11 Times Straight and/or Cisgender Actors Played LGBT Television Roles

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Transparent - Jeffrey Tambor and Alexandra Billings

Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Back before he was accused of sexual harassment by colleagues of his on Transparent, Tambor led the Amazon dramedy as “moppa” Maura Pfefferman. Despite having a cisgender actor at the lead for its first four seasons, however, the show boasts talent throughout its cast, crew, and writing staff.

ABC/Eric McCandless

Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family

Stonestreet, who’s straight in real life, plays the gay Cameron Mitchell on this ABC hit. And out gay actor Noah Galvin told Vulture in 2016 that he thinks the flamboyant character is “a caricature of a caricature of a stereotype of [a] stereotype.”

ABC/Richard Cartwright

Jessica Capshaw, Grey’s Anatomy

As Dr. Arizona Robbins on Grey’s Anatomy, Capshaw played one of the most high-profile gay characters on American television. “I never would have imagined that I would be able to play a character that would feel like it does so much good,” she told Yahoo! Lifestyle in 2017. (Arizona’s longtime love interest, Dr. Callie Torres, was portrayed by Sara Ramirez, who publicly came out as bisexual in 2016.)

FOX via Getty Images

Dot Jones, Glee

Coach Beiste came out as a trans man in the final season of this FOX musical dramedy, with cis actress Dot Jones telling The Advocate, “The last thing I want to do is disrespect anybody in what I’m portraying.”

Vanessa Ray in ABC Family's 'Pretty Little Liars' - Season Three
Ron Tom/ABC Family via Getty images

Vanessa Ray, Pretty Little Liars

This Freeform series courted controversy by revealing that the cyberbully “A” was actually trans character CeCe Drake — not just because the role was played by cis actor Vanessa Ray but because it “tapped into the old horror trope of killer characters with gender dysphoria,” as The Advocate pointed out.

Chloë Sevigny, Hit & Miss
Sky Atlantic

Chloë Sevigny, Hit & Miss

The casting of a cisgender woman as a trans female assassin for this British drama was beguiling to many, including Sevigny herself. “I was wondering why they didn’t want to cast a man or a real transgender person, and I guess they’d met with a lot of people and it didn’t work out,” the actress told The Guardian in 2012.

Will & Grace - Season 2
Chris Haston/NBC

Eric McCormack, Will & Grace

“I think it wasn’t a terrible thing in 1998 that a straight guy played the role,” this actor told The Sydney Morning Herald in November, reflecting on playing gay Will Truman in this NBC hit. “But I’m glad that times are changing, and I’m glad that nowadays a Will Truman would probably be cast with someone who is gay.”


Gale Harold, Queer as Folk

In a 2014 interview with HuffPost, Harold said he deflected speculation about his real-life sexuality while playing the gay Brian Kinney on this Showtime drama: “I’m straight, but the character was too important to me to muddle his world with my private life.”


Daniela Sea, The L Word

Vanity Fair explains that Showtime’s The L Word reduced this cisgender actress’s character to a negative stereotype of the transgender experience, portraying trans man Max Sweeney as “an abusive, compulsive cheater left pregnant and alone after struggling with the ‘really serious irreversible procedure’ of sex reassignment surgery.”

Christopher Meloni - Oz

Christopher Meloni, Oz

In 2014 interview with The Advocate, Meloni explained the importance of playing the too-rare combination of bisexual and masculine as Chris Keller on this HBO drama: “I got a lot of letters and had personal meetings where gay men of a certain age, usually men slightly older than me, let me know how important seeing that character was to them.”

Freeform/Eric McCandless

Hayden Byerly, The Fosters

Byerly, a straight actor, had the distinction of playing the youngest gay character to kiss on national television as Jude Adams Foster on this Freeform drama. “I’m unbelievably honored that I was allowed to be a part of history, to make such a change and to do something so big and new in the entertainment industry,” he said in a Tiger Beat interview this June.

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After playing gay characters in Glee and American Crime Story, Darren Criss recently announced he’ll avoid queer roles in the future, saying he doesn’t want to be “another straight boy taking a gay man’s role.”

That vow is the just the latest volley in the debate about representation in Hollywood. Cate Blanchett recently said she’d “fight to the death” for the right to play roles beyond her experience; and before she backed out of a transgender role in Rub & Tug, Scarlett Johansson sent a snarky response to critics who said the role should have gone to a trans actor.

But Criss is raising an important issue. For all the straight actors playing LGB characters and cisgender actors playing trans characters, too few out LGB actors get to play straight and too few out trans actors get to play cis.

Click through the gallery above for just some of the TV roles that have contributed to the imbalance, including a few that sparked major controversy.