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10 LGBTQ Characters of Colour Who Are Bringing Much-Needed Diversity To Our Whitewashed TV Screens

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A few weeks back, GLAAD—the LGBT-focused media advocacy organization—found in their annual ‘Where We Are on TV’ report that, though 2015 saw a marked improvement in terms of LGBTQ visibility on American television, most of these queer characters were still lacking in racial diversity. It is true that, when we look to LGBT characters on the small screen, we mostly find them to be white; but despite this fact, there are shows, writers, and producers who are trying to challenge this hegemony and create well-rounded queer characters of colour who transcend stereotypes and are brilliantly representative. Here, I round up 10 such characters and shows:

Callie Torres, Grey’s Anatomy

Openly bisexual, and Hispanic, this beloved Grey’s Anatomy character’s journey from being confused about her sexuality to being confident and badass about it has inspired viewers for over a decade. So many of her emotional conflicts, from coming out to her conservative Catholic parents, to facing infidelity from her wife and raising her child single-handedly while balancing a flourishing medical career, are so real, relatable, and have been handled with great insight over the past few seasons. And now that the show is choosing to focus more on her individual achievements rather than unnecessary romantic subplots, her character arc is getting even more interesting.

Jamal Lyon, Empire

This show, which has been receiving huge critical acclaim since it aired for its greatly nuanced portrayal of the African-American community, gave American television one of its most complex and multidimensional Black gay characters in Jamal Lyon. Jamal’s struggles with homophobia seem so jarring and shocking, but are so brutally realistic. In one poignant scene, a flashback shows an adolescent Jamal dressing up in a skirt and heels and his homophobic father beating him up for it and then violently throwing him in a trashcan. His tussles with his father, who is vehemently opposed to Jamal’s sexuality even after he’s an adult, is a constant theme in the show, and paints a horrific picture of homophobic attitudes that still exist within many circles. Jamal channels his angst surrounding his sexuality in his music, as witnessed in the gifset above.

The Characters Of Orange Is The New Black


If there is one show that is a live example of the word “diversity”, it’s this. Orange is the New Black has characters (which are mostly women, cis or otherwise) from various different ethnic and cultural backgrounds—and nearly all of them are queer! You have black lesbians like Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, Poussey Washington and the biracial Brook Soso, black transwoman Sophia Bursett (played by trans activist Laverne Cox), and many more. These characters are multifaceted, relatable and completely devoid of stereotypes. In fact, the show has been praised immensely for its outstanding intersectional representation.

Kalinda Sharma, The Good Wife


Clad in her signature leather jacket and boots, the brilliantly bisexual Kalinda has been kicking major ass on The Good Wife for over six years now. Perhaps the only openly queer South Asian woman on American television, she is not just greatly competent at her job as the private investigator for a big law firm, but is also emotionally layered and struggles with the relationships in her life. Though not overtly stated, she appears to also be aromantic as she often refrains from forming an emotional bond with her sexual partners.

Mulan, Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time is famous for reimagining fairytales, folklore and myth with a modern twist. So, when Mulan (based on the Chinese mythological character Hua Mulan), was revealed to be lesbian and in love with Princess Aurora, it was truly a beautiful reimagination. Despite her romantic advances being thwarted, she joins Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men, a predominantly male domain, and proves herself to be a capable and superior marksman—and slays, both literally and figuratively.

The Characters Of Sense8

sense8 characters

Created by the Wachowski siblings (of The Matrix fame), Sense8 is another rare example of a show which gets its diversity spot on. The premise spans diverse countries and cultures, from countries like the US, Germany and Iceland to countries like Kenya, India, Mexico, and Korea. Hence, racial representation is a given. But, what this show does best, is portray queer people of colour with great sensitivity. We have the Mexican gay couple Lito and Hernando, and the African-American lesbian Amanita, who are complexly etched characters going through real experiences and situations. It deals with the conflicts of coming out and how that might affect one’s career, and addresses transphobic discrimination with remarkable verity.  Because of the show’s concept of characters sharing psychic links, it can afford to blur sexualities.

Ray Holt, Brooklyn Nine Nine

Though technically a “sitcom”, Brooklyn Nine Nine never panders to cheap laughs using outdated tropes and typified characters; and Ray Holt, the unreadable police captain, is the best thing about it. While he is absolutely hilarious with his deadpan one-liners, his sexuality never becomes the butt of the joke. In fact, he often draws upon his struggles of being an openly gay black cop during the 80s and the discrimination and various other hurdles he faced in order to rise up the professional ladder, which makes him a character that is not just funny, but also awe-inspiring. His relationship with his (white) psychiatrist husband is also beautifully portrayed, challenging many stereotypes usually seen in gay relationships, and interracial relationships, on television.

Lena Adams-Foster, The Fosters

Lena Adams Foster

This show, about the various challenges a lesbian couple faces in raising their foster kids, has yet another wonderful portrayal of an interracial same-sex relationship. Lena, the African-American vice-principal of a school, grapples with motherhood, racism and even homophobia. Her altruistic activism becomes a major focus in the show, and the constant thrust in her life is to save unloved kids and give them the support and care they deserve. She shows unconditional loyalty and fierce advocacy towards her son Jude when he comes out as gay.

Emily Field, Pretty Little Liars

Though this show recently faced criticism for the objectionable way in which it handled its trans storyline, its portrayal of lesbian teen Emily, of mixed Korean and Filipino descent, has always been well-rounded and on point. Emily’s conflicts about coming out and facing homophobic opposition from her parents echoes experiences nearly every immigrant LGBT teen has had to face.

 Mason Hewitt and Danny Mahealani, Teen Wolf

Untitled design

This is another show that nails its representation, with stereotype-free female characters, non-white characters and LGBT characters. It has two very interesting queer characters of colour—the first being Danny Mahealani, of Native American descent and the other, Mason Hewitt, of African-American descent. Though Danny’s arc on the show was brief, Mason received a lot of screen time and an important plot-driven role to play in the current season. His friendship with newly-turned werewolf Liam requires a special mention: not only is it intricately layered, but also challenges the stigma against enduring close platonic friendships between straight and gay men on television.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are other great queer TV characters of colour out there who I couldn’t include here due to paucity of space, like Titus Andromedon from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or Santana Lopez from Glee, or even, Oliver Hampton from How to Get Away With Murder. These characters reaffirm our faith in racially diverse  LGBT representation on TV, even though we still have a long way to go until queer people of colour are everywhere on our screens.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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