We come with GLAAD tidings.
The media watchdog group released its annual report on representation in the media, and this year it comes with welcome news: LGBTQ characters make up about 7% of all regular characters on TV, an all-time high in terms of representation. Not bad, but still a long ways to go.
But then GLAAD makes a more interesting argument, pointing out that the 7% number comprises a majority of white, cisgender characters. LGBTQ people of color and gender fluid individuals remain terribly underrepresented in scripted TV.
There will be those in Hollywood who focus on the first number and downplay the second, pointing out how hard it is just to get gay and lesbian characters into scripts.
But it can be done, and it can be done well. In fact, there are a number of great shows already taking queer diversity to a whole new level of complexity. So we’ve composed a list of TV shows whose creators actually took the time to imagine amazing transgender or gender fluid characters, some of whom happen to be people of color. With Moonlight winning the Oscars’ top prize last year, and Call Me By Your Name vying for it this year, maybe the movies will follow suit.
Even better, the shows we picked are actually worth watching for the drama alone–beyond their distinction in diversity.
Go figure that out transgender sisters Lily & Lana Wachowski would create one of the most diverse casts on TV with their sci-fi potboiler Sense8. Featuring one of the best ever transgender characters to hit the screen—the hacker Nomi, played by out trans actress Jaymie Clayton—and featuring hunky Latin couple Lito and Hernando, the show spins a tale of psychically connected people all over the world. Though Netflix axed the show earlier this year, the streaming service has announced a feature film that will wrap up the story of the series.
2. Suburra: Blood on Rome
Speaking of Netflix, the first Italian-language series from the streaming provider also features one of the most unusual and adorable queer characters on TV. Meet Spadino, the gay gypsy Mafioso charged with leading his family’s crime syndicate while struggling with an identity heretofore unknown (and rarely depicted) in this class. Gypsies have long faced persecution and discrimination even in socially liberal Europe. That minority status only adds to Spadino’s compelling character–but his flamboyant attire and general sex appeal don’t hurt either.
3. Orange is the New Black
The show that made Laverne Cox a star continues to score high marks for racial and queer diversity, featuring the lesbian characters of color Poussey and Crazy Eyes. Cox’s recurring character Sophia remains one of the highlights.
4. Andi Mack
The Disney sit-com Andi Mack made headlines earlier this year for featuring an adolescent character coming out, played by Middle Eastern Jewish actor Joshua Rush. The storyline of a kid coming out to his friends would get our attention in any case because, after all, kids are people too.
5. Star Trek: Discovery
The latest incarnation of the iconic sci-fi franchise already received high diversity marks for featuring an African-American woman in the leading role. It also features the first two canonical gay characters in Trek history (about damn time too!), Paul and Hugh, played by Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz. Rapp may get a bit more screen time as the ship’s engineer. But Cruz, as the ship’s doctor, gives the series an extra dose of sincerity.
6. American Gods
Meet Bilquis, the bisexual goddess of American Gods played by Nigerian-American actress Yetide Badaki. Bilquis enjoys having a lot of sex with both men and women…and devouring her mates through her vagina. It’s that kind of show.
7. The OA
Netflix strikes again with this sci-fi mystery, featuring an Asian-American transgender teenager, played by transgender actor Ian Alexander. Like Andi Mack, The OA deserves special props for featuring a diverse cast and an adolescent queer character in a period of self-discovery.
8. Dear White People
The controversial Netflix comedy takes a look at social injustice among people of color, and manages to drop in a number of queer characters to boot. Series regular Lionel, as well as recurring characters Neika and Monique all live out and loud.
The award-winning Amazon series takes a lot of criticism for featuring a cisgender actor—Jeffery Tambor—in the leading role. Still, credit where credit is due: the show also features a number of out-transgender actors, including Alexandra Gray and Hari Nef.
10. 13 Reasons Why
Though problematic and downright absurd at times, the teen mystery/drama 13 Reasons Why does manage to feature a sexually diverse cast of characters, including the Latino Tony and Asian Courtney. The show touches on the difficulties of coming out queer as a teenager, though trust us, given the series premise, that is the least of their problems.
Though a critical darling, Billions has yet to pick up the awards–or audience–notice of some of Showtime’s other hits. The show also deserves special mention for including a nonbinary character–savant analyst Taylor Mason, played by Asia Kate Dillion. The inclusion of the character Mason marks a watershed moment in American television when a nonbinary character plays any role in a TV series, let alone that of a main character.
12. Grace & Frankie
As if a series with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin didn’t already have enough going for it, the Netflix sitcom also features acclaimed thespians Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson as the gay ex-husbands of the pair who, predictably, ended up a couple. Rarely has TV diversity had such class–or hilarity.
13. Will & Grace
Maybe it’s a cop-out to include the perennial favorite sitcom as an entry here. At the same time, the revival of the series has proved an unexpected smash for NBC, and has generated the same kind of acclaim as when the show debuted 20 years ago. Besides, the show has had some relentless fun mocking the Trump administration, so count us in anytime.
14. One Day at a Time
Netflix’s reboot of the 1970s sitcom that helped define the “very special episode” phenomenon has plenty of its own special ingredients, starting with a Latino cast, and the character of Elena, the 15-year-old lesbian daughter of single mom Penelope. That the show also features gay icon Rita Moreno as Elena’s grandmother just adds to the allure.
15. The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale took the TV world by unexpected storm in 2017, generating awards and subscribers for streaming platform Hulu. Though series star Elisabeth Moss has expressed her love and acceptance of LGBT people despite being a Scientologist (which is admirable), the show itself features a marvelous character in Moira (played by Samira Wiley), the black lesbian handmaid that plots the escape from servitude with series lead June (Moss). Maybe Ms. Moss and her show could teach Scientology a thing or two about the value of gay people.
Any other great shows featuring great LGBTQ characters you’d like to add to the list? Add them in comments below…