Ground-Breaking Soap Opera Characters and Moments in LGBTQ+ History
Image: Jill Johnson, Howard Wise/JPI
Looking back at LGBTQ+ characters in celebration of LGBTQ+ History Month.
October is LGBTQ+ history month because October 11 has been National Coming Out Day since 1988, and the month also pays honor to the late Matthew Shepard, who died on October 12 in 1998 after being beaten and left for dead by his assailants. Soaps.com thought it was fitting we look back at some of the most important LGBTQ+ stories and characters on daytime TV from All My Children, As the World Turns, Bold and Beautiful, Days of our Lives, General Hosptial, One Life to Live, Passions, Santa Barbara, and Young and the Restless.
All My Children
In 1983, well before any other daytime show, All My Children introduced Donna Pescow as Lynn Carson, an openly lesbian therapist. The character didn’t last, but was the first out openly out character. In 2000, the show took the daring step of having Erica Kane’s (Susan Lucci) daughter Bianca (Eden Riegel) come out to her mother as a lesbian. She’s widely regarded as the first major lesbian character on daytime. Years later in 2006, Bianca fell in love with Zarf (Jeffrey Carlson) a glam rock star who presented as male. However, Zarf came out as Zoe, a transgender lesbian woman and became daytime’s first trans character. Bianca later met her girlfriend Reese Williams (Tamara Braun) and it was love at first sight. The couple became engaged in 2008 and married in 2009, making the wedding the first lesbian marriage on any soap opera. The role earned Riegel a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Younger Actress in 2005, and in 2004 a GLAAD Media Award for Favorite OUT Image.
As the World Turns
Hank Elliot (Brian Starcher) was the first male daytime character to come out as gay in 1988, revealing his partner Charles was dying of AIDS. The storyline earned the show honors at the first GLAAD Media Awards, but the character was quickly written off. However, the soap opera has the honor of having daytime’s first gay super couple. In 2007 Noah Mayer (Jake Silbermann) was introduced and immediately connected with and fell for Luke Snyder (Van Hansis).
The Bold and the Beautiful
In 2012 viewers were introduced to Karen Spencer (Joanna Johnson), the adoptive mother of Caroline Spencer (Linsey Godfrey) and co-owner of Spencer Publications, and her long-time partner Danielle Spencer (Crystal Chappell). Unfortunately, the couple was written out in 2013. The same year Kara Mosley joined The Bold and the Beautiful and was later revealed to be a transgender woman who had been keeping this a secret from everyone, including her lover Rick Forrester (Jacob Young). When the truth was revealed he stood by Maya and eventually married her. Later the couple had a daughter with the help of Maya’s sister Nicole (Reign Edwards) as a surrogate, though sadly their marriage didn’t last and Rick shockingly filed for divorce.
Days of our Lives
In 1977 Days of our Lives was the first daytime drama to introduce a non-heterosexual character. Sharon Duval (Sally Stark) was trapped in an unhappy marriage and admitted to her friend Julie Williams (Susan Seaforth-Hayes) that she was bisexual and was in love with her. The storyline irked NBC executives and was quickly abandoned. In 2001 the NBC soap opera introduced Harold Wentworth (Ryan Scott) who was the first openly gay character on the soap. He became entangled in one of Jack Deveraux’s (Matt Ashford) scams to win his ex-wife Jennifer (Melissa Reeves) back by pretending he was gay. In 2011 Freddie Smith debuted as Sonny Kiriakis, son of Justin (Wally Kurth) and Adrienne Kiriakis (Judi Evans), who returned to Salem an out and a proud gay man. A host of smaller roles were cast as Sonny’s dates and friends, but it was Will Horton (Chandler Massey) who caught his eye. Their friendship turned into a love affair leading to Will’s coming out. Their relationship had several complications, including the introduction of Sonny’s ex Paul Narita (Christopher Sean), who was involved with both Sonny and Will, Will’s murder, and eventual return with amnesia, which he overcame. Sonny and Will became the first gay couple, WilSon, on daytime to marry. Massey won three Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Younger Actor for the role in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and Smith won in the same category in 2015.
ABC’s General Hospital has a long history of tackling the HIV and AIDS crises, with the introduction of Stone Cates (Michael Sutton) in 1993, who was later diagnosed with HIV along with his partner Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough). The Nurses’ Ball, an annual event in Port Charles that raises awareness for HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment, came out of these storylines, as did the introduction of the character John Hanley (Lee Mathis) in 1994. He was an out gay activist who was also the co-chair of the Nurses’ Ball. Mathis himself was also HIV-positive and died in 1996. His off-screen death was mourned on the show. Years later Lucas Jones (Ryan Carnes), the adopted son of Tony Jones (Brad Maule) and Bobbie Spencer (Jacklyn Zeman), returned as a college student in 2005 and announced he was gay. He eventually entered into a love triangle with Felix DuBois (Marc Anthony Samuel) and Brad Cooper (Parry Shen). Lucas finally settled down and married Brad. In 2015, Lexi Ainsworth resumed the role of Kristina Corinthos-Davis, the daughter of Alexis Davis (Nancy Lee Grahn) and Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard). She revealed she had been suspended from college for offering sex to a professor in exchange for a better grade, but it later came to light the professor was female. Kristina struggled with her sexuality and has lately characterized herself as fluid. The actress won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Younger Actress in 2017 for the storyline. More recently the show has added transgender character Dr. Terry Randolph, played by trans actress Cassandra James, as a pediatric oncologist and childhood best friend of Elizabeth Webber (Rebecca Herbst).
Olivia Spencer (Crystal Chappell) and Jessica Leccia (Natalia Rivera Aitoro) were originally enemies, turned friends to close friends. Their relationship evolved very slowly and the couple became very popular due to their chemistry, though Natalia, a devout Catholic, and naive person, didn’t comprehend what was happening. When Olivia kissed Jessica for the first time, Jessica was unsettled. Olivia attempted to discuss her feelings with the other woman but Natalia had a difficult time facing her true romantic feelings for Olivia because of her value system and religious beliefs. As a result of her confused feelings, she had sex with Frank Cooper (Frank Dicopoulos) and regretted it. She tried praying and confessed to Olivia what happened. Knowing Jessica wasn’t ready, Olivia encouraged her to marry Frank. Jessica didn’t follow through but was ashamed of her feelings for Olivia. Eventually, they tried to establish a relationship. They expressed their love for each other but the story didn’t go far when Guiding Light was canceled.
One Life to Live
Seventeen-year-old high school senior Billy Douglas (Ryan Phillippe) moved to Llanview in the summer of 1992. Over the brief year he was on, the character’s struggle with his homosexuality included dealing with his homophobic parents, and a scandal involving a possibly gay minister. He was the first openly gay teen on daytime. In 2009, Kyle Lewis (Brett Claywell) was an out gay lab tech in Llanview who back in college had a relationship with Oliver Fish (Scott Evans). However, the relationship ended when Oliver rejected Kyle and insisted he was straight. Oliver went on to become a police officer who remained in the closet for some time before finally coming out and reuniting with Kyle.
Valerie Davis (Daphnée Duplaix) arrived in Harmony in 2004 and quickly ingratiated herself as an invaluable employee at Crane Industries where she worked with Chad Harris-Crane (Charles Divins) and began a relationship with Julian Crane (Ben Masters). Then in 2006 Vincent Clarkson (Phillip Jeanmarie) arrived in town and was the long lost son of Julian and Eve Russell (Tracey Ross), who Alistair Crane (John Reilly) had hidden away. Vincent was unstable from years of abuse and became a villain known as the Blackmailer and dressed in a costume that had male and female aspects. It was eventually revealed that Vincent, who had begun an affair with Chad, and Valerie were one and the same, and Vincent was intersex. While the storyline wasn’t the most positive, it introduced the first intersex character on daytime, as well as was the first soap opera to depict sex between two men.
Santa Barbara premiered on NBC in 1984, and the first episode contained a flashback to 1979 where viewers watched Channing Capwell Jr. (Robert Brian Wilson) attend a high society family party, only to be murdered in the second episode. The mystery encompassed much of the first year, and viewers were stunned when his killer and secret lover Lindsay Smith was revealed to be a man (Joel Bailey).
The Young and the Restless
In 1977, around the same time that Days of our Lives introduced its bisexual storyline, Katherine Chancellor (Jeanne Cooper) was mourning the death of her husband Phillip Chancellor II (Donnelly Rhodes). It was in the wake of his death she started to develop romantic feelings for her friend and roommate Joanne Curtis (Kay Heberle), and the two even shared an innocent on-screen kiss. It would be years before the show tackled another LGBTQ+ storyline with the introduction of Lawyer Rafe Torres (Yani Gellman) in 2008. He was the soap’s first openly gay male character and was seduced by Adam Newman (Michael Muhney) to distract Rafe from his evil deeds, though Adam has never identified as gay. When Thom Bierdz returned as Phillip Chancellor III in 2009, not only did he return from the dead, but he announced to his family he was gay. The character was eventually written off and moved to Australia. More recently, Mariah Copeland (Camryn Grimes) found herself conflicted in her feelings for singer, songwriter and con-woman Tessa Porter (Cait Fairbanks). Mariah eventually came out as a lesbian, and in time Tessa admitted her feelings for Mariah. The two are currently the only LGBTQ+ characters on the show.