LGBT Characters Have Flourished In The Comics Over The Last Two Decades But How Far Has The Closet Door Opened In Film And Television?
It was Alpha Flight #106 when Marvel History was made (again). It happened when the mutant Northstar uttered three short words: “I am gay!” It wasn’t a hoax. It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t an imaginary tale. John Byrne, the creator of Northstar, had always intended the character to be gay. Northstar first appeared in Uncanny X-Men 120 and then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter had a strict editorial policy of no gays. Homosexual characters were also forbidden by the Comics Code of Approval. So, for many years, it was only hinted at that Northstar was gay. There was even a point when Bill Mantlo was writing the character where Northstar was to have contracted AIDS but that was swiftly removed by (adding insult to injury) retconning Northstar’s and his twin sister Aurora’s origin to make them offspring of faeries! Thankfully, the retcon was quickly re-retconned back out and Northstar and Aurora were once again mutants.
In 1992, Alpha Flight’s writer Scott Lobdell was given the go-ahead to let Northstar out of the closet in the controversial Alpha Flight #106. There was nothing particularly special about the issue…the art was terrible and the villain they came up with for Jean-Paul to battle was named Major Mapleleaf of all things. But the issue made history, hitting the mainstream news media even. But after all the excitement died down, Northstar’s sexuality became just a footnote for several years. Still, it may be said that Northstar’s coming out lead to more LGBT characters to be developed in the years ahead.
However, Northstar was not done being at the forefront of the LGBT comics movement. He was destined to make history once again when he asked his longtime boyfriend Kyle to marry him. Kyle wasn’t a superhero, just a normal ordinary man. The happy event happened in Astonishing X-Men #51 and like Reed and Sue’s wedding decades earlier, was attended by a host of Marvel Superheroes. So Northstar was Marvel’s first gay superhero and had the first gay wedding. Not a bad job, Jean-Paul!
Since Northstar, there have been many characters at Marvel who either have been revealed to be or created as LGBT characters: Moondragon and Phyla-Vell, Rictor and Shatterstar, Wiccan and Hulkling, Victoria Hand, America Chavez, Union Jack, Flatman, The Destroyer, Living Lightning, the pan-sexual Deadpool and many more. Most recently an adult Ice Man came to terms with being gay, aided by his younger self. This stirred up quite a controversy with many fans saying Bobby Drake had always been straight and this was just a move by Marvel to be “politically correct”. Marvel countered back by saying that many people don’t acknowledge their homosexuality until adult years.
While Marvel Studios has created an unparalleled movie universe and television presence, LGBT characters have mostly been left out. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has featured Joey Gutierez, a gay Inhuman who was only around for a few episodes. There was also Victoria Hand who got killed off on the show. Most recently on Marvel’s The Runaways, there was a kiss between two of the girls.
The most prominent LGBT character in the Marvel Movie/TV Universe has been Jeri Hogarth who was originally a male character in the comics. Jeri Hogarth is a lawyer played by Carrie Anne Moss whose story has evolved through several of the Marvel Netflix shows.
Fox has the pan-sexual Deadpool, though his on-screen preference seems to be for the ladies. The Deadpool films also feature Nega-Sonic Teenage Warhead who has a girlfriend.
Beating out Northstar by a year, DC had their first gay character The Pied Piper from The Flash comics.
And there’s Bat Woman who is rumored to be headed to the Arrowverse next season. UPDATE: Batwoman debuted last fall and went over fairly well with the critics. However, many in the fan base weren’t pleased with Ruby Rose’s portrayal of Batwoman…I even saw a few upset fans complaining about casting a lesbian actress in the role. The role of a lesbian super hero. And there were those unfamiliar with the character in any way who complained about The CW pushing a “gay agenda” through their comic book programming. Some of the vocal self appointed TV Watchdogs like One Million Moms as well as some religious groups called for the show to be boycotted and urged The CW to take it off the air. My only real criticism of the show was the season long story arc involving Batwoman’s crazy sister. And I think it applies to most of The CW’s hero shows…the season long story arcs have become more and more like they could have been done in a much shorter time. Several episodes feel like filler to stretch these stories out. But the bigger news is just recently Ruby Rose announced she was leaving Batwoman and to date we haven’t gotten the whole story behind her decision. The CW has decided to recast the part for season 2 which will not premier till 2021 with the rest of The CW’s slate of shows.
DC remade their original Green Lantern Alan Scott as a gay man. This is one of the responses that came of that: “As if Superman giving up his citizenship isn’t enough, DC comics is engaging in another attack on our children. They are promoting the gay, lesbian, and trans-gender lifestyle by turning the Green Lantern into a homosexual. Homosexuality is an aberration of nature – the behavior goes against the very laws of nature itself. A species will not survive if it doesn’t procreate. Yet our media continues to promote this lifestyle as normal and acceptable. It is tearing down the natural walls which exist that prevent children and young adults from experimenting with homosexuality in order to convert them into the lifestyle.”
There are many other gay superheroes (and villains) at DC but the focus here is on the media and in that arena DC is king.
The greatest stride LGBT comic characters have made has been in The CW’s “Arrowverse” shows headed by Greg Berlanti, himself gay. There is a wide range of LGBT characters throughout Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning (though not yet officially an “Arrowverse” show).
WHITE CANARY (Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow)
Sarah Lance has a long and complicated history, having died and been resurrected on Arrow and going on to Captain the Legends of Tomorrow. She has had a girlfriend from the Time Bureau and a fling with John Constantine.
NYSSA al GHUL (Arrow)
Although she was forced to marry Oliver Queen, Nyssa actually prefers the ladies. This did not go over well with her dad, Ra’s al Ghul.
MR TERRIFIC (Arrow)
The comic book version of Mr. Terrific is Michael Holt and is straight. On the show Arrow, Curtis Holt is a gay man married to a man named Paul. He is first introduced as an assistant to Felicity Smoak at Palmer Technologies. In Season 5 of Arrow, he starts training as a vigilante and joins Arrows team only to leave in Season 6 along with Wild Dog and Black Canary 2 after a falling out with Oliver. His husband winds up divorcing him due to his vigilante activities. He is currently dating a policeman.
CONSTANTINE (Constantine, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow)
John Constantine is bi-sexual. He’s a guy you just can’t keep down. After his series on NBC was canceled, he found his way onto Arrow as a guest star. He has also guest starred on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow where he had a quick tryst with White Canary and will return as a regular for Season 4. There is also a 5 part animated Constantine series.
CAPTAIN DAVID SINGH (The Flash)
Captain Singh is Barry Allen’s boss at Central City PD.
PIED PIPER (The Flash)
Hartley Rathaway was a child prodigy who was set to take over the family business until he came out to his parents who disowned him afterward. He started off as a supervillain after the particle generator explosion but because of the events of Flashpoint, he became an ally to the Flash and his teammates.
THE RAY (Legends of Tomorrow)
In a four-part crossover event, the heroes of Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow found themselves on a Nazi-ruled Earth X where they met The Ray who was in a concentration camp for being gay. His boyfriend is Captain Cold who, when last seen on Legends, was off to ask The Ray to marry him. UPDATE During Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Ray’s Earth was destroyed and the hero is gone from what remained after Crisis.
CAPTAIN COLD (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow)
The Earth X Leonard Snart is gay and a hero who fights alongside the Freedom Fighters to take back the world from the Nazis. He is now married to Ray Terrill, The Ray. They shared the first on-screen male superhero kiss.
ALEX DANVERS (Supergirl)
Like Marvel Comic’s Bobby Drake, Alex Danvers came out late in life. At first, she kept herself busy with work but slowly was able to realize to herself she was attracted to women. She is one of the more fleshed out gay characters on television. She had a girlfriend named Maggie for awhile but the two ultimately broke up because Alex wanted to have kids someday and Maggie didn’t.
THUNDER (Black Lightning)
Nafessa Williams, as Black Lightning’s daughter Anissa Pierce, has been especially groundbreaking as a black lesbian superhero. She can manipulate her density, is nearly invulnerable, has super strength, a healing factor and can generate powerful shock waves.
In addition to all the LGBT characters on The CW, there are many gay actors on the shows. Colton Haynes (Arsenal), Russell Tovey (The Ray), Victor Garber (Prof. Stein/Firestorm), Wentworth Miller (Captain Cold), John Barrowman (Malcolm Merlyn), Ian McKellan (Magneto-X-Men) and both the Movie Flash, Ezra Miller, and TV’s Kid Flash, Keiynan Lonsdale, said they identify as “queer”. Lonsdale will be putting the suit away after one more appearance as Kid Flash in the Season 5 opener of The Flash.
UPDATE It’s been announced that Marvel’s The Eternals will feature a gay super hero in it. This will be a first for the MCU. Marvel has previously featured gay characters in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Jessica Jones, and most notably The Runaways. Still, the company lags far behind DC’s gay heroes which have appeared on The CW. It’s a start, though. I do not know if they have announced who it will be and with The Eternals being postponed to at least next February and possibly even further, we are going to have to wait. But I think we still need to push Marvel for more inclusion. If the rumored Young Avengers movie ever happens and they stick closely to the comic we will get 2 gay heroes: Wiccan and his boyfriend Hulkling. However, that may change due to the next Big Event about to come out, Empyre, in which Hulkling is a central character.
There are many comic book fans who ask “Why do we have to have gay characters?” The short answer is “Because they are there”. LGBT people exist. And just like everyone else, they want to see people like themselves represented in the comics and on TV and in the movies. For almost six decades homosexuals were not allowed to be in comic books. Not Allowed! Thankfully we have grown since then. LGBT people are beginning to find acceptance. Same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states…it’s been legal for a few years now and longer in some individual states and guess what? The world hasn’t ended! But it’s been a long, hard struggle. Each June all across the country Gay Pride is celebrated. Even the White House made a declaration of Gay Pride month up until Trump took office. Gay Pride was not born of a need to celebrate being gay, but out of a right to exist without persecution. To paraphrase a popular meme, instead of asking why there isn’t a straight pride parade, be thankful you don’t need one. I am reminded of an Alpha Waves Letters Page which came after Northstar’s outing. A person wrote into Marvel and told them how disappointed they were over this issue. The person said that superheroes were people you looked up to and that gay people couldn’t be heroes. Marvel responded by telling him “…You look up to gay people every day. You just don’t know it. They are firemen and police officers and nurses and doctors and teachers…”. Here’s another letter, this one having to do with a gay character in Avengers Academy.
I believe it is important for young people to see these characters. The rate of suicide among gay teens is astronomical. They are bullied at school and many are thrown into the streets by parents who won’t accept their own children. These characters exist as entertainment. No one is pushing an agenda or trying to turn children gay or seduce them. No one really knows for sure what causes sexual attraction and identity but one thing is known: it is not a choice. But hate is.
I would like to dedicate this article to Matthew Shepard, a young man who was murdered for being gay nearly 20 years ago on October 12, 1998. May his name never be forgotten and everyone knows that hate is not the way.
DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to be a complete list of LGBT comic characters but rather a highlight. The focus is on LGBT people on television and the movies.
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