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Rainbows in the magic box: LGBTQ talent featured in fall TV
by Lucy Diavolo
2016-10-12

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We're hot off an Emmys that saw several calls for better inclusion and representation in the world of television. Now, at the start of another season of fall programming, will Hollywood put its money where its mouth is and feature more LGBTQ talent? While it's certainly not resounding, it looks like the answer could be a ( somewhat tentative ) yes.

Both on camera and behind the scenes, several networks are seeing LGBTQ stories and experiences come into the spotlight. Whether it's a bisexual bad girl, a gay head writer or a trans-positive twist on an old classic, there are plenty of rainbows to catch in your magic box this fall. And, maybe more surprising than anything else, much of the diverse programming is coming from primetime network TV.

The CW, for example, is working to make sure the tights aren't the gayest thing about their superhero shows this fall. The network's products from the DC Comics universe feature several gay and lesbian characters in supporting roles, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Greg Berlanti, the gay executive producer behind all four of CW's DC projects.

The Flash, which returned Oct. 4, features gay men on both sides of the law in police captain David Singh ( played by Patrick Sabongui ) and hearing-impaired villain The Pied Piper ( played by the openly bi Andi Mientus ). Black Canary, a bi villainess with a penchant for leather, was killed off of Arrow at the end of last season. However, a report from Variety confirmed that actress Katie Cassidy, the face behind Black Canary's mask, will return to the role if not to Arrow, which started again Oct. 5.

And don't be worried that DC isn't balancing LGBTQ goodies with baddies. When Supergirl returned Oct. 10, Floriana Lima will join the cast as a lesbian cop who specializes in alien investigations. Could we finally get the openly gay Dana Scully type we've all been waiting for?

An LGBTQ lead character could be in the works, too: Berlanti has teased that a superhero on one of CW's DC shows will be coming out this fall. Place your bets now, but my money's on someone from Legends of Tomorrow, the show that serves as a stable of DC vigilantes waiting for their own break.

LGBTQ characters might be stepping out of the shadows on another show as well, as change is coming to a television institution in a major way this year. NBC's Saturday Night Live announced that Chris Kelly is the first out head writer in the sketch show's four-decade run. Kelly has been with SNL for five seasons, and has proved his comedy chops as a writer for Comedy Central's Broad City and in his feature-length writing/directing debut, Other People.

Kelly and his co-head writer, Sarah Schneider, are stepping up to the helm now after being the writing talent behind SNL favorites Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon. The promotions mean that McKinnon, an out and proud lesbian, is primed to have a massive season following an Emmy win for her work on the show.

The push for diversity in the writing room is being helped as well by the addition of Julio Torres, a.k.a. Space Prince, a gay Latino stand-up from the alt comedy underworld. Here's hoping Kelly and Torres can help SNL make LGBTQ experiences into the heart—instead of the butt—of some of this season's jokes. The sketch show's new season premiered Oct. 1.

Speaking of shifting targets, Laverne Cox takes on no easy task as she plays Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Fox's reprise of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is set to debut Thursday, Oct. 20. Early looks at Laverne's musical role promise elaborate costumes, incredible makeup and some stunning performances.

Cox's star is already bright, but the role could boost her to a new level of shine with the chance to show off her pipes as a leading lady in a primetime network display. But the real challenge might be finding a way to play Frank-N-Furter that captures the spirit of the original without alienating members of the trans community who are critical of the original Rocky Horror and its creator's transphobic attitudes.

Richard O'Brien gave the world Dr. Frank-N-Furter, an iconic character when it comes to gender variance. Despite expressing his own identification with trans experiences, O'Brien made headlines in early 2016 when he claimed that trans women can't be women.

Only time will tell if Cox is able to give a twist to Dr. Frank-N-Furter that could revitalize the icon for a new generation of LGBTQ youth. Surely, there's no one better for the job. But it'll take a truly inspired performance to turn one man's trash into trans women's treasure.

If one musical isn't enough Cox for you, keep an eye out for Doubt. The new show is expected to debut mid-season ( probably after something else on CBS tanks ). The series features Cox as a working Ivy-League-educated attorney.

When the show gets to air, it'll make Cox the first trans actress to play a trans character in a recurring role on a broadcast series, a major milestone in bringing trans experiences to the mainstream. The fact that Cox—so often typecast throughout her career—is taking on the role is a major step forward in representation for trans women of color and the trans community at large.

But don't get too excited. To see Cox, you'll have to sit through Katherine Heigl playing a criminal attorney falling for her ( allegedly ) girlfriend-killing client in an abject display of WTF heterosexuality. At least it's a comfort that, with all the changes this fall TV season is bringing, straight love stories still have some consistency.


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