When Gil Scott-Heron first said, “The revolution will not be televised” on his 1970 album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, he wasn’t talking about the representation LGBTQ+ people on the small screen. But almost 50 years later, it’d be foolish to assert that television hasn’t played its part in social revolution, particularly when it comes to our rights. Just take a look at how shows like Will & Grace, Modern Family, and Glee paved the way in normalizing queerness — changing hearts and minds one episode at a time.
This year, the television industry has continued in the same vein, becoming perhaps the most inclusive it’s been to-date. Today, there are LGBTQ+ people of all stripes populating shows that center their identities. In dramas and comedies, on reality dating competitions and late night talks, the community is present and accounted for. And while the film industry has been slow to provide meaningful representation, there are some highlights there, too. Adding in a few adult entertainers who've also grabbed our attention, here’s who and what kept us laughing, crying, screaming, and titillated throughout 2019.
This piece was originally published in this year’s Out100 issue, out on newstands 12/10. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, or Nook beginning 11/21.
Michael R. Jackson never thought his musical, A Strange Loop, would be produced. “I thought people would think it was too confrontational, Black, queer, and just too much,” he says. But when Playwrights Horizons said they wanted to produce it, his far-flung dream became a reality. And to his surprise, audiences and critics alike have enjoyed it. “I wrote this story because I felt like I never saw myself reflected,” he says. “I never quite saw something that was an examination of what it was like to be a self, in general, and to be a Black queer self in particular. It feels nice to know that people from all different backgrounds...find cause to reflect themselves and to reflect on a Black queer protagonist at the center of it.”
In his first full year out of college, playwright Jordan E. Cooper world premiered and starred in his own play at The Public Theater, Ain't No Mo', and created his first television show for Hulu, The Ms. Pat Show — both of which have received Lee Daniels’ stamp of approval. Along the way, he’s found healing in his work through authentic storytelling about the communities to which he belongs. “I always tell people that my work isn’t to teach anybody a lesson, that it’s usually because I need that word and I’m hungry,” he says. “I’m not Jesus with two fish and five loaves of bread; I wanna eat, too. And I think with each performance of my work, the dinner table just gets bigger and bigger as other hungry folks grab a plate, too.”
When Ryan O’Connell went to studios to pitch his show Special, the writer knew a series based on his life as a gay man with cerebral palsy was “unconventional packaging,” he says. He also knew that “if you take off the wrapping paper, it’s like a Mariah Carey song, very relatable and very universal.” No studio believed in the concept — except for Netflix, which helped him produce the show after a long four years of rejection. Now O’Connell, who also stars in the show, has license to be petty toward everyone who said “no,” as his debut was both a critical favorite and the recipient of four Emmy nominations. “I have not been far enough in therapy to not hold on to pettiness,” he laughs.
When Steven Universe became the first animated series to receive a GLAAD award last spring, show creator Rebecca Sugar, who’s bisexual, nonbinary, and “obsessed with animation history,” found it to be “an unbelievable honor.” They then set out to turn the Cartoon Network series — about a young boy’s coming-of-age in community with magical, humanoid aliens of varying gender identities and sexual orientations — into a full-length movie musical with 16 original songs. Fans thought it would be the series’ end, but with the recently announced Steven Universe: Future, a season six is on the way, further proving that LGBTQ+ content can be children-friendly.
Renowned top Remy Duran started out the first sexually fluid season of the MTV dating competition show Are You the One? as its resident promiscuous party boy. But Duran proved himself to be endearingly vulnerable, solidifying himself in pop culture as, in his words, “America’s bisexual sweetheart.” It’s no surprise, then, that Duran is a Taurus, and “according to the gays,” he says, his chart positions him as “a hard-headed crybaby with no regard for the ramifications of how I choose to communicate!” So essentially, he’s the perfect reality TV star. His newfound viral infamy has “lit a fire under [his] ass” and the New Yorker is not wasting any momentum as he gets back into his first passion, writing comics and designing. And, of course, “being an obnoxiously charming voice for the bisexual community.”
On a show about Satan-worshipping witches, Lachlan Watson keeps Chilling Adventures of Sabrina grounded as Theo, whose onscreen transition in the show’s second season was refreshingly honest. Offscreen, Watson is “finding the spaces where [they] can be [themself], queer or not.” They don’t consider themself a “queer actor,” instead trying to find the space between being an actor who is queer. “I’m currently trying to show the world that those things don’t really affect each other.” To reach that mindset, Watson had to learn to “stop giving an eff. I stopped letting other people shove me through my own life, and I started listening to my heart.” Hopefully that heart doesn’t get torn out on the next installment of Sabrina — literally.
Being part of two high-profile TV shows — writing on Netflix’s Big Mouth and starring in NBC’s Sunnyside — comes with a certain degree of scrutiny, as does being labeled a “gay comedian.” “It’s a double-edged sword,” Joel Kim Booster admits. “I’m either a symbol of representation or proof that gay guys aren’t funny. I talk about sex a lot and people love to point at that and say, ‘See, just another gay guy who’s obsessed with sex,’” something he considers hypocritical since most comedians are, well, obsessed with sex. “There’s definitely a resistance to some of my material because I don’t think people are willing to engage with some of my experiences as relatable or universal, but gay people have had to dig into straight people’s narratives for centuries to find something to relate to. I don’t see why straight people shouldn’t have to do the same when they hear a joke about anal.”
Whether she’s writing about the perils of puberty for Netflix’s Big Mouth, delivering devastating barbs as a terrifying receptionist on Hulu’s Shrill, or showcasing her disturbingly erotic drawings and love for Owl City over Instagram Stories, comedian Patti Harrison is endlessly fascinating and hilarious. Harrison stole every scene she was in this year, and also flirted with vulnerability, shooting her first dramatic film role in a still-unannounced project, an experience she describes as “bone-chilling.” While Harrison isn’t “into” astrology, she says she’s a typical Scorpio: “Sad, angry, vengeful, wildly horny. Yes, that feels true to me and my essence.”
With two breakout roles on Netflix, you can think of Charlie Barnett as your binge-watch bae. He died countless deaths alongside Natasha Lyonne on the Emmy-nominated Russian Doll and starred in the revival of iconic queer series Tales of the City. Barnett is endlessly “appreciative that I get to live within all of these worlds as an actor...that’s what excites me about this industry.” Plus as a queer Black man, he was “really excited to see Tales speak for a part of the community that hadn’t been heard,” referring to the show’s diverse cast and viral dinner scene highlighting the intergenerational divide in the gay community. “It was an incredible project.”
From the outside, it may look like podcasters Kid Fury and Crissle West have it all together. Not only do they have The Read, a popular podcast that was recently turned into a late night talk show on Fuse, but Fury is also developing scripted TV projects, and West is speaking on college campuses and hosting VIP screenings. But for these digital legends, more visibility means more responsibility and more people in your business. “Jenifer Lewis told us several years ago to get used to interacting with strangers or change careers now,” West said, recounting the best career advice she’s received. Fury added: “A friend of mine told me that on down days when I feel horrible, it’s OK to throw yourself a pity party as long as you don’t overstay your welcome.”
Sure, we’re still pissed that Angelica Ross’ fan-favorite Pose character, Candy, was killed off, but we’ve never seen a bounce-back like the one the actress is experiencing. In addition to being the first trans person to host a presidential forum, she also made history as the first trans actor to secure two series regular roles when she landed on American Horror Story: 1984. “I’m just trying to stay focused and not get caught up in the wins or losses,” she says. But through it all, “the most important thing to me is that my community sees that I’m a real person, that the newfound fame doesn’t change my commitment to my community. So, I show up and stand up for us as often as I can.”
As creator of the seminal FX drama Pose, Steven Canals has much to be thankful for; the show’s first season landed six Emmy nominations, and a win for lead actor Billy Porter. But Canals’ biggest achievement of 2019 was writing and directing episode eight of season two, titled “Revelations.” In it, he gave “the world a gay sex scene between two Black, queer, HIV+ men on cable TV,” he says. It was a lot, and all before the opening credits, but it was the type of content that Canals has always strived to create: raw, real, and reflective. “I spent a lot of time early in my career defending my desire to tell queer narratives,” he says. “On the heels of the success of Pose, it’s what everyone wants. I don’t have to explain or defend the projects I’m interested in anymore. The industry knows what to expect from me now.”
As the co-creator and star of Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek, Out Fashion issue cover star Dan Levy tries “not to dwell on the idea of success, having it or building on it,” he says. Even after the show landed four Emmy nominations for its fifth season earlier this year and he signed an overall deal with ABC Studios, the actor and writer wants to stay true to form and continue producing. “I think it’s more helpful to just work hard at what you love, because at the end of the day, the integrity of the work you’re doing is the real success.”
When husbands and co-founders of JSN Studios, Jason Bolden and Adair Curtis, think back to the Black gay men that they once looked up to, Curtis honors one of his first mentors he had as an intern at VH1. For Bolden, it’s James Baldwin who made him feel seen and understood. Now, the fashion-styling and interior-designing couple at the center of the Netflix docuseries Styling Hollywood are possibility models themselves for generations of Black men who love other Black men, a thought that never crossed their minds. But just being “gay, unapologetic about and [celebrating] our Blackness, and fortunate to be living and loving out loud,” Curtis says, has opened up a world of support, “showing us just how much Black gay representation in this way matters — and we proudly accept the responsibility that comes with it.”
Few people have had a glow-up as blinding as Barbie Ferreira this year. As one of the stars of HBO’s scintillating teen drama Euphoria, the model-turned-actress became an overnight style icon, sex symbol, champion for body positivity, and a queer hero for the show’s young fans after publicly coming out to Out. “It’s been a learning experience, especially since my identity is public in a way that it hasn’t been before,” she says. “It’s also been incredibly liberating and cool to be able to express myself freely in this very honest manner.” The same can be said for her co-star Hunter Schafer, whose portrayal of Jules marks her acting debut after a career
as a standout model. “I feel really humbled and thankful that I was given a role that gave me room to explore, build, and be messy within my first time,” she says.
Actress and model Leyna Bloom knows what it’s like to be the first. She was the first trans woman to appear in Vogue India and this year, she became the first trans woman of color to lead a film, Port Authority, that premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. “I feel honored and humbled by this entire experience,” she says. “To reap the benefits of the positivity that comes with it is extremely life-changing.” But for her, it’s all about leaving “a historical moment for the next people in line, who can look and say a door has been opened.”
2019 paid major dividends to actress Trace Lysette. Not only did she return to the set of Transparent, reimagined as a movie musical, she also landed a role in Hustlers opposite Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. Looking to 2020, Lysette has one goal in mind: to keep working. “That’s all that I have,” she says. “To throw myself into my work, but also not let this world drive me mad.”
Actress Beanie Feldstein has been in the background for quite some time. But following a stellar performance opposite Kaitlyn Dever in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart, she’s proven her leading lady abilities. “Being a part of bringing that film to life made me even more open about sharing my own queer identity freely,” she says. “Truly, I just want to be a part of telling stories that I want or need to see and hear myself.”
Though he was certainly on our radar from his work in adult films (or from his OnlyFans and JustForFans pages), Mitchell was thrust into the pop culture zeitgeist when he starred in a gay porn skit on Saturday Night Live, opposite one Emma Stone. And while that brought an outpouring of love from the community of porn performers, it’s his reputation as “the intellectual one” that has gone the furthest in distinguishing Mitchell from his contemporaries. But unsurprisingly, the performer isn’t the biggest fan of that sort of elitism. “I want people to know that sex workers can also be intellectuals, but I also want to push back on this idea that smart sex workers are more worthy of autonomy, safety, and respect than others,” he says. This year alone, he wrote for The New Inquiry and started his Probottom Book Club newsletter of short essays. “I want to live in a world that’s safe for the stupidest whore.”
“Hustle” is a word that gets thrown around often. But Ts Madison, the adult-performer-turned-cult-icon worthy of imitation for a RuPaul’s Drag Race “Snatch Game,” is its very embodiment. Though Madison may have traded in her past to host her own hilarious show on social media, The Queens Supreme Court, where she runs down a “docket” of celebrity news and gossip, plus inks deals with the likes of Showtime, World of Wonder, she would never distance herself from what came before the fame. “It is very important for me to embrace my past and be extremely transparent about it because it’s just that: my past!” Madison says. “There are a lot of people who are disappointed in the way their past bruised or scarred them and don’t want anyone to truly know how dark it was. However, for me, the darkness is where I grew. Like a seed planted deep in dark places, I still grew. I still flourished.”
Between working with Mark Ronson and releasing her album Cheap Queen (which included an “anthem for bottoms everywhere”), King Princess has been taking her music to the next level, which she says is due to her uniquely queer sensibilities. Being “gay and picky about what I want has helped me locate and work with incredible people who respect the person I am,” she says. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” She hopes to inspire queer kids to “know that being gay is a gift when it comes to art” and looks forward to “an endless stream of gay pop running the music business.” We would like to see it!
If there was a soundtrack for 2019, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” would be the first song on the album—and the rest would be the various “Old Town Road” remixes. No single track had as large of an impact on pop culture the way the rapper’s breakout did, and his bold choice to come out as gay at the peak of his fame disproves the old industry myth that queer folks must stay closeted to become successful. After becoming the first LGBTQ+ artist to win Song of the Year at the MTV VMAs, appearing on the cover of Time, and having his “Panini” music video break 100 million views on YouTube, it’s clear Lil Nas X is anything but a one-hit wonder.
Brandi Carlile started the year on a roll as the most nominated woman at the Grammys, and she hasn’t slowed down since. She took home three Grammys for her album, By the Way, I Forgive You, and has continued to shape the sound of Americana, founding country supergroup The Highwomen and dueting with Dolly Parton at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island (which she also curated). In October, Carlile pulled out of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit over the inclusion of former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, confirming that power and integrity can go hand in hand. As she told Out, the most effective way to change the world “is by changing hearts instead of minds and rules.”
“My music would not exist without me realizing that I was deeply queer,” confesses French singer Héloise Letissier, of Christine and the Queens. Besides dueting with Charli XCX on “Gone,” arguably the most inventive and ferocious pop banger of the year, Chris has relished the chance to take her music on tour, finding it “truly empowering and moving to defend those songs every night, to talk about hunger and desire every night.” Chris hopes her music helps LGBTQ+ folks access wild, strange, unrestricted queer joy. “Queer is fun! Queer is upside down! Diving into the unknown! Giving names to it, then forgetting those names, then forging some new ones!”
“We’re aware that there are kids coming [to our shows] whose parents are sweetly referring to us as ‘the lesbian band,’” jokes Katie Gavin, the lead singer of MUNA, which also consists of guitarists Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson. As a queer band touring smaller cities, Gavin says MUNA tries to always “stay really cognizant of the fact that we might be somebody’s only [queer] experience thus far in their lives, the first time they’re in a room with predominantly queer people. That motivates us.” This year, the trio completed and released their second studio album, Saves the World, which covers everything from lost love (“Stayaway”) to the heady obsession of contemporary stan culture (“Number One Fan”).
2019 was the year Brazilian drag sensation Pabllo Vittar went international, touring Pride celebrations across the U.S. and Europe. “It was my first time on stage outside my country,” Vittar says. “It was incredible to experience how music [doesn’t] have barriers and can connect people in so many different ways.” After releasing the ultimate ’90s club jam “Flash Pose” with Charli XCX, next year Vittar plans to debut her first trilingual album, singing in Portuguese, English, and Spanish. She also appeared on “Shake It,” a track off XCX’s album Charli with an iconic “fag mob” including Brooke Candy, Cupcakke, and Big Freedia—a solid contender for the most important musical crossover of the year. Though constantly touring has taken its toll — Vittar misses her family when she’s on the road — she is continually grateful for the chance to inspire her young queer fans “to live without being afraid of who you are.”
If you don’t know who Kevin Abstract is, you haven’t been on the internet recently. The rapper, who founded the group BROCKHAMPTON, is most proud of “completing two albums without losing [his] mind” in 2019. In April, he dropped a solo project, ARIZONA BABY, and months later, his group released Ginger, heralded as their best album to date. Abstract finds his queerness makes “it easier for [him] to say what’s on [his] heart.” Part of that process, he hopes, is creating music “from a place of excitement rather than [being] hypercritical of everything. Less of that will make my life easier and lead me to the type of success I’m after.”