Courageous and outrageous, humorous and heartwarming, these stories and characters helped bring LGBT characters into peoples’ homes, changing their minds and opening their hearts.
The Night Shift – “Coming Home”
With most gay characters now being introduced as openly gay, actual coming out stories, where coming out is the driver of the plot, are becoming rare. One recent story that sparked passions among TheBacklot readers was that of Dr. Drew Alster (Brendan Fehr) on the summer replacement series The Night Shift. Drew was introduced as a closeted doctor and Army reservist working at a hospital in central Texas. Plagued by fears that being known as “the gay one” could hamper both his military and his medical careers, Drew at first decides to remain closeted, but in the first few episodes he quietly comes out to first a male colleague then a female co-worker, who tackily suggests they serve as each others’ beards.
An anticipated reunion in “Coming Home” with boyfriend Captain Rick Lincoln (Luke Macfarlane) turns tragic when Rick’s transport is wrecked and he and several members of his unit are transported to Drew’s hospital for treatment; Rick initially respects Drew’s wishes to remain closeted. Upon learning that he is likely to lose a leg and shaken by the death of one of his men he reaches for Drew’s hand. Drew instinctively draws away. Drew’s female friend calls him on his behavior and as Rick is wheeled into surgery, Drew chases after his gurney and pulls him into an embrace and sweet kiss in front of hospital staff and troops alike.
Many TBL readers called Drew and his story out, calling the idea of being closeted in 2014 cowardly and a retreat to gay stories of the 1990s. Others noted that despite progress in recent years it is still difficult to be openly gay either in the military or in rural Texas and that Drew has the right to be in or out on his own timetable. Adding fuel to the fire was an interview from Fehr in which he was quoted as being “petrified” of playing gay (despite having played a gay-for-pay hustler in the 2004 film Sugar). Fehr eventually clarified in an interview with our own Jim Halterman that he loves playing Drew and is proud of the work he’s done on both the gay and the non-gay aspects of the character.
The Night Shift will return for a second season in 2015 and Fehr has confirmed that we will see more of Drew’s relationship with Rick as he adjusts to life as an amputee.
Make It or Break It – “What Lies Beneath”
TBL favorite Joshua Bowman joined this ABC Family series about aspiring gymnasts as Max in 2011 for six episodes. He quickly falls into a love triangle with two women. Unable to deal with his conflicting emotions, he takes solace in a bottle. He is discovered by his teammate Austin (Zane Holtz). They talk through Max’s situation and after a few minutes Max kisses Austin. Austin calmly asks what just happened. Max sheepishly replies that it was a kiss, because he wanted to kiss Austin. Austin asks if Max is gay and Max comes out as bisexual. The friends discuss what happened calmly and rationally for several more minutes. it’s an extraordinary scene and not just because it’s one of a very few that acknowledge and affirm bisexual identity.
Sadly for fans of bisexual male gymnasts but happily for fans for camp-fueled vengeance demons, this was Max’s last on-screen appearance. Through a series of letters the show establishes that he had entered into and subsequently ended a relationship with one of the women from the original triangle. Bowman moved over to Revenge, playing the evil but kinda dumb baby tycoon Daniel Grayson. Revenge did maintain the number of TV’s bisexual guys by including Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann), a self-described perfect 3 on the Kinsey scale.
Trauma – “Masquerade”
This short-lived 2009 series followed the lives of EMTs in San Francisco, including Tyler Briggs (Kevin Rankin), who had drifted through jobs in several cities before settling in SF three years earlier. In the episode “Masquerade“, Tyler volunteers himself and his partner Boone (Derek Luke) to work in the Castro, San Francisco’s gay neighborhood, on Halloween. Boone is homophobic despite being a long-time city resident, vocally disapproving of a man giving out candy to trick-or-treaters while in drag and reacting violently when a man touches him on the street.
After treating one half of a gay couple following an explosion at a club, Boone remarks that they act like an old married couple, to which Tyler replies that they are an old married couple. Boone then compares the revelers to Sodom and Gomorrah and says “Sin kills.” Tyler tells him, “I didn’t see any sinners here tonight. I saw people, just trying to live. You know these streets were full tonight with people who were beat up when they were a kid for being gay. Kicked out of their house, disowned by their parents at fourteen, and just knowing that a place like this existed…there was a better alternative to offin’ yourself because you can’t change who you are. That is why they come here. That’s why I came here.” Boone initially has no response but at episode’s end he’s cleaning the ambulance, a job he normally leaves to Tyler, as a show of respect.
It’s an amazingly powerful scene that touches on how gay people who may have been deprived of the families of their birth forge new families within the community. It also addresses in a subtle fashion the role that religion can play in how African Americans might perceive homosexuality (Boone is African American) and, along with later interactions between the partners in later episodes, demonstrates how when we come out to others they have their own coming out process. Boone didn’t instantly, unquestioningly come to terms with Tyler’s sexuality but grew to understand and accept it over the remainder of the season.
Happy Endings – “Mein Coming Out”
TBL readers drew Happy Endings‘ Max Blum (Adam Pally) to our collective bosom from the moment he first appeared on-screen. Snarky “regular gay” Max was a refreshing change of pace in the portrayal of gay characters, talking about his hookups and guys he found attractive exactly the same way his straight counterparts do.
So how can a gay character that together not be out to his folks? For the same reason a lot of us probably weren’t, because he’s afraid of how they might react. He’s also afraid that they’ll start fixing him up with their friends’ single daughters so he has Penny (Casey Wilson) act as his beard when they’re in town. When she can’t make it one night, first Jane (Eliza Coupe) and then Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) steps in. Hijinks inevitably ensue and Max finally comes out. His parents are completely accepting and immediately suggest several of their friends’ gay sons to fix him up with. Dave (Zachary Knighton), whom they think is gay (because Max told them he was after they found Max’s gay porn stash under his mattress), rescues him by posing as his boyfriend.