Gay TV characters are nothing new; they’ve been around for nearly 40 years. But it’s only in the past decade or so that we’ve seen a lot of queer teenagers on television. Now that the tide of public opinion is turning in favor of LGBT rights, it seems like every teen drama has a gay character. We have to imagine that this is a big deal for real-life gay, lesbian, a and bisexual kids, who are finally seeing themselves and their relationships represented in popular culture. In celebration of Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, we’ve put together a list of our favorite same-sex teen romances on TV. Tell us who we missed in the comments.
Naomi Campbell and Emily Fitch, Skins (UK)
Emily knows she’s a lesbian but is afraid to come out — especially to her close-minded family and image-conscious identical twin sister, Katie. Eventually, she confesses to her friend Naomi (no, not that Naomi Campbell) that she’s in love with her. When Naomi finally admits that she has feelings for Emily, they embark upon an intense and difficult relationship, filled with bumps and complications and betrayals. If we had to pick the single most sensitive and nuanced depiction of a gay teen couple on TV, it would be this one. The characters are far from perfect, but they’re always portrayed with honesty and empathy.
Kurt Hummel and Blaine Anderson, Glee
It took forever, but Glee‘s baby-faced gay finally got his man. Kurt has had a rough time of it romantically, from crushing on straight dudes to a confusing smooch from his #1 bully. After that encounter ends in a death threat, Kurt transfers to Dalton Academy, where he meets Blaine Anderson. Their relationship sputters along at first, with Blaine questioning his sexuality and going on a date with Rachel (of all people!). By the end of Season 2, Kurt is back at McKinley High and they’re saying “I love you.” We’re crossing our fingers that their big future plans work out.
Marshall Gregson and Lionel Trane, United States of Tara
Artsy Marshall Gregson’s first attempted relationship doesn’t go so well — he hooks up with the pastor’s son, who breaks his heart by getting it on with his mom’s wild, teenage alter ego, T. His next romance is significantly more reciprocal, although Marshall isn’t a fan of his loud, LGBT activist schoolmate, Lionel Trane, when they meet for the first time. But they soon find common ground, and Lionel helps Marshall dump a girl who won’t accept that he’s gay. Later, they have a threesome and everything goes to hell and Lionel dies in car crash. Dark, huh?
Emily Fields and Maya St. Germain, Pretty Little Liars
Despite dating boys to please her parents, Emily has always had feelings for girls — namely, her best friend Alison, who dies under mysterious circumstances. A year after Alison is killed, Maya’s family moves into her house, and she and Emily strike up a friendship that quickly evolves into a romance. The daughter of hippies, Maya is independent and comfortable with her sexuality, and she encourages Emily to come out. But when Emily’s parents find out about Maya, they’re disgusted. Eventually, her mother snoops in Maya’s bag, finds marijuana, and gets her sent away to a juvenile facility called True North. Emily tries to contact her there, but it seems like Maya’s already been brainwashed. Although their relationship is over, Maya has given Emily the courage to be who she really is.
Eric van der Woodsen and Jonathan Whitney, Gossip Girl
Society boy Eric van der Woodsen has a difficult time coming to terms with being gay; the series opens just after he’s attempted suicide. But, because this is Gossip Girl, he recovers soon enough, eventually making out with poor Jenny Humphrey’s boyfriend. Eric has had a few beaus, but we will always have a soft spot for his relationship with Jonathan. Although their romance is ruined by the machinations of the Upper East Side, Jonathan pops up just often enough after the break-up to convince us that he and Eric truly are meant to be together.
Riley Stavros and Zane Park, Degrassi: The Next Generation
Like many of the other characters on this list, football player Riley Stavros struggles mightily with his sexuality — going so far as to punch one of the objects of his affection in frustration. When he falls for out-and-proud classmate Zane Park, Riley begins to come to terms with who he is. They have a wonderful summer together, followed by a rocky fall, before Riley finally gains the courage to come out. Their famous hallway kiss, above, isn’t the end of their struggle — Riley’s mom makes sure of that — but it’s a good start.
Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Among the first gay teen couples on TV, Willow and Tara are also one of our favorites. After her werewolf boyfriend, Oz, leaves town, Willow meets Tara at their college’s Wicca group, where they learn that they’re the only two real witches on campus. Their courtship is as hazy and confusing for the viewer as it is for the girls, but by the time Oz comes back to town, Willow has realized that it’s Tara she wants to be with. Everything is hunky dory until Willow becomes addicted to magic, they break up, get back together, and Tara is senselessly killed — causing Willow to go on a black-magic rampage that almost destroys the world. Now that’s love.
Marissa Cooper and Alex Kelly, The O.C.
There are legitimately good relationships, and then there are the ones we love simply because they’re so ridiculous we can’t look away. Yes, Marissa Cooper’s fling with Alex Kelly seemed pretty random. But when you think about it, don’t they make more sense together than Marissa and any of the guys on the show?