The history of television is largely white, straight, and cisgendered. That doesn’t mean that LGBTQ+ characters haven’t existed on the margins, such as Jodie Dallas in the 1977 show Soap or Steve from an episode of All In The Family which aired in 1971, and the many coded characters which largely go unrecognized. Mainstream “out” queer characters are relatively new, however, beginning in the 1990s. The most famous coming out scene, one which made television history was The Puppy Episode of Ellen in 1997.
While Ellen was canceled after 1 more season, a year later, NBC aired Will & Grace, which featured a gay main character as well as other prominently featured queer characters. Another notable show from the time with a prominent queer character is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One of Buffy’s friends, Willow develops a relationship with another witch in season 4.
The 2000s saw an explosion of shows featuring queerness, including The L Word (2004-2009), Gay as Folk (2000-2005), South of Nowhere (2005), and Modern Family (2009-).
Some other famous moments in queer television history can be found in this video:
Unfortunately, due to the controversial nature of LGBTQ+ representation in television, portrayals have often been limited to the precarious nature of their sexuality, or simply chose to provide assimilationist representation (such as the suburban white married couple in Modern Family). Most shows miss the mark when it comes to examples of queer politics. While The Good Place was probably not written with radical queer ideas in mind, it fits nicely into some queer theories, particularly those of Jack Halberstam. It provides representation not just for individuals, but a road map for queer ideas and a utopian future for all of us, if only we learn what to look for.
Here is a list of resources to learn more about queer television history.
- Mccarthy, Anna. “ELLEN: Making Queer Television History.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian andGay Studies 7, no. 4 (November 04, 2001): 593-620. doi:10.1215/10642684-7-4-593.
- Margaret McFadden (2010) “L” is for Looking Again, Feminist Media Studies, 10:4, 421-439, DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2010.514115
- Calzo, Jerel P., and L. Monique Ward. “Media exposure and viewers’ attitudes toward homosexuality: evidence for mainstreaming or resonance?” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, June 2009, 280+. General OneFile(accessed November 24, 2018). http://link.galegroup.com.libproxy.vassar.edu/apps/doc/A203027125/ITOF?u=nysl_se_vassar&sid=ITOF&xid=8b0f8c3e.
- Heller, D. “Visibility and Its Discontents: Queer Television Studies.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 17, no. 4 (2011): 665-76. doi:10.1215/10642684-1302460.
- Joyrich, Lynne. “Queer Television Studies: Currents, Flows, and (Main)streams.” Cinema Journal53, no. 2 (2014): 133-39. doi:10.1353/cj.2014.0015.
- McFadden, Margaret. ““L” Is for Looking Again.” Feminist Media Studies 10, no. 4 (2010): 421 doi:10.1080/14680777.2010.514115.
- “Where We Are on TV.” GLAAD. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://www.glaad.org/tags/where-we-are-tv.