LGBTQ+ actors playing LGBTQ+ characters? What a concept! Over the last few years, there’s been a hefty amount of discourse surrounding the entertainment industry and heterosexual performers receiving acclaim for queer roles, which has seen various celebrities from Cate Blanchett to Scarlett Johansson and Billy Porter all passionately weigh in. The fact is, LGBTQ+ performers are rarely afforded the same amount of opportunities as the straights – just take a look at Academy Award nominees and winners over the past decade. Rami Malek and Matthew McConaughey won gongs for their autobiographical performances as queer legends Freddie Mercury and Ron Woodroof, respectively, while others such as Blanchett, Eddie Redmayne, Mahershala Ali and Rooney Mara have all been celebrated with a nod. Yes, acting is just that: acting, but until there are equal opportunities for all actors, there will be lists like this celebrating those who got a chance to authentically tell a queer story. This list will be updated over time, so let us know if we’ve missed your favourite and we’ll make sure to include them in the next update!
Abraham “Bram” Greenfeld (Keiynan Lonsdale) – Love, Simon & Love, Victor
The Flash’s Keiynan Lonsdale won the hearts of viewers across the world with his portrayal of Abraham “Bram” Greenfeld in Grey Berlanti’s romantic teen comedy, Love, Simon, which made history as the first major Hollywood studio film to revolve around a teen romance. Lonsdale, who identifies as queer, reprised the role in the first season of Disney+ spin-off series, Love Victor. The former GAY TIMES cover star has continuously used his platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, even through music; his song Gay Street Fighter celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and declares war on homophobia. Add it to your Pride playlists, it’s an absolute bop.
Angel Evangelista (Indya Moore) – Pose
Pose changed the course of television when it premiered on our screens four years ago, not just because of its rare depiction of the queer African-American and Latino communities in 80s New York City, but also for featuring the largest amount of trans actors in regular roles of any scripted television series in history. Indya Moore, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, received praise for their depiction of Angel Evangelista – a transgender sex worker and ballroom alum who aims to break through mainstream media as a fashion model. Speaking about their gender identity on Twitter, Indya wrote: “I’m non-binary, femme, agender feels fitting too. My pronouns: they/them/theirs. I correct people often. At times they ignore me and I tolerate it to avoid conflict/irritation but it’s upsetting to feel like I’m ‘too much’ in a world that takes so much from trans people constantly.”
Blanca Evangelista (Mj Rodriguez) – Pose
In 2020, Mj Rodriguez made history when she became the first transgender woman to take home the trophy for Best Actress at the Imagen Awards for her performance as Blanca Evangelista on Pose. Rodriguez’s portrayal of the drama’s resident house mother received universal critical acclaim and also earned her a Critics’ Choice Award nomination. In an interview with GQ in 2018, the actress explained the importance of letting the transgender community tell their own stories: “I’m glad that we get to be the spokespeople for the story. It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s the best responsibility to ever have. We were a part of it and we get to tell it because we know what it was like to be in the culture.”
Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) – Grey’s Anatomy
After appearing in 11 seasons and 239 episodes, Grey’s Anatomy character Callie Torres currently ranks as the longest-running LGBTQ+ character in television history. The Tony Award-winning entertainer behind the beloved surgeon is a member of the LGBTQ+ community too, as Ramirez has spoken about their queer, bisexual and non-binary identities in the past. Ramirez – who goes by she/her and they/them pronouns – is also known amongst the community for their extensive work campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights, winning the Ally for Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in 2015.
Casey Gardner (Brigette Lundy-Paine) – Atypical
Brigette Lundy-Paine, who plays LGBTQ+ character Casey Gardner in Netflix’s Atypical, came out as gender non-binary in 2019. In an Instagram post, Lundy-Paine said they’ve always felt “a lil bit boy, lil bit girl, lil bit neither” and that using they/them pronouns feels right to them. In their original interview with The Advocate, in which they came out as queer, the star revealed how their role in Atypical helped them come to terms with their sexual orientation. “Sam feels like a deep part of myself that I am only now beginning to let out: the insecurities and the complete confusion with the system and the rules that have been laid out for him,” said Lundy-Paine, before adding: “I feel grateful to be part of such an expanding queer community. And there’s something about Atypical that feels part of that.”
David Rose (Dan Levy) – Schitt’s Creek
Schitt’s Creek won rave reviews throughout its six-season run for its complete absence of homophobia in the storyline and portrayal of David Rose – played by co-creator Dan Levy – and his sexuality, due to the lack of openly pansexual characters on television. Levy, who is gay and has been out to his loved ones since he was 18, made history when the sixth and final season of the Canadian comedy swept all seven major categories at the Primetime Emmy Awards – the first time for a comedy or drama. The series also set a record for most Emmy wins by a comedy series in a single season, and Levy became the first person to win a Primetime Emmy Award in all four major categories in a single year. Yes, Daviiiiid!
Elektra Wintour (Dominique Jackson) – Pose
Widely considered Pose’s breakout character, Elektra Wintour has been inducted into Gay Twitter’s Hall of Gif Fame thanks to her snappy comebacks and legendary reads, particularly for her takedown of the prudish, transphobic white woman in season two. You know the one, but let’s revisit it here anyway! The star behind Elektra, Dominique Jackson, has been open about her transition since rising to fame with an autobiography, titled The Transsexual from Tobago, which was written over the course of 13 years. Discussing the legacy of Pose, Jackson told Marie Claire in 2020: “It spoke volumes to how the world perceived us, to how FX felt about us, and to how important this show was, how our lives really did matter.”
Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes) – Will & Grace
Although Will & Grace’s Jack McFarland has received mixed reviews over the years for being a ‘stereotypical’ gay due to his flamboyancy (because for some reason, that’s bad), it’s important to note his impact as one of television’s first long-running and openly gay characters. For his performance as the self-absorbed acting coach, Sean Hayes won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. While Hayes refused to discuss his sexuality during Will & Grace’s first run between 1998 and 2006, he opened up in later interviews, telling The Advocate: “Really? You’re gonna shoot the gay guy down? I never have had a problem saying who I am. I am who I am.”
Jules Vaughan (Hunter Schafer) – Euphoria
Gritty teen drama Euphoria flew the flag for the transgender community in 2019 with Hunter Schafer’s stunning portrayal of Jules, an openly transgender teen who becomes romantically involved with Zendaya’s lead character Jules. “That was something I hadn’t really seen on TV before: a trans girl in a non-hetero relationship, in a queer relationship,” Schafer told Vogue in 2019. “Seeing that spoke to me as a queer trans woman.” While Schafer was known in the industry prior Euphoria for her modelling and LGBTQ+ activism, her performance of Jules has seen her fame skyrocket with countless magazine covers and millions of followers on social media.
Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) – Glee
The same year Chris Colfer catapulted to superstardom with his performance as Kurt Hummel, a fashionable countertenor on Ryan Murphy’s Glee, the star spoke openly about his homosexuality in an interview with Chelsea Handler, which made him one of the only out teenagers in Hollywood. Colfer, who played the fan-favourite role for six years, has used his platform to support the It Gets Better campaign and LGBTQ+ charity The Trevor Project, and was a co-chair for the Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Award Party between 2013 and 2014. Since 2013, the Emmy Award-nominated actor has been in a relationship with actor and producer Will Sherrod.
Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) – American Horror Story
Sarah Paulson has played various queer characters throughout her career, such as Abby Gerhard in Oscar-winning drama Carol and the title character in Netflix’s horror-thriller prequel series Ratched. But none have reached the same level of adoration, arguably, as her second character on American Horror Story, Lana Winters, a strong-willed lesbian journalist. Has there ever been a character on the anthology series who’s endured as much torture? Paulson has previously described her sexuality as “fluid” and has been in a relationship with Hollywood’s Holland Taylor since 2015.
Mae (Mae Martin) – Feel Good
The whole world fell in love with Mae Martin after the UK-based comedian created and starred in the autobiographical Netflix dramedy, Feel Good, alongside Charlotte Ritchie and Lisa Kudrow. After previously resisting to labelling their sexuality, Martin said in 2021 they identify as bisexual and have dated both men and women in the past. Martin, who earned a BAFTA nomination for their work on the series, is non-binary and has spoken about their gender fluidity at length. In an Instagram post, they wrote: “I love it when people say ‘they’ but I don’t mind ‘she’ at ALL.”
Marina (Daniela Vega) – A Fantastic Woman
Daniela Vega received critical acclaim for her performance in A Fantastic Woman as young trans woman Marina, a singer and waitress in Santiago whose older boyfriend dies unexpectedly. With its win for Best Foreign Language Film, A Fantastic Woman made history as the first Academy Award-winning film to feature a transgender storyline with an openly transgender actor in the lead role. In 2018, Vega also became the first transgender person to present at the prestigious ceremony. In an interview with The Guardian, Vega said of the relationship between the transgender community and the Republican Party (trust us when we say, it’s a finger-wagging moment): “It actually gives me a physical pleasure to annoy conservatives. I don’t have to be violent, I don’t have to insult anyone – my mere existence shakes those people up.”
Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) – Modern Family
Like Will & Grace, Modern Family has been credited with helping change the perception of gay characters in the United States and popular culture. Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet’s characters, Mitchell and Cameron, were lauded by critics as a stepping stone in the fight for marriage equality, which passed in the US during the mockumentary sitcom’s seventh season. While Stonestreet is a straight, Ferguson is openly gay and has been married to lawyer Justin Mikita since 2013. Their son, Becket Mercer Ferguson-Mikita, was born in 2020.
Omar Shanaa (Omar Ayuso) – Elite
Since his debut on Netflix’s acclaimed Spanish teen thriller, Elite, Omar Ayuso has garnered millions of followers as a result of his performance as Omar Shanaa and the character’s relationship with Ander Muñoz (Arón Piper), with fans concocting the Brangelina-esque ‘ship’ name “Omander”. His on-screen partner doesn’t identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but Ayuso does: he’s (publicly) been in a relationship with artist Alonso Diaz since March 2020. More recently, Ayuso starred alongside King Princess, Honey Dijon and Isaac Scott Powell in Calvin Klein’s latest Pride campaign.
Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) – Orange is the New Black
In 2017, Samira Wiley married writer Lauren Morelli after meeting on the set of Orange is the New Black and earlier this year, the two welcomed the birth of their first child, a daughter called George Elizabeth. Wiley received praise for her depiction as gay prison inmate Poussey Washington, whose death in season four sparked outrage amongst the fandom. In a 2018 interview, Wiley revealed that she wasn’t initially out to the world and that one of her fellow cast members, who she didn’t name, outed them to another publication. “First season [of Orange is the New Black] I wasn’t out at all,” she admitted. “Someone from my cast actually, during the interview they were talking about out gay actors in the cast. They mentioned my name and I saw it in print, and I cried. I cried a lot.”
Pray Tell (Billy Porter) – Pose
Billy Porter marked a first for the LGBTQ+ community in 2019 when he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his performance on Pose, becoming the first openly gay Black man to be nominated and win in any leading category. His character, Pray Tell, emcees the balls in New York and mentors younger members of the community, such as the aforementioned Angel (Indya Moore) and Blanca (Mj Rodriguez). One of Pray Tell’s most prominent storylines is his HIV/AIDS diagnosis, which hit close to home for Porter following his own diagnosis in 2007. In a powerful essay for The Hollywood Reporter, the star wrote: “The brilliance of Pray Tell and this opportunity was that I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate.”
Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has received praise for its depiction of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for Stephanie Beatriz’s tough-as-nails detective Rosa Diaz, who comes out as bisexual in the show’s fifth season. Although she was out to her friends and family for a long time, Beatriz confirmed her bisexuality on Twitter in 2016. Later in an essay for GQ, Beatriz penned an essay about how bisexuality “needs an explanation” and how her nuptials to a man doesn’t erase her attraction for women. “We’ll make vows that I will take very seriously—till death do us part,” she said. “But I’ll be bi till the day I die, baby, and I vow to myself to always sing that truth.”
Ritchie Tozer (Olly Alexander) – It’s A Sin
Best known for his musical career as a member (now the sole member) of chart-topping synthpop group Years & Years, Olly Alexander continued to flex his acting skills this year in Russell T. Davies’ acclaimed Channel 4 drama, It’s A Sin, which chronicles the rise of HIV/AIDS in 1980s London. Like his beloved character Ritchie Tozer, Alexander identifies as gay. He has advocated for various LGBTQ+ causes throughout his career including safe sex, HIV prevention and mental health. After winning at the 2020 British LGBT Awards last year for BBC documentary Growing Up Gay, Alexander spoke for all of us when he vowed: “I want to make you proud and continue being very gay in whatever situation I find myself in.”
Ryan Hayes (Ryan O’Connell) – Special
Ryan O’Connell based his Netflix series Special on his 2015 memoir, I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, which tells his story as a gay man living with cerebral palsy. The first season was met with widespread acclaim and received three nominations at the 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly prior to the second season premiere, O’Connell said his aim as a storyteller is to tackle “anything that still has a stigma attached to it” such as gay sex, adding: “I’ve had to suffer through so many straight sex scenes and now everyone else has to pay.”
Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) – Glee
The late Naya Rivera memorably portrayed Glee’s antagonist cheerleader Santana Lopez for six years between 2009 and 2015, which catapulted the actress to superstardom and garnered her a devoted LGBTQ+ following, particularly amongst queer women. Following her tragic death in 2020, a fan said in their tribute: “As a young queer Latina myself watching her fighting and supporting the LGBT community saved my life, I felt seen, the way she portrayed and fought for Santana Lopez impacted me.” During one of her guest stints on The View in 2015, Rivera said she “might be bisexual” and after hearing from Rosie O’Donnell that bisexual women face higher mental health struggles than lesbians, she added: “Rosie, no wonder I’m crazy. This just solves it all.”
Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) – Orange is the New Black
Since Orange is the New Black burst onto our screens in 2013, fan-favourite transgender inmate Sophia Burset has been hailed as one of the most groundbreaking LGBTQ+ characters in television history, and for good reason: Laverne Cox became the first transgender person to be nominated at the Primetime Emmy Awards in a leading acting category. Following her third nomination, Cox noted the impact of Orange is the New Black and her character on the television industry, telling IndieWire: “Transparent happened after our show premiered, Pose happened after our show premiered. So much progress has been made around trans representation on television [since] the premiere of our show. So, maybe we had a little bit to do with that.”
Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Although Tituss Burgess’ character in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is as boisterous as they come, the actor insisted in an interview last year that he’s “probably the most boring of the rainbow gay men” and when he meets people who expect him to be like Titus Andromedon, he apologises. He told The Guardian: “It’s not been the easiest thing to navigate. I like to try and remind people that there’s a public persona and that there’s a private persona.” Seriously people, it’s called ACTING?! Look it up! For his performance as Titus, the star received five nominations at the Primetime Emmy Awards.
Vanya Hargreeves (Elliot Page) – The Umbrella Academy
After initially rising to fame with their performance as a pregnant teen in Juno, for which they received an Academy Award nomination, Page starred in several acclaimed dramas and blockbusters including Whip It, Inception and X-Men: Days of Future Past. However, their most cherished role is arguably as Vanya Hargreeves in Netflix’s smash series, The Umbrella Academy, a lesbian superhero with the power to convert sound into energy. Page came out as a transgender man last year, and subsequently made history as the first transgender man to cover TIME.