TV & Movies

11 Must-See TV Shows Featuring LGBTQ+ Main Characters

lgbtq+ tv shows"
lgbtq+ tv shows
Source: Netflix
Source: Netflix

While it seems like almost every new TV show has a queer character, that wasn’t the case even just 10 years ago. Prior to streaming-produced shows, a little under 4 percent of primetime and cable series characters were LGBTQ+.

Nowadays, we can celebrate the fact that there were 327 LGBTQ+ identifying characters on streaming series alone last year (2023), with another 64 on primetime and 77 on cable. That’s a significant amount of representation, all things considered. Obviously, it could always be better. But then again, the first lesbian kiss on U.S. TV wasn’t until the ’90s, and the first gay kiss was on the season 3 finale of Dawson’s Creek!

Representation matters across all identities, whether sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, or disability. And particularly in the media, when so much of our lives are now spent in front of a screen. It’s heartening to see LGBTQ+ characters and themes on TV shows and other media, especially at a time when many of our rights are constantly under attack. Pop culture can play a pivotal role in the ongoing battle for acceptance and equality, helping break down stereotypes and foster empathy and understanding. Not sure where to start? From trailblazing classics to contemporary hits, here are 11 LGBTQ+ TV shows that are perfect for watching during Pride Month and beyond.

1. Heartstopper

Adapted from Alice Oseman’s beloved graphic novel series of the same name, “Heartstopper” is an LGBTQ+ show about self-discovery, acceptance, and the emotional rollercoaster of coming out. Although the show focuses on the budding romance of Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor), it also features trans, lesbian, and asexual supporting characters, providing a rich tapestry of diverse experiences. With a 98 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this swoon-worthy coming-of-age series is already a popular show, with its third season arriving this fall. Whether you’re still in school or have children of your own, “Heartstopper” is a heartfelt reminder that young love, no matter what your sexual orientation, is valid and beautiful.
Stream on Netflix

2. The L Word

One of the OG and exclusively LGBTQ+ shows, “The L Word” gave audiences a front-row seat to the lives and loves of lesbians in Los Angeles. Originally airing on Showtime in 2004, “The L Word” didn’t hold back when it came to sex. It still has some of the steamiest sapphic sex scenes that are forever burned into my memory. Plus, it introduced The Chart, a visual representation of just how small and interconnected the LGBTQ+ community can be. Fast forward to today, and “The L Word: Generation Q” continues the legacy with fresh faces and modern-day issues. Although both series are a must-watch, the original series is my pick for its trailblazing representation and timeless impact on lesbian visibility.
Stream on Hulu

3. Pose

This dazzling LGBTQ+ series is set in the glitzy yet gritty world of New York’s ballroom scene subculture of the ’80s and ’90s. Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Steven Canals, “Pose” tackles hard-hitting issues like transphobia and the AIDS epidemic with both grace and candor. Iconic characters like Billy Porter’s Pray Tell, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez’s Blanca Evangelista, and Indya Moore’s Angel paint vibrant portraits of LGBTQ+ POC as they navigate life and love amongst their chosen families or “houses.” “Pose” also made history for having one of the largest transgender casts on television (five actors!).
Stream on Hulu

4. Queer Eye

Originally debuting in 2003 as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” this reality show reboot expanded to include makeovers for people from all walks of life, including the LGBTQ+ community. With seasons in cities all across the U.S. and even Japan, The Fab Five uses their expertise in grooming, cooking, design, fashion, and culture to inspire and turn lives around for the better. “Queer Eye” is packed with all the feels, doling out both life lessons and loads of laughs. It’s a colorful celebration of inner beauty and the true value of being yourself—the perfect binge-watch for Pride Month.
Stream on Netflix

5. Ru Paul’s Drag Race

“Racers, start your engines, and may the best drag queen win!” “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is the glammed-up reality competition show that’s taken drag culture mainstream. Hosted by the legendary RuPaul, drag queens from all over showcase their Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent to win thousands of dollars and be crowned America’s next drag superstar. These queens are larger than life and are the best of the best when it comes to drag culture. Beyond the glitter, wigs, and fierce lip-syncs, “Drag Race” also has major heart, sharing powerful stories of struggle, resilience, and the joy of self-expression. Best of all, once you get through all the American seasons, there are also UK, Thai, and Canadian versions to watch, too!
Stream on Paramount+

6. Will & Grace

“Will & Grace” is a classic ’90s sitcom that President Biden (then Vice-President) once said “probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done so far,” when it came to LGBTQ+ issues. The show certainly brought gay characters front and center at a time when doing so was a major risk for TV networks. But Will, Grace, Karen, and Jack charmed their way into the hearts of America with their larger-than-life hilarity and dramatics. Although the characters sometimes verge into stereotypical territory, the show still broke barriers and paved the way for future LGBTQ+ representation on network TV and beyond.
Stream on Hulu

7. Sense 8

“Sense 8” is a sci-fi TV show created by the Wachowski sisters—creators of “The Matrix” Trilogy—who are both trans. The show follows eight people from around the globe whoo become mentally and emotionally linked as “sensates.” The only catch is that they’re being hunted by a mysterious organization intent on eliminating them. Among the eight are Nomi, a transgender hacker, and Lito, a closeted gay actor living with his boyfriend. Beyond diverse sexualities, the cast and characters are also refreshingly diverse in race and religion. “Sense 8” is ultimately about empathy and how we’re all connected in spite of perceived differences. With stunning visuals and a compelling storyline, “Sense 8” is an impressive show with a poignant message.
Stream on Netflix

8. Glee

Gleeks unite! Thanks to “Glee,” show choir has never looked so glamorous (or geeky, depending on how you look at it). The show follows a group of incredibly talented rag-tag misfits at William McKinley High School as they navigate high school politics amid their love of singing, dancing, and acting. Many of the characters are LGBTQ+ and are grappling with their gender, sexuality, race, or disability on top of getting bullied for just being in the arts. It’s a painfully familiar scenario that many of us can relate to, LGBTQ+ or otherwise. But don’t let that turn you off. “Glee” is full of drama, romance, and musicals, a delightfully queer combo.
Stream on Disney+

9. Big Mouth

“Big Mouth” is the hilariously raunchy animated series that dives into the awkward and often chaotic world of puberty. Here, human hormones are literal monsters personifying the characters’ struggles with body image, sexuality, and human emotions. It’s a frank, funny, and refreshingly honest show from the mind of comedian Nick Kroll. But it’s also very adult (sexual and potty humor abounds) despite being an animated show about middle schoolers. Nevertheless, “Big Mouth” brings the laughs while shedding light on the diverse and oftentimes embarrassing experiences of growing up, especially when you’re still trying to figure out who (or what, in one character’s case) you’re attracted to.
Stream on Netflix

10. Queer as Folk

“Queer as Folk” debuted in 1999 on British television as the first fully gay drama. Created by Russell T Davies, the series broke new ground with its unapologetic portrayal of gay men, focusing on their friendships, relationships, and challenges in the Manchester gay scene. Although the original show only lasted for 10 episodes, it was rebooted in the U.S. a year later and set in Pittsburgh with a bigger cast that also included a lesbian couple. The characters’ experiences are a bit more complicated in the American version, as they deal with issues like artificial insemination, the AIDS crisis, and drug addiction among the LGBTQ+ community. Nevertheless, both versions are worth a watch, as is the recent 2022 reboot that’s now on Peacock.
Stream on Paramount+

11. Dead Boy Detectives

OK, where are all my spooky queerdos at? One of the newest shows on this list, “Dead Boy Detectives” is about a pair of teen ghosts who work with a clairvoyant to solve crimes. Like “Heartstopper,” it’s based on a comic book series and focuses on a budding relationship between the two main characters. The show is like if “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and “Supernatural” had a baby. But “Dead Boy Detectives” is actually part of “The Sandman” universe (now a Netflix show) created by prolific author Neil Gaiman. The show’s over-the-top visuals and paranormal themes are immensely entertaining, but its slow-burn queer love story will keep you watching.
Stream on Netflix