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HBO; FX Networks; Netflix
Because of increased LGBTQ visibility in recent years, queer and trans actors are getting more opportunities in Hollywood.
These performances can be found in a wide range of genres, from comedies like "Orange is the New Black" and "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" to dramas such as "Euphoria" and "Billions."
Notably, the cast of the FX show "Pose" is almost entirely composed of queer and trans actors of color playing LGBTQ characters of color.
Here are 25 LGBTQ TV characters played by LGBTQ actors.
Increased LGBTQ visibility in recent years has inevitably led to more queer and trans characters on TV, as well as more actors openly identifying within the LGBTQ community. Because of this, more than ever before, actors within the community are getting more opportunities to portray LGBTQ characters (who are often informed and enriched by an actor's own personal experiences navigating their sexuality and/or gender identity).
Openly LGBTQ actors have been able to portray queer characters on a wide range of shows, from Dan Levy on the heartfelt sitcom "Schitt's Creek" to Janelle Monáe on the psychological thriller "Homecoming" to Sarah Paulson on the horror anthology "American Horror Story."
The cast of FX's groundbreaking series "Pose" is almost entirely composed of queer and trans actors of color, who bring their own stories to the show's exploration of New York City's underground ball culture and found families.
Here are 25 LGBTQ TV characters played by LGBTQ actors.
Hunter Schafer made waves for playing new girl Jules Vaughn on "Euphoria." Both Hunter and Jules are trans.
Although Jules is model and activist Hunter Schafer's only acting credit to date, her role is undoubtedly impactful. Jules is one of the only trans characters on TV that doesn't struggle with her identity.
"There need to be more roles where trans people aren't just dealing with being trans; they're being trans while dealing with other issues," Schafer told Variety in 2019. "We're so much more complex than just one identity."
Lesbian actress Samira Wiley starred as lesbian prison inmate Poussey Washington on the Netflix dramedy "Orange Is the New Black."
The actress played Poussey, an outgoing lesbian who was serving time at the all-female prison where "Orange Is the New Black" is based. Wiley wasn't out when she began filming the show, but has said that the character helped her embrace her own sexuality.
"I wasn't out in the beginning, but I think falling in love with [the character of] Poussey helped me fall in love with myself as well," she said on WNYC's "Nancy" podcast in 2018.
Wiley met her now-wife, writer-producer Lauren Morelli, on the show's set in 2012.
Wiley played another lesbian character, Moira Strand, on the Hulu dystopian drama "The Handmaid's Tale."
After "Orange Is the New Black," Wiley went on to play another lesbian character on the Hulu drama "The Handmaid's Tale" — Moira, protagonist June's best friend and a rebel against the totalitarian regime of Gilead. She won the 2018 Emmy for oustanding guest actress in a drama series for her role on the show.
"I didn't always see people who look like me on television, especially coming to terms with being a member of the LGBT community," Wiley told Deadline in 2018 while speaking about her LGBTQ TV roles. "I think with representation, I understand how important that is now. The last thing I would want to do now is to shy away from what I've been blessed with. People are looking at me; people are listening to what I have to say."
Non-binary actor Indya Moore had their breakout role starring as Angel on "Pose."
Indya Moore started as a model, but they really start to stardom when they were cast as kind-hearted trans sex worker and ballroom competitor Angel on FX's "Pose."
The show's nuanced depictions of New York City's queer and trans communities of color in the late 1980s go hand in hand with Moore's passion for activism and advocating for better trans roles in Hollywood.
"I want to demonstrate defense and not always being a victim, because trans people are constantly, constantly victimized in our narratives all the time, but we never get to see ourselves as heroes," Moore told Teen Vogue in 2019. "We never get to see ourselves as protectors. We never get to see ourselves as fighting back. We always see ourselves being oppressed. That's not my reality."
Stephanie Beatriz and her "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" character, Rosa Diaz, are both bisexual.
Stephanie Beatriz has been an integral part of NBC's comedy "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" for years, playing tough detective Rosa Diaz. After the actress came out as bisexual on social media, fans began to imagine that Rosa herself was bi. This became a reality on the show's fifth season when the character came out as bisexual to her friends and family.
Rosa has since had multiple female love interests on the show, who have been portrayed by well-known actors like Gina Rodriguez and Cameron Esposito.
"Beginning to experience other lives through characters that you love on television is a really incredible, powerful tool," Beatriz told BuzzFeed's "AM to DM" show in 2019. "[...] I'm so proud 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' took that risk and said, 'Yeah, we want to make one of our core ensemble members come out and come out in this very public way on the show and in her own personal life.'"
On "American Horror Story: Asylum," queer actress Sarah Paulson starred as lesbian journalist Lana Winters.
Over the course of nine seasons, Paulson has become a key player on the hit horror anthology series "American Horror Story," earning five Emmy nominations for her multiple roles on the show. On the second season ("American Horror Story: Asylum") the actress portrayed Lana Winters, a lesbian journalist who is institutionalized in the 1960s because of her sexuality.
Paulson herself is queer and currently in a relationship with fellow actress Holland Taylor.
"I do not want to be defined by who I share my bed, my home, my soul with," the actress told Town & Country Magazine in 2018. "My choices in life have been unconventional, and that's my business."
"But I do want to live responsibly and truthfully without hiding. It's complicated, because there is a lot of hate in this world, and a lot of good can come from quote-unquote normalizing something for people who don't see it as normal," she added.
Non-binary actor Lachlan Watson stars as trans high schooler Theo Putnam on Netflix's "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina."
Watson is one of the many breakout young actors on Netflix's teen show "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina," playing a trans boy named Theo who's drawn into main character Sabrina's secret supernatural world.
The actor told MTV that conversations about their own identity with the writers and showrunner Robert Aguirre-Sacasa impacted how Theo's coming out story was written.
"By existing and showing up and being a different person, a different identity that the writers may not have even known about before, I think in that way, I influenced Theo's character," they said in 2019. "I showed that it was possible to just hold off a second, and to just live in the gray area."
Trans actress MJ Rodriguez portrays ballroom house mother Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista on"Pose."
Although Rodriguez previously appeared on shows like "Nurse Jackie" and "Luke Cage," it was her role as Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista on "Pose" that really catapulted her into the spotlight. Her character is a "house mother" — a veteran of the ball scene who guides and supports her younger "house children."
Rodriguez told Metro that she sees this newfound attention as an opportunity to represent the trans community.
"[It's] invigorating in a way we get to be ourselves and live out loud. Intimidating because there are so many things that come our way. And with what we have to deal with and the responsibilities that we have, [it] can be a little overwhelming," she said in 2019. "Just making sure that we speak for our community in the right way and that we do the work that needs to be done that a lot of people out there aren't doing. Whether through our craft or speaking on a platform that we need to be speaking on."
Openly gay actor Ben Platt stars on "The Politician" as Payton, an ambitious young queer student.
Tony Award-winner Ben Platt stars on Netflix's political dramedy "The Politician," playing charismatic yet cutthroat aspiring politician Payton. The character's sexuality is more of an assumed part of his identity, rather than the primary plotline of the show.
"Now to see a character that [their sexual preference] is an assumed part of their identity and it's not the subject matter of the piece, that would have been I think even more affecting," Platt told People in 2019. "Everyone is somewhere on the spectrum, and that's part of the landscape. We don't have to make that the subject of the piece."
Trans actress Laverne Cox is well-known for her "Orange Is the New Black" role as Sophia, a trans hairdresser at a women's prison.
Laverne Cox jumped into the spotlight in 2013 when she began playing Sophia Burset, a trans inmate in a women's prison, on Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black."
Cox went on to receive three Emmy nominations for the role. In 2014, she was the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in an acting category.
"People were able to connect with Sophia in a way that [let] a lot of misconceptions that people had about who transgender people were melt away because of the human way in which this character was written," the actress said in a 2019 interview with the Associated Press.
Non-binary actor Brigette Lundy-Paine stars as queer teenager Casey Gardner on Netflix's "Atypical."
On season three of the Netflix drama "Atypical," lead character Sam's younger sister, Casey, explores her own sexuality and falls for a girl named Izzie. Lundy-Paine, who is non-binary and queer, has spoken about the general queerness and nuanced LGBTQ representation within the show.
"I think that the show, in general, is really queer," they said in an interview with Pride Magazine in 2019. "It's about being different, feeling like you don't have a place and finding that place, and kindness and empathy. Those are all very queer values."
"I also think that the Izzy/Casey storyline is really important because it's such a delicate way to reveal this love and this discovery. Because it happens so slowly, the audience is really there at every moment. It's very real," they said.
Titus Burgess and his "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" character, Titus Andromedon, both identify as gay.
Burgess is known for playing fan-favorite Titus Andromedon on the Netflix comedy "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." The character (who, like Burgess, is openly gay) is an aspiring Broadway star who takes Kimmy under his wing after she escapes a cult and moves to New York City.
"I did not have black, out men representing gay out black men when I was growing up," Burgess told The Daily Beast in 2018. "Just the sight of him alone. Just the sight of him! Regardless of what he does, his character, what he wears, just the sight of him speaks volumes to both how far we've come and how far we have to go."
"The sight of him speaks to 'oh my god we haven't seen a him, while we've come so far,'" he continued. "But also the sight of him speaks to 'oh my god we haven't seen a him, we have so far to go.' Because it should not be a shock. It shouldn't be 'oh, we haven't seen a him.'"
At only 15, Ian Alexander became the only trans Asian-American actor on TV when he played Buck Vu on "The OA."
When the actor made his TV debut playing Buck on Netflix's "The OA" back in 2016, he became the only Asian-American trans actor on TV at 15 years old.
"I actually really connected with Buck," Alexander told Them in 2019. "So many aspects of his life paralleled mine — he's just burdened with guilt and sadness, and he's a very quiet and reserved character, but also very strong-hearted and he stands up for his friends."
The actor has also been outspoken about the importance of trans actors being able to play trans characters.
"There is the side where cisgender actors can't really accurately portray a character that is trans, because they've never experienced gender dysphoria themselves," he said in the same interview. "They've never had that particular emotional pull, and since you pull from your own experiences as an actor, they would never be able to do it with accuracy."
Nicole Maines plays Nia Nal/Dreamer on "Supergirl," otherwise known as the first trans superhero on TV.
In 2018, Maines made history by signing on to play Nia Nal (also known as Dreamer), TV's first trans superhero, on The CW's "Supergirl." The actress went on to play the character in a crossover episode of "DC's Legends of Tomorrow."
"I've been doing a lot of auditions lately because a lot of different shows have been really eager to tell the story of transgender people," Maines said at San Diego Comic-Con in 2018. "It seems only fitting that we have a trans superhero for trans kids to look up to. I wish there was a trans superhero when I was little."
Sara Ramirez and her "Grey's Anatomy" character, Callie Torres, are bisexual.
Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images
Ramirez starred on the hit medical drama "Grey's Anatomy," playing bisexual surgeon Callie Torres. Callie appeared in 11 seasons and over 200 episodes, making her the longest-running LGBTQ character in TV history.
In 2016, the actress herself came out as bisexual during a speech at True Colors Fund's 40 to None Summit, which addresses LGBTQ homelessness.
"Because of the intersections that exist in my own life: woman, multi-racial woman, woman of color, queer, bisexual, Mexican-Irish American, immigrant, and raised by families heavily rooted in Catholicism on both my Mexican and Irish sides, I am deeply invested in projects that allow our youth's voices to be heard," Ramirez said.
Dominique Jackson and her "Pose" character, Elektra Abundance, are both trans women.
Dominique Jackson is known for her role as Elektra Abundance on "Pose." One season one plotline, in which Elektra decides to get sex assignment surgery (and has difficult conversations about it with friends and her boyfriend), was influenced by the actress's own experiences.
"Throughout the years, many people have had this misconception about being transgender and they have always come from their comfortability," Jackson told Metro in 2019. "But we also have to realize that having gender-affirming surgeries, it is a personal journey. Every trans person's journey ends in a certain place. My version of complete was bottom surgery. A lot of people just thought we did this surgery because it's always about 'getting a man' or something like that."
Pansexual actress Janelle Monáe's lead "Homecoming" character is queer.
Actress and singer Monáe leads the second season of the Amazon Prime Video psychological drama "Homecoming." She plays a woman who wakes up in a rowboat with no memory of who she is and uncovers a memory-erasing conspiracy. Monáe's character is revealed to be in a relationship with another woman, who is played by actress Hong Chau.
"To have a Black woman and an Asian woman in a relationship on TV is the type of representation that we need," Monáe said in a 2020 interview with Variety, adding that "being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is an honor."
Chris Colfer played gay teen and aspiring Broadway star Kurt Hummel on the hit musical show "Glee."
When Colfer first appeared as gay teen Kurt Hummel on the smash-hit musical show "Glee" in 2009, there were far less openly LGBTQ actors and characters in Hollywood.
In a 2015 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the actor spoke about the impact that he feels "Glee" had on queer representation and acting opportunities.
"When I found out that I got cast as the gay character on 'Glee,' I had thought my career was going to be over because at the time, it was such a taboo for an actor of any age to play a gay character, and now you look and there are multiple gay characters on every single show," Colfer said. "[...] I never thought that voice would ever be heard. I'm so lucky and proud that I got to be one of those for a while."
Non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon portrays non-binary CEO Taylor Mason on "Billions."
Most people know Dillon as financial mastermind Taylor Mason on Showtime's "Billions." By playing Mason, Dillon has become the first non-binary actor playing a non-binary character on TV.
"I would have never wanted to play Taylor if it had been a one-off episode and in that episode it would have been all about their gender identity," Dillon told NBC News in 2019. "If it hadn't been a fully fleshed-out character, I wouldn't have wanted to do it, because that representation is old hat, frankly, and not interesting. Non-binary people are multi-dimensional human beings."
"Schitt's Creek" star and co-creator Dan Levy played David Rose, a formerly wealthy art dealer who finds love in the show's titular small town.
Levy co-created and starred on the comedy "Schitt's Creek," which sees a formerly wealthy family become bankrupt and forced to move to the small town that they bought as a joke. He plays the family's sardonic son, David Rose, a pansexual man who eventually has a romance with a local businessman named Patrick.
"I have seen just one too many stories where queer characters are handled with different gloves than the straight characters, out of fear or out of a desire to show that they are telling diverse stories," Levy told Deadline in 2020. "In actuality, what you end up doing is separating the queer relationships on your show or in your film from the rest, which doesn't necessarily do much good."
"So for me, it was about ease, it was about telling the story with the same nonchalance that you would tell a straight love story. I didn't ever want to overthink anything and the bottom line was if a straight couple has done this on television before then why can't we? And why can't we push it even further?"
Ruby Rose starred on the first season of "Batwoman" as Kate Kane. She and Kate are both lesbians.
Jeffrey Garland/The CW
The CW's "Batwoman" made history when it premiered in 2019 for featuring the first gay superhero (Kate Kane/Batwoman, who was played by Ruby Rose) in a lead TV role. Rose, who is a lesbian actress, told The Washington Post that she hopes the show will continue to normalize openly LGBTQ superheroes in media.
"[That's] why this show is so important," the actress said in the 2019 interview. "People being straight doesn't get that kind of attention. It's the least interesting thing about [Batwoman]."
"[This role is] something that we all wish did exist when we were growing up [watching] television," she added. "It would have helped [us] as well as other people feel less alone and less misunderstood or all confused or isolated and different and not unlike many other things that come with being young and gay."
Gay actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson starred as Mitchell Pritchett on the long-running comedy "Modern Family."
ABC's acclaimed sitcom "Modern Family," which ran for 11 seasons, featured one of the first prominent, long-term gay couples on TV through Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker (who, when the series opened, had just become parents to their daughter, Lily).
Ferguson, who played Mitchell, has spoken about how he hopes that the couple will both normalize loving gay relationships and show young LGBTQ viewers that having a family of their own is possible.
"I hope that the show doesn't live in a time capsule," Ferguson said on "The View" in 2020. "I hope that [Mitchell and Cameron] will always be a relatable couple for all people."
"When I was a young, gay kid in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I didn't turn on the TV and see anything on the television that reflected what I hoped to be," he continued. "I hope that this relationship on television now will be that for a lot of kids, who can turn on the television [and] say, 'Yes I can marry whoever I want to marry and have a family with them and experience the same ups and downs of being a new parent that my parents did.'"
Billy Porter became the first openly gay Black man to win the outstanding lead actor in a drama Emmy for his role as Pray Tell on "Pose."
Tony Award-winner Porter plays Pray Tell, the emcee of New York's ball scene. The role was created for Porter, using his own experiences as a backdrop.
"You can't have a testimony unless you have a test," Porter explained to Rolling Stone in 2019 when speaking about gay actors playing gay characters. "It's like, I can stand in front of people. I can be this character and speak from authority. I've actually lived what I'm talking about on this show. That creates an authenticity in the storyteller. It puts a truth in my mouth that can't be denied, that can't be questioned, ever. So it does ground the story."
The actor has also been open about the importance of visibility at awards shows. In 2019, he became the first openly gay Black man to win best lead actor in a drama at the Emmy Awards.
"Awards matter for this little black gay boy," he said in the same interview. "Because when I win them, people pay attention to me in ways that they haven't before. The journey we have been on in terms of representation in the marketplace has been white."
Lea DeLaria is a lesbian, and so is her "Orange Is the New Black" character, Carrie "Big Boo" Black.
For lesbian actress DeLaria, who plays "Big Boo" on "Orange Is the New Black," her character and others like her are crucial to breaking down negative stereotypes surrounding "butch" (more traditionally masculine-presenting) lesbians.
"Being butch is still a dirty little secret, but it's how some of us are," she told The Independent in 2014. "We can't forget where we came from. We need to put a positive face on it and it all comes from this international homophobia, that are only certain things are good; that you can't be that type of lesbian. It's important for me to communicate that there's nothing bad about being gay."
"That type of woman is often branded as stupid, always picking fights and treating women badly," DeLaria continued. "Boo loves women. She's not a sexist pig."
Jamie Clayton played Nomi, a trans hacker who is suddenly mentally linked to seven other people, on Netflix's "Sense8."
Trans actress Jamie Clayton is known for her role as Nomi Marks on the Netflix sci-fi drama "Sense8." On the series, Clayton plays a trans hacker who develops the ability to see into the minds of other people around the world. The show was also co-created by trans writer-directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski, which gave the actress confidence in regards to how "Sense8" would portray Nomi.
"Playing a trans-character on a show being shepherded by Lana Wachowski, I knew I would be protected and represented in a way that trans people have never been represented before on TV," she said during the show's panel at the Television Critics' Association's summer press tour in 2015, according to The Wrap. "I love Nomi, I love the character. She really represents something we've never seen before. It's empathy. People come together to help each other, it doesn't matter that they don't speak the same language, it doesn't matter their genders, their sexuality."
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