Coming out of the closet is a tough thing for anyone in the gay community to do. As hard as it is to come to grips with one’s sexual identity when this doesn’t fall within the supposed norm, it’s even harder to try and get others to accept it. It may be easy to approach coming out with the mentality of “I am who I am; screw whoever doesn’t accept me,” but it’s easier said than done. Obviously, when such individuals make these breakthroughs in their own lives, they are naturally going to want their closest family and friends to be a part of those breakthroughs by means of acceptance. The point is that coming out is hard to do, which is why coming out seems to have become such an endearing staple of modern-day television.
Watching homosexuals come out of the closet — whether it be for a big story arc or a small moment — makes for compelling television. It’s captivating to watch a character’s secret sexual orientation revealed on television for the first time, and it’s this way not only for LGBTQ viewers, but for straight folks as well. For LGBTQ viewers, they get to see their stories depicted on television in a way that they can relate to. For heterosexual viewers, it provides them a chance to understand and see a new perspective that is unique from their own. There is just something utterly fascinating about watching television characters dissect the romantic and/or sexual aspects of their personalities and then reveal their realizations and discoveries to the audience and/or the other characters. As the following list will show, television is chock-full of coming out parties that we were all glued to our seats to witness on our small screens. More often than not, seeing these characters come out was shocking, but above all else, it always made for great television.
15. Willow – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Willow Rosenberg was everyone’s favorite awkwardly quirky nerd witch back when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was still on the air. For the first few seasons, a relationship between herself and Xander was strongly teased until the two decided to stay friends. In Season Four, when Willow split from her later beau, Oz, audiences were curious to see where love would take Willow next. In a shocking turn, she soon discovered that she was a lesbian upon meeting future-girlfriend, Tara. The couple’s long, ongoing relationship was the first instance in mainstream television where two major characters of a show partook in a long-term lesbian relationship. The two remained together all the way until the end of Season Six when Tara was killed. Afterward, for the final season, Willow pursued a relationship with Kennedy.
14. Waylon Smithers – The Simpsons
After the subject had been alluded to for several years on The Simpsons, it was not shocking to find out that Waylon Smithers was gay, but more shocking that the show actually followed through on him coming out. For 27 years, Mr. Smithers suggested homosexuality had always been represented by nothing more than gay jokes, unsubtle hints, and countless innuendos, but finally, during the 27th season of the show, The Simpsons decided to finally approach Mr. Smithers’ homosexuality outright and seriously by having him come out. Even more surprisingly, after making Smithers the butt of a joke for nearly three decades, the show approached his coming out party with the utmost sincerity.
13. The Penguin – Gotham
Ever since the character’s comic book debut in 1941, The Penguin had always been portrayed in popular culture as a ruthless mobster. Some movies and shows even went as far as to portray him as a perverse pig who’s sleazy towards the women he tries to court. None of the qualities that The Penguin ever displayed included being homosexual. That is until Gotham came around. The FOX TV series was bold enough to drastically change classic DC Comics canon by revealing their portrait of the man as a homosexual — even to the point that he starts to develop romantic feelings for Edward Nygma, the future Riddler. Though Penguin’s love is never reciprocated as Nygma shoots Penguin at the end of Season Three, this didn’t stop long-time fans of the character from being outraged at the shift in canon. The latest portrayal of Penguin’s sexuality drew the ire of long-time comic audiences either because it severely denigrated away from the character’s traditional narrative or because of homophobia. Still, the change was considered a bold move for FOX to pull and was generally admired by an array of fans.
12. Frank Underwood – House of Cards
The majority of politicians on television have been portrayed as stuck up, prudish human beings who aren’t open to being, well, open in a sexual sense. In short, they’re sticks in the mud when it comes to anything other than being heterosexual. Not Frank Underwood. It seems rather fitting that a Shakespearean villain with as many character facets as Frank Underwood is not such a stickler when it comes to sex. While the man’s marriage to Claire Underwood is presented strongly in the public eye, he has liaisons with multiple men behind closed doors — at one point, even having a threesome between himself, his wife, and another man. Critics have long debated whether Frank Underwood is concretely bisexual or a closet homosexual, but to Frank himself, it just depends on whom he finds himself to be attracted to more than anything else. As he said in the “Sentinel” episode from Season One, “When I’m attracted to someone, I’m attracted to them. Period.”
11. Captain Flint – Black Sails
Much like a ship driving its passengers onto a completely wrong course, the writers of Black Sails deliberately drove their viewers into a misdirection. For the entirety of Season One and much of Season Two, the show strongly implied that the reason for Captain Flint’s exile from England was because of an affair with one Miranda Barlow. When we finally got flashbacks of Flint’s pre-pirate life, however, it was confirmed that it was an affair that got him kicked out of England, but not one with Miranda. He had an affair with her husband, Thomas Hamilton. The swerve was a genuine surprise to everyone watching and cemented the show as an extremely diverse program. The show had always had a colorful cast of characters that came in a variety of shapes and sizes — with lesbians even, but no gay men. For the show’s first gay man to be the stereotypical tough guy and lead character Captain Flint was one hell of a twist. By presenting the protagonist in such a masculine way and then blurring the lines regarding his sexuality until the last minute, it forced fans to reevaluate their thoughts on the characters and decide whether or not they would still accept him as is. Some fans stuck around, others didn’t, but they all had to admit it was a clever twist.
10. Alex Danvers – Supergirl
When it was announced during the summer of 2016 that one of the DC Comics shows on The CW would feature a significant cast member come out during the Fall season, audiences eagerly waited in anticipation to find out who it would be. That character turned out to be Supergirl’s very own adoptive sister and DEO agent, Alex Danvers. Upon meeting Detective Maggie Sawyer, Alex slowly finds herself attracted to her. For the first time in her life, Alex finds herself both sexually and romantically attracted to another woman, and we watch as Alex struggles to come to grips with the implications of that notion. The more her feelings intensify, the more confused she gets about her identity. It was a compelling and accurate depiction of how homosexuals struggle with understanding who they are prior to coming out. The subject is handled delicately, honestly, and surprisingly expertly for a superhero show. Eventually, Alex accepts who she is as a person and later down the line starts dating Detective Sawyer.
9. Satan and Saddam Hussein – South Park
The creators of South Park have always proven to be daring in their depictions of real-life figures, but never more so than when they introduced the then-President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, to the show as a gay caricature. That was ballsy enough, but even ballsier was the fact that they placed their version of Saddam as the dominant half in a relationship with Satan himself. The move risked being controversial and detrimental to both the careers and well-beings of the creators of South Park, but they peddled on to make Saddam Hussein the butt of a joke every step of the way. It just goes to prove that the creators of South Park never have and never will be afraid to cross boundaries that others wouldn’t dare to cross. It also goes to show that no real-life figurehead is off limits in the spirit of comedy.
8. The Interrogator – Legion
This is a slight spoiler concerning the recently aired season finale of FX’s Legion, but nothing big concerning the actual plot. This is just about The Interrogator from Division 3 played by Hamish Linklater. The last time we saw The Interrogator (or Clark, as he later reveals is his name to be), he was fried and presumably killed in a fiery effort to save David on behalf of Melanie Bird’s special team. Looking burnt to a crisp, The Interrogator returns just in time for the season finale. In a flashback, we are shown the aftermath of the explosion and a bandaged-up Interrogator lying in a hospital bed as a mysterious man and small child sit by his bedside waiting for him to wake up. It is quickly revealed that the man is The Interrogator’s husband and the child is the couple’s adopted boy. It’s rare to see a villain of The Interrogator’s caliber given such an intimate character background, but that’s exactly what happens. Judging by the general reaction on social media, the decision to unveil The Interrogator as gay actually seemed to win a lot of people over.
7. Billy Douglas – One Life to Live
Billy Douglas is considered to be the first high-school-aged teenager to be depicted as gay on daytime television and perhaps, television as a whole. Billy’s big sexual-orientation reveal was shocking not only to several viewers of the time, but even to a young Ryan Phillippe who didn’t know his character was gay until long after he had won his audition at age 17. Initially, Billy is a closet homosexual who comes out to only a select few of his most trustworthy, closest friends. Then, when Reverend Andrew Carpenter is falsely accused of molesting Billy, Billy builds the courage to come out to the townspeople to restore the reverend’s reputation.
6. Bianca Montgomery – All My Children
Bianca Montgomery is a revolutionary figure in daytime television and maybe even television as a whole. As the daughter of All My Children’s Erica Kane, perhaps the most popular character in daytime soap opera history, Bianca became the first major daytime TV character to identify as a homosexual after she comes out in December 2000. Bianca continued to make television history afterward upon kissing the character of her then-girlfriend Lena, for the first time in an April 23rd, 2003 episode. This is the first moment in daytime TV history where two lesbians kissed each other. Lena and Bianca themselves were also the first lesbian couple in daytime TV and soap-opera history. All My Children continued to break ground some years later by airing the first-ever lesbian wedding in daytime TV history. It was on February 13th, 2009 when Bianca married Reese Williams. What made this even more groundbreaking was the fact that the episode aired just six months after California had overturned a same-sex marriage ban. The show took the opportune moment to make history, and it paid off in dividends.
5. Jack McPhee – Dawson’s Creek
When he was first introduced to the show, Jack was merely the boyfriend for resident girl-next-door and cast mainstay, Joey. Shortly afterward, rumors circulated around town that Jack was a homosexual. Crumbling under the pressures of these rumors, Jack did in fact come out and chose to reveal his sexuality to the community. The revelation of Jack’s homosexuality was a surprising twist for many viewers. Jack continued to surprise viewers for years to come as a new member of the cast, especially on a May 24th, 2000 episode of Dawson’s Creek where Jack kissed boyfriend Ethan, which is cited as the first male-on-male kiss on primetime television.
4. Pedro Zamora – The Real World
While not a character per se, Pedro Zamora’s presence on the third season of The Real World was an important event shedding light on the gay rights movement during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Zamora arrived on the show in 1994 as both an activist and an AIDS educator. When Zamora explained his condition to his castmates, some were confused, horrified, and uncomfortable, as were many people around the world in the wake of struggling with what AIDS was. Zamora remained patient with each member of the cast, and in carefully explaining AIDS, millions of people watching around the world were helped in understanding AIDS as well. It was brave for him to come out to those millions across the world at a time when AIDS was still a scary concept for people to grasp. Another groundbreaking aspect of Zamora’s story is when MTV filmed his commencement ceremony with his boyfriend, Sean, which was considered the first televised same-sex wedding ever. Zamora’s story would, unfortunately, end in tragedy as he died from his condition shortly after the final episode of Season Three of the show aired.
3. Gangstalicious- The Boondocks
When Gangstalicious is first introduced on The Boondocks, he is presented like any other average gangster rapper: a bonafide thug with an affinity for the mantra of putting the needs of male friends over those of female bed cohorts, or as Gangstalicious puts it more simply, “homies over hoes.” With this in mind, audiences expected his rap beef with gang leader Lincoln to be nothing more than a basic beef. However, by time the two meet face to face, it appears their beef was less about stereotypical thug tendencies and more about “thuggin’ love.” Right before attempting to kill Gangstalicious, Lincoln proclaims his love for Gangstalicious, and the pair’s lips interlock for a bittersweet kiss. Apparently, Lincoln was merely an old flame and Gangstalicious himself merely used the veil of thuggery for his public image so that people wouldn’t learn that he was a closet homosexual.
2. Sam Dresden – You’re the Worst
Much like Gangstalicious, Sam Dresden keeps up an aggressive thug persona while in the public eye, but he is anything but that type of character in real life. While the character he promotes himself as is someone from the streets, Sam himself has tastes that run closer to Craft Movement Furniture, fittings, and gay men. At one point during the first season of FX’s You’re the Worst, his manager Gretchen and her lover Jimmy arrive at his house and to their surprise, they find Sam there. Even more surprisingly, they find him standing there half-naked with a gay journalist. Gretchen then asks point blank whether or not Sam was gay. Sam’s response? “No…but this ni**a sucks really good d*ck.” It could very well be that Sam was just feeling a bit randy and decided to participate in a bit of situation-specific homosexual sex without actually being a homosexual or bisexual, but until Sam confirms and clarifies his sexuality in a future episode, we’ll have to just assume he’s gay.
1. Steve – All in the Family
For the portrayal of Archie Bunker alone, All in the Family was never exactly the prime example of a politically correct television series. In case the show was a little before your time, think of Bunker as a much older version of Cartman from South Park. The old man was homophobic, sexist, racist, you name it. And he captured Americans’ hearts throughout the 70s as only a lovable old man could. Yet, despite all this, the show managed to find a way to be surprisingly progressive in the show’s first season with the introduction of Archie’s friend, Steve. Steve seemed to be the typical example of what a manly man’s man was expected to look like. He was big, strong, tough, a linebacker, etc. Basically, imagine Ernest Hemingway if Hemingway was gay. Oh yeah, and Steve was gay. Ironically enough, Archie met Steve at a bar so that he could get away from another friend’s flamboyant “flamer,” as Archie had called him, among other horrendous slurs. Then, as Archie was letting off some steam by arm wrestling, Steve startled Archie by mentioning in passing that he was gay himself. This is cited as not only the first sitcom portrayal of a gay man, but also the initial introduction of an openly gay man who didn’t fit the stereotypes which audiences of the time associated with gay people. It was groundbreaking and even earned the attention of President Nixon, who, to cut a long story short, proclaimed his disdain for gay people during a press conference.