It seems like “gay teens on TV” is the subject of every magazine cover, blog post, and schoolyard discussion. There have been countless articles dedicated to the industry’s increased open-mindedness toward and society’s benefit from the prevalence of prominent LGBT teen characters on popular TV shows. With shows like Glee and Pretty Little Liars, queer TV characters have become a household staple. And that’s awesome!
But while Kurt and Emily have normalized homosexuality for many young people and their families across the nation, let’s not take for granted that this was not the case two decades ago, and, that complacency won’t do us any good for LGBT rights.
Time to get off my soapbox and enjoy a trip down memory lane, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly’s timeline of young queer females on TV since 1992, all the way up to 2011. We’ve also added our own, which are noted with an *. (Note: The list includes American characters only, but feel free to discuss any teen lesbian characters that you love in the comments.)
*1993 – Kimberly Brock (Holly Marie Combs) and Lisa Fenn (Alexondra Lee), Picket Fences
EW forgot about the “special” episode, “Sugar & Spice,” on the CBS dramedy, Picket Fences, whose storyline revolved around Kimberly and Lisa kissing at a sleepover and grappling with their feelings for one another. Kimberly realizes that she’s unable to reciprocate Lisa’s feelings for her, and that’s that. Look at that, there were sweeps weeks back in the ‘90s, too. Oh, and recognize Holly Marie Combs? She’s Aria’s mommy in Pretty Little Liars.
2000 – Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara Maclay (Amber Benson), Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Willow and Tara’s relationship caused many of us to jump out of the closet head-first and profess our love for Wicca, Alyson and Amber. It also made many of us obsessed with Joss Whedon, the show’s creator.
2002 – Jessie Sammler (Evan Rachel Wood) and Katie Singer (Mischa Barton), Once and Again
The groundbreaking relationship between Jessie and Katie on ABC’s Once and Again provided an honest portrayal of the struggles of identity formation as a teen, especially in light of teenage girls’ sexuality and their reputations. It made history, too, when Jessie and Katie kissed twice — a first for primetime television — and even more as the first show to depict a lasting, serious romantic relationship between two teenage girls.
2005 – Spencer Carlin (Gabrielle Christian) and Ashley Davies (Mandy Musgrave), South of Nowhere
The N’s Spashley were the main focus of the teenybopper favorite, South of Nowhere. While there were restrictions — read: double-standards — on the level of intimacy between the two girls, creator Thomas W. Lynch got creative, and, apart from the silliness of hair-brushing, included several scenes (a kiss that spilled over into two episodes) that marked the couple’s romantic progression. They even had a happy ending! Spashley 4ever.
2005 – Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) and Alex Kelly (Olivia Wilde), The O.C.
Marissa and Alex’s relationship on Fox, developing over a seven-episode arc (starting with “The Accomplice”), made waves among the wide viewership of O.C. fanatics. Nonetheless, Marissa and Alex’s kiss on “The Rainy Day Women” was edited for being “too hot for TV” and their relationship seemed like another notch in Marissa’s belt of rebellious ways to get back at her mother. The fleeting relationship died pretty quickly and Marissa bounced right back into the arms of Ryan. The end. Still, Olivia Wilde went on to play Thirteen on House and Mischa Barton, having already played Katie on Once and Again, keeps the lesbian roles close by.
2009 – Gretchen Berg (Madeline Zima) and Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere), Heroes
Claire, former cheerleader and badass evil-fighter, wowed us all when she accepted roommate Gretchen’s mouth-to-mouth advance, and after a few kinks, suggested that she would be in a relationship with her gal pal. Unfortunately for us, though, the show got canceled and we can only turn to fanfiction to determine their fate.
2010 – Adrianna Tate-Duncan (Jessica Lowndes) and Gia Mannetti (Rumer Willis), 90210
The short-lived relationship between Adrianna and Gia presented teenage sexual fluidity in a “normal,” typical aspect of growing up. Props to showrunner Rebecca Sinclair for her evolved and accurate attitudes toward teenage sexuality, and conscientious effort to include more than one non-straight character on the show (Teddy).
2010 – Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell), Pretty Little Liars
A sizable portion of the explosive success of ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars can arguably be explained by one of the main Liars herself, Emily Fields. Emily not only explored her sexuality, but has come out as gay with her girlfriend Maya St. Germain (Bianca Lawson), and is dealing with the repercussions of an unsupportive mother and her repressive expectations. While she’s currently dealing with a heartbreak of epic proportions, the jaw-droppingly beautiful jock will undoubtedly bounce back and continue to be an out lesbian on our TV screens.
*2010 – Brittany S. Pierce (Heather Morris) and Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera), Glee
While Brittana are not your typical television teens, their sexual nonchalance is part of the reason why we love them. They truly embody sexual fluidity and don’t give two sh-ts about what you think of it. While Brittany is currently with Artie and Santana is with the latest hot jock-of-the-week, co-creator Brad Falchuk confirmed last week that Brittana is on. So maybe we’ll get that dream pairing after all, and EW can update its official timeline. Pinkies crossed.
2011 – Tea Marvelli (Sofia Black-D’Elia), Skins
As controversial as the US adaptation of the UK original has been, one of its main characters, Tea, the sexually confident lesbian on Skins, presents a refreshing teen that struggles to come out to her family and firmly identify her sexuality. While she’s baffled by her feelings after a fling with guy friend Tony, her identity crisis continues and she still sleeps with girls who “bore” her. Stay tuned.
Who have been the pivotal queer teens on TV in your coming out process or identity formation?