Cape Town - Next Thursday, 17 May, is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, when events around the world will raise awareness of LGBTQI rights. South Africa may still have a long way to go when it comes to tackling ignorance, but these series on internet TV are doing their bit by bringing fully realised, relatable characters who happen not to be cisgender to our screens.
In this superhero fantasy series about six extraordinary teens who reunite when they discover the truth about their parents (they’re evil - like, really evil) does two things most superhero stories don’t: it introduces the first ever female-dominated superhero team (four of the teens are girls), and starts kindling romantic interest between two of the female characters. Karolina may look like your stereotypical good girl from a religious family, but she’s gay (and can also fly). Soon, the sparks fly between her and her friend Nico (who’s secretly a witch, and probably bi).
Winner of two GLAAD Awards (an accolade that honours outstanding portrayals of LGBTIQ themes), this family drama is about Stef and Lena, a lesbian couple raising one biological child and four adopted children. Their family is what you’d call “blended” - Stef and Lena are a biracial couple, and their children are from diverse backgrounds. But this isn’t a show about sexual preference or race - it’s about the two newest foster children, Callie and Jude, and their struggles in fitting into a new family, a new city and a new school. Seasons 1 to 3 are now on Showmax.
In this gripping dystopian drama, anyone who was gay in their previous lives, before America became the Republic of Gilead, was put to death when the new regime came to power - unless they were fertile women, in which case they were enslaved as Handmaids to bear children for the Generals and their wives. Ofglen, played by Alexis Bledel, is introduced as the main character June/Offred’s shopping partner. In the “before” time, she had a wife and a son, but was spared the death penalty because of her fertility. When she’s caught with a housemaid in Gilead she is brutally punished, and seeing her emerge from confinement is one of the most disturbing moments in the series. But perhaps most disturbing of all is the fact that homosexuality being a punishable offence isn’t some far-off, unimaginable concept from a dystopian future - it’s a reality on our continent.
US Attorney Chuck Rhoades is determined to bring wealthy criminals like Bobby Axelrod to book, but Bobby, the billionaire manager of Axe Capital, is more than a match for Chuck. Meanwhile, Chuck’s psychologist wife Wendy works at Axe as a performance coach, which muddies the waters of both her professional life and her marriage. But perhaps the most fascinating character of the series is Taylor Mason, an analyst at Axe who we first meet in Season 2. Played by Asia Kate Dillon, Taylor is widely considered to be the first gender non-binary character in a mainstream TV series. Asia identifies as non-binary IRL, and uses the pronouns “they” and “them”. You might recognise them if you’re addicted to binge-worthy rom-com Younger (Seasons 1-4 are first and only on Showmax) - she appeared in Season 1, episode 3 as the bald girl who buys Liza’s sofa at the Brooklyn flea market because it’s just so “normcore”. Seasons 1 and 2 of Billions are on Showmax.
In this sexy comedy/drama, the “l” word might be LA, or love … or lesbian. It’s about a group of stylish, successful gay women and their family and friends. It’s immediately obvious that their love lives are not all that different from what goes on in heterosexual relationships. The sex scenes are exactly what you’d expect from a late-night adult drama series - no more or less graphic - and the relationship issues that the women struggle through, including the challenges in deciding whether or not to start a family, aren’t unique to gay couples. It’s no surprise that the show was nominated for multiple GLAAD Awards. The full boxset is on Showmax.
Protagonist Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana, who happens to be telepathic, falls in love with a 173-year-old vampire in this raunchy, dark fan favourite from HBO. Sookie’s best friend since childhood, Tara, gets turned into a vampire in Season 5, and starts a relationship with Pam, the woman who turned her. Tara’s cousin Lafayette is another one of the show’s richly portrayed LGBTIQ characters, and together with his boyfriend Jesus prove to bullied viewers that it’s possible to be strong in the face of prejudice.
We all know this show is more about love than it is about medicine, and the up-and-down relationship of doctors Callie Torres and Arizona Robbins is probably the most tumultuous of them all. From a devastating car accident to a long distance separation to marriage to a plane crash to losing a pregnancy to raising a daughter, the women went through a lot together, and were probably the first lesbian couple to be portrayed in a multi-faceted, committed relationship on screen by a major US network. Seasons 1 to 12 of Grey’s Anatomy are on Showmax.
Randall’s biological father William comes out as bi in Season 1, when he starts a relationship with an old flame. Randall and his family have a lot to come to terms with when it comes to William - Randall didn’t know his biological father until recently, and discovering that William has stage 4 stomach cancer comes as a shock. He invites William to move in with him and his family, but the last thing he expects at the traditional Christmas Eve dinner is for his father to arrive with a male partner. This is just one of the ways that this tearjerker series has confronted issues of inclusivity head on - it also grapples with race, adoption, obesity and alcoholism. Season 2 is currently streaming on DStv Now.
It’s true, it really does - Netflix announced in April that it had cancelled this fun coming-of-age series set in a typical American high school in the 90s after just one season. But that doesn’t detract from the brilliance of that season, especially when it comes to the portrayal of principal’s daughter Kate Messner, who comes to terms with her sexuality during the course of the show.
Even though the series is set two decades ago, Kate’s struggle in coming out, even to herself, will resonate with today’s teens who find themselves in a similar position. The fact that she finally discovers that she is gay at a Tori Amos concert is a touching, realistic and perfect moment straight out of the mid-90s.