We’ve come a long way, babies. In the years since All in the Family introduced the first gay character in primetime TV, there’s now Pose, an acclaimed FX drama featuring the most transgender series regulars ever.
As we kick off Pride Month 2019, it’s time to look back at how far TV has come since the days of Soap and That Certain Summer. With more content platforms than ever, like streaming platforms Netflix and Hulu, representation on screen will only increase. Take Ryan O’Connell‘s Netflix series Special. The new acclaimed comedy, created by and starring O’Connell, is semi-autobiographical and follows a gay man with cerebral palsy. You wouldn’t see that on network TV in the 1970s and you’d be hard pressed to find it on a major network now, in 2019.
“When we first went out with Special, my agents said they were gonna go to network and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? The gay CP version on ABC?! They’ll f–king buy it ‘cause it’s chic, and then they’ll be like, “What did we just buy”‘ And then they’ll kill it.’ Things that I get excited about exploring — the sexuality of a disabled person and their wants and needs — you can’t do that on a f–king network,” O’Connell told Vulture.
“I’m so happy and blessed because I feel like the stories of marginalized people get told on Verizon f–king go90 or Awesomeness TV. I was really nervous that Special was gonna air on an abandoned oil rig in Marina del Rey and you were gonna need a DNA sample to get access to it. I wanna reach as many people as possible because if this show had come out when I was a teenager, it would’ve saved my f–king life. When you don’t see yourself being reflected back at you, you’re implicitly told that you don’t matter. That your life does not matter, it’s not worth being told, it’s not worth being discussed. And that f–ks with you on such a deep level. By the way, you don’t have to have cerebral palsy to relate to my story. Any gay guy who doesn’t feel they fit the mold or that they’re fit enough — which, spoiler alert, is all gay men — can relate. I know it sounds corny, but I really hope this story helps people. This business is so f–ked up and arduous, it’s such hell, that I cannot imagine doing anything that’s not worthwhile or meaningful. That’s why I’m here. Not to sell a story about some girl with magical bangs to ABC,” O’Connell continued.
Below, relive LGBTQ TV history. Be sure to watch E! News at 7 p.m. for more Pride Month celebrations.
1971: All in the Family
All in the Family made LGBT history when it introduced the first gay character in primetime in 1971, revealing that Archie Bunker’s bar buddy Steve was gay. Later in the show’s run, Archie found out Edith’s cousin was a lesbian who left her estate to her partner.
ABC via Getty Images
1972: That Certain Summer
Martin Sheen, Hal Holbrook and Hope Lange starred in this notable ABC TV movie about a divorced father who has found love with a younger man and struggles with telling his teen son about his new life. The movie is noted for depicting homosexuality in a sympathetic—read: normal—light.
ABC via Getty Images
1973: An American Family
Already out to his family, Lance Loud made history when he came out to the nation of viewers of the “first reality show,” the documentary that followed his family.
1975: Hot l Balitmore
The Norman Lear sitcom starring James Cromwell, Charlotte Rae and Conchata Ferrell had perhaps the first depiction of a gay couple on an American TV series.
ABC via Getty Images
Billy Crystal played Jodie Dallas, a series regular on the soap opera-skewering Soap. The character was divisive at the time—early plots had him wanting to become a woman, he dated several women—but ultimately he was primetime TV’s first gay dad.
1978: Robin Tyler
Robin Tyler was the first out lesbian on US TV in a Showtime comedy special hosted by Phyllis Diller.
Recurring characters Russell (David Marshall Green) and Peter (Peter Frechette) are shown in bed together “the morning after.” No kissing or touching was shown and the scene generated huge attention, as advertisers fled the series.
One of Fox’s first shows, Roc, was the first to have a gay wedding on TV. The sitcom starred Charles S. Dutton as Roc, a garbage collector from Baltimore. In a “very special episode,” Roc finds out his uncle is gay and has a partner. The family throws a ceremony for the two at their home.
1991: L.A. Law
The legal drama L.A. Law featured the first romantic lesbian kiss—even if it was a ratings ploy—on primetime TV between Abby Perkins (Michele Greene) and C. J. Lamb (Amanda Donohoe).
ABC via Getty Images
1992: One Life to Live
In 1992, the world met One Life to Live‘s Billy Douglas, played by a young Ryan Phillippe, the first gay teen character on daytime TV.
ABC via Getty Images
No stranger to breaking down barriers, Roseanne featured one of the first openly lesbian characters on TV with Nancy Bartlett (Sandra Bernhard). The character recurred from season four until the end of the series.
1994: My So-Called Life
While One Life to Live had its first gay teen in 1992, primetime’s first openly gay teen series regular character came to us in My So-Called Life‘s Enrique “Rickie” Vasquez, played by Wilson Cruz.
1994: The Real World: San Francisco
In 1994, viewers also met Pedro Zamora on The Real World: San Francisco. Pedro was openly gay and HIV-positive. His commitment ceremony to Sean Sasser was the first (real) same-sex commitment ceremony broadcast on national TV. Zamora died shortly after the finale of his Real World season.
“The One With the Lesbian Wedding” episode of Friends is considered the first primetime TV episode to feature a lesbian wedding.
ABC via Getty Images
“The Puppy Episode” of Ellen featured Ellen Morgan (Ellen DeGeneres) coming out as gay, the same time the star came out on the cover of Time magazine, making Ellen the first show to feature an openly lesbian actress playing an openly lesbian character.
Another first for ABC! Lisa Edelstein‘s character, out-lesbian Rhonda, becomes the first character to have a passionate, open-mouth kiss with another woman on primetime TV.
1998: Will & Grace
Will & Grace, created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, premiered Sept 21, 1998. Need we say more?
1999: Dawson’s Creek
While lesbian kisses became a ratings ploy for shows, TV’s first “romantic” gay kiss didn’t happen until 1999 on The WB. Dawson’s Creek character Jack (Kerr Smith) finally got some lip action from Ethan (Adam Kaufman).
2003: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
In 2003, reality TV was forever changed by the premiere of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The show helped redefine Bravo as a network and opened up the eyes of millions of viewers.
2004: The L-Word
Showtime’s hit lesbian drama ran for six seasons, kicking off in January 2004.
2005: Romy and Michele: In the Beginning
Many people would like to forget about this TV movie prequel to the classic Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, but the panned flick (which starred Katherine Heigl!) that aired on ABC Family made history by feature Alexandra Billings of Transparent fame as the first openly transgender woman to play a transgender character on TV.
2007: As the World Turns
Men were kissing in primetime long before daytime finally got on board, but the soaps caught up in 2007 when As the World Turns featured the first-ever gay kiss between two male characters, Luke Snyder (Van Hansis) and Noah Mayer (Jake Silbermann).
2008: Rachel Maddow
The MSNBC anchor became the first openly gay anchor of a primetime program on a major news network.
Glee, created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, premieres in May of 2009. The show would go on to break records—and stereotypes—during its six-season run.
2009: All My Children
The soap staged the first same-sex legal wedding in daytime TV history when Bianca Montgomery (Eden Riegel) and Reese Williams (Tamara Braun) tied the knot.
2012: The New Normal
The New Normal, starring Justin Bartha, Andrew Rannells, Georgia King, Bebe Wood, NeNe Leakes, Jayson Blair and Ellen Barkin, lasted one season on NBC. Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler’s sitcom followed a gay couple and their surrogate.
2014: Good Luck Charlie
The first same-sex couple was featured on a network targeted to kids in an episode of Good Luck Charlie on Disney.
2014: Laverne Cox
The Orange Is the New Black star became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an acting Emmy award.
2014: The Normal Heart
Ryan Murphy brought Larry Kramer‘s acclaimed play to screen with the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer and Jim Parsons in leading roles. It took home the Emmy for Outstanding TV Movie.
Amazon broke new ground with Transparent, its dramedy from Jill Soloway starring Jeffrey Tambor as a father who comes out as transgender. The show was met with rave reviews and will return for a second season.
2014: How to Get Away With Murder
ABC’s new legal drama starring Viola Davis featured a racy sex scene between two men in the show’s pilot, and a promise from creator Shonda Rhimes that those scenes aren’t going away.
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2015: Neil Patrick Harris
Eleven years after coming out in 2006, Neil Patrick Harris became the first openly gay man to host the Academy Awards.
Dot-Marie Jones’ Glee character, Coach Beiste, comes out as transgender. The show features a fully transgender choir.
2015: Transparent Wins Best TV Comedy Golden Globe
Amazon’s Transparent made history at the 2015 Golden Globes when lead actor Jeffrey Tambor and the show itself took home awards in the Best Actor in a TV Comedy and Best TV Comedy categories, respectively.
“I want to thank the trans community,” creator Jill Soloway said while accepting the award. “They are our family, they make it possible.”
“Thank you for coming out,” Soloway said to her “MaPa.” “Maybe we’re going to be able to teach the world something…”
“To love,” she concluded.
Laverne Cox joined the cast of the CBS series Doubt as a transgender attorney, a first for a network series. After retooling, the show made it to air in 2017, but only lasted a season.
Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair
2015: Caitlyn Jenner
In April 2015, Bruce Jenner sat down with Diane Sawyer for a two-hour special to reveal her plans to transition to a woman. The interview was followed up with E!’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians: About Bruce two-part special that featured Kris Jenner and the kids reacting to the announcement. In June 2015, Caitlyn Jenner made her debut on Vanity Fair. Caitlyn’s journey will be documented in an eight-part E! series in July 2015.
2017: Andi Mack
In October 2017, Disney Channel revealed that the second season of their hit series would feature the network’s first-ever LGBTQ storyline, with main character Cyrus (played by Joshua Rush) realizing he has feelings for a male classmate. His journey of self-discovery and ultimate acceptance will play throughout the season.
2017: Star Trek: Discovery
The latest Star Trek series, CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery, introduced the franchise’s first openly gay TV character, Anthony Rapp‘s Paul Stamets. Not only was he openly gay, but he was in a relationship with Hugh Culber, played by Wilson Cruz.
2017, 2018: Pose
In October 2017, FX announced that Ryan Murphy had made history with his upcoming series Pose, which will have the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles. The series, debuting in 2018, looks at the juxtaposition of several segments of life and society in 1980s New York: the rise of the luxury Trump-era universe, the downtown social and literary scene and the ball culture world. The transgender actors joining the cast are MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross. They all will be playing authentic transgender characters. The series premiered on FX June 3, 2018.
CBS made history when Instinct premiered. The hour-long drama stars Alan Cumming as an openly gay character, the first broadcast network drama to have a gay character as a lead.
“It’s the first ever [network] drama on American television to have a gay character as a lead, which I think is an incredible thing but also a terrible thing at the same time,” Cumming said at the Television Critics Association press tour.
2018: American Idol
ABC’s revived American Idol featured its first drag queen contestant, Ada Vox aka Adam Sanders. Sanders previously auditioned for the series.
2018: Black Lightning
The CW’s latest superhero series Black Lightning introduced viewers to Anissa Pierce aka Thunder. The superhero played by Nafessa Williams is a lesbian.
Nicole Maines, a transgender woman and activist, plays Nia Nal, AKA Dreamer, the first transgender superhero on TV on The CW’s Supergirl.
2018: Grey’s Anatomy
ABC’s long-running medical soap introduced its first out gay male surgeon, then gave viewers its first gay male relationship.
Ryan O’Connell created and starred in his own Netflix series. Special is semi-autobiographical and follows Ryan, a gay man with cerebral palsy.
The CW ordered Batwoman to series starring Ruby Rose, an out actress, as the first lesbian superhero to headline their own network TV show.
2019: Are You the One?
MTV’s Are You the One? is the first dating competition reality series to feature an all sexually fluid cast. The series encourages the contestants to find their perfect match, for the first time regardless of gender.
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