16 Impactful LGBTQ+ Characters
To celebrate Pride Month, which takes place over the month of June, Truth Bee Told asked four of its contributors to pick some of their favourite LGBTQ+ characters in media; characters who resonated with them in some way, or who told a story they felt it was necessary to be told.
These are characters who discovered their sexuality on screen or who have always been comfortable with who they’ve been; characters who find pride in who they are, even if it takes some time; characters who find love; characters who find acceptance from those who matter most, including themselves; characters whose sexuality is a part of who they are but is not their defining trait; and characters who received the happy ending they deserve.
Steps have been taken in the right direction in recent years to showcase the stories of LGBTQ+ individuals and their relationships on television, in movies, and in books, and the list that follows is some of the characters who are leading the charge.
In alphabetical order:
Adam Torres, Degrassi
Rory: Adam Torres was the first transgender character I can remember seeing on a TV show as a regular character. I was 20 years old when Season 10 of Degrassi first aired, and found myself completely in tears in the episode “My Body is A Cage,” when it’s revealed to the audience that Adam is FTM transgender. This was around the time I started to realize I didn’t ‘feel’ like a girl all of the time, and was years before I would even hear terms like genderfluid and genderqueer.
Throughout the years Adam was on the show, we saw him deal with things like dating and having to come out to the girls he likes, bullying, his mother finally fully accepting him as trans, using the boy’s bathroom — and that’s just some of the storylines he had that were about him being transgender. He wasn’t just the token trans character on the show. He was often the moral compass for his older brother Drew, a good friend, played the bass in a band called Whisper Hug, made it on the volleyball team, and never knew how many people he impacted for the better during his time at Degrassi.
Alec Lightwood, Shadowhunters/The Mortal Instruments
Jessie: Alexander grew up the eldest of the Lightwood siblings and the golden boy of the family. His struggle with coming out was incredibly important, I think, and it was raw without being too painful. Often coming out stories on television are aggressively dramatic and painful, and while that is sometimes the case, it is also true that LGBT people want to see happy stories. Alec’s story with his parents is initially heartbreaking, as they vehemently oppose his relationship to Magnus (though it also partially due to the Shadowhunter/warlock divide — but only partly), but eventually there is a realistic resolution. His parents are not suddenly, magically okay with his relationship, but they do come to realize that he is happier, and ultimately accept him for who he is. His relationship with his father is fragile, but his mother welcomes Magnus with open arms.
Once Alec comes out, we truly see him blossom. He is happier, more confident, and clearly in love. Their relationship is not perfect — they argue sometimes, and some of those fights are huge — but in the end, it is always Alec and Magnus, and Alec’s happiness. I really do love a good love story.
Alice Jones/Tilly, Once Upon a Time
Jessie: I will be the first one to admit that I was hesitant to watch the latest (and final) season of Once Upon a Time. I was always partial to Emma Swan, and the show going on without her seemed inconceivable to me. However, when I finally got the nerve to sit down and watch Season 7, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, the initial storyline was messy and turbulent, and I sorely missed Emma, but it was the introduction of Tilly (who we later find out is really Alice) and her subsequent love story with Margot (aka Robin Hood, the daughter of….Robin Hood) that really made the season worth it. While their romance was not the main point of Alice’s journey (it was her relationship with her father, Captain Hook), I was touched by the sweet, genuine love between Robin and Alice.
Tilly/Alice was quirky, fun, interesting, heartbreaking, and completely head over heels for her girlfriend (turned fiancee by season’s end), and watching her story was by far the best part of the final season of Once Upon a Time. Alice was not their first LGBTQ+ character (Ruby, Dorothy, and Mulan all come to mind, as well as their abandoned storylines), but she was the most real and fleshed out in a way I never expected, and I love her for it.
Amanita Caplan, Sense8
April: Where do I even begin with Amanita, for whom my love knows no bounds? Although Sense8 is no longer with us, its impact is far flung and well felt. It wasn't a perfect show (there were myriad issues), but one thing that never hurt me was Amanita and her fierce, powerful love for Nomi Marks.
Amanita herself is a wonder: biracial, queer, Black and raised in an openly poly family, she's exactly who Nomi needed to be with. Nomi and Amanita are everything right in Sense8: queer people defying convention, loving each other so much they'd burn everything down to be with one another and just overall being such badasses. I'm sad to see their story end, but nothing will ever please me more that they went out with a bang (literally — there were fireworks and everything) on the top of the Eiffel Tower, draping rainbow banners around it and surrounded by the people they love and who love them. I'll miss those gorgeous babes.
Anissa Pierce, Black Lightning
April: Anissa is my dream girl!!!! I have been dying to see a Black superhero on my small screen since the Arrowverse began on the CW, and while the network has delivered (in often minor ways), Black Lightning's Anissa is the realization of that dream to the fullest. If ever a TV character was me, it is she. Proud of her Blackness, an activist for change, fierce and protective, but soft and kind and — an out and proud WLW lesbian (quick author's note here: the only place we differ — I'm bisexual). It's important to me that Anissa has been out for years. That no one in her family is reluctant or hesitant to accept her. That they joke about her girlfriend's name and understand who she is. Anissa is out, proud, and bold in her truth and I couldn't love her more.
Bill Potts, Doctor Who
April: She's black, she's a lesbian, and everyone is just cool with it. In a world of TV where being sexually "other...than hetero" is always a huge fuss, the casual acceptance of Bill's gayness was exhilarating and refreshing. It's also an additional kudos that she's the first openly gay full time companion (Captain Jack was pan — but not a full time companion). The most important part of Bill being a black, gay companion? She's a valuable role model to little (and older) black girls around the world. It's so much easier to understand (and love yourself) if you see yourself on screen. Bill's existence tells a world of gay, black girls that it's OK to be gay and that impact cannot be underrated.
Clarke Griffin, The 100
Alyssa: Clarke Griffin is an incredibly important protagonist. She’s a true leader, a consummate survivor, and almost always chooses to stay and fight rather than run. In terms of the LGBTQ+ community, her importance can’t be understated. Clarke’s sexuality made headlines during Season 2 after it was confirmed she is bisexual — the first bisexual lead on the CW, in fact. Not only is she a first for the CW, but Clarke is also the first bisexual “lead character for live-action, young adult program on a major network.” While this is a major step in the right direction for LGBTQ+ representation that caused people to celebrate, her sexuality isn’t addressed at all on The 100. She’s focused on keeping the people she loves alive and preserving their humanity in the process. Her sexuality is never a plot point, just a part of who she is, while allowing her to be a fully fledged character on her own.
Jessie: Clarke is one of the first female bisexual lead characters on network television. She also, generally speaking, defies most biphobic stereotypes we see in the (few) bisexual characters on television nowadays. She has loved both men and women, romantically and sexually, but is not overly “promiscuous”, and never once do we feel like she has to “choose” to be with only men or women, as it feels like for other characters. She is strong, capable, and loves fiercely, be it her friends, family, or romantic partners. Her strength and her belief in who she is, particularly as we see more of this “new” Clarke in Season 5, are all the reasons I love her, and all the reasons she is such important representation.
Elena Alvarez, One Day at a Time
April: Elena's coming out story is one of my favorites. It's beautifully juxtaposed against her coming of age (as her quinceanera is right around the corner) and it also develops over several episodes as opposed to a big reveal. This carefully developed plotline allows Elena to come to terms with who she is, but also allows her family time that they need to accept the realities of who she is, even if not all of them (you all know who I mean) are as accepting as they should be.
Season 2 is the gift that keeps giving as we are introduced to Elena's love interest: Syd. When Syd was brought on as non-binary, I admit to being a bit concerned about how the show would successfully handle it, but I feel like I worried for nothing. Syd is a fully developed character, and their relationship with Elena is just one more sweet piece of the coming of age story this show continues to deliver each season.
Kat Edison, The Bold Type
Alyssa: One of the three main characters in Freeform’s The Bold Type, Kat Edison is witty, funny, and confident. Early on in the first season we see her catch feelings for a lesbian artist named Adena and try to figure out what exactly that means. Kat’s discovery of her sexuality breaks the cycle of uncomfortable, dramatic tension that usually accompanies characters that are coming to terms with their sexuality.
With Kat, we get the opposite. There isn’t a burden or conflict that comes with Kat’s journey of discovering her sexuality. Her friends — Jane and Sutton — offer their support without batting an eye. They also give her time to figure out her sexuality without demanding a definitive answer, and when Kat works up the courage to kiss Adena, they celebrate her newfound queerness with unwavering support. Her storyline is incredibly refreshing; a much needed change from the underlying dread that’s almost always a part of someone coming to terms with their sexuality and coming out on television.
Lionel Higgins, Dear White People
April: Lionel 's story in Season 1 of Dear White People was so similar to my own awakening as an LGBTQA person that (although he's a man) I felt an immediate kinship with him. You've got an awkward kid, who finds themselves strangely attracted to their hot, popular roommate and struggles to come up with a why? Yeah, hit the nail on the head there, Netflix, and I'm glad we were shown that gay Black teens/young adults can be shy, awkward, not sure of themselves (because often in media, they are all too often already aware and accepting of who they are — and while that's important to show, it's also important to show us the journey of self-acceptance).
Another huge plus in Lionel's story? When he comes out to Troy, he's not met with any of the all too common hypermasculinity often found in the Black community. He acknowledges it, makes a joke about gays being picky about their hair — and is he wrong? — and moves on. It was a pivotal moment to share on screen and it played perfectly.
Magnus Bane, Shadowhunters/The Mortal Instruments/The Infernal Devices/The Bane Chronicles
Jessie: Magnus has been a part of nearly every iteration of Cassandra Clare’s numerous Shadowhunters series, but I personally love the television version the most. Clare’s novels (while I do love them) have a lot of issues, particularly in many of the aspects of Magnus and Alec, but I have always felt the show does them justice. The recently cancelled show has its drawbacks, although I do feel it found solid footing in Season 3 and I am sad to see it go.
However, Magnus Bane (and Alec, who is also on my list) has never been anything but himself. In the books, he calls himself a “freewheeling bisexual”, but really, he is a big old romantic who has lived hundreds of years. He seemingly embodies, and then shatters, bisexual stereotypes like promiscuity. He keeps mementos of his (usually) long dead lovers, but even for his hundreds of years there are not many keepsakes in his box. Magnus is passionate and proud, but he is also gentle and cautious, and his relationship with Alec is without a doubt the best part of Shadowhunters.
Nomi Marks, Sense8
Alyssa: While only made up of two seasons and a finale, Sense8 was a show that offered complex and diverse characters, all telepathically connected, and constantly showing the audience what we can be capable of as a people when we work together and respect each other. One of these characters is Nomi Marks. Nomi is transgender and is played by an actual transgender actress, Jamie Clayton. That fact alone is more representation that is often afforded the transgender community.
Her relationship with Amanita Caplan is arguably one of the healthiest portrayals of a relationship on television, successfully avoiding storylines in which her sexuality is the source of tension or conflict. While her sexuality is addressed, it’s far from the most important thing about her. Too often, LGBTQ+ characters are given story arcs that only address their sexuality — coming to terms with it, coming out, facing bigoted reactions from those around them — but in Sense8, Nomi is afforded her own agency and importance separate from her sexuality.
Poussey Washington, Orange is the New Black
Alyssa: Poussey was easily one of the truly good characters on Orange is the New Black — she was smart, cheerful, sweet, and didn’t take any shit. She held a funeral for the prison library books after they were destroyed — if you need further proof of her goodness, I don’t know what else to tell you. Unfortunately, the OITNB writers decided it was a great idea to kill her off in Season 4, a season in which she truly came into her own and began a happy and healthy relationship with fellow inmate Brook Soso. Having Poussey murdered by a prison guard was devastating and controversial — the reasoning behind this decision was weak, and it’s obvious that Poussey deserved better. She was a compelling character with so much more to offer.
Raphael Santiago, Shadowhunters
Rory: Asexuality isn’t something that is often talked about or recognized (even by some in the LGBTQ+ community), so to have a character like Raphael is such a big thing for me and many others who are on the ace spectrum. His lack of sexual desire does not mean he is broken or incapable of love or having meaningful relationships, and we see this when it comes to his relationships with people like Magnus and Isabelle. While only confirmed to be asexual in the Shadowhunters TV show, according to some research I found Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments series, said that he was aromantic too. If Shadowhunters is picked up for another season by a different network, I would absolutely love for them to explore this side of Raphael as well.
Riley Stavros, Degrassi
Rory: It was hard to decide which of the LGB characters from Degrassi to choose from, and I know what you’re thinking… ”How could you not choose Marco?” The truth is, aside from Marco being the first gay character my age I saw on TV, Riley’s entire journey felt more impactful to me. Like with Adam being the first regular trans character on a show, Riley was another first for me.
He was the first regular gay character that I saw whose coming out story was just as much about them accepting who they are as it was others accepting them. We see him go from a moment in which he literally runs away from his gayness, and believing he needs to be ‘cured’ to giving his acceptance to a university scout to attend and play as the school’s first openly gay football player. It’s with the help of Zane, an openly gay athlete at Degrassi and Riley’s boyfriend for part of his senior year, that we see him learn and start to accept and not be afraid to be himself.
Rosa Diaz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Jessie: Rosa coming out as bisexual has been heralded all across the internet and beyond, and with good reason. Her coming out was a process, as it often is in real life, and her storyline with her parents was difficult but necessary, and ultimately paid off. Watching Rosa be openly herself, flirting with women and having a girlfriend, talking to her friends about her love life (well, sort of — she’s still Rosa, after all) and watching them accept her exactly as she is has been something dear to my heart. Rosa is tough, smart, and bisexual, and so incredibly important to television and bi girls everywhere. This does nothing to truly express my love for Rosa, but hopefully you get the idea.
This list is, of course, by no means exhaustive. Share your favourite LGBTQ+ characters and tell us in what ways they affected you in the comments below or on Twitter at @tbtmedia!