Because of increased LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance in recent years, queer actors are getting more opportunities in Hollywood, especially in portraying queer characters on television and films spanning many genres. In the name of Pride month, we’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate a few amazing actors who have given us an authentic queer experience on screen. As a matter of fact, some of them even got the courage from their roles to come out in real life.
Portrayed by co-creator Dan Levy, David Rose is a pansexual character on Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek. In an episode, David uniquely explains his sexuality to a friend: “I do drink red wine, but I also drink white wine. And I have been known to sample the occasional rosé. A couple of summers back I tried a Merlot that used to be a Chardonnay, which got a bit complicated.” In real life, Dan Levy came out as gay to his parents (one of whom is Eugene Levy) at 18 years old and recalled that his parents already knew for the longest time.
Atypical actually helped actor Brigette Lundy-Paine come to terms with their sexual orientation. They’ve always felt “a lil bit boy, lil bit girl, lil bit neither”. Brigette came out as non-binary in 2019 and uses they/them pronouns. They said, “I’m queer, and I feel that for a lot of queer youth, there’s not a lot of nuanced examples of queerness on TV when it comes to teenagers.”
Sarah Paulson has portrayed many queer characters in her career, but perhaps one of her most notable is lebsian journalist Lana Winters on a few seasons of American Horror Story where at one point the character undergoes disturbing sessions of conversion therapy. In real life, Paulson has described her sexuality as “a fluid situation” and has been in a relationship with actress Holland Taylor since 2015.
One of my favorite TV couples, Modern Family’s Mitchell Pritchett (played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron Tucker (played by Eric Stonestreet) has been admired by critics as a stepping stone in the fight for marriage equality. While Stonestreet is straight, Ferguson is openly gay and has said that he had to come out to his father three times, when he was 17,19, and 21. In 2013, he married lawyer Justin Mikita, and they became fathers to a son in 2020. Modern Family has also been credited with helping changed the perception of gay characters in the United States.
Samira Wiley was actually still in the closet when she took on the now-famous role of Poussey Washington in Orange is the New Black in 2013. In a 2018 interview, she revealed that she was outed by one of her fellow cast members. Despite the invasion of her privacy, the role did help Wiley come to terms with herself. She said, “I wasn’t out in the beginning, but I think falling in love with Poussey helped me fall in love with myself as well.” In 2017, Wiley married writer Lauren Morelli, whom she met on set of OITNB, and they both welcomed their daughter, George Elizabeth, in 2021.
Callie Torres, played by Sara Ramirez, was introduced in Season 2 as an orthopedic surgeon. Not only is Grey’s Anatomy the longest-running primetime medical drama in TV history, but Callie Torres is also the longest-running LGBTQ+ character in television history, appearing in 11 seasons and 239 episodes. In 2016, Ramirez described herself as queer and bisexual but in 2020 identified as non-binary using they/them pronouns. Ramirez is also known for their extensive work campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights, winning the Ally for Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in 2015.
An LGBTQ+ Christmas film, Happiest Season follows a lesbian couple Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis). Kristen Stewart has revealed the challenges she has faced as a queer woman in Hollywood, including hiding her sexuality in the past in order to pick up high-profile roles. The actor says she couldn't care less anymore and has come out as proudly bisexual. She has been in a relationship with screenwriter Dylan Meyer since 2019 and is now engaged.
Elliot Fletcher plays the role of Aaron Baker, a young trans male, on The Fosters, which has always been praised for its portrayal of LGBTQ+ themes. Fletcher has commended the show for including the storyline of Aaron’s parents struggling to come to terms with the fact that he’s trans. The actor has always been outspoken about the importance of authentic transgender representation in the media and came out as a trans man shortly after his 17th birthday.
Comedian Sherry Cola plays lesbian and aspiring stand-up comedian Alice Kwan on The Foster’s spinoff, Good Trouble. Through her character’s growth in confidence and self-acceptance over the past two seasons, Cola hopes to help LGBTQ+ youths who don’t feel accepted at home. “As an Asian queer woman, I'm trying to be loud on the internet and do what I can to show pride in many ways,” said Cola. Playing Alice has actually influenced the actor to come out to her mom as bisexual.
One of the most groundbreaking LGBTQ+ characters in television history, Laverne Cox played the role of transgender inmate Sophia Burset on OITNB. Not only did Cox become the first transgender person to be nomitated for a Primetime Emmy, but she is also the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. She has won numerous awards for her activist approach in spreading awareness and her impact and prominence in the media has led to a growing conversation about transgender culture.
Yasmine Finney plays transgender teenager, Elle Argent, who moves to an all-girls’ school from a boys’ school in the popular Netflix coming-of-age romance Heartstopper. A trans woman of color—same as Elle—Yasmine has spoken about her real struggles as a teenager moving schools and being bullied for her queerness. The 18-year-old also recently opened up about the importance of authentic casting and trans inclusion. She said, “I think we’ll really have change when I can play a character whose gender identity or sexuality isn’t specified. That’s when the industry will start to see trans actors as normal actors like everybody else, and we can play any role that we want to.”