DOUG AND GARY IN ‘THAT CERTAIN SUMMER’
With its depiction of a messy but real relationship between a divorced father and his partner, “That Certain Summer” (1972) became the first TV movie to show gay characters in a positive manner. (Remember, homosexuality wasn’t declassified as a mental disorder until 1973.) Starring Hal Holbrook as Doug and Martin Sheen as Gary, the leading actors’ high profiles brought, even more, attention to the movie.
PEDRO AND SEAN ON ‘THE REAL WORLD’
“The Real World” was known for pushing boundaries, and in the 1994 San Francisco season, the show made what was probably its biggest statement ever. That’s when they cast H.I.V.-positive Pedro Zamora (pictured), a 22-year-old Cuban-American who that year would go on to wed his partner Sean Sasser and, sadly, later pass away.
CAROL AND SUSAN ON ‘FRIENDS’
In a 1996 “Friends” episode titled simply, “The One With the Lesbian Wedding,” Ross Gellar’s ex-wife, Susan Bunch (Jane Sibbett), said “I do” to her new wife, Carol Willick (Jessica Hecht). In another statement, Newt Gingrich’s sister Candace—a gay rights advocate—married the couple. With 31.6 million viewers, even some affiliates refusing to run the episode couldn’t dim the light shining on the nuptials.
ELLEN AND SUSAN ON ‘ELLEN’
With the words “Susan, I’m gay”—accidentally spoken into a microphone, of course—Ellen Morgan (Ellen DeGeneres) became TV’s first gay leading character. ABC faced all sorts of backlash leading up to and after the episode, and Laura Dern, who played Ellen’s love interest Susan Richmond on the 1997 episode of “Ellen,” said it was hard for her to find work for some time after it ran. Ultimately, however, the episode came away with Emmy, Peabody, and GLAAD awards, as well as wide recognition as one of the most important moments in TV history.
CAM AND MITCH OF ‘MODERN FAMILY’
When “Modern Family” debuted on ABC in 2009, the world was introduced to gay couple Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and their adopted daughter, Lily. While there have been gay couples portrayed before on television, Cam and Mitch dealt with everything from adoption to same-sex marriage, taking on family issues just like their heterosexual counterparts. They helped to create a “cross-culturally appealing” show and are credited with making more viewers supportive of gay marriage.
BRIAN AND JUSTIN ON ‘QUEER AS FOLK’
Brian Kinney (Gale Harold) and Justin Taylor (Randy Harrison) were a leading couple on the 2000-05 Showtime series “Queer as Folk.” The show, which touched on topics like H.I.V., drug use and partying, was groundbreaking in its own right as the first hourlong American drama to depict the lives of gay men and women.
WILLOW AND TARA ON ‘BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER’
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a supernatural teen show that ran from 1997-2003, took an unplanned turn in its fourth season. That’s when supporting character Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) met and fell in love with Tara Maclay (Amber Benson), forming TV’s first long-term lesbian relationship.
BETTE AND TINA ON ‘THE L WORD’
As a long-running series focused on lesbian friends, Showtime’s “The L-Word” paved the way for leading lesbian relationships to be depicted on megahits like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Orange Is the New Black.” The show, which ran from 2004-09, featured a group of lesbians and their friends and family led by on-and-off couple Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) and Tina Kennard (Laurel Holloman).
ROSEANNE AND SHARON ON ‘ROSEANNE’
Though Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) wasn’t actually gay, her 1994 kiss with Sharon (Mariel Hemingway)—who was a lesbian—created a huge conversation. When ABC threatened to pull the episode, titled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Roseanne called their bluff with an ultimatum. Run the episode, or she’d take her hit show to another network. This was just one of the many gay storylines on the show, which was widely considered to be ahead of its time.
WILL AND JACK ON ‘WILL & GRACE’
Though not a romantic couple, besties Will Truman (Eric McCormack) and Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes) starred in a hit show that in its initial 1998-2006 run became one of the most successful shows with leading gay characters. (So successful, in fact, that NBC has the show making a revival this year.) Former Vice President Joe Biden wasn’t exaggerating in 2012 when he told “Meet the Press” that the show “probably did more to educate the American public (on the issue) than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.”