The television landscape is rapidly evolving, and becoming more inclusive with every passing year. While there's still much more work to do in terms of improving representation, particularly of trans people, there are, now more than ever, a plethora of LGBTQ characters on TV to look up to. (Or loathe, depending on the circumstances.) We've come a long way since Ellen DeGeneres became a pioneer by coming out on her eponymous sitcom in 1997, and subsequently losing her career in the aftermath; today, queer characters are a norm, and seen in an increasingly varied spectrum.
As we celebrate another year of pride and progress, here are the LGBTQ character that TV Guide believes stand as the most influential of all time. From Billy Porter's Pray Tell on Pose and Zendaya's transformative portrayal of Rue Bennett on Euphoria to Gale Harold in the mold-shaping role of Brian Kinney on Queer as Folk -- see which LGBTQ characters made our list.
HBO's risqué teen drama Euphoria features Zendaya as we've never seen her before: drugged out and disrespectful, playing fresh-out-of-rehab Rue in one of the year's most stunning performances. As Rue struggles with depression, family secrets, and temptation at every turn, the only sunshine in her life comes from her best friend, a trans teen named Jules (Hunter Schafer) who just moved into town. What follows is an unrequited queer love story filled with so much yearning, it'll take you right back to who you were when you were 17.
Pray Tell of FX's breakthrough series Pose is one fierce bitch: a butch queen who lives in his truth but is unafraid to embrace his feminine side too. He's broken so many barriers, from showing an HIV positive man in a loving relationship, and been such a joy to watch over Pose's two seasons. And he gave Billy Porter his long overdue and much-deserved first Emmy too.
Dickinson is Apple's genre defying "f--k you" to anyone who doesn't put some respect on Emily Dickinson's name. While the 19th century American poet might be best known for being an anti-social agoraphobe who frequently wrote about death; Dickinson exposes a new side of the literary iconic that supposes, what if Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) was just like other girls? And also likes other girls? The result is a gloriously sumptuous series showcasing a brilliant young woman who despite being trapped by her family's small town expectations and her own depression, manages to be larger than life. Bring on colonial twerking, Wiz Khalfia in ghost carriages, and messy queer love stories.
Although Ruby Rose only lasted one season as Kate Kane on Batwoman, her impact on the community cannot be understated. Kate Kane is the first out lesbian superhero to headline a TV show, and a Greg Berlanti one at that! Fear not Arrowverse fans, Batwoman will be back for Season 2, and hopefully queerer than ever.
There are a lot of changes to be found in the Roswell, New Mexico reboot -- but our favorite one is the angry bisexual cowboy that's stealing hearts all around town. Michael Guerin's (Michael Vlamis) romantic entanglements include -- but are not limited to -- an emotionally gutting break up with his high school sweetheart (a gay man who left him for the army), a new girlfriend who respects his past, and poly triad. This beautiful angsty alien is doing a lot for human sexuality.
It took 13 seasons for Mac (Rob McElhenney) to finally come out, but it was well worth the wait for the character and viewers alike. The choreographed dance Mac performed to come out to his father was one of the show's most inventive and moving scenes.
Jules (Hunter Schafer) of Euphoria isn't just the best friend sidekick of Rue (Zendaya) on HBO's thrilling drama -- she's a developed, daring, and flawed young woman in her own right. A trans girl who's confident in her identity and her body, she's also known to rock some of the most impressive eye makeup ever seen on TV, and we have no choice but to stan.
Schitt's Creek's resident small business owner is one of the loudest (in a good way!) pansexual characters on TV right now. David's business partner/boyfriend, Patrick, proposed to him in Season 5, and it was impossible not bawl through the entire thing. If we could watch these two get engaged for the rest of time, we would.
Hannah Gadsby is iconic in her own right (thanks to her Netflix stand-up special Nanette), but with Please Like Me she fully embraces a flawed character dealing with mental illness. Josh can be stubborn and spiteful, but he's also one of the most insightful characters on the series as he grapples with the ups and downs of love and loss in his life.
The CW's Batwoman might be right around the corner, but before Kate Kane, there was Sarah Lance, Arrowverse's first LGBTQ character. She's had relationships with both men and women over the years while proving that sexuality has nothing to do with saving the universe. And Legends of Tomorrow finally did right by Constantine, as he was, for lack of a better expression, straight-washed for his short-lived series on NBC. That's not a mistake The CW show was looking to make. The character was introduced as sexually fluid, leaving him to endlessly flirt with both men and women throughout time and space.
Vida revolves around a community coming together, and Eddy is at the center of much of that. They're sensitive, loyal, reliable, and not afraid to show their feelings in a moment of grief. Eddy manages to give a voice to those who have been marginalized in their community while showing how we can all move forward one day at a time.
Coming out to your overbearing father can be tough enough. Now imagine coming out to your overbearing immigrant father in a small town in the U.K. when all you want to do is put on lipstick and platform shoes and be fabulous. Eric does just that, and in the process actually earns his father's respect and admiration. Honestly, Eric? We stan.
While the show took its sweet time confirming Elliot's sexuality, it was, in a word, magical, to watch him start to explore his feelings for Quentin. Though the character has never needed anyone to take care of him, it was amazing to see him start to accept, and in return give, the love he deserves.
Annalise is a powerful force no matter what she's doing (or who she's going after). While the character started off married to a man, her background has since been explored, showcasing her relationships with women over the years. Annalise identifies as pansexual, which is a big deal for representation on major network television, especially for a black female leading character.
Yes, Stanford might be Carrie's token "gay best friend" for the run fo Sex and the City, but he paved the way for so many more LGBTQ characters in the future -- and he looked fabulous while doing it. Though we've all collectively chosen to forget that Sex and the City 2 ever happened, the only good thing to come from it was Stanford's wedding to Charlotte's long-time friend Anthony.
Asia Kate Dillon broke new ground with their portrayal of Taylor on Billions, becoming the first non-binary actor to play a non-binary character on television. Taylor came out on the show, explaining what it means to be non-binary with little to no fuss from the other characters.
The Bold Type's resident artist, Adena is an out and proud Muslim lesbian who inspires Kat (Aisha Dee) to reconsider and explore her own sexuality. Regardless of the pair's relationship status, Adena remains one of the show's coolest creations, unpacking the reality of juggling multiple identities in America.
Just because Ambrose spent decades locked up in the Spellman house doesn't mean that stopped him from loving and lusting after others. The character identifies as pansexual on the series (just like in the comics), which, in the second half of Season 1, was finally explored outside the walls of the Mortuary.
As the only out gay middle schooler (and Maurice's favorite) on Big Mouth, Matthew is there for everyone whether they need a sounding board for advice or a sassy remark. Or a musical number!
Toni became a fan favorite character from the moment she was introduced, and it wasn't long until she had her own ship name with Madelaine Petsch's Cheryl Blossom: Choni. But even without being part of a power couple, Toni is still a force to be reckoned with at Riverdale High.
While The Vampire Diaries didn't always get its representation right, Legacies does so with Josie. She's allowed to love whoever she wants to love, and her sexual orientation has no impact on the overall story from week to week.
It's The Society ship no one saw coming, and now it's the only one we want to sail. In the midst of all the doom and gloom of New Ham, Grizz and Sam's budding relationship is the bright spot in an otherwise bleak town.
Maze's fluid sexuality wasn't exactly painted in the best light for the first three seasons of the show, as she often used sex to get what she wanted, but when Lucifer moved to Netflix, the show finally did right by the character. Season 4 allowed Maze to examine her own feelings for someone else, without an ulterior motive, and it was a huge step forward.
The inclusion of a gay character in Star Trek: Discovery was a big deal; each Star Trek series before it had certainly showcased diversity, but never an LGBTQ character. Discovery added two. The show proceeded to kill off one of them, Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), which obviously did not sit well with fans, but thankfully Discovery found a way to bring Culber back, opening the door to further explore his relationship with Stamets.
A queen and a badass shield maiden, Lagertha killed her would-be husband on their wedding day after he overthrew her from the throne. There's a reason Lagertha is a legend both on the show and in real Norse mythology.
Waverly's relationship with Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell) has been one of Wynonna Earp's most earnest stories, and their romance has become a backbone of the much-loved series.
In over half a century of Doctor Who, Bill Potts was the show's first LGBTQ series regular, and her curiosity and boldness made her one of the Doctor's ultimate companions. She left the series too quickly, but Bill won't be forgotten anytime soon.
Their love was doomed from the start, but Renly and Loras had one of the few relationships on Game of Thrones that wasn't just about advancing power and allegiances.
Elektra, former mother of House Abundance and now a member of House Evangelista, is gorgeous, powerful and even altruistic to the children who need her guidance and protection -- a black trans woman who came from nothing to build a mini kingdom in New York's concrete jungle.
For depicting sex workers as whole human beings, for showing what's it's like to be a black trans woman shut out from mainstream society, and for demonstrating what it's like to long for love and intimacy: Angel changes the game.
As shown by her screwed-up relationship with her wife, Hen may not have healthy relationships down pat, but as a firefighter and paramedic, Hen is a hero day in and day out.
She came and went in a near instant (CBS canceled Doubt after airing only two episodes), but Cameron earns a spot on the list for being the first ever trans lead character on a primetime network drama. Cameron had agency over her life and career -- she wasn't a victim, a statistic, or a sex worker, as trans women had been portrayed until very recently -- and she had a fulfilling relationship life, too. She's gone but not forgotten.
Hired assassin Villanelle is one of the most interesting killers on TV: She's gorgeous, well-traveled, fashionable, resourceful, playful, and impossible to predict -- but Eve (Sandra Oh), her cat-and-mouse obsession, is determined to try. The two have a dangerous but irresistible chemistry, and their twisted dance makes Killing Eve a fascinating study in attraction between women.
Arrogant, selfish, and openly gay, Ryan is integral in the story of Hannah's (Katherine Langford) suicide -- and points to an evolutionary point in portraying gay people on TV: We no longer have to like them. At all.
Rosa's coming out as a bisexual woman felt like the moment fans had been waiting for, especially given that she's played by an out bisexual woman. The announcement was no big deal to her squad, who lifted her up in a poignant story that hit home for plenty of viewers, as Rosa dealt with her mother's struggle to accept her sexuality.
Tough and obsessed with order, Kate had no time for nonsense, especially from men who wouldn't do their damn jobs. She did, however, have time for the occasional romance with a hot lady colleague because, well, don't all Shonda characters partake in some office romance?
Petra's discovery of her own bisexuality was a love letter to queer fans who read her that way in the first place, and her graceful acceptance of her own feelings and attractions is a template for how to do those kinds of stories right.
William's late-in-life coming out in the first season of This Is Us surprised everyone -- not least his adult son Randall (Sterling K. Brown). The revelation that he'd been in a long-term relationship with Jesse (Denis O'Hare) was groundbreaking for how casually it was handled, especially given William's age. As one of his grandkids put it, "Dad, Grandpa's gay, or at least bi." That was enough.
He's happily married, a skilled professor, a writer, and a C.I.A. agent who happens to be gay -- the first gay lead character on a primetime network drama. Deal with it.
Denise is a laid-back, proud lesbian who loves kicking it with her buddy Dev (Aziz Ansari) -- and Waithe, in addition to starring in the unforgettable "Thanksgiving" episode, won an Emmy for writing it, making her the first black woman to receive an Emmy for comedy writing.
A far cry from TV's stereotypical bisexual men -- who are usually presented as young, suave seducers, or, in some cases, as gay men in denial -- Darryl was a middle-aged father who was confident in his identity (even if he was a complete goofball) and sure in his need for commitment and family, even if it meant sacrificing his super-hot bae to get it.
Black superheroes are rare on TV -- you can pretty much count them all on one hand -- but rarer still is the black lesbian superhero. Anissa is loved and supported by her family and defined more by her activist work than her sexuality, making her a role model everyone can look up to.
A trans man who transitioned at 16, Aaron was intelligent, kind, and self-assured, putting a lovable face on the male trans community for plenty of families and younger audiences.
After coming out in this now-canceled ABC sitcom, Kenny became more confident and fierce as the season went on. He was, in many ways, the glue that kept his family from falling apart.
Reliable news anchor Mark Bradley was a sounding board for Mary Jane (Gabrielle Union), and in return, he trusted her with the fact that he was secretly gay and had been living with a man for years. His story as a closeted gay black man in America gave the show even more fodder for drama.
Ilana's bisexuality on Broad City was a fact from the start. Ilana liked sex, and she got it, whether with a hilarious dentist or with her very own doppelganger. And as the Comedy Central hit wound down, Abbi found herself reconsidering her own sexuality when she fell (literally) for a hot female doctor, leading to an understated coming out that mirrored Jacobson's.
In the world of Teen Wolf, being gay doesn't necessarily mean limiting yourself to other human guys. The likable Danny dated an Alpha werewolf in the third season.
Now here's something you don't see every day, or pretty much anywhere outside small circles: a group of non-gender-conforming black men from the deep South who show up at sports events in leotards and turn it out in a way that would make most majorettes jealous. Their riveting Oxygen show, The Prancing Elites Project, depicted them prancing, loving, and fighting while coping with discrimination, HIV, and family drama.
(Pictured, left to right: Kareem Davis, Jerel Maddox, Kentrell Collins, Tim Smith, and Adrian Clemons.)
Shameless' Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher) has been praised for having one of the most well-developed coming out storylines on television, and his romance with Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) has stolen the hearts of millions. Together they faced Mickey's abusive father, his prison stints, and Ian's bipolar disorder. They've become star-crossed lovers in the latter seasons of the Showtime drama, but their love story is a cornerstone of the series and one of the best couples -- gay or otherwise -- to grace the screen.
Connor is a student of Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) and has been involved in her various nefarious schemes since the show's twisty beginning. He's also now married to his longtime partner, Oliver (Conrad Ricamora), as their relationship has weathered many ups and downs.
n her first appearance, Tara seemed unsure about how brave she could be. One thing was always clear, though: Tara was attracted to women. We say was because Season 9 executed one of the comics' most disturbing moments, which included killing her off.
Cyrus (Perry, left) was ruthless, unforgiving and borderline evil. The only proof we had that he had a heart at all were his interactions with his late husband, James (Bucatinsky, right), and their adopted daughter.
A complicated queer woman who navigated -- and has since escaped -- Gilead with wits, courage and a willingness to embrace moral gray areas, Moira's mere survival in hellish Gilead makes her a hero for the ages.
Many traits made Cosima different from the other clones, one of which was her sexuality. Cosima's chemistry with her monitor, Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), enchanted Orphan Black fans.
Allsafe Security CEO Gideon Goddard (Gill) was a compassionate, intelligent boss who came out to Elliot after being pressured by his boyfriend to be more open about being gay. Meanwhile, Whiterose (Wong), one of the world's most notorious hackers, is a transgender woman who masquerades as China's male minister of state security. We don't see much of her, but we still know she's the toughest system-fighter alive.
So tough and poker faced he could make bad guys freeze with just a glare, Holt is the first openly gay active police captain among New York's finest. And, though he'd never admit it, he's a softie at heart too.
On paper, Max was everything you didn't want in a friend: a freeloader who'd eat up all your junk food and shirk responsibility until he couldn't shirk anymore. And yet he was somehow completely irresistible and the ideal snuggle partner. Go figure.
Although his response to bullying ended up costing him his freedom, Taylor Blaine was a perfect anti-hero, if only for being a cautionary tale. He was deeply flawed yet still admirable for having courage to face his family, friends, and attacker after a gruesome and chilling series of unfortunate events.
What a surprise it was to discover that the sinister (and married) Wozniack was actually in a secret relationship with his male colleague! The reveal was a nice reminder that LGBTQ people come in all stripes and shades.
Robert (Sheen), a no-nonsense chap who's all about the business, and Sol (Waterston), a sensitive former hippie who'll cry at a flag flapping in the wind, are a perfectly paired odd couple and they couldn't be more adorable together.
Aaron (Marquand) and his boyfriend Eric (Woods-Robinson) were a great team, seeking out prospective civilians to join Alexandria. They also happened to be an adorable romantic team as well.
Noah was groundbreaking as a gay black character on a niche show during Logo's early days. Noah could be assured and confident at times while utterly confused and helpless at others -- one of the reasons the struggling L.A. screenwriter became the BFF we always wanted.
A bona fide genius, expert hacker, and shrewd manipulator, Nolan will not let you box him in: he's avowedly bisexual and proud.
So different and yet so alike. Justin (Indelicato) was just a kid, his wings clipped by not growing up inside the sequined and bedazzled mansion he occupied in his head. Marc (Urie), meanwhile, was also stifled, having to be a constant support system to his Mode colleagues who were so less fabulous than him.
Leslie Shay's (German) death was a blow to fans since she was one of a kind and so straightforward -- even if some of her choices fell entirely flat. Her on-and-off girlfriend Clarice (Appleby) was a bit of a mess, too, but hey, nobody said every gay character had to be a role model.
Jack McPhee initiated the first gay kiss on network television in Dawson's Creek's Season 3 finale. His struggle to come out of the closet to his conservative father and then to find his identity as an out gay teen without changing who he was became an iconic story arc that paved the way for more progressive gay characters on teen soaps today.
Thomas Barrow started out as a Downton Abbey villain, but by the end of the series, all fans wanted was for him to be able to find love and have a home that made him feel accepted.
Callie and Arizona went through so much on Grey's Anatomy (not limited to plane crashes, leg amputations, pregnancies, infidelity, and contentious custody battles), showing the deep ups and downs of a long-term relationship -- especially when kids are involved. The series left the two characters off on good terms and with the possibility of a reconciliation. After all they've been through, we can only hope.
These two were the very definition of a power couple despite rocky times and monumental hurdles. They were so revered that -- spoiler alert! -- when tragic circumstances befell one of them, it triggered an onslaught of fan outrage that still hasn't entirely gone away.
Although sometimes excruciatingly naive and privileged, Patrick was fascinating as the lead of this HBO series and acted as a mirror to the new world that modern gay men are figuring out how to navigate.
Santana (Rivera) didn't get the story development she deserved when she came out, but she spat in the face of lesbian stereotypes and never apologized for who she was on Glee. Meanwhile, the Kurt (Colfer) and Blaine (Criss) love saga became the backbone of the show in later seasons and fostered one of the most ferocious online followings. #Klaine forever.
We're still not over Poussey's death on Orange Is the New Black, but before her tragic murder at the hands of a corrections officer, she was one of Litchfield's brightest lights.
Vito found the courage to come out late in life, and when he did, his admission ended up costing him everything. While he wasn't exactly the kind of guy you'd bring home for dinner, his demise was sad and even more compelling when you realize he's based on a real-life mobster.
Laverne Cox's groundbreaking portrayal of Sophia on Orange Is the New Black pushed open doors previously closed to transgender performers, with Cox becoming the first trans person to ever receive an Emmy nomination.
Androgynous, wild, and and highly sexual, Shane was everyone's crush, even if her journey down hook-up highway unapologetically made roadkill out of hearts.
A third-generation funeral home director, David was a man who knew a thing or two about death -- which was the least of his struggles as he navigated a public coming out, the unique challenges of being in an interracial relationship, and good ol' family drama to boot.
Titus is Kimmy's roommate and first (even if slightly reluctant) real friend in New York City. He is self-proclaimed "gay as a penguin" and a struggling performer with a killer imagination and zero funds. His advice is suspect, his one-liners are fantastic, and his music video for "Peeno Noir" is a work of art.
Magnus and Alec had a rough go of it at the start, but they managed to create an open and loving relationship that, by the end of the series, was the definition of couple goals. There was nothing these two wouldn't sacrifice for each other, and there's literally nothing Malec fans wouldn't have sacrificed to see them end up together. Their devotion paid off; Magnus and Alec had a glorious wedding in the finale.
Calling Chris Keller a sociopath might be too kind a label. He was a cunning, manipulative, lying, and murdering son of a bitch who would (and did) sell his own lover for the right price. Although he could demonstrate the capacity to love, he didn't love himself and could never be trusted.
Brian Kinney, the playboy turned domestic partner, is still one of boldest gay characters to be featured in a television show. Queer as Folk did a lot for showing the everyday lives of gay men, but Brian Kinney was the one viewers idolized and kept coming back for. Meanwhile, Emmett could've easily been dismissed as a flamboyant stereotype but proved to be complex, sensitive, and principled.
We thought we'd never get over Willow (Hannigan) and Oz breaking up, but then Willow and Tara (Benson) fell in love. The couple broke ground in a very heavily heterosexual TV landscape, and Willow going dark after Tara's death is still one of the most iconic storylines of the series.
For many teens and tweens of the '90s, Ricky's coming of age on the high school soap was not just their first glimpse of fierceness, but history in the making: he was the first openly gay teen on network TV. Ricky didn't hide or try to blend in, but rather opted to hang out in the girl's bathroom and wore makeup better than his female friends.
Mitchell (Ferguson), the high-strung, type-A attorney; and Cameron (Stonestreet), the down-home, country boy who's constantly surprising everyone, are a perfect pairing. They're both hilarious, but are more than a fountain of sassy one-liners: they became the face of normalized, suburban gay parenting when Modern Family premiered.
Whenever Mr. Burns is in need of a dirty deed done, there is only one man he turns to: Smithers, whose love for Burns is rivaled only by his love for Malibu Stacy.
One of TV's most iconic characters ever, Lafayette was everything: a fashionista, a sex worker, a cook, a lover, a fighter, and a medium.
These two badass ladies sure know how to bring the world of Person of Interest to life. Root (Acker), a brilliant computer hacker, and Shaw (Shahi), a former U.S. Army Intelligence operative, really gave Samaritan a run for its money.
TV's pioneering gay characters have opened the door for so many others with their charming shenanigans. Will (McCormack) is the straight-laced, wry lawyer, and Jack (Hayes) is... well, just Jack.
Leon was a little bit of a sad sack; he withdrew into the closet when it was advantageous, was a conflicted right-winger who hated drag queens and Barbra, and regularly manipulated his BFF Roseanne. Still, he was a pioneer, marrying his partner Scott on an episode in 1995 -- the first same-sex marriage on American TV.
Xena remains a gay icon, mostly because she was the very definition of a badass. Armed with a chakram, a sword, and her ally Gabrielle, Xena served up justice with the right amount of attitude. And of course, her and Gabrielle's "are they or aren't they?" relationship status is the stuff of literal legend.
Arguably the most iconoclastic, stereotype-busting, gay character of all time -- and possibly the greatest character on The Wire -- Omar had so many layers to his personality, he was like a walking House of Mirrors. He's a merciless stick-up man who takes his grandma to church, knows Greek mythology, and carries guns but is privately sensitive. Even President Obama is in awe of him.
Ellen Morgan's coming out on Ellen's 1997 "Puppy Episode" was the beginning of a seismic shift: It was the first time a lead TV character came out as gay, a move so controversial at the time that subsequent episodes actually had a parental warning. Sure, the episode was funny -- Ellen accidentally announced "I'm gay!" over an airport microphone -- but Ellen Morgan stands out as one of the greatest gay characters in TV history because of what the real Ellen did to make her coming out happen. DeGeneres took on an enormous risk that required immense bravery, lots of network negotiation, and then actual backlash that stalled her career. Ellen Morgan kicked down the closet door, making it possible for LGBTQ characters to live out and proud on TV.