Best LGBT Sitcom Characters / For info on each character, click ----->
Television has the power to change national perceptions. Here are our top 21 LGBT characters (or groups of characters) who entered America's homes through their TV sets and helped change the public discourse on what it means to be a sexual minority.
21. Kenny O’Neal, The Real O’Neals (Click "More +" For more info on each character)
One of the younger entries on this list, Kenny O’Neal (Noah Galvin) is a lovable, relatable, neurotic gay teenager who comes out to his Catholic family in the pilot. The show tackles issues of family, sexuality, and faith, all centered around a young gay protagonist, and it’s so smartly written that we can separate it from a few indiscreet comments Galvin made about other out Hollywood actors in June.
20. Carol and Susan, Friends
Ross’s lesbian ex-wife was often played early on as a commentary on Ross’s inability to keep a woman interested in him, but as Carol (Jane Sibbett) and Susan (Jessica Hecht) were given more to do on the show, they became much more fleshed out as characters. Their wedding caused a media stir and was blasted from conservative pulpits, but the ordinariness in the actual portrayal was lovely.
19. Jodie Dallas, Soap
ABC’s parody of daytime soap operas included Billy Crystal as a gay man. While the show at first conflated being gay with being transgender (Crystal was considering transitioning in order to be with his secret quarterback boyfriend), the portrayal became more balanced over time (for a show based on daytime soaps, that is — the character fathered a child after being seduced by a woman at a murder trial and eventually had his memory wiped by hypnosis gone wrong).
18. Uncle Russell, Roc
All the way back in 1991, the Fox sitcom Roc featured one of television’s first same-sex weddings in the episode “Can’t Help Loving That Man.” The episode had Roc’s gay uncle Russell (Richard Roundtree) come into town to marry his partner, and it handled it with comedy and a sensitivity that still holds up in today when same-sex marriage is legal in every state.
17. Waylon Smithers, The Simpsons
Over the 27 seasons The Simpsons has been on the air, Smithers’s sexual identity has evolved similarly to how the public acceptance of LGBT people has. Whereas in the early seasons his orientation was hinted at through innuendo and played for laughs, later seasons have had him fully embracing his identity as a proud gay man, and it’s been touching to watch him find some happiness.
16. Max Blum, Happy Endings
Happy Endings was sort of like if Friends had had a gay guy and a black guy in the mix and had gotten rid of the laugh track. That gay guy, Max (Adam Pally), was egocentric, slovenly, and took advantage of others’ charity, but he was also usually the voice of reason and someone we’d all love to have around.
15. George and Gordon, Hot l Baltimore
Norman Lear’s sitcom about a seedy hotel with the “e” burnt out on its neon sign certainly pushed the envelope for 1975. The characters included prostitutes, illegal immigrants, and an older gay couple (Lee Bergere and Henry Calvert). This was the first TV sitcom to feature main characters who were clearly gay, and the two men were portrayed as bickering but lovable. Unfortunately, protests led to decreased viewership, and the show was canceled after one season, but it is a treasure if you can find old episodes.
14. Justin Suarez, Ugly Betty
Audiences got to watch Justin (Mark Indelicato) go through his adolescent years and his coming-out process over the course of the four seasons of Ugly Betty. Based in part on gay series creator Silvio Horta’s life, the kid was the subject of much internet speculation before he eventually came out.
13. Clayton Hollingsworth, The Golden Girls
Clayton (Monte Markham) was the brother of Blanche (Rue McClanahan), who at first had trouble accepting the fact that he was gay but eventually came around, a storyline that is common in several of these older sitcoms, where main characters served as emotional stand-ins for audience members. Clayton ended up getting married on the show all the way back in the 1991 episode “Sister of the Bride.”
12. Patrick Murray, Looking
Patrick (Jonathan Groff) could be a little naive or privileged, though he genuinely cared about the eclectic group of people around him. But one of the greatest things he did for viewers was to provide a window into a diverse world of gay men and their various issues. Through Patrick we got to see people dealing with HIV, youth homelessness, family concerns, body issues, and more.
11. Edie Stokes, The Jeffersons
In a 1977 episode of The Jeffersons, Edie Stokes (Veronica Redd) was a former Navy buddy of George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) who has since transitioned to being a woman. This was one of the first positive and sympathetic TV portrayals of a trans person. George’s initial disbelief and discomfort are insulting (he actually tugs on what he thinks is a wig), but his eventual change of heart made for some positive messaging for TV of the 1970s.
10. Steve, All In the Family
The first (we think) definitely gay character in sitcom history, Steve (Philip Carey) was a friend of Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor). The plot of the episode revolves around the idea that Archie was intolerant of another character whom he presumed to be gay based on stereotypes and in the end is shocked to learn that the masculine, muscular friend he’d admired was actually the gay one. This episode sent President Nixon into a disgusting antigay tirade, and watching it now, it still holds up.
9. Ray Holt, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ray Holt (Andre Braugher) is a tough, no-nonsense police captain who commands the respect of his officers and gets the job done, even though he’s usually surrounded by crazy, unruly cops. He is the moral center of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and his sexuality is only one aspect of many in a well-rounded character. He is happily married to a handsome professor, and they are the loving fur-parents of an adorable corgi.
8. Basically half the cast, Glee
Glee may have ended up as kind of a mess in later seasons, but during its time on television it was basically the gayest show not just aimed at an LGBT audience. With lesbian cheerleaders, trans football coaches, and some beautiful gay musical numbers, Glee gave us representation like we never thought we’d see on television.
7. Ilana Wexler, Broad City
Ilana Wexler (portrayed by Ilana Glazer as an exaggerated version of herself) is one of the most raucous, free-spirited, and sex-positive characters on television. She openly identifies as bi, has guilt-free sex with both men and women, and is never shamed for her attractions. Plus she’s hilarious. She’s the kind of friend whose antics are great to watch on TV, though they’d probably drive you crazy in real life. If you’re not watching this show, you should be.
6. Will Truman and Jack McFarland, Will & Grace
While Will (Eric McCormack) was often criticized early on for not being “gay enough” (no comment on what that even means), and Jack (Sean Hayes) for being too gay (again, not touching that one), the fact that two gay characters were so different from each other helped audiences to broaden their idea of what gay could mean. The fact that this show ran for eight years, garnered 83 Emmy nominations (winning 16 of the awards), and was the top rated sitcom in the 18-49 demographic for multiple years is astounding, and the fact that public opinion on same-sex marriage changed dramatically during and following the show’s run is telling.
5. Titus Andromedon, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tina Fey wrote the part of Titus Andromedon specifically for Tituss Burgess, and he quickly became one of the highlights of this delightfully quirky Netflix original comedy. In a time when TV portrayals of gay men tend to swing toward showing how “just like straight guys” gay men can be, it’s refreshing to see a character like Titus, who reminds us that all the different shades of the LGBT experience are beautiful. And Titus’s relationship with construction worker Mikey (Mike Carlsen) in season 2 melts our TV-watching hearts.
4. Cameron and Mitchell, Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson have brought a positive, normal view of gay marriage into America’s living rooms for the past seven seasons. While it took a while before we ever saw them kiss on the show (which they later explained as camera-shyness), they have now been officially married, expressing physical affection toward each other, and raising a daughter, things gay couples were not seen doing on TV shows just a decade or so earlier.
3. Maura Pfefferman, Transparent
Although Maura is portrayed by a cisgender actor (Jeffrey Tambor), the show has a remarkable number of trans people working on both on camera and behind the scenes, and also shows off many lesbian and bisexual characters. Maura is shown to be a complex, troubled, and sympathetic character, and it has been enchanting to watch her journey of self-acceptance over the past two seasons.
2. The ladies of Litchfield, Orange Is the New Black
Like a few other entries on this list, Orange Is the New Black is more comedy-drama than strict sitcom, but the inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary are too hilarious to leave off this list. The show has at least a dozen diverse lesbian and bisexual characters (though no one says the word “bisexual”), and of course it has made a star of trans actress Laverne Cox, who plays fan favorite Sophia Burset. The protagonist, Piper (Taylor Schilling), is a bi lady who ditched her man after season 2 and has only been with ladies since, and both Samira Wiley (Poussey) and Uzo Aduba (Suzanne) have received huge accolades for their winsome roles as lesbian characters on the show.
1. Ellen Morgan, Ellen
Ellen DeGeneres’s character forever changed television when she came out near the end of the fourth season of the popular sitcom. The episode with the coming-out sparked controversy and national discussion, though it achieved huge ratings and critical plaudits. The character’s coming-out was timed to coincide with DeGeneres’s real-life coming-out, an act of bravery that is seen as the moment by which we measure time when discussing LGBT portrayals on television (everything is either before or after Ellen). Unfortunately, the show dipped in the ratings afterward and ended up having only one more season. Still, between the Finding Nemo franchise and her beloved talk show, DeGeneres has bounced back and continues to fight the good fight for representation.