Magnolia Pictures; 20th Century Studios
Because of increased LGBTQ visibility in recent years, queer and trans actors are getting more opportunities in Hollywood.
These performances can be found in films spanning many genres.
Movies on this list include comedies like "Tangerine" and "The Watermelon Woman" as well as dramas like "Looking" and "The Normal Heart."
Increased LGBTQ visibility has led to more queer and trans characters in film, as well as more actors openly identifying within the LGBTQ community.
Openly LGBTQ actors have been able to portray queer characters in films spanning many genres, from Cheryl Dunye in the romantic comedy "The Watermelon Woman" to Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor in the crime dramedy "Tangerine" to Ian McKellen in the biographical drama "Gods and Monsters."
Here are 20 LGBTQ movie characters played by LGBTQ actors.
Queer actor Keiynan Lonsdale had a breakout role playing gay high schooler Bram Greenfeld in 2018's "Love, Simon."
Fox 2000 Pictures
Lonsdale played gay teenager Bram in the 2018 film "Love, Simon," which made history when it became the first mainstream teen rom-com to feature a gay protagonist. In May 2017, he came out publicly in an Instagram post.
"['Love, Simon'] doesn't just say, 'Hey, it's OK to be this way,'" Lonsdale said in a 2018 interview with BuzzFeed News. "It's saying, 'No, it's f---ing great. This is normal. You did nothing wrong. You didn't get the short end of the stick. Everyone's good. We're all good.' That's what I needed to hear."
Adèle Haenel played Héloïse in the romantic drama "Portrait of a Lady on Fire." Both Haenel and Héloïse identify as lesbians.
Haenel starred in the acclaimed 2019 romantic drama "Portrait of a Lady on Fire." She played Héloïse, a young 19th-century lesbian who fiercely opposes her arranged marriage, but later enters a romance with the female painter commissioned to paint her wedding portrait.
While the film explores the artistic collaboration and romantic relationship between two women, it was also partially influenced by one. Haenel's ex-partner and frequent collaborator, "Portrait" director Céline Sciamma, wrote the part for her.
In fact, the actress publicly came out when she won a César Award in 2014 and ended her acceptance speech by declaring her love for Sciamma onstage.
"Just as the characters in the film discover each other in a painting studio, so Adèle and I met on a film set," Sciamma said in a 2019 interview with the newspaper De Morgen. "We talked a lot about cinema [during our relationship] and we grew enormously intellectually. I also wanted to show that in the film: the lasting, emancipating effect that such a romantic encounter can have on your life."
Kiersey Clemons starred as queer musician Sam Fisher in the 2018 comedy "Hearts Beat Loud."
Gunpowder & Sky
After Clemons had her breakout role playing a teen lesbian in 2015's "Dope," the actress took on another queer role by playing Sam in the 2018 musical comedy "Hearts Beat Loud." The film follows Sam and her father, Frank, who form an unexpectedly popular band during the summer before she leaves for college.
Sam has a summer romance with another girl over the course of the movie, and is already out to her dad.
"I think we see often the conflict of someone coming out to their parents onscreen, which is really important, and relatable to a lot of people. But the underlying issue with that is that if that's the only thing we see, we think that that's the only thing that exists," the actress told The Advocate in a 2018 interview promoting the film. "And a lot of times it's not. People can have coming out stories that don't involve being exiled from your family [...] My experience was peaceful and surprising and exciting, and so it's nice to kind of not even see that part of the story, and see the aftermath of the relationship that you can have with your parents."
Jim Parsons portrayed gay activist Tommy Boatwright in the 2014 HBO film "The Normal Heart."
Although he's best known for playing Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory," Parsons also got in touch with LGBTQ history by playing a gay activist fighting to address the rising 1980s HIV-AIDs crisis in the 2014 drama "The Normal Heart" (which is based on Larry Kramer's 1985 play of the same name).
"I always really liked that, that I had a relationship to the topic at hand in this play that Tommy had to Stonewall, that we all had to fight for our sexual liberation and now you're just telling us to cool it," Parsons said in a 2014 SiriusXM News & Issues interview. "I started consciously making the connection of what level of importance doing this part has to me as a gay man."
Sasha Lane and her 2018 "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" character, Jane, both identify as queer.
FilmRise Vertigo Releasing
Lane first shot to stardom for her leading role in the acclaimed indie film "American Honey." However, the actress's "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" role as Jane, a queer girl who is forced into a conversion camp and bonds with other LGBTQ teenagers, resonated with her on a personal level.
"The story really hit home for me, coming from a household where my brother's gay and I'm gay," Lane is quoted as saying in the movie's press notes. "I liked Jane, who has a free spirit and her own way of thinking. She grew up in a community where everyone was free and lived life in a certain way. Then her mother brought her into a community that was very conservative and unaccepting of her. But both those communities were boxes."
Andrew Scott, a gay actor, portrayed gay bookshop owner Gethin in the 2014 British historical dramedy "Pride."
20th Century Studios
Viewers may remember him as Jim Moriarty on "Sherlock" or The Hot Priest on "Fleabag," but Smith also took on a role highlighting British LGBTQ history in the 2014 movie "Pride." He plays gay bookshop owner Gethin, who joins several other queer activists to help striking miners in conservative 1984 England.
"I think the thing that I feel very strongly about is that everybody that I've spoken to is really moved by ['Pride'], and for that reason I say it's not just a gay film," Scott told Entertainment Weekly in 2018. "I think it's been embraced by the gay community because I think people are very celebratory about the fact that gay people are not just seen in story lines that are related to sex or sexuality, that their attributes of kindness and bravery and compassion are the things that are celebrated in the movie."
Actress Mya Taylor plays trans sex worker Alexandra in the 2015 dramedy "Tangerine."
Taylor won a 2016 Independent Spirit Award for playing Alexandra, a trans sex worker who helps her friend, Sin-Dee, get revenge on her pimp ex-boyfriend and his new lover on Christmas Eve.
"I want to play just regular female roles," Taylor told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. "I didn't transition to be a trans woman. I transitioned to be a female and I feel like Hollywood has put it out there to be like, oh, well these are trans women and that's what they are. No, we are females."
Clea DuVall played rebellious teen Graham in 2000's "But I'm a Cheerleader." The actress herself later came out as gay.
Actress and writer-director DuVall has long played openly gay characters (recently on "The Handmaid's Tale" and in her 2016 film "The Intervention").
Before she came out, one of her most prominent roles was playing rebellious teenager Graham in the 2000 satirical comedy "But I'm a Cheerleader." The movie follows Megan, a naive, all-American cheerleader who's sent to conversion camp and falls in love with Graham while they're both going through the program.
"I was very closeted when we made this film," DuVall wrote in a 2020 tweet. "Countless people over the years have told me how this movie made them feel seen and helped them come out. I want them to know their words and strength did the same for me. Thank you."
Filmmaker Cheryl Dunye plays a version of herself in the 1997 romantic comedy "The Watermelon Woman."
First Run Features
For decades, Cheryl Dunye has been one of the only prominent Black lesbian filmmakers, writing incisive films about the intersections between her identities and love of film.
Her most famous project is arguably "The Watermelon Woman," which follows a young Black lesbian filmmaker named Cheryl (an avatar for Dunye), who works on a project about the Watermelon Woman" (a fictional 1930s queer Black actress). Along the way, Cheryl falls in love herself.
"I think ['The Watermelon Woman'] lives on for that reason, because people still don't know what a black queer person looks like, unless it's a farcical, drag queeny, commercial way," Dunye said in a 2016 interview with The Los Angeles Times. "That's not all that we are. We're a varied, beautiful 'rainbow' of identities."
Megan Fox and her 2009 "Jennifer's Body" character both identify as bisexual.
20th Century Fox
The film centers on its titular main character, a popular high schooler who begins consuming people (primarily men) after a demon possesses her. Jennifer is characterized as bisexual, and has a charged, co-dependent relationship with her shy best friend, Needy.
Fox herself is also bisexual, telling Esquire in a 2011 interview, "I think people are born bisexual and then make subconscious choices based on the pressures of society. I have no question in my mind about being bisexual."
Rupert Everett stars in the 1997 comedy "My Best Friend's Wedding" as George Downes, an openly gay man.
When Everett played openly gay man George Downes in the 1997 comedy "My Best Friend's Wedding," gay actors playing queer characters was still a very rare thing in Hollywood. His character, George, is close friends with Julia Roberts' character, Julianne, who sets out to win over another old friend on the eve of his wedding.
In 2019, Everett told Entertainment Weekly that, at the time, he thought his role in the film was "going to be the end, because I was gay, and it was a tiny little gay role, and 'What was the point?' I thought. But it was a complete changing point for me."
Daniela Vega and her 2018 "A Fantastic Woman" character, Marina Vidal, are both trans women.
Sony Pictures Classics
Breakout actress Vega led the 2018 Chilean drama "A Fantastic Woman," which won best foreign language film at the 2018 Oscars. She played Marina, a woman who must reevaluate her life and plans for the future after the death of her older boyfriend.
The film "is about how we moralize love, and which bodies may be inhabited and conquered even if some people claim it is not possible," Vega told Vanity Fair in 2018.
"[...] The fact that I am trans provides the script and narrative with a higher level of truth," she continued. "But, more importantly, it opens a door into the movie world that had never been explored before, because I am a trans actress playing a trans woman."
In the 1998 biographical drama "Gods and Monsters," actor Ian McKellen portrayed gay director James Whale.
Acclaimed veteran actor McKellen has been open about his sexuality since 1988, and got the chance to play another celebrated gay film figure when he portrayed real-life director James Whale in the 1998 biographical drama "Gods and Monsters."
"Hollywood has mistreated women in every possible way throughout its history. Gay men don't exist," McKellen told Time Out in 2018. "'Gods and Monsters', I think, was the beginning of Hollywood admitting that there were gay people knocking around, even though half of Hollywood is gay."
Jonathan Groff reprised his role as a gay man named Patrick Murray in the 2016 film "Looking."
Groff has built up a hefty acting resumé, appearing in hit projects like "Frozen," "Hamilton," and Netflix's "Mindhunter." One of his less familiar roles was playing Patrick in the HBO series "Looking," which followed the lives and friendships of three gay men living in San Francisco.
The show aired from 2014 to 2015, and a feature-length film wrapped up the story in 2016.
"More than anything — and one of the things I can relate to the most in [my 'Looking character'] Patrick — is being okay with the fact that you don't have all the answers, and having the confidence to move forward asking questions without feeling like you have to answer them right away," Groff told GQ in 2016. "[...]['Looking'], ultimately, is about male intimacy–in relationships and in friendships. I think it's rare on TV that you see men relating to each other, romantically or not, in an open-hearted, vulnerable way."
Writer and actress Lena Waithe voiced the first openly LGBTQ animated Disney Pixar character in the 2020 film "Onward."
Disney Pixar; Taylor Hill/Contributor via Getty Images
Waithe made headlines when news broke that she would voice the first openly LGBTQ animated character in a Disney Pixar film. Waithe herself is openly gay.
Her character, a cyclops police officer named Officer Specter, briefly appears in one scene and casually tells a driver she pulls over, "My girlfriend's daughter got me pulling my hair out."
"The scene, when we wrote it, was kind of fitting and it opens up the world a little bit, and that's what we wanted," director Dan Scanlon told Yahoo Entertainment in a 2020 interview. "It's a modern fantasy world and we want to represent the modern world."
Kate McKinnon played closeted lesbian and Fox News employee Jess Carr in the 2019 drama "Bombshell."
Hillary B. Gayle/Lionsgate
Actress and comedian McKinnon, who has publicly spoken about her sexuality and LGBTQ representation, took on a more dramatic role by playing fictional Fox News employee Jess Carr in "Bombshell." The 2019 film chronicles prominent Fox women's efforts to oust former CEO Roger Ailes due to sexual misconduct. Jess has a relationship with Kayla, a bright-eyed new Fox employee who is assaulted by Ailes and decides to speak out.
In Lionsgate's EPK soundbites for the film, McKinnon alluded to her character being inspired by first-hand accounts after describing her character as a "closet liberal and closet gay woman."
"According to first-hand accounts, it's not — you wouldn't want to be open about being either one of those at Fox News," she said.
Singer Troye Sivan, who is gay, played Gary in the 2018 drama "Boy Erased."
Since coming out in 2013, Sivan has openly discussed his experiences as a gay man and been vocal about his intersectional support of the LGBTQ community as a whole. He took on an acting role related to these topics when he played a gay teenager forced into a conversion camp in the 2018 drama "Boy Erased."
"[That] was my worst nightmare before I came out, that my parents were not going to accept me and they'd want to fix me," he told The Hollywood Reporter in a 2018 interview while promoting the movie. "Many people are not as lucky as I've been in regard to family and friends being supportive, so any opportunity I can get to help change that, I'll jump at it."
"The movie is already doing what I hoped it would," Sivan continued. "We're hearing people's stories and hearing people sharing their past [experiences] with conversion therapy or if they're in a tough spot with their family. The movie is serving a purpose in real life."
Actress Kitana Kiki Rodriguez had her breakout role playing Sin-Dee in 2015's "Tangerine."
In 2015's "Tangerine," Rodriguez, who is a trans woman, played Sin-Dee, a trans sex worker who tears through Hollywood on Christmas Eve in hopes of getting revenge on the pimp who broke her heart. It was the actress's first film role, and she received a 2016 Independent Spirit Award nomination for best female lead.
"We have to remember to stay together as one, as supporters, as lovers, as sisterhood and brotherhood. It's going and nobody can stop reality," Rodriguez told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015 while speaking about trans media representation. "This is what is making waves in the industry. For me, it's tidal waves."
Lucas Hedges, who identifies on the LGBTQ spectrum, played gay writer Jared Eamons in the 2018 drama "Boy Erased."
Hedges played real-life gay writer and activist Jared Eamons in 2018's "Boy Erased," and spoke about how he personally related to the role while promoting the film.
"I owe it to this part to speak as honestly as possible," Hedges told Vulture in a 2018 interview.
"In the early stages of my life, some of the people I was most infatuated with were my closest male friends," he added. "That was the case through high school, and I think I was always aware that while for the most part I was attracted to women, I existed on a spectrum. Not totally straight, but also not gay and not necessarily bisexual."
Tessa Thompson's Marvel character Valkyrie's bisexuality will be addressed in the next "Thor" movie. Tessa herself identifies as queer.
Thompson has played Valkyrie, a warrior from Thor's home realm of Asgard, since Taika Waititi's 2017 film "Thor: Ragnarok." Although Valkyrie is canonically bisexual in the comics' "The Fearless Defenders" series, the character's sexuality hasn't been explicitly confirmed onscreen.
In 2017, the actress told The Rolling Stone that she had pushed Waititi to make Valkyrie bisexual in "Thor: Ragnarok," but a scene of a woman leaving the character's bedroom was eventually cut.
During Marvel Studio's Hall H panel at Comic-Con in 2019, the actress finally confirmed that her Marvel character will be openly queer in the upcoming movie, "Thor: Love and Thunder."
"As new king [of Asgard], she needs to find her queen," Thompson said.
The Marvel star herself is open about being a queer woman in Hollywood.
"I can take things for granted because of my family — it's so free and you can be anything that you want to be," she said in a 2018 interview with Net-a-Porter. "I'm attracted to men and also to women. If I bring a woman home, [or] a man, we don't even have to have the discussion."
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