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Gay And Lesbian Visibility In Movies And Television

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The 1990s saw surge of gay characters in both television and movies. From Ellen Degeneres and her character Ellen Morgan coming out under much scrutiny on the TV show 'Ellen,' to Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett comedically playing off each other in the motion picture 'My Best Friend's Wedding.' Sure, gays and lesbians have been around forever, especially in Hollywood. But never has there been a time to be more out. With the popularity of shows like Will and Grace, which feature leading gay characters, as well as Dawson's Creek and it's supporting character of teenager Jack McPhee, we are slowly seeing gay and lesbian characters creeping into the mainstream media.

The family unit has always been a treasured and revered dynamic on television and in movies. Dating all the way back to I Love Lucy, storylines focused on the relationship between man and woman. Ozzie and Harriet introduced us to the quintessential American family--father in a suit, mother in pearls, and two exceptional children. It wasn't until the 1970s that gay characters and lifestyles began to emerge. In 1973, An American Family, a PBS series featured one of the family's sons revealing his homosexuality. In 1977, the television show Soap costarred Billy Crystal as an openly gay man. In the 1980s, it became trendy to feature gay and lesbian characters in ensemble casts. If you watch reruns, you can always find the token gay, that is, the really flaming homo or the butch lesbian gym teacher. The motion picture Mannequin, starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Catrall, featured Meshach Taylor as Hollywood, an eccentric, finger-snapping homosexual. Many stereotypes such as these continued until the early nineties.

In 1991, on LA Law, two women share the first same sex kiss on prime time television. A few years later, NBC's hit show FRIENDS featured Ross Gellar's ex wife as a lesbian, raining a child with her female partner. At the same time, the FOX network censored a gay same sex kiss on Melrose Place, a show known for pushing limits. Around the same time, censors and right wing groups were up in arms over a kiss shared by Roseanne and Mariel Hemmingway. In the end, that kiss was also censored.

But things were slowly evolving in the movies. Independent films had been featuring gays and lesbians as main characters, depicting real life and real relationships. Armistead Maupin's Tales of The City revolved around a homo-hetero pairing. The hit movie Clueless introduced a young audience to the concept of having a supportive gay friend as a character. The Birdcage, starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams centered around a gay couple and their straight son. The movie In & Out starred Kevin Kline as a teacher discovering his sexuality in his 30s while being pursued by Tom Selleck.

As the 90s progressed, the idea of the gay male-straight female dynamic became popular in Hollywood after witnessing real life culture. It seemed as though everybody in the industry had or knew someone who had a gay best friend. 'Friend' Jennifer Aniston starred in the 1998 film, the Object of My Affection, in which she decides to raise her unborn child with her gay best friend George. Helen Hunt and Greg Kinner developed a friendship in As Good As It Gets, for which both were nominated for Academy Awards. My Best Friend's Wedding became a huge success and most reviews talked about the relationship between Everett and Roberts. Other films such as The Opposite of Sex, Trick, Beautiful Thing, and Get Real all depicted gay characters as the focus of the movie.

The spillover into primetime television was a bit trickier. When news leaked that Ellen's character was going to come out as a lesbian, viewers, censorship groups and sponsors were once again crying 'immorality.' The episode aired, and the character was a lesbian, but the show, unfortunately, could not get the ratings it needed to stay on the air. Ellen did open the door and raise the bar though. Party Of Five's Julia Sallinger kisses her female writing instructor. The Will of NBC's new hit Will & Grace is a character that is not only gay, but also masculine, personable and the roommate of a very attractive woman. The WB's Dawson's Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer soon followed, making supporting characters gay and lesbian. HBO's Sex & The City turned one of its core characters, staunch heterosexual Samantha Jones into a swinging bisexual. The network also features OZ and Six Feet Under, both of which have gay characters and storylines. Most recently, the now defunct show Once & Again, featured a story where a teenage character begins a relationship with her best friend and shows the youngest lesbian kiss on television so far. This was most surprising because the show aired on ABC, the company owned by the usually conservative Disney Corportation. It's also rumored that gay characters are in cartoons and children's shows. For instance, Tinky Winky, the purple, purse carrying Tellitubby. And then there is the strange duo of Sesame Street's

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