TV

LGBT+ history month: 11 essential TV shows from Queer As Folk to The Last Of Us

From Queer As Folk to Gentleman Jack, Heartstopper and episode three of The Last Of Us, here's a rundown of some LGBT+ TV classics

The young cast of It's A Sin

Omari Douglas, Nathaniel Curtis, Olly Alexander, Callum Scott Howells and Lydia West star in Russell T Davies's drama It's A Sin

LGBT+ representation on television is increasingly rich and varied. But this only came about after years of struggle – and there were decades in which mainstream queer representation was barely existent. There is now, finally, a range of LGBT+ TV shows on the small screen. From Jeanette Winterson’s classic Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit in 1990 and Russell T Davies’s first masterpiece Queer As Folk in 1999 to last year’s groundbreaking Netflix hit Heartstopper and the instant classic recent episode of The Last Of Us, here are some queer TV essentials for the month (and years) ahead…

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1990)

Jeanette Winterson’s brilliant, Bafta-winning adaptation of her semi-autobiographical novel broke new ground. At the start of the 1990s, TV drama was still largely stuck in the 1970s – chaste, conservative and extremely heteronormative.

So the lesbian love scenes and portrayal of a young woman, Jess (Charlotte Coleman), whose sexuality put her in direct conflict with the faith community she grew up in, felt daring and new and innovative.

Four years later, a quick doorstep kiss between Beth Jordache and Margaret Clemence in Brookside would become a huge national talking point. So little wonder Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit on BBC2 caused such a stir.

Watch now: iTunes / Prime Video / Apple TV+ (£)

Queer As Folk (1999-2000)

Almost a quarter of a century after it debuted on Channel 4, Queer As Folk retains its ability to shock. The sheer joy and intoxicating boldness of a show in which Vince, Stuart and Nathan throw themselves into the delights of Manchester’s gay village, centred around Canal Street, is still breathtaking. A series so full of heart, so full of youth, so full of sex, so full of community and so full of queer solidarity the memory of it still makes you want to punch the air. Stunning television, and a vital new depiction of gay men by Russell T Davies, full of wit and charm and, did we mention, a whole lot of sex?

Watch now: All4

Six Feet Under (2001-5)

One of the all-time greats from the so-called Golden Age of TV drama – which has never really stopped since – Six Feet Under was a deep, intense family saga set in a funeral home.

The long, complex relationship between sombre, thoughtful, initially closeted undertaker and committed Christian, David Fisher (played so beautifully by Michael C Hall), and out and proud police officer with occasional anger issues Keith Charles (Mathew St Patrick) grew into one of the great TV love stories as they struggled through heartbreak, shame, racism, and religious intolerance to build a lasting life together.

Watch now: Now TV

The L Word 2004-9

This glossy, glamorous and groundbreaking early noughties US drama created by Ilene Chaiken, Michele Abbot, and Kathy Greenberg was a real breakthrough – showing the lives and loves of Los Angeles lesbians. The L Word grew became one of the few shows to offer diverse, nuanced, varied depictions of lesbian relationships, not to mention lesbian sex on screen. And with Bette and Tina, Shane and Cherie and so many more, there were such a vast number of entanglements that Alice had to launch social media site The Chart to keep track of all the shenanigans.

Watch now: Prime TV

The Bisexual (2018)

Bisexuality rarely depicted on screen, and when it is, it is practically always from the perspective of ostensibly straight protagonists taking their first steps into a same-sex relationship.

So writer-director-actor Desiree Akhatan’s brilliant Channel 4 series was a real rarity. When Leila (Akhavan) – stalwart of the Hackney lesbian scene – begins exploring relationships with men, we are treated to a reverse coming out story, a sexual coming-of-age story, and a sharp, raw, funny and provocative exploration of identity, sexuality and community.

Watch now: All4 – https://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-bisexual

Gentleman Jack (2019-)

Suranne Jones as Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack
Suranne Jones stars as Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack

Sally Wainwright’s series does for Victorian Yorkshire’s landed gentry lesbians what Happy Valley has done for its no-nonsense coppers. A radical, romantic romp, retelling the story of Anne Lister and starring Suranne Jones in surely her greatest role to date, Gentleman Jack is as gleeful, energetic and unconventional as its central character.

Watch now: iPlayer

It’s A Sin (2021)

Russell T Davies’ 2021 series was a celebration of love and community, a story of solidarity and devotion through the most unthinkable, terrifying situation imaginable, as well as a searing indictment of the state’s response to the Aids epidemic of the 1980s.

Olly Alexander in it's a sin
Russell T Davies’ 2021 drama It’s A Sin

The series followed a group of young men through denial, confusion, disbelief, fear and fury – but, crucially, to show just what is at stake, Davies begins with the joy, the love, the innocence, the fun, the sex. Heartbreaking but full of humour, even as it explored the depths of tragedy, this was event television featuring star-making performances from Olly Alexander, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott-Howells, Lydia West and Nathaniel Curtis.

Watch now: All4

Heartstopper (2022-)

First as the webcomic that went viral, then as a million-selling graphic novel series and now a beautifully made Netflix series. Creator Alice Oseman’s teen romance clearly resonates with audiences. Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) is young and awkward, out and proud, happy with his supportive group of misfit pals. Then, he develops a major crush on his school’s popular rugby star Nick (Kit O’Connor).

Image of Kit Connor who plays Nick Nelson.
Kit Connor plays Nick Nelson in Netflix’s ‘Heartstopper’. image: (Netflix ROB YOUNGSON)

As graphic flourishes augment key moments in their relationship, the two tiptoe towards romance. O’Connor and Locke really capturing the breathless, innocent act of falling in love for the first time. A wholesome, heartwarming, charming, uplifting depiction of queer love and a simply lovely drama.

Watch now: Netflix

A League of Their Own (2022-)

This feelgood drama, ostensibly about the Rockford Peaches – one of the original women’s professional baseball team formed during wartime – is not about sport. Baseball is merely the way in to a story exploring queer love with Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and The Good Place’s D’Arcy Carden at its heart.

Adapting and expanding Penny Marshall’s brilliant 1992 film was a risky move. But this series keeps the charm and humour while adding depth, and exploring the intersections of racism and homophobia. A home run.

Watch now: Prime Video

Big Boys (2022-)

Jack Rooke’s comedy is a classic queer coming of age story, told with warmth and love. In Big Boys, Jack (played by Derry Girl Dylan Llewelyn) goes to university, is thrown together with straight mature student Danny (Jon Pointing), and dragged out of his safe existence as a new world slowly opens up to him. Smart and funny, sweet and melancholy, bring on series two later this year.

Watch now: All 4

The Last Of Us (2023)

Episode three of HBO’s brilliant adaptation of The Last Of Us is already being spoken of as one of the all-time great television episodes. And rightly so. Bill (Nick Offerman) is a doomsday prepper with a town all to himself while traveller Frank (Murray Bartlett) is wandering through the apocalypse in search of something. They find each other, coming together in the least promising circumstances.

Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett in The Last of Us. Credit: HBO
Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett in The Last of Us. Credit: HBO

Because even after the apocalypse arrives in the form of a fungus-fueled global pandemic, love will abide. Beautifully written and acted – and featuring a lovely rendition of Linda Rondstadt’s ‘Long Long Time’ by Offerman – this is so much more than a welcome intermission from the permanent and imminent threat of disease and death and the fascist FEDRA.

The poignancy of people coming together among the ruins of the old world is so tenderly played. It makes this major detour from the original game’s story a thing of wonder and the sign that we are in the most expert hands. Love grows, like the strawberries traded for a gun by Frank, in this instant, timeless LGBT+ TV classic.

Watch now: Sky / Now TV

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