12 TV Stars Of The ’80s and ’90s Who Turned Out To Be Lesbian, Bisexual or Otherwise Totally Queer

This morning at the gym I was thinking about Tori from Saved By The Bell and how she reminded me of my babysitter and how I thought she was the all-time coolest and then I found out that the actress who played her was gay and my head exploded! So then I decided to make this list.

Some of the women on this list were out when they were on television, but most of them kept their sexual orientation on the down low until recently. Let’s look back at all the girls we lusted after who it turns out also enjoyed lusting after other girls!

1. Leanne Creel, Tori in Saved By The Bell

Greenberg/Creel Family Photo by Katie Hawkins

Greenberg/Creel Family Photo by Katie Hawkins

Suddenly Kelly Kapowski and Jessie Spano were nowhere to be seen and instead we were gifted with this smokin’ hot tough girl in a leather jacket. No explanation whatsoever! After acting in a bunch of shows about teenagers, Creel went to UCLA and got into film production. She now runs her own production company and married her partner Rinat Greenberg on June 17, 2008, during that brief window of legalized same-sex marriage in California before Prop 8 was passed. They have two sons.

2. Meredith Baxter, Elyse Keaton on Family Ties

80s tv stars3Famous Family Ties actress Meredith Baxter came out to herself in 2002 (and to us in 2009), after three marriages and a brief lesbian affair in 1996 that she didn’t take seriously at the time. She began dating her now-wife, Nancy Locke, in 2005, and rumors began swirling about her sexuality after she appeared on a Sweet Cruise in November 2009. She told The Today Show that it was that same-sex relationship in 2002 that changed her everything: “It was that kind of awakening. I never fought it because it was like, oh, I understand why I had the issues I had early in life. I had a great deal of difficulty connecting with men in relationships.”

3. Raven-Symone, Olivia on The Cosby Show

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The cutest little kid on The Cosby Show grew up into the cutest most crittery woman who enjoys the company of other women.

4. Margaret Cho, Margaret on All-American Girl

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The short-lived 1994 sitcom All-American Girl became a legendary catastrophe and Margaret Cho‘s famous for much more than being on this show. (For example: stand-up!) But the sitcom was my introduction to Margaret Cho (I genuinely loved the show) and will always be remembered as the first American prime-time network sitcom about an Asian-American family. (The second, Fresh off the Boat, premiered this year.)

5. Sara Gilbert, Darlene Conner on Roseanne

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Darlene didn’t have to be a lesbian to be a lesbian fashion icon, so Sara Gilbert coming out as an adult felt like a pretty natural next-step in her development as a public figure . She’s now a co-host on The Talk, has a recurring role on The Big Bang Theory, and is married to Linda Perry. She has two children with her ex, TV Producer Allison Adler, and is currently pregnant!

6. Kristy McNichol, “Buddy” on Family and Barbara Weston on Empty Nest

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After starring in the hit movie Little Darlings and the TV show Family, Kristy McNichol landed what turned out to be a 200+ episode role on Empty Nest, eventually leaving the show in 1992. McNichol then vanished from the public eye for quite some time and re-emerged in 2012 as a bona-fide lesbian.

7. Iyari Limon, Kennedy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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Technically, this would count as a TV star of the early ’00s, since Limon joined the cast of this ’90s show in the early ’00s. BUT WHATEVER.

Limon joined the Buffy cast late in the game, playing Willow’s new love interest, Kennedy. In a 2006 interview with AfterEllen, Limon revealed that she’d had “intimacy” with a female friend as a teenager but didn’t think she was gay or bi, even while doing research for her role on Buffy. Then she met DJ Sandra Edge, who she was dating at the time of the interview. “I loved how she was just in her own little world, and she was so cute,” she told AE. “I love androgyny, androgynous women. You know, short hair, really don’t have to wear a lot of make-up, pretty face, just cool and confident and know who they are.” She actually auditioned for the role of Carmen on The L Word, and during her audition, ad libbed “Quiero lamerte hasta que te vengas en mi boca mil veces” (“I want to lick you until you come in my mouth a thousand times”) into Kate Moennig’s ear. Although Limon didn’t get the part, The L Word kept the line. She married her husband Alejandro Soltero in 2007.

8. Sandra Bernhard, Nancy Bartlett on Roseanne

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Stand-up comedian and actress Sandra Bernhard played Nancy Bartlett, one of the first openly lesbian recurring characters on American television, from 1991-1997. Bernhard has been openly bisexual for quite some time, including that time she gave Patricia Velasquez her big gay awakening. She has a daughter, is in a relationship with Sara Switzer and is currently on a stand-up tour.

9. Amanda Bearse, Marcy D’Arcy on Married… With Children

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Bearse got her start in theater, eventually landing a recurring role on All My Children in the early ’80s. But she’s best known for playing Marcy D’Arcy on Married…with Children for ten years (1987-1997). She’s been an out lesbian since 1993, and married to her wife Carrie Schenken since 2010. Furthermore, she and Rosie O’Donnell are responsible for bringing The Big Gay Sketch Show to Logo in 2007.

10. Maia Brewton, Shelly Lewis on Parker Lewis Can’t Lose

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You’re might recognize her from Adventures in Babysitting, but Brewton also starred as Shelly Lewis on Parker Lewis Can’t Lose for three years. She married her partner Laura Spots in 2008.

11. Geri Jewell, Cousin Geri on The Facts of Life

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Jewell is best known for her 1980-1984 role on The Facts of Life, which made her the first person with a disability to have a regular role on a prime time TV series. The title of her 2011 autobiography, I’m Walking As Straight As I Can, was a nod towards her lesbianism. LGBTQ Nation reports that the book “talks about her struggles growing up with a disability and how she dealt with her sexuality as a child, and her struggles as an adult with tax problems and drug addiction.”

12. Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen on Ellen

Ellen DeGeneres


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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3177 articles for us.


  1. I AM HAVING SOME FEELINGS ABOUT TORI FROM SAVED BY THE BELL. I thought she was the coolest person in the world when growing up. I wanted to be like Tori. My sister always thought Kelly or Jesse was where it was at but nope, not me. Tori. Oh Tori.

  2. i did not even recognize sara from adventures in babysitting without her thor helmet!! god i love that movie. don’t fuck with the babysitter, y’all.

    also tori was perfection.


    also i googled maia brewton and holy shitttt she and her wife named one of their sons rizzo, so y’all can all go home now bc they’ve won the lesbian child-naming triathlon.

    • I don’t think I have ever seen that show. And yet, I still use “Parker Lewis can’t lose” as a viable pop culture reference in conversation. Which makes the people reading this article basically the only people in the world who won’t look at me like I’m nuts when I do.

      • That was a show ahead of its time. Back when a sitcom with no laugh track just couldn’t survive. But it was so good!

  4. Kristy McNichol confused me in “Little Darlings.” I would get SO MAD (and didn’t know why) that she ended up with Randy and not Ferris! Because, c’mon! /a lot feelings

  5. I’m trying to think of who in the TV series of the Baby Sister’s Club is openly queer or it could be a fanfic I read somewhere. Sometimes reading a lot of fanfics messes up my notions of reality.

    • How many of us do you think retroactively, subconsciously inferred that Claudia was queer after we discovered Margaret Cho?

    • OMG I loved the TV series almost as much as I loved the books. I can still remember every word to the theme song…

    • I had forgotten, but that’s right– the last season. I can’t exactly remember details, though– like what happens in the last episode? Does that turn out to be a real thing or one of the made-up ones?

      • She was, but it’s best to forget the final season. (And according to the finale, the entire series was made up, so it’s hard to say)

        • I do think I’ve pretty successfully repressed it. And, last night, after writing that comment, I was trying to straighten out exactly how that worked– the “didn’t happen like I said” and whole series never happened thing. Which is how I feel asleep. Bet everyone wishes their life could be this exciting!

  6. I had to sneak out of the house to watch the Ellen episode. Since I was on lockdown to keep me from viewing the sitcom version of what everyone knew, I guess.

    I am feeling a little out-of-touch here, because I wasn’t allowed to watch so many of these shows. Uh, maybe you could do a post on PBS regulars . . . ? (kidding) (Nick at Nite, too)

    • Another TV sheltered kid here! Never quite understood how Full House wasn’t okay, but Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie or Brady Bunch was. Get the conservative Christian values straight mom!

      • I wasn’t allowed to watch any channels that showed commercials! Just pbs and the Disney channel. So I had to go to my friends houses to see anything cool.

        • Like I’ve never seen facts of life or Parker Lewis or anything. But some of these were on when I was a teenager and was allowed to watch things. I think we watched Ellen as a family actually, I was pretty lucky in that way!

          Id love to do some investigative reporting on zoobillie zoo, Sidenote

          • I would definitely read some investigative journalism about Zoobilee Zoo. Magic and wonder are waiting for you!

      • Agreed– I have, to this day, never seen Full House. And yet there’s Jeannie, virtually naked? A slave for some guy? Logic fail.

        My parents told me that our TV “didn’t get the Simpsons.” Ditto MTV.

        • I didn’t convince my parents to let me watch “The Simpsons” until I was in middle school, and they weren’t even conservative or religious. Still not sure what they thought was so awful about it.

      • I grew up with a few kids whose TV viewing was severely restricted by conservative Christian parents, but banning “Full House” is a new one! That show was kind of the definition of wholesome, I thought. Though I guess it did have a single dad raising kids with two other men, even though those men were his brothers, and at least one of them eventually married a woman…

  7. Wait I didn’t know Amanda Bearse is a lesbian. It makes sense now though. I know she played her twin gay cousin(with if I am not mistaken a sweet butch cut) on an episode of Married With Children. In the episode she was like house sitting for the Darcys, and got a long well with Al, while being a big lesbian. I wonder how much of that style and acting was based on herself? Hmm

  8. You know what nineties show I remember Sandra Bernhard best from? The Disney Hercules cartoon show. She voiced Cassandra, aka the best character on any show ever, the end. I have been rewatching it on YouTube and I love her even more as an adult than I did as a kid, which is kind of impressive because I reeeeeeally loved her as a kid. Come on, someone tell me you have seen this show and share the love of Cassandra, the Queen of Giving No Fucks

  9. Does anyone anywhere have a video of that L word audition because I would love to see the look on Kate Moennigs face.

  10. Somewhat unrelated but on Camp we were talking about TV shows from the 80s and 90s and i mentioned I loved Jo from Facts of Life and my cabin mate said “but you are Jo from Facts of Life”
    That was one of the top 5 best compliments I ever got in my life

    • I’m still not over shipping Jo and Blair. That was the greatest sexual tension on any show in history.

      And you’re totally Jo. With better hair. (She was not immune from the unfortunate 80s bangs claw/mullet combo)

    • I was going to gush that getting compared to Jo Polniaczek is one of my life goals, but realized gushing is not very Jo-like. So uh, way to go there, pal!

  11. Alternate Title: “Empirical Evidence Definitively Proves Gaydar is a Thing, starts at age 5.”

  12. Tori, The actress that played Tori is gay.

    Do you understand just how much sense this makes!!!

    It’s like so many teenage thoughts just came rushing back and are no longer confusing! WOW

    • As horrible as the whole thing was, my biggest complaint about the Lifetime Saved By the Bell movie was that they ignored Tori completely.

  13. Yeah, Kristy McNichol and Sarah Gilbert both broke the needle on my ping-o-meter. It’s all so … clear … now.

  14. Kristy McNichol?! This makes my middle school self so freaking happy. Like reading that I literally got some of those tingles you get when someone you are super into walks into the room.

  15. In my group of friends, “that’s so raven” is a code word for pointing out something very gay in mixed company. “Hanging with Mr. Cooper” is code word for the gay bar.

    • “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper” is where I’ve always remembered Raven-Simone from. I somehow missed “The Cosby Show,” possibly because it was on a channel that didn’t come in on our antenna out in the boonies.

  16. Ok but why does that Greenberg/Creel family photo look like a poster for the upcoming spinoff CSI: Lesbian Moms?

    • I’m so glad someone else had that same reaction! I didn’t want to say anything but…that is an intense photograph of people I would NOT fuck with. nope.

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