The 25 Queerest TV Moments of 2019

From Jussie Smollett's "Empire" exile to Billy Porter's historical Emmy win, a look back at the hits, misses, and scandals that defined the year.

This year, you could easily add the letters “TV” to “LGBTQIA+.” There was that much queer television streaming at you, as well as some lip-smacking gossip surrounding its stars.

Here, the TV highs and lows of 2019, starting with an unfortunate scandal stirred up by a certain unruly name who fell from grace…

Jussie Smollett
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Jussie Smollett takes a beating—or at least his ego does.

In January, gay Empire actor Jussie Smollett said he was attacked by two people yelling “Die, black fag” and “This is MAGA country” in Chicago. They punched him, poured an unknown chemical on him, and tied a rope around his neck. Make America hate again? But when the two brothers who were questioned later, they revealed that Smollett had actually paid them to stage the incident, apparently in an attempt to evoke sympathy from the press and get himself a raise. Make America fake again?

The result was a big step back for real hate crime victims, who desperately need to be believed—though after all the condemnation of Smollett, the charges were dropped in what seemed like a giant organizational blunder. So much for that raise he wanted—he didn’t even return for the show’s final season. Postscript: He might actually pop up in Empire’s finale, and he is now suing Chicago over what he feels was a malicious prosecution that humiliated him. Can we all sue Smollett for the same?

Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Kevin Hart ditches the Oscars.

Meanwhile, who tweeted in support of Smollett? Kevin Hart! But that wasn’t the scandal he had to deal with. Instead, when an old joke in which Hart said he’d clobber his son with a dollhouse if he found him playing with it resurfaced (along with some gross tweets), he claimed he’d adequately apologized for it when he actually hadn’t.

The rotten joke called Hart’s scheduled role as the Oscars host into question, so he withdrew from the telecast amidst the controversy, then appeared on TV with host Ellen DeGeneres (you know, the one who was later seen cozying up to George Dubya Bush), where he seemed to be angling for the job again. But backlash followed that appearance, and the Oscars aired with no host at all. No host at all was boring, but at least we didn’t have to suffer through offensive jokes.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Clusterfest

SNL wins and loses.

There was also turmoil on the set of Saturday Night Live, where they actually have hosts, though that wasn’t the problem. The issue was comic Shane Gillis, who was cast as an ensemble player and then dropped when a podcast surfaced on which he had made homophobic and racist jokes (shades of Kevin Hart). But another new cast member, gay Asian American Bowen Yang, stayed, so… Shane who?

Michael Parmelee/FX

Pose strikes again.

The voguing epic went into its second season, in which the community was titillated by Madonna’s “Vogue,” while scene stealer Billy Porter made history, copping an Emmy for Best Lead Actor in a Drama for its first season.


Schitt gets real.

With its pansexual character, David (Dan Levy), Schitt’s Creek came back with a vengeance thanks to its new Netflix following. It’s now gearing up for one final season, which premieres January 7.

Eddy Chen/HBO

Euphoria makes us very happy.

On the hit HBO series, transgender character Jules (Hunter Schafer) continued to make serious waves. Her relationship with Rue (Zendaya) was both groundbreaking and heartwarming.

Hilary B Gayle/SHOWTIME

Some of our favorite new TV characters come out—and some old faves come back.

On Hulu, the three-part series Butterfly focused on the awakening of a trans girl, Max, played by Callum Booth-Ford.

Eleven-year-old Sadie (Isaiah Stannard) came out to his mom as trans on the NBC’s Good Girls.

Lachlan Watson shined as the nonbinary character Theo in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

The L Word: Generation Q premiered on Showtime, with lots of lusty Latinx additions.

Original cast members Gabrielle Carteris and Christine Elise returned for the mockumentary-style reboot of Beverly Hills, 90210 (which has not been renewed), but this time they were both decidedly into other women.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

High School Musical does the unthinkable—it gets even gayer.

Yet another beloved franchise got gay-ified when High School Musical fueled Disney+’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series with an out gay choreographer played by the out gay Frankie Rodriguez.

Bruce Yamakawa/Netflix

Queer Eye goes global.

Queer Eye went into its third and fourth season, and aired a special four-episode mini-season, Queer Eye: We’re in Japan!. We’re already ready for the fifth go-round of these do-gooders making the world just a little bit prettier.

Chris Haston/NBC

Will & Grace says goodbye (again)…

The Will & Grace reboot wrapped up its last batch of episodes, with Megan Mullally missing from two of them—some say because of a feud with Debra Messing. I refuse to take sides on this, but I am definitely Team Debra. I mean Team Megan. I mean Team Debra…

Michael Tran/FilmMagic

…But we make some new friends.

Special, a Netflix web series about a gay man with cerebral palsy who sets out to fulfill his dreams, starred Ryan O’Connell, who wrote and exec produced it. It was co-produced by Jim Parsons, among others, and was just renewed for a second season.

HBO’s Los Espookys, a mostly Spanish comedy (with subtitles), was created by queer comics Julio Torres and Ana Fabrega, along with Fred Armisen. Some of the characters, naturally, are los queers, and the show also got a season-two pickup.


Some TV is fleeting…

Now Apocalypse, a Starz show set in the L.A. fast lane and co-written by queer filmmaker Gregg Araki, sadly met its own apocalypse after one season.

Abby’s, a San Diego–set NBC sitcom with queer actress Natalie Morales as the bi lead character, also ran just a single season.

Dan Reed/HBO

…While some of it will stay with us forever.

Still lingering in our minds, the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland featured Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two of Michael Jackson’s accusers, talking in great detail and with obvious pain about the superstar singer’s alleged sexual offenses, which were complicated by their admiration for the icon. Combined with the very strong Oprah Winfrey–hosted interview that followed the doc, this was definitely the conversation starter of the year—though it’s not stopping an MJ-themed jukebox show from coming to Broadway.

Manager Lou Pearlman was similarly dissected in Lance Bass’ doc The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story, and the whole world wanted to shower afterwards.

mr ratburn wedding

We show up for the cutest wedding ever—well, not all of us.

Meanwhile, when happy gay stories came along, some people simply didn’t want to hear them. An Arthur episode featuring a gay wedding between Mr. Ratburn and an aardvark was hatefully banned by Alabama Public Television. That’s right, two talking animals, who are purely hand-drawn, somehow caused this big of a shitstorm.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Equality California

Shangela’s star continues to rise.

More good news came with the fact that Katy Keene, CW’s Riverdale spinoff, will have queer storylines, including one with a character played by Drag Race favorite Shangela.

BBC Three

Drag Race crosses the pond (and maybe the Kinsey scale?).

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK launched, with talented queen and newlywed the Vivienne snagging the first-season crown. What’s more, RuPaul announced a new Drag Race show, Celebrity Drag Race, in which famous folks will be the contestants. I can already think of a million stars who’d be perfect—and some of them are straight.


RuPaul plants a heel in Netflix.

Hardly pausing for breath, Ru also tried out a talk show, aptly titled RuPaul, and is starring in the upcoming Netflix series, AJ and the Queen. With this news I am reduced to yelps of, “We used to hang out in the ’80s, I swear!”

And now, on to the 2020s!

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.