Being queer means different things to different people and no two experiences are the same. One thing many of us do have in common though is how much media has helped us figure out who we are through TV, film, music, and literature.


TV especially is instrumental because of how long we spend with these shows and characters. They become family, a chosen family, who help us on our journey, whether that's a gay awakening, a coming out story, or just the affirming pleasure of seeing people like us simply existing on screen.

As queer identities vary so greatly, the shows that mean the most to us do as well. That makes picking out just 15 of the most important LGBTQ+ shows ever no easy task. But, we have some caveats, thankfully, which makes our job a little easier.

The focus for this list is on comedy and drama, so super gay genre fare like Sense8, Steven Universe, Chucky, Black Lightning, What We Do in the Shadows and more aren't eligible. The same goes for reality TV, which means the time has come for RuPaul's Drag Race to sashay away, alongside other groundbreaking shows like Queer Eye and HBO's We're Here.

To make it onto this list, the show's main focus must be on LGBTQ+ characters and themes, so that also rules out everything from Modern Family and Six Feet Under to Degrassi and I May Destroy You, not to mention The Corner Bar, a '70s sitcom largely remembered for introducing Peter Panama, TV's first ever recurring gay character.

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It should go without saying then that camp golden oldies like The Golden Girls and Absolutely Fabulous don't count either, even if they mean the world to us.

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But enough on what's not been included. To celebrate Pride Month in June and beyond, join us here at Radio Times as we take a look back at 15 of the most important LGBTQ+ shows ever made. Everything that follows is essential, mandatory viewing from this point on.

15 of the most important LGBTQ+ shows ever

15. Feel Good (2020-2021)

Feel Good
Channel 4/Netflix

Comedian Mae Martin stars in Feel Good, a semi-autobiographical dramedy that follows them on the road to recovery from addiction while navigating a relationship with their girlfriend George (played by Charlotte Ritchie). It's rare to see non-binary characters on screen full stop, and it's much rarer again to see their experiences explored with the kind of nuance Mae brings to their writing and BAFTA-nominated performance. George makes space for Mae to feel comfortable and figure things out for themself, just as the show does for viewers back home who might have never encountered these kinds of important conversations in their own lives before.

14. Heartstopper (2022-present)

Nick and Charlie looking into one another's eyes, with a Paris guidebook in shot

Gay coming out stories have been told a thousand times before, but there's an earnest sweetness to Alice Oseman's story that brings comfort like no other. Often described as a warm hug in TV form, Heartstopper introduces breakout stars Joe Locke and Kit Connor as Charlie Spring and Nick Nelson, two seemingly mismatched boys who fall in love at school, all while navigating Charlie's mental health and Nick's bisexuality. Unlike similar shows that came before, Heartstopper mostly skirts around pain and tragedy in favour of overwhelming cuteness. In fact, the real tragedy is that we didn't get to have a show like this sooner. There's a reason why everyone says this is the show they needed growing up, after all.

13. Transparent (2014-2019)

transparent prime

Joey Soloway's Transparent stars Jeffrey Tambor as Maura, an older trans woman whose journey of self-discovery rocks the foundation of the Pfefferman family as her adult children learn to understand her better. Transparent was the first show to put a trans character front and centre. The fact it did so with an older trans woman while exploring how this intersects with Jewish identity is nothing short of groundbreaking. Casting Tambor, a cisgender man who was dropped from the show following sexual harassment accusations, leaves a sour taste now in hindsight, but let's celebrate all the trans talent Soloway hired on both sides of the camera instead, including Alexandra Billings, Trace Lysette, Ian Harvie, and Hari Nef whose combined influence can still be felt in Hollywood, a decade later.

12. Broad City (2014-2019)

With support from Amy Poehler, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson's humble web series became a TV phenomenon that now ranks as one of the best comedies ever made. It's also super queer, not to mention stoner-fuelled and sex-positive too. Ilana's bisexuality, and eventually, Abbi's as well, were casually incorporated alongside wilder antics that took us to Bed, Bath, and Beyond – and beyond! Silly, heartwarming, and endlessly memeable, Broad City is a defining show of the aughts and it's also a defining show for everyone who went on that wild journey with Ilana and Abbi over five glorious madcap seasons.

11. Tales of the City (1993, 1998, 2001, 2019)

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After Armistead Maupin revolutionised gay storytelling in his newspaper column titled Tales of the City, four television adaptations went on to do the exact same thing on screen. The first miniseries drew controversy for depicting homosexual themes and nudity on network TV, but in truth, Tales of the City was radical precisely because it was far sweeter and more benign than the headlines ever gave it credit for. That's not to say adult themes weren't integral to the story. Rather that seeing this group of queer friends find each other in San Francisco gave us the kind of safe haven that so many queer viewers longed for at a time before terms like "representation" were even considered.

Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis also cemented their gay icon status through each instalment, and this tradition continued in Netflix's recent sequel which cast the likes of Elliot Page, Murray Bartlett, Jen Richards and Daniela Vega in a bid to bring more queer authenticity to the cast.

10. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990)

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Jeanette Winterson's adaptation of her own prize-winning novel caused quite a stir when the BBC aired the miniseries in 1990. The story of a teenage girl named Jess who rejects her Pentecostal upbringing won the BAFTA award for Best Drama Series or Serial before going on to win a GLAAD Media award across the pond too for Outstanding TV Movie or Limited Series.

But controversy inevitably hit when bigots decried the lesbian sex scenes and depiction of faith at its cruellest. That's when you know you're making an impact, when you're riling up the homophobes, but the most important impact was on the queer women watching back home. As brutal as the series is at points, especially when it comes to that "exorcism" at the hands of Pastor Finch, the defiant act of even seeing a lesbian coming into her own at that time was deeply groundbreaking, especially for British queer women who watched it firsthand back in the day.

9. Noah's Arc (2005-2006)

noah's arc tv show

Seeing a queer, predominantly Black cast on TV is still a rarity now in 2024, but back in the early noughties, it was unheard of. After finding inspiration at a Los Angeles Black gay pride event, Patrik-Ian Polk sought to change that by developing an independently funded web series named Noah's Arc that revolved around the lives of four African-American gay friends in LA. The show did so well online that Logo TV picked it up as its first ever scripted series which ran for two seasons from 2005. A sequel film titled Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom resolved season 2's cliffhanger ending in 2008, and since then, there's been ongoing talks of a much-needed return for the franchise.

8. It's a Sin (2021)

Extraordinary TV dramas on the AIDS/HIV crisis had been made before – The Normal Heart, An Early Frost and Angels in America all come to mind – but with It's a Sin, Queer as Folk creator Russell T Davies made an entire nation fall in love with a group of friends who fought so hard to love and be loved at a time when that was almost impossible. There was pain, so much pain, but there was also joy, and It's a Sin never lost sight of that. We should also never lose sight of the real-world impact TV like this can have, because when the show first came out, LGBTQ+ charity Terrence Higgins Trust announced that 8,200 HIV tests had been ordered in just one day, easily surpassing its previous daily record of 2,800.

7. Looking (2014-2015)

Looking - Season 02Episode 08 "Looking For Glory" Jonathan Groff as Patrick; Russell Tovey as Kevin ©2014 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sex and the City might feel like it was made for the gays, but HBO's Looking really was made for the gays. Starring three millennial friends navigating the gay world of San Francisco, the show brought to life so many real queer experiences that had been overlooked on screen before, including PrEP, open relationships, and how generational divides impact gay dating life, not to mention the community as a whole. Declining ratings led to an early cancellation after just two seasons, but gays just know how to do stuff, so we campaigned and convinced HBO to wrap the story up in one final feature-length special. The Looking cast were good to look at, sure, but what makes the show truly special is how human and relatable these characters were, even at their absolute worst (Looking at you, Patrick.)

6. Ellen (1994-1998)

Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images) ELLEN DEGENERES;JOELY FISHER

Ellen wasn't gay for the first four seasons because Ellen Degeneres wasn't out in the real world either. It wasn't until The Puppy Episode, a two-parter at the end of season 4, that both the character and Degeneres herself came out as a lesbian in uncharted territory for sitcoms and TV at large. After the episode aired in 1997 amidst threats from advertisers and religious groups alike, huge initial success soon gave way to criticism that the show had become too "gay" before one last season aired with a parental advisory warning ahead of its abrupt cancellation.

The UK had a very different reaction, celebrating with an entire night of programming on Channel 4 that commemorated the episode as part of its "Coming Out Night". But back in the US, Degeneres faced a huge backlash in the years that followed before finding success again with her talk show while co-star Laura Dern couldn't secure work for 18 months after. Yes, the Laura Dern, mother to us all, has been an ally for decades and don't you forget it.

5. Orange Is the New Black (2013–2019)

laverne cox

As one of Netflix's earliest hits, one of the first truly bingeable shows, Orange Is the New Black helped change the way TV is consumed. That alone makes it a series worth remembering, but what marks Jenji Kohan's prison drama as something truly special is the way it foregrounded a huge range of queer female perspectives, everything from bisexual women to trans women of colour. In doing so, OITNB filled the void left by The L Word's cancellation in 2009 while also helping to pave the way for many other intersectional LGBTQ+ shows that followed. Think Pose, Vida, Special… It's hard to imagine any of them existing without Orange Is the New Black, and honestly, the same could be said for streaming at large – or, at least, how it exists today.

4. Will & Grace (1998–2006, 2017–2020)

Will & Grace (Getty, EH)

NBC's sitcom Will & Grace starred a successful gay lawyer and his straight best friend living relatively well-adjusted lives in New York City. It doesn't sound revolutionary on paper, not now anyway, but back in the late nineties, seeing gays thrive without trauma was about as radical as you could get. Sure, the show often relied on gay stereotypes for laughs, but it also used humour to fight misconceptions and normalise queerness at a time when queer rights were still non-existent. In fact, marriage equality might have taken longer to happen if not for Will and Jack especially, two loveable gay characters who helped foster acceptance in the mainstream long before shows like Modern Family and Glee were but a twinkle in some TV exec's eye. Special shoutout to Megan Mullally's Karen, officially The Funniest Sitcom Character Of All Time™.

3. The L Word (2004–2009)

There was a time when women were only allowed to kiss other women on TV to boost ratings, usually as a punchline or plot twist for straight characters. The idea of female same-sex attraction only made sense in how it appealed to men, and the few lesbian characters who did exist were usually alone in shows dominated by the straights. Then The L Word came along to prove that this was all nonsense, that lesbian and bisexual women don't just exist but thrive, and they don't exist for anyone but themselves.

Crucially, they're also extremely horny too, but for each other, and not for the pleasure of any men watching. Are you even a queer woman of a certain age if Katherine Moennig's Shane McCutcheon wasn't at least partly responsible for your sexual awakening? None of this should have been as groundbreaking as it was, but at the time, no other show starred an ensemble of queer women, especially one that was predominantly written and directed by queer women too. That's something few shows even now can claim, unfortunately, aside from a recently cancelled sequel series, The L Word: Generation Q (that debuted in December 2019), and a new spin-off, The L Word: New York, that's currently in development.

2. Pose (2018-2021)

Angel (INDYA MOORE), Elektra Abundance (DOMINIQUE JACKSON), Lulu (HAILIE SAHAR), Blanca Rodriguez (MJ RODRIGUEZ)
FX/Eric Liebowitz

Pose was initially marketed as a Ryan Murphy creation, and his name helped get it off the ground, sure, but make no mistake about it – this show belongs to co-creator Steven Canals, a queer Afro-Puerto Rican writer who brought '80s ballroom culture into the living room without conceding to straight viewers or holding their hand. Yet Pose also belongs to the cast, a trailblazing ensemble of trans and queer people of colour who took centre stage for the first time ever on screen, each bringing Emmy-worthy performances, week in, week out.

Through Pose, trans women in particular were finally given space to be kind and messy and mean and loving as a family who looked out for each other when their own families refused to. There was euphoria, there was trauma, and there were the most sickening reads ever uttered courtesy of Dominique Jackson's Elektra, perhaps the most unapologetic character ever created. But most importantly of all, Pose belongs to the trans and queer people of colour who lived through these joys and hardships, both in the '80s and now as well. The world is better off for having them in it, and the world is better off for having Pose in it too.

1. Queer as Folk (1999-2000)

Queer as Folk is the show an entire generation watched 25 years ago with the lights down on the lowest volume while their parents sat downstairs, blissfully unaware that their gay kid was experiencing quite the awakening just a few feet away. Because this show did wake people up. Queer as Folk woke baby gays up to the truth behind those fuzzy feelings they felt every time they walked past the Calvin Klein packaging at Debenhams, but they also woke general viewers up to the idea that gay people are just ordinary folk. They're your teachers, your doctors, your lawyers, and your neighbours.

But that doesn't mean Russell T Davies held back when it came to the realities of gay sex. Was rimming even invented before Stuart took Nathan home in the pilot and licked that bubble butt into oblivion? But more than just eating cake, Queer as Folk taught us to live freely and without shame, a radical notion that resonates still in every queer show that's been made since, not to mention the lives of everyone who felt seen watching this series. A life-saving game-changer in every way possible and all in just 10, short-lived episodes.

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