12 Latinx LGBTQ TV Characters Who Made Us Feel Seen
By Manuel Betancourt
When it comes to storytelling, specificity is king. Moments and characters that let audiences feel seen come from depicting not the universal but the particular. When it comes to LGBTQ representation, viewers have had to endure decades of near-erasure, with their stories being sidelined or outright ignored. And while shows like Will & Grace, Ellen andQueer as Folk ushered in a new era of LGBTQ television at the turn of the century, representation of Latinx folks has only recently been robust and diverse enough to paint a full picture of our community and the particular issues related to it.
This year alone, for instance, saw the release of shows like Love, Victor and Hightown, both of which have Latinx LGBTQ characters at their center. The young teen questioning his sexuality and the hardened lesbian headlining a crime drama joined a slew of current shows like One Day at a Time and Charmed, that have been telling stories about Latinx characters living out and proud lives amid supporting families who love them as they are.
To honor those that have come before and celebrate those that are breaking barriers today, find below a list of the most memorable Latinx LGBTQ characters who have graced the small screen. Whether giving us early ‘90s role models we cherish to this day, or upending the television industry by championing trans and non-binary voices in the late 2010s, here is a glimpse into those characters and shows that have pushed the conversation forward.
Enrique ‘Rickie’ Vasquez (Wilson Cruz), My So-Called Life (1994-1995)
This Claire Danes high school drama remains a classic more than 25 years since it first aired. Its portrayal of teenagers was frank and authentic whether dealing with teenage alcoholism, school violence or drug use. And just as Danes’ Angela became an icon for many a teenage ‘90s girl, Wilson Cruz’s Rickie soon became a pivotal LGBTQ touchstone in American television: to see a young Latino grappling with his sexuality, donning eyeliner and sporting a killler fashion style was radical and emboldening for many kids who saw in his story of child abuse and homelessness a rare chance to see their own stories depicted.
Cruz, whose own coming out story mirrored Rickie’s to an extent, has gone on to become a vocal LGBTQ advocate both on and off screen. In addition to his longtime work with GLAAD and key roles on shows like Noah’s Arc and Red Band Society, he continues to break barriers on television. He currently plays Dr. Hugh Culber on Star Trek: Discovery as one half of the franchise’s very first gay couple.
Speaking of history-making LGBTQ characters, Sara Ramirez’s bisexual Callie Torres is the longest-running LGBTQ character in television history, having appeared in 11 seasons and 239 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Initially introduced as a love interest to T.R. Knight’s George O'Malley, Callie’s story eventually had her dating both men and women before marrying Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw). Like Rickie, Callie gave a face to young Latinas starved for LGBTQ representation, especially in episodes where she dealt with how her parents dealt with their daughter marrying her partner.
More than a decade after audiences saw Rickie end up homeless after being kicked out of his home, young Latinos got a welcome vision of what a supportive family can look like. The ever fabulous and fashion-obsessed Justin was the perfect foil to his aunt Betty (America Ferrera), who was hapless around all things stylish despite working at a fashion magazine. But it was the teen’s close-knit relationship with his mother, Ana Ortiz’s Hilda, that made him such a refreshing presence on TV: Hilda was supportive no matter what, even as the show (created by out writer Silvio Horta) played coy with Justin’s sexuality for much of its run. In the end, though, Justin’s sweet coming out storyline (and that heartwarming wedding dance moment) further solidified his iconic status.
Mark Indelicato, like many young gay teens watching the show, found strength in Justin’s self-assurance and has been all too happy to acknowledge the effect the character has had on a generation of LGBTQ teens.
Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera), Glee (2009-2015)
There’s no discussion to be had about LGBTQ teen icons on television without addressing Ryan Murphy’s Glee, which gave misfit teens everywhere any number of role models to look up to. Among them was Naya Rivera’s Santana Lopez, the resident mean girl of William McKinley High School, who, over the course of the show, became one of its MVPs. Much of that was due to Santana’s relationship with Heather Morris’ Brittany. Giving the character more depth and a newfound vulnerability, that relationship eventually led Santana to come out to her family (and being disowned by her grandma) and even fighting against homophobia in the school -- all the while nailing showstopping numbers like “Valerie,” “Don't Rain on My Parade” and the now more poignant “If I Die Young.”
One need only to look at the many tributes and write-ups about Santana’s influence on an entire generation of Latinas that followed Rivera’s tragic death to see how much of an impact the talented performer had.
Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-)
When Rosa Diaz came out as bisexual on NBC’s police precinct sitcom -- in its 99th episode no less! -- it felt like a moment of art imitates life. Stephanie Beatriz, after all, had come out publicly as bisexual just a few months earlier via Twitter. The actress was also very much involved in helping the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers break down how the badass, laconic detective she’d been playing for years would navigate telling her co-workers (and in the 100th episode, to her parents, played by Danny Trejo and Olga Merediz) about this part of her personal life.
Besides giving us a tender and very funny Pictionary-related conversation about how bisexuality doesn’t mean a woman will eventually settle down with a man, Rosa’s sexual identity has since been interwoven into her character, even getting plum guest stars like Gina Rodriguez to play her love interest. Above all else, Rosa and Beatriz (like Callie and Ramirez before them) are potent reminders that we need to further normalize the bi experience, which so often gets forgotten when the focus is simply on the G and L of the LGBTQ acronym.
Edwaina ‘Eddy’ Martínez, (Ser Anzoategui), Vida (2018-2020)
Where many of the characters listed above appeared in shows where they were the sole LGBTQ character in big ensemble casts, Eddy (played by non-binary actor Ser Anzoategui) is a butch lesbian who exists within a show that made room to include all sorts of queer Latinx experiences. Still grieving over the loss of her partner, Vidalia, Eddy is forced to navigate her relationship with Vidalia’s daughters, including the very queer Emma (Mishel Prada), whose romantic entanglements with the likes of Cruz (Maria-Elena Laas) and Nico (Roberta Colindrez) were central to the show’s celebration of queer Latinidad — the show even featured a “Queerceañera” party for the fabulous Ph.D. student Marcos (Tonatiuh) as well as drag king performers and a gay vaquero wedding.
What made Eddy stand out was the way she bridged a generational gap, making sure the show’s depiction of a Millennial sensibility acknowledged and paid tribute to those generations who’d come before and who struggle with keeping up with new ways of being in the world. Some of the most thrilling parts of Vida centered on the differences within this expansive LGBTQ Latinx community. When there are many, there is no way of making any one character stand in for everything.
When Pose premiered in 2018, it immediately broke barriers: the FX drama centered on the ballroom scene in the late 1980s had assembled the largest transgender cast ever for a scripted series. Created by Bronx-born Afro-Latino Steven Canals, Pose put at its center two instantly iconic characters, the nurturing Blanca, the founder and mother of the House of Evangelista, and the strong-willed Angel, the former sex worker with aspirations of becoming a model who falls for Angel Bismark Curiel’s charming Lil Papi. With its themes of chosen families, Pose gave characters that hadn’t yet been allowed to be at the center of mainstream American storytelling a vibrant outlet spearheaded by members of that community.
Since their rise to fame, Indya Moore and Mj Rodriguez have both used their platforms to uplift the trans community and advocate for pressing issues that Pose addresses on the small screen. Moore, moreover, has spoken candidly about the vexed relationship they have with “Latinidad,” opting instead to self-identify as Afro-Taíno, and refusing the association to Spain (and whiteness) that “Latino” and “Hispanic” carry.
Andrés (Julio Torres), Los Espookys (2019-)
Julio Torres’ humor is hard to describe and even harder to ignore. At once dreamy and absurd, his sensibility was nurtured at Saturday Night Live before he created (alongside fellow co-stars Ana Fabrega and Fred Armisen) this Spanish-language comedy about a group of misfit friends who run a makeshift business that puts their love of horror films to good use. As Andrés, Torres has created a princely protagonist who may or may not have mystical powers but definitely has a beautiful (if shallow) boyfriend (José Pablo Minor’s Juan Carlos).
Serving as both co-creator and writer for the entire series, Torres is part of a new generation of out queer storytellers that, in addition to Saracho, Canals and Fabrega, now also includes -- to name but a few -- Danny Fernandez (a staff writer on Love, Victor), Marcos Luevanos (Love, Victor, Charmed), Michelle Badillo (One Day at a Time), Janine Brito (One Day at a Time), Nancy C. Mejia (Vida, The L Word: Generation Q), and Jenniffer Gomez (Vida) who are making sure writers’ rooms in Hollywood are authentically capturing the plurality of the LGBTQ Latinx experience.
Jake Rodriguez (Garcia), Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (2019)
In the 1990s, television audiences got to meet the many characters that populated Barbary Lane, a makeshift San Francisco family of sorts that writer Armistead Maupin had first conjured up in his Tales of the City columns in the 1970s, which he’d turned into very successful novels. When Netflix revived the property for a revival, its writers made sure to better reflect the times. Thus, just as flashbacks telling Anna Madrigal’s story allowed trans actress Jen Richards to play the role made famous (and here reprised) by Olympia Dukakis, audiences got to meet Jake Rodriguez, Anna’s young caregiver who’s transitioning and finding himself now attracted to men -- which puts a strain on his relationship with his longtime girlfriend.
Played by non-binary actor Garcia, Jake epitomizes -- along with the characters on Pose -- a welcome wave of new identities finally being centered in 21st century television.
Ana Morales (Karrie Martin) and Yessika Castillo (Julissa Calderon), Gentefied (2020-)
Seeing TV couples like Emma and Nico (Vida), Lito and Hernando (Sense8), Angel and Lil Papi (Pose), Andrés and Juan Carlos (Los Epookys), and, perhaps, more to the point, like Aristóteles and Temo aka “Aristemo,” the first-ever gay couple to headline a Mexican telenovela on Televisa’s El corazón nunca se equivoca, is, for many, a kind of progress.Gentefied’s Ana and Yessika (played by Karrie Martin and Julissa Calderon) entered this canon of queer Latinx couples earlier this year.
The bilingual Netflix comedy tackling gentrification in Los Angeles explored both the joys and the challenges that come with sharing a life together. Ana and Yessika’s cultural differences, which caused as much joy as friction between them, were a reminder of the wealth of nuanced storylines that can take place when Latinx storytellers tackle the sheer diversity of our community head-on.