Ellen’s coming out paved the way for other shows to feature openly gay characters. (x)
A big part of the progress LGBT people have made in recent years has to do with our exposure in the media. Television and the internet reach people in their ordinary lives, exposing them to things they may not have seen before. Valerie Harper was the first person to say the word “gay” on network television as her character, Rhoda, on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s. Sitcoms like “All in the Family” also dealt with homosexuality.
But LGBT representation on American television hasn’t always been so common. So, let’s take a look at the progress we’ve made over the years. Here’s a list of ten TV and web series that have increased gay visibility and acceptance, all in chronological order.
While this isn’t exclusively a “gay series,” when Ellen DeGeneres and her character, Ellen Morgan, came out in 1997, it was a landmark for LGBT representation in the media. “The Puppy Episode” was the episode’s official name, to help keep the episode’s content a secret. However, when spoilers leaked, it set off a firestorm in the press and drew protests from religious groups. It was a ratings success, however, with 42 million viewers. It became the highest rated “Ellen” episode ever.
9. Will & Grace
This extremely popular sitcom aired from September 21, 1998 to May 18, 2006, lasting a total of eight seasons. Set in New York City, the show follows Will Truman, a gay lawyer, and his roommate Grace Adler, a straight interior designer. Other popular characters were Grace’s assistant Karen and Will’s friend Jack. The show was the most successful television series with gay principal characters. It won a total of 16 Emmy Awards.
8. Queer as Folk
Based on the hit UK drama, “Queer as Folk” aired for five seasons on Showtime from December 3, 2000 to August 7, 2005. The drama follows the lives of five gay men and a lesbian couple living in Pittsburgh, PA. It was the first hour-long drama on American television to portray the lives of gay men and women. It also featured the first simulated sex scene between two men on American television. The groundbreaking series became the number one show on Showtime’s roster.
7. The L Word
This series aired on Showtime for six seasons from January 18, 2004 to March 8, 2009. It follows the lives of lesbian, bisexual, straight, and transgender people living in West Hollywood. The 50-minute drama series spawned an unaired spin-off called “The Farm.” It centered around a women’s prison where the character of Alice Pieszecki is detained. The show’s creator, Ilene Chaiken, proposed a film based on the series but no further information has been publicized.
Another show that isn’t exclusively a “gay series” but has opened up dialogue on LGBT youth. It centers around the William McKinley High School glee club. The series has been airing since May 19, 2009 and creator Ryan Murphy recently announced the sixth season would be the last. The show’s gay characters like Kurt and Santana have given LGBT youth exposure not seen as much before on American television. The series has won several Golden Globe Awards and Emmy Awards.
5. Modern Family
This popular sitcom has won several Emmy Awards and is a ratings success. The series has been airing since September 23, 2009. It follows the family of Jay Pritchett including his second wife and two adult children, one of whom is gay. Pritchett’s son, Mitchell, is in a committed relationship with Cameron, with whom he adopted a daughter, Lily. Mitch and Cam got engaged at the start of the show’s current season and a wedding is expected very soon.
4. The New Normal
“Glee” creator Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler were the masterminds behind this short-lived sitcom. “The New Normal” aired on NBC for one season from September 10, 2012 to April 2, 2013. After Goldie finds her husband cheating on her, she takes her daughter to Ohio. In Ohio, she becomes the surrogate for David and Bryan, a couple looking to have a child. Conflict arises when Goldie’s homophobic and racist grandmother finds out about the situation.
3. Hunting Season
Before HBO’s current series “Looking,” this web series based on the popular blog and novel, The Great Cock Hunt debuted. The first season premiered on September 12, 2012 and a total of eight webisodes were released. The series focuses on Alex, a gay 20-something living in Manhattan who works at Gawker, and his friends. He starts a blog where he anonymously writes about his various sexual rendezvous. The series was nominated for three Indie Soap Awards, with the show’s lead, Ben Baur, winning Best Actor (Comedy). The show also won three LA Webfest Awards. On December 6, 2013 the second season was officially announced after being successfully funded via Kickstarter.
2. The Fosters
“The Fosters” is a recent sitcom executive produced by Jennifer Lopez. The show centers around an interracial lesbian couple raising children—one biological child from a previous marriage and twins who they adopted. The pilot episode saw the couple adding to the family by taking in a foster child. The series debuted on June 3, 2013 on ABC Family. The series was renewed for a second season on October 11, 2013.
On January 19, 2014, this series premiered on HBO. It follows the lives of gay friends living in San Francisco. Ratings started off slow, with only 338,000 tuning in to the pilot. However, ratings progressed throughout the season and HBO renewed the series for a second season. The show stars Jonathan Groff, who previously appeared in “Glee,” and Murray Bartlett, who guest-starred in an episode of “Sex and the City.”
Looking at this list not only provokes thought of how far we’ve come but of how diverse our community is. Some shows portray gay characters living a traditional family life, while others portray the opposite. Some gay characters live in big cities, while others live in small towns. Some gay characters are adults dealing with real-life responsibilities, while others are teens just trying to do well in high school. A big part of making progress is allowing people to see we’re all different but deserve to be treated with the same amount of respect. And these shows are giving people the opportunity to do just that.
Who are your favorite LGBT TV characters? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below.