Too often, queer characters are not represented at all in pop culture, and when they are, they’re played by straight actresses. Here are our favorite five that break the mold.
Samira Wiley: Poussey Washington, Orange Is the New Black
Oh, my small gay heart was not ready for Poussey Washington. With her bright smile and snazzy brain, Poussey Washington made me smile from our first encounter. Samira Wiley was out as a lesbian before starting on Orange Is the New Black, but through the course of the first two seasons, began dating one of the show’s writers, Lauren Morelli, after Lauren divorced her husband. Later in life coming out stories are a beautiful thing y’all, hallelujah. Samira and Lauren are ideal Instagram follows with their adorable photos from on and off set, especially Samira’s lovey posts about Lauren and their precious dog photos.
Leisha Hailey: Alice Pieszecki, The L Word
Despite some of her unfortunate story lines throughout the show’s 6 seasons, Alice won my heart early on and kept it. Her constantly questioning story of immense obsession and heartbreak took her through a radio show, a drug addiction and fighting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. IRL lady lover Leisha Hailey has been in a variety of heart-eye relationships, including with her Uh Huh Her band mate, Camila Grey (you may remember them as the couple who got kicked off a Southwest flight in 2011 for kissing). Leisha has been a visible queer fixture since her time on The L Word, and continues to win us over with her rock ‘n’ roll vibes and notorious Instagram dog photos.
Zoie Palmer: Doctor Lauren Lewis, Lost Girl
Doctor Lauren Lewis appears in the first episode of Lost Girl and manages to stick around through the entire run of the show’s 5 seasons, a rare feat in a world where only 16% of woman-loving-women on screen actually survive and have a happy ending (read up Bury Your Gays for more). Lauren’s relationships on screen with Bo and other minor characters are intimate and fully thought out, giving queer watchers an identity we rarely find on screen. Actress Zoie Palmer came out officially in 2014 during an acceptance speech at the Canadian Screen Awards where she graciously thanked her long time partner, Canadian television and film producer Alex Lalonde. Zoie and her partner are not big on social media, but continue to advocate for queer representation and show their support long after the show’s finale in October of 2015.
Gillian Anderson: Stella Gibson, The Fall
While I admit that I wasn’t super into The Fall as a show, I must also admit that I started watching and stuck with it because of our majestic sexually-fluid queen, Gillian Anderson. Since her tenure on The X-Files, Gillian Anderson has captured the hearts and souls of ladies across the world. As Stella, her intense sexuality and confidence was swoon-worthy with all of her partners. Outside of her television persona, Anderson has been a fierce advocate for women and for freedom of sexuality. Her cheeky tweets and all out support of ladies doing their thing genuinely feel like a gift.
Sarah Paulson: Lana Winters, American Horror Story
Admittedly, Lana Winters’s story is not an ideal queer story line. A successful journalist, Lana follows a lead to Briarcliff, an asylum with questionable practices and the scent of danger. After not getting the scoop she was looking for, Lana’s partner, Wendy Peyser (Clea DuVall), encourages her to keep hunting. She winds up as a patient in the asylum who is forced into conversion therapy to “correct” her sexuality (Paulson gave a great interview about her experiences for The Hollywood Reporter). Through and through, Lana’s story and her ties with Wendy are painful to watch, and sadly speak to a very real history of violence toward LGBTQ-identified people. Outside of her television life, Paulson has been out since 2005 when she publicly kissed then-partner Cherry Jones upon her Tony Award Win for Doubt. Paulson’s relationship with Jones continued through 2009, and she began dating another Tony-award winning actress, Holland Taylor, in 2015. Paulson speaks out frequently on her sexuality and her love for partners and women in general, and her various public appearances with Taylor make for a heartwarming real life romance.