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25. Sophia Burset
Laverne Cox, Orange Is the New Black
The EW cover girl's portrayal of Litchfield Penitentiary's resident hair stylist and soothsayer is undoubtedly one of the series' most compelling and compassionate characters.
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John Hannah, Four Weddings and a Funeral
If you don’t shed a tear when Matthew, grieving the death of his partner (Simon Callow), reads W.H. Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues,” then congratulations on not having a soul.
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23. Clarissa Vaughan
Meryl Streep, The Hours
Clarissa’s relationship with her partner, Sally (Allison Janney), is revealed in just a few matter-of-fact moments, but those scenes convey a depth of casual intimacy, graceful maturity, and quiet affection rarely seen on screen.
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22. Matt Fielding
Doug Savant, Melrose Place
Poor Matt. He endured several gay bashings, was fired for being gay, only dated closeted men, was framed for the murder of the wife of his lover, and eventually died in a car crash. All that in five years, and he never even got a real onscreen kiss.
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21. David Fisher
Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under
Over the course of five seasons, we watched David evolve from a dutiful yet lonely son to a mostly happy husband and adoring adoptive father. Who says people can’t change?
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Terence Stamp, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
“What are you telling me? This is an ABBA turd?”
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19. Jamal Lyon
Jussie Smollett, Empire
The current Fox hit may read as a glitzy soap, but under all the sequins lies the emotional heart of the show: Jamal’s roller-coaster relationship with his homophobic father, Lucious.
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18. Maura Pfefferman
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
When the former family patriarch finally finds the courage to transition and tell her family about it, it turns out her secret is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Pfefferman family drama.
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17. Armand Goldman
Robin Williams, The Birdcage
Armand is the owner of a fabulous drag club in Miami, but Williams, no stranger to overacting, goes small, unearthing the man's weary middle-age grace with touching understatement.
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16. Willow Rosenberg
Alyson Hannigan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Showcasing a teen vampire slayer? No problem. Giving her shy BFF a girlfriend? That was controversial. And totally awesome.
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15. George Downes
Rupert Everett, My Best Friend’s Wedding
Dapper, dashing, and droll (and definitely the sanest character in this movie), George is the friend we all wish would rescue us from emotional crises.
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14. Nancy Bartlett
Sandra Bernhard, Roseanne
Lanford was sent into a tizzy when Roseanne’s good pal came out. Luckily, Nancy’s newfound sexuality didn’t get in the way of her love of animal print.
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Katherine Moennig, The L Word
Hypersexual and sporting sideswept bangs and threadbare tees, Shane made every lesbian (or at least ones in L.A.) rethink her wardrobe—and her love life.
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12. Jack McPhee
Kerr Smith, Dawson’s Creek
Jack didn’t just come out, he explored the early world of online dating and made history in 2000 by landing the first gay-male kiss on prime time. (His onscreen platonic relationship with Michelle Williams’ Jen was pretty enviable too.)
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11. C.J. Lamb
Amanda Donahoe, L.A. Law
Whether it was done solely as a publicity stunt is still up for debate, but it can’t be denied that C.J.’s lip-lock with Abby was the first full-on same-sex kiss in TV history.
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John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Lift up your hands! John Cameron Mitchell’s supreme creation—an unapologetic, punk-rockin’ “internationally ignored song stylist” smarting from a botched sex-reassignment surgery—may have started out working the Midwest coffeehouse and salad-bar circuits, but soon enough the character took over Broadway.
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9. Omar Little
Michael Kenneth Williams, The Wire
David Simon’s brilliant Baltimore crime drama gave us a kind of TV badass we’d never seen before: a gay antihero who demanded respect for himself and his sexuality.
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8. Catherine Tramell
Sharon Stone, Basic Instinct
Though the bisexual character was criticized by pundits at the time for being everything wrong about lesbian and bisexual portrayals in film, there's no denying that Catherine Trammel was someone you couldn't take your eyes off of.
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7. Andrew Beckett
Tom Hanks, Philadelphia
The first of Hanks’ back-to-back Oscars was for playing a seemingly have-it-all gay lawyer stricken by AIDS. Some carped this was too virtuous a character, but that’s precisely why the film proved so moving; he was a gay Everyman in an era that desperately needed one onscreen.
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6. Kurt Hummel
Chris Colfer, Glee
This alto-voiced teen came out to his father, fought off a high school bully, and married his high school sweetheart—all while crushing Wicked covers.
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5. Enrique “Rickie” Vasquez
Wilson Cruz, My So-Called Life
Though Rickie’s sexuality was a defining part of his role, he wasn’t just the Token Gay Friend. Instead, creator Winnie Holzman made him quirky, smart, and endlessly self-absorbed—in other words, as much a real teenager as any of his straight peers.
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4. Ennis Del Mar
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Ledger’s Ennis is a man fighting back his inner nature so hard his teeth might crack. But he still couldn’t quit Jack, and we won’t ever forget Ledger’s performance.
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Jaye Davidson, The Crying Game
By now everyone knows The Crying Game’s big secret. And that’s just as well, because the movie is richer and more poetic when you view Dil as a fully empowered transgender woman and not just a plot twist.
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2. Ellen Morgan
Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen
When the character Ellen came out on her sitcom in 1997, so did DeGeneres. At the time, the revelation ignited a firestorm that suggested her career might be over. Hardly.
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1. Will Truman
Eric McCormack, Will & Grace
Would America welcome a gay male lead character into their homes each week? Will Truman gave the universe a decided “yes” to that question. This groundbreaking sitcom didn’t just make straight viewers wish they had someone like Will in their lives. It made them recognize that they probably already did.