‘Orange Is the New Black’ Hacker The Dark Overlord Banished From Twitter

‘Orange Is the New Black’ Hacker The Dark Overlord Banished From...

‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Is Just As Good As The Original Series

‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Is Just As Good As The Original Series

My First Time... Watching 'Spaceballs'

My First Time... Watching 'Spaceballs'

Stephen Colbert Toasts Russia, Announces Presidential Bid On Russian TV

Stephen Colbert Toasts Russia, Announces Presidential Bid On Russian TV

'Playing House' Premiere Displays Emma and Maggie's Defensive Side: Recap

'Playing House' Premiere Displays Emma and Maggie's Defensive Side: Recap

Top 10 Sexiest, Dirtiest & Steamiest Movies on Netflix Right Now

Top 10 Sexiest, Dirtiest & Steamiest Movies on Netflix Right Now

Top 10 Sexiest, Dirtiest & Steamiest Movies on Netflix Right Now

Top 10 Sexiest, Dirtiest & Steamiest Movies on Netflix Right Now

'GLOW' Cast: Meet The Characters Of Netflix's Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling

'GLOW' Cast: Meet The Characters Of Netflix's Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling

What's Streaming On Netflix Tonight: 'GLOW' + More

What's Streaming On Netflix Tonight: 'GLOW' + More

Spend A Weekend With 'Spaced', The Ultimate Comedy Binge

Spend A Weekend With 'Spaced', The Ultimate Comedy Binge

'GLOW': 6 Things You Need To Know Before Streaming Netflix's Newest Comedy

'GLOW': 6 Things You Need To Know Before Streaming Netflix's Newest Comedy

The 50 Most Important LGBTQ TV Characters of All-Time

Where to Stream

My So-Called Life

Twenty years ago this past April, Ellen DeGeneres stepped up to a conveniently-placed airport intercom microphone and told an expectant Laura Dern, “I’m gay.” It was a watershed moment in terms of gay representation on TV, garnering media attention, controversy, a boycott (driven by homophobia), and jubilant celebration. But it also didn’t happen in a vacuum. Ellen Morgan was a pioneering figure, one of the first main characters on TV to come out as gay, but she wasn’t the first and certainly not the last.

The struggle for LGBTQ representation on TV has been an evolution marked by slow progress. Starting with scandalous villain-of-the-week characters on crime dramas in the ’60s and one-off gays-of-the-week in sitcoms of the ’70s, the journey to today’s diverse LGBTQ landscape has been marked by momentum and setbacks. But with each of those lurches forward and steps back came a story. Each imperfect vessel found its way to someone — likely many someones — in the viewing audience starving for some sliver they could identify with. “Problematic” doesn’t begin to describe, say, Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas on Soap, but he was a boot planted on the soil of a popular TV series, and from there we could begin to march forward.

As is inevitable in the case of an underrepresented minority, no one character ever seemed to satisfy all requirements. Sassy queens were stereotypes; buttoned-up gays were assimilationist eunuchs; gay villains were a field of land mines; lesbian characters were already fighting an uphill battle when it came to good roles for women in the first place; and trans characters were nearly invisible. Progress was slow — is slow — but out of the the bricks of each of these imperfect characters has been built a foundation. A history. A canon. These are our characters, who we’ve grown up with, struggled with, identified with, secretly pined for, quietly cried for, and all too infrequently were able to cheer for as well.

Over 60 years after the first identifiably gay character appeared (in the TV musical Lady in the Dark), television is moving ever closer to representing the rainbow of identities that constitute the LGBTQ spectrum. We thought it was time to mark where we are and where we’ve come from.

Over the last several weeks, Decider polled over 40 LGBTQ entertainment professionals — writers, directors, showrunners, actors, journalists — and asked them to list their picks for the most important LGBTQ TV characters of all time. We let “important” be defined in the eye of the beholder; these characters all meant something to us in our own personal ways. Then from these individual lists, we compiled an expert ranking of the top 50 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender TV characters (narrative only; reality-TV characters could comprise a whole list of their own), ranging from the primetime soaps of the 1980s to the streaming series of today. What follows is a list chosen by a community of peers, selecting the 50 TV characters who made their mark most prominently. It’s both a nod to the past and a hopeful gaze into the future. It’s a celebration of the characters who have helped, in whatever small or significant ways, to tell our stories.

Over the next few days, look out for essays on the top 10 characters on our list, in recognition of their particularly significant place in LGBTQ entertainment.

Decider’s 50 Most Important LGBTQ TV Characters

1. Rickie Vasquez, My So-Called Life
2. Willow Rosenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3. Ellen Morgan, Ellen
4. Sophia Bursett, Orange Is the New Black
5. Maura Pfefferman, Transparent
6. Jack McFarland, Will & Grace
7. Titus Andromedon, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
8. Will Truman, Will & Grace
9. David Fisher, Six Feet Under
10. Omar Little, The Wire
11. Kurt Hummel,Glee
12. Jodie Dallas, Soap
13. Poussey Washington, Orange Is the New Black
14. Lafayette Reynolds, True Blood
15. Max Blum, Happy Endings
16. Marshall Gregson, United States of Tara
17. Jamal Lyon, Empire
18. Justin Suarez, Ugly Betty
19. Bianca Montgomery, All My Children
20. Jack McPhee, Dawson’s Creek
21. Salvatore Romano, Mad Men
22. Keith Charles, Six Feet Under
23. Elijah Krantz,Girls
24. Mitchell Pritchett, Modern Family
25. Brian Kinney, Queer As Folk
26. Josh, Please Like Me
27. Shane McCutcheon, The L Word
28. Dr. Kerry Weaver, E.R.
29. Callie Torres,Grey’s Anatomy
30. Tara Maclay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
31. Richie Donado Ventura, Looking
32. Michael Novotny, Queer As Folk
33. Jack Harkness, Torchwood
34. Alice Pieszecki, The L Word
35. Bette Porter, The L Word
36. Patrick Murray, Looking
37. Anna Madrigal, Tales of the City
38. Santana Lopaz, Glee
39. Noah Nicholson, Noah’s Arc
40. Marco Del Rossi, Degrassi: The Next Generation
41. Marc St. James, Ugly Betty
42. Kalinda Sharma, The Good Wife
43. Nancy Bartlett, Roseanne
44. Steven Carrington, Dynasty
45. Emily Fields, Pretty Little Liars
46. Alex Danvers, Supergirl
47. Kima Greggs, The Wire
48. Nomi Marks, Sense8
49. Cameron Tucker, Modern Family
50. Ilana Wexler, Broad City

Click on photo to enlarge.photo: DILLEN PHELPS

Contributors

Michael Arbeiter, Nerdist
Kate Aurthur, Buzzfeed
Jamie Babbitt, film and TV director (But I’m a Cheerleader; Girls)
Manuel Betancourt, entertainment writer
Julia Bicknell, writer (13 Reasons Why)
Joel Kim Booster, comedian
Ron Carlivati, head writer (Days of Our Lives)
Tyler Coates, Esquire
Ian Carlos Crawford, GeeksOUT
Matthew D’Ambrosio, writer (The Vampire Diaries)
Murtada Elfadl, entertainment writer
Kevin Fallon, The Daily Beast
Nolan Feeney, Entertainment Weekly
Jamey Giddens, Daytime Confidential
Drew Z. Greenberg, writer (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Fran Hoepfner, ClickHole
Dave Holmes, Esquire
Zac Hug, writer (Shadowhunters)
Matt Jacobs, Huffington Post
Max Jenkins, actor (The Mysteries of Laura)
Nanatchka Khan, showrunner (Fresh Off the Boat)
Gabe Liedman, writer (Transparent; Broad City)
Ira Madison III, Daily Beast
Matt McConkey, TV writer (Heathers)
Lane Moore, comedian/host of Tinder Live
Brian Moylan, entertainment writer
Jesse Murray, SyFy.com
Kevin O’Keeffe, Mic.com
Rory O’Malley, actor (Hamilton)
Louis Peitzman, Buzzfeed
Price Peterson, TV Guide
Dana Piccoli, Bella Books, After Ellen
Kristy Puchko, Pajiba
Joe Reid, Decider.com
Angela Robinson, director (D.E.B.S.)
Matthew Rodriguez, Mic.com
Daniel Rogge, VH1
Chris Schleicher, writer (The Mindy Project)
Ari Shapiro, NPR
Riley Silverman, comedian/writer
David Smithyman, writer (Fresh Off the Boat)
Glen Weldon, NPR
Brett White, Decider.com
Erin Whitney, Screencrush
Jarett Wieselman, Buzzfeed
Bowen Yang, comedian/actor (The Outs, Broad City)

Decider

Get the Newsletter.

Sign up for news, stories, offers, and more, all from Decider's Webby Award nominated newsletter.

By clicking above you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

X