Which TV Shows Win The LGBTQIA Alphabet Soup Contest?

In the MTV series Faking It, best friends Karma and Amy pretend to be a lesbian couple in order to become popular — an idea which initially seemed a bit far-fetched to most LGBTQ viewers, to say the least. This charade leading Amy to realize that she has a genuine crush on her best friend, however? That felt very realistic! But a story like Faking It‘s could only really be told exactly where it’s being told — at the fictional Hester High, a sort of parody of ultra-liberal progressive educational institutions where everybody takes Yarn Arts and Reiki, grows their own lunch, eschews popularity contests, celebrates freedom of expression and scoffs at tradition. Although Amy’s character hasn’t exactly been handled perfectly, the show has been making strides in other areas, going ALL OUT with LGBTQIA representation. With this season’s introduction of a gay trans male character, it got us thinking — is Faking It winning the contest for who can represent the most letters in the LGBTQIA “alphabet soup”? And what does it mean that all these strides in representation have occurred just in time for the show to get cancelled?

Once upon a time, a show could really only get away with having one gay character and, if they were lucky, a few guest characters to date that one gay character. Although in life you often find lesbians in the same corners of the world where you find gay men or trans people, that’s not how it usually happened on television outside of specifically queer programs like The L Word or Queer as Folk. More and more these days, though, one queer character is not the beginning and end of that show’s attempt at representation, but a sign of more queers to come.

So let’s take a look at who’s really batting it out of the park when it comes to really unfurling the entire rainbow and then running around with it enthusiastically! It should be noted that none of these shows feature an “A”, outside of this one second of Faking It:

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Please note that these infographics are not objective truths, and I couldn’t figure out a blanket solution to categorizing regular vs. recurring vs. guest characters that worked for all these shows. It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and is absolutely impacted by how personally familiar I am with any given show. This data should not be used as containing concrete facts so much as a useful overview. If a character represents two demographics — like a gay trans man — then they are included twice, once for “gay” and once for “trans man.”


Faking It – LGBTQI – 3 Seasons (MTV)faking-it

We’re only at Season Three and Faking It already scores big for representing a few identities rarely seen on screen: a gay trans man, a bisexual man and an intersex woman. ALSO a poly queer Mom! Also! ALSO. ALSO. Although I didn’t count her character as a trans woman because her character was not identified as such, trans actress of color Laverne Cox had a guest role in Season Two.


Glee – LGBTQ – 6 Seasons (Fox)glee

Glee is the only show on this list to feature both a trans woman and a trans man in prominent roles, and the only show besides Transparent to feature both a trans man and a trans woman at all… although Glee’s treatment of their trans woman character was pretty appalling. Still Glee is a rare bird for having storylines that centered entirely on several queer characters, most notably Kurt, Blaine, Santana and Brittany.


Degrassi: The Next Generation – LGBTQ – 14+ seasons (CTV)degrassi-2

Degrassi has the advantage of having several casts cycle through the show with turnover every few years. This provides a lot more opportunities for diversity, and they sure do go there. Starting with Marco, Degrassi has been telling the stories of teenage queers falling in love since the early ’00s. Adam remains one of the few trans male characters to be part of the main cast of any television show, ever. But uh, his story didn’t end too well.


Orange is the New Black – LBTQ – 4+ seasons (Netflix)orange-is-the-new-black-3

Oh man I go crazy for a show that has shit-tons of queer women in it! Orange wins all the diversity awards for racial diversity and focusing unapologetically on women’s stories. Its regular cast represents a lot of people we rarely see on TV, like a queer transgender woman of color and a fat butch lesbian. Plus, there’s two black lesbian characters in the main cast and they aren’t even dating each other!


Nip/Tuck – LGBTQI – 7 Seasons (FX)

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Nip/Tuck was not afraid to be totally queer and also totally offensive to queer people. It was a real paradox of a program! This is why it’s a good thing that GLAAD has shifted its focus on evaluating media representation from quantity to quality.


Transparent – LBTQ – 3+ Seasons (Amazon)transparent

Transparent has changed the face of trans representation but it’s also been telling really interesting stories about queer sexual orientations, too. Every woman in the Pfefferman family is queer! Also, however, everybody is white. Seriously that one person of color in the “recurring” column is our very own Brittani Nichols, who once wrote, “I rarely see anyone that looks like me in movies/web series/TV. To the point that the most glaring examples of people that look like me ARE ACTUALLY ME.”


The L Word – LGBTQ – 6 Seasons (Showtime)the-l-word-2

The L Word has featured more lesbian and bisexual female characters than any other show in the history of time forever. It was also lauded for its inclusion of Max, one of the first trans male TV characters with a recurring role, but his character, much like Unique’s on Glee, was so mishandled that it likely did more harm than good. The L Word knocked it out of the park with lesbian representation, but definitely needed more racial diversity. Of the four lesbians of color indicated as “Main Cast or Series Regulars,” only one — Bette Porter, played by Jennifer Beals — was in all six seasons of the show.


Sense8 – LGBTQ – 2+ Seasons (Netflix)

sense8

Sense8 scores for having a two gay men of color as well as a lesbian trans woman dating a black woman. Some of the representation here is based on the fact that the producers have said that all the Senses are pansexual, which so far hasn’t really been an element of their specific lives so much as an element of their ability to exist within the consciousness of other variously-gendered Senses.


Empire – LGBQ – 3+ Seasons (Fox)

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Empire is notable for having so many queer characters of color. And also for killing and/or shooting them.


Pretty Little Liars – LBTQ – 7 Seasons (Freeform)

pretty-little-liars-3

Along with Santana Lopez, Emily Fields is one of a few queer women of color in the main cast of a non-streaming television show.


Skins – LGBQ – 7 Seasons (e4)

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Not included in the infographic is the fact that in Series Five, Franky was presented as genderqueer, although that element of her character was kinda wiped out in what turned out to be the show’s final season.


True Blood – LGB – 7 Seasons (HBO)

true-blood-2

True Blood‘s numbers benefited significantly from vampires being pansexual. It also gets props for having a gay black man and a bisexual black woman in its main cast, both of whom had more than one same-sex relationship throughout the show. They killed Jesús, though, so.


The Fosters – LBTQ- 4+ Seasons (Freeform)

the-fosters-2
In addition to giving us a story focused very tightly on a middle-aged interracial lesbian  relationship, The Fosters has also broken ground with its portrayal of a pre-teen gay boy coming into his identity.


American Horror Story – LGBTQ – 5+ Seasons (FX)

american-horror-story-2

With a new cast every season and a creator who loves creating offensive transgender characters, AHS has had many opportunities to showcase queer characters and subvert tropes. Its second season was notable for having a lesbian character be the only one left standing at the series end, subverting the dead lesbian trope.


Shameless – LGBQ – 7+ Seasons (Showtime)

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I’ve never seen this show! This data is based on Wikipedia. Educate me, friends!


Wentworth – LBTQ – 4+ Seasons (Foxtel)

wentworth

Wentworth is so good and its trans female character Maxine has been done really well. Also props for showing that prison staff, not just prisoners, can be gay too!


Queer as Folk – LGBT – 5 Seasons (Showtime)

queer-as-folk-2

WHITER THAN FRIENDS. Also the trans woman character had like three lines in six seasons, so.


Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," 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. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2706 articles for us.

75 Comments

  1. It makes me sad that you wouldn’t use a shade of pink or red to identify trans women in your representatiin but instead chose a shade of blue orherwise used for people who aren’t women. Just look at how it sets trans women apart from other women in your visualisations. You may not understand this but it hurts.

    • plz stop gendering colors? like seriously??? you’re reinforcing some fucked up gender norms by insisting that all women be represented by pink and all men be represented by blue. it’s a graph, not the toy aisle at Walmart.

    • I see this hit a sore spot, and I understand why it would, but if it’s any help, gay men are yellow, so I think any blue-for-boys stuff is an unfortunate accident, not a global or intended pattern.

  2. Same remark as Elly, why blue and why this position ?? I know “blue does not equal man, pink does not equal women”, but it’s still the first thought we have when we see these colors.

    A transwoman is a woman.

  3. I just want to jump in here and say that neither Riese nor anyone who works for AS thinks or believes or feels that trans women are not women or that trans women are men or anything like that. I think this is just a case of a color being a color.

    • yeah, this!! y’all, i made these charts by copying a previous chart i’d made — specifically, a chart i’d made for our grown-ups survey post — and then just …. changed what each color represented, changed the chart style, and went to town?

      i spent absolutely not one minute of my life thinking about coordinating colors to the words they represented, that idea never even occurred to me.

      the chart i copied to work from for this:

  4. I’m so grateful you made this. It’s really clearly visually laid out and has also turned me on to some shows I might want to watch based on how they fare in their respective infographics. Also, yes, I went through all the shows I knew and tried to puzzle out who was who, which was embarrassingly fun for me.

    RIP Faking It, the lesbian romantic comedy that… wasn’t.

  5. I’m a big fan of data visualisation like this. Also, I stopped watching TNG before the trans male character was introduced. So now, I have to go back and find out where he makes an appearance! Thanks for helping me find more representation on a show I already loved.

  6. Well, Faking It is perfect example that simple fact that there is representation doesn’t mean it’s positive or non-damaging representation. It’s like with Bechdel Test.

    • I would actually say that Glee is the perfect example of this, since at least Faking It has done well by Lauren and Noah (so far) but yeaaaaaaaah. The “We have an asexual!” line really sort of summed up perfectly how the show has basically been playing queer bingo, trying to hit every square without concerning itself too much with how that identity is represented.

  7. Who in True Blood was supposed to be a lesbian? Nan Flanagan, because of one time she drunk blood from a tigh of topless woman? So that’s one character, though it’s pretty poor material to declare her as definitely lesbian. But the other one? As far as I remember there were no lesbians in that show (again, with possible exception of Nan).

    • This may not be who Riese was thinking of, but I understood the two lesbian dots to be Nan and Queen Sophie-Anne’s bed maiden (who was also Sookie’s cousin? But I might be mixing two different sub plots together).

      Nan has dialogue that she doesn’t sleep with/ draw blood men. It’s more than just one scene with a woman with her top off. There is a lot that I hate about True Blood, A LOT. But a diversity of queer representation, and giving clear distinctions when necessary, wasn’t one of them.

      But also I burned True Blood (and most of memories of it) to the ground after they murdered Tara. So, I’m not willing to make my defense of it my hill to die on. And, my recollections could be very off. So just my 2 cents.

      • Sookie’s cousin Hadley had a son in the TV show, which maybe doesn’t completely negate the possibility of being a lesbian, but as far as I remember she didn’t even really like Sophie Ann in the show, which was in direct contrast to books, where they were real lovers on equal footing (and she was definitely bisexual in books).

  8. I read the True Blood chart like three times, but I don’t think Pam is represented as a part of the main cast? Yet, from what I can tell, Tara is? There are two circles for bi/pan women, but they both have a star representing that the person is woman of color? So Tara is definitely one of them, but who is the other queer woman of color in True Blood’s main cast? Was one of those circles supposed to be Pam, but it got mislabeled?

    Anyway, truly fun to read (as always) and I already read all the disclaimers in the body of the post, so please please don’t register this as a huge complaint! Just me being nerdy and avoiding doing my actual work on a Friday night, lol.

    Thanks for the graphs Riese! I enjoyed them.

    • You’re right! I screwed up, I don’t know why I put a star there, it was probably left over from the chart I made before it. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE’RE SHORT ON CONTENT AND I HAVE TO RUSH A THING. Those are for Pam and Tara, so there shouldn’t be stars in both.

      • Completely understandable! It’s OK! Hope you guys don’t stress too much about having a light content day! Happens to the best of us, really. Hey AS Editors- love you guys and you are very awesome. Have some vegan ice cream this weekend 🙂

  9. I think something to take into account with the “too white” critique of Transparent is that it’s pretty much the only show I can think where nearly all of the characters are Jewish. Particularly since Jewish characters are always relegated to tokens, Queer Jewish portrayal is nearly non-existent and I’m definitely grateful this show has come along to change that. YES, they’re all Ashkenazi, but that in itself still feels like progress to me.

      • I’ve been trying to trick my mom into watching Transparent by telling her it’s all about a Jewish family and their relationships with each other andsomeofthemaregayortransorbothbutthatsnotthemostimportantpart. Sigh. We’ll see. Maybe if it were easier for her to watch it, since it’s only available on Amazon, not Netflix.

  10. As a lover of diverse media and infographics I loved this post, but I wish you would’ve named the characters from each show that fit each criteria. I’m racking my brain trying to remember which characters from each one fit which categories.

  11. Also, season one of the L Word had Lisa, which they referred to as male lesbian, and the character used she & her pronouns if I remember correctly. They never implicitly said trans character, but an amab character using she/her pronouns could fall under trans umbrella, no?

  12. I love this site for all the work you do to provide these infographics.

    Reading through these makes me very sad about the lack of asexuals. Has this sight ever covered Sirens with its asexual character? (I’m hoping the new Riverside show will follow the comic source lead and have one of its mains be out as asexual, but very uneasy about trusting it to handle that change.)

    Also, not to sound as repetitive as a pre-programmed ring-tone, but this list makes me so very very glad Autostraddle has begun speaking more openly about the importance of quality over quantity in representation.

  13. I love this, but adding the names of the characters under each graphic would be very helpful. I’ve been staring at these infographics for too long trying to figure out which characters I’m forgetting.

  14. The only show I can stand on this list is the L Word, and I could really only tolerate watching seasons 1 and 2. Only show where the representation was believable and not completely pejorative.

  15. So obviously this is awesome! Some feedback:

    I think Glee had way more minor gay male characters (Rachel’s dads, Karofsky, Sebastian, Adam, Alistair and Spencer at least but I’m probably missing some)

    On Skins, Emily is one of the lesbians and Naomi is either lesbian or queer, Cassie is another queer woman then who else in the main cast? I know it seemed like Mini and Frankie might be going somewhere but it never did. If Tony is the queer man I think that’s too generous, I love Tony to bits but he was just being manipulative and he didn’t try very hard!

    AHS is missing Sally as a queer woman of no color. She’s definitely in the main cast.

    Orphan Black would have been good here too.

  16. I might be wrong, but didn’t the circus season of AHS have an intersex character, Desiree Dupree? They definitely do a shitty job of trans representation on that show, but I thought she was.

  17. Yay colourful graphs! On a more serious note this definitely shows the need for quality representation over quantity- some of the shows with lots of circles have terrible portrayals when you actually watch them.

  18. Hi you guys! I think I’ve spoiled everybody with my intense patience for assembling huge piles of data and presenting them in a perfect way that usually takes months, but this was just me giving an overview of what this issue looks like, mostly, and I disclaimed in my intro that there were probably mistakes. it wasn’t intended or described as the result of a bunch of research.

    getting accurate information about tv shows is, we learned from the 156 dead lesbians and 105 trans women list, REALLY HARD. i spent two months going through every avenue possible to find those trans women characters and in the comments you named like twenty more! you can read everything you want on wikipedia and every non-fiction book on the topic and none of that will be as easy as just asking a fan of the show. wikipedia is not comprehensive, especially its lists. so doing this accurately requires finding people who’ve watched the entirety of all these shows and have a good memory of it or time to review it, and unlike movies or books, tv shows take months to watch in their entirety in order to report responsibly on them. that’s why the trans woman list took so long, i realized i had to watch every single episode, because online descriptions were rarely accurate if they existed at all. often heather or i have even mis-remembered things! I think that’s a tough part about television reporting in general — we seem to think we can report on it just from reading wikis and imdb and recaps, but as soon as we talk about a show we’ve not seen much of, we’re immediately corrected — and rightly so! this was intended to be an overview and i said there were probably mistakes, even like mistakes in how i recorded numbers. which i tried to disclaim! i know you’re not like, legitimately upset but i wanted you to know your comments are all totally right, this post would be better with that info but i ran out of time to do it in. which is why we need to hire an accountant. and i am.

    • Reise, I think folks are just brainstorming, not complaining. I know I get excited thinking of characters that might fit, but weren’t mentioned, or reflecting on shows I’ve seen and then splarfing to the community about various details that came to mind after reading your original article. I mean, I currently watch a lot of TV and talk about it with various people in my life, and in other forums, and I still find out about shows or characters here that I didn’t know about, or didn’t know were any good, or that no one else but AS-folks want to talk about. So when you put together a juicy article like this, all the excitement comes on and a bunch of us start nibbling. I don’t think we mean to make you feel bad about it, it’s actually a good thing! Also, you being a perfectionist is cute, but don’t give yourself an ulcer.

    • I don’t know why people has this big need to dissect almost everything and not the important things, and I mean dissecting every freaking comma or some crap like that.

      A bunch of things are happening in our community, even if we take out the mess/massacre that TV is showing today, and we get coverage here.

      I’m gonna be honest here, I’m not a fan of every single article that AS is posting (I’m a butch, so I have a limited need for fashion), but I think we need to make a recognition to the data that AS (particularly Riese and Heather) is giving us with the limited resources they have. My god, places like The New York Times screw up their facts and they have a lot more money/resources to make it right.

      To finish my big “sucked up to” I’m gonna use a phrase that belongs to a great philosopher of our times and to the ages: “Well, opinions are like assholes… everybody has one” (several versions to choose from, all of them with the same result).

      Thanks for all the hard work, AS and especially Riese (Our Lady of Holy Numbers).

  19. Some of the descriptions need to be updated, like for OITNB you have down there is one minor gay male character(who is kind of integral), but then mention no gay men characters in the description.

  20. Has anyone ever seen Sirens? It’s a USA show. There was an Asexual woman as one of the recurring characters and one of the main characters was a gay, black man. I actually found the show pretty funny. Both seasons are on Netflix.

  21. I’ve watched a few of these, and I had fun trying to work out who was who.

    I’m not sure if you were doing US or UK Shameless, but I think it was the US one, which generally has pretty bad queer portrayals. Actually, it’s just a pretty bad show, but I was still really invested in seasons 1-4 (haha).

  22. This infographic was GREAT Riese, thank you! As usual, my only complaint is I would love it if there was even MORE information, but I recognize how much time this takes and appreciate all the work you’ve already put in to give us this much.

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