In recent years we've been introduced to more queer stories in our movies and TV shows, and in honour of Pride Month beginning the writers atEdge of the Crowdshare some of our favourite LGBT+ characters in media.
While Santana wasn’t the only LGBTQ+ character to appear on the showGlee, her character development over the six seasons of the show, famous monologues and her quick wit and one-liners made her a fan favourite.
Although it wasn’t until actress Naya Rivera passed away in July of 2020 that I truly realised the impact in which her character had on many members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Santana started questioning her sexuality during season 2 when she started to develop feelings for her best friend Brittany and they started a relationship at the start of season three, although keeping it on the down-low.
A local political campaign outs Santana after a student overheard a conversation between her and Finn Hudson, it forces Santana to come out to her family with scenes airing in late 2011 of Santana being rejected by her very religious Abuela after coming out as a lesbian which was utterly heartbreaking. Although she did get her happy ending, marrying her high school sweetheart Brittany S Pierce in season six.
For a show that accepts all identities and personalities, it's not always the best friend character that stands out but on Netflix'sSex Education, Eric Effiong not only stands out, but he shines despite feeling sidelined by his best friend Otis on more than one occasion.
You're hooked on Eric from the moment he plays the school's anthem on the French Horn terribly and awkwardly apologises on stage and the endearment only grows as he provides a much needed energy to Otis and Maeve's quiet demeanours.
Eric's story isn't one without complications or sadness, he faces bullying from Adam Groff and the Untouchables, with the former becoming a love interest later in the show, feels insecure in his friendship with Otis and struggles with his identity at home growing up in a religious Ghanaian-Nigerian family.
Family is a big part of Eric's life and while his father struggles to understand him, he doesn't stop Eric from being who he is, in fact what at times comes across as hostility towards the teen is soon explained to come from a place of concern that his son will be a target to further harm.
The shining moment in Eric's story to date comes in season three on a trip to Nigeria for a family wedding. Advised to not draw attention to himself (and his sexuality) by his mother the audience holds its breath for the entire episode hoping something won't happen to the teen, but all too familiar with how these stories play out in media.
Nothing happens and instead, Eric has a night out learning about the underground queer scene in Nigeria learning more about himself and what he wants in his life allowing for his story to not stagnate in a high school relationship.
Despite not being a main character on the show and the character leaving the show in the 16th episode of season two. Alex's introduction to the show in season two, as the manager of the local hang out in the bait shop who was openly Bisexual created one of the only LGBTQ+ relationships on teen television in the early 2000’s.
With Alex having a relationship with one of the show's main characters Marissa Cooper. Alex Kelly was played by Olivia Wilde, with Wilde sharing on the Keep It podcast about how fans still come up to get to this date, telling her how the character made an impact on their lives.
When rewatching the show just a couple of months back, the relationship between Marissa and Alex might have been short-lived, the pair was probably one of my favourite couples on the show (Seth and Summer aside).
Pretty Little Liars
I just finished sixth grade whenPretty Little Liarscame out in June 2010. It wasn’t until later that summer that I delved into the PLL tv fandom. I was already a fan of the books and started to identify with Emily in ways that I was unable to describe.
Right before school started back up in August, I decided to binge-watch all the episodes that came out during the summer. When I finished season one episode nine, I saw myself in Emily when she was outed to her friends.
I was still questioning who I was but on that hot summer day in August, I discovered more about myself because of the way Shay Mitchell portrayed Emily.
From the beginning to the end ofPLL, Mitchell continued to blow me away with how seriously she took playing a gay character and wanting to make Emily relate to queer people no matter their age.
Raymond Holt, Kevin Cozner, Rosa Diaz
Brooklyn Nine-Ninebreaks considerable ground for LGBTQIA+ representation, and gives a great amount of time and detail to telling the show’s queer characters’ stories, from the realisation and coming out stage, to relationships and marriage.
At times, the portrayal is as casual of Holt and Cozner’s interactions of their blissful marriage, but also deals more heavily such as Diaz trying to come out as bisexual to her parents - a storyline that Stephanie Beatriz, who is also bisexual, helped with projecting the story onto the screen.
What sumsBrooklyn Nine-Nineup so well though, is a scene from Episode 10 of Season 5, where Holt praises Diaz for coming out, with the moment also appearing to speak to the teary-eyed viewers too.
I was in 7th grade when I discovered Skins on Netflix. I didn’t really know what I was getting into aside from the brief description of the show.
That was enough to encapsulate me into the world of characters that portrayed real-life issues. When the episode about Emily and her twin Katie rolled around, I instantly started to relate to Emily.
She was in her sister’s shadow and didn’t really get the chance to discover who she was without her sister getting in the way in some not so good ways. Emily went through a similar gay panic that I did when she saw Naomi.
Kathryn Prescott amazed her with her ability to show the truth behind how discovering your sexuality can be like. A lot of people think that all queer people wake up realizing they’re whatever sexuality they identify as when the truth is something truly triggers something in your mind.
Prescott showed Emily’s growth and confidence in her sexuality beautifully and even expanded on that in Skins Fire.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
Though being gay is not the focus of the story, there is a clear representation of LGBT+ folk in this animated series. Although shows depicting the struggles of coming out after being immersed in heteronormativity and cisnormativity can be validating for viewers, She-Ra brings forth a refreshing, alternative reality where no one bats an eyelid at gay folk.
While portraying gay people, there are accurate and unharmful stereotypes. Spinnerella and Netossa, for example, with their incessant use of pet names for each other. Adora and Catra also perpetuate the enemies to lovers trope.
However, there are also generic character traits within gay couples in She-Ra like how Bow’s fathers make dad jokes even during the apocalypse. When showcasing pride, this binge-worthy series demonstrates a sweet message about how easy inclusivity could be.
Paige Michalchuk, Alex Nunez, and Zoe Rivas
Degrassi The Next Generation/Next Class
I started watching Degrassi way earlier than what an appropriate age would be. I was probably in either 1st or 2nd grade when I would watch the show with my sister. When I got older, I decided to watch it all for myself and found myself relating to Paige, Alex, and Zoe in so many ways.
I am not Bisexual like Paige but I went through the phase of denial and rejection of your identity. There was a huge point in my life where I rejected the idea that I could be anything but straight until I realized that wasn’t who I was. Alex went through a pretty similar situation with her identity.
Although it wasn’t as prevalent on screen as Paige’s was, her coming to the realization that her boyfriend wasn’t who she loved was huge for her character development. She and Paige might not have been the couple everyone thought of but they turned out beautifully even during the breakup.
Lastly, there is Zoe. Zoe was a part of the final seasons of Next Generation and all of Next Class. Zoe starts out in Next Generation as the typical straight girl. It wasn’t until Next Class that the writers and Netflix decided to go a different route with her crush on classmate Grace. Zoe went through a lot of tough moments in the end with her family disowning her but she found a great girlfriend, a community, and had the happy ending that we wish all queer characters had.
The way Lauren Collins (Paige), Deanna Casaluce (Alex), and Ana Golja (Zoe) made their characters so relatable by presenting so many diverse story arcs showed there wasn’t just one way to figure out your sexuality.
There has been some mention of asexual characters in other shows such asSex EducationandSirens, exposure has been minimal compared to Todd's character development onBoJack Horseman. While those two former shows might’ve given a small indication based on a few lines of dialogue, the exploration of Todd’s sexuality inBoJack Horsemanfurthers the understanding and explores asexuality even more.
It’s done in a way that the journey to the realisation of being asexual, and navigating a world that is inherently sexual, is done well in a way that explains what asexuality is and the feelings people who are asexual face in day-to-day life and interactions with others.
This allows for a deeper connection for anyone to learn about, or see themselves in the character, who they are, and what they’re going through, and take pride in knowing there’s someone they can turn to and relate to in media for a community that is often excluded or not seen or heard in the same ways as other identities.
Nick Nelson, Charlie Spring, Tara Jones, Darcy Olsson and Elle Argent
The Netflix adaption of Alice Oseman's webcomicHeartstopper, is already a hit, that tells a quiet but elegant story of LGBT teenagers. It's likely you've heard people rave over Nick Nelson and Charlie Spring's budding romance that the story centres around but the stories of the secondary characters are just as important.
At the all-girls sister school of Charlie and Nick's school we meet the couple of Tara Jones and Darcy Olsson, who have recently come out, Tara inparticular provides a voice of reason and helps guide Nick in his journey, while Darcy provides a rock for Tara who battles with insecurities after coming out.
Then there's Elle Argent, a friend of Charlie's who recently transferred to the all-girls school. Elle's quiet and introverted and struggles in the new environment at first after being bullied out of her old school. The story that happened off screen prior to the series is the one we've seen time and time again for trans youth andHeartstopperpicks up Elle's story after she's publicly transitioned and in an environment where she can thrive.
Yasmin Finney's performance makes you root for Elle even more, she draws you in hoping Elle can find friends when she first starts out at her new school, makes you laugh at her initial obliviousness to Tara and Darcy's relationship, and accept her desire for nothing to change between Elle and best friend Tao Xu despite the budding romance obvious to all of their friends.
It's refreshing to see a trans character's story pick up when they're in a good place and not simply be a guide post for the main characters, we're so used to seeing the bad for all queer characters but especially trans characters that Elle's story stands out despite being a secondary character.
Shelby Goodkind and Toni Shalifoe
The WildsSpoiler Alert for Season Two
It would be absolutely remiss not to include Shelby and Toni from The Wilds. Toni comes into the show as the confident, athlete, openly gay woman who is super sure of her sexuality. She has no shame in expressing who she is immediately with all of the other girls on the island even if it makes one of them uncomfortable.
That “one of them” is none other than Shelby Goodkind. Shelby is a highly religious beauty queen who hides the fact that she is truly gay. It takes some backlash from the group before she really starts to reflect and figure out who she is.
Shoni is such an important duo and representation for queer people as it shows two different sides of the spectrum for discovering identity. Toni knows who she is and Shelby is ashamed of herself. The Wilds portraying Shelby’s side as someone who can be religious and queer without it changing anything about you is so important to the people who believe the opposite.
I know I didn’t think I could be gay and Jewish years ago. If I had someone on my tv in high school showing me that I could in fact be both, that would’ve relieved so much anxiety. Instead, people are going to see it now and realize there is no need to give up one for the other if both makes you happy.
Also, Mia Healey (Shelby) and Erana James (Toni) lived with each other while filming The Wilds in order to develop chemistry to portray their characters in the best way possible. I personally think they did an absolutely phenomenal job at that.
The Half of It
Netflix had a bad run with teen movies, withThe Kissing Boothseries getting mixed opinions and the To All The Boys series falling off a cliff with its final two films. However, amongst the rough, there was a diamond in the form of a modern retelling ofCyrano de BergeracwithThe Half of It.
At the centre of the story is gay teenager is Ellie Chu who writes love letters for Paul Munsky to their mutual crush Aster Flores. Shy and introverted Ellie struggles with the growing friendship between herself and Paul, still hiding part of herself from him until his feeling briefly turn towards her.
There are the complications of living in a small town where religion is important as well as Ellie's experience being Chinese-American in a largely white school and facing racist taunts for things as simple as her name early in the film but as the film moves on she grows and opens up to Aster as well as Paul.
This isn't a love story with a happy ending, it's bittersweet but it's also real in a way that leaves you with the warm and fuzzies, happy for Ellie the person rather than delighting in the fact that she gets the girl and is in a better place as she leaves for university than she was at the beginning of the film.
Power Rangers Dino Fury
Izzy is a special character to me. I could list a million more queer characters that impacted me but no one would be able to surpass Izzy. Here’s why. I grew up watching and loving Power Rangers. I would wake up super early on weekends to watch it on ABC Family and had so many VHS tapes for different series.
In my young childhood days, the two that were frequently broadcast on ABC Family were Lost Galaxy and Lightspeed Rescue. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my first gay awakenings were both of the yellow rangers from those respective series; Maya from Lost Galaxy and Kelsey from Lightspeed Rescue. Kelsey is the reason why I started Tae Kwon Do in Kindergarten.
Fast forward to February 2021 when Dino Fury was released. I will admit I did not watch it until April 2021 but when I did, I couldn’t believe what I saw. For the first time ever, a woman was a green ranger who ripped off her skirt on her morph suit.
Later on, we see a whole episode on Izzy’s brother Javi trying to set her up with a guy when in reality she is dating her track rival, Fern. It was so nonchalant and casual. When Season 2 came out in March of this year, I was so eager to see Izzy’s storyline. There was a whole episode focused on her going to prom with Fern and she wears a suit for it.
The way Tessa Rao not only single-handedly made history but changed perspectives on openly queer characters in kids' tv especially as mainstream as the Power Rangers franchise showed older, lifelong fans like myself that there is hope for the future of queer representation in shows no matter the age demographic.
Stef and Lena Adams Foster
WhileThe Fostershas plenty of queer representation throughout the show, lesbian parents Stef and Lena are at the forefront with the relationship between the pair the heart of series at times. The way the couple face and overcome struggles within their own relationship is admirable to see, but it’s the way they care for, and support their children, whether biological or adopted.
Teri Polo and Sherri Saum, who play Stef and Lena respectively, portray their characters in a warming and welcoming way that would allow any queer person to find a gravitational connection and unity towards these characters and a hope that one’s own family settings can be as close in sustaining and creating a bond such as demonstrated by the Adams Fosters.
James Mason’s portrayal of Chris Pappas fromNeighbourswas a monumental moment fo the Australian soap, as when the character was brought to life in 2010, he was the show’s first prominent gay male character, which lead to the series’ first gay couple.
In a time where there was little regularly-recurring gay characters on Australian TV, Chris’ storylines consisted of plenty of different topics that are faced by people who are gay and while Mason isn’t gay himself, the performance of his character across the five-year stint was helped by the writers of the show’s own experiences, leading to a more pronounced accurate portrayal and validity of the challenges the character had to face for a more relatable depiction.