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TV Shows & Films That Ignited Many Gay Awakenings Within the Queer Community

Photo by Federica Merante

In a way, we all start off in the closet. Whether you’re straight or gay, the discussion of sexuality and gender has mostly been a taboo subject met with awkward silence. But with pop culture and media becoming a part of daily life, celebrity crushes and tropes have helped a number of LGBTQ+ people understand more about themselves.

There’s always one scene or character that cuts a little too close to home with either the dialogue or some homoerotic actions. I’ll never forget the scene in Aladdin where Jasmine seduces Jafar in that scene — it definitely sparked some feelings inside me. These types of crushes are normal, but because most of us didn’t quite understand what being queer meant or the pressure by society and family to present as straight we felt the need to keep these thoughts locked away.

Now that we’re understanding more about ourselves and leaving the bony clutches of our families' expectations, a bond has formed within the LGBTQ+ community when talking about these shared experiences. Maybe it’s watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and realizing your childhood obsession with Azula and Ty Lee was more than just liking the characters.

Here are some of Shifter’s picks on TV shows and movies that awoke some inner rainbows.


While we all know how problematic the show is, it’s undeniable that characters like Naya Rivera’s Santana Lopez and Chris Colfer’s Kurt Hummel presented both the problems of being queer within the time period and growing as an individual into your sexuality. It also presented many fears of LGBTQ+ individuals with coming out to friends and family members. The scene where Santana comes out to her grandmother will always be stuck in many queer minds.

“I think seeing Naya Rivera playing Santana was really helpful because I was seeing someone that actually looked like me and was raised like I was dating women. Also, Brittany as one of the first bisexual woman I saw on TV was interesting because it was showing me someone who didn’t like one or the other but liked everyone and I don’t think I had seen that before watching Glee, so both characters were really helpful. ” - Alina Alvarez

Pirates of the Caribbean

There’s nothing that screams queer like a bunch of pirates. The intense fight sequence on the wheel between Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Jack Davenport’s James Norrington have some very pent-up sexual tension that I only wished they’d let happen. Don’t even get me started on Elizabeth Swan, played by Keira Knightley, and her constant change between a queer princess and lesbian pirate.

“For me, it was definitely Keira Knightley dressed as a male pirate. When her hair comes out and she’s fighting with a sword, I could feel my obsession taking over. When I was younger, I thought I just wanted to be her — I even dressed like her for Halloween one year — but I discovered that I was and still am attracted to her.” - Kenzie Fox

Schitt's Creek

This show has one of the most well-developed LGBTQ+ couples in pop culture. Most queer relationships either end in tragedy or develop like stale bread, but Schitts Creek does an incredible job at expressing a love that ends with happiness. David and Patrick’s love story invites shows and media to showcase gay happiness and provide more representation in Hollywood.

“There’s a scene after David and Stevie hook up where they’re shopping for wine and he talks about how he likes “red wines and white wine and rosé” and says he’s into the wine, not the label or something like that and I just felt so seen. I never see much pan representation so it was so nice to see it represented on a really popular tv show and through a character I already identified with so much. His sexuality isn’t a topic of discussion or contempt and he has a happy ending at the end of the series.” - Erin Brocksmith

Boy Meets World

This 90s sitcom portrays Cory Matthews, played by Ben Savage, as a young boy discovering himself and his relationships with others as he grows into his adulthood. During the 1990s, high school television shows and romcoms were a booming industry and often discussed teenage representation and issues. But one of the main points with Cory Matthews is the desire to form strong bonds with his friends and like with any close relationship, there are often romantic implications tied to these intimacies.

“The relationship that Cory and Shawn had was very homo-romantic, same with Eric and Jack, and I remember thinking how I wanted to have a relationship like that, but deeper than just a friendship. Plus, I realized I was wildly attracted to all four of those characters.” - Spencer Hall

Queer as Folk

What better way to discover more about your own sexuality through watching the lives of others. This television show explores a group of queer individuals navigating their relationships, aspirations and careers in working-class Pittsburgh. An iconic five-year running allowed for groundbreaking storylines that delved into character development and entertaining plots. The relationships helped portray LGBTQ+ Americans in modern media and gave access to many queer folks around the nation.

“It’s a good show in my eyes because it shows more than just the sexual aspect, but also the liberation and the heaviness of being a queer person in the United States. The limitations from coming from a religious or strict family.” - Victor Martinez

No matter what the show or movie is, the connection we all have to something from pop culture bringing out a part of us we try to keep hidden is a bond we can always share. Hopefully, in the future, more queer youth will feel comfortable talking about these crushes as they experience them, instead of hiding the information until you’re older.

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