National Coming Out Day is observed on October 11 to celebrate coming out and raise awareness about LGBTQ+ people — initially instigated to remind everyone in the mainstream that someone they know is queer.
Queer representation in the media we consume has always been a huge factor in contributing to that awareness — art imitates life, so what we see in regards to the LGBTQ+ community on our pages and screens hugely influences how queer people are treated and accepted by society.
In that vein, we’ve compiled a list of 20 queer fictional characters worth honoring on National Coming Out Day this year — from brand-new or lesser-known characters that may not have made it onto any best-of lists in the past, to some tried and tested old favorites. Of course, there are some huge examples that didn’t make this article — not a single Glee character to be found! — but the characters listed here are some of our favorite examples of queer representation in media past and present — from formative moments to inspirational stories to totally normalized interpretations.
Ronan Lynch and Adam Parrish — The Raven Cycle
Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series isn’t really a coming out story, or a coming of age story, or a supernatural story, or a YA novel, or a romance. It also totally is all of those things. The Raven Cycle covers a lot of ground very quietly but very insistently, and it’s the richest, realest, most readable universe I’ve ever delved into. On paper, it’s about a wealthy and obsessive private school teen — Richard Campbell Gansey III — looking for a dead Welsh king allegedly buried in the Virginia mountains, the friends who help him on his quest, and the discovery that all sorts of magic are real.
Nothing in the series is more magical than Ronan himself, whose power turns out to be the lynchpin of the entire universe that the gang discovers. Ronan, a big, rude, thuggish, abrasive wildcard with the world’s sweetest and shyest inner self, can dream anything into existence — he can literally create and extract things from his mind. He’s also got a murdered father, a comatose mother, an attitude problem, a drinking problem, a speeding ticket problem, a Catholic guilt problem, and a big ol’ crush on Adam Parrish, his BFF’s other BFF.
Adam Parrish, the stubborn and brilliant local trailer-park scholarship kid, became friends with Gansey and Ronan before they meet Blue Sargent, a daughter of local psychic who turns out to be the missing piece to their puzzle. Initially, it’s Adam attempting to date Blue that brings her into the gang, but over the course of the four books, while all remaining inextricably tangled and co-dependant as friends (the most important factor of the series), Gansey and Blue fall in love, as do Ronan — who knows perfectly well that he’s gay, the entire second book is kind of dedicated to his mental state — and Adam, who discovers he’s bisexual. These two are my favorite example of queer teens in any media, possibly ever.
While it’s certainly confirmed in the prose of the books, some fans have had trouble with the fact that the characters do not label their orientation in the dialogue. However, for me, the beauty of Adam and Ronan lies in the fact that the portrayal of their romance and the description of their sexualities was intentionally written for a post-heteronormative society — their thoughts, and their relationship, are not given any explanatory qualifiers. Much in the same way The Raven Cycle’s straight characters don’t assert their straightness in every interaction they have, these boys don’t pause in their story to “come out” — Stiefvater has perfected the art of show-don’t-tell. The lack of explicit labeling doesn’t come across as trying to hide or downplay anything about these queer characters — it’s the opposite, Stiefvater is hoping you don’t assume that everyone is straight until proven otherwise. When read through that lens, moments dismissed by non-heteronormative readers become undeniable, and I can’t wait for a world where everyone engages with media in this way.
Adam and Ronan are perfectly balanced — Ronan’s soft when Adam’s hard, Adam’s strict when Ronan’s in need of reining in. They admire each other’s power, they commiserate over Gansey, and even Adam’s pride about not accepting help is a hang-up Ronan is able to crack, even when Gansey can’t. Ronan’s unspoken courtship of Adam — creating him little gifts, sharing the most private aspects of his beloved family home — is achingly earnest and gentle, and Adam’s mental acknowledgement of Ronan’s feelings and careful consideration of whether this is actually for him, without any gay panic hysteria, is impressive. The eventual moment of truth between them in the final book is sweet and hot and embarrassing and fist-pump-worthy — everything it should be. — Natalie Fisher
Patsy Mount — ‘Call the Midwife’
First of all, despite the fact that its outward appearance may not instantly be a hit with every demographic – it’s a period drama about nurses and nuns delivering babies in London’s East End — BBC’s Call the Midwife is the best female-led show on television, and if you’re sleeping on it, you need to wake up right now. I’m serious. This show averages 10 million viewers for each episode in the U.K., all of whom know what the hell is up.
Call the Midwife is an exceedingly progressive show which documents the harsh life of the post-WWII London community — not just baby-related issues. The introduction of the NHS, contraception, immigration and racism, classism, child abuse, religion and sex, addiction and countless other themes are handled deftly and carefully by the show’s characters – not to mention their overwhelmingly female team of writers and directors — and though the subject had been raised in “issue of the week” episodes early on, it was only a matter of time before the show included a lead queer character.
Enter Patsy Mount, played by the glorious Emerald Fennell. The reveal of Patsy as a lesbian was one of those epic moments for queer viewers — because for anyone used to recognizing their own, it was there from the moment she walked in. Midwife plays an amazing long game with all its characters — comments and glances and implications all mean exactly what you think they mean, if you’re paying attention. It took a season and a half for Patsy’s sexuality — and her girlfriend Delia — to be explicitly revealed to the audience, but it wasn’t exactly a shocker, more a validation that the moments so many other more heteronormative shows may dismiss as unintentional were in fact, actually real.
Patsy and Delia were blissfully — if secretly — happy together, confident in their relationship and even getting a flat together, but tragedy struck when Delia was in a car accident and suffered amnesia. But lest you think this is another case of the gays aren’t allowed nice things — fear not. Delia recovered and now lives with Patsy in the old convent that the midwives are based in. The next step Call the Midwife is likely to take when it returns with season 6 at Christmas will be for another resident to find out the true nature of their relationship, and I cannot wait to see how it goes. — Natalie Fisher
Ari Mendoza and Dante Quintana — ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’
Coming out stories, like all well-worn tropes, have to evolve with the times or they lose their emotional relevance. These days, it takes a more skillfully wielded blade to connect this generation’s LGBTQ+ youth. Published in 2012 by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a masterclass in that art of blade-wielding.
Funnily enough, despite being set in the 1980s, I think it excels at being a modern coming out story by not specifically focusing on the queer aspect of coming out, which on the surface sounds like an oxymoron. But it paints these two boys, Ari and Dante, as coming of age as boys first and coming of age as gay boys second.
As they work to uncover what their sexual preferences are, and what they mean to one another, they’re also are working to understand what it means to be Mexican-American, and what it means to be men in general. How they choose to conduct themselves is just as important as who they fall in love with. And the beauty of those two characters is that all of these interconnected elements matter — all pieces that define a person’s sense of self. It’s impossible to boil either one of them down into ‘typical’ gay archetypes, which is why Ari and Dante are two of my favorite characters of all time. — Brook Wentz
Lexa — ‘The 100’
It’s hard to speak about Lexa now, because for most fans, the very idea of her has been tainted by the way in which she was killed off in The 100 season 3. Built up to be a hugely influential LGBTQ+ icon, the death-by-stray-bullet trope was particularly hurtful to LGBTQ+ audiences, and rightfully incurred a tremendous wrath. Lexa died for the entire industry’s sins, the breaking point for a lot of frustrated viewers, and I truly believe the backlash will have a positive impact on the industry going forward — but that’s another discussion for another time.
I want to focus on the feelings I had when she was first introduced, and revealed to be a lesbian, because I think it’s important we hold on to that feeling. Much like Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was a sharp, welcome surprise to realise that this show I loved wasn’t as heteronormative as it had appeared. The 100 can and should be commended for its attempts to present a future in which what you are matters very little and who you choose to be is everything. But until Lexa, sexuality hadn’t been a factor in that equation at all, and it says a lot about the industry as a whole that I just quietly accepted that. After all, as we talk about diversity in film and TV, LGBTQ+ representation is always the final frontier, and for the most part, we take what we can get.
But Lexa promised to be so much more. Suddenly here was this powerful, fierce, important warrior and she happened to not be straight, and it was exhilarating. Even more exhilarating, of course, when Clarke found herself attracted to Lexa, and I realized that the writers truly were going there, with this relationship that wasn’t planned but grew organically from these characters’ undeniable chemistry. It was a wonderful feeling. It doesn’t erase everything that came after, but everything that came after also doesn’t invalidate Lexa’s role as an inspirational LGBT character. — Selina Wilken
Eric Bittle and Jack Zimmermann – ‘Check, Please!’
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Check, Please! is one of the internet’s biggest webcomics. Created in 2013 by Ngozi Ukazu, the comic follows Eric Bittle, or Bitty, as he arrives at the fictional Samwell University on a hockey scholarship. Bitty, a former figure skater, is tiny for a hockey player, and obsessed with baking. Sweet, innocent, and deeply closeted at home in Georgia, he finds his new friends in Massachusetts more than accepting, and quickly becomes the heart and soul of the Samwell Men’s Hockey Team.
The team captain is Jack Zimmermann — son of NHL legend ‘Bad Bob’ Zimmermann. Jack was set to make a splash in his teens, with the eyes of the sporting world on him, but right before the draft (in which he was touted to go first) he overdosed on medication and was checked into rehab. Instead of returning to the pros, he enrolled at Samwell and chose to play college hockey instead, where he became team captain and met Bitty, a freshman to his junior. Jack starts out as a bit of a repressed robot, but Bitty unknowingly melts his heart. Check Please! very much told with an unreliable narrator, from Bitty’s POV — he’s a vlogger — but the deftness of the storytelling, what we see behind the scenes that Bitty doesn’t notice, proves that Jack has been harboring a crush on Bitty for nearly as long as Bitty’s been moving over Jack. At the end of the comic’s second year, Jack’s graduation, he seizes the moment to awkwardly and monosyllabically tell Bitty how he feels, to the surprise of exactly no one except Bitty himself.
The story is currently in Bitty’s third year at Samwell and Jack’s first year in the NHL – they’re happily together, but are starting to feel the strain of separation and keeping their relationship a secret. In the most recent update, they just came out as a couple to their most trusted group of friends — the next big question is whether Jack will come out publicly, which would make him the first out queer player in the NHL. However, there may be another contender for that slot — the fascinating NHL megastar Kent Parson, Jack’s teenage BFF with whom he had… history. Parse, my favorite character in the comic, is still heartbroken over Jack, but handles it extremely unhealthily, which is why this entry is not about him. However, his history with Jack is bubbling to the surface as they face each other on competing teams. Check Please! is sweet, complex and victorious — there was never a doubt that Bitty was going to get the guy of his dreams, but watching him get there was delightful. — Natalie Fisher
Waverly Earp — ‘Wynonna Earp’
If you’re looking for good wlw representation, Wynonna Earp is the show for you. This is the show where lesbians wear bulletproof vests, and where the queer relationship is the most normal, stable thing in these people’s lives. Wynonna Earp is full of awesome, complicated, flawed, nuanced female representation in general; it’s a female-led Supernatural for the Millennial generation, and there isn’t enough good things to say about it.
But it was the draw of “WayHaught” that lured me in: In the Buffy tradition, Waverly (Wynonna’s younger sister) is assumed to be straight and even has a boyfriend at the start of the show, but when the enigmatic Officer Haught saunters into town, she begins to realize that her attraction lies elsewhere. It’s a beautiful buildup, and although only one season of the show has aired so far, WayHaught promises to be sci-fi’s best LGBTQ+ romance: The writers and actors know exactly how important this relationship is to their audience, and are very committed to remaining protective and respectful of the pairing.
In a genre where no character is safe by design, it somehow feels like Waverly and Nicole are gonna be fine — and that’s huge for LGBTQ+ audiences, who are all too familiar with the harmful Kill Your Gays trope that perpetuates the genre. — Selina Wilken
Hikaru Sulu — Star Trek
Making huge news this summer, Star Trek is the first in what’s hopefully a long list of major franchises to make an existing iconic character, previously assumed straight, into a queer character. Star Trek Beyond revealed pilot Hikaru Sulu, played by John Cho in the reboot, to be married to a man. The couple share a daughter, and Sulu reunites with his family at the Yorktown space station.
With Sulu, Star Trek Beyond pulled off a great incidental example of confirming their queer representation – empirical proof to other studios and to viewers that this CAN be done, in blockbusters, without needing to “serve the story” as so many detractors seem to claim is the only reason queer people can exist. The merits of making an existing hero queer (as opposed to introducing a brand-new queer character) are also huge, no matter what nonsense George Takei has to say about it this week.
Sulu’s sexuality is a complete non-issue in Star Trek Beyond, as it should be — if we get to stardate 2263 and Jim Kirk’s shagging aliens all over the universe but people still bat an eye at two human males getting married, we’ve got big problems. It’s no surprise to me, at all, that Star Trek beat every other franchise to the punch on this one – they’ve always specialized in portraying the most progressive future for humanity.— Natalie Fisher
Lena and Stef Foster — ‘The Fosters’
One of my favorite TV couples of all time is Stef and Lena Foster of The Fosters. Lena is a vice principal at a prestigious charter school and Stef is a police officer for the San Diego PD. Stef divorced her husband Mike, who was also her work partner, after realizing that she’s a lesbian. Stef and Lena became a couple and ended up fostering twins. Stef also had a son from her previous marriage. Then along comes a troubled girl in the foster care system that then finally end up fostering, as well as her younger brother.
This house is at full capacity, but the love that Lena and Stef give to these children is unlike any that I see on TV today. I love the modern view of this LGBTQ+ family and how society plays a role in its everyday life. While I feel like these children can be ungrateful little brats at times, these two lovely women co-parent them so well. Their parenting styles are so different but it just fits. I love that a show can display a “normal” LGBTQ+ family in a modern way and that kids will be kids regardless of their parent’s sexual orientation. — Brandi Delhagen
Mickey Milkovich — ‘Shameless’
When I think of powerful LGBTQ+ characters that have deeply affected me, Shameless’ Mickey Milkovich, the bully-turned-boyfriend of Ian Gallagher, is near the top of that list. The beauty of a character like Mickey is that although he ticks some of the traditional coming out story boxes (angry dad, oppressed, powerfully afraid) he does so swinging.
His thuggish criminal persona is one part a natural consequence to growing up in Southside Chicago, and another part a front he uses to pummel his way through life. He couldn’t afford to be seen doing anything that showed weakness or vulnerability and in his neighborhood queerness definitely pushed against those codes, so some of his overtly macho behavior was used as a way to sidestep any stereotypical flags for being gay.
But over the course of seven seasons Mickey has learned that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. He can stop putting on a front and enjoy the rougher elements of his life, while also accepting that he’s a gay man who really just wants to be with his high school sweetheart. And it’s the duality of Mickey Milkovich that makes him so powerful. — Brook Wentz
Clarke Griffin — ‘The 100’
As significant and iconic as Clexa was and continues to be, we must be careful not to equate Clarke Griffin’s value as LGBTQ+ representation with the Clexa relationship alone. Clarke, as a bisexual lead character (The CW’s first, by the way), is hugely significant in her own right. She’s the lead character of the series, and she’s bisexual. She’s our entry-point character to this world, the one all audiences are compelled to identify with and root for, and she’s bisexual. This matters a great deal to audiences who are all too used to seeing that particular sexuality erased or ignored by mainstream media.
And what matters most is that Clarke is so much more than who she’s dating. She’s tough, she’s stubborn, she’s kind, she’s smart, she’s brave, she’s flawed, she’s human, and she is all of these things while being attracted to both men and women. I liked her with Finn, I loved her with Lexa, and whatever is next for her, I’ll probably be on board as long as it makes her happy. Because Clarke’s bisexuality isn’t defined or validated by any one specific relationship, and importantly, she continues to represent bisexuality whether she’s with a woman, a man, or no one at all. The 100 is not going to erase her sexuality, and it’s important that we don’t, either. — Selina Wilken
Max Blum — ‘Happy Endings’
Happy Endings — gone too soon — gave us the extremely loveable Max Blum, a very unique take on your general comedy show friendship circle’s “token gay.” There’s nothing token about this guy — Max is the group’s messiest, laziest, least flamboyant, most uncultured member, most likely to be found sitting around his bunker-like apartment in a t-shirt with food on it playing video games.
Max is actually a pretty typical example of the average white dude slacker trope. He likes beer and sports and pranks and is bad at cleaning or keeping a job. He also happens to be gay — it’s a circumstance where a queer character in a show directed at a wide audience is completely normalized and completely unstereotyped. He has a relatively healthy relationship with his sexuality, a not-so-healthy relationship with his body image, and is incredibly sweet and romantic when it comes to matters of the heart, including an adorable Valentine’s Day gesture.
Above all, Max is just a guy — and that’s incredible, because it combats the ongoing, imposing idea that who you want to kiss affects any other aspect of your taste, behaviour or lifestyle. Queer characters like Max are few and far between, but if there were more of them, we’d be a lot better off. — Natalie Fisher
Alice Pieszecki — ‘The L Word’
The L Word was the first LGBTQ+ show that I became fully invested in. Toward the end of its running I even attended premieres and events at local gay bars, anything to be and feel closer to the characters on the screen. Alice Pieszecki is the character that I initially related to the most. She was a journalist for a magazine and a self-proclaimed bisexual.
Alice creates ‘The Chart’ which is a compilation of all the lesbian hook ups and relationships that she knows of and how everyone is somehow linked to one another because of it. Alice becomes obsessed with the chart and ends up making a video podcast about it which gets her national attention where she later becomes a host on a TV show called The Look.
Alice Pieszecki’s character was funny, witty and just so full of love. She called out things for what they were and she had a great relationship with her mother — the only member of her family who accepted her for who she is. Alice always did what she thought was right, even if it was totally the wrong thing to do (like outing that NBA player) but you couldn’t help but forgive her.
Alice will never be forgotten but the question still stands: Did Alice kill Jenny? — Brandi Delhagen
Curt Wild — ‘Velvet Goldmine’
If we’re talking formative queer characters, I cannot go past Curt Wild from Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes’ 1998 glam-rock “biopic” about Brian Slade, an artist with an alter ego called Maxwell Demon, based on the phenomena of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Curt Wild is easily the greatest thing about this hyperrealistic explosion of glitter and Oscar Wilde quotations.
In the movie, Curt is an American rockstar — based heavily on Iggy Pop, with shades of Lou Reed and Mick Jagger thrown in – who Brian Slade forms a relationship with and ultimately casts aside, an example of the selfish character’s downward spiral of using and abusing. Curt’s initial adoration and ultimate pain is so visceral that it has become unforgettable — I have more empathy for him than I have for probably any other fictional character. It’s the kind of investment that isn’t all that common for a single 90 minute movie role, both on my part and on McGregor’s, who’s mentioned thinking about him quite often.
Towards the end of the film, Curt shares a night of passion with the film’s other lead character Arthur Stuart, a fanboy also scarred by the events of Brian Slade’s career. Ten years later, Arthur, now a journalist, reconnects with Curt while writing an article on Brian, and the movie ends with a cautious but charged scene between the two of them in a bar, before Curt enigmatically makes his exit. It’s always been my dearest belief that Arthur follows him out and that after the end of the movie, they built a life together, and the best day of my entire life was when McGregor confirmed to me that this is what he believes, too. — Natalie Fisher
Bette Porter — ‘The L Word’
Yes, this is another L Word character. I did say the show was a huge part of my life. Bette Porter, the talented and beautiful Jennifer Beals portrayed this character beautifully. Bette had so many flaws that it’s impossible to remember them all, but I loved every one of them. Bette is an Ivy League-educated lesbian of African-American and Caucasian heritage. Tina gets into a long-term relationship with Bette and they’re looked as the relationship that everyone looks up to.
There are many ups and downs in Bette and Tina’s relationship, especially after they decide to have a child together. Bette was just one of those intelligent, beautiful women that you felt completely drawn to and almost seduced by just her words. I remember being a teenager and just completely mesmerized by everything she did or said. In all candor, it may have just been a strong attraction to her character but I’m sure it was much, much more. She was a driven LGBTQ+ woman who didn’t back down to any man or woman. We need more women like Bette Porter on TV. — Brandi Delhagen
Noxeema Jackson — ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar’
To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar somehow ended up in my hands at exactly the right moment when I was around 12 years old. I was a very flamboyant, outgoing kid which often resulted in slurs and being made fun of. But watching Noxeema Jackson (played by Wesley Snipes), arguably the most confident of the trio of drag queens who starred in the film, gave me the confidence to realize that my personality is precisely the core of who I am and that I should be proud of it. She was full of sass, street smarts and style: all of which I wanted for myself! I also lived in a small town (though not as small as the town featured in the film) so there were some casual similarities with the juxtaposition of being LGBTQ+ in a place that one wouldn’t think would be accepting.
These days, drag queen culture and acceptance has never been more alive, mainly due in part by the success of the Emmy Award winning show RuPaul’s Drag Race. A lot of the young 20-somethings watching RuPaul’s Drag Race are probably unaware of To Wong Foo or have heard of it and never seen it. I recently had the pleasure of meeting and working with RuPaul, who appears as Rachel Tensions in To Wong Foo, and it was one of the most exciting times of my life because it really felt like a full circle moment for me as a gay man.
I often think about how different my childhood would be if I were able to grow up with today’s myriad LGBTQ+ characters like Glee’s Kurt Hummel, Blaine Anderson or Coach Beiste just to name a few. Today, 21 years since it was released, To Wong Foo not only holds up, but it’s still brimming with teachable moments whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or not. — John Thrasher
Willow Rosenberg — ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’
What I love about Willow’s coming out on Buffy was that very little fuss was made of it. It wasn’t a huge storyline, it wasn’t a character-altering thing, and even though Willow and Tara’s relationship would become hugely significant for the series, Willow’s sexuality did not come to define her personality, nor did it erase everything else Willow was and would become.
I find that oftentimes when a character is LGBTQ+ (especially in the ’90s and early ’00s, when this show took place), their character begins and ends with that fact. They’re ‘representation,’ but not much else. Willow was just Willow — a million different contradictory things, but her sexuality neither added or subtracted from the sum total of what she was. In terms of normalizing non-straight sexualities on TV, this was hugely significant, and one of the many reasons Buffy stands out as an important, convention-breaking series.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was extraordinarily good at slow and steady character development; nothing was rushed, and Willow had a particularly nuanced, interesting arc over the course of the series. By the end of season 4, we saw just how far she had already come, and as she found her confidence and broke out of her shell, she also allowed herself to experience these new emotions with Tara.
It was important to see a main character on a sci-fi show — assumed straight, and only previously perceived as having interest in men — discover this about herself and embrace her sexuality while still being a key member of the cast and a warrior in her own right exactly as she had been before. Beyond Buffy’s initial shock at Willow’s revelation, the Scoobies quickly went back to treating her just as they always had. She was just “gay now,” in her own words, without fanfare. — Selina Wilken
The queer community needs every single version of these tropes — we need dramatic coming out stories where characters fear acceptance, because people still live with that today, and we need stories about queer characters where their sexuality is a non-issue, to set an example of what the world should be aiming for. We need queer parents doing a great job and bisexuals who don’t “choose a side” no matter who they’re in a relationship with, we need gay men who embrace their inner queens and gay men who eschew flamboyance, we need queer women who are allowed to pursue happiness instead of being killed, we need presumed-straight characters who realize they’ve fallen in love with someone of the same gender, and for that subtext to actually become text. We need all of them!