Television’s Top 10 LGBT Characters

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In our continued celebration of Pride Month, we’re counting down the ten best LGBT characters in television history. In television, characters stay with us longer, allowing us to see them grow and stay attached to them for longer. These ten characters we think best embody the entire community, giving us long-form stories to either relate to, celebrate, or both. Here are our ten favorite LGBT characters of all time.

 

10. Garnet (Steven Universe)

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Children’s television is where the future is made, which is why a show like Steven Universe, the first cartoon for kids to outwardly show same-sex relationships, is so important. But writing off this series as a kid’s show is a monumental disservice. Garnet is proof of that. Actually the fusion of Ruby and Sapphire, who are part of an all-female race of aliens known as Gems, Garnet is the embodiment of harmony through love. As two souls become one, they became a much more powerful being. And as a coupling of two females, no romance in LGBTQ+ television has ever felt stronger.

  

9. Max Blum (Happy Endings)

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If the idea of the token sitcom gay in a group of straight friends makes you want to upchuck, fear not. Happy Endings is the cure for what ails ya. Max Blum is the antithesis of the token gay, despite being the only LGBT person in his friend group. His sexuality is hardly his most interesting character trait. In fact, most of his plotlines revolve around him being a slob, a freeloader, or a party animal…who also secretly has a heart of gold. When the narrative does focus on his gayness, however, it’s usually done with aplomb, like in the brilliantly hilarious episode “Ordinary Extraordinary Love” in which his tries to define his gay subcategory. Max’s refusal to adhere to stereotypes could easily become a stereotype in and of itself (aka the gay character who’s essentially just a straight guy who likes guys), but Happy Endings is adept at rounding out his personality so that he’s a true original. While other sitcom gays merely walk into scenes to delivery a sassy one-liner and an eye roll, Max is marching to the beat of his own drum.

 

8. Sophia Burset (Orange is the New Black)

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Orange is the New Black features a wealth of queer characters, from Piper to Piscatella, but none has been more significant or poignant than Sophia Burset, the role that would push Laverne Cox into superstardom. Through only the series’ third episode we see Sophia’s struggle as a trans woman with a family she hasn’t quite revealed herself to yet. In prison, she has to fight for her hormones to be included in Litchfield’s allowed medications. And yet, Sophia remains one of the show’s most entertaining characters, often taking the high road in her community’s small quarrels, but always with a few comments laugh at the reality of the situation.

 

7. Titus Andromedon (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

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His name may not be in the title, but Titus Andromedon is undoubtedly the breakout character of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. From the iconic “Pinot Noir” song to season three’s full-on Lemonade parody, Titus’ bottomless pool of narcissism is part of why we love him so much. But despite the show’s five-joke-per-minute tone, we get to see Titus go through a few gay specific issues that make him more than a deliverer of one-liners. The best example has to be when Titus starts seeing a straight coach (hilariously played by Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris) because he’s told he’s too feminine to get the acting roles he wants, highlighting how difficult it can be feminine gay men to get roles outside of their typecast.

 

6. Justin Suarez (Ugly Betty)

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While we may not all have had his affinity for fashion and Broadway musicals, at one point or another, every gay man was Justin Suarez. Over the course of Ugly Betty‘s four seasons, we get to watch him attempt to survive high school, discover his sexuality, and, finally, come out of the closet. The show’s sendup of telenovelas meant that some plotlines were purposefully insane, but moments like Justin dealing with school bullies, his first kiss, and the beautiful scene in which he dances with another boy at his mother’s wedding anchor the show in reality. For a series that takes place in the fashion world, having queer characters on it was a necessity. A comedy on a major network featuring one of the youngest gay characters ever, though, is nothing short of revolutionary. I’m not sure which is more inspiring: Justin’s optimism in the face of adversity, or his family’s unwavering support for him. Either way, it’s a pleasure to watch him grow up.

 

5. Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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The best thing about Joss Whedon’s modern classic of a TV show is his use of the supernatural as an allegory for a potent coming of age tale. Sure, Buffy and her friends fight demons on a weekly basis, but things like heartbreak, death, and impending life changes often deal much bigger blows. Buffy’s bestie Willow (a terrific Alyson Hannigan) plays an important part in this. Not only is she a whipsmart sidekick, but she’s a powerful representation of queers on TV. Willow describes herself as being “a little bit gay,” which was Whedon’s way of saying that her sexuality was fluid before that sort of language entered the mainstream. In Willow’s college years, she begins to explore witchcraft, and fall in love with Tara (Amber Benson). Their relationship is never played for shock value. It’s earnest, authentic, and completely wonderful. In a world where the town mayor is a giant snake monster and skeleton demons can steal people’s voices, Willow’s sexuality is hardly the most shocking thing. Portraying it so convincingly, however, was a wholly welcome surprise.

 

4. Maura Pfefferman (Transparent)

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Maura is a vehicle into the life of a very specific sector of the trans community, intimately delivered by Jill Soloway. As a woman coming into her own late in life, after already having been married, Maura’s road to personal acceptance isn’t an easy one. But her awakening spawns her kids to start inspecting their own sexualities, putting themselves all in the place where experimentation feels essential to that journey. So while Maura herself, a complicated character littered with flaws, may be on her own mission of self-discovery, what she brings upon her family is universal, and way ahead of its time.

 

3. Patrick Murray (Looking)

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Patrick Murray is priveledged, often naïve, and occasionally irritating. He’s also successful, a devoted friend, and adorably nerdy about video games. When Looking transcended its divisive first season into its sublime second one, it became clear that Patrick mirrors a myriad of common gay qualities—both good and bad. His misplaced yearnings for love feels entirely real, while his subtle self-loathing explores an LGBT topic rarely seen on TV. Patrick deals with two romances on the show, and, thanks to the genius writing, the right path for him to go down is never laid out clearly. As a result, we watch him make poor life decisions, struggle with sex positivity, and, in one instance, have a complete nervous breakdown. Still, his heart is always in the right place, so no matter how badly he falls, we still root for him to get back up and try again. Patrick is a thoroughly modern LGBT character, by which I mean, he’s multidimensional and wholly human.

 

2. Korra (The Legend of Korra)

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Korra may only really be queer on The Legend of Korra fleetingly, but there’s still something monumentally powerful about the inclusions that are there. First off, Korra serves the same sort of archetype as the likes of Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter, as the hero who has to come into their own to save the world. The series tried to cram in romance in its first two seasons, but the superior third and fourth seasons are much more focused on maturing its characters, which allows romances to form naturally as a result of who they become. For Korra, that builds to a romantic connection with her fellow fighter Asami. It’s remarkable how right it feels, but only because Korra allowed herself to find a form of peace through the series of villains she battled. But to have this archetype, the strong, heroic lead, be a queer nonwhite female was and still is revolutionary.

 

1. David Fisher (Six Feet Under)

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David Fisher is the gold standard. Through Six Feet Under’s five seasons, David goes from Catholic closet case to navigating having children as a gay couple with his partner, Keith. We see him through the most pivotal moments of his life as a gay man. But the show, which aired before it was cool for a TV show to have its token gay character, never made David into a stereotype or a caricature of the community. He was always fully realized and deeply flawed, making his struggles both in and out of the gay community resonate all the more. Through finding acceptance within his family and himself, David found himself in a place where a life of happiness and love became possible. Six Feet Under wasn’t the first show to have gay characters, but it was the first to treat them in a way that felt real to those within the community. To this day, there hasn’t been as thoughtful or as respectful of a gay role as what Alan Ball and Michael C. Hall did with David.

 

Who are your favorite LGBT characters on TV? Let us know in the comments below. Happy Pride!

 

By Matt Dougherty and Mike Papirmeister

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