LGBT depiction in pop culture has come a long way since its first rumblings in the early ’70s. From the first recurring gay character on television (Vincent Schiavelli in The Corner Bar) to the Glee phenomenon, LGBT-inclusive media is more prominent than ever before.
There are so many moments in entertainment that shaped LGBT Hollywood forever. We offer several of those watershed events here. If your favorites didn’t make the list, let us know what you think are the greatest highlights in the comments below.
1971: Sunday Bloody Sunday shows first shame-free gay kiss
The British film about a bisexual man who is dating both a woman and man showed the first same-sex smooch without guilt.
1971: All in the Family bridges gay topics
In a benchmark episode, Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) has to deal with his prejudices when he believes an old friend could be gay. The Huffington Post labeled this the “frankest portrait of homosexuality on TV to date” in 2013.
1972-73: Vincent Schiavelli, the first recurring gay character on primetime television (The Corner Bar)While the series was short-lived, it will remain an LGBT staple for featuring openly gay Peter Panama to television audiences nationwide.
1972: Divine blazes the trail for drag queens
The disco-age icon, perhaps best known for the film Pink Flamingos (1972) where she plays the “filthiest person alive,” had an outrageous style that paved the way for queens of all shapes and sizes. She also played Edna Turnblad in the 1988 film Hairspray, and People magazine dubbed her “The Drag Queen of the Century.”
1976: Elton John comes out as bisexual
The confession was one of the first celebrity coming out moments. The iconic singer told Rolling Stone, “There’s nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex.” In 1985, Hollywood legend Marlon Brando also came out as bisexual.
1982: Making Love
EW says many moviegoers’ first exposure to gay affection were the lip-locks between lead actors Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin.
1986: Rock Hudson passes away from AIDS
Hudson, a ’50s and ’60s leading man, was one of the first celebrities to die from the disease; it brought the AIDS topic (and its association with the gay community) to the forefront. This was only heightened when Queen rocker Freddie Mercury passed away from AIDS in 1991.
1990: Paris is Burning brings ball culture to the mainstreamThe documentary showcased ball culture, characterized by dances like “vogueing” and glamorous presentation, specifically among African American and Latino LGBT communities.
1991: L.A. Law’s “He’s a Crowd” episode features the first primetime girl-on-girl kiss
The landmark smooch between C.J. Lamb (Amanda Donohoe) and Abby Perkins (Michele Greene) caused many of the show’s sponsors to pull their advertisements. Nonetheless, the kiss was unprecedented and set the stage for future women on Ally McBeal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Glee, and others.
1993: PhiladelphiaAccording to EW, the film — starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington — was the first prominent Hollywood movie to center on AIDS. Prior, the sensitive topic was not really mentioned. Hanks won an Academy Award for his performance as Andrew Beckett.
1993: Angels in America
The critically acclaimed play about living with AIDS won a Pulitzer Prize and led to the very successful HBO miniseries starring Meryl Streep.
1994: Sandra Bernhard comes out on Roseanne
She played Nancy Bartlett for 33 episodes on the hit show. Bernhard blazed the trail by portraying one of the first recurring lesbian characters on American television.
1994: Pedro Zamora from The Real World
Prior to appearing on The Real World: San Francisco, Zamora was an AIDS awareness teacher who contracted HIV early. He is widely seen as one of the first openly gay men with AIDS to be present in mainstream culture. Zamora made television history when he exchanged vows with his partner Sean Sasser on the show.
1996: The Birdcage
The comedy, starring the late Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, was praised by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) for “going beyond the stereotypes to see the character’s depth and humanity.” It’s now a cult classic.
1996: RENT hits Broadway
The musical, which took home a Tony Award and received rave reviews, featured the day-to-day struggles of gay and lesbian people and made AIDS a critical talking point.
1997: Ellen DeGeneres comes outArt was imitating life for DeGeneres when she came out IRL (with that famous Time magazine cover) and on her television show Ellen (where she of course played Ellen). While DeGeneres admitted to struggling to find acting jobs after coming out, the moment paved the way for her gay and lesbian fans to come out to their friends and families.
1997: Relativity shows first open-mouth lesbian kiss
The ABC series, which ran for one year, kicked it up a notch from L.A. Law and portrayed a full-on girl-on-girl kiss. This led to other long-term lesbian relationships on hit shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
1998-2006: Will & GraceThe Huffington Post dubbed the show the first “long-lasting ’gay sitcom.'” The laugh-out-loud series — starring Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes, and Megan Mullally — went on to win 16 Emmy Awards and is praised for portraying “average” gay men.
1999: Boys Don’t CryHillary Swank won an Oscar for playing transgender young adult Brandon Teena, who was raped and murdered on New Year’s Eve 1993. The film brought much-needed attention to the difficulties of living as transgender in the United States.
2000: Queer as Folk delves deeper into gay relationships
The Showtime drama was one of the first shows to overtly depict gay men romances. It also covered hot sociopolitical topics about the LGBT community.
2003: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy gains widespread appeal
2004: The L Word becomes the first show focused on lesbians
2005: Brokeback Mountain
The acclaimed film starring the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal received eight Academy Award nominations and is widely regarded as one of the few films to depict gay romance with a serious tone.
2005: Noah’s Arc details the lives of African American gay men
During its run, Noah’s Arc was one of the few television shows with an all-black cast, according to EW. It has been praised for its positive portrayal of African American gay men.
2005: Logo TV launches
Logo TV became the first network strictly for LGBT television. Its hallmark show RuPaul’s Drag Race debuted four years after and fully ushered drag culture into pop culture.
2007: Dirty Sexy Money features first transgender character on primetime television.
Transgender actress Candis Cayne portrayed mistress Carmelita on the ABC series for 11 episodes.
2007: As the World Turns shows first-ever teen gay male kiss on daytime television
The smooch between Luke (Van Hansis) and Noah (Jake Silbermann) was a long-awaited moment for fans.
2009: Glee puts gay (and later transgender) teens on primetime TV
The lip-lock between Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss) became one of the first incredibly visible male-on-male teen kisses on primetime. For many, “Klaine” was their first look into a young gay couple. Unique (Alex Newell), a transgender young woman, was introduced to audiences in 2012.
2009: Modern Family puts the gay household front and centerThe hit ABC show introduced us to Cam (Eric Stonestreet), Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and their beautiful adopted daughter Lily. This was one of television’s first gay couples with children, and it certainly paved the way for NBC’s The New Normal in 2012.
2012: Frank Ocean comes out and shakes up hip-hopThe singer wrote about falling in love with a man, taking hip-hop (a historically homophobic genre) to places it’s never been before.
2014: The Normal Heart
2014: Conchita Wurst Wins Eurovision 2014
Billboard reports people protested Wurst at Eurovision; however, the bearded drag queen stole hearts and won the competition with her performance of “Rise Like a Phoenix.” “This is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom,” she said after winning. “We are unity and we are unstoppable.”
2014: Laverne Cox becomes the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy
The Orange is the New Black actress, and one of Glamour magazine’s women of the year, made history playing Sophia Burset in the popular Netflix series.
[Photo Credit: Focus Features]