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The 15 Most Groundbreaking Gay Roles on Television

Television firsts, from Rickie on ‘My So-Called Life’ to Kurt and Blaine on ‘Glee’

For years, most gay characters on TV were the go-to prototypes for comic relief in sitcoms — think Will and Grace's Jack McFarland or Stanford and Anthony on Sex and the City. But on the U.S. version of Skins, the smart, sexy lesbian cheerleader Tea is easily poised to be the breakout character on the show. Her counterpart from the original British series, a gay (male) teen named Maxie, struggled with his homosexuality and played more of a supporting role. In MTV's version, Tea blazes onto the scene swigging mini bottles of vodka between class, masturbating to Audrey Hepburn posters and asserting she doesn't want a relationship because "No one matches up to me." But her softer side eventually peeks through in a tender scene where she learns her dementia-ridden grandmother is also gay.

Here are 14 more characters from 11 other shows that have helped to make a groundbreaking role like Tea's possible on TV.

By Sarene Leeds

Mark Seliger/ABC via Getty Images

Rickie Vasquez on ‘My So-Called Life’

The flamboyant, eyeliner-wearing, girls-bathroom-preferring Rickie Vasquez was first introduced by Claire Danes' Angela Chase as "bi," but it wasn't long before he started coming out to Rayanne, Angela and most important, his sympathetic English teacher (and eventual foster father), Mr. Katimski ("EnRIQUE!!!!") as gay. While the 1994-95 series met a premature end, Rickie remains memorable because although his homosexuality did cause many problems for him (physical abuse, being kicked out of his home) it wasn't used solely as a plot device – pretty uncommon for those heavy Nineties TV dramas.

ABC/BOB D'AMICO

Cameron Tucker and Mitchell Pritchett on ‘Modern Family’

All they want is to be good parents to adopted daughter Lily, but it's not always easy maintaining a healthy balance between subdued and flamboyant. "Can you call André and have him paint something a little less gay?" Mitchell asks Cameron after returning home from Vietnam with baby Lily only to find a painting on her wall of the two of them as angels. Eric Stonestreet, who already has garnered an Emmy for his portrayal of former football player Cameron, also has the honor of speaking the best line ever uttered by any gay character: "I can't turn it off! It's who I am!"

John P. Johnson/ HBO

Lafayette Reynolds on ‘True Blood’

Thanks to creator Alan Ball's brilliant thinking, Bon Temps' most flashy short-order cook/V dealer is alive and well instead of dead in the back of Andy Bellefleur's car (his character's fate in Book Two of the Sookie Stackhouse novels). Although Lafayette embodies certain gay stereotypes (eyeliner, lipstick, jewelry, he prefers the ladies' room – "I is gorgeous"), he is easily one of the most trustworthy characters in a world filled with devious vampires, werewolves, maenads, shape-shifters and, most recently, a witch – the latter of whom just happens to be Lafayette's new boyfriend. Hookah, please!

TMC

Joyce Ramsay on ‘Mad Men’

While little more than a supporting player at this point, Life magazine assistant photo editor Joyce has been instrumental in drawing Peggy Olson out of her shell — hitting on her, offering her pot, getting her the Topaz pantyhose account, etc. — yet never lets her sexual orientation get in the way of business. It's a bittersweet victory for those of us who remember Sterling Cooper's beleaguered art director Sal Romano, whose homosexuality, no matter how desperately he tried to hide it (he even got married) ultimately cost him his job in Season Three. 

Claudette Barius/HBO

Lloyd Lee on ‘Entourage’

Having suffered through every kind of racial and gay slur known to man at the hands of his boss Ari Gold, the ever-devoted assistant Lloyd was finally promoted to full-fledged agent at the end of Season Six. While most assistants would have quit long before (and thrown their BlackBerries at Ari in disgust), Lloyd has stayed the course and eventually grew enough of a pair in order to throw Ari's tasteless quips back at him: "Lloyd, what's it like to take it up the ass?" "I don't know. I'm always on top."

ustin Lubin/NBC

Oscar Martinez on ‘The Office’

In what universe is the token gay guy the most level-headed, rational-thinking and low-key character? That would be the world of Scranton, Pennsylvania's most beloved paper company, Dunder-Mifflin. Poor Oscar has had to deal with being spied on by Dwight (who was so preoccupied with catching Oscar ditching work to go ice skating that he didn't notice Oscar's, ahem, "roommate") and being kissed by Michael in a woefully misguided show of solidarity. Still, he remains loyal to the Dunder-Mifflin gang, with his sexual preference tending to take a back seat to his more annoying role as the most pedantic employee.

HBO

Angela Darmody and Mary Dittrich on ‘Boardwalk Empire’

In the most shocking plot twist of Boardwalk Empire's debut season, 1920s bohemian Angela was getting it on not with photographer Robert Dittrich (whom viewers suspected was the real father of mobster-in-training Jimmy Darmody's young son), but his wife. Luckily for Angela, she was able to keep the taboo relationship under wraps even when little Tommy pointed at a snapshot of the Dittrichs and squealed, "That's Mommy's kissing friend!" Jimmy, naively unaware of his wife's Sapphic leanings, puts the wrong Dittrich in the hospital – causing the Dittrichs to abscond to Paris and denying us the chance to see Mary orally pleasure Angela. Again.

ABC FAMILY/ANDREW ECCLES

Emily Fields on ‘Pretty Little Liars’

She's a member of the tightest clique at Rosewood High School, she's gorgeous, she's a competitive swimmer – and she's a lesbian. Life of a teenager is never easy, and Emily not only has to deal with her burgeoning feelings, but they happen to be an unrequited love for her best friend Allison – who disappeared under shady circumstances – and a brand-new relationship with the sexy Maya St. Germain. Did we mention her mother thinks it's "wrong" her daughter is into girls? Well, at least she's got her three best friends to lean on – when they're not being text-stalked by the mysterious A.

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