Now, after sorting through the thirty thousand plus write-in votes, we have the results, and one thing leaps out at us: you guys certainly have a soft spot for the bad boys! When it comes to television, “gay” and “anti-hero” must to go well together because this list is filled with wily schemers, heartless cads, domestic abusers, street thugs, high school bullies and yes, even a couple stone cold killers. Oh well, at least the guy who ranks #1 is an honest to goodness sweetheart.
A few statistics before we get to the list. Almost every single character in the top 50 came from a show that ran in the current century. The only two exceptions? Roseanne’s Leon Carp who last appeared on TV in 1997; and the grandaddy of them all, SOAP’s Jodie Dallas who left the airwaves 32 years ago in 1981. Why the preference for more recent characters? A part of it is probably “out of sight, out of mind,” but it is also true that television overall has just vastly improved in quality since the proliferation of cable, and with that has come an explosion of a multidimensional LGBT characters. There’s just more for gay men to relate to on television these days.
Soap operas might be a dying format, but they still had a surprisingly strong showing on this list, with nine characters coming from serial dramas; five from US daytime and four from as far away as the UK and Germany. And speaking of the UK, seven of the top 50 characters originate from shows produced in that country.
Seven of the top 50 were men of color, including True Blood’s Lafayette Reynolds, Ugly Betty’s Justin Suarez, The Wire’s Omar Little and Spartacus’ Nasir. This is a better showing than the last time we conducted this poll. Age diversity may be the bigger issue. Character ages are hard to verify, but it looks as though only a single character over the age of 40 made the Top 50.
Without further ado, here are the Top 50 Greatest Gay TV Characters…
50. Thomas Barrow, Downton Abbey
Actor: Robert James Collier
Previous Rank: N/A
He’s Thomas the footman. And no, he’s not proudly letting his freak flag fly with that title. Actually, he’s not even a footman any more. He’s risen in the ranks to underbutler at Downton, a position he fought hard and deviously for. It was a hard road to get there. Poor guy was dumped by his titled boyfriend in season 1. In season 2 he was sent off to the WWI front. (Resourceful Thomas had to sacrifice part of his hand in order to survive and get shipped home.) In season 3 he fell in love with another butler, a handsome cad who rejected him violently, promptly outed him to everyone at Downton and then called the police on him. Tough times.
It’s true that much of the trouble Thomas faces he brings on himself. He can be spiteful and devious after all. But audiences still have a soft spot for him, probably because he helps us imagine how awful it would have been to be homosexual basically any time post classical Greece and pre-Stonewall.
The enlightened treatment Thomas receives from his employers and most of his fellow servants seems farfetched for the early 20th century, but we’ll forgive Downton Abbey for taking historical license. In fact, we wish they’d take a bit more and let Thomas find a little true happiness with another dashing gay gent…. –AL
49. Steve Jinks, Warehouse 13
Photo: Mark Wilson/Syfy
Actor: Aaron Ashmore
Previous Rank: N/A
Oh Jinksy. Warehouse 13 ends next year after an abbreviated six episode fifth season, and it’s such a shame because we were just starting to get to know Agent Steve Jinks. The character was introduced at the start of the third season, recruited to the warehouse for his as yet unexplained special power — he always knows when someone is lying. He’s also a Buddhist and gay, though we’ve rarely seen him practicing either.
Still, Ashmore brings so much fuzzy-headed charm to the character, and he has such wonderful big bro/little sis chemistry with scrappy Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti) that when he was murdered at the end of Season 3 we were almost as unhappy about it as Claudia was.
We cheered when Claudia broke all the rules of the warehouse and used a cursed metronome (don’t ask, it’s complicated) to bring Jinksy back to life.
Good thing, because Jinks is a grounding presence in the cast. There’s that brotherly relationship with Claudia, and he’s often the “straight man” foil to sexy goofball Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock). In season 4 we learned a little more about Jinks’ past when his former boyfriend Liam (Charlie Webber) shows up for an episode. The two looked so sexy together that when they make up and have an offscreen “hookup” gay viewers felt a little cheated.
We’re just hoping in the final six episodes Jinks gets another visit from Liam. Our Jinksy deserves a little love. Preferably onscreen! –AL
48. Ray Gillette, Archer
Voiced by: Adam Reed
Previous rank: N/A
Ray Gillette is only one of two animated characters to make our list of greatest gay TV characters. Why did he make the cut? Perhaps because he (and the show he’s on) is so damned funny. ISIS Agent Ray Gillette is sarcastic and prone to various gay stereotypes, but despite some questionable behavior like renting a Malaysian house boy, he’s also one of the most likable agents at ISIS. The FX series being a broad comedy, Ray’s backstory is constantly being amended for comic effect. Over the course of four seasons we’ve learned that he was a college cheerleader, that he won a bronze Olympic medal for slalom skiing, and that he was once married to a lesbian that he met at a “pray the gay away” camp. No doubt we’ll learn many more weird facts about Ray before the series ends.
One running gag has been Ray’s paralysis. Thanks to Archer’s negligence (most plots on this show are driven by Archer’s negligence), Ray is injured and then confined to a wheelchair. Only it is discovered that he’d actually been faking and could walk. Then, in a cosmic comeuppance, Ray is injured again, and this time he really is paralyzed. Archer doesn’t understand why Ray is so upset by this. After all, he “already had the chair.”
In season four Ray had his lower body replaced by bionic prosthetics, allowing him to walk again. Of course, Archer fries the CPU controlling Ray’s legs with a defibrillator in the season finale, so as it stands now (or doesn’t), Ray is back in a wheelchair. –AL
47. Jodie Dallas, SOAP
Actor: Billy Crystal
Previous Rank: 40
Billy Crystal is probably best known for hosting the Oscars, and starring in When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers. But the comedian really burst onto the scene with his turn as gay son Jodie Dallas on the ABC sitcom, Soap, which ran from 1977 to 1981.
Jodie Dallas may not have been the first gay character on network TV (that prize goes to Peter Panama, played by Vincent Schiavelli, in another ABC series called The Corner Bar (1972-3)), but he was arguably the first to make a substantial cultural impact. Many gay men of a certain age probably remember watching the show as a child and being secretly overjoyed to see someone like them on the small screen.
Unfortunately, the show became something of a rallying point for conservative Christian groups seeking to flex their media watchdog muscles. The National Council of Churches helped to organize a boycott against sponsors of the show, ABC reportedly received 32,000 letters of complaint before the premiere, and eight out of 195 ABC affiliates refused to air the show. The network, to its credit, refused to bow to pressure and carried the controversial series for three years.
Always successful in the ratings, the show was arguably done in by the steep discounting ABC had to do to fill commercial slots. According to executive producer Susan Harris, ABC carried the sitcom essentially without corporate sponsorship. –AE
46. Marco Del Rossi, Degrassi: The Next Generation
Actor: Adamo Ruggiero
Previous Rank: 39
“Marco, all these pretty girls, and not one you like?” Oh, Mr. Del Rossi, you just don’t get it. Your son, Marco, can’t be bothered with all those pretty girls because he is the resident GTIC (Gay Teen in Charge) of Degrassi Community School. Viewers first fell in love with Marco when he appeared in season 2 as the shy, uncomfortable boy who hid his sexuality by pretending to date Ellie. That had predictably catastrophic results, but he became seared onto our hearts forever as we watched him come out to his parents, fall for a hot nuisance of a hockey player in Dylan, and grow into a confidant, out student body president crusading against idiotic blood donation laws, all while we forgave each of the severely questionable hairstyles in between.
In many ways, Marco can be considered the precursor to these proud, out glee clubbers we see today because when he made his debut eleven years ago (Eleven! The passage of time!), he was a somewhat rare specimen: the gay teen who was not a victim. Sure, he suffered enough unfortunate drama to last a lifetime, it’s Degrassi after all, but he was also popular, outspoken, and eventually self-assured, existing in a high school that ultimately treated his gayness as a fact of life rather than a reason to be an outcast. –SB
45. Waylon Smithers, The Simpsons
Voice: Harry Shearer
Previous Rank: N/A
Our beloved Waylon Smithers is the neat, officious, and fanatically devoted personal assistant and advisor to Springfield’s legendary evil mastermind, C. Montgomery Burns, and he could not be happier about it. Every 104-year-old multi-billionaire needs someone to keep his nuclear power plant running, hop into his model airplane at gunpoint, and remind him when his heart stops beating again, and Smithers performs these duties admirably. He is the quintessential gay assistant, perfectly in control, willing to do anything no matter how demeaning, and criminally overlooked by his boss/obsession.
It has never been made explicitly clear whether Smithers is into all guys or just Mr. Burns, but he definitely loves his boss, which is good enough for us. Once he’s had the fantasy of Mr. Burns flying in through his bedroom window while he sleeps, there’s really no going back. But who can blame him? The greatness of Smithers is that he is the only one who understands how truly excellent Mr. Burns is and will work dawn to dusk to keep the villainy going. When we become eccentric billionaires, we can only hope we have someone as sycophantic as Smithers to lend a helping hand and assure us that the audience isn’t saying, “Boo!” It’s saying, “Boo-urns!” –SB
44. Marc St. James, Ugly Betty
Actor: Michael Urie
Previous Rank: 12
Marc St. James was not meant to stay on ABC’s Ugly Betty. In fact, he was supposed to be one of many assistants MODE Creative Director Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams) fired every episode. But Marc, in all his curly-haired glory, became an audience favorite…and landed the gig permanently.
And thank Madonna he did. As Slater’s main watchdog, Marc was comedic gold, delivering one-line zingers—typically about Betty’s (America Ferrera) homely appearance— and frothy slapstick week to week. Marc personified the inner fashionisto inside all of us. And he was pretty damn cute, too.
But underneath all of Marc’s flamboyant bravado was a young man yearning for self-discovery. Sound familiar? It was because of this, not any of his flair, that Marc became a hero.
He fought for self-love when he painfully came out to his less-than-accepting mother in season one. He fought to be with whomever he wants, particularly when he finally accepted his love for Cliff—a hairy chub who doesn’t fit into Marc’s fashion-centric world—in season two. Marc fought for Justin, Betty’s closeted nephew. He fought for Wilhelmina. He even fought for Betty—well, sometimes.
Yes, Marc might be television’s funniest fashion savant. But he’s more than that: He’s a fighter.
A fighter in Fendi, no less. –CR
43. Mickey McGuire/Mickey Milkovich, Shameless
Actors: Ciaran Griffiths (UK), Noel Fisher (US)
2007-2012 (UK); 2011-present (US)
Previous Rank: N/A
Are you the sort of guy who’s always been attracted to, shall we say, “bad boys?” Do we have a prize-winner for you. Mickey Milkovich, the budding psychopath of Showtime’s Shameless, is what one might politely call “a piece of work.” (Ciaran Griffiths originated the role, called Mickey Maguire, in the British version of the series.) A sneering, violent criminal from a family even more dysfunctional and warped than the Gallaghers, Mickey originally was just a guy who regularly stole food from Kash, the local grocer, with whom teenage Ian Gallagher was having an affair. When Ian went to Mickey’s house to confront him, however, their simmering passions exploded into sex, and eventually something dangerously close to love.
It’s always problematic to romanticize pathology or brutality (see also: Karofsky & Kurt from Glee or Beecher & Keller from Oz), but Noel Fisher’s scorching sexuality made Mickey always understandable, if not likable. (He beats up the guy Ian is doing under the bleachers, only to readily drop trou and assume the position for Ian to continue.) The dysfunctionality continued as Mickey’s father caught Ian and Mickey together, and made Mickey have sex with a prostitute while Ian watched; Mickey even had a quickie with Ian a scant hour before getting married. But the most stomach-punching moment may have been at the climax of season 3, when Ian, broken-hearted, enlists in the military and leaves Mickey behind, and the audience realizes from Mickey’s shell-shocked expression that it wasn’t that Mickey didn’t love Ian enough; it’s that he loves Ian way more than even he may have realized. –DB
42. Chris Keller, OZ
Actor: Christopher Meloni
Previous Rank: 25
HBO’s prison drama was not for the faint of heart. Over six seasons it presented the life, loves and shankings behind the bars of Oswald State Correctional Facility (nicknamed “Oz”). Seductive bisexual psychopath Chris Keller was perfectly suited for this violent world, but his love for the less violent Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) at least partially redeemed him.
The sometimes tender relationship between these two damned souls was the heart of the series and drove a lot of the drama: Keller and Beecher’s frequent break ups and misunderstandings often had a body count. Still, when things were briefly good, like their Season 3 New Year’s Eve reunion, they were very very good.
But by season four they were back to trying to destroy one another, Beecher starts sleeping around – and Keller retaliates by killing Beecher’s lovers. (Hot as Beecher is, you really don’t want to be rebound guy).
Still, viewers never stopped hoping Keller and Beecher would find their way back to one another.
But there are no happy endings at Oz. By series end, Keller leaps over a balcony to his death and Beecher is put on trial for his murder. Viewers never got to see the outcome of that trial.
Oh well, we’ll always have that full frontal nudity to remember Keller by. Thanks HBO! –AL
Oz: Ten Years Later: Creator Tom Fontana talks about his gay-inclusive series and its groundbreaking same-sex love story.
41. Nolan Ross, Revenge
Actor: Gabriel Mann
Previous Rank: N/A
Not all of Nolan’s paramours are dead, however. His former boyfriend Marco visits … but let’s just say we’re all hoping that Nolan manages to make some better choices in Season Three. And that he still manages to look like The Gay Gatsby.
40. Leon Carp, Roseanne
Actor: Martin Mull
Previous Rank: N/A
Leon Carp first appeared in the third season of the ABC sitcom Roseanne. He was the uptight supervisor at Rodbell’s Diner where Roseanne was employed as a waitress. He’s a by the book, customer is always right, must punch in on time kind of manager, and that obviously leads to a lot of comic conflict with Roseanne. It’s eventually revealed that Leon is gay and while Roseanne has no problem with it, she does use that fact to her advantage occasionally. For instance, threatening to out him to his boss in order to get him to ease up on the rules at the diner. Roseanne and Leon are never exactly friends, but they do come to respect one another, and Leon eventually joins Dan’s poker circle. Leon also meets and marries the more easygoing Scott (Fred Willard) and at the end of the series they announce they are going to adopt a Romanian baby.
Leon is significant as a character because the way Roseanne meets, interacts with and comes to respect him: Through the workplace. It was a perfect comic reflection of how much of middle America was encountering gay people for the first time, through out co-workers. –AL
39. Andrew Wells, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Actor: Tom Lenk
Previous rank: N/A
When a character’s introduction to a TV series comes in the form of a Wizard of Oz reference, he’s clearly someone gay fans are going to want to watch. Although Andrew was ostensibly a classmate of Buffy and the Scooby gang, he wasn’t introduced until Season 6, as part of a mini big-bad, a “Geek Trio” of former Sunnydale students turned super-villains (at least in their own minds). Andrew’s evil genius claim to fame, we’re told, was unleashing “demonic flying monkeys” to attack the school. Even so, it was clear he wasn’t so much into being bad as pining over head baddie, Warren. And who among us hasn’t been there, joining some club or fraternity we hated just to cozy up to that hottie correspondence secretary?
Andrew’s great change of heart came in the classic Season 7 episode “Storyteller,” when, camera in hand, he sets out to chronicle the recent trials of “Buffy, Slayer of the Vam-pyres,” from his own highly skewed perspective. After annoying the hell-mouth out of his interviewees, he eventually confesses to his misdeeds and sets out on a poignant, if comic, path to redemption.
Although he never identified himself – or was labeled by others – as gay, his sexuality was fairly obvious to anyone with eyes and ears. It was obvious, say, when his video camera barely paused on some hot girl on girl action, instead lingering over handyman Xander. Or in double entendre-laden dialogue (sample: “I’ll find it if I have to check every hole in my body — and yours!”). In this sense, Andrew was an early case of what became a common, and irritating, TV stereotype: the guy who remains clueless about his own sexuality despite the fact that everything him about his shrieks “gay.” And yet, his part was so hilariously written – and adorably portrayed by out actor Lenk – that we couldn’t help but be won over. How could we not love someone with a Star Trek reference for every occasion, not to mention a tendency to fantasize over Scott Bakula? –SF
38. Cameron Tucker, Modern Family
Actor: Eric Stonestreet
Previous Rank: 27
As half of one of the most beloved couples on TV, Cam had us beaming with delight from the moment he revealed Lily’s adoption by presenting her aloft to the soundtrack of The Lion King. That’s our Cam. He is the dramatic showman, so full of love, excitement, and joy that he might burst at any moment, and then make a scrapbook about it. Cam resonates with audiences because he is so bright and comfortable with himself, unafraid to be loud or feel strongly, eager to share all about his exploits on the farm, or on the football field, or as a classically trained auguste clown, or as the school music teacher to anyone who will listen.
He has been called a stereotype, with the shrill screaming, the bright clothes, and the running with his floppy wrists above his head, but his pride and confidence show that is not in any way a negative. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s the exact reason we love him.
He is the louder and more emotional side of the Tucker-Pritchetts and so reacts to situations in the broadly comedic and theatrical way we all wish we could sometimes, by tipping over a bowl of fruit in silent protest before storming off or by exclaiming, “I don’t feel safe in my own home!” at Mitchell’s consistent sarcasm. Cameron has a lot of feelings, and they’re all perfect and hilarious. –SB
37. Noah Mayer, As the World Turns
Actor: Jake Silbermann
Previous Rank: 16
Noah Mayer arrived on the soap scene as the potential love interest for As the World Turns’ Luke Snyder. Naturally, there were several obstacles in the way, including the fact that Noah was at that point straight, was dating Luke’s friend Maddie, and had a psychopath military Colonel father who had murdered his mother and was less than open to the idea of having a gay son. But over time and after various attempted murders, kidnappings, fake wives, and other day-to-day soap opera developments, Noah and Luke emerged as daytime’s first gay supercouple.
When we met Noah he – like many other closeted or questioning LGBT people who are not living their truth – was a mess of contradictions. He was irritable, duplicitous, guarded, and a bit shady. But as he became more comfortable with his sexuality and let Luke’s love for him pull him out from under his father’s heel, he evolved into a warm, honest, and engaged young man with dreams of being a film director and a real love for Luke. Unfortunately a fireworks accident and a subsequent bout of blindness (which allowed another handsome suitor to enter the picture) derailed “Nuke”, but it was clear that had the series not been canceled, the two men would have found themselves in one another’s orbits down the road.
Noah is beloved by many because he reminds many of us of our first love, especially if that first love was still navigating their path toward self-awareness. While sometimes it was easier to hate Noah than to love him, it was always clear that beneath his armor there stood a knight. –BJ
36. Omar Little, The Wire
Actor: Michael K. Williams
Previous Rank: 44
Of all the characters on this list, The Wire’s Omar Little might be the only one to have stolen the heart of a future President: back in 2008, Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama told The Las Vegas Sun that Omar was his favorite character on The Wire, noting, “I gotta say Omar‘s a great character … He’s this gay gangster who only robs drug dealers, and then gives back. You know, he’s sort of a Robin Hood. And he’s the toughest, baddest guy on this show, but he’s gay, you know. And it’s really interesting. It’s a fascinating character.”
Fans of the show agreed, and for years this complex and compelling character (played brilliantly by Michael K. Williams) was a fan favorite on the best thing to happen to Baltimore since John Waters. What made Omar so special? One, he was a total badass. Two, despite being a stick-up man he operated under a strict moral code that forbade him from harming the innocent (or, amusingly enough, using profanity). He was honest (unless he was under oath and getting revenge on the man who killed his boyfriend), fiercely intelligent and resourceful (remember when he made that stab-proof vest out of books in prison?), and he loved his grandma, even saving her – but not her best Sunday hat – from a shootout on the way to church. He had several love interests and cared for them, along with his close friends and associates, deeply.
But it was Omar’s reputation on the street – people would actually run when they saw him (even en route to get Honey Nut Cheerios in a silk bathrobe) or heard his trademark whistling – that really made this shotgun-packing, scar-faced, one-of-a-kind gay character stand out from the pack.
Omar was eventually bested by a gun-toting pre-teen from a rival gang, but the legacy of Baltimore’s Robin Hood lives on any time one of his fans shouts, “Omar comin’!” — BJ
35. David Sawyer, The New Normal
Actor: Justin Bartha
Previous Ranking: N/A
David, the hunky, butch OB-GYN half of the L.A. gay couple on Ryan Murphy’s The New Normal, seems at first glance to be an A-lister extraordinaire. He’s a handsome jock who regularly plays basketball with a straight group of friends, he steps in to coach kids’ football, he treasures a baseball to give to his future son, and he was even a Boy Scout for heaven’s sake. One problem, his partner Bryan was played by the adorable and hilarious Andrew Rannells. So how could David compete for our affection?
Give it up for Justin Bartha, a remarkably skilled actor who prior to The New Normal had largely been wasted in The Hangover Parts 1,2 & 3 and those awful National Treasure movies. He imbued David with shading and complexity. David stands up for a guy whom he thinks is being harassed, only to be put firmly in his place for his white-knight complex. He is frustrated by his divorced parents’ fractious relationship. He is completely undone when he has to host a princess party for a bunch of little girls. He’s shattered when the couple’s dog, Harvey Milkbone, is run over. And when he is forced out as a Boy Scout leader by another parent, we feel the sting. Flashbacks to the couple’s first date showed us a dorky, bespectacled guy who, clearly, had no idea how lovable he truly was. He was.
By the end of The New Normal and that romantic beach wedding we were fully invested in David and wanted the best for him. It was bittersweet knowing the show wouldn’t return for a second season, but at least it went out on a high note. –DB
34. Noah Nicholson, Noah’s Arc
Actor: Darryl Stephens
2005-2006, movie 2008
Previous Rank: 37
The dazzlingly eccentric wardrobe, the burgeoning writing career, the three archetype friends and the troubles with men, including the one ephemeral, sometimes elusive man of your dreams…. You never have to wonder what Sex and the City’s Carrie would be like as a gay, black man. Noah’s Arc has already shown us and, frankly, it’s more compelling than we imagined.
Noah is a study in contradiction. He’s self-absorbed yet he’s relentlessly protective of the people he loves. His love life is frequently a mess, and yet he doles out wise advice like he’s Dear Abby. He’s short-tempered but so sweet and loving. Due to some wonderful writing and a charismatic performance by Stephens, we knew this was all consistent with who Noah is. And we love him for it.
Noah’s Arc was terribly short-lived on Logo. There were just seventeen episodes over two seasons, plus the follow-up movie, Noah’s Arc: Jumping The Broom. Still, the series will always be remembered for being the first (and so far only) television comedy ever to bring us into the lives of gay, black men.
And Noah was the perfect guide. –BD
33. Bryan Collins, The New Normal
Actor: Andrew Rannells
Previous Ranking: N/A
Bryan Collins was not-so-loosely-based on producer/showrunner Ryan Murphy. (Bryan produces a teen song and dance show called Sing!) Partner David (Justin Bartha) may have been the strong tether in the relationship, but Bryan was the sparkly, helium-filled balloon, eternally tugging to soar into the sky. How can you bring someone like that down to earth? Most importantly, based on Andrew Rannell’s sweetly empathetic portrayal, why would you?
Bryan is exhausting (the breastfeeding-protest episode), a drama queen (the group-Halloween episode); he has a very big mouth and a heart which he wears nakedly on his sleeve (just about any other episode). Bryan is the guy who, just when he’s verging on caricature, gets told off by homophobes in an outlet store. His vulnerability as he explains his pain to David devastates you. Bryan bonds with little Shania, building her self-esteem and encouraging her to be a strong, unique individual (even if that means her aping Cher or Little Edie at odd moments). Bryan wrestles with drinking too much, and whether or not his faith can dovetail with his being gay. Bryan tries to give Shania the pretend wedding of her dreams, only to have it fall to pieces (oh, treacherous grade-school boys!); however, his unabashed romanticism melts even practical David’s heart. Bryan may be an overgrown Peter Pan, but David’s no fool—a life without with Bryan is a life without magic fairy dust, without laughter, without love. Who’d want that? –DB
32. John Cooper, Southland
Actor: Michael Cudlitz
Previous Rank: 45
One cannot begin to talk about John Cooper of Southland without talking about his back. It’s a strong, wide back, beefy of muscle and broad of shoulder (not to mention its tapering down to a rocking butt). It’s a back that carries many, many burdens—until it breaks.
Cooper, arguably Southland’s closest thing to a white knight character, is a helluvva cop. He is also a deeply damaged human being (his father, whom we met in one episode, went to prison for shooting Cooper’s teenage girlfriend). He occasionally reached out to his ex-wife and his former captain for support and to forge a connection, yet most of his demons he fought alone. Cooper battled depression, loneliness, an incapacitating back injury, substance abuse, detox, PTSD due to a kidnapping wherein his partner was executed, and an inability to keep his off-again/on-again gardener-boyfriend Cesar in his life. Yet, for five harrowing seasons on NBC and TNT, there was no one in uniform more worthy of respect. By the time the series concluded with its brutal final lines–“This is a cop. This is John Cooper”–we knew all too well the costs Cooper had paid for trying to carry the weight of South Central on his back for far too long. Rest easy, Daddy John—you deserve some peace. –DB
31. Emmett Honeycutt, Queer as Folk
Actor: Peter Paige
Pevious Rank: 21
Queer as Folk’s Emmett Honeycutt could have been nothing more than an offensive stereotype, but out gay actor Peter Paige instead brought to life one of TV’s best portrayals of a strong, queeny gay man. Emmett could dance, accessorize, organize a party, and fight like the devil for the people he loved and causes he believed in.
Emmett had romantic relationships with all kinds of men, including a wealthy senior citizen, his nebbishy best friend, and a closeted professional football player. When he loved, he loved hard, wearing his heart on his always-fabulous sleeve. Despite heartbreak and loss, he always picked himself up, dusted himself off, spent a few days wrapped in a blanket eating ice cream, and then went out and did it all over again. — AE
30. Jack McFarland, Will & Grace
Actor: Sean Hayes
Previous Rank: 9
While Jack McFarland’s one-man show—complete with jazz hands and a catchy title jingle (You guessed it: “Just Jack!”)—was less than successful, the supporting character on Will & Grace is the exact opposite. He’s iconic.
Jack served as the perfect foil to the introverted and cynical Will Truman. Jack was a ray of light—Madonna pun always intended—whose rainbow shimmer shined brighter than any of Rihanna’s diamonds. Jack was a dreamer and didn’t seem to mind his early 20s outlook on life—hot boys and odd jobs—despite his mid-30s age.
This cavalier, throw-caution-to-the-wind disposition is what gives Jack his place in iconic gay television history. By freeing himself from hardships, he freed us too. Jack inspired us to dream harder, laugh often and never be ashamed of our stereotypical obsessions with Cher and Britney (Both divas made appearances on the sitcom, creating multiple gaygasms across the planet).
Jack’s life wasn’t all fun, though. We caught glimpses of Jack’s humanity when he painfully came out to his unsuspecting mother and when he realized he really wasn’t that good of an actor. Yes, Jack had his falls…and they were hard.
But by picking himself up and strutting on to the next dream, he became a superstar. And more than “Just Jack.” –CR
29. David Karofsky, Glee
Actor: Max Adler
Previous Rank: N/A
It’s a sad story, that of David Karofsky, the football-playing bully who began his Glee career as the reviled and persistent tormenter of Kurt. As is so often the case, however, his character’s constant and aggressive homophobia, in reality, masked a whole different set of emotions.
In season 2, it became clear that David’s bullying was a result of his own insecurity about being gay, a reality that spilled out of him unexpectedly when he kissed Kurt during a heated confrontation, beginning a long, painful, and incomplete coming out journey. At first, he attempted to hide his sexuality to avoid the consequences he feared awaited him while he tried to figure it out for himself (meanwhile atoning for his past behavior and revealing himself as sweet and vulnerable instead of hateful), but this could not last. Eventually, he was outed.
Unable to handle the reality of being gay, coupled with the abuse and torment he received both from other students and fellow gays like Sebastian, Karofsky attempted suicide. He was found in time and survived the attempt, but the entire tale of David Karofsky provides an important counterargument to the parade of happy, well-adjusted, comfortable gay teens that occupy the Glee world. Not everyone can be a bouncy Blaine about being gay in high school, and this depiction of a variety of experiences is what makes Glee’s stable of gay characters so rich and influential. –SB
28. Danny Mahealani, Teen Wolf
Actor: Keahu Kahuanui
Previous Rank: N/A
We didn’t think Danny Māhealani would last very long in Beacon Hills, a town where people get mauled to death on the regular by mythical monsters. If TV history has taught us anything, it’s that the gay supporting characters die first. And a gay supporting character who also happens to be a man of color? We thought he was a goner for sure. But Danny hasn’t just survived in Beacon Hills; Danny has thrived in Beacon Hills.
Teen Wolf introduced Danny as the sidekick and best friend of the show’s main antagonist, Jackson Whittemore, but he quickly became a fan favorite on his own. We never saw Danny come out. He was out when we met him — and no one had a problem with it. Not in the locker room, not on the lacrosse field, not in chemistry class or at parties or in the band room or in the computer lab. That’s right: Danny is an athlete, a musician, and a computer wiz. According to Stiles Stilinski, everybody likes Danny.
In season one, Stiles persuaded Danny to do some computer hacking by parading a shirtless Derek Hale around in front of him. (“You swing for a different team but you still play ball; don’t you, Danny boy?”) And in the same season, Danny brought his boyfriend to the school formal. Season two saw Danny dealing with heartbreak after his boyfriend dumped him, maybe because he spent a good chunk of time at that formal slow-dancing with Scott McCall. But by season three, Danny was on the rebound, pursuing a relationship with alpha werewolf Ethan, with whom he enjoyed lots of shirtless making out and plenty Breathsavers breath mints! –HH
27. David Fisher, Six Feet Under
Actor: Michael C. Hall
Previous Rank: 10
Do you like your men on the buttoned-up and controlled side? Have you ever wondered what sort of a desperate heart might be wildly beating beneath a dark business suit? Do you wonder about the shoulder that everyone else gets to cry on? Gentlemen, I give you David Fisher, from Six Feet Under—a conservative closet case, an emotional mess, but someone who was always deeply, fascinatingly flawed and human. (Not to mention those preppy good looks and a hidden sexual wild side.)
David was dutiful and accomplished (he could have been a lawyer), but also crabbed, embittered and afraid of living an honest and open life.
Slowly, as he came out over five seasons and found tumultuous love with hunky cop Keith, we watched his relationships with his family members grow, deepen, and develop in surprising and moving ways.
Six Feet Under being a show about a family that runs a funeral home, death was a obviously running theme. David had his own horrific near-death experience (a carjacking and near-murder) and plenty of stumbles along the way, but he still somehow survived, went on, recovered, had a husband and children, and ultimately lived a long, happy, “out” life. And his final moments, as he glimpses a young, handsome, resurrected Keith at a family picnic before being called Home? Glorious, indeed. –DB
26. Sebastian Smythe, Glee
Actor: Grant Gustin
Previous Rank: N/A
In season 3, Glee found itself in search of a juicy, satisfying villain, and it got one in Sebastian Smythe, Dalton Academy’s new singing prodigy and replacement Blaine. From the first appearance of his smirky little meerkat face and Craigslist smell (Kurt’s words, take it up with him), Sebastian emerged as the Wicked Witch of the Warblers and brought on quite the conundrum for gay viewers, forcing us to reconcile our love of cartoonish, sharp-tongued, angular-faced baddies (he’s basically the Jafar of Glee) with our hatred of people who are mean to Kurt. Is he wrong, or so wrong he’s right?
At first, Sebastian’s wickedness seemed confined to overt Blaine lust and a satchel full of impish, well-timed barbs directed at “old Betty White” Kurt with his “hard luck case of the gay face.” However, events escalated during a Michael Jackson tribute, as they often do, leading to his infamous rock salting of Blaine’s eye. It was Karofsky’s suicide attempt, though, that finally guilted Sebastian into trying to change his evil ways and profess an end to his reign of terror.
Judging by sinister Sebastian’s #26 ranking on this list, we think more than a few of you love yourselves a bad boy, and we understand. Even though he has appeared in only a handful of episodes, few Glee chaps have been so memorable and deliciously evil. –SB
25. Scotty Wandell, Brothers & Sisters
Actor: Luke Macfarlane
Previous Rank: 5
If the Vatican was run the way it really should be, then Scotty Wandell would be next in line for sainthood. Let us count the reasons why …
For ever even seeing Kevin Walker as potential boyfriend material, despite the priggishness, snubs, and insults (like, oh, trying to pay him for his time). And then for continuing to come back to him, many, many times, despite the recurrence of those very same flaws.
For enduring ceaseless Walker squabbling during countless drunken family dinners — when all he wanted was someone to pass the freaking mango-peach salsa. For loving the world’s most intrusive and controlling mother-in-law. For confronting his own bigoted parents and managing to change his father a teensy bit for the better. For being that rare breed – an LA cater-waiter not pursuing an acting career– who somehow manages to become a celebrated chef/restaurateur.
For eventually helping Kevin open up as a partner, able to show affection and laugh from time to time. For somehow managing to turn his own unfaithfulness into a means of paving a stronger marriage. For finishing out a TV series having it all – the handsome husband, the successful business, the gorgeous home, the two kids. And most of all, for being played by Luke Macfarlane, whose second coming as a TV regular is something we’re still praying for. –SF
24. Justin Suarez, Ugly Betty
Actor: Mark Indelicato
Previous Rank: 31
Let’s face it, at one point we were all Justin Suarez—maybe just not as well dressed. Justin has a coming out story that defies saccharine and rainbow-filled parties…though if his mother Hilda and grandfather Ignacio had their way, there would have been a party. Remember that hot mess from season four?
Instead Justin’s coming out happened in stages. It started early with pep talks from MODE Creative Assistant Marc St. James, Justin’s idol and main confidante. But the climax wasn’t until Justin asked his beau Austin to dance during Hilda’s wedding. With this poignant yet powerful gesture, Justin became the man we all were hoping for. Huzzah!
There’s something touching about how demurely Justin, who by no means was a quiet character, dealt with his sexuality. In a way, he mirrored what many gay adolescents go through—covering up fear and self-doubt with a forced confidence and fabulousness. Of course, it stopped being forced in time. Once Justin discovered Justin, he became confident. And fabulous.
Justin was the original Kurt Hummel—a bashful yet boastful youngster who could dually make you laugh and pull at your heartstrings. Yes, we cried when the jock jerks made Justin Homecoming Queen (a plot point Glee stole, mind you)—then laughed when he turned the joke around and gave the crown to his deserving mother. Through fighting, tears and glitter, Justin found himself. He helped us find ourselves too.
And the guy isn’t even old enough to drive. –CR
23. Ste Hay, Hollyoaks
Actor: Kieron Richardson
Previous Rank: N/A
22. Ian Gallagher, Shameless
Actors: Gerard Kearns (UK), Cameron Monaghan (US)
2004-2010 (UK), 2011-Present (US)
Previous Rank: N/A
There are gay characters with “daddy issues”–and then there’s Ian Gallagher of Shameless. Not only is he saddled with the vile, worthless Frank Gallagher as his acting father; he also starts the series off banging his older grocery-store boss Kash, a married Muslim. Ian later has a passionate fling with Lloyd Lishman (Harry Hamlin), a surgeon old enough to be his grandfather—and did we mention that Lloyd is the father of Jimmy, Ian’s sister Fiona’s boyfriend? Issues, folks.
But Ian does have three great loves: his brilliant but unmotivated older brother Lip, the military, and Mickey Milkovich, a hood from a family even worse off than Ian’s. Mickey wraps Ian around his extended middle finger and plays him like a Stradivarius, leading to lots of hot sex between them. (Ian’s wedding gift to Mickey—an hour before Mickey’s wedding to a pregnant Russian hooker—was um, memorable.) But at the end of Season 3, his heart broken one too many times, Ian departed on a bus to enlist—leaving Mickey and the audience to mourn his (hopefully temporary) loss. When you comin’ back Ian, you Red Rider? Your gloriously messy family—and viewers—need you. –DB
21. Dr. Reid Oliver, As the World Turns
Actor: Eric Sheffer Stevens
Previous Rank: N/A
Even though Reid was only on As The World Turns for nine months, he made an indelible impression, thanks to the performance of Eric Sheffer Stevens and the palpable chemistry he shared with Van Hansis. It was an even greater accomplishment when you realize that Reid and Luke never even consummated their relationship. They only shared a few kisses. But there was that mechanical bull … –s.
20. Mitchell Pritchett, Modern Family
Actor: Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Previous Rank: 32
If Cameron is the dramatic, flamboyant, and emotional member of the family, then Mitchell is the down-to-earth, organized, perfectionist one, the consummate lawyer with all his suits and pragmatic points. It’s Mitchell’s job to put the reality goggles on Cam from time to time, just as it is Cam’s job to make Mitchell relax and enjoy things from time to time. That’s why they’re so sitcomishly perfect for each other and why we’re so glad Mitchell and Cam are going to take Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s adorable, bowtie-clad lead and get to knot tying this year.
Mitchell may be the gay straight man to Cam’s personality explosion, but he always manages to be equally lovable, mostly because of his pointed and perfectly timed facial expressions. If there were an Emmy for Best Performance by a Face in a Knowing Reaction, Jesse Tyler Ferguson would surely have a room full of them. Be it in reacting to Cam or Claire or Jay or Cam or Gloria or Cam, we can’t get enough of that slightly tilted, heavily sarcastic Mitchell face saying, “You heard that, right? Thank you. I know.” It’s that look that makes viewers see themselves as Mitchell because of all the Modern Family adults, he is the most attuned to the fact that everyone around him is clinically insane, and who hasn’t felt that way about their family? –SB
19. Oliver Sabel, Forbidden Love
Actor: Jo Weil
Previous Rank: 20
So how exactly does a character from a German soap wind up on TheBacklot’s list of 50 favorite gay TV characters? The trick seems to be lots and lots of sexy YouTube video clips! At about the same time U.S. audiences were complaining that As the World Turns’ gay characters Luke & Noah weren’t being allowed to show on air physical affection, here comes Olli & Christian in a series of fan subtitled clips from Germany’s Verbotene Liebe (a.k.a. Forbidden Love). American audiences didn’t know what they were missing until they saw true gay soap opera love right there on their computer screens. After watching that first love scene in April 2008, the one with the beautiful Sia tune “Breathe Me” playing in the background, we we’re all hopelessly in love with Olli and Christian. And more than a little in love with the actors who play these characters. Jo Weil (Olli) and Thore Schölermann (Christian) have consistently landed on our annual Hot 100 list.
For five years these two characters have been a central part of the German soap, and throughout that time Schölermann and Weil have graciously cultivated their international fan base. In fact, if you’re an Olli fan and in or near NYC later this month, there’s a special Jo Weil Fan Event on Saturday, October 26, 2013 in NYC you might just want to catch! –AL
18. Jack McPhee, Dawson’s Creek
Actor: Kerr Smith
Previous Rank: 19
Jack McPhee arrived at fictional Capeside High School during the second season of out gay writer Kevin Williamson’s Dawson’s Creek. He was eventually forced out of the closet by a sadistic English teacher who made him read a personal and revealing poem in front of his class. To his surprise, Jack’s classmates rallied around him, forcing the sadistic teacher into early retirement.
Despite support from his friends, particularly Pacey (Joshua Jackson), Jack would continue to struggle with his sexuality for the remainder of the series. Thankfully he did have some memorable relationships along the way, and, in fact, the character can boast having shared the first onscreen gay male kiss on network television. In the Season 3 finale, Jack finally screwed up the courage to lock lips with his longtime crush, Ethan. –AE
17. Christian Mann, Forbidden Love
Actor: Thore Schölermann
Previous Rank: 17
Hot straight guy starts dating a gay guy’s best female friend. He begins to develop feelings for the gay friend. He tries to hard fight it but can’t resist. Typical soap opera complications and a lot of steamy love scenes ensue!
Except for that last bit– the numerous steamy love scenes– we could be describing As the World Turns’ Luke & Noah. Instead, we’re talking about the romance of Christian and Olli which kicked off at about the same time on the German Soap Verbotene Liebe. (Forbidden Love).
Luke and Noah might have had a lot of US fans, but the German pairing became an international sensation when English subtitled clips of their scenes together started showing up on YouTube, and it’s not hard to see why those videos went viral. The actors playing Christian and Olli are gorgeous (It should surprise no one that Olli and Christian were voted ’Most Beautiful Couple’ at the 1st German Soap Awards) and the two have always had palpable chemistry.
Verbotene Liebe has capitalized on their popularity, giving Christian and Olli a lot to do over the years. Despite some questionable storylines along the way, it has been a remarkable run for a gay couple on a soap opera. Where ATWT’s Nuke and One Life to Live’s Kish and so many others are no more, Chrolli survives. Even if these days actor Schölermann only makes limited guest appearances, we know that eventually Christian and Olli will be reunited. They’ll fire up Sia’s “Breathe Me” and make us all melt once again. Until then, thank God for YouTube. –AL
16. Kevin Walker, Brothers & Sisters
Actor: Matthew Rhys
Previous Rank: 6
When Brothers & Sisters premiered in 2006, it introduced something almost unheard of in the primetime landscape … a central gay character in an ensemble drama. Proudly out at home and on the job, Kevin Walker was given the same level of work and relationship drama as his wine and whine loving siblings. Plus, he was easy on the eyes thanks to Welsh actor Matthew Rhys. But Kevin was perhaps at his most sexy using his litigation skills to assert gay rights, from challenging courtroom adversaries to bigoted in-laws to his Republican brother-in-law, who also happened to be a U.S. senator and Kevin’s boss. Sure, Kevin could be infuriating at times – stubborn, insensitive, egotistical. In other words, entirely human. Which made it all the more fun seeing him occasionally cut loose, say by having a fling with a military man during a family road trip. There were other serious boyfriends — a studly, closeted soap actor; a minister with heavenly abs. But the great love of his life, introduced right in the first season, was cater-waiter turned chef Scotty Wandell. The emotional ups and downs (and ups and downs and ups) of their relationship over five seasons — vivid proof that the gay couple could be just as complicated and engaging as any other — provided the emotional heart of the show. We left the two happily married with children. And finally, the gay brother was the one with the fairytale ending. –SF
15. Max Blum, Happy Endings
Actor: Adam Pally
Previous Rank: N/A
14. Nasir, Spartacus
Actor: Pana Hema Taylor
Previous Rank: N/A
When we first meet Nasir, he is not quite himself—literally. Known as Tiberius, he is a Syrian body slave kept by a dominus whose duties for Nasir seem generally limited to nocturnal activities. Freed by Spartacus and his band of gladiator rebels, Nasir is defiant, angry, afraid. No longer told how to be in every aspect of his life, he becomes a figure any gay kid could identify with: unsure of who he is in a brave new world that allows him the freedom to explore such a question for himself.
Then along comes Agron, a beefy, brawny gladiator with a heart of gold and a body like a marble statue. And Nasir is literally saved by love. Under Agron’s tender-loving tutelage, Nasir finds his inner (and outer) strength. He is tempered by love; now that he has something to fight for, he rises through the ranks of Spartacus’ army, a rise that mirrors his own belief in himself and in his relationship. In the series’ final episodes, we spy Nasir leading a band of warriors in a raid on a Roman villa, shouting “I am Spartacus!,” a cry that not only indicates his confidence in battle, but also his confidence in himself.
What is most remarkable about the great love of Agron and Nasir is how unremarked upon it is in the series. There is no agonizing coming out story; there is no “Is he?” or “Are they?” questions asked by other characters. There is no angst. There is simply, and quite profoundly, the scene of two men, unabashedly in love, giggling in embarrassed glee when they are caught by a colleague in a compromising position when they are supposed to be on guard duty.
The tale of Spartacus is one we knew from history was doomed to end unhappily; the rebellion must fall to the might of Rome, Spartacus must die. But amazingly, Nasir and Agron get their happy ending, and so do we; two men, loving each other fiercely and proudly, somewhere just beyond the reach of mighty Rome, two characters fading into legend, and each an important part of our own history now. —MC
13. Will Truman, Will & Grace
Actor: Eric McCormack
Previous Rank: 4
Will Truman is the gay—wait, Will Truman is the man—any man should aspire to be. Gay or not, the title character from the iconic and groundbreaking NBC sitcom is a tour-de-force.
Will was different. Unlike the flamboyant and boisterous Jack (who obviously made this list too), Will sought self-fulfillment outside of his own sexuality.
While coming to terms with being gay was a focal point for Will throughout the series—seen mostly through his relationship with his father George—he grew into a role model for all of us by focusing on building deep relationships, a satisfying career, good health and a sense of humor. For one of the first times ever, a gay character wasn’t all about being gay.
That’s not to say Will’s life wasn’t full of gut-wrenching drama. We lost our minds every time we thought Grace and he were about to end their friendship. We rejoiced when Will and hot cop Vince got together. We cried when they broke up…then danced again when they lived happily ever after— with their adorable son Ben. See? It’s the American dream.
Will set a standard for both the gay men on screen and reality: Life as a gay man isn’t any different than life as a man.
Well, maybe better shoes. –CR
12. Brendan Brady, Hollyoaks
Actor: Emmet J. Scanlan
Previous Rank: N/A
11. Ianto Jones, Torchwood
Actor: Gareth David-Lloyd
Previous Rank: 3
If you find businesslike efficiency, Welsh accents, and sarcastic asides as sexy as we do, then your only question should be why Torchwood’s bisexual flagbearer Ianto Jones comes in at only #11 instead of #1 forever. Ianto is the general support officer for Cardiff’s rogue Torchwood branch, basically meaning that he does all the smart, important things to keep the organization running while Jack and the gang gallivant around fighting aliens and erasing people’s memories.
Through most of season 1, Ianto was terse, grim, and detached because his great lady love had been turned into a Cyberwoman and destroyed. That’ll do it. But all was not lost for dear Ianto, as he soon found solace in the strapping arms of Jack Harkness. That’ll also do it. His relationship with Jack brought out a bigger personality in Ianto, a dryly snide and impatient sense of humor that endeared him to everyone along with a joyfulness that had been suppressed for far too long. That small, shyly excited, little-boy smile that crept onto his face at every mention of Jack remains one of the sweetest sights in all of gay television.
What’s that? There’s more to Ianto’s story? No there isn’t. As far as we’re concerned, Children of Earth never happened, and Ianto is still alive and living a long and happy life with Jack and the pterodactyl. The end. Goodbye. –SB
10. Lafayette Reynolds, True Blood
Actor: Nelsan Ellis
Previous Rank: 23
Even if it’s teeming with vampires, werewolves, and shapeshifters, it can’t be easy being an openly gay man in the tiny Louisiana town of Bon Temps — especially one with an affection for flowery scarves, glittery nail polish, and drag-queen worthy lashes. But Lafayette won us over from day one with his proud insistence on living exactly the life he wants, bigots be damned. And pity the redneck homophobe who makes a “hamburger with AIDS” comment in Lafayette’s presence, because that burger will literally be thrown back in his face, with an extra helping of shade.
A fiercely protective and loyal mama bear in a gruff, take-charge papa bear package, Lafayette regularly enlivens True Blood with his hilariously phrased observations (“Arlene, these beans is colder than titties in a brass bra”). And he’s often the sole voice of reason, the one counseling Sookie and friends to try running away from danger rather than directly into its be-fanged face.
Season 3 finally saw Lafayette move from funny bit player to central character with his own multidimensional, highly emotional story arc. Because he found Jesus, a.k.a. his mother’s dreamy male nurse. Lafayette certainly recognized the momentousness of the occasion, marveling, “You’re a witch, who’s a nurse, and a dude? How did I get so lucky?” Fans swooned watching as the two fell deeply, passionately in love, only to sob over a tragic ending, when Lafayette, possessed by a powerful witch, stabbed his beloved to death. Talk about your bad breakups.
Yet even when relegated to a minor roll, as he’s been in the past few seasons, Lafayette can always be counted on for memorable lines and moments, demonstrating, say, that the secret to perfectly fried food is all in the shimmy. Do we hope the show’s upcoming final season will bring Lafayette the happy end — and major screentime — he deserves? Hooker, please. –SF
9. Sonny Kiriakis, Days of Our Lives
Actor: Freddie Smith
Previous Rank: N/A
8. Luke Snyder, As the World Turns
Actor: Van Hansis
Character created 1996; Hansis’ portrayal 2005-2010
Previous Rank: 14
Back in 2005, the buzz around the fact that classic soap As the World Turns was adding a gay teen character – even more, a gay teen character in the central Snyder family – was enormous. And when, after a few tentative months, Luke – played with equal parts charm and naive wonder by Van Hansis – had his first kiss with Noah Mayer in 2007, the event did more than make TV history – it actually caused newborn kittens to rain from the sky. (I remember it well, as I myself covered the event for this very site in our very first soap opera liveblog, a glorious tradition that still lives on today.) Being that this was a soap opera, Luke of course had lots to deal with: reluctantly accepting parents (they did eventually come around to fully embrace Luke and his sexuality, but Luke had to put his mother in a coma first); a closeted boyfriend with a fake bride and a possibly insane homophobe of a father; temporary paralysis; and of course the constant, looming threat of pepperkaker.
But Luke pulled through just fine, with the loving support of Holden (his stepdad), Lucinda (his feisty grandma), and even Cyndi Lauper, who popped into town to play a concert promoting LGBT rights. While Luke and Noah were the show’s Alpha Gay Couple, Luke also dallied with Brian (his grandma’s boyfriend) and Reid Oliver, a talented surgeon who appeared on the scene to treat Noah’s blindness (because Luke blackmailed him into it).
Why did people love Luke so much? Well, for the most part he was a pretty stand-up guy who deserved better than the hand dealt to him. He was loyal to friends, firm in his convictions, and prone to some pretty hilarious hissy-fits. But more than anything, Luke communicated a strong message: if there’s room for a gay kid at the Snyder Farm’s kitchen table, then there’s room for all of us.
7. Will Horton, Days of Our Lives
Actor: Chandler Massey
Character created 1996; Massey’s portrayal 2010-2013; actor Guy Wilson assumes role in 2014
Previous Rank: N/A
6. Justin Taylor, Queer as Folk
Actor: Randy Harrison
Previous Rank: 8
The gay community has a snide, derisive nickname for those late-teen-and-twenty-something boys so smooth of flesh and fair of face: Twinks, as in Twinkies. (Golden, spongey, cream-filled, addictive but insubstantial—get it?) But Justin Taylor, so superbly played with wisdom and decency beyond his years by the insanely beautiful Randy Harrison was so much more than a Twinkie. Quite simply, like so many of the beautiful new young people changing the world, he made it a better place to be.
Justin, was Queer As Folk’s only Generation-Y character. (He would have been born during the AIDS epidemic and came of age during the Clinton administration.) In a weird way he was almost like Belle in Beauty and the Beast—the sweet, beautiful innocent who falls in love with a seemingly selfish monster. The “monster” in this case was Brian Kinney, a selfish, narcissistic hedonist who intended to take Justin’s virginity and toss him aside, only to be nettled and flummoxed when Justin stuck around and ingratiated himself into Brian’s life and his circle of friends.
Yet over the course of the series Justin matured from naive teenager to an accomplished, loving, artistic and mature man. His relationship with Brian similarly evolved into something resembling an equal partnership. A key turning point occurred when Brian crashed Justin’s prom and danced with him, gleefully turning a potential humiliation into a personal triumph—that is, until Justin was gay-bashed in the parking lot. The shock and horror of this near-loss changed the couple (Justin required years of physical therapy and it affected his artistic abilities), and though they would continue to take other lovers and occasionally separate for awhile, both seemingly knew they were each other’s true north and ultimate Endgame.
At the series’ end, Brian made the ultimate sacrifice and let Justin go, to go live out his life and pursue an art career in another city rather than marry his over-a-decade-older lover. They made love once more, and then Brian was left alone (well, he borrowed Michael for the night), to go celebrate in the darkness and glitter of a new dance club—still a king, but a lonely, aging one. Not for nothing did Debbie Novotny nickname Justin “Sunshine”; Brian could take comfort that, for a too-brief, sweet time, all the warmth and radiance of Justin’s golden sunshine was focused squarely on him. And like almost everything else Justin touched, Justin made Brian better than he ever could have been on his own. –DB
5. Agron, Spartacus
Actor: Dan Feuerriegel
Previous Rank: N/A
Agron is, in some ways, a character we are all familiar with: the brawny, brutish jock who not-so-secretly has a sensitive side. When we first meet him, he is the older brother trying to earn his stripes in Batiatus’ ludus. When his younger brother Duro is killed during the first slave uprising, Agron resolves to fight the Romans, give aid to Spartacus and take back his freedom.
It’s the familar “become a man” narrative; Agron must fight for what he wants and needs. It’s a story as old as the dawn of literature, with roots in ancient epics like Gilgamesh. Agron’s sexuality has roots in the same work: the powerful, war-like man who desires other men is likewise a trope thousands of years old. As a character, Agron was nothing new: simply the culmination of ancient sexualities that put pleasure and person above gender and “pieces parts,” brought to life on the small screen for all to see.
And yet, Agron was something wholly new to modern audiences: he’s here, he’s queer, and yes, he will kick your butt if you don’t like it. We’ve seen “tough-guy” gays before, but with Agron, we get that gay tough guy without all the usual accompanying baggage. What a breath of fresh air. Agron is the jock boyfriend we all hope to have: fiercely protective, unafraid to love, and yes, rippling with muscles.
It’s impossible to talk about Agron without talking about his great love, Nasir. Sure, they hit a few bumpy patches, especially when a hunky pirate makes googly eyes at Nasir. But there is never any doubt: it is Agron and Nasir, and it will always be Agron and Nasir. Invigorated and intoxicated by the mere presence of the other, theirs is the sole romance in Spartacus that will endure the twin tests of war and time. They got their happily ever after. And, thus, in a very real way, so did we. —MC
4. Jack Harkness, Torchwood
Actor: John Barrowman
Previous Rank: 1
May we introduce Captain Jack Harkness, the man so dashing, so heroic, so powerfully omnisexual that he spans two shows, and even they can barely hold him. He began life on Doctor Who as a dashing young 51st century time agent brimming with confidence and tooth whiteness who became immortal through some time-vortex shenanigans, but once abandoned by the Doctor, he came into his own as Torchwood’s mysterious rogue and Earth-bound alien catcher, using his old-fashioned matinee idol good looks and a WWII coat to lead his scrappy little team on a quest to tame and control (and kill a little bit) the extraterrestrials around them.
Jack was so powerfully unique and popular upon his arrival, and remains very much so today, because among a landscape of sensitive GLBT characters who regularly need to sit down in a discussion group and talk about their feelings and experiences, Jack would much rather punch you in the face and steal your laser. He is a true swashbuckling action hero, the time-traveling James Bond, specially engineered for dramatic fight scenes and strutting while carrying a gun. Yet importantly, he never lets that life of severe awesomeness get in the way of a little quality workplace Ianto action, which we all appreciate and respect.
Jack is the romantic leading man and badass crusader we had always hoped for, and whether you want to describe him as bisexual, omnisexual, pansexual, Harknesssexual, or just “my husband,” he’s one of our greatest TV figures. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait until the 51st century to see his like again. –SB
3. Brian Kinney, Queer as Folk (US)
Actor: Gale Harold
Previous Rank: 2
Michael: I don’t wanna be a saint. I wanna be a ruthless, heartless sh*t who f**ks whoever he wants without conscience or remorse.
Brian: I’m sorry, that position’s already been filled.
That, in a nutshell, is Brian Kinney, the hyper-sexual center of the U.S. version of Queer As Folk. Everyone wanted to be him, including, I suspect, a large part of the audience.
Brian is, at once, the anti-hero and rescuer. He says what others only think. He acts when others hesitate. Always screwing (either the clients he’s trying to woo or the lives of those in his orbit), he is often called upon to use his powers of, um, persuasion, to help his friends when there are no other options left. Although they soon realize that Brian’s brand of “help” isn’t always the path of least resistance.
Spurned by his fundamentalist mom and his homophobic father, he crafted himself into an unapologetic and cold operator. So it was quite the shock when he was blindsided by his own, slow-churning feelings for his younger one-night-stand turned husband, Justin.
We have yet to see another television character like Brian Kinney. Nor are we likely to anytime soon. So it’s with a kind of touching irony that a character who intensely feared getting older would become a character for the ages. –BD
2. Blaine Anderson, Glee
Actor: Darren Criss
Previous Rank: N/A
Blaine Anderson had already emerged as a nutrient-rich source of SQUEEEEEE when Glee revealed it would double down on the gay in season 2 by introducing him as a love interest for Kurt. Once he appeared, it took him only about six nanoseconds and that charming smile to become a revolution. Working his snazzy prep school blazer, he made Katy Perry seem like a smoker’s cough falling down a laundry chute by comparison with his memorable version of “Teenage Dream.” Let’s not blow past the significance of that: a gay teen character singing a Top 40 crush song to another gay teen character reached #1 on iTunes and became a best-selling phenomenon. He makes an impact, this Blaine.
And not only with his singing. The character is beloved because of his refreshing, enduring confidence. He inhabits a previously unexplored (and increasingly real) high school trajectory where coming out isn’t some source of angst and crying and breathy conversations followed by staring out of a rain-soaked window. It’s no big deal. He’s already out and comfortable. Beginning with him at a more advanced level has allowed his storylines to grow more complex and interesting instead of being bogged down in normal coming-out fare. That, in turn, has set the stage for Klaine to become Klaine, the epic, emotional, larger-than-life gay teen romance viewers had been waiting for, with all its twists and turns and breakups and engagements, between two characters out of the closet and out of the background. –SB
1. Kurt Hummel, Glee
Actor: Chris Colfer
Previous Rank: 7
Speaking of the K portion of Klaine (Doesn’t he deserve more than one letter in that mash-up name? Injustice), your winner and undisputed world champion of gay TV characters is none other than Kurt Hummel, the plucky young sprite who stylishly paraded his way into legend and our hearts when he entered that glee rehearsal room over four years ago. What can we say? There is no character quite like Kurt.
The notion of young gay characters on television is still in its fetal stages, though the Glee universe has injected a growth hormone into that process, which is why Kurt has been such a remarkable presence on the television scene. He is fully realized in a way that young gay characters just haven’t been before. He is not simply a statement or storyline or supporting character used to build up the diversity of the gang. He is a person, as outspoken and self-assured as he is confused and fragile, realistically stereotypical without being a cartoon.
Through his first few seasons, Kurt endured many of the expected dramatic travails of the gay high school character, including the emotional coming out and an entire season of bullying, but through that he never became the sad, isolated tragedy he might have become. His enduring brightness, coupled with the openness and genuine warmth Chris Colfer brings to the character, has established Kurt as a symbol of triumph over difficult circumstances for many young gay people. He emerged on the other side, still caring, still optimistic, still funny.
And that’s really why he tops this list. We have watched him grow up and make mistakes and endure, which has cultivated a love, ownership, and protectiveness over him. He’s our Kurt. –SB
* Writers Dean Backus, Spencer Barnes, Michael Cornelius,
Brian Davis, Steven Frank, Heather Hogan, Brian Juergens,
Aaron Landry, Anthony D. Langford, Christopher Rosa
and snicks all contributed to this feature.