These 11 LGBTQ TV Characters Probably Wouldn’t Exist Without Ellen DeGeneres

“Yep, I’m gay” made waves around the world ... and on the screen.

There's no mistaking that Ellen DeGeneres has made an impression on the entertainment landscape — specifically television. Whether we're talking about sitcoms or talk shows, this funny woman has been instrumental in the acceptance of LGBTQ people in pop culture. Now, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of her dual coming out, we look at the impact she has had.

April 1997 was a huge month for DeGeneres because she came out twice — once in real life on the cover of Time ("Yep, I'm gay" was the big declaration) and once on her ABC sitcom, aptly titled Ellen. While Ellen Morgan wasn't the first gay character on TV, it was a big deal at the time and has since opened the door for other TV characters to be themselves more openly. While the revelation, titled "The Puppy Episode," was watched live by 42 million people, the network cut back on promoting the show the next season and it was soon canceled.


There was a CBS series titled The Ellen Show in the early 2000s, which didn't even finish its run, but it was in 2003 with a talk show, titled The Ellen DeGeneres Show, that saw DeGeneres become a household name once again. On the talk show — which is still going strong today — DeGeneres gets to hang out with celebrities and pull off pranks, but also normalizes being gay and uses it as a platform to do good in the world, spread love, and teach us all to be kinder to one another. This, plus voicing Dory in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, has become DeGeneres' legacy.

Now, let's take a look at 11 other influential LGBTQ TV characters who have likely benefitted from DeGeneres' coming out two decades ago and were able to be themselves as a result.

Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"

Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) were college-aged witches under love's spell on the cult classic TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This was major for a show back in the early 2000s that was targeted at teen viewers and, despite a tragic ending, these two proved that love is the most powerful magic of them all. Prior to dating Tara, Willow had only been interested in guys, showing a glimpse at bisexuality and a lesbian relationship on the small screen.

Kurt Hummel from "Glee"

Besides a stellar voice, Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) had a lot to offer on TV's most successful musical dramedy. Kurt was a well-adjusted teen who was usually in a happy relationship with boyfriend Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss). The show overall drove home lessons about acceptance and inclusion, and Kurt oftentimes was at the center of this. While not the only LGBTQ character on Glee, Kurt is certainly one of the more memorable ones.

Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker from "Modern Family"

In terms of normalizing a gay relationship — specifically two men being married — on broadcast TV was Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet), aka Mitch and Cam. This Modern Family couple were completely incorporated into the show's DNA and we got to see that they could have a functioning marriage, successfully raise a child, and weather the same ups and downs everyone else experiences in life.

Sophia Burset from "Orange Is the New Black"

No one has broken barriers for transgender people on TV more than Laverne Cox — specifically for the role of Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black. The Netflix series is already doing a lot for LGBTQ people by featuring them, mostly women, in gritty and fully realized roles, but it's Cox's hairdresser inmate that steals the show. Cox is the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in an acting category (for this role), have a wax figure installed at Madame Tussauds, to appear on the cover of Time, and to star as a series regular on broadcast TV (with CBS's short-lived Doubt).

Maura Pfefferman from "Transparent"

While Jeffrey Tambour himself is a straight cisgender male, he has truly acted the role of a lifetime as a transgender woman named Maura Pfefferman (aka Moppa). Since its inception, this Amazon series has cleaned up at every awards show and proven itself as a force to be reckoned with in terms of critical acclaim. It follows Maura as she starts a new life after having come out as transgender to her family, dealing with whatever comes her way and discovering her true self.

Everyone from "Steven Universe"

Hear us out on this one: while there aren't any openly LGBTQ characters on this show, Steven Universe is considered to be one of the "queerest" shows on TV right now. It's about a young boy named Steven Universe (voiced by Zach Callison) who lives with three female-presenting creatures who go by the Crystal Gems: Garnet (voiced by Estelle), Amethyst (voiced by Michaela Dietz), and Pearl (voiced by Deedee Magno). Steven doesn't abide by the rules of heteronormativity, and often shows a more emotional and loving side. Plus, when he fuses with his best friend Connie (voiced by Grace Rolek), the form they take is a very androgynous person named Stevonnie. Elsewhere there's Garnet who is the result of a fusion between Gems named Ruby and Sapphire, often seen as a product of a lesbian relationship and Pearl who, as the show goes on, we find out was in love with Steven's mother, Rose Quartz (voiced by Susan Egan). There's a lot of subtext on this show, and that's why it's so great.

Will Truman and Jack McFarland from "Will & Grace"

Much like the aforementioned Modern Family couple, Will & Grace's Will Truman (Eric McCormack) and Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes) aren't that much alike — and, as the show often toys around with, are decidedly not in a relationship. These two men seemingly come from different worlds and show everyone that the assumptions they might have about gay people aren't always true and able to be applied to everyone who identifies that way. Will, the more straight-laced type, and Jack, the flamboyant type, were two interesting archetypes that viewers fell in love with prior to Modern Family's existence. The best news about these two? We'll see them on TV once more as there's new Will & Grace to expect in the near future!

Omar Little from "The Wire"

Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) was a force to be reckoned with on The Wire thanks to everything from his duster which usually hid a shotgun, a facial scar, and the scary whistling that will send shivers up your spine. This figure on the fictional Baltimore-set HBO series may have been rough and tough on the outside, but had strict moral codes that didn't allow for cursing or harming the innocent. On top of all that, Omar was actually openly gay and was a grandmother's boy at heart. This made Omar an enigma and a type of character that viewers didn't get to see very often — if at all — on TV. There wasn't really anyone like this before Omar and there really hasn't been anyone like him since. Omar truly is one of a kind.

Cover image via Featureflash Photo Agency /


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