In 2018, films and TV shows are making great strides when it comes to representation. But there’s still plenty of work to be done. Here are eight groundbreaking LGBTQ characters who continue to inspire.
1. Simon Spier (Love, Simon)
Nick Robinson’s turn as eponymous main protagonist Simon in Love, Simon is low-key. But it’s also radical. Robinson’s Simon is an ordinary high school student, living in Everytown, USA, and a student at the kind of school we recognise from countless movies over the years. In fact, Love, Simon is in many ways just another teen rom-com. And that’s one of its most groundbreaking characteristics. You see, Simon is gay.
In using the mainstream format, director Greg Berlanti smartly and effectively subverts the genre. Swapping out the standard heterosexual love story for a same-sex one, and presenting Simon as just another high schooler trying to find his identity and place in the world, wrapping the story up with an adorable screen kiss, Berlanti has paved the way for more and better mainstream LGBTQ representation on the big screen.
2. Tony Padilla (13 Reasons Why)
It’s no surprise that Greg Berlanti, the man behind TV’s Arrowverse, which is set to see the introduction of a trans character soon, also has a hand in 13 Reasons Why. The controversial Netflix show about teenage suicide and other contentious issues features a number of LGBTQ characters. But none smashes stereotypes more readily perhaps than Christian Navarro’s Tony Padilla. Tony is tough, and older and wiser than his years. In Season 2, we learn more about his character – and find out he has anger issues, and uses his fists to release pent-up emotions. Nevertheless, a really touching and open relationship develops between Tony and his boxing trainer Caleb.
3. Hayley Cropper (Coronation Street)
When Hayley Cropper was introduced to Coronation Street on January 26 1998, she became the first transgender character in a British soap opera and the first regular transgender character in all of serialised drama. Portrayed by Julie Hesmondhalgh, Hayley was a much-loved character in the world’s longest-running soap. Corrie, as it’s affectionately known, still airs today, and in 1998 regularly attracted around 17 million viewers per episode.
Hayley’s storyline initially revolved around her relationship with Roy Cropper – who she first ‘married’ in a blessing ceremony in 1999. Following the wedding episode, the UK government announced that it was working on granting trans people the legal rights they’d been fighting to gain for years, which eventually resulted in the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. Following the law changes, the Croppers wed legally in 2010.
4. Beth Jordache (Brookside)
Another popular British soap opera, Brookside was set in Liverpool and was first broadcast in 1982. Ahead of its time, perhaps, it was denounced by some sections of the press because of its colloquial dialogue – evidence that British TV was becoming crude and lowering its standards apparently. But what the show is most famous for is broadcasting the first ever pre-watershed lesbian kiss on British television. The kiss in question was between Anna Friel’s Beth Jordache and Nicola Stephenson’s Margaret Clemence.
This was the mid-1990s, and this scene was considered extremely risqué. Though Anna Friel’s character, in particular, came under fire for being a ‘lipstick lesbian’, the kiss was groundbreaking and the ensuing conversation around it ultimately paved the way for more liberated attitudes in the UK. In fact, the moment was so significant, Danny Boyle incorporated it into his London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony – which went out uncensored in 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal, making it the first same-sex kiss broadcast in these countries. And if you don’t know the show and you’re wondering – yes, Beth continued to like women. Brookie would later become the first British soap to feature an openly gay character – namely Nigel Cowley’s Gordon Collins.
5. Dumbledore (Harry Potter)
In October 2007, JK Rowling outed Dumbledore at Carnegie Hall in New York during a US book tour. The Hogwarts headmaster, she said, was enamored of rival Gellert Grindelwald but was “horribly, terribly let down.” His love for Grindelwald, she added, was his “great tragedy.”
Rowling has come under fire for not making Dumbledore’s sexuality explicit in the books, but others praise it. At the time, a spokesman for LGBT rights group Stonewall said: “It’s great that JK has said this. It shows that there’s no limit to what gay and lesbian people can do, even being a wizard headmaster.”
And even though the Fantastic Beasts sequel The Crimes of Grindelwald, which hits screens later this year, has also been attacked for not including an openly gay storyline for Dumbledore, there’s certainly a case to be made for not making his sexuality a plot device to be exploited in the stories. When one Twitter user queried Rowling’s revelation, asking: “I wonder why you said that Dumbledore is a gay because I can’t see him that way?”, the author replied: “Maybe because gay people just look like… people?”
6. Tara Chambler (The Walking Dead)
Alanna Masterson’s Tara is one of several non-heterosexual characters in The Walking Dead but qualifies as ‘gamechanging’ because of her status as one of the show’s main characters. And also because she was the series’ first openly lesbian character, opening the door for other LGBTQ characters. While she was depicted as having relationships with Alisha and later Denise Cloyd in the show, Denise fell victim to the oft-criticised ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope and was killed. Perhaps we can look forward to long-lasting love for Tara when the show returns for Season 9 – although the zombie apocalypse does kinda make that a tall order for anyone.
7. Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is often hailed as a breakthrough show when it comes to representation – often because of the way it portrays women. But in Alyson Hannigan’s Willow, the show also drew praise for its depiction of a lesbian character. At the height of the character’s popularity, she fell in love with Amber Benson’s witch Tara Maclay and the two became one of the first lesbian couples to appear on US television. Not only that, but one that was portrayed in an unprecedentedly realistic way. Significantly, it wasn’t until Willow met and fell in love with Tara that her magical abilities developed – as she became empowered by coming out and embracing her sexuality, so she literally became empowered.
8. Josh (Please Like Me)
This Australian comedy-drama chronicles the coming out story of a 20-year-old named Josh. Experiencing a quarter-life crisis, Josh realizes he’s gay. With scenes of same-sex making out and a propensity for showing naked bottoms, the show was considered edgy on release. The premise is set out in the series’ pilot episode — Josh gets dumped by his girlfriend and is shown to be a reluctant mediator for his divorced parents. His mum, it transpires, has just come out of the hospital following a suicide attempt and he has to move home to care for her. It’s when he’s hit on by a guy named Geoffrey that Josh realizes his liking for men.
Created by and starring comedian Josh Thomas, Please Like Me isn’t only a breath of fresh air for Australian TV. Josh also puts other gay characters throughout the whole of pop culture to shame, defying stereotypes and tropes along the way. There’s never a major ‘coming out’ moment levered in, for example; when he comes out to his friends and family, they take it in their stride. Rightly so, it’s no big deal. And rather than going down the route of pursuing a string of dates with different men as we see time and again on screen with gay archetypes, Josh instead decides he’s scared of sex. Meanwhile, Geoffrey’s swole physique makes him feel inadequate.