14 Most Memorable Gay Characters Played By Non-Gay Actors

Taye Diggs is making his theater comeback, playing a gay character in the hit Broadway musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Diggs joins a select list of Black actors who have played gay characters on the big and small screen. Flip through for some of our favorite gay and lesbian portrayals on TV and film.

Taylor Lewis Mar, 03, 2015

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Ten years after playing in the film adaptation of Rent, Taye Diggs is prepping for his upcoming musical stint on Broadway as the title role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Beginning July 22, Diggs will play Hedwig, a gay man who undergoes a sex reassignment surgery in order to marry his boyfriend. He will be the sixth superstar playing Hedwig—but the first Black man to reprise the role.

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Making her long-overdue return to the small screen, Phylicia Rashad has landed a starring role on the new Ava DuVeryay-directed CBS drama For Justice in which she will portray Georgina Howe, a gay woman working in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division who must learn to navigate both the racism and homophobia that she must face in the workplace. We'll be counting down the days until the pilot premieres!

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During his "Fresh Prince" days, Will Smith played Paul, based on the real-life openly gay con artist David Hampton who scammed New Yorkers by posing as the son of Sidney Poitier. It was rumored that Smith was supposed to kiss his co-star Anthony Michael Hall, but he bowed out because he didn't want to "gross out" his fans. 

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We couldn't forget this duo's memorable portrayal of Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather in their recurring In Living Color sketch about two flamboyant men offering their opinions on current pop culture. The skit received some backlash for the pair's stereotypical portrayal of gay men.

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In what was perhaps the most memorable role of her career, Whoopi Goldberg played Celie, an abused, resilient woman in the 1985 hit movie. When she reaches her breaking point, she finds solace and passion in her husband's mistress: Shug Avery (Margaret Avery). Their passionate affair ultimately gave Celie the strength to leave her abusive husband (and scored Goldberg an Oscar nomination for Best Actress).

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In To Wong Foo, Welsey Snipes steps into the shoes of Noxeema Jackson, a drag queen who is gearing up for the Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant. Things take a wrong turn when Noxeema and her drag queen friends wind up stranded in a small, racist and homophobic town.

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Playing the savior and the street-smart mastermind, Queen Latifah portrayed the loyal Cleo Sim, who always had her girlfriends' best interests at heart.

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In this critically-acclaimed film, Whitaker plays Jody, a kidnapped soldier. He befriends his captor and convinces him to contact his girlfriend should something happen to him. His kidnapper later discovers that his girlfriend is actually a trans woman.

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The critically-acclaimed HBO miniseries weaves the tale of the 1980s AIDS crisis through the eyes of multiple characters, one of whom is Belize (Jeffrey Wright), a nurse devoted to caring for his AIDS-stricken friend. Originally written as a play, Wright also starred in the on-stage version.

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Ejiofor quite literally steps into the shoes of a drag queen in this 2005 movie playing Lola, an unapologetic drag queen who partners with a shoe designer to help design heels that can support the weight of he and his fellow performers. The movie was later turned into a Broadway musical starring Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola.

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Ellis plays Lafayette, a chef, medium and flamboyant gay man. When Luke Grimes, who played Lafayette's lover, quit the show (reportedly because he was uncomfortable playing a gay character), Ellis had a few words for the actor. "You quit your job because you don’t want to play a gay part?" he said. "You make a big statement when you go. You just made a statement, and it has ripple effects."

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Playing one of the most complex characters on The Wire, Williams portrays Omar Devon Little, a gay criminal whose moral compass is somewhat straighter than his fellow characters. His homosexuality—and boyfriends—were never ignored throughout the course of the show.

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Pinkett-Smith starred alongside Eva Mendes in this female-centric flick, which follows around a group of girlfriends. She plays Alex Fisher, a lesbian feminist author who happens to be in love with Mendes' character. "I play a lesbian, which is fantastic," she told the Huffington Post in 2008. "And I got to be in love with Eva Mendes, which is even more fantastic."

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We're introduced to Brandon T. Jackson's character, Alpa Chino, a womanizing rapper, almost immediately, but it isn't long before we find out that he is a closeted gay man in love with someone named Lance. In January, Kevin Hart revealed that he was offered the role, but he didn't feel comfortable playing a gay character.