While a few TV shows tentatively introduced the occasional gay character, it wasn't until "Soap" (which ran from 1977-1981) that a show featured a series regular playing an openly gay character. While the mere presence of Jodie Dallas (Billy Crystal) on the show was groundbreaking enough, so too was the fact that the character was portrayed as a three-dimensional person, not a stereotype.
'Will & Grace'
While Billy Crystal's "Soap" character was groundbreaking, 'Will & Grace" brought us network television's first gay sitcom, the story of a straight woman named Grace (Debra Messing) living with her gay BFF Will (Eric McCormack), with gay pal Jack (Sean Hayes) and wealthy socialite Karen (Megan Mullally) along for the ride. Bursting with A-list guest stars while anchoring NBC's "Must See TV" Thursday nights, it's impossible to determine what role the show had in increasing mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ+ issues such as same-sex marriage.
'Armistad Maupin's Tales of the City'
First airing on PBS as a miniseries back in 1993, "Tales of the City" (based on author Armistad Maupin's novels) introduced viewers to the journey of Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney), who served as the entry point to introduce viewers to the eccentric, flamboyant and very, very gay friends and neighbours she encounters in her San Francisco. Followed by "More Tales of the City" and then "Further Tales of the City", the story continued in 2019 with Netflix's "Tales of the City".
'The L Word'
This groundbreaking Vancouver-shot Showtime series focused on the lives of a disparate group of lesbians as they navigated the complexities of juggling romance and careers in Los Angeles. Good news for fans: Showtime is mounting a revival of "The L Word", slated to debut in late 2019.
Chronicling the musical exploits of a high school glee club, Ryan Murphy's hit permeated pop culture, with the show's weekly songs regularly topping the iTunes charts immediately after each episode aired. Featuring several gay characters, "Glee" depicted the varying relationships of these characters — be they romantic or familial —with an honesty rarely seen in a teen-centred series.
Brian Bowen Smith/SHOWTIME
There have been plenty of gay storylines on Showtime's "Shameless" courtesy of Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan), particularly his complicated relationship with on-again, off-again boyfriend Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher).
'Orange Is the New Black'
"Orange Is the New Black" tackled LGBTQ+ issues within a female prison the same way the show handled any other topic — with sensitivity, depth and a wicked sense of humour. As viewers witnessed, some of the show's characters were born-that-way lesbians, while others took more of a when-in-Rome approach, yet the real standout has been Laverne Cox's amazing portrayal of trans prisoner Sofia, bringing her own essence and experience to the character as no other actor could.
Given that "Sense8" was created by the Wachowskis (known as the Wachowski Brothers when they co-directed "The Matrix" before both siblings transitioned to women), it shouldn't be surprising that this visually stunning sci-fi mystery featured a trans character (played by a trans actor) and plenty of gender fluidity and pansexuality, especially in that eye-popping hot tub scene.
Disney Channel/Mitch Haaseth
"Andi Mack" is aimed at a tween audience, and made history as the first-ever Disney Channel show to introduce a gay character when Cyrus (Joshua Rush) came out to his friends.
As "Modern Family" prepares for its 11th and final season, it's key to remember the show's groundbreaking depiction of a married gay couple (portrayed by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet), whose relationship is neither idealized nor demonized, simply portraying their life in the same way as the show depicts its other couples.
Co-created by Eugene Levy and son Daniel Levy (who is openly gay), "Schitt's Creek" took a matter-of-fact approach to David Rose's pansexuality, which created some memorable moments on the show — and wasn't even the most interesting thing about the character.
This HBO drama, which ran for two seasons from 2014 to 2015, chronicled the lives of three gay best friends living in San Francisco, probing the nuances of same-sex relationships in the modern age.
While "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" was a groundbreaking reality show for its day, Netflix's reboot proved to be even more inspirational, promoting a simple but powerful message by focusing on those aspects of being human that unite us, not those that divide.
Linda Källérus/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
An openly gay actor playing an openly gay character on TV hardly seems like a big deal at this point, yet Alan Cumming's starring role as crime-solving Dr. Dylan Reinhart in "Instinct" made him the first-ever gay lead in a U.S. network drama.
Delving into the drag ball subculture that exploded in the 1990s, Ryan Murphy's "Pose" presents a three-dimensional look at the people beneath the outrageous outfits for a realistic depiction of gay and trans culture during the era of the AIDS crisis.
"Vida" focuses on the complicated relationship between two estranged Mexican-American sisters, who return home to East Los Angeles when their mother dies. That's when they learn their mom was gay — and was married to a woman. As they seek to learn about teir mother, the siblings — and, by extension, the audience — become immersed in the intricacies of lesbian culture.
'Years and Years'
The latest from "Queer as Folk" creator Russell T. Davies presents a horrifying vision of Britain's future, as experienced through the eyes of the Lyons family, one of whom is openly gay brother Danny Lyons (Russell Tovey). One of the series' key plotlines involves Danny falling in love with a refugee named Viktor, who fled Ukraine in fear for his life due to persecution for his homosexuality. Their budding romance is sweet and loving, but turns dangerous and ultimately tragic when Viktor is deported and Danny hatches a desperate scheme to smuggle him back into England.