Gay and Lesbian Visibility in Movies and Television

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The 1990s saw surge of gay characters in both television and movies. From Ellen Degeneres and her character Ellen Morgan coming out under much scrutiny on the TV show ‘Ellen,’ to Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett comedically playing off each other in the motion picture ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding.’ Sure, gays and lesbians have been around forever, especially in Hollywood. But never has there been a time to be more out. With the popularity of shows like Will and Grace, which feature leading gay characters, as well as Dawson’s Creek and it’s supporting character of teenager Jack McPhee, we are slowly seeing gay and lesbian characters creeping into the mainstream media.
The family unit has always been a treasured and revered dynamic on television and in movies. Dating all the way back to I Love Lucy, storylines focused on the relationship between man and woman. Ozzie and Harriet introduced us to the quintessential American family—father in a suit, mother in pearls, and two exceptional children. It wasn’t until the 1970s that gay characters and lifestyles began to emerge. In 1973, An American Family, a PBS series featured one of the family’s sons revealing his homosexuality. In 1977, the television show Soap costarred Billy Crystal as an openly gay man. In the 1980s, it became trendy to feature gay and lesbian characters in ensemble casts. If you watch reruns, you can always find the token gay, that is, the really flaming homo or the butch lesbian gym teacher. The motion picture Mannequin, starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Catrall, featured Meshach Taylor as Hollywood, an eccentric, finger-snapping homosexual. Many stereotypes such as these continued until the early nineties.
In 1991, on LA Law, two women share the first same sex kiss on prime time television. A few years later, NBC’s hit show FRIENDS featured Ross Gellar’s ex wife as a lesbian, raining a child with her female partner. At the same time, the FOX network censored a gay same sex kiss on Melrose Place, a show known for pushing limits. Around the same time, censors and right wing groups were up in arms over a kiss shared by Roseanne and Mariel Hemmingway. In the end, that kiss was also censored.
But things were slowly evolving in the movies. Independent films had been featuring gays and lesbians as main characters, depicting real life and real relationships. Armistead Maupin’s Tales of The City revolved around a homo-hetero pairing.

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