National Coming Out Day is October 11, so what better day to come out with a list of some of the greatest coming-out episodes ever to air on television? While the annual LGBTQ awareness day was founded in 1988, it took TV a little bit longer to come out. We’re now at a place where rainbow bat-phones are a thang, but that wasn’t always the case.
Here’s a look back at some of the most memorable coming out episodes of all time — and we know there are many, many more, so include your favorites in the comments.
My So-Called Life: “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” (Jan. 26, 1995)
The short-lived ABC drama produced only 19 episodes, but we all knew Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz) was gay well before he came out to Delia Fisher (Senta Moses) in the series finale. (The guyliner and frequent trips to the girls’ bathroom were hints, but mostly it was his obvious attraction to Corey Halfrick that clued us in.) So when Delia told Rickie that she had a crush on him because she knew it wouldn’t hurt too much (“You’re gay, right?”), we were happy he had the courage to tell her the truth, because Rickie had never admitted it to anyone — not even himself. “Yeah, I’m gay,” he said. “I just don’t usually say it like that … I don’t usually say it. I mean, I’ve actually never said it … out loud.” Series creator Winnie Holzman later told Variety that Cruz received “touching and beautiful” fan mail after the episode aired and that, to this day, people tell her that they came out to their parents after watching Rickie on MSCL.
Ellen: “The Puppy Episode” (April 30, 1997)
It was a game-changing episode, but not in the way producers had hoped. In 1997 — less than 20 years ago! — the world still wasn’t ready for Ellen DeGeneres to come out as a lesbian on her self-titled ABC sitcom. Even Oprah Winfrey, who played the character’s therapist, couldn’t save the show after Ellen Morgan came out to her crush, Susan (Laura Dern) — and the entire airport terminal — on the now-classic episode. The sitcom was canceled the following year amid tanked ratings, and Dern later revealed that after the history-making episode aired, she couldn’t get another acting job for a year and a half.
Dawson’s Creek: “That Is the Question” (Feb. 17, 1999)
When Jack McPhee (Kerr Smith) came out to his father on Dawson’s Creek, it was one of the most powerful scenes ever on the WB teen drama. During an argument with his dad, Jack shouted, “Ask me if I’m gay, ask me! You know it! I see how you look at me, and I know you know. … And as hard as you’ve tried to stamp it out or to ignore it, I’ve tried harder!” The year was 1999, and the character’s subsequent onscreen kiss with Ethan Brody (Adam Kaufman), was the first “passionate” male gay kiss ever shown on primetime TV.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “New Moon Rising” (May 20, 2000)
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) went from geeky Scooby Gang sidekick to a powerful witch on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and her transformation was fueled by her sexual awakening. After breaking things off with her werewolf beau, Oz (Seth Green), Willow admitted to Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) that things became “complicated” for her when Tara (Amber Benson) came to town. “There’s something between us,” Willow revealed. “I wasn’t looking for it, you know. It’s just totally powerful. And it’s totally different than what Oz and I had.” And as any respectable bestie would do, Buffy passed no judgment, telling her bud, “You have to follow your heart.”
Glee: “Preggers” (Sept. 23, 2009)
Being in the glee club and on the football team gave Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) the courage to be anything he wanted to be, so when he spontaneously came out to his dad while doing his post-football game skin care ritual, we cheered louder for him than when he kicked that “Single Ladies”-fueled winning field goal. Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley) admitted he wasn’t in love with the idea, but he still loved his son as much as ever: “I’ve known since you were 3.”
Grey’s Anatomy: “Invasion” (Oct. 15, 2009)
When Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) came out as bisexual to her dad (Hector Elizondo), he threatened to disown her. In a half-baked attempt to make things right, Papa Torres returned to Seattle Grace — with the parish priest — to try to “pray away the gay.” After a blowout in the middle of the hospital, Callie admitted that she sprang her sexuality news on her dad, but he fired back with Bible quotes as Father Kevin looked on. Still, Callie got the last word in when she reminded her dad that Jesus is her savior — not him.
Ugly Betty: “The Past Presents the Future” (April 7, 2010)
Four years after viewers met 11-year-old Justin Suarez on Ugly Betty, the character (played by Mark Indelicato) beautifully came out on the dance floor at his mom’s wedding — without saying a word.
Empire: “The Lyon’s Roar“ (Feb. 25, 2015)
When Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett) decided to come out to the world, he went big. No longer content with the idea of keeping his sexuality a secret until after his ailing dad’s death, Jamal took the stage at the Empire white party and announced that he would express his truth in music. When Jamal changed the words to the family’s signature song, “You’re So Beautiful,” to say “it’s the kind of song that makes a man love a man,” hip-hop mogul Lucious (Terrence Howard) got the message loud and clear as graphic memories of how he tried to curb his son’s sexuality when he was a child came flooding back.
The Real O’Neals: “Pilot” (March 2, 2016)
The Real O’Neals got right to it: In the ABC comedy’s series premiere, teen character Kenny O’Neal (Noah Galvin) comes out to his parents (Martha Plimpton, Jay R. Ferguson) after an impromptu family meeting in the middle of church bingo triggers an avalanche of revelations for the not-so-perfect Irish-Catholic clan. Next up: Kenny came out to his girlfriend, Mimi (Hannah Marks), but his hopes for becoming her GBFF, like in Will and Grace, were dashed because he screwed up her plans for losing her virginity to him. Kenny got more creative for a subsequent coming out when he announced he was gay to Grandma Agnes via a rainbow cake.
The Simpsons: “The Burns Cage” (April 3, 2016)
Simpsons fans always had an inkling that Waylon Smithers (voiced by Harry Shearer) was gay: The character regularly hangs out in a gay part of Springfield, has vacationed at an all-male resort, and has long pined for his boss, Mr. Burns. So when Smithers came out earlier this year, the show didn’t make a big to-do of it. Instead, when Homer (Dan Castellaneta) stepped in to play matchmaker for the lovelorn executive assistant, we were casually made aware that ladies weren’t on the list. “We didn’t really want to have that big moment of ‘I’m out,’ you know?” Simpsons writer Rob LaZebnik told the New York Post. “Instead, just have it be a big embrace — like everyone knows it.”