Gay teens are suddenly popping up in major roles all over television, with Glee’s popular pairing of Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Blaine (Darren Criss) leading the way. How did gay teens go from marginalized outcasts and goofy sidekicks to some of the highest profile — and most beloved — characters on the likes of 90210, Pretty Little Liars, and Skins? And more importantly, how is this affecting real-life teens still facing the daily high-school realities of bullying, discrimination, and ignorance? The new issue of Entertainment Weekly investigates the history of gay teens on TV — from the angsty Rickie on My So-Called Life to sensitive-soul Jack on Dawson’s Creek to the slew of groundbreaking characters on Degrassi. We talk to the producers who fought for such progress, the actors who held the career-defining roles, and the activists who cheer recent advances — but are still pushing for more. Among them:
* Colfer, on his wildly flirtatious version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Criss, which became the most downloaded track off the Glee Christmas album: “That was by far the gayest thing that has ever been on TV, period,” Colfer says. “Forget AbFab, forget Beautiful People and Will & Grace.” Adds creator/exec producer Ryan Murphy: “I was proud of that. I think it pushed the envelope a bit.”
* My So-Called Life creator Winnie Holzman, on ABC’s reaction to Rickie as a character when the show premiered in 1994: “The thing I got the most pushback about was in the pilot, when he puts eyeliner on in the girls’ bathroom. I remember I mentioned The Crying Game, which had just come out, and Michael Jackson wearing eyeliner [to convince the network]. So they went with it.”
* The O.C. (and Gossip Girl) exec producer Stephanie Savage on the short-lived romance between Marissa (Mischa Barton) and girlfriend Alex (Olivia Wilde) in 2005, during the height of network censorship fears (after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident): “We could’ve had more support in terms of making that a long-term story line. There were definitely some questions about how long we were doing
this story. And we did have to do some editing to make kisses shorter and pull back on some physicality of the characters.”
See exclusive footage from our cover shoot with Colfer and Criss:
And for more on our look into the history of gay teens on TV, and how a new generation of characters are making a difference in real kids’ lives, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday, Jan. 21.