Ellen DeGeneres will host the 2014 Oscars! And she inhabits an interesting space in pop culture in the process, since her audience both doesn't really care whether she's gay, straight or bi, but because they also recognize that being gay places her firmly in an important point in TV history. (Also, her jokes will presumably be less overtly boob-related than Seth MacFarlane's.)
In today's world, Ellen is a safe choice. But it wasn't always like this.
Changing the face of teen dramas
In part two of our look at milestone TV moments in gay history
, we delve deep into the 90s and early aughts. Let's jump right in.
In 1994 and 1995, Wilson Cruz's portrayal of gay teen Rickie Vasquez in "My So Called-Life" offered many teenagers their first look at a non-stereotypical, fleshed-out young gay person grappling with relationships, high school and other relatable issues. Influential to this day, Wilson Cruz's portrayal of the first gay teen on prime-time television even prompted his own decision to come out
First lesbian wedding on American prime-time TV
In a 1996 "Friends" episode titled "The One with the Lesbian Wedding," Ross' ex-wife, Carol, ties the knot with Susan in a ceremony presided by a minister played by none other than
Newt Gingrich's real-life, real-lesbian sister, Candace Gingrich.
The first, like, ACTUAL lesbian kiss
A quick peck on the lips is one thing, but, in a 1997 episode of the ABC drama "Relativity,"
two female characters engage in the sort of passionate, open-mouth kissing actual couples tend to do in, like, real life.
Yup, Ellen's gay
In a two-part episode that aired in 1997, "Ellen"'s titular star comes out as a lesbian in a way that was both funny in how it addressed typical stereotypes (lesbians love granola, right?
) and heartfelt. Oh, and groundbreaking. At the time, certain groups and advertisers (including J.C. Penney, who now has Ellen as the company's spokesperson) grew concerned over the episode, which turned out to be the show's highest-rated ever with 42 million viewers.
In a 2000 episode of "Will and Grace," Will and Jack share a kiss in front of "Today" host Al Roker to protest NBC cutting a same-sex kiss out of a fictional sitcom. Meta.
First "passionate" gay male kiss
Back in 2001, "Dawson's Creek" aired what may have been the first passionate
kiss between two men. And it got a ton of attention, too
First gay wedding on cable TV
American cable TV's first gay wedding came in 2002 when Lindsay and Melanie of "Queer As Folk" exchanged vows. How very 1991
First lesbian wedding on an American soap opera
Pine Valley saw its history-making gay wedding unfold in 2009, when Bianca (Erica Kane's younger daughter) and her architect girlfriend Reese exchanged vows amid a whole lot
of dramaaaaa. After Ellen provides a great recap
of what the show got right in terms of their relationship, and where it veered into, well. Soap opera territory.
Conan O'Brien officiates a televised gay wedding
In 2011, Conan O'Brien
and his hair officiated a wedding
between his costume designer, Scott Cronick, and Scott's boyfriend David Gorshein. The on-air ceremony, filmed live at NYC's Beacon Theatre, was performed beneath a chuppah decorated with flowers, and coincided with the one-year anniversary of Conan's TBS late-night talk show.
With shows like "Glee," "The (now canceled) New Normal" and "Modern Family" depicting solidly suburban gay and lesbian characters, TV is increasingly open to showing that the gay community can be juuuust as boring as any other.
While it's tempting to tout "how far we've come," the truth is that, in the brief history of televised entertainment, viewers have had the opportunity to peek into the lives of gay characters both real and fictional, tragic and hopeful, thrilling and utterly mundane, with depictions that have run the gamut from coded to campy to out and proud. From "An American Family"'s
real-life look at coming out in the early 70s to gay-oriented TV networks like Here
, television has both reflected, championed and led a shift in how Americans in general view homosexuality, bisexuality and same-sex relationships, as well as how different facets of the gay community have changed over time. TV can and will still get things horribly wrong from time to time, but as time passes, it's increasing getting one thing right: There is no such thing as "a gay experience." Being gay means a lot of things, and, for all its flaws, TV is doing a better job of showing the broad diversity of what it looks like to be gay in America.