In honor of Pride Month, TODAY is hitting rewind to review the most important pop culture moments from more than five decades of LGBTQ history.
All hail ‘The Queen’
“The Queen” is released and becomes a cult classic, widely considered a time capsule of queer life from that time period. The documentary featured old-school drag performers competing in a pageant that was judged by, among others, Andy Warhol.
A spark to ignite a movement
June 28, 1969
Considered the watershed moment that began the movement for LGBTQ equality, bar patrons rioted following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay watering hole in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City.
1st New York City Pride March is held
June 28, 1970
Initially called the Christopher Street Liberation Day, this march marked the first anniversary of the riots at Stonewall and was the first gay pride event ever.
‘Judging Books by Covers’
Feb. 9, 1971
During its fifth episode, titled “Judging Books by Covers," "All in the Family" becomes the first sitcom ever to feature a gay character on television. Despite Archie Bunker’s (Carroll O'Connor) use of gay slurs throughout the episode, its reversal of stereotypes is revered as groundbreaking for its time.
1st gay character on TV
Short-lived ABC sitcom “The Corner Bar” includes the first recurring gay character on American television, Peter Panama, played by Vincent Schiavelli.
June 25, 1978
Gilbert Baker designs and unveils the first rainbow pride flag at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day.
‘To thine own self be true’
May 1, 1981
Billie Jean King becomes the first prominent professional female athlete to publicly come out after her former lover outed her during a lawsuit for palimony. “I said: ‘I’m going to do it. I don't care. This is important to me to tell the truth.’” King told NBC News in 2017 of her outing. “The one thing my mother always said, ‘To thine own self be true.’”
The beginning of AIDS
July 3, 1981
The New York Times publishes its first article about AIDS, headlined “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.” That account heralded the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which 40 years later has resulted in over 75 million HIV infections and 32 million deaths worldwide, according to the CDC.
Not your Madonna's 'Vogue'
Sept. 13, 1990
“Paris Is Burning” is released. This groundbreaking documentary captures the lives and times of LGBTQ New Yorkers and ball culture, and it shows the hopes, dreams, struggles and realities of what it was like to live it. In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
1st same-sex wedding on TV
Oct. 20, 1991
The Fox sitcom “Roc” breaks ground as the first show to air a gay wedding on television.
The lesbian kiss episode
Feb. 7, 1991
“L.A. Law” airs the first kiss between two people of the same sex on primetime television. It inadvertently starts a lamentable television craze known as “the lesbian kiss episode” where a character of little importance kisses another woman with little plot development.
On the streets of ‘Philadelphia’
Dec. 14, 1993
One of the first mainstream Hollywood films to acknowledge HIV/AIDS and homophobia, “Philadelphia,” is released. A few months later, Tom Hanks nabs his first Oscar for the film.
A new era in the depiction of gay life
“Angels in America,” a two-part play written by Tony Kushner, tackles politics, religion and AIDS from a LGBTQ point of view. In 1993, it opened on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It went on to be made into an HBO miniseries featuring Meryl Streep and Al Pacino in 2005.
‘Yes I Am’
Melissa Etheridge comes out publicly at the Triangle Ball in Washington, D.C., in January 1993, saying, “I'm very proud to have been a lesbian all my life.” Later that year, Etheridge released “Yes I Am,” the pivotal album that put her in the national spotlight. “My music was personal, and people were figuring out who I was, so it was going to happen,” she told TODAY.
‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
March 1, 1994
ABC initially refuses to air “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” an episode of “Roseanne” that featured a lesbian kiss. After the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD launched a successful campaign to ensure the airing of the controversial episode, ABC relented and it aired to approximately 30 million viewers.
1st openly gay actor playing a gay character
Aug. 25, 1994
Beloved series “My So-Called Life” features actor Wilson Cruz in the role of Rickie Vasquez, making him the first openly gay actor to play a gay character in a leading role on an American television series. "He was somebody who was demanding to be seen," Cruz told TODAY. "And he was doing that for everybody who saw themselves in him.”
‘The Real World’ gets really real
June 30, 1994
The third season of the iconic MTV reality series "The Real World" becomes notable for profiling housemate Pedro Zamora's struggle with AIDS and homophobia. The season is also historic for featuring the first-ever same-sex commitment ceremony on television, between Zamora and his partner, Sean Sasser.
Ain't life a drag?
June 9, 1995
“Wigstock: The Movie” is released, credited for bringing the art of drag into the national spotlight before anything else. A concert documentary profiling the outdoor festival of the same name in New York City’s Tompkins Square Park, the film is a who’s-who of ’90s drag, featuring performers Lady Bunny, Lypsinka, Jackie Beat, Alexis Arquette, Candis Cayne, Leigh Bowery and RuPaul.
‘Seasons of Love’
April 29, 1996
“Rent” opens on Broadway. The musical addressed very critical issues of the time including the HIV/AIDS epidemic, drug use and sex work. It later won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and became one of the longest-running musicals in the history of the Great White Way.
‘The One with the Lesbian Wedding’
Jan. 18, 1996
One of the most popular sitcoms of all time, “Friends” features a lesbian wedding of two supporting characters, Carol (Jane Sibbett) and Susan (Jessica Hecht). Titled "The One with the Lesbian Wedding,” the bride did not kiss the other bride at the end, making the wedding a little less than realistic for viewers.
Lashes and heels and wigs... oh my!
Sept. 8 1996
The film “To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar!” is released. The Stephen Spielberg-backed project tells the story of three drag queens — Noxeema, Chi-Chi and Vida, played by Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo and Patrick Swayze respectively — who take off on a cross-country adventure to participate in a huge drag pageant, stopping in a small homophobic town where they teach the locals about love and acceptance. Having grossed more than $47 million worldwide and snatching the No. 1 spot at the box office for its first two weeks in theaters, the film sashayed its way into the hearts of America.
‘Yep, I’m Gay’
In perhaps one of the most famous coming-out announcements of all time, Ellen DeGeneres comes out on the cover of Time magazine, and her TV character becomes the first leading character to come out on a primetime network television show.
Just Jack… and Karen and 'Will & Grace'
Sept. 21, 1998
“Will & Grace” debuts on NBC, seamlessly bringing two gay series regular characters into the living rooms of America. The series goes on to air for eight years, win 16 Emmys and becomes part of NBC's highly-successful "Must See TV" lineup on Thursday nights. In 2012 on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” then Vice President Joe Biden said, “I think ‘Will & Grace’ probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.”
May 24, 2000
In an episode titled "True Love," Jack McPhee (Kerr Smith) and his boyfriend Ethan (Adam Kauffman) lock lips passionately, making "Dawson's Creek" the first show ever to depict a kiss between two men on American primetime television.
A queer cultural phenomenon
Dec. 3, 2000
“Queer as Folk” begins airing on Showtime. Based on the U.K version of the same name, the American series tells the story of five gay men and was lauded for its sincere depiction of the LGBTQ community, quickly making it one of the most watched shows on Showtime.
‘New Moon Rising’
May 2, 2000
Always championing the outsider, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” elated fans when Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) came out during an episode titled “New Moon Rising.” Her subsequent relationship with Tara Maclay (Amber Benson) on the series paved new ground, making “Buffy” the first show to develop an accurate and evolved lesbian relationship between two main characters.
'I'm a dyke!'
Rosie O'Donnell comes out during a benefit event for Ovarian Cancer Research, stating, “I’m a dyke!” The next month, the award-winning talk show host opened up about her sexuality to Diane Sawyer for ABC News.
'All things just keep getting better'
July 15, 2003
Bravo debuts a new makeover show called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” which unites heterosexual men and the queer community in ways never seen before on television. The show became a ratings success and won an Emmy for outstanding reality program.
Putting lesbians at the center
Jan. 18, 2004
Between 2004 and 2009, Showtime gained an army of devoted fans thanks to the success of “The L Word,” which became television’s first drama centered on lesbian characters.
'I wish I knew how to quit you'
Dec. 9, 2005
Based on a 1997 award-winning short story of the same name, “Brokeback Mountain” depicts the intense decadeslong relationship between cowboy Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and farmhand Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), who fall in love in the mountains of Wyoming in 1963 while tending sheep. The film received eight nominations and won three Oscars at the 2006 awards ceremony and is widely considered to be the quintessential queer movie for its portrayal of universal love.
'I'm more liberated'
Lance Bass, former 'NSync singer, came forward with his sexual orientation to People magazine for the cover of its August 2006 issue. "The thing is, I’m not ashamed — that’s the one thing I want to say," Bass told the magazine of his decision to come out. "I don't think it's wrong, I'm not devastated going through this. I'm more liberated and happy than I’ve been my whole life. I'm just happy."
1st openly transgender actress playing a transgender character
After appearing in beloved queer films like “Wigstock” and “To Wong Foo,” Candis Cayne stars in the ABC series “Dirty Sexy Money,” making her the first transgender actress to play a recurring transgender character on primetime television.
Rachel Maddow becomes the first openly gay anchor to host a major primetime news show in the United States.
Start your engines…
Feb. 2, 2009
“RuPaul's Drag Race” premieres on Logo. Snatching numerous awards and spawning countless international iterations across the globe, the series became a worldwide phenomenon and the most influential piece of LGBT pop culture in the 21st century.
A high note
May 19, 2009
Fox debuts “Glee,” a musical comedy-drama that focuses on a high school glee club. Over the course of the show’s six seasons, the group members deal with social issues, especially regarding race, sexuality, gender identity and relationships. The show is a commercial success for Fox and wins several awards.
'No matter gay, straight or bi'
Feb. 11, 2011
Lady Gaga releases the song “Born This Way,” widely regarded as an LGBTQ anthem for its message of self-empowerment. The song debuted at number on the Billboard 100, and was notably performed during her Super Bowl LI halftime show in 2017.
'I feel like a free man'
July 4, 2012
Frank Ocean publishes an open letter on his Tumblr that addresses the queer themes in his lyrics, saying, "I don't know what happens now, and that's alright. I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore… I feel like a free man." His coming out was a game-changing moment for the hip hop industry, with Jay-Z, Tyler, the Creator and Russell Simmons all immediately announcing their support for the hip-hop superstar.
The Transgender Tipping Point
An actress in “Orange Is the New Black,” Laverne Cox becomes the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. A month later, she became the first trans person to be nominated for an Emmy.
Call her Caitlyn
Part of one of the most families on television, Caitlyn Jenner introduces herself on the cover of Vanity Fair. A few months prior, the Olympian and reality TV star came out as transgender in an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer.
June 26, 2015
Obergefell v. Hodges is a landmark civil rights case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the United States Constitution.
You’re a winner, baby!
RuPaul wins his first Emmy for best reality host, bringing drag into the mainstream just in time for the ninth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” now on VH1.
And the award goes to...
Feb. 26, 2017
“Moonlight” makes Oscars history, becoming the first LGBT-themed film to win best picture during a memorable awards ceremony.
1st gender non-binary character on TV
Feb. 19, 2017
The season two premiere of “Billions” introduces television’s first gender non-binary character Taylor Mason, played by Asia Kate Dillon, an actor who identifies as non-binary. Dillon’s performance earned them a Critics' Choice Television Award nomination in 2017.
Gay teenage romance
March 16, 2018
While previous films included gay characters, “Love, Simon” becomes the first film by a major Hollywood studio to focus on a gay teenage romance.
Strike a ‘Pose’
June 3, 2018
Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals, “Pose” makes television history by featuring the largest cast of transgender actors as series regulars.
Feb. 7, 2018
A reboot of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” comes to Netflix, simply called “Queer Eye.” A new and more diverse Fab Five help help deserving subjects achieve their dreams, making for a binge worthy and tear jerking global phenomenon.
Disney Channel history
Feb. 8, 2019
In the season three episode titled “One in a Minyan,” Cyrus Goodman (Joshua Rush) comes out, making “Andi Mack” the first series on Disney Channel to feature a gay main character.
'Some of y'all already know'
On the last day of LGBTQ Pride Month 2019, rapper Lil Nas X comes out as gay, tweeting, "Some of y'all already know, some of y'all don't care, some of y'all not gone fwm no more." The performer — who shot to stardom with the country-rap hit "Old Town Road," which held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a record-breaking 19 weeks — became one of the most influential out performers in the music industry.
10s, 10s, 10s across the board!
Sept. 20, 2019
Billy Porter wins the Emmy for lead actor in a drama series for his portrayal of Pray Tell in “Pose,” becoming the first openly gay man to win in that category.
'Life is not short until it is'
Jan. 22, 2021
Singer, dancer, actor and YouTube personality Jojo Siwa comes out as LGBTQ after alluding to it on social media. With an audience primarily consisting of younger fans, her coming out is revered and lauded by queer advocates who applaud her decision to come out and the way she did it. "I know that everyone's situation is different and it might be harder for some people and it might be easier for some people to come out or to be themselves but I think coming out has this stigma around it — that it's a really, really scary thing, but it's not anymore," she said the week after she came out. "Life is not short until it is."