Emmy Awards’ long, potted LGBTQ+ history – and all the major achievements and memorable moments

Dan Levy at the Emmys (L), Ellen DeGeneres winning an Emmy (C) and Laverne Cox at the 2019 Emmys (R).

It’s that time of the year again when the Primetime Emmy Awards will acknowledge the crème de la crème of American television across a range of categories.

This year there are several LGBTQ+ shows nominated, such as Euphoria and Yellowjackets, alongside many LGBTQ+ actors ready to sweep up trophies.

As we look forward to another year of exciting television action, and hopefully another successful year for the LGBTQ+ community, we look back at some of the most memorable queer moments in Emmy Awards history.

Ellen DeGeneres dedicating her only Primetime Emmy Award to gay teens

Ellen DeGeneres is well known as one of the first openly gay people to come out in Hollywood. The impact this had on the industry was solidified after she was awarded a Primetime Emmy in 1997 for outstanding writing for a comedy series for her episode of Ellen, “The Puppy Episode”.

The two-part episode followed lead character Ellen Morgan who comes out as a lesbian and symbolises Ellen’s own journey of publicly coming out.

In her acceptance speech DeGeneres said: “I accept this on behalf of all the people, especially the teenagers, who think there is something wrong with them because they are gay. There is nothing wrong with you and don’t let anybody make you feel ashamed of who you are.”

Ellen has since won the most Daytime Emmy’s in the best talk show category for The Ellen DeGeneres Show but, despite 16 nominations, has yet to receive another Primetime Emmy.

Will & Grace blazing trails at Emmy Awards 

The hit comedy series Will & Grace made history after becoming the first primetime TV series to include openly gay lead characters on US television.

It shot to popularity when it first came out in 1998 and its boundary breaking and comedic brilliance was rewarded after it won an Emmy for its second season in 2000.

During the acceptance speech, the show’s openly gay creator Max Mutchnick joked about the Emmy: “She is so beautiful and as a gay man I cannot believe that I am saying this but I think I finally met a girl I want to sleep with.”

He finished the speech saying: “A deep and heartfelt thanks to the members of the Academy. This award really indicates a whole new meaning to the phrase acceptance speech.”

In fact it completely swept up in that year’s Emmys with Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes winning outstanding supporting actress and actor in a comedy series, respectively.

The comedy series has gone onto receive 96 nominations and win a grand total of 18 Emmys.

Cherry Jones winning for the lesbians everywhere

Actor Cherry Jones became one of the first openly lesbian actresses to win in a major category during the 2009 Emmy Awards.

She scooped up the best supporting actress in a drama series after playing president Allison Taylor in 24.

Jones went onto win two more Creative Arts Emmy’s, for her roles as a guest actor in Handmaid’s Tale in 2019 and in Succession in 2020. This was also a groundbreaking win making her the first ever actor to win the same award consecutively for two different shows.

Laverne Cox breaks down barriers for trans people

Laverne Cox attends the 71st Emmy Awards. (Dan MacMedan/WireImage)

Laverne Cox attends the 71st Emmy Awards. (Dan MacMedan/WireImage)

Of course what would this list be without Laverne Cox who made waves after being the first ever openly transgender person to be nominated for an acting Emmy in 2014.

She was put forward for her role as Sophia Burset in Netflix’ Orange is the New Black and told Time after her nomination: “I was told many times that I wouldn’t be able to have a mainstream career as an actor because I’m trans, because I’m Black, and here I am, and it feels really good.”

Although Cox is yet to win an Emmy she also made headlines after using her fashion to promote trans rights during to 2019 Emmy Awards. She brought a purse which highlighted a key vote around employment rights for LGBTQ+ people.

Sarah Paulson being wholesome as usual

Sarah Paulson finally landed herself an Emmy for lead actress in a limited series for her performance as Marcia Clark in The People vs OJ Simpson in 2016.

Of course, during her acceptance speech she gave out many thanks, including to her partner and fellow actor, Holland Taylor, saying: “Holland Taylor, I love you.”

Paulson later told The Guardian about that moment saying: “I wanted to say ‘I love you’ to the person I love. Everyone else does it, so should I not do it because the person I love is a woman?”

Speaking about the shoutout, Taylor told the US show Today: “I didn’t know she was gonna do that but the thing about Sarah is, long before she is a brilliant actor, she is a real wonderful stand-up person of great quality and she stands on the right side of history.”

RuPaul making Emmy Awards herstory

Drag Race icon RuPaul made Emmy history in 2021 after becoming the most-awarded Black artist in Emmy history.

The award that tipped him over the top was winning an an executive producer on RuPaul’s Drag Race which had previously broken records after best reality competition program and best reality host went to the same show.

In RuPaul’s acceptance speech, he said: “Thanks to all of our lovely children on our show, from around the world. They are so gracious to tell their stories of courage and how to navigate this difficult life, even more difficult today. This is for you.

“For you kids out there watching, you have a tribe that is waiting for you. We are waiting for you, baby. Come home to Mama Ru!”

Lena Waithe being iconic, as per usual

Actor and writer Lena Waithe made history at the Emmys after becoming the first-ever Black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy series.

Waithe won the Emmy for co-writing the episode of Aziz Ansari’s series Master of None, titled “Thanksgiving”. Much like DeGeneres, this episode explored Waithe’s character, Denise, as she navigated her sexuality as a lesbian.

In her empowering acceptance speech Waithe said: “My LGBQTIA family, I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers,

“Every day when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world. Because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.”

Waithe even gave a shoutout to her girlfriend, adding: “I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t shout her out and tell her how much I love her. She’s what keeps me grounded.”

Carl Clemons-Hopkins stunned with their epic non-binary outfit


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The 2021 Emmys were a scene of many magical moments, including Carl Clemons-Hopkins becoming the first non-binary actor to be nominated for outstanding supporting actor.

And to add to the iconic moment, Clemons-Hopkins wore a bespoke outfit by Christian Siriano as an homage to the non-binary pride flag.

Speaking about the inspiration behind the design Siriano said: “Carl wanted to represent the non-binary colours, which is why I felt the belt was just the right amount of representation.

“It was an honour to create this look for Carl and it will definitely go down as one of my most memorable looks that really has a meaningful purpose behind it.”

Billy Porter making Emmy Awards history for gay Black men

Billy Porter’s Netflix series Pose, which follows the LGBTQ+ African and Latino ballroom culture in the ’80s and ’90s, was one of the most culturally important shows in recent years.

Although Pose was let down by the Emmy Awards, failing to win any of the major categories it was nominated for in 2021, Porter did make Emmy history in 2019 when he became the first-ever openly gay Black man to win outstanding lead actor.

In a moving acceptance speech he quoted James Baldwin and concluded: “We are the people. We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet.

“Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth.”

And Schitt’s Creek, obviously…

Schitt's Creek cast. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Schitt’s Creek cast. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Schitt’s Creek has quickly become a cult classic for the queer community for its celebratory and inclusive cast of characters.

Although the show is now finished, it certainly went out with a bang. In the 2020 Emmy Awards it made history after completely dominating the comedy category after winning all seven awards. It became the first show ever to achieve this.

In an interview with Deadline, creator and star Dan Levy, who plays David in the show, spoke about the importance of his character’s sexuality.

“I think getting to write that storyline was incredibly cathartic for me for many reasons,” Levy said. “One, I don’t get to see those kinds of relationships depicted on TV so I felt that it was an incredible responsibility to be given  the opportunity and to try to tell it as authentic as I possibly could.”

He continued: “We made a decision to not include the conversation of homophobia or bigotry on our show. By projecting a sweeter, gentler world, I feel that it was a political statement. It seemed to have an incredible effect on people.”