Same-sex attraction used to mean a call to standards and practices for family programming, but prominent representation for LGBT characters in child-friendly shows like A Series of Unfortunate Events shows how far the world has come since Smithers first locked himself in the glass closet at Mr. Burns’s office.
Here’s a look at some of the most important characters living out and proud, even during a Disney afternoon.
1. Korra and Asami
The Nickelodeon show The Legend of Korra, a sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, ended on a note that changed family television forever. Protagonist Korra and girlfriend Asami exit to the Spirit World for “a vacation, just the two of us.” As they held hands and gazed into each other’s eyes, the scene confirmed Korra was in fact bisexual and ready for a same-sex relationship, a bold move for on a children’s network even if nothing as steamy as a kiss occurred on-screen. Just so people got it, showrunner Mike Dimartino addressed the romantic connection in a blog post, “Korrasami Confirmed.”
2. Waylon J. Smithers, Jr.
While Waylon Smithers has been out for less than a year, the gayness of Montgomery Burns’s right-hand man has been Springfield’s worst kept secret for more than a quarter century. Audiences have been privy to Smithers fantasizing about Burns visiting him in bed or jumping from a birthday cake. With vacations to Fire Island-like resorts, a questionable Navy discharge, and apparent history with a character voiced by John Waters, Smithers has been raising awkward conversations about why “women and semen don’t mix” for some time.
3. Cam and Mitch
The relationship that puts the “modern” in Modern Family, Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker prove revolutionary for being anything but. From the-first episode adoption of a child to a wedding as soon as law would allow it, the gay men on this long-running comedy are all about navigating social norms in a rapidly changing society.
One of the most beloved characters on the Fox series Glee, Kurt Hummel, played by out actor and writer Chris Colfer, gave voice to LGBT high school students trying to find a voice. A central character from the pilot through the show’s entire run, Kurt eventually found love in Warbler Blaine and pursued a performing career. While every Kurt song on the show provided a delightfully gay note for an episode, check out his defiant post-hate crime rendition of “I’m Still Here.”
6. Patty Bouvier
Marge Simpson’s hoarse sisters have been part of The Simpsons’ cast of supporting characters since the show’s early days. In that time, Selma may have married every available bit character in Springfield, but Patty for years never expressed any interest in men. Then in the 16th season, the reason became abundantly clear — at least to the astoundingly unsophisticated. As Patty comes out to Marge’s great surprise, Homer jumps in with another shocking reveal: “Here’s another bomb. I like beer.”
7. Princess Bubblegum and Marceline
While it may never be shown on Adventure Time, Olivia Olsen, the actress voicing Marceline, confirmed to fans in 2014 that her vampiric character and Princess Bubblegum in fact shared a romantic history. The voice actress had the information confirmed with show creators, but acknowledged that since the show has fans in countries where homosexuality remains outlawed, this juicy gossip may never become canon.
8. Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender
One of Count Olaf’s motley crew of bad actors in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Matty Cardaropole’s Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender can be found donning a female nurse’s uniform in one episode and in another expresses that no one cares “what gender you are” to a captive of the troupe.
9. Sheriff Blubs and Officer Durland
Disney’s mystery-laden Gravity Falls cartoon revealed more than just the secrets of the mysterious Journals 1, 2, and 3. After years of perpetual company and viewer speculation, the relationship between Sheriff Blubs and Officer Durland comes into full view before the two head off on a couple’s trip together.
10. Susan and Cheryl
While appearing in justone episode of Disney Channel series Good Luck Charlie,lesbian couple Susan and Cheryl, when arriving for a play date at the Duncan household, caused minor confusion for characters on the show — Charlie’s parents were confused over whether the mom coming over was named Susan or Cheryl — and proved incendiary to the homophobic One Million Moms. As for any in-universe consequence, the greatest controversy came in figuring out which lesbian mom would hang out and talk sports with Bob.
These characters get introduced as partners at a lumber mill before A Series of Unfortunate Events, at which point narrator Lemony Snicket makes clear that ‘partner’ can mean several things, especially in lieu of certain high court rulings, and that these men can be the other kind of partner as well. That doesn’t mean Sir should be considered in any way progressive, as he runs the mill more like a slave plantation. It’s Charles who longs for even the most basic show of physical affection. The couple plays prominently in “The Miserable Mill” storyline, which closes out the first season of the Netflix show, but if this series adheres closely to plot of the original books, you can expect the characters’ return when the Baudelaire orphans face “The Penultimate Peril.”
13. Alex Danvers
After proving herself in the first season of Supergirl as a strong female but one with a heavy chip on her shoulder, Supergirl’s older sister Alex revealed she had an identity she was keeping secret herself. Interactions with out detective Maggie Sawyer led Alex to a revelation that she was a lesbian, leading to a story arc on the emotional struggle of coming out to family, a challenge even with a sister who’s a symbol for truth and goodness.
14. Santana Lopez
Originally one of the more sadistic Cheerios on Glee, Santana makes the transition from antagonist to sympathetic character over the course of this LGBT-friendly Fox show. She also makes a realization of her own sexual identity, leaving behind a string of athletic male lovers for a romance with bisexual Brittany. Brittana forever!
15. Mr. Terrific
A sidekick-turned-superhero, Arrow’s Mr. Terrific boasts genius understandings of biochemistry, computer science, and cryptology, in addition to being an Olympic level athlete. Also, he wears a T-shaped mask and digs dudes.
16. Sheldon Beiste
Introduced in season 2 of Glee as a sports-loving woman with enough bravado to coach the boys’ football team, Coach Beiste made the groundbreaking decision in the show’s sixth season to come out as a transgender man. Toying with viewer expectations, it’s the normally antagonistic Sue Sylvester who appears most welcoming of the news.
17. Nancy Bartlett
Out bisexual actress Sandra Bernhard made her first appearance on sitcom Roseanne as Nancy, wife to Tom Arnold’s piggish Arnie. But after the end of that relationship, Nancy comes out. She enjoys flings with female and male characters afterwards, played by the likes of Morgan Fairchild, Tim Curry, and Mariel Hemingway.
18. Ruby and Sapphire
Steven Universe has won praise for its willingness to explore LGBT storylines from the get-go, including the connection of gems Ruby and Sapphire, a romantic pair constantly fused together as Garnet. Showrunner Ian Jones-Quartey has confirmed that while the characters don’t fit neatly into a binary by human standards, the two are definitely “in a romantic relationship.”
When King of the Hill’s Peggy seeks out a store that sells women’s shoes in size 16, it doesn’t initially occur to her that drag queens would frequent such a store as well. She ends up befriending transvestite Carolyn, who in turn presumes Peggy to be there for the same reasons she is. While Peggy initially feels shocked and shamed to be confused for a man in women’s clothes, Carolyn, after a visit to the Hill home under male persona Jaime, finds a way to ease Peggy’s anxieties and enlighten her as well.
20. Mr. Simmons
A recurring character over most of the run for Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold!, Robert Simmons may never have explicitly stated his sexuality in dialogue, but showrunner Craig Bartlett has confirmed the character was gay. Just in case you wondered about his friend Peter in the Thanksgiving episode.
21. Renee Montoya
The first version of this Latina detective appeared in Batman: The Animated Series, where in-the-know viewers likely recognized Renee Montoya’s sexuality from the start (even if a show bible suggested she was a widow of a male officer, something never confirmed on-screen). After migrating to comics, Montoya was outed as a lesbian, and by the time she returned to the small screen in Gotham, she was out for good.
22. Penguin and Riddler
A plot in Gotham this fall revealed a new relationship as Oswald Cobblepot expressed his obsession with Edward Nygma. And while this upset some fans that claim this strays too far from Batman canon, out actor Robin Lord Taylor doesn’t think much of those complaints, considering the many other ways the series breaks with comic canon.
23. Emily Fields
From the launch of the ABC Family/Freeform drama, one of the namesake Pretty Little Liars has been Emily Fields, a multiracial teen lesbian finding her way in a world where finding love often immediately means tracking down your lover’s murderer. Bouts with alcohol abuse have led A to label this former swim team star a weak link, but she often serves as the show’s moral conscience and source of strength.
24. Blaine Anderson
Even on Glee, a show already known for featuring queer characters, the arrival of Blaine Anderson introduced a different kind of confident gay teen. The teenage dream would grow from a recurring character and romantic interest for Kurt to one of the Fox series’ central characters.
25. Captain Sara Lance
Call her Canary, Captain, or just Sara. This DC’s Legends of Tomorrow leader first entered the Arrow-verse as the scandalous sidekick of Oliver Queen, who took Lance on a doomed cruise while still dating her sister Laurel. But it was after her supposed death at sea that she joined the League of Assassins and entered into another forbidden relationship, with Nyssa Al-Ghul, daughter of Rhas Al-Ghul.