The daytime drama "officially" launched in 1951, when “Search For Tomorrow” premiered on CBS TV. Though there were a few short lived serials which preceded “Search” it was this live drama, produced by Proctor and Gamble Productions, which turned out to be the first of these shows to capture a sizable audience. By the time “Search For Tomorrow” ended its 35 year run in 1986, not a single LGBT character had appeared in the fictional town of Henderson.
“All My Children,” which ran on ABC from 1970-2011, followed by a brief revival as an online series, earns the distinction of having the first LGBT identified character on a daytime soap opera. It was a short-term storyline, but it attracted a great deal of attention.
In 1983 AMC introduced Donna Pescow (Saturday Night Fever) as Lynn Carson, an openly lesbian therapist. Long time character Devon McFadden (Tricia Pursley), a single mom, comes to Lynn for counseling, and immediately develops a crush. Lynn rebuffs her. It wasn't much, but it was a start.
Five years later, fashion designer Hank Elliot (Brian Starcher) came out on CBS' “As the World Turns.” It was a plot twist, which startled many: “World Turns” was considered the most conservative of all the soaps at that time. During his tenure on the show, Hank dealt with the AIDS death of his lover (the vernacular of the period), who's family would not allow Hank to visit. Hank also took a bullet meant for another character – he survived and left town soon after.
It wasn't until nearly a decade later that soap fans got their first major gay storyline. “All My Children” took a second chance when the series cast hunky Chris Bruno as schoolteacher Michael Delaney. When Mr. Delaney comes out to his class, he inspires student Kevin Sheffield (Ben Monk) to also come out. This storyline aired in the immediate aftermath of Ellen DeGeneres' historic coming out, and so the AMC writers were willing to take chances.
Mr. Delaney was given a boyfriend (whom he never touched on camera), and viewers were given a hardcore lesson in homophobic hate. Parents in fictional Pine Valley PA tried to get Mr. Delaney fired, while Kevin's parents rejected him. Kevin's brother was driven into a psychotic rage by the outings, landing in jail after he shot a local TV host to death – he had intended to kill Mr. Delaney.
The intense storyline resonated with viewers, and in 2000, the “All My Children” writers took the biggest chance of all: they outed Bianca (Eden Riegel), the lesbian daughter of Erica Kane (daytime legend Susan Lucci), the show's leading lady. In a daytime TV first, diva Lucci publicly applauded Bianca's coming out. In interviews, Lucci said that she hoped the storyline would help real life teens to come out safely.
Bianca remained a major character on “All My Children” until the show ended its legendary network run. The character returned for its online revival. Through it all, Bianca enjoyed an active if complicated romantic life – her first onscreen kiss in 2003 made front page news. It was the first same-sex kiss in the history of daytime TV.
Like her straight counterparts, Bianca had a number of relationships and even married a woman. In 2006 she appeared in her most daring storyline: Bianca fell in love with Zarf (Jeffrey Carlson) a glam rock star who presented as male. Was Bianca turning straight?
But wait: in an unexpected plot twist, Zarf comes out as Zoe (also Carlson), a transgender woman. Bianca, who always remained true to her lesbian identity, picked up on Zoe's female energy. Zoe was daytime's first trans character.
In 1992, AMC sister soap “One Life To Live” crossed over into rainbow territory when the newly created teen character of Billy Douglas (Ryan Phillipe) was outed. An intense storyline involving homophobic backlash followed, culminating in Billy's mentor, kindly church pastor Rev. Andrew Krimmer, who was not gay, mourning the loss of his gay brother's death from AIDS.
The good reverend also chided his homophobic dad (Roy Thinnes) for turning his back on their deceased family member. The short-lived story arc culminated in a melodramatic speech in which Billy "announces" that he's gay. A visit to the AIDS memorial quilt follows. Billy Douglas was forgotten by the One Life writers soon after, though Rev. Carpenter made recurring appearances on the show for many years to come.
One of daytime's more disappointing gay storylines involved the return to the top-rated “The Young and Restless” of Thom Bierdz. The young actor had been a teen idol during his three year Y&R tenure during the 1980s. His character, Philip Chancellor III, was killed in a car accident when Bierdz chose to move on. In 2009 he was asked to return to the still popular soap. The once closeted actor, who had since come out quite proudly, agreed on condition that Philip be outed as well. The producers said yes.
It was explained on the show that Philip had faked his own death out of shame regarding his homosexuality and that he had had been living incognito in Australia for twenty years. His family forgave the deception, accepted him for who he was, then, nothing. The writers could not think of what to do with the now forty-ish Philip, who was soon sent packing, back to Australia. “The Young and the Restless” remains the straightest show on the daytime dial.
Y&R's sister show “The Bold and the Beautiful” has been far more courageous in its treatment of LGBT characters. Though a recently seen lesbian couple was short lived onscreen, the series has also outed glamorous fashion model Maya Avant (Karla Mosley) as transgender. In the boldest and most beautiful move of all, Scott Turner Schofield, a real life trans man, was cast as Nick, Maya's mentor. “The Bold and the Beautiful” has since seen an increase in its ratings, and has announced its intent to bring on a new character, a handsome, stylish gentleman who will be daytime's first bisexual character.
The once conservative “As the World Turns” changed course during the last five years of its 54 year run, when teenage Luke Snyder (Van Hansis) announced that he was gay. This was a bold move akin to Bianca's coming out on “All My Children” –Luke was the son of Lily and Damien, a supercouple from the show's past. When Luke fell in love with Noah Mayer (Jake Silbermann), daytime's first gay supercouple was born – in 2007 they became the first male couple to share an onscreen kiss on a soap.
Supercouples had become a staple of soap operas ever since Luke and Laura went on the run on “General Hospital” some three and a half decades ago. A supercouple is a popular onscreen romantic pairing which generates intense, almost fanatical viewer devotion. During the final few years of its run, Luke and Noah were the only couple on “As the World Turns” who were able to generate viewers and get press coverage for the series.
“Guiding Light” introduced a lesbian couple during the final year of its impressive 72 year run. When Olivia (Crystal Chappell) undergoes a heart transplant in 2008, she and Natalia (Jessica Leccia) went from being enemies to friends who rely on each other to soulmates. This may not have been what the GL writers originally intended, but viewers demanded it, and lesbian entertainment site After Ellen took up the cause. When Guiding Light ended in the Autumn on 2009, Olivia and Natalia were a stable, live in couple.
“Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns” was eventually overshadowed in 2011 when longtime “Days of Our Lives” character Will Horton (Chandler Massey, later Guy Wilson) came out as gay. He was soon paired romantically with Sonny (Freddie Smith). The hot looking couple were seen taking showers together and lounging in bed after sex. Viewers were titillated to say the least.
But the Days writers also dealt with bullying, hate crimes and anti-gay slurs. The couple also got married in a moving episode attended by family and friends.
To the heartbreak of millions, Freddie Smith recently opted not to renew his contract and has left the show.
Have we forgotten your favorite Queer soap characters? Let us know!