For this week’s Pride article, we take a look at some of the best LGBTQ+ shows and storylines that helped educate viewers. From the reality of queer people in prison, to explorations of a post-Stonewall New York, these shows didn’t shy away from reality. If you’re looking for some shows to celebrate Pride and learn, this is for you.
Orange is The New Black
When I think of TV shows that really amplified the LGBTQ+ voice, I can’t help but to think of OITNB. The show went where a lot of shows are still too scared to go, featuring a predominately woman of colour cast, where many of the characters and actresses themselves are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Most of the show focused about plotlines revolving around LGBTQ+ characters and the ups and downs during their lives and in prison, there’s literally too many to pinpoint in this article. It’s wild to think that this show was made before same-sex marriages were legalised across the USA.
There are many queer characters within this show, so many that I have lost count. Just to name a few: Piper, Alex, Poussey, Suzanne, Nicky, Lorna, Boo, and of course, Sophia as a trans woman. All of these characters were explored in-depth, rather than being tokenism characters. You really understand and empathise with them, and feel both their struggles and happiness. The show also deals with the discrimination faced by women within the criminal justice system, such as homophobic slurs and blatant transphobia. As all the women come from different walks of life, it educates not only on being LGBTQ+ and incarcerated, but on different cultures and struggling to deal with sexuality, or being rejected. Don’t get me wrong, the show has its issues, such as its little open acknowledgement of bisexuality, but it is undeniable how much impact OITNB had on the queer screen, paving the way for more diverse representation and discussions.
Although Derry Girls might not be the first TV show that comes to mind when considering LGBTQ+ storylines, it should be not overlooked. Taking a fresh spin on an LGBTQ+ character arc, Derry Girls portrays Clare’s courage in coming out to her friends as a lesbian during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This key moment is the main focus of the season one finale, with the discovery that the girls have a lesbian classmate at Our Lady Immaculate after Clare had submitted an anonymous letter to the school magazine’s problem page. As the voice of reason within the gang, mainly because of her strict Catholic upbringing, this unexpected twist shows Clare at both her strongest and her most vulnerable as Erin fails to support her initially. After realising her friend is the same person she always has been, Erin and Clare become closer than ever, with the gang sporting rainbow pins on their clothes for the rest of the series in a subtle ode to Clare. Through Clare’s arc, the audience can gain an insight into the attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland during the 90s.
Legends of Tomorrow
While the Arrowverse shows have proven divisive among audiences, particularly for its signature CW approach to storytelling – soap opera styled drama with a superhero setting – the franchise’s commitment to diverse representation has been widely visible and, unfortunately, fairly unique within its subgenre.
Though the comedic on-and-off antics of John Constantine (Matt Ryan) and Gary Green (Adam Tsekhman), as well as the more serious and heart-breaking relations of Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) and Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima), are much appreciated pieces, it’s the coupling of Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) and Ava Sharpe (Jes Macallan) that takes the cake. Beginning as a rivalry in Legends of Tomorrow’s third season, the conflict between two leading women thaws and becomes a larger celebration of controlling your own identity. This is especially true of Ava, though I won’t say anymore because the show’s revelation is one of the best I’ve ever seen.
No relationship is perfect, and Sara and Ava’s are, at times, wrought with complications. Despite this, it’s never made out to be toxic, or driven in a predominantly sexual manner, but something that is nurtured and thrives through their commitment to each other. As fun as it is to watch compulsive relationships in compelling television – looking at you Killing Eve seasons one and two – Sara and Ava are proof that watching a stable one can be as entertaining as it is therapeutic.
The hit FX series Pose is an essential show for our modern society. Set in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pose delves into the lives of Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ culture. It focuses on Ballroom culture, which has been considered a safe space for queer people for decades. In fact, a lot of what we see on shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race comes from Ballroom culture. This show explores a post-Stonewall riots society, and how the community continues to struggle. We meet Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) right at the beginning as she breaks free from her House and forms her own. A House is understood as a group of found family, made up of LGBTQ+ individuals, commonly those who have been rejected by their biological families. Blanca forms her House and acts as a Mother for a group of young people, and they take part in the Balls together.
I cannot do it justice in just this amount of words; Pose is everything. It provides exposure for the struggles of trans women of colour, and even the realities of HIV/AIDS. It doesn’t shy away from critiquing America. All of the underlying issues concerning race, sexuality and gender inequality are shown with no sugarcoating. Pose found a lot of its inspiration from the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning (which EVERYBODY should watch). This documentary was all about Ballroom culture and drag balls, highlighting the issues faced by trans people of colour. Some of the Houses and characters in Pose are even based on real people that are shown in Paris is Burning. The show pays tribute to this documentary as an essential piece of queer cinema. And ultimately, Pose will be just that as well. This show is so important! If you want to learn more about LGBTQ+ history and how it has changed, give this show a shot.
Two shows come to mind when I sat down and thought about some of the best LGBTQ+ storylines; Gallavich from Shameless and Malec from Shadowhunters. While I love Gallavich and how much Mickey and Ian save each other, finding the happy ending they deserve, Magnus and Alec’s story line teaches viewers about overcoming bigotry not only in society but in your own home. Their relationship is about learning to love yourself for who you are and who you love as at the end of the day, if you don’t you won’t be happy.
Malec is made up of a bisexual warlock – Magnus Bane and a gay shadowhunter – Alec Lightwood. In the shadowhunter world, shadowhunters and warlocks are not even meant to be friends, nevermind lovers. Also, the shadowhunter world is very much set against anything that is not the heteronormative. However, Magnus and Alec’s feelings for each other are so strong, they overcome the bigotry, they overcome the lack of support from their family; all in the name of love.
The journey of Malec throughout the show is a complete roller coaster. But it’s an important roller coaster as primarily it’s about learning to understand your sexuality and your identity as Alec struggles to come to terms with loving Magnus when he’s been taught to be straight his entire life. Usually in shows, the LGBTQ+ characters and story lines are in the background, Malec on the other hand is front and centre. It is an epic, stop-everything, earth-shattering love story that gets the scenes that are usually reserved for the heterosexuals, getting the attention it deserves. But most importantly, gets the happy ending THEY deserve. It also pushes diversity boundaries on multiple fronts. The award-winning romance (literally, they received an award) is interracial. While finally giving an accurate representation of bisexuality on TV, something that is regularly forgotten, the relationship portrays something equally important and deeply relevant to viewers about interracial relationships.
Malec have changed a lot of hearts and minds of viewers along their journey and they definitely have provided a lot of hope to likewise individuals watching their love unfold. They’ve provided a message of love, of acceptance, of a beautiful, groundbreaking story that has its troubles but ultimately love prevails.
Featured image credits- flag: Wallpaperflare. Caity Lotz and Jes Macallan: @Graceybrook on Twitter. Laverne Cox and Dominique Jackson: IMDb.
Last modified: 21st June 2020