June is Pride Month, a celebration of the struggles for justice of the LGBTQ+ community in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969. It’s a time to take stock of how far we’ve come in creating a more diverse and tolerant society—and how far we still have to go. As our society has evolved, television has played a critical role in bringing to life LGBTQ+ characters that educate viewers, challenging old stereotypes and breaking out of typecast roles. In honor of Pride Month, we’re taking a look at some of the shows we love that also promote the cause of gender and sexual diversity.
FX’s brilliant series brings us back to the 1980s—and, in subsequent seasons, the 1990s—to portray the underground LGBTQ gender-nonconforming drag ball scene in New York City. In addition to reminding us of the ravages of the AIDS crisis, the series has the courage to follow the lives of hard-up characters who have to choose some very difficult ways to get by. Featuring the largest number of transgender actors in regular roles of any scripted series, POSE also made history when cast member Billy Porter became the first openly gay African-American actor to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
HBO’s teen drama became a hit in its debut season of 2019—and for good reason. When Rue, who is recovering from an overdose, meets Jules, a young trans woman who is new in town, the explosive relationship that ensues is a constant balance between delight and destructiveness. With a strong ensemble cast, Euphoria bravely explores the pain and depression, addictions and traumas of modern teens for whom definitions of sex and gender are more fluid and negotiable than in times past.
Showtime’s smash hit follows the money: namely, the risky and, at times, illegal transactions in the world of high finance. As an exploration of the rivalry between a hedge-fund billionaire and the U.S. Attorney who would prosecute him, Billions is excellent. But what has truly made the show a favorite of LBGTQ viewers is Taylor Mason, the first non-binary character to appear in an American television series. For this reason, it was nominated in three consecutive years for outstanding drama series in the GLAAD Media Awards.
When the Rose family loses everything, they find themselves up – or rather, in – the small town of Schitt’s Creek. There, son David meets Patrick, setting off an endearing romance replete with a memorable Tina Turner serenade. The series is unique in that David’s relationships with both men and women are accepted in stride, which has the added benefit of chucking out the tired “closed-minded small town” stereotype. The show racked up 9 Emmys in 2020, including Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for showrunner and star, Daniel Levy. “Getting to interact with my [LGBTQ] community—and hear how the show has made a positive impact or changed the conversation with their family—has been remarkable,” he says.
Sometimes it requires a historical perspective to remind us how much the LGBTQ community has had to overcome. HBO’s Gentleman Jack tells the story of Anne Lister, a nineteenth-century English landowner, industrialist, and lesbian trying to be true to herself in a decidedly strait-laced society. The series is based on Lister’s actual diaries documenting her relationships with women, which were written in a secret code. Filmed on the beautiful Yorkshire landscape, this is one series you shouldn’t keep secret.
The L Word, Generation Q
The original series The L Word made history in the first decade of the 2000s, putting lesbian and gender non-conforming characters front and center. So it was with special anticipation that Showtime’s sequel was released in 2019 – an entire decade after the original show concluded its run. This time, however, the cast is much more diverse, including a Dominican and Iranian-Chilean couple sharing an apartment with a Chinese-American trans man (Leo Sheng). Sometimes sequels are indeed worth watching.
No Going Backward
While many glass ceilings have been shattered in the TV industry over the past few years, much more remains to be done to increase the presence of LGBTQ+ characters on television. According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), only 9.1% of regular series characters on primetime television in the 2020-2021 season were LGBTQ: a one-point decrease from the previous year. With so much progress having been made in the diversity of casts—and types of shows—being filmed, going back is not an option. To find out how you can get involved in creating greater diversity on TV, click here.