It’s almost a rule now that TV showrunners have to give their series a number of characters of different races, a few different creeds and religions here and there – and at least one character in the LGBTQ community. This has given way to many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans characters on our screens that we never would have seen before.
But by sheer virtue of having to face prejudice their whole lives for being who they are, they are fiercely strong people. Also, having to stick by one another in a close-knit community has given LGBTQ people a clear, vibrant, and utterly watchable identity, which makes them a welcome addition to the world of television.
Here are the 15 best characters from this year’s movies and TV shows.
15. Tara in The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead, by virtue of being a show about a zombie apocalypse, regularly kills off its characters. Tara is one of the only LGBTQ characters on the show (Aaron and Eric are currently the only other surviving ones).
She’s been on the show for a few years now, and she’s still standing, thanks to her smart decision-making and her friendly nature, which means she hardly has any enemies. She’s a lovely person – she wouldn’t hurt a fly! Unless you screw with her, in which case she’ll take out the big guns and make you pay.
It was a tragic moment when she lost her girlfriend Denise, because they really were in love. She’s quietly one of the best and most loved characters on the show. She doesn’t make a big song and dance about it like Rick or Daryl, and she hardly gets any screen time dedicated to her, but when she is allowed to shine, she really does shine.
14. Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the directing duo behind Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks, served up another delightful movie this year (no pun intended) with the true events-based tennis movie Battle of the Sexes.
The critics are saying that its story of the 1973 tennis match between world champion Billie Jean King, played brilliantly by Emma Stone, and former champion and hustler Bobby Riggs offers up “a volley of present day parallels.”
But what’s more, King is an icon of the LGBTQ community — she’s a lesbian. Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her LGBTQ rights advocacy work; she was one of the very first inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame; and GLAAD rewarded her for “furthering the visibility and inclusion of the community in her work.”
13. LeFou in Beauty and the Beast
Currently the highest grossing movie of the year, the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens is notable for featuring the first ever LGBTQ character in a Disney movie.
Josh Gad played LeFou, Gaston’s eccentric and downtrodden sidekick who gives so much to Gaston and gets so little in return. Before the remake came out, you might’ve asked why he put up with it, but this year’s rendition gave us an answer to that question: he’s in love with him!
This was met with controversy, as a theater in the redneck state of Alabama refused to screen the movie upon finding out it featured a gay character, while Russia assigned the kid-friendly fantasy movie a 16+ rating, thanks to its homosexual content. But still, Disney made the right decision to normalize the LGBTQ community with its young and impressionable audience.
12. Ray in 3 Generations
3 Generations had a troubled journey into theaters. It actually premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2015, but it took until this year to make it to theaters, and then it got overshadowed by the allegations by more than fifty women of sexual misconduct, unwanted advances, and in some cases, even rape, against the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein.
But if you ignore Weinstein’s involvement, you’re left with a movie that isn’t perfect, but whose heart is in the right place. Elle Fanning stars as a transgender man named Ray, and despite the ugly haircut that the character sports, it’s an affectionate portrait of a downtrodden minority group.
However, and many people would agree with this, the film would have been greatly improved if the filmmakers had just cast a transgender man in the role of a transgender man, instead of the cisgender Fanning.
11. Frankie in Rough Night
2017 has been a great year for women in comedy movies. A Bad Moms Christmas has proven to be a box office hit, just as its predecessor was last year. Goldie Hawn returned to the big screen alongside Amy Schumer in Snatched. And Girls Trip, led by a cast of African-American funny women, became one of the highest grossing and most critically acclaimed comedies of the year.
One of this year’s female-driven comedies was Rough Night, the story of a bachelorette party that ends with the accidental murder of a male stripper. It would’ve been easy and oh-so Hollywood to make all the women at the bachelorette party straight, but that’s not what the progressive writers did.
Ilana Glazer is famous for her role in Broad City, where her character is sexually ambiguous and likes to experiment. In Rough Night, she plays a proud lesbian called Frankie, and while the movie itself is no masterpiece, Glazer is a joy to watch as always.
10. Cyd Loughlin in Princess Cyd
This deeply personal drama about a teenage girl named Cyd spending the summer with her aunt in Chicago. It’s a very simple premise, but it’s that simplicity that opens up the movie to its defining focus, which Variety describes as “what its characters represent – and its empathetic representation of them.”
This makes the whole movie quietly one of the greatest and most powerful and most moving LGBTQ-themed movies ever made. Cyd, like so many other 16-year-old girls, is struggling to discover what her sexuality is as she leaves her mean, grumpy, old dad to discover herself in a refreshing new setting, where she falls in love with a girl.
Writer-director Stephen Cone has proclaimed his movie “a love letter to women, a love letter to Chicago, [and] a love letter to queerness.”
9. Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde
Charlize Theron’s badass MI6 agent character Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde identifies as bisexual. Richard Roeper called the movie “quite ridiculous, ultra-violent, and deliriously entertaining,” and praised Theron for her “magnetic, badass charms” in the role of Lorraine.
Based on this movie, he proclaimed Theron “now officially an A-list action star.” This is fantastic news, because action heroes are never usually women – those roles are usually given to men, while the women are delegated to the roles of their wives and girlfriends and daughters who always inexplicably get kidnapped and need to be saved by the men.
And that’s before sexuality is brought into the equation. But for a bisexual woman to not only lead an action thriller, but to also be one of the baddest, coolest, and most skilled people – man, woman, straight, gay, bi, trans, whatever – in the game, is quite an amazing thing.
8. Elio Perlman and Oliver in Call Me By Your Name
Call Me By Your Name has been one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year. It’s one of the first movies that’s been acclaimed on its merits as a love story, without the novelty of its homosexual themes. This gay romance movie is just being accepted by critics and audiences as a romance movie, and that’s terrific.
Directed by Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino, it’s based on a beloved novel by André Aciman, and it tells the story of a love affair between a teenage boy and his father’s research assistant.
IndieWire’s review said that Call Me By Your Name “rates alongside recent LGBT phenomenons Carol and Moonlight, matching the artistry and empathy with which those new masterworks untangled the repressive desire of same-sex attraction.” The committed performances of Timothée Chalamet as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver anchor the whole movie.
7. Maura Pfefferman in Transparent
Transparent is a very important show. It appeared on Amazon Prime right around the time that Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out was finally making transgenderism more accepted in society, and it couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time, because it only served to add to that social change.
Its lead character Maura Pfefferman, played by Jeffrey Tambor, is a transgender woman who, at the beginning of the show, finally feels comfortable opening up to her family about how she has always identified as a woman. This story can hopefully make others feel comfortable coming out to their families, which is the greatest thing art can do.
This role has a sour taste to it now, since Jeffrey Tambor has been accused sexually harassing women (one of the role of Maura was supposed to empower) on the set of Transparent, and has left the show because of them. But don’t let that ruin the important message that the show had been conveying beforehand, and the awesomeness of this character.
6. Agent Petty in Ozark
FBI Agent Roy Petty in Netflix’s dark new crime drama series Ozark is an excellent gay character, because there’s more to his character than just his sexuality (in other words, he’s not just a token), he defies stereotypes by being in the typically straight, buff male role of a law enforcement agent, and most importantly, he doesn’t have an inkling of shame about being gay.
In fact, he uses the latent homosexuality of one of the local criminals to advance his case. This is not the kind of gay character we usually get, and it’s a breath of fresh air. Of course gay people can work for the FBI and blackmail people and be tough and have a dark side – it’s just good to see TV writers finally taking notice.
5. Ofglen in The Handmaid’s Tale
Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most horrific and affecting TV shows from 2017. All of the handmaids in the show go through terrible, awful things, but it’s possible that none is worse than what Ofglen goes through.
Ofglen, played by Alexis Bledel, is found to be a lesbian (which the bad guys deem as “gender treachery”) and the bureaucratic government’s response is to force her to watch her lover get hanged and then put her under the gas for a little surgery.
One of the most shocking moments in TV is the end of episode three, when Ofglen wakes up in a clinic and finds that she’s undergone female genital mutilation. What’s really horrifying is that this happens to young girls in Africa to stop them from feeling pleasure from sex.
The most powerful and tragic thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is that, while it is set in the future, there’s nothing that happens in its future dystopian world – as author Margaret Atwood herself has explained – that isn’t happening in the real world right now.
That’s what’s most alarming and terrifying about it, and possibly a huge factor in the Academy’s decision to award it the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. That award doesn’t save gay people from prejudice or discrimination (or hanging or surgical mutilation), but it is a small step in the right direction for society.
4. Toni Topaz in Riverdale
Vanessa Morgan joined The CW’s Riverdale for its second season as the bisexual character Toni Topaz, and she’s proven to be a huge hit with the audience. Morgan said of playing the role, “I actually didn’t know they were making Toni bisexual until the press release, but it was something that I knew from the comics.
I was so excited when I found out. I find in TV, you don’t see bisexual [characters] a lot. When people see ‘bisexual,’ they still confuse it with promiscuity, which is so wrong. So, I was so pumped to be the first bisexual on Riverdale and just normalize that for viewers.” Morgan knows what she’s doing.
She knows how to represent bisexuality as a real and ‘normal’ thing, so they couldn’t have gotten a better person for the job.
3. Taylor Mason in Billions
Asia Kate Dillon plays the brilliant financial analyst Taylor Amber Mason in Showtime’s drama Billions. Taylor is the mischievous mastermind behind Bobby Axelrod’s misdeeds, and is widely regarded as being the first non-binary character to ever appear in a mainstream American television series.
Billions showrunners David Levien and Brian Koppelman auditioned cis, trans, and gender non-binary actors for the role, and cast Dillon after their third audition. Apparently, everybody on set fell in love with Dillon.
According to the showrunners, “Our cast and crew, basically to a person, all came up to us after Asia’s first day with the general attitude of ‘Holy shit, that person is amazing!’ And that only grew throughout the season.”
There was a conversation in the media about which Emmy category Dillon would submit to, as the Academy separates the genders of male and female by the categories of Actor and Actress.
In the end, Dillon submitted for Best Supporting Actor, since the word “actor” originally “came about in the late 1500s as a non-gendered word” that “applied to all people, regardless of anatomical sex or gender identity.” Meanwhile, “actress” is purely female. These are the conversations and topics that are making society more progressive, and it’s just glorious.
2. Titus Andromedon in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tina Fey had worked with Tituss Burgess on her NBC show 30 Rock, so when it came to rounding out the supporting cast of her Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it was a no brainer to write the hilarious, charismatic gay man in as a character named Titus Andromedon (his real name is Ronald Effin Wilkerson) so that he could totally steal the show.
The critics have consistently praised Titus as a “scene stealer.” He really owns his identity and uses it to make his wispy, magical voice heard. For every one of the three seasons of the show so far, Burgess has been nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Hopefully one year, he’ll get to win it, because he sure does deserve it.
1. Diana Prince in Wonder Woman
Bet you didn’t know Wonder Woman was bisexual. But guess what, she is! Isn’t that great? According to Gal Gadot, her liberated sexuality is a result of growing up among a society of just women on the Amazonian island of Themyscira. Gadot said, “It’s not something we’ve explored [in the movie].
It never came to the table, but when you talk theoretically about all the women on Themyscira and how many years she was there, then what he said makes sense. In this movie, she does not experience any bisexual relationships. But it’s not about that. She’s a woman who loves people for who they are. She can be bisexual. She loves people for their hearts.”
Isn’t that a beautiful and profound thing? In the movie, she has a heterosexual romance with Chris Pine’s character, but it could’ve just as easily been a woman – he was just a person with whom she connected romantically.