Once only rarely – if ever - represented on American televisions, today, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters can be found on many of the hottest shows. They are also being featured in some of the most diverse, refreshing and exciting storylines to be played out on television. LGBT characters have moved beyond being novel sidekicks - a sharp contrast to how many LGBT characters in Hollywood used to be portrayed. Many of them are well-rounded, fully-developed lead characters from diverse backgrounds that have to navigate love and life (and lots of drama) along with every other character on television. From the cool and smart Cosima on Orphan Black to the family dynamics that are played out by the heads of the household on The Fosters to the very diverse cast of Orange is the New Black, LGBT characters are enjoying a growing presence on screen. Perhaps more importantly, these characters are also a part of realistic and balanced storylines that just about anyone might be able to relate to.
9 Piper, Alex, Sophia and others - Orange is the New Black
This series, which revolves around the stories of the many women serving time at a women’s prison, features a tremendously diverse cast including several women who are LGBT. The protagonist, Piper (Taylor Schilling), is engaged to be married to her boyfriend at the beginning of this series, but when in prison encounters the one-time female lover (Alex Vause) who was responsible for landing her in the prison in the first place. They once again find each other difficult to resist, and Alex must deal with her feelings for the woman as well as for her fiancé. In addition, the character of their fellow inmate Sophia (Laverne Cox), is not only a transsexual and lesbian character on the show but is also a transsexual actress. Many other characters on the show are lesbian or bisexual, which effectively provides viewers with a range of diverse stories that haven’t been extensively explored on television before.
8 Cosima – Orphan Black
Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) is smart, pretty, effortlessly cool and just so happens to be a lesbian. Life isn’t easy for this woman who discovered she is one of several clones and along with the other protagonists on the show is trying to unravel the mystery behind their existence. She is constantly dealing with precarious situations and navigating tricky situations while working at the scientific institute that may also be run by her own enemies. Just to make things more complicated, on top of all of the dangerous, confusing and stressful situation she constantly lands herself in, she falls in love with a woman who – despite what she claims - may or may not be on her side. The relationship between Cosima and her love interest, Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) is filled with both passion and outside threats.
7 Bo – Lost Girl
In this supernatural Canadian series, succubus Bo is bisexual and raised by human parents. When she was younger, she discovered her powers after she unwittingly drained her high school boyfriend of his life energy, effectively killing him. As she learns to control her powers throughout this fast-paced series, she has become romantically involved with both male and female characters on the show. One of her romantic involvements has been with the character Lauren (Zoie Palmer), although their relationship was challenged when Lauren’s girlfriend showed up in season two.
6 Stef and Lena Foster – The Fosters
This drama revolves around the story of the Foster family, with police officer Stef (Teri Polo) and her partner, school Vice Principal Lena (Sherri Saum), at the head of their large, diverse and interracial family. The two have several children, including Stef’s biological son, their adopted twins, and a teenager who they have taken under their care. The show revolves around all of the themes of a family with the refreshing spin that this large household is led by two accomplished women. Stef and Lena are loving and supportive of each other, and prioritize creating a warm, loving environment for their diverse group of children.
5 Cameron and Mitchell - Modern Family
Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) have been in a long-term relationship on the show and are both fathers to their young daughter Lily. Cameron is a bit more high-strung, and his personality is complemented by Mitchell, who tends to be a steadier presence. These two seem to be able to balance out each other’s personality traits and have gotten each other through some tricky situations. Their relationship is very relatable, as they work through the everyday problems, questions and challenges of being a couple and being parents.
4 Brittany and Santana, Curt and Blaine, and Unique - Glee
Glee has incorporated a wide range of LGBT characters in its show’s story lines over the years, including Unique, a transgender character (Alex Newell), bisexual Brittany (Heather Morris) and her on again, off-again lesbian love interest Santana (Naya Rivera). Many episodes have revolved around characters that need to work through their confused sexualities. One of the show’s leading characters, Curt Hummel (Chris Colfer), struggled with being the first “out” gay character in his high school in the show’s first season. His romantic relationship with co-Glee club member Blaine (Darren Criss) has been a central storyline throughout several of the show’s seasons.
3 Emily - Pretty Little Liars
Pretty Little Liars has several LGBT female characters, but its most central lesbian character is Emily (Shay Mitchell). In season one, she was confused about her sexuality and then was afraid to come out to her parents (when she finally did, it didn’t go well). In contrast, when she came out to her friends, they were supportive. Unlike many high school dramas on television where coming out often results in turmoil, uproar, and jokes, Emily’s experience was relatively smooth. Ultimately, she and her supportive friends became role models of sorts for other LGBT characters on the show by demonstrating that there was nothing out of the ordinary about Emily’s sexual preferences.
2 Mulan – Once Upon a Time
Who says Disney Princesses can’t be LGBT? Once Upon a Time definitely doesn’t think this is the case, as was made apparent in the show’s third season when a classic movie character was outed in a dramatic scene. On the show, Mulan (Jamie Chung) was portrayed as a powerful and loyal protector to her on-screen friends, protecting them as they faced several challenges. Eventually, Mulan became romantically interested in the princess, Aurora (Sarah Bolger), whom she spent a lot of time protecting as the two wandered the forest together. At one point, Mulan literally returns Aurora’s heart to her in a powerful and tender scene. Unfortunately for Mulan, Princess Aurora was already in a relationship with a prince and just as Mulan finally decided to confront Aurora about her feelings, Aurora revealed that she was pregnant, effectively letting Mulan know that she was too late.
1 Callie and Arizona – Grey’s Anatomy
Callie (Sarah Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) are two medical staff on this primetime drama. Callie was introduced in the show’s second season as a love interest for another character, but in the fifth season Arizona appeared and eventually the two fell in love. The women have been in a long term relationship, living together and deciding to try to have a child. However, they had difficulty conceiving. Unfortunately, just like any couple, the two have not had a flawless relationship and have have had to work through many recent challenges.