I was fifteen when I realized that I was bisexual. In fact, many people discover their sexuality in their teenage years. Adolescence is a crucial period of transition and self-discovery.
Teenagers also spend a ton of their time watching TV and movies. On average, teens in America watch twenty hours of TV per week.
As teenagers figure out who they are and who they want to be, they're consuming hours of television that profoundly impact their beliefs, desires, and, ultimately, their identities.
I was fifteen in 2013. At the time, the only queer representation I was exposed to in teen TV shows was Kurt and Blaine's toxic relationship on Glee and the biphobia against Emily in Pretty Little Liars. I had very few authentic queer role models to look up to and help teach me about my sexuality in the media.
Ten years later, the landscape has shifted significantly. Shows targeted to teenage audiences often feature queer storylines and put effort into making LGBTQ+ characters more authentic and three-dimensional. In larger numbers, producers and casting directors are putting effort into choosing queer actors to play queer characters.
While many queer stories have yet to be told, Hollywood is doing a better job than ever in creating content that resonates with queer viewers and helps break down negative stereotypes and societal stigmas related to the LGBTQ+ community.
Here are some TV shows geared toward teens that are changing the game regarding authentic LGBTQ+ representation in the media.
1. Sex Education (2019-)
As a show that fans applauded for its progressive portrayal of sex and sexuality, Sex Education doesn't hold back when it comes to authentic queer representation.
This British teen drama centers on the life of Otis (Asa Butterfield), a socially awkward teen with an overbearing sex therapist as a mom, and his friends at Mooredale Secondary School.
Otis' best friend, a charming and proud gay man named Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), is one of my favorite characters on TV today. He is a well-rounded character with a complex personality who faces troubles both related to and completely separate from his sexuality. Just like how queer people do in real life.
Eric isn't the only queer character in the mix. Adam Groff (Connor Swindells), a hypermasculine jock who bullies Eric for being gay at the beginning of the series, slowly comes to terms with his sexuality. While Adam's storyline follows the problematic trope of the secretly gay homophobic bully, his character becomes increasingly complex as the series evolves.
A Progressive Portrayal of Sex and Sexuality
In Sex Education, being queer is a normal part of life. Lily (Tanya Reynolds) and Ola (Patricia Allison) have an adorable relationship that lesbian viewers squeal over, and Jackson's moms, Roz (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) and Sophia (Hannah Waddingham), feel like regular parents in a teen TV show facing family struggles that have nothing to do with them being gay.
Sex Education is an excellent show that explores teenage sexuality in all its complexities.
2. Heartstopper (2022-)
If you're looking for a teen TV show that embraces the idea that queer kids deserve happy endings, too, this one is for you.
Heartstopper follows classmates Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie (Joe Locke) and their romantic journey together after they're sat next to each other in class one day.
Queer Kids Deserve Happy Endings Too
It's a refreshing tale of queer love in many ways. The show doesn't rely on toxic love triangles to create tension and instead focuses on the loving side of the relationships between characters. On top of that, families accept their kids for being queer in this show, which is a breath of fresh air.
Nick is explicitly bisexual and actually states that out loud, which is uncommon for bisexual-coded characters. Heartstopper directly challenges biphobia by centering Nick's bisexual identity.
Elle, a kind and creative trans girl, is one of the main characters in the show. She's portrayed by Yasmin Finney, a trans actor herself. Because many trans characters aren't actually portrayed by trans actors who understand what it's like to experience gender nonconformity, Heartstopper is taking a step in the right direction.
Happy stories about queer teens are few and far between, which is why Heartstopper is an essential watch for any LGBTQ kids out there.
3. She Ra and The Princesses of Power (2018-2020)
This show changed my life. Showrunner ND Stevenson set out to create an animated fantasy series for queer teens, and they delivered.
When Adora (Aimee Carrero) discovers that the Horde, the group that raised her, is actually an evil force attempting to colonize all of Etheria, she joins forces with Princess Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) and master archer Bow (Marcus Scribner) to take down the Horde and save the planet.
But when Adora leaves the Horde, she also leaves behind her lifelong best friend, Catra (AJ Michalka), who does not take the abandonment well. The story centers on the tension between Adora and Catra as they fight for their different causes and grapple with their deep feelings for one another.
An Animated Fantasy Series for Queer Teens
The creators of She Ra and the Princesses of Power say that the show does not take place in a heteronormative society like the one in which we live. Instead of assuming all characters are straight before proven gay, in the She Ra universe, it's the other way around.
Queer relationships are the norm on Etheria, like Bow's two dads and the adorable wives Spinnerella (ND Stevenson) and Netossa (Krystal Joy Brown). Also, She Ra is one of the only teen TV shows with a nonbinary character. Double Trouble is introduced in season four and uses they/them pronouns, just like their voice actor, Jacob Tobia.
I don't want to spoil the entire show for you, but it's clear that the tension between Catra and Adora throughout the show is far from platonic, and queer viewers won't be disappointed with where the two best friends' relationship ends up.
If you're searching for a magical adventure with queer characters and queer themes, She Ra and the Princesses of Power is the perfect show for you.
4. Never Have I Ever (2020-2023)
Mindy Kaling's high school comedy-drama Never Have I Ever feels like your typical teen TV show about coming of age, making friends, and entering the world of romance.
Helps Queer Viewers Feel at Home
But Never Have I Ever is different because our protagonist is Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a spunky and smart Indian-American teen who recently lost her dad when he suddenly collapsed during Devi's recent band performance.
One of Devi's best friends, Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez), is a kind-hearted robotics nerd who, throughout the series, comes to terms with her queer sexuality. In season one, Fabiola comes out to her mom in a heartwarming episode. She also finds her first girlfriend, Eve, and we watch her struggle to learn more about LGBTQ culture.
As Fabiola's character develops, we see her enter new relationships, learn about healthy communication, and discover her boundaries. Fabiola is a loveable character who only adds to the zest of the entire show and helps queer viewers feel at home.
5. First Kill (2022)
Are you tired of hearing the word “vampire” and immediately thinking of Edward and Bella? It's time to check out First Kill, Netflix‘s steamy and tense lesbian vampire romance adventure.
The show follows Juliette (Sarah Catherine Hook), a growing vampire whose family is pushing her to make her first kill. But it also centers on Calliope (Imani Lewis), a dedicated yet underappreciated vampire hunter in training who wants to get her first kill and make her family proud.
But things don't go as planned when the two girls meet and begin to catch feelings for one another.
Lesbian Vampire Romance
First Kill is primarily an adventure story about the tension between the vampires and the vampire hunters. It's not about the characters being gay. The central conflict in the story isn't that Juliette and Calliope can't be together because they're gay. They can't be together because vampires and their hunters are mortal enemies.
And that's what makes First Kill such an essential and compelling fantasy story for teens today.
6. The Owl House (2020-)
Disney is known for its languid pace in bringing authentic LGBTQ+ representation into the media. But one Disney show created by Dana Terrace hits the nail on the head.
The Owl House is an animated fantasy show about bright, confident, and self-proclaimed weirdo Luz (Sarah-Nicole Robles), who discovers a portal into a fantasy realm called the Boiling Isles. Soon, Luz is caught up in adventures alongside witches and demons as she learns to become the first human witch.
Disney's First Same-Sex Kiss & First Nonbinary Character
Luz is openly bisexual and crushes on both boys and girls throughout the series. When Luz first steps foot in Hexside, the school for young witches on the Boiling Isles, she meets Amity (Mae Whitman), a talented and arrogant young witch who starts as a rival but soon becomes a friend and something more.
Amity and Luz's relationship makes any queer audience member melt. For years, straight teens had the privilege of seeing many adorable high school relationships on TV while queer kids were left in the dust. Now, with shows like The Owl House, young lesbians have adorable on-screen relationships to swoon over.
Not only does The Owl House feature the first same-sex kiss on a Disney TV show, but it also presents the first nonbinary character in Disney history: Raine Whispers (Avi Roque).
If you're missing the magical world of Harry Potter but refuse to give JK Rowling more money, The Owl House might fill that hole in your heart.
7. First Day (2020-2022)
First Day is an Australian miniseries aimed at middle schoolers and younger teens about Hannah (Evie MacDonald), a trans girl who faces trials and tribulations during her first year of middle school.
A Trans Girl Who Faces Trials and Tribulations in Middle School
For her role in First Day, Evie MacDonald made history as the first trans actor cast as a lead in a TV series in Australia. Having a trans actor play Hannah is one of the best things about the show because Evie brings authenticity and real-life experience to the character that cisgender actors could never achieve. (I'm looking at you, Eddie Redmayne.)
The showrunners created First Day with the specific intention of avoiding causing trans trauma and promoting authentic trans representation in the media. They consulted with GLAAD before the show's release.
One of the most extraordinary things about First Day is that it's a show about trans people that centers on the trans experience. Many depictions of trans people in the media aren't focused on their lives but on how they impact the cis people around them. First Day rejects that notion and Hannah is the central character in the show.
8. Love, Victor (2020-2022)
Creators of the famous movie Love, Simon (2018) took fans' critiques of the movie seriously when creating the spin-off TV series Love, Victor.
Fans of Love, Simon had a problem with its very white and privileged portrayal of queerness. Love, Victor combats this with a Latino protagonist, Victor (Michael Cimino), who must come to terms with his sexuality while learning what it means to be a Latino man in America, all while making it through high school unscathed.
Latino Protagonist Coming to Terms With His Sexuality
While season one is focused on the process of coming out for Victor, season two shows life after coming out and the nuances and challenges that Victor and his family face. Throughout the show, Victor's parents become more and more accepting of his sexuality.
The storyline of parental acceptance is very well done. It is complex in that Victor's parents each have a unique way that they responded to his newfound sexuality. But over time, they both learn to accept their son for who he is.
Love, Victor is applauded for its treatment of cultural differences in mindset towards LGBTQ+ people and its discussions of masculinity and gender expression and how that relates to sexuality.
9. Dead End: Paranormal Park (2022)
Dead End: Paranormal Park is a wacky animated comedy-horror series about two loveable teen misfits who find themselves working at a haunted theme park.
Both of our protagonists are unapologetically queer. Barney (Zach Barack) is a trans man searching for acceptance from his family, established at the very beginning of the first episode. Norma (Kody Kavitha) is a high-powered autistic pansexual Indian-American woman.
Unapologetically Queer Protagonists Working at Theme Park
The two bond when they take jobs at the same theme park and go on spooky and ridiculous adventures along with a talking pug named Pugsley (Alex Brightman) and frightful yet witty demons like Courtney (Emily Osment).
Critics hail Dead End: Paranormal Park as a fantastic show with authentic neurodivergent and queer representation that seeps into every storyline and makes for a creative and kooky show.
10. Young Royals (2021-)
When disobedient Prince Wilhelm of Sweden (Edvin Ryding) meets the well-rounded and confident Simon (Omar Rudberg) at a prestigious boarding school. Soon, the two grow close and start a whirlwind romance with many ups and downs.
If you've watched any drama series on TV like, ever, you're familiar with dramatic romances between men and women. Young Royals gives queer viewers a chance to experience the drama of a teen show with queerness overrun throughout. It is truly a delight.
A Teen Show With Queerness
We get plenty of warm and fuzzy moments between Wilhelm and Simon that result in fans creating extensive Youtube edits of cute moments between the two boys. But on top of that, we get the drama to keep the show moving and to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
While the show's central conflict focuses on Wilhelm's challenges in accepting who he is and who he loves, which is one of the most common storylines in queer narratives, it is done very well. The characters feel realistic and multifaceted, and we know their queerness is just one part of their complex identities.
If you're looking for a dramatic romance that discusses social class, queer issues, and the trials of being a teenager in the public eye, this one is for you.
11. Betty (2020-2021)
Women who skateboard are incredibly cool, and women who are queer and skate are even cooler. (It's a fact!)
Betty is a TV series based on the 2018 movie Skate Kitchen. It follows a group of female friends in New York City trying to find themselves in the overwhelmingly male skater culture.
Steamy Queer Sex Scenes & the Complexity of Polyamory
There are a few queer characters in the show, like Kirt (Nina Moran), a soft-butch lesbian who explores her sexuality throughout the series. The show's main character, Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), deals with the challenge of rejecting traditional gender roles. The entire show attempts to redefine what being a girl truly is, which is queer in itself.
The show features steamy queer sex scenes and explores the complexity of polyamory. On top of that, it's one of the only pandemic-era shows I've seen that acknowledges COVID as a real threat and shows characters wearing face masks.
Betty is determined to break down gender norms with their diverse cast of powerful women.
12. Trinkets (2019-2020)
Trinkets is about an empowering group of femme friends who come together to achieve anything. Elodie (Brianna Hildebrand), Tabitha (Quintessa Swindell), and Moe (Kiana Madeira) all come from different groups at the same high school and form an unlikely friendship when they find themselves in the same Shoplifters Anonymous support group.
Challenges of the Queer Dating Scene
Quintessa Swindell, the actor who plays Tabitha, is a proud nonbinary actor and advocate. It's uncommon to see nonbinary actors get cast in anything, so it's inspiring for trans people to see Quintessa absolutely rocking it in their role in Trinkets.
Elodie, the show's protagonist, openly identifies as a lesbian when the show begins, so we don't waste any time following an overdone coming-out plotline. Instead, fans watch Elodie explore the challenges of the queer dating scene, which is something we don't get to see in most TV series.
Trinkets is about showing authentic and healthy relationships between queer people and women, whether romantic or platonic.
13. Generation (2021)
Generation follows in the footsteps of many high-school dramas in that it explores teenage life with some added high-stakes drama. But Generation brings fresh air to the genre because of its depiction of diversity and LGBTQ+ issues.
Depiction of Diversity and LGBTQ+ Issues
The teenage characters in Generation are almost all gay, and no one is ever assumed to be straight, which flips the traditional script of heteronormativity on its head. Our three main characters identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual, respectively.
None of the characters grapple with coming out journeys and instead face the challenges of living life as out and proud queer people in this often hostile world.
One of the best aspects of this show is the variation in which each character embodies queerness. Generation acknowledges that every LGBTQ+ person and queer experience is different.
14. I Am Not Okay With This (2020)
Sometimes it feels like we can't make it through our teenage years without superpowers. I Am Not Okay With This follows Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis), a self-described “boring 17-year-old white girl” trying to get through high school unscathed. Her life gets even more complicated when she discovers that her anger manifests as a telekinetic superpower.
The Difficulties of High School With Authentic LGBTQ Representation
Not only does Sydney have to grapple with her newfound abilities, but she must also come to terms with her sexuality and her unrequited feelings for her best friend, Dina (Sofia Bryant). While the trope of falling in love with your straight best friend is overdone, it's also something to which many queer people like myself can relate.
And Sydney doesn't look like most protagonists of teen TV shows. She's a butch lesbian. How many TV shows can you think of with a butch lesbian protagonist?
I Am Not Okay With This is a wonderful exploration of the difficulties of high school, grief, and family dynamics brimming with authentic LGBTQ representation.
15. Julie and The Phantoms (2020)
Are you searching for a lighthearted musical comedy-drama with a cute gay ghost romance? Julie and the Phantoms is the show for you.
Musical Comedy-Drama With a Cute Gay Ghost Romance
When three teenage band members in the 90s eat some bad hot dogs and die, they come back to earth as ghosts in 2020 to form a band with current high schooler Julie (Madison Reyes).
One of the ghosts, Alex (Owen Joyner), is openly gay. All his bandmates and the people in 2020 accept him for who he is, though he does acknowledge the reality of the queer experience in the 90s. It's mentioned that when Alex was alive, his parents weren't accepting of his sexuality.
At the beginning of the series, Alex meets Willie (Booboo Stewart), another ghost, and they are immediately smitten with one another. The two are a significant side plot throughout the show. It's refreshing to see a prominent display of authentic and upbeat queer romance in a show for young teens.
16. One Day at a Time (2017-2020)
Based on the original show from the late 70s and early 80s, One Day at a Time is a modern re-imagining of a Cuban-American family and their navigation through life.
Everyday Lives of Nonbinary People
The oldest child in the family, Elena (Isabella Gomez), comes out to her family as a lesbian over the course of several episodes. I don't want to spoil it too much, but Elena's coming-out story is very well done, heartfelt, and realistic.
Not long after she comes out, Elena begins dating a nonbinary person named Syd (Sheridan Pierce). Syd is a sweet and complex side character and shows the audience that nonbinary people live everyday lives just like everyone else.
Elena and Syd are adorable together, and it's always a breath of fresh air when a happy queer couple is depicted on screen.
17. We Are Who We Are (2020)
Luca Guadagnino, the creator of the critically acclaimed queer drama Call Me By Your Name (2017), came back on the scene with another Europe-based coming-of-age drama with profoundly queer themes.
Coming-of-Age Drama With Profoundly Queer Themes
When Fraser's (Jack Dylan Grazer) parents uproot his life in New York City and bring him to a U.S. military base in Italy, he soon befriends his popular neighbor Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón), and they bond by testing the limits and challenging gender norms.
Fraser deals with genuine queer issues like trying to repress his feelings for a boy back in New York City and exploring his sexuality by crushing on an older man who works on the army base. On the other hand, Caitlin explores her gender expression throughout the show.
While the show's central plotlines aren't about the LGBTQ community, the characters are queer and exploring their lives as queer teenagers. It helps break down the trope of queer characters being one-dimensional. Fraser and Caitlin are complex characters who deal with queer issues, among others, in their teenage years.
18. Elite (2018-)
Elite is a Spanish teen drama that features all of the usual elements you'd expect in the genre and more. It's a story about class conflict and coming of age in a complex world.
The show centers on three working-class students who earned scholarships to attend the elite Las Encinas high school. They struggle to fit in with their wealthy classmates, ultimately leading to a murder.
Not only does Elite spark conversations about class, but it also discusses race, gender, religion, and sexuality throughout the series.
Discusses Race, Gender, Religion, and Sexuality
One of the most compelling relationships in the show is that of Omar (Omar Ayuso), a poor Muslim student, and Ander (Arón Piper), a rich, white, tennis-playing champion. The two fall in love, but the world treats them very differently when it comes to expressing their sexualities. The show places intersectionality at the center of the conversation.
Another great thing about the show is its depiction of gay sex. Sex isn't black and white in the real world, meaning that not everyone is a top or a bottom. The lines are more blurred than that, and Elite understands those complexities.
Elite also features important topics like facing internalized homophobia, the challenges of polyamory, and HIV awareness.
19. The Bastard Son and The Devil Himself (2022)
Are you searching for a teen drama set in a fantasy world of warring witches? The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself follows Nathan (Jay Lycurgo), a sixteen-year-old witch with a secret even he doesn't know about: he is the son of the evilest witch of his time.
A Bisexual Man as The Lead
As Nathan embarks on a journey of self-exploration while the world around him turns against him, he meets two allies, Annalise (Nadia Parkes) and Gabriel (Emilien Vekemans) who help him along the way. The show focuses on Nathan's relationships with these two, both of which are romantic and sexual.
While Nathan is clearly bisexual, his sexual identity is never confirmed verbally. Despite this, it's fantastic to see a bisexual man as the lead in a teen TV show because our society often excludes bisexual men from pop culture.
There are no themes of facing homophobia in the show, so queerness isn't central to the characters' problems. Fans get to watch the good guys be unapologetically queer, which is a theme that's few and far between in the media.
20. The Great Pottery Throw Down (2015-)
The Great Pottery Throw Down is a wholesome British competition reality TV series that takes Britain's most outstanding amateur potters and puts them in a studio to complete challenges in the hopes of becoming that season's winner.
A Reality Show With LGBTQ Representation
The judges, like Kieth Brymer-Jones, are excellent at creating an inclusive, loving environment among its diverse set of competitors. This reality show has some of the best LGBTQ representation of all time while simultaneously not being a show about LGBTQ issues.
Competitors of diverse ages, races, sexuality, and gender come together to create incredible projects. They are all incredibly kind to one another and often consider each other family.
There are LGBTQ+ potters in every season, including the show's first-ever nonbinary potter, AJ Simpson. I love watching The Great Pottery Throw Down because the show does such a fantastic job displaying real queer people being creative and living fulfilling lives.
21. Daybreak (2019)
What happens when all of the adults in the world suddenly turn into zombies, and the kids are left to fend for themselves?
That's exactly what the teen drama series Daybreak grapples with. As Josh (Colin Ford) searches for his lost high-school girlfriend amid the apocalypse, he and a group of ragtag survivors join together to help each other on their separate quests.
Traditionally Masculine Men Who Are Gay for Each Other
The queer representation in Daybreak comes into play with the relationship between Turbo and Wesley, former football teammates and lovers who struggle to rekindle their romance post-apocalypse.
What's so unique about Turbo (Cody Kearsley) and Wesley (Austin Crute) is that they're very traditionally masculine men who are super gay for each other. It's not something we typically see, and it's pretty refreshing.
22. Glee (2009-2015)
I went back and forth on whether or not to include Glee on this list, and ultimately, I decided it had to be here.
Ryan Murphy's musical high-school dramedy was one of the most popular TV shows in the early 2010s. It was one of the first teen TV series to openly discuss LGBTQ+ and other controversial issues in a TV show aimed at high schoolers.
Glee does not do everything right by any means. There are tons of problems with Karofsky's (Max Adler) character and the trope of the homophobic jock who turns out to be gay. When Karofksy and Blaine (Darren Criss) briefly dated, I was not the only queer person who wanted to hurl. Karofsky spends the vast majority of his time on-screen bullying Kurt (Chris Colfer) for being gay.
This trope is problematic because it shows masculine gay men that it's okay to beat up less powerful gay men on their self-discovery journey and teaches straight men to fear that they may secretly be gay – something that shouldn't be feared, but celebrated.
One of The First Teen TV Series to Openly Discuss LGBTQ+
Despite the show's many problems, I had to include it on this list for the moments that it does get right. Kurt's character, while heavily stereotyped as the feminine musical theater homosexual, did resonate with thousands of real queer people at the time. Kurt is a complex character central to the show and was one of the first major queer characters in a high-school drama.
While there are many shows today with more authentic queer representation than Glee, I'm not sure those shows could be there today without Glee paving the way. It was so revolutionary to have four central queer characters in a TV show like this. And I've got to say, I have a soft spot in my heart for Brittany (Heather Morris) and Santana (the late Naya Rivera).
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Maya (she/they) is a queer entertainment and culture journalist from Worcester, MA with bylines in publications like Pulse Magazine, HorrorPress, CM Pride, Fangoria, and TransLash News & Narrative. They cover interviews, reviews, roundups, news, and more in the entertainment and lifestyle space. She loves horror, LGBTQ+ representation, and creativity. They hope their writing both entertains readers and inspires them to think critically.