30 LGBT+ Shows That Changed Everything for Queer Representation on TV

·13 min read

Slowly but surely, TV is doing a better job at depicting the full scope of the varied queer experience. Things started out small when it comes to LGBT+ shows, with series like Will & Grace and Glee revealing slices of queer identity. Now sitcoms, dramas, and everything in between have expanded that showcase, dedicating themselves to getting representation right.

But just like the best LGBTQ+ movies, we didn’t get there overnight, and there’s still more work to be done. However, these 30 LGBTQ+ shows (among others) did more than just move the dial forward when it comes to queer representation in Hollywood. They broke down the doors and created opportunities for change on-screen and off.

In honor of Pride Month, let’s take a look at just how far we’ve come from our past to our present. Of course, not every modern series with positive LGBTQ+ representation is highlighted on this list, which just goes to show how much progress has been made.

The Corner Bar (1972–1973)

<h1 class="title">THE CORNER BAR:Joe Hamer, Vincent Schiavelli, Bill Fiore</h1><cite class="credit">Courtesy Everett Collection</cite>

THE CORNER BAR:Joe Hamer, Vincent Schiavelli, Bill Fiore

Courtesy Everett Collection

The Corner Bar was a blip-on-the-radar sitcom that aired on ABC from June 1972 to September 1973, but it contains an extremely important character in the history of queer TV shows: Peter Panama, a set designer played brilliantly by Vincent Schiavelli. Peter is widely considered to be the first recurring gay character to ever appear on television; he was so entertaining, though, he should’ve been a series regular.

L.A. Law (1986–1994)

Another first for LGBTQ+ characters: Actors Amanda Donohoe and Michele Greene broke new ground on a 1991 episode of L.A. Law when their characters kissed, the first-ever romantic kiss between women on network television.

The Real World: San Francisco Season 3 (1994)

<h1 class="title">The Real World: San Francisco Season 3</h1><cite class="credit">©MTV/Courtesy Everett Collection</cite>

The Real World: San Francisco Season 3

©MTV/Courtesy Everett Collection

Equally as pioneering was Pedro Zamora’s involvement in the reality show The Real World: San Francisco. He was one of the first gay men living with AIDS to be featured on television, and what’s more, his commitment ceremony to boyfriend Sean Sasser was the first same-sex union broadcast on television. Zamora died at age 22 in Miami from AIDS-related issues.

Friends (1994–2004)

<h1 class="title">Friends, 'The One With The Lesbian Wedding'</h1><cite class="credit">Warner Bros/ Everett Collection</cite>

Friends, 'The One With The Lesbian Wedding'

Warner Bros/ Everett Collection

Friends didn’t feature the first same-sex marriage on network television, but it did have the first lesbian one. Yes, before Carol and Susan said, “I do!” on a 1996 episode of Friends, no one had ever seen two women tie the knot on a show. “It was the first lesbian wedding to ever be shown on TV, and they blocked it out in some affiliates,” Jane Sibbett, who played Carol, explained on the British TV show Lorraine. “But it all worked out as we got so much press because they blocked it. We actually won awards for that storyline.” Awards, and an important slot in LGBTQ+ history.

Relativity (1996)

The lesbian pop culture blog After Ellen dubbed the kiss between actors Lisa Edelstein and Kristin Dattilo on this short-lived ABC drama the first “real” lesbian kiss, and that’s not an inaccurate statement. One of the characters on L.A. Law in 1991 was straight, but this scene from Relativity marks the first time two women characters who identified as either lesbian or bisexual shared a passionate, open-mouthed kiss on screen.

Ellen (1994–1998)

Ellen DeGeneres ventured into uncharted territory in 1997 when her character on Ellen (her popular self-titled sitcom) came out. It marked the first time a character ever publicly declared out loud, “I’m gay,” on television. It undoubtedly paved the way for more gay characters in TV shows.

Queer as Folk (2000–2005)

<h1 class="title">Queer as Folk</h1><cite class="credit">©Showtime Networks Inc./Courtesy Everett Collection</cite>

Queer as Folk

©Showtime Networks Inc./Courtesy Everett Collection

This Showtime drama is important for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s an addictive series about complex, nuanced queer characters. More notably, though, it was the first hour-long American show to focus solely on the lives of LGBTQ+ people, making it one of the most groundbreaking gay TV shows on this list.

Will & Grace (1998–2006, 2017–2020)

<h1 class="title">Will & Grace</h1><cite class="credit">AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo</cite>

Will & Grace

AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Will & Grace doesn’t have any firsts, really. Well, that’s not true; it does contain the first Cher fever-dream sequence (see above). What’s so trailblazing about Will & Grace was how normal it was; it featured two gay men at the center who were happy, well-adjusted, and successful—for the most part. It was radical back then—especially on network TV—to see gay people just living their lives without having any internal turmoil about being gay.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2001)

<h1 class="title">Buffy the Vampire Slayer</h1><cite class="credit">©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection</cite>

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

Even though it indulges in the Bury Your Gays trope, Willow and Tara will forever be a major milestone in representing young lesbian couples. The witches got together in 2001, and sometimes we pretend their storyline ended after they shared their first kiss in the season 5 episode, “The Body,” so we don’t have to live with the pain.

Queer Eye (2003–2007, 2018–Present)

<h1 class="title">Queer Eye</h1><cite class="credit">Courtesy of Netflix</cite>

Queer Eye

Courtesy of Netflix

First, there was the 2003 Bravo show, and now we have the Netflix reboot. Both are alike in many ways, but what they share above all is the pure desire to close the queer-straight gap. Granted, the O.G. version gets the credit for doing this first, but Netflix is certainly carrying the torch nicely.

The L Word (2004–2009)

<h1 class="title">THE L WORD, (from left): Katherine Moennig, Mia Kirshner, 'Leaving Los Angeles', (Season 6, ep. 604,</h1><cite class="credit">©Showtime Networks Inc./Courtesy Everett Collection</cite>

THE L WORD, (from left): Katherine Moennig, Mia Kirshner, 'Leaving Los Angeles', (Season 6, ep. 604,

©Showtime Networks Inc./Courtesy Everett Collection

This long-running Showtime series was the first to feature nuanced lesbian protagonists. Before this, lesbian TV shows were essentially nonexistent, and women kissing women was often a vehicle used for shock value: something done to get people talking and to boost ratings. The L Word, however, dedicated to showing the lives of its characters in an authentic way.

Noah’s Arc (2005–2006)

Noah’s Arc became Logo TV’s first scripted series when it debuted in 2005. The comedy-drama featured a largely POC cast, which was particularly refreshing in the early 2000s, when almost all the queer characters in pop culture were white. To be honest, it’s still refreshing in 2022—a time when gay TV series still, for the most part, center characters who are white, cisgender, and male.

As the World Turns (1956–2010)

When Luke (Van Hansis) and Noah (Jake Silbermann) smooched in a 2007 episode of this long-running soap opera, it made history as daytime TV’s first gay kiss.

RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009–Present)

RuPaul’s Drag Race was, for many people, their first exposure to drag queens and drag culture. The Logo-turned-VH1 show is a cultural phenomenon and, as of 2022, has earned 24 Primetime Emmy Awards.

Grey’s Anatomy (2005–Present)

<h1 class="title">ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" - Season Twelve</h1><cite class="credit">Tony Rivetti/Getty Images</cite>

ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" - Season Twelve

Tony Rivetti/Getty Images

Bisexual representation is hard to come by on network television, let alone from characters of color. That’s why Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) from Grey’s is so important and meaningful to many. “As the years went on, I said to [creator Shonda Rhimes], ‘I’ve never seen a bi character played on TV—not in a way that embraces bisexuality,’” Ramirez told Glamour in 2022. At the time, Ramirez said, there were talks of another series regular going down a “queer road” but it didn’t pan out. “I thought, Here's my chance to speak up. So I did. And Shonda said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’”

Glee (2009–2015)

<h1 class="title">GLEE, (from left): Darren Criss, Chris Colfer, 'The New Rachel', (Season 4, ep. 401, airs Sept. 13,</h1><cite class="credit">©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection</cite>

GLEE, (from left): Darren Criss, Chris Colfer, 'The New Rachel', (Season 4, ep. 401, airs Sept. 13,

©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

This show was messy as all hell, but its queer storylines were among its strongest—and some of the first of their kind on network TV. Kurt‘s entire arc is heartbreaking but triumphant, and Santana and Brittany’s journey from besties to lovers is one for the ages. And while Kurt and Blaine weren’t the first teens to kiss on TV, their first kiss in 2011 was one of the first queer moments on network TV that felt like an average, everyday occurrence.

Modern Family (2009–2020)

<h1 class="title">Modern Family</h1><cite class="credit">AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo</cite>

Modern Family

AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo

ABC’s dedication to depicting a loving, nurturing household with two gay men—Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson)—is what makes Modern Family so special, even a decade-plus after its first episode.

Orange Is the New Black (2013–2019)

<h1 class="title">Orange Is the New Black</h1><cite class="credit">©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection</cite>

Orange Is the New Black

©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection

Orange Is the New Black is one of the most diverse TV shows ever, and one of its most impressive accomplishments was launching the career of Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset. In 2014, Cox became the first openly transgender person to receive a nomination from the Television Academy. By 2022 her career has skyrocketed; she even became the first transgender woman to inspire her very own Barbie doll.

The Fosters (2013–2018)

This drama about a blended family ran for five seasons and tackled many difficult subjects through the years. What makes it stand out from other soapy dramas is that LGBTQ+ themes were introduced from the start, thanks to the two matriarchs who head the family, Stef Foster (Teri Polo) and Lena Adams (Sherri Saum). The ups and downs of the partners and their kids were explored as they navigated things like identity, abuse, love, and what it means to be a family.

Sense8 (2015–2018)

Before there was Wynonna Earp, The Umbrella Academy, and many other genre shows that feature a range of LGBTQ+ characters and storylines, there was Sense 8 on Netflix. Created by the Wachowski sisters (The Matrix), both of whom are transgender, the sci-fi series featured a diverse group of queer characters and was dubbed “the best show for LGBTQ representation” by Pride in 2016.

Black Lightning (2017–2021)

Nafessa Williams made history on this CW series as Thunder, pop culture’s first-ever Black lesbian superhero. Watch Williams talk about the role in this interview, above.

Grace and Frankie (2015–2022)

Coming out later in life—with all of its attendant heartbreaks, joys, and complicated fallouts—is rarely shown in media, but it is beautifully depicted in this warm Netflix series about two women who find out their husbands have been having a yearslong affair. While the story centers around two straight, cis women, the love story of Sol (Sam Waterston) and Robert (Martin Sheen) is also heavily featured and handled with care.

Schitt’s Creek (2015–2020)

Ew, David! Schitt’s Creek ran for six seasons and swept the 2020 Emmys with seven primetime wins including the top four: best actor and actress, and best supporting actor and actress. The story of a wealthy family trying to live in a small town after they lost it all was given depth by plot points that covered everything from mental health to unemployment to finding love. Not only did David (Dan Levy) act as one of the best pansexual representations on television, but his love story with Patrick (Noah Reid) was endlessly touching and proved that coming out stories don’t always need to be traumatizing.

Pose (2018–2021)

<h1 class="title">Pose</h1><cite class="credit">FX</cite>

Pose

FX

Ryan Murphy’s critically acclaimed FX series centers on New York City’s ball culture in the 1980s and features the largest cast of transgender actors ever for a TV show. “We are thrilled that Pose pushes the narrative forward by centering on the unique and under-told experiences of trans women and gay people of color,” Pose cocreator Steve Canals said. “Ryan has assembled a strong team of storytellers and innovators to collaborate on telling this important narrative. As a Bronx-bred queer writer of color, I’m honored to aid in ushering this groundbreaking show into homes.”

Supergirl (2015–2021)

In 2018, the CW also broke ground with Supergirl by featuring TV’s first transgender superhero, Nia, played by trans actor Nicole Maines. “I think kids need to watch Supergirl for Nia, because there are more and more trans people coming out younger and younger,” Maines told Glamour in 2018. “I think it is necessary to educate folks on trans issues and to make them aware of trans identities and normalize it, because it is normal. But when you’re shielded from something and it’s actively censored, it takes a negative connotation. If people are more educated and they’re more aware of these issues and more familiar, they won’t feel so foreign.”

The Umbrella Academy (2019–Present)

Based on the graphic novels by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerad Way, this sci-fi and mystery Netflix series is about seven talented children, their superpowers, and their father’s impact on them into adulthood. Not only does the show feature multiple LGBTQ+ characters, but season three will also mark a big change for Elliot Page's character after the actor came out as trans in 2020. In May 2020 it was announced that his character will now be known as Viktor Hargreeves and use he/him pronouns.

Sex Education (2019–Present)

Not only is this show an excellent example of the confusing and heartwarming moments of discovering one’s sexuality as a teen, but it also explores the complex conversations around being young and in love…or being young and just wanting to experience good sex. There are various LGBTQ+ characters in the show, featuring many queer storylines that don’t rely on cliches.

Feel Good (2020–2021)

This semi-autobiographical comedy created and starring Mae Martin follows a recovering addict trying to navigate new relationships, gender, and sexual identity. Season 2, in particular, featured a poignant scene in which Mae begins to articulate their nonbinary identity to their girlfriend, George (Charlotte Ritchie). “I sort of wrote my dream version of how people would engage with me about that issue,” Martin, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, told Digital Spy. “So George making space for Mae to just feel comfortable and take it at their own pace was really nice.”

Love, Victor (2020–2022)

Set in the same world as Love, Simon, the Hulu series felt more true to the young queer experience than its film counterpart. Even though the show is coming to an end, the story of Victor (played by Michael Cimino) and his friends navigating high school and their own sexual discoveries are still binge-able for its heartwarming take on sexuality, culture, and youthful transgressions.

Heartstopper (2022–Present)

Even though the hit new series only premiered in April 2022, Netflix has already announced there will be two more seasons. Focused on the blossoming relationship between characters Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Conor), the show tells the story of two teenage boys falling in love and the drama, antics, and tension of it all. The show has been particularly lauded for its portrayal of a young bi boy’s journey to self-acceptance and for featuring a diverse group of LGBTQ+ teens in prominent roles, including Elle, a Black trans girl played by Yasmin Finney. While we wait for season 2, we suggest checking out some of the best LGBTQ+ movies on Netflix.

Originally Appeared on Glamour