It seems like you can’t swing a dead cat these days without hitting a gay character on American TV. From the gaggle of gays on Glee to the selection of “sisters” on Smash, gay characters are all over the airwaves. Even stodgy old CBS, which we’ve criticized in the past for its dearth of gay representation, is getting into the act with the upcoming Partners.
“The Puppy Episode” from the fourth season of Ellen is rightly considered a watershed moment for gay representation on U.S. television, but not everyone remembers what it was like before that turning point. Fifty years ago there was no such thing as a gay person on TV. For many of the years since, when gay people were included at all, it was as the butt of the joke, the sociopath or the victim. But even dating back to those very earliest days, there were occasional television episodes that set new standards (good and bad) for gay representation and in some instances changed our culture. Some of these episodes were leaps forward; others were harmful and dangerous. Some are more correctly thought of as reflections of the culture as it existed at the time. All are significant to the history of gay representation on American television.