A definitive ranking of Disney’s live-action and animated LGBTQ+ character firsts

Every LGBTQ+ Disney live-action and animated character ranked.

As Disney continues to make strides with LGBTQ+ representation, we take a look back at the notable times the company introduced queer characters on both the big and small screens.

Over the decades, the media giant Disney has captured the imagination of generations of children and adults alike with its classic stories. Along the way, there have also been several queer-coded characters such as the drag-inspired Ursula from The Little Mermaid or the villainous Scar from The Lion King, which have been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community

But as calls for explicit LGBTQ+ representation have gained momentum, from 2016 Disney finally treated its audience to more overt queer representations in their beloved animated and live-action films, ranging from a three-second glimpse of a lesbian couple to a full-blown gay teen romance. 

On the heels of Disney Pixar’s first non-binary character in Elemental, here is PinkNews’ top 10 ranking of every confirmed LGBTQ+ character in Walt Disney Studios films.

10. Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson in Zootopia

Now we love some queer animal romance as much as the next person. But Disney’s first attempt at LGBTQ+ inclusion in 2016 animation Zootopia was so subtle that many viewers didn’t even notice until weeks or months later

According to the credits, main character Judy’s (Ginnifer Goodwin) loud and argumentative antelope neighbours Bucky and Pronk seem to be a married same-sex couple. Revolutionary! Despite going under the cinema audience’s radar, the pair also make a brief reappearance in Disney+’s 2022 series Zootopia+.

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9. Lesbian couple in Finding Dory

Lesbian couple in Finding Dory.
Lesbian couple in Finding Dory. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Another addition to the Disney LGBTQ+ family is the unnamed lesbian couple in 2016’s Finding Dory. Although Dory is voiced by the industry’s best known lesbian Ellen Degeneres, the film’s co-director Andrew Stanton is frustratingly coy about the couple’s sexuality, saying: “They can be whatever you want them to be. There’s no right or wrong answer.”

8. LeFou in Beauty and the Beast

LeFou's big gay dance in Beauty and the Beast.
LeFou’s big gay dance in Beauty and the Beast. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Gaston’s right hand man LeFou, played by Josh Gad in the 2017 live-action, was tipped to be the gay representation we had all been waiting for. This culminated in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dance with another man and some painful pining after the film’s main villain, Gaston.

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Gad admitted the gay subplot “didn’t go far enough” and “didn’t do justice to what a real gay character in a Disney film should be”.

7. Lesbian couple in Toy Story 4

Yet another unnamed lesbian couple, this time in Toy Story 4.
Yet another unnamed lesbian couple, this time in Toy Story 4. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

While it was groundbreaking for Disney Pixar to feature lesbians of colour in one of their most well-known franchises Toy Story, the portrayal was a strikingly brief affair.

The three-second cameo shows a couple dropping off and collecting their child from kindergarten. The family’s screen time may have been short but its impact was high – conservative US group One Million Moms called for a boycott due to the supposedly “dangerous” LGBTQ+ scene

6. McGregor in Jungle Cruise

Jack Whitehall as McGregor Houghton (R) in Jungle Cruise. (Walt
Jack Whitehall as McGregor Houghton (R) in Jungle Cruise. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Disney’s 2021 live-action adaptation of Jungle Cruise features yet another coded depiction of a gay man.

While McGregor (Jack Whitehall) travels with his sister Lily (Emily Blunt) and guide Frank Wolffon (Dwayne Johnson) through the Amazon Rainforest, he comes out to Frank admitting that he has broken off three engagements with women because his “interests lie elsewhere”.

The representation was so understated that even Whitehall admitted he “didn’t realise” the character was gay when he auditioned.

5. Officer Specter in Onward

Officer Specter (R) mentions a girlfriend.
Officer Specter (R) mentions a girlfriend. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Disney’s 2020 animation Onward features a minor LGBTQ+ character. 

The lesbian police officer Specter, voiced by openly queer actor Lena Waithe, confirms the character’s sexuality in a brief discussion about raising a family with her girlfriend. 

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The moment is fleeting but proved enough to have the film banned in multiple Middle Eastern countries. Director Dan Scanlon addressed the controversy surrounding the – very brief – inclusion of a queer character in the film: “It’s a modern fantasy world and we want to represent the modern world.”

4. Lake in Elemental 

First non-binary character Lake in Elemental.
First non-binary character Lake in Elemental. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Up until this point, Disney’s LGBTQ+ representation was limited to gay and lesbian characters. But that all changed when Disney Pixar introduced their first openly non-binary character, Lake – rocking an awesome earring – voiced by non-binary actor Ava Kai Hauser

The clarification of Lake’s pronouns as they/them is a welcome start to trans and non-binary inclusion in Disney films. The representation of Lake didn’t go over so well with some of the film’s audience, however. While bigots raged on social media, some of the LGBTQ+ community were unimpressed by Lake’s lack of screen time.

3. Alisha Hawthorne in Lightyear

Alisha Hawthorne with her family in Lightyear.
Alisha Hawthorne with her family in Lightyear. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Disney has made a fine art of brief but impactful. In Lightyear, side character Commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) shares a sweet kiss with her wife. The daring scene, which was banned across the Gulf states, was initially removed following backlash but was eventually restored. 

It may be a small moment in the film but representing same-sex physical affection is a big move for Disney and was praised by queer icon Keke Palmer who voices Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy as “a step in the right direction”

2. Artie in Cruella 

Fashion designer Artie in Cruella.
Fashion designer Artie in Cruella. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Cruella is a deliciously camp live-action which tells the origin story of Disney villain Cruella de Vil, played by Emma Stone. The updated adaptation also features an original openly gay character, Artie (John McCrea), a fellow fashion designer heavily influenced by legendary queer musician David Bowie.  

Although some critics have dismissed Artie as a one-note queer character, considering the fleeting LGBTQ+ representation that has come before, the portrayal of queerness in Cruella may not be perfect – but its inclusion in the film is certainly progress.  

1. Ethan Clade in Strange World 

Ethan Clade in Strange World.
Ethan Clade in Strange World. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Finally, we have Strange World released in November 2023 and, you guessed it, featured Disney’s first ever openly gay teen in a lead role. Ethan, played by Jaboukie Young-White is a young explorer who shares a sweet scene with his grandfather Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) about his crush Diazo (Jonathan Melo). Who doesn’t love some intergenerational bonding?

Beyond the usual uproar from bigots, it is one of the most explicit and consistent LGBTQ+ plots we’ve seen in a Disney film, firmly earning our top spot – even if it did prove a disappointment at the box-office.  

Elemental hits UK cinemas on 7 July.

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