LGBT Representation on TV Was as Important as Ever in 2017
While Donald Trump and his administration worked to roll back rights and protections for LGBT people in 2017, artists and creators broke barriers with new representation for queer people. Freeform’s freshmen series introduced a relationship between a biracial bisexual woman and a lesbian Muslim, the Disney Channel kicked off its first gay storyline, TV got its first openly asexual character, and Kristen Stewart declared, “I’m like, so gay, dude” while talking about Trump in a moment of pure abandon on live television, and that’s just the beginning of ways LGBT people shook up the status quo on the small screen.
Lena Waithe's Emmy Win for Master of None
Out actress and writer Lena Waithe had a pair of great moments for LGBT representation in 2017. First, she wowed fans of Master of None with “Thanksgiving,” heartfelt episode of Aziz Ansari’s breakout Netflix series in which her character Denise reminisces about coming out to Ansari’s Dev as a teen while she comes out to her mother (Angela Bassett) in the present. The episode so deftly investigated the intersections of being black, queer, and a woman that Waithe won an Emmy for writing it, making her the first woman of color to win the award for writing for a comedy. And if all that weren’t enough, her speech was a love letter to her queer family.
“I love you all and last but certainly not least my LGBTQIA family. I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers — every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it,” Waithe said. “And for everybody out there that showed so much love for this episode, thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina (Ansari) and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago.”
The Return of Will and Grace
Twelve years after Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen bid farewell after a wildly successful eight-year run, 2017 was the right time for nostalgia and some good old-fashioned sitcom humor featuring characters a lot of LGBT people grew up and came out with. Will and Grace’s return episodes struck a balance between addressing politics and LGBT issues in the time of Trump and just plain entertainment. It didn’t hurt the reboot’s case that its stars Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes, and Megan Mullally (with solid help from guests like Leslie Jordan and Minnie Driver) didn’t skip a beat. It was almost like it was 2005 all over again, except somehow, the George Bush presidency was actually a simpler time.
Billions's Gender Non-Binary Star Asia Kate Dillon Challenges Gendered Acting Categories
Star of Showtime’s Billions, Asia Kate Dillon, who enjoyed an expanded role on Orange Is the New Black this season, blazed a new path as a gender non-binary performer playing gender non-binary /non-conforming on a hit series. Beyond turning in a pair of solid performances and representing as a gender non-binary performer, Dillon, who was a natural for an Emmy acting nomination but who was forced to choose between supporting actor and actress categories (they chose actor) sent a thoughtful letter to the Television Academy asking why it was necessary to separate out performances by gender, and sparking a conversation that may or may not have contributed to the MTV Video Awards doing away with gendered categories.
Kat and Adena on The Bold Type
Freeform broke television ground with its depiction of blossoming love between biracial bisexual Kat (Aisha Dee) and Adena (Nikohl Boosheri), a lesbian Muslim, on its freshmen series The Bold Type. The series focuses on friends, Kat, Jane (Katie Stevens), and Sutton (Meghann Fahy) navigating the world of fashion magazine publishing in the digital age, and Melora Hardin (Transparent) lends excellent support as their distinctly un-dragon-lady-like editor-in-chief on the feminist series from Sarah Watson. But the relationship between Kat and Adena, arguably the series's central love story, explored love between women from vastly different backgrounds with intelligence, sincerity, and heart.
Fan Outcry Over Sense8's Cancellation that Encouraged Netflix to Shoot a Finale
Fans were so incensed when Netflix canceled the phenomenon Sense 8, the series from trans siblings the Wachowskis that stars Jamie Clayton, who is trans, Lito Rodriguez, who is gay, and features several queer characters, that they petitioned for its return until Netflix announced it would shoot a two-hour finale. When Sense8 was unceremoniously axed after its second season, hashtags #RenewSense8 and #BringBackSense8 began trending on Twitter.
"It is not just a TV show, to watch for fun, instead of just being that, Sense8 has given the world a new way of seeing others: with acceptance, love, and understanding," the petition read.
In June, Lana Wachowski announced in a letter that Netflix had agreed to shoot a two-hour ending for the psychically-connected international characters that comprised the series. She said that she was deeply moved by the fan outcry and that the finale could not have happened without the fans.
Kristen Stewart's Super Queer SNL Hosting Gig
Cesar-winning actress Kristen Stewart inched out of the closet for a full year, openly holding her girlfriends’ hands in public and answering questions about her sexual identity by coyly saying, “Google me, I’m not hiding.” But in her Super Bowl weekend SNL hosting monologue, she put her queerness right out there on the national stage while riffing on Donald Trump’s obsession with instructing her ex Robert Pattinson to dump her. She said that if Trump didn’t like her when she was with Pattinson, he really wouldn’t like her now because, "I'm, like, so gay, dude." Then, playing on her appeal with French audiences in Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper, Stewart's character seduced Vanessa Bayer’s put-upon housewife over a pan of sizzling Totinos pizza rolls in the kitchen while the men shouted at the football plays on TV just feet away in one of SNL's funniest commercials. The juxtaposition of Stewart’s proclaiming her queerness with the sensual/sexy makeout scene with Bayer made it one of the greatest queer moments on TV, not just of the year but of all time.
Bojack Horseman's Todd Comes Out as Asexual
Queer representation, in general, is sorely lacking but asexual people have almost zero visibility in media and entertainment. There was hope that Riverdale would deliver an asexual character with Jughead, who is ace in the comics, but the show gave him a girlfriend pretty much right from the start. So when Todd came out as asexual on BoJack Horseman, it was may have been the first time ace people heard the words on television.
"It actually feels nice to finally say it out loud," Todd tells Bojack. "I am an asexual person."
Polyamory Explored in She's Gotta Have It
Director Spike Lee revisited and expanded on his breakout character Nola Darling from his 1986 debut feature She's Gotta Have It with an expanded reboot for Netflix. This time around, DeWanda Wise plays the bisexual, biracial, polyamorous Brooklyn artist who refuses to be bound to any one kind of experience. Darling, a free spirit enjoys the company of three men and one woman that she dates over the course of the 10-episode series, but her heart and soul belong to her group of female friends and to her art, making for a fresh and lively depiction of a woman’s sexual agency.
Andi Mack Gives Disney Channel Its First Gay Storyline
The Disney Channel made history this year with its first gay storyline on Andi Mack, the series from Lizzie McGuire creator Terri Minsky. In the series about the travails of 13-year-old Andi, her best friend Cyrus realizes he's attracted to another boy and comes out to his friends. "With more and more young people coming out as LGBTQ, Andi Mack is reflecting the lives and lived experiences of so many LGBTQ youth around the country," GLAAD’s CEO and President Sarah Kate Ellis wrote in a statement. But while LGBT people lauded the series for its representation, evangelicals were apoplectic over the thought that children could be exposed to a sweet story about a young boy with a crush on another boy and called for a boycott.
When We Rise Telss the Story of LGBT History on Primetime.
It’s not often that the history of the LGBT rights movement is aired over four nights on primetime network television. But that’s exactly what happened when When We Rise, based on activist Cleve Jones memoir of the same name and created by Oscar-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, aired on ABC in February. The mini-series starring Austin P. Mackenzie and Guy Pearce as Jones at various stages of his life and Emily Skeggs and Mary Louise Parker as Roma Guy chronicled the fight for LGBT equality including the Stonewall era, the AIDS epidemic, and the long battle for marriage. And it depicted its protagonists with heart and humanity as well as sensual/sexual beings, a far cry from the often metaphorically neutered network TV queers of Modern Family or Will and Grace. Ivory Aquino, Rachel Griffiths, Fiona Dourif, Jonathan Majors, Michael Kenneth Jones, and Carrie Preston also starred in the series that featured appearances from Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, David Hyde Pierce, and Denis O’Hare.
The CW's Super-Queer Crossover Event
The CW and out show creator Greg Berlanti have always been ahead of the curve in terms of LGBT representation, but this year’s four-episode crossover event on Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow took things to the next level. The event featured a hook-up between Supergirl’s lesbian sister Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) and Legends's bisexual Sarah Lance (Caity Lotz) and featured a deep, abiding love between Legends’s Leonard Snart (Wentworth Miller) and Ray Terrell (Russell Tovey). In a rebuke of the Trump administration’s Draconian measures against LGBT people, the four queer characters wind up on a bizarro version of earth in which the Nazis won World War II, where gay people are still made to wear pink triangles on their uniforms. Alongside their straight superhero allies the four fight to save civilization, themselves, and each other.
Laverne Cox Makes History Before Doubt Was Canceled
Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox made history when she was cast as the first transgender performer to star as a series regular on network TV in CBS’s Doubt. In an interview about the series early on, Cox was excited that her character Cameron, an attorney who was trans, was set to enter into a romantic relationship with a straight-identified man, something Cox said she hadn’t seen before. Sadly, Doubt, which starred Katherine Heigl, was canceled after its first two episodes, which drew poor ratings. Eventually, CBS did air the remaining 11 episodes that had been shot.
RuPaul's Drag Race Gets Political with Winner Sasha Velour
Not only did Sasha Velour deliver one of the arguably most fascinating lip syncs in all of Drag Race history with her rose petal flourishes, her win moved the series into the overtly political. After a move to VH1 from Logo, not only did RuPaul’s Drag Race enjoy its highest ratings ever, but in the era of Donald Trump and his administration’s attempt to erase LGBT people, Velour was the right outspoken, politically-oriented queen for the time.
"I think now more than ever, being a Drag Superstar has to be about being a community leader and about inspiring people to live life the way that they believe but also inspiring people to be engaged and aware — and aware of history, so that we don’t repeat it,” Velour told The Advocate following her win. “I think it’s my job to inspire and lead that.”
American Gods Depicts Raw Gay Sex Between a Muslim Couple
A far cry from the gay characters on Will and Grace and Modern Family who are presented free from actual sexual desire, Starz’s American Gods (based on Neil Gaiman’s novel) featured a raw scene between Muslim men that despite its supernatural elements raised the bar for depicting gay sex. The four-minute sex scene on the critically-acclaimed series occurs between Salim (Omad Abtahi), a traveling trinket salesman from Oman, and Ifrit (Mousa Kraish) a powerful jinn in Middle Eastern and Islamic lore. The scene, called “explicit” or “graphic” by some media outlets but the show’s out creator Bryan Fuller called it “empowering.”
What we wanted to achieve there is for an audience who might not necessarily be accustomed to seeing two men having sex, to recognize it as a beautiful thing," Fuller told The Hollywood Reporter.
Lady Gaga's Subversive Super Bowl Half-Time Show
It was just about two weeks into Donald Trump’s reign when Lady Gaga, an out bisexual woman, took to the country’s largest stage and belted the lyrics to Born this way that include, “No matter gay, straight, or bi / Lesbian, transgendered life / I'm on the right track baby / I was born to survive / No matter black, white or beige / Chola or orient made / I'm on the right track baby / I was born to be brave.” Her performance was criticized by a chunk on the left who said it wasn't an anti-Trump enough, but the 14-minute set was loaded with acts of subversion, and it’s a safe bet that it was the first time a queer woman sang the words “gay,” “bi,” “lesbian,” and “transgendered” to millions of football fans.
Star Trek's First Gay Couple and Kiss
The Star Trek universe has long been ahead of its time in terms of exploring relationships taboo for the time like the first interracial kiss on TV between Capt. Kirk and Lt. Uhura in 1968. But it took an awfully long time for the franchise to introduce gay characters. Thankfully, Star Trek: Discovery boldly went where no Star Trek has gone before and revealed that Lt. Paul Stamets and Dr. Hugh Culber played by out actors Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz, were a couple. Their first on-screen kiss occurred in an episode this November, a move that earned the franchise praise but also drew criticism from antigay fans who apparently didn’t realize that Star Trek’s mission has always been one to explore new territory.