2014's Most Intriguing LGBT Characters

There have been some notable improvements in the quantity of LGBT characters appearing in entertainment media over the past year, but it can't be claimed that all these new faces were particularly groundbreaking.  However, a handful did manage to catch the eye of viewers and critics alike by telling stories rarely or never told before.  Here are some of the (mostly) new LGBT characters in 2014 that stood out from the crowd in film, documentary, TV comedy, TV drama, video games and comics.


Dear White People - Lionel

Writer/director Justin Simien's debut feature Dear White People has garnered much deserved praise for its thoughtful and often hilarious examination of race in college and America at large, but it also happens to contain one of the year's most significant new gay characters.  Aspiring journalist Lionel starts the film mainly just looking to be left alone, but eventually gets swept up in the events unfolding on his campus and finds he has a much stronger opinion on the situation than he originally thought.  Based on some interviews, Lionel's political awakening in the film seems to have somewhat mirrored the director's own experience, and Simien himself is an out gay man.  Lionel's story examines how his gay and racial identities intersect, and the emotional toll others' preconceptions and expectations can have on us as individuals.

The Way He Looks - Leonardo

There have been countless gay coming-of-age films made over the years, and several very good ones, but The Way He Looks manages to breathe fresh air into the genre.  Set in a Brazilian suburb, the film follows a blind teenager, Leonardo, as he experiences first love with a new student named Gabriel.  So much of what works about the film can be traced back to the terrific performance of Ghilherme Lobo as Leonardo, who manages to convey often conflicting emotions with the subtlest of expressions.  We watch Leonardo struggle for independence and the right to define himself while simultaneously trying to reconcile his newfound feelings and desire for human contact, all through the unique perspective of his experience as a blind teen.

Pride - Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM)

Hopefully its recent Golden Globe nomination for best picture will inspire more people to seek out and watch Pride, the wonderful and poignant comedy from director Matthew Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford.  Set during the UK miner's strike of the 1980s, the film follows a group of LGBT activists who decide to lend their support to the cause through outreach and fundraising for a small and somewhat reluctant Welsh village.  Choosing a favorite among the outstanding members of LGSM is no easy task -  between the determined Mark, acerbic Steph, and sweet couple Gethin and Jonathan - so we're cheating a bit and counting them all.  Pride comes out on DVD and video on demand December 23.


Next Goal Wins - Jaiyah

Sports underdog films are a dime a dozen, but the American Samoan football (soccer) team at the center of the documentary Next Goal Wins might have one of the saddest reputations of all.  In 2001, the team suffered a record-breaking defeat to Australia 31-0, and following years of losses, hoped to turn things around with a new coach.  One of the players highlighted in the film is Jaiyah Saeula, a Samoan fa'afafine (third gender person) who uses female pronouns and becomes a great team defender after being named to the starting lineup. Jaiyah challenges both traditional ideas of what makes an athlete and Western views on trans identity, and her spirit and love for the game embody what makes this underdog team so easy to root for in the first place.  And she has a mean slide tackle to boot.

The Dog

Thanks to the film Dog Day Afternoon, many people have heard of John Wojtowicz's now infamous 1972 police standoff following an attempted bank robbery meant to finance his lover's transition, but the documentary The Dog reveals there was a great deal more to his story.  Wojtowicz served in Vietnam and spent some time as a gay activist immediately following Stonewall, before desperation (and possibly mental instability) led to the crime that sent him to prison and garnered him a share of celebrity that he would attempt to make a living off of for years to come.  Wojtowicz was just about the furthest thing from a role model you could find, but he was an undeniably fascinating person whose life intersected with LGBT history in unexpected ways.

True Trans with Laura Jane Grace - Laura Jane Grace

Laura Jane Grace isn't new to the many people familiar with her story since she came out as transgender in the pages of Rolling Stone, or the legions of fans who know her as the front woman of rock band Against Me!, but viewers got to see a much more personal side of her in the streaming documentary series True Trans with Laura Jane Grace on AOL Originals.  Over the course of several months of touring, Laura Jane explores her own place in the trans community by conversing with other people, including family, fans, and trans community leaders.  Through helping to share the stories of others, we in turn learn more about Laura Jane and what makes her such a compelling performer and advocate.

TV Comedy

Transparent - Maura

One of the most anticipated new series of 2014 was undoubtedly Transparent, which garnered headlines for both the casting of Jeffrey Tambor in the lead role and for signaling that Amazon was looking to create groundbreaking programming.  Thankfully, the show itself turned out to be a wonderful story with a very compelling character at its core.  Maura is a transgender woman trying to navigate a new lease on life as she comes out at 70 years old, but just as she's forging her own path, she finds her three adult children are all still quite lost.  Her excitement about stepping into her new life is contagious, but viewers also feel every hardship she encounters trying to navigate both the expectations of the outside world and the emotions of her "supportive" family. Transparent is also the only scripted program to have multiple transgender characters. We were thrilled with the glimpses we got of Davina, Shae, and Dale - all played by trans actors - and we hope to see more of those characters in season two.

Faking It - Lauren

MTV's comedy Faking It, about a high school girl realizing she has very real feelings for another girl, actually features several gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters, but it garnered mainstream attention when it revealed that resident mean girl Lauren was intersex.  Storylines about intersex people on television have been few and far between, and typically never extend past a single episode, but Lauren's position as one of the show's core cast allowed Faking It to explore an intersex person's story in more detail than ever before.  The show turned to actual intersex advocates and young people to give Lauren's experience greater authenticity, and coincidentally helped make her a much more relatable character.  It also doesn't hurt that she gets many of the show's wittiest lines. 

Survivor's Remorse - M-Chuck

Though it hasn't gotten as much attention as other Starz series, the new show Survivor's Remorse actually has one of television's most interesting new lesbian characters.  The series follows basketball player Cam and how his recent signing to a professional team affects his family.  Among them is Cam's sister: a confident, stylish lesbian who goes by the name M-Chuck and seems to be a bit of a lady-killer, though she starts the season unsure of her direction in life.  After becoming her brother's publicist, M-Chuck starts to come into her own alongside her supportive family.  She also displays a mean throwing arm when hurling a bible at a bigoted pastor's head.

TV Drama

How to Get Away with Murder - Connor Walsh

It's not uncommon for a Shonda Rhimes-produced show to grab headlines for racy content and dramatic plot twists, but the character of Connor Walsh on the legal mystery series How to Get Away With Murder actually helped break some barriers as well.  Scheming, driven, and unafraid to use sex to get what he wants, Connor fits right in among the show's many shady characters, but rarely in mainstream media is a gay man and his escapades depicted as explicitly as his straight counterparts.  Connor might not possess the strongest moral fiber, but he's certainly one of the reasons so many eyeballs find themselves glued to Murder every week.

Penny Dreadful - Ethan Chandler & Dorian Gray

When it was announced that the upcoming supernatural thriller Penny Dreadful would feature the classic literary character Dorian Gray, many viewers were hopeful that Oscar Wilde's creation would be depicted through a queer lens.  Sure enough, Dorian was shown to be a seductive character with both male and female admirers, but more unexpected was that the rugged and handsome American cowboy Ethan Chandler would also find himself falling under Dorian's spell.  Though it doesn't appear that a happy romance is going to bloom between the two (it’s a very dark show), Ethan is now one of the few bisexual male lead characters to appear on television, with much more of both his and Dorian's backstory still to be revealed.

Game of Thrones - Red Viper

One of the most anticipated characters to be introduced in the new season of Game of Thrones was the charismatic and deadly Prince Oberyn Martell, also known as the "Red Viper," who HBO's massively popular adaptation also depicted as unapologetically bisexual.  Though he initially comes across as a dangerous character primarily concerned with indulging his desires, viewers soon learn that he also possesses a much more sympathetic moral code than most of those around him and is driven by the desire to seek justice for a slain family member.  Sadly, like many of the show's most popular characters, Oberyn also met a violent end, but left a memorable mark on millions of viewers.

Video Games and Comics

Dragon Age: Inquisition - Iron Bull, Sera, Dorian, and Krem

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a game practically bursting at the seams with content, from its expansive and detailed environments to the thousands of pages of stories hidden within, and thankfully its developers at Bioware were also quite generous with LGBT content.  No less than one-third of the nine playable party members are lesbian, gay or bisexual, not to mention the transgender man among the supporting cast, and each possesses unique personalities and backstories.  There's the puckish lesbian elf Sera, who is equal parts Robin Hood and riot grrrl, as well as the haughty gay mage Dorian who fled his homeland rather than be forced into an arranged marriage with a woman.  Tough trans mercenary Krem comes across as no-nonsense until he starts joking around with his boss, who might just be our favorite of the bunch.  Standing well over seven feet tall with horns and a giant axe, the Iron Bull looks tailor-made to appeal to adolescent males fond of destruction, but underneath his imposing exterior he actually possesses a loyal heart and surprising enlightened outlook on gender and sexuality.  Not only will he school the player on using respectful language if they misgender Krem, Bull is also openly bisexual and will end up dating Dorian if the player doesn't pursue either of them for a romance.  Iron Bull demonstrates that classic, masculine video game archetypes and progressive views on human nature are not mutually exclusive. These are just a few of several LGBT characters in the game.

Last of Us: Left Behind - Ellie

One of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, The Last of Us actually made our list last year for including gay hermit Bill amongst its cast of diverse characters trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic America.  Then in February, developer Naughty Dog released an important piece of add-on content expanding on the story of central character Ellie and her life before meeting Joel.  Though Ellie had previously mentioned the best friend she lost, Left Behind reveals that in their final days together, Ellie also confessed her true feelings for Riley after learning they would soon be separated, which Riley reciprocated.  These scenes between them deepened Ellie's story even further and made the survivor's guilt she expresses later in the story all the more poignant.  With a big-budget film adaptation in the works and a highly anticipated-sequel rumored for 2016, Ellie is primed to become the most famous LGBT character in gaming. 

The Lumberjanes – Mal and Molly

One of the year's surprise comic hits was the Boom! Studios title Lumberjanes from creators Grace Ellis and Shannon Watters, which follows a group of girls spending the summer at a camp full of supernatural mysteries.  Among the small band of campers the story focuses on are skilled archer Molly and the sensitive Mal, who discover their mutual crushes on one another.  The all-ages book cleverly mixes humor, horror, and distinct, relatable personalities, with Mal and Molly very much in the thick of the action alongside their accepting friends.  There aren't many young lesbian or bisexual teen characters in comics designed to appeal to that age group, but the book has proven very popular with readers of all ages.  So much so that it switched from limited run to ongoing series after just a few issues.