When we think of LGBTQ media representation, the examples we think of have one thing in common. Brokeback Mountain and Modern Family. Queer as Folk and The Kids Are All Right. Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris. We think of the fearless performances of Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club. We think of Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent and Matt Bomer in The Normal Heart.
The common factor among all these works: a decidedly limited color palette. Nearly every character is white.
This list is an attempt to broaden the examples we talk about when we discuss queer representation in entertainment. It is a celebration of the writers, directors, producers and performers who have nevertheless found ways to tell diverse stories. It is also an indictment of the lily-white vision of gay Americans mainstream media has perpetuated for decades.
It's not exhaustive by any means; we could continue adding plenty of names to the list, some of which are mentioned below in their co-stars' writeups. But these 100 names are clearly exemplary of the way characters of color have more often than not been relegated to being boyfriends and girlfriends, sidekicks and best friends. They're rarely central to American queer storytelling — less than a tenth of the characters on this list were the protagonists of their movies and shows.
Perhaps most importantly, this list should be taken as a reminder that despite great progress in the realm of representation, there is still plenty of work to be done. Our screens both big and small should accurately represent the varied queer experience that our colorful rainbow flag purports to symbolize.
Note: This selection is restricted to characters from North American media. They are listed in chronological order.
Bernard, The Boys in the Band
Played by: Reuben Greene
Lindy, Car Wash
Played by: Antonio Fargas
In this 1976 comedy about a group of car wash employees, Lindy is a crossdressing man who, when confronted by a Black Muslim revolutionary defends himself by countering, "I'm more man than you'll ever be and more woman than you'll ever get."
Shug Avery, The Color Purple
Played by: Margaret Avery
Avery is a sultry blues singer who gets involved with Celie (Whoopi Goldberg); together they are perhaps the most iconic African-American same-sex couple in American cinema, as well as in Alice Walker's original novel.
Lorraine and Theresa, The Women of Brewster Place
A lesbian couple who moves into the rundown urban tenement of Brewster Place in this 1989 Oprah Winfrey-starring ABC miniseries.
Wai-Tung Gao, The Wedding Banquet
Played by: Winston Chao
Wai-Tung, a gay Taiwanese immigrant living in Manhattan with his boyfriend Simon, agrees to marry a mainland Chinese woman to appease his parents.
Miguel Álvarez, Philadelphia
Played by: Antonio Banderas
Far away from the sexually provocative characters that had made him a Pedro Almodóvar muse, Banderas plays Tom Hanks' quiet, devoted partner in this prestigious AIDS drama.
Paul, Six Degrees of Separation
Played by: Will Smith
Smith plays a con artist who claims to be the son of Sidney Poitier in order to get into the good graces of a wealthy Manhattan couple. He is finally found out when he brings a hustler to their Fifth Avenue apartment.
Enrique "Rickie" Vasquez, My So-Called Life
Played by: Wilson Cruz
Rickie, a gay 15-year-old prone to wearing eyeliner and flamboyant clothing, is eventually kicked out by his abusive uncle and finds a new home with his gay English teacher.
Dr. Dennis Hancock, Chicago Hope
Played by: Vondie Curtis-Hall
A doctor in the hit CBS show that ran for six seasons, Curtis-Hall's character only came out after the David E. Kelley show had reached its fourth season.
Jane DeLuca, Boys on the Side
Played by: Whoopi Goldberg
After breaking up with her girlfriend and getting fired, Goldberg's lesbian lounge singer embarks on a cross-country trip to California with two other women in the Herbert Ross dramedy.
Noxeema Jackson and Chi Chi Rodriguez, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
Jackson (Snipes) and fellow drag queen Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) win a trip to Hollywood to partake in the "Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant." They're joined by a younger and less experienced drag queen played by Leguizamo.
Cheryl, The Watermelon Woman
Played by: Cheryl Dunye
A fictionalized version of writer/director Dunye, Cheryl is a video store clerk attempting to become a filmmaker. Her dream subject: a black actress from the 1930s known for playing the stereotypical role of the "mammy" in early Hollywood films.
Kyle and Randall, Get on the Bus
Washington and Lennix play an African-American couple in the midst of breaking up who join several other men on a bus headed for the Million Man March.
Evelyn "Evie" Roy, The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love
Played by: Nicole Ari Parker
In Maria Maggenti's take on a lesbian romantic comedy, Parker plays a high school girl who falls for tomboy Randy, a white girl from her school who works at the local gas station.
Billie Keane, Oz
Played by: Derrick Simmons
Keane is an African-American gay inmate in Emerald City seen in a few episodes of the HBO series' first season.
Kennedy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Played by: Iyari Limon
A late series addition as one of several "potential slayers" in waiting trained by Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Kennedy became Willow's (Alyson Hannigan) girlfriend in the cult series' seventh and final season.
Reena, Chutney Popcorn
Played by: Nisha Ganatra
Written and directed by Ganatra herself, the film follows a young Indian-American woman living in New York who offers to be a surrogate for her sister, despite their mother's disapproval of Reena's homosexuality.
Played by: Jon Huertas
Before costarring in ABC's Castle, Huertas played a gay college student in MTV's infamous anthology series about love, sex and relationships.
Pike Dexter, Big Eden
Played by: Eric Schweig
Pike is a quiet Native American storeowner who harbors a crush on the film's leading man, a white New York City artist who has returned to his hometown in Montana to care for his grandmother.
Taylor, The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy
Played by: Billy Porter
Tony winner Porter plays a man who was left for another man; "and not just any other man, a trainer," he says. "A trainer named Dash. I was left for a punctuation mark."
Cynthia "Original Cindy" McEachin, Dark Angel
Played by: Valarie Rae Miller
"Original Cindy" is an out lesbian and a Rebel Veteran who works alongside Max (Jessica Alba), the transgenic character at the center of James Cameron's sci-fi show.
Lynn Ann Searcy, Girlfriends
Played by: Persia White
Openly bisexual (even proposing marriage to a woman who was about to kill herself in the show's sixth season premiere, "Fits and Starts"), Lynn grew up in an adopted white family and holds five post-graduate degrees.
Treasure, Stranger Inside
Played by: Yolonda Ross
Cheryl Dunye's HBO TV movie follows Treasure, a female inmate at a maximum security prison who is searching for a woman doing life she thinks is her estranged mother.
Maria Diega Reyes, Sex and the City
Played by: Sônia Braga
Screen icon Braga plays a lesbian artist who enters into a fiery relationship with Samantha (Kim Cattrall) in the hit show's fourth season.
Special Agent George Huang, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
Played by: B.D. Wong
Huang is an FBI agent who becomes Manhattan's SVU's forensic psychiatrist and criminal profiler. Nine seasons after being introduced, we learn Huang is gay.
Keith Charles, Six Feet Under
Played by: Mathew St. Patrick
Keith is an openly gay LAPD officer at the start of HBO's funeral home show; he is David Fisher's (Michael C. Hall) main love interest. The two end up adopting two brothers in the show's final season.
Seymour Polatkin, The Business of Fancydancing
Played by: Evan Adams
Directed by Sherman Alexie, the film follows a version of Alexie himself, though the helmer is a straight man. Seymour is a famed American Indian poet who struggles with reconciling his life as a gay man in a relationship with a white man as he returns to the reservation for a friend's funeral.
Omar Devone Little, The Wire
Played by: Michael K. Williams
Omar is a notorious stick-up man whose shotgun and facial scar, not to mention his personal moral code and homosexuality, set him apart from the crime-ridden world of Baltimore. He was one of a few queer characters on the show, including lesbian Det. Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn).
Belize, Angels in America
Played by: Jeffrey Wright
In Tony Kushner's own words, Belize is "a registered nurse and former drag queen whose name was originally Norman Arriaga; Belize is a drag name that stuck." He is the best friend of Prior (Justin Kirk) and ends up caring for Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) in the miniseries' final episodes. Wright won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Belize.
Michael Flores, Camp
Played by: Robin de Jesus
Michael is a gay teenager we learn was beaten by his classmates when he showed up to his junior prom in a dress.
Liz Cruz, Nip/Tuck
Played by: Roma Maffia
The head anesthesiologist for the McNamara/Troy practice, Liz is an out lesbian whose relationships with women, a pre-op trans woman and even Christian Troy (Julian McMahon), are as central to Ryan Murphy's plastic surgery FX show as those of its two male leads.
Perry and Bruce Nugent, Brother to Brother
In Rodney Evans' meditation on gay black life in the 20th century, Perry is an art student who befriends Bruce, a homeless man who turns out to have been a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Wilhelmina "Wil" Pang and Vivian Shing, Saving Face
Alice Wu's romantic dramedy centers on the relationship between Wil, a young Chinese-American surgeon, and a dancer, Viv, even as the former struggles with publicly coming out as a lesbian to her family.
Fatima Goodrich and Alex Guerrero, She Hate Me
Lesbian couple Fatima and Alex establish a business wherein Jack (Anthony Mackie), Fatima's ex-fiancée, gets paid to have sex with lesbians in order for them to get pregnant.
Bette Porter, The L Word
Played by: Jennifer Beals
An Ivy League-educated lesbian of biracial heritage, we meet Bette at the start of the long-running Showtime series in a committed relationship with Tina (Laurel Holloman).
Played by: Tracie Thoms
In Chris Columbus' adaptation of Jonathan Larson's groundbreaking musical, Thoms plays Joanne, a Harvard-educated lawyer who is the straight-laced girlfriend of wild performance artist Maureen (Idina Menzel).
Angel Dumott Schunard and Tom Collins, Rent
One of the most famous gay couples in Broadway history, Angel is a drag queen and street musician living with AIDS, while Collins is an HIV-positive anarchist and philosophy professor.
Callie Torres, Grey's Anatomy
Played by: Sara Ramirez
Originally introduced as a possible romantic interest for George O'Malley (T. R. Knight), Callie, an attending orthopedic surgeon, has had relationships with both men and women on Shonda Rimes' long-running ABC series, eventually marrying girlfriend and pediatric surgeon Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw).
Oscar Martinez, The Office
Played by: Oscar Nuñez
An accountant at the Dunder Mifflin Scranton office in the NBC mockumentary series, Oscar was outed by Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) during the show's third-season opener, "Gay Witch Hunt."
Noah Nicholson, Noah's Arc
Played by: Darryl Stephens
Patrik-Ian Polk's show (an adaptation of sorts of his own film Punks) was Logo's first scripted series and features a predominantly black and Latino cast. At its heart is Noah, a struggling screenwriter.
Sanjay Patel, Weeds
Played by: Maulik Pancholy
Initially hired as a tutor (and later as a pot salesman), Sanjay comes out in the show's third season.
Played by: Jesse García
A gay man disowned from his family because of his homosexuality, Carlos grows closer to his cousin Magdalena (Emily Rios), estranged from her own parents due to her unplanned pregnancy.
Justin Suarez, Ugly Betty
Played by: Mark Indelicato
Justin is protagonist Betty's (America Ferrera) nephew. He's obsessed with the fashion world and with Mode magazine. In the ABC show's fourth season, he officially comes out, eventually attending his mother's wedding with a boy from his performing arts class.
Played by: RuPaul
Written by RuPaul herself, the film follows Starrbooty, a supermodel government agent who is forced to go undercover as a prostitute (Cupcake) in order to save her adopted niece who has been kidnapped by Starrbooty's nemesis, Annaka (Candis Cayne).
Kat, After Sex
Played by: Zoe Saldana
In one of the many conversations about sex that make up this 2007 film, we meet Kat, a college student who has an ongoing sexual relationship with her roommate Nikki (Mila Kunis).
Anna, Itty Bitty Titty Committee
Played by: Melonie Diaz
After being rejected by her college and breaking up with her girlfriend, Anna gets involved with a radical third-wave feminist group (Clits in Action) and falls for Sadie and has a one-night stand with Aggie, a trans man also involved in the organization.
Calvin Owens, Greek
Played by: Paul James
An Omega Chi pledge and later brother, Calvin is initially closeted. But as the ABC Family series progressed (and he got to know his frat brothers), he became more comfortable with his own sexuality.
Khaleel Nazeeh "Kenny" Al-Bahir, The War at Home
Played by: Rami Malek
A recurring character in this Fox comedy, Kenny has a secret crush on his best friend, lead character Larry. He comes out in the show's second season.
Alex Fisher, The Women
Played by: Jada Pinkett-Smith
In Diane English's remake of the 1939 classic of the same name, one of protagonist Mary's (Meg Ryan) best friends is Alex, a lesbian writer.
Lafayette Reynolds, True Blood
Played by: Nelsan Ellis
A short-order cook, a drug dealer and a medium in Alan Ball's HBO vampire show, Lafayette is flamboyant and tough. In later seasons he dates a male witch, Jesus (Kevin Alejandro).
Camile Wray, Stargate Universe
Played by: Ming-Na Wen
The first openly LGBT character in the Stargate franchise, Wray is the highest-ranking International Oversight Advisory (IOA) member stranded on-board the Destiny ship in the Syfy series.
Jes Rivera, La Mission
Played by: Jeremy Ray Valdez
This 2009 drama centers on Che Rivera (Benjamin Pratt) as he continues reforming his life as a former inmate and alcoholic in San Francisco's Mission district. He finds his life tested yet again when he finds out his son, Jes, is gay.
Santana Lopez, Glee
Played by: Naya Rivera
First introduced as a cheerleader mean girl, Santana's relationship with Brittany (Heather Morris) and her outspoken advocacy for bisexuality made her a fascinating presence during Ryan Murphy's musical comedy show.
Mohammed "Mo-Mo" de la Cruz, Nurse Jackie
Played by: Haaz Sleiman
Present only in the first season of the Showtime series, Mo-Mo is a registered nurse and a colleague of Edie Falco's eponymous character.
Kalinda Sharma, The Good Wife
Played by: Archie Panjabi
The in-house private investigator in the CBS legal drama, Kalinda is openly bisexual, having had a tempestuous relationship with both her husband and her coworker Cary while engaging in various sexual relationships with women throughout the six-season-and-counting run. Panjabi won an Emmy for playing Kalinda in 2010.
Special Agent Diana Berrigan, White Collar
Played by: Marsha Thomason
An FBI agent in the white-collar crime unit in the USA show, she is in a committed relationship to Christie through most of the series. She becomes pregnant via sperm donor in the show's fourth season.
Sam Adama, Caprica
Played by: Sasha Roiz
A dangerous enforcer for the Ha'la'tha crime syndicate on Caprica in this Battlestar Galactica spinoff on Syfy, he is married to Larry, and is Bill Adama's uncle.
Carl Bradmore, For Colored Girls
Played by: Omari Hardwick
Married to Jo (the "lady in yellow" in Ntozake Shange's original 1976 play, played here by Janet Jackson), Carl is a closeted gay man whose sexual exploits result in his wife testing positive for HIV in Tyler Perry's 2010 film.
Emily Fields, Pretty Little Liars
Played by: Shay Mitchell
Of Irish/Scottish, Korean and Filipino descent, Emily is a competitive swimming star and one of Alison Delaurentis' best friends before she went missing in ABC Family's teen soap drama.
Joey Williams (Chin-Mei Lang), In the Family
Played by: Patrick Wang
Written and directed by Wang himself, this 2011 film follows Joey taking care of his deceased partner's young son.
Played by: Adepero Oduye
Dee Rees' well-received film tells the story of a 17-year-old girl who is growing into her own identity as a butch lesbian. This is much to the dismay of her mother, who insists she wear feminine clothes and avoid her lesbian friend Laura.
Cindy Harris, Our Idiot Brother
Played by: Rashida Jones
In this Paul Rudd-fronted comedy, Jones plays a lesbian lawyer who help her brother-in-law get his dog back from his estranged ex-girlfriend.
Danny Mahealani, Teen Wolf
Played by: Keahu Kahuanui
A popular lacrosse player in Beacon Hills High, Danny is openly gay, eventually dating twin werewolf Ethan in the MTV show's third season.
Langston, The Skinny
Played by: Shanika Warren-Markland
One of the five friends who arrive in New York City to celebrate Pride with Magnus (Jussie Smollett) in Patrik-Ian Polk's 2012 film, Langston is a lesbian Yale University graduate student and gay porn aficionado.
Sam Strickland, Smash
Played by: Leslie Odom Jr.
Sam is an ensemble player and a good friend of Bombshell leading lady Ivy (Megan Hilty). He becomes romantically involved with Tom (Christian Borle), the composer of that Marilyn Monroe-centric musical.
Unique Adams, Glee
Played by: Alex Newell
In its third season, and continuing its commitment to diverse storytelling, Ryan Murphy's show introduced trans character Unique as the lead vocalist of the a cappella group Vocal Adrenaline. She later joined McKinley High and New Directions.
Yolanda Olveros and Mari Rodriguez, Mosquita y Mari
Written and directed by Aurora Guerrero, the film follows two 15-year-olds growing up in Huntington Park in Los Angeles who find themselves sexually attracted to one another.
Mulan, Once Upon a Time
Played by: Jamie Chung
The Disney princess based on the ancient Chinese legend is a fierce warrior who harbors romantic feelings for the sleeping beauty Aurora.
Capt. Raymond "Ray" Holt, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Played by: Andre Braugher
In the Fox comedy's universe, Captain Holt is the first openly gay homosexual active police captain in New York City, commanding the 99th precinct in Brooklyn. He is married to the head of the classics department at Columbia University.
Lena Elizabeth Adams Foster, The Fosters
Played by: Sherri Saum
Lena is married to Stef (Teri Polo), and is the vice principal of Anchor Beach Community Charter School, where the couple's various children attend.
Suzanne Warren, Orange Is the New Black
Played by: Uzo Aduba
Dubbed a "stud" by one of the correctional officers, Suzanne (often referred to as "Crazy Eyes") is often struggling with how to deal with her seemingly inappropriate homoerotic thoughts. Aduba won an Emmy for her portrayal of this character in 2014 and is nominated again in 2015.
Sophia Burset, Orange Is the New Black
Played by: Laverne Cox
The sole trans woman in Jenji Kohan's Netflix show, former firefighter Sophia is in Litchfield for credit card fraud, one of the ways she dealt with the ballooning costs of her gender confirmation surgery. She is the penitentiary's hairdresser.
Adriana Mendez, The Bridge
Played by: Emily Rios
A Juárez native working at El Paso Times, Adriana quietly comes out to her colleagues in the third episode of this FX show about a serial killer on the Mexican-American border.
Lionel Higgins, Dear White People
Played by: Tyler James Williams
A gay black student at Winchester University, Lionel is tasked by the student newspaper to write a piece on the black experience and specifically on fellow student Sam White (Tessa Thompson)'s radio show, Dear White People.
George Garea, Love Is Strange
Played by: Alfred Molina
After marrying his partner of 39 years, George is fired from his job at a Catholic school, prompting a financial and personal crisis at home.
Played by: Sandra Oh
A small role in Melissa McCarthy's 2014's summer comedy, Susanne is Tammy's grandmother's cousin's wife.
Shirin, Appropriate Behaviour
Played by: Desiree Akhavan
Written and directed by Akhavan, the film centers on Shirin, a Persian bisexual young woman living in Brooklyn, New York, as she rebuilds her life after her breakup with her girlfriend.
Jamie Castro, Broad City
Played by: Arturo Castro
Jamie, a fashionable 20-something and sometimes weed dealer, is Ilana's fashionable, gay, Latino roommate.
Agustín Lanuez, Looking
Played by: Frankie J. Alvarez
Agustín comes from an affluent Cuban-American background. He's introduced as an artist's assistant unsure of his own artistic talent and confused about his monogamous relationship with his boyfriend.
Ricardo "Richie" Donado Ventura, Looking
Played by: Raúl Castillo
A barber in San Francisco who also works the door at a gay bar, Richie is one of protagonist Patrick's (Jonathan Groff) romantic interests. In the show's second season, we witness how Richie's openness about his sexuality is a point of contention with his Mexican-American family.
Renee Montoya, Gotham
Played by: Victoria Cartagena
Montoya, a detective, works at the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham City Police Department and is the former girlfriend of Det. James Gordon's fiancée Barbara Kean.
Oliver Hampton, How to Get Away with Murder
Played by: Conrad Ricamora
An IT specialist, Oliver begins a fling with Connor (Jack Falahee), one of the central characters of this ABC show, out of mere opportunism. It evolves into a serious relationship over the course of the show's first season.
Dr. Luisa Alver, Jane the Virgin
Played by: Yara Martinez
Alver is an OB-GYN whose preoccupation with her wife's extramarital affair led to Jane's virginal pregnancy in the CW's telenovela adaptation.
Paul Narita, Days of Our Lives
Played by: Christopher Sean
A recent addition to the popular NBC soap opera, Paul is a professional baseball player. He's the ex-boyfriend of married man and series regular Sonny Kiriakis.
Capt. David Singh, The Flash
Played by: Patrick Sabongui
Singh is an out, married police captain of the Central Police Department in the CW's superhero show.
Titus Andromedon, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Played by: Tituss Burgess
Jamal Lyon, Empire
Played by: Jussie Smollett
Jamal is the middle son of hip-hop mogul Lucious and his ex-wife Cookie. He struggles with his father's disapproval of his homosexuality while trying to break through as a successful R&B singer and songwriter.
Bessie Smith, Bessie
Played by: Queen Latifah
In Dee Rees' HBO film about the blues singer's life, we see Bessie's love affair with Lucille (Tika Sumpter), a composite character based on several of Smith's various girlfriends. Latifah is nominated for an Emmy for this role.
Played by: Freema?Agyeman
Amanita is the girlfriend of Nomi (Jamie Clayton), a trans woman and lesbian, who is one of the main "sensates" in Netflix's globe-spanning sci-fi show.
Sin-Dee Rella and Alexandra, Tangerine
After getting out of prison and learning that her boyfriend (and pimp) has been cheating on her, Sin-Dee and her best friend Alexandra set out to hunt him down in this trans buddy dramedy.