LGBT Actors and Characters Making a Splash in Hollywood
It’s hard to believe that televisions were once just a few inches wide, black and white, and couldn't be controlled by a remote. But just like our TV sets have changed, so have the people and characters gracing them. In 1971, All in the Family broke ground when it became the first show to feature a gay couple. Today, we see a much broader representation of the LGBT community. As of 2015, there were nearly 100 starring or recurring LGBT characters on TV (a statistic that doesn’t even begin to include the wide array of LGBT actors and actresses portraying them, as well as many straight actors).
These are a few of the actors, actresses, and characters who are changing the face of the big and small screen.
Actors and Actresses
- Laverne Cox. In 2013, Laverne Cox gained widespread recognition for her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black. Like her character in the show, Laverne Cox is a transgender woman. She’s also an advocate for the LGBT community, urging producers and those in the media to tell stories that reflect the diverse lives of those who are transgender.
- Ellen DeGeneres. In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres became the first title character on a TV series to come out as a lesbian, after she herself came out on the Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2016, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for her work to make the world a “more fun, more open, more loving place — so long as we just keep swimming.”
- Billy Haines. Billy Haines was a wildly successful silent film star in the 1920s. After being arrested in 1933, his partnership with a man named Jimmy Shields became public. When he refused to marry a woman, at the request of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, Haines was dropped from his MGM contract and, unfortunately, never worked in show business again.
- Ian McKellen. On the big screen, he’s known for his roles as Gandalf in the The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Magneto in the X-Men But off screen, Ian McKellen (or shall we say, Sir Ian McKellen) lives as a proud gay man and avid gay rights activist. Since coming out publicly in 1988, McKellen has gone on to speak at numerous gay pride parades and conventions.
- John Gielgud. In 1982, John Gielgud won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the film Arthur. He’s generally considered to be the first openly gay man to win an Oscar.
- Pedro Zamora. On MTV’s reality show The Real World Pedro Zamora became the first openly gay and HIV-positive cast member to appear on the show. He used his time on it to bring widespread awareness to the HIV virus and other hardships facing the gay community.
- Played by Philip Carey in the 1971 episode of All in the Family, titled “Judging Books by Covers,” Steve plays Archie Bunker’s (played by Carroll O’Connor) friend. After Archie mistakenly believes another character in the show is gay, he learns that his friend Steve is in fact gay. Though he was only in this one episode, Steve is widely considered to be the first gay character on TV.
- Edie (played by Veronica Redd) appeared on The Jeffersons as George Jeffersons’ old army buddy who had a sex change after leaving the military. Though the actress who played Edie was not transgender, this is considered the first transgender character to appear on a major television show.
- Peter Panama. The very few times gay characters were on TV, they only appeared in one scene or episode. That all changed in 1972 when Peter Panama (played by Vincent Schiavelli) became the first recurring gay character on the TV show The Corner Bar.
- Jodie Dallas. Jodie Dallas (played by Billy Crystal) became the first gay dad on television after he’s discovered having an affair with a famous quarterback on the show Soap.
- Jude Foster and Connor Stevens. In 2015, the ABC Family show The Fosters featured the youngest same-sex kiss in television history. Though the two actors (Hayden Byerly and Gavin MacIntosh) were 14 and 15, respectively, their characters were both 13.
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