10 TV Shows That Put LGBTQ Characters Front and Center

Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) is making history with his next role. He is set to star in the police procedural series, Instinct (premiering this Sunday on CBS), the first ever hour-long network drama to feature an LGBTQ lead.

Cumming takes on the role of Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a former CIA agent, turned author, who wrote a book on criminal behavior. He's resigned from the spy game now, preferring a quiet life as a college professor. But when his book turns up at a murder scene, it emerges that a serial killer is using it as a manual. Reinhart is called on by the NYPD to help catch the criminal.


The series is based on James Patterson's 2017 novel Murder Games, which is what attracted Cumming to the project in the first place: "It was really this character — I wasn't, sort of, looking — I got presented with the James Patterson book," said Cumming.

He elaborates on the complexity of the character, who is both gay and married, and what drew him in: "I'd never been asked to play someone who's got so many different facets, seemingly so desperate as well. All these different characteristics, as well. He's a fuddy-duddy professor, but he's a former sort of CIA spy. He rides a motorbike, but he's kind of a dandy. He used to be a child musical prodigy. He's gay. It's the first ever network drama to have a gay character as a lead."

"Most times when we see gay characters on American TV, their gayness is the prime thing," said Cumming. "Their gayness is sometimes the problem. What's refreshing about this is there's a successful relationship and they're supportive of each other. And [being gay] is also the fourth or fifth most interesting thing about this character."

Increasingly, network TV has been more open to putting complex, LGBTQ characters in prime roles; Cumming's Dr. Reinhart is by no means the first to feature high up on the cast list. Here are 10 other inclusive shows we've loved:

1. My So-Called Life (1994-1995)


High school student Angela Chase (Claire Danes) struggles to figure out who she is in My So-Called Life. But, luckily, she has the help of her bestie, Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruise). Rickie has his own problems; namely teenage angst and the fact that he sticks out like a sore thumb at school. He also has the extra weight of deciding to come out as gay, which he did on the show to Angela and fellow bestie, Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer). In 2011, Rickie landed in the No. 1 spot on Rolling Stone magazine's list of most groundbreaking gay characters.

2. Will & Grace (1998-Now)


Eric McCormack and Debra Messing portrayed best friends, Will Truman and Grace Adler, from 1998-2005 (and, of course, the sitcom had a recent comeback in 2017). The two friends met in college and were love interests for half a second, until Will realized he was gay and entrusted Grace with this news. Their friendship survived into their 30s, and they shared an apartment in NYC at the start of the series. One of our favorite episodes is in season two, called "Acting Out," when Will was determined to help get a first man-on-man kiss on a network TV series for all to see. When it didn't work out as planned, he planted a lip smack on his friend Jack (Sean Hayes) during a live broadcast of Good Morning America. You can watch the big kiss scene over at YouTube. If you can't beat 'em, kiss 'em (something like that).

3. Queer as Folk (1999-2000)


Before there was Sons of Anarchy and Game of Thrones, Charlie Hunnam and Aidan Gillen, along with Craig Kelly (Coronation Street), made their way through Manchester, England’s gay scene in Russell T Davies' Queer as Folk (1999-2000). The series did so well, it was adapted in the U.S. by Showtime, moving the story to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


4. The L Word (2004-2009)


It wouldn't be right if it were just the lads getting shows. Sure enough, the ladies were represented with Showtime's The L Word. The series examines work and romance through the eyes of a lesbian community in L.A. In other words, life in general, just all women (for the most part.) The ensemble cast was made up established actresses like Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) and Pam Grier (Jackie Brown), as well as relative newcomers at the time, including Mia Kirshner (Star Trek: Discovery), Leisha Hailey (Silicon Valley), and Erin Daniels (The Bling Ring).

5. Modern Family (2009-Now)


Modern Family has been on-air since 2009 and is still going strong. We've followed three families, directly related or through marriage, and their children grow up over the years. Claire (Julie Bowen) and Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) live in the suburbs, raising their three children. Claire's brother, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), is in a committed relationship with Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet). In the first season, the couple adopt a small child, Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons). In 2015, The Atlantic wrote an article on how "TV has convinced America that same-sex couples can be just like straights ones," including Mitchell and Cameron as influencers. And, finally, the patriarch of the family, Claire and Mitchell's dad, Jay (Ed O'Neill), is re-married to Gloria Delgado-Pritchett (Sofia Vergara). The two raise her young son Manny (Rico Rodriguez). Like the name of the show says, it's a modern family.

6. Please Like Me (2013-2016)


Josh Thomas is a young actor and comedian who wrote this semi-autobiographical comedy. In the first episode, Josh comes to the realization he's gay when his girlfriend breaks up with him and lists his attraction to men as one of the reasons they won't work out. But, the two remain very close friends. He probably already knew, but her saying it helped him say it to himself and those around him. While embracing this new self-awareness, he struggles with juggling his divorced parents and their needs. Even so, he finds time to go on a date — "with" — in his own words — "a boy." There’s absolutely no problem liking Josh, as the title asks; he’s adorable.

7. Orphan Black (2013-2017) 


The BBC America conspiracy thriller Orphan Black kicked off in 2013. In the series opener, we meet Sarah Manning, who... meets herself. Well, not really, a clone of herself. As the series rolls out Sarah learns she's part of a top-secret experiment, resulting in a number versions of herself. The clones look alike for the most part, but each is unique in terms of personality and preferences. OB star Tatiana Maslany commented on the differences between the clones, specifically Cosima being gay, saying in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, "We sort of embrace the idea of every human having the potential to be anything, and I think that opens the door for all kinds of dialogue about sexuality and about gender." The OB showrunners elaborate on the role LGBTQ characters play in the show and in science for that matter in this interview with BuzzFeedNews.

8. London Spy (2015)

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It's hard enough to find someone you get on with, let alone love, and when Danny (Ben Whishaw) meets Mr. Right, his new partner soon turns up... yep, you guessed it: dead. And, to make matters worse, Danny is then mistaken for a member of the secret service. BBC America's London Spy takes us from carefree clubbing nights into the dark underbelly of the spy game. You can look for other familiar faces like Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Ramping. London Spy creator Tom Rob Smith is also the novelist behind the acclaimed Child 44 trilogy.

9. One Mississippi (2015-2017) 


Tig Notaro gets some devastating news in the first episode of her semi-autobiographical series, One Mississippi. She makes the return to Bay St. Lucille, Mississippi, to be present when her mother is taken off life support, following a random accident. Yes, this is a comedy. While the reason Notaro goes home is somber, the comedian brings the funny, in spite of the dire circumstance. She even uses humor when dealing with her real-life health issues, having survived breast cancer and just recovering from a double-mastectomy. She doesn't hold anything back, including her life as an out gay woman.

10. Queers (2017)


The BBC America miniseries Queers premiered in 2017, marking the 50th anniversary of The Sexual Offenses Act, which partially decriminalized homosexual acts between men in the U.K. The series is made up of eight short films, in each an established writer responds to the 1967 Act. Curated and directed by Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), the films star award winners Alan Cumming, Ben Whishaw, Rebecca Front, Russell Tovey, Gemma Whelan, Ian Gelder, Kadiff Kirwan, and Fionn Whitehead.

Are you going to add any of these to your watch list?