10 Iconic Queer TV Characters Played by Out LGBTQ+ Actors

by Shawn Laib

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday March 18, 2023
Originally published on March 8, 2023

Brian Michael Smith, Sabrina Impacciatore, and Omar Rudberg
Brian Michael Smith, Sabrina Impacciatore, and Omar Rudberg  

The ongoing debate around whether all queer characters should be portrayed by actors who are also part of the LGBTQ+ community in real life is a slippery slope. Nobody should be forced to disclose their sexuality to the public to get a job, and this same argument applies to Hollywood. At the same time, audiences who look to entertainment for comfort and inspiration may take great pleasure in knowing that the performers who are lending their talents to our favorite on-screen characters can understand the struggles of queer people authentically and genuinely.

Fortunately, there has been an influx of actors who are more comfortable coming out recently. This means more and more LGBTQ+ characters are being played by actors of the same sexuality, and we certainly appreciate these revelations. Certain scenes just hit harder when we know the actors can relate to the role in personal ways. They just get it, right? It's time to celebrate the 10 best queer characters played by queer actors on TV right now.

Jules Vaughn (played by Hunter Schafer), "Euphoria"

HBO's mega-hit teen drama "Euphoria" is controversial, sexy, and colorful in more ways than one. While Zendaya gets most of the acclaim for playing the lead character, and Sydney Sweeney was thrust into the spotlight in the second season, it's Hunter Schafer's portrayal of Jules Vaughn that should get a lot more recognition. Jules is a trans girl who is emotionally and physically beaten, but not broken. Her strength in the face of adversity is an inspiration for trans youth all over the world, and Schafer, being transgender herself, brings a vulnerability to the role that would be hard for a cisgender actor to match.

Nick Nelson and Charlie Spring (played by Kit Connor and Joe Locke), "Heartstopper"

"Heartstopper'' has become a phenomenon on Netflix since it was released in 2021, due to its widespread appeal and unique ability to normalize young queer romances to a larger audience. The two lovebirds of the story, Nick and Charlie, are portrayed by actors with the same sexualities as their characters, although their journies to coming out was much different. Joe Locke (who plays Charlie) came out as gay on his own terms, whereas Kit Connor (who plays Nick) felt forced by fans of the show to come out as bisexual after he was spotted holding hands with a woman in public. This was a sad instance of bisexual-erasure and a good lesson for people to realize that dating the opposite sex doesn't make you less a part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Will Byers (played by Noah Schnapp), "Stranger Things"

@noahschnapp I guess I'm more similar to will than I thought

♬ original sound - Privacynbling

Will Byers was one of the main characters in Netflix's sci-fi phenomenon "Stranger Things" during the first two seasons, but he's been sidelined since then. One of the ways Will has remained an integral part of the show is through the Duffer Brothers' decision to slowly reveal the character as being gay. Fans were ecstatic to find out earlier this year that Noah Schnapp, who plays Will, is also gay in real life. Because Schnapp was casted as Will before he was even a teenager, it means his journey to coming out aligned in perfect synchrony with Will's. This is a beautiful revelation that wasn't lost on fans.

Others have had fun pointing out some of the obvious tells that Schnapp may not have been acting in the show, but rather displaying his true gay mannerisms, such as Will's now-iconic gay walk!

@editsfrom_hawkins Now I get why the walk was so natural #strangerthings #strangerthingsedit #edit #willbyers #noahschnapp #gay ♬ original sound - editor

@.noahschnaop this is actually so funny omg😭#noahschnapp #strangerthings4 #willbyers #willbyersisfruity #fypdoesntwork ♬ Rich Minion - Yeat

All jokes aside, "Stranger Things" now has the opportunity to allow millions of gay youth to be inspired by Will's coming out in the not-yet-released fifth season. We can't wait to find out how they handle it!

Valentina (played by Sabrina Impacciatore), "The White Lotus"

While she didn't get as much screen time as Armond, the gay hotel manager from the first season of "The White Lotus," Valentina was still a great side character in the newest season of the Mike White-created HBO hit. Sabrina Impacciatore, the Italian actress who delicately portrayed Valentina's closeted struggles throughout the seven episodes, is also gay in real life. This was hilariously revealed by her in this viral Twitter video from December 2022.

Simon Eriksson (played by Omar Rudberg), "Young Royals"

Netflix has so many great queer TV shows that Swedish-made "Young Royals" might fly under your radar. This is unfortunate, as the coming-of-age drama is one of the most realistic depictions of self-discovery and teenage angst on the streamer. One of the main reasons for this is the show's seamless integration of same-sex relationships without putting any labels on the characters. Omar Rudberg, who plays Simon, one of the two protagonists in the series, is also unlabelled in real life. This adds great authenticity to a show that already has it in spades.

Ellie Williams (played by Bella Ramsey), "The Last of Us"

HBO's post-apocalyptic drama "The Last of Us" has turned into something of a phenomenon since the New Year. The seventh episode of the show was a tender and revealing look at main character Ellie's first girl-crush. With intimate moments like the two characters playing video games and dancing in monster masks, it was a poignant reminder of the ways teenagers find joy even during the most dire times. Bella Ramsey, the actress who portrays Ellie, identifies as gender non-binary in real life. Many fans felt the gay yearning for her on-screen partner, Riley, to be incredibly authentic to their own first experiences with queer attraction.

Fabiola Torres (played by Lee Rodriguez), "Never Have I Ever"

Mindy Kaling's semi-autobiographical teen comedy series is about to enter its fourth and final season this summer, and we will be sad to see characters like Fabiola leave our screens. Fab is one of main character Devi's best friends, and her journey to accepting her queer identity has been awkward, fun, and unique in comparison to other coming-of-age shows in the same vein. Lee Rodriguez is also queer in real life, and was brave enough to come out in 2020.

Paul Strickland (played by Brian Michael Smith), "9-1-1: Lone Star"

We could have chosen any number of LGBTQ+ characters on "9-1-1: Lone Star''; the Fox show has a myriad of diverse actors and storylines, which is a rarity on network TV. Paul Strickland is a trans man played by real-life trans actor Brian Michael Smith. It's pretty revolutionary to have BIPOC LGBTQ+ characters played by actors who are also part of this group, and to also have the character depicted with such realism. Fans appreciate how Paul's identity is never exploited in the show, and it never overshadows or takes precedence over who he is as a person.

Viktor Hargreeves (played by Elliot Page), "The Umbrella Academy"

Elliot Page's transition was one of the most inspiring moments in the movement for transgender acceptance in the U.S. in the last few years. His openness and courage in public and continued success in acting shows others they can achieve what they put their minds to. The creators behind "The Umbrella Academy" made the correct decision to incorporate Page's gender identity into the show when they also touched on his character's transition in the most recent season of the show.

Cal Bowman (played by Dua Saleh), "Sex Education"

"Sex Education" is a wonderful canvas of LGBTQ+ characters and actors. Much like with "9-1-1: Lone Star," one could choose virtually any character from this show and see queer representation. We've decided to single out one of the new characters from Season 3, Cal Bowman. Played by real-life non-binary actor Dua Saleh, Cal has added a breath of fresh air to the show that we can't wait to see continue in the fourth season!