19 memorable pop culture moments that revolutionised LGBTQ+ visibility

From gay on-screen kisses to unforgettable queer anthems, these iconic pop culture moments will forever go down in LGBTQ+ herstory.

Three LGBTQ+ pop culture icons. Left is Laverne Cox, middle is Sam Smith and right is Moonlight actor Ashton Durrand Sanders.
Image: (Left to right) @lavernecox via Instagram, @samsmith via Instagram, @30005k via X

There have been many iconic pop culture moments that have defined LGBTQ+ history – some good, some bad, and some quite frankly awkward (we’re looking at you Friends). The increasing presence of queer actors, singers and fictional characters, has helped give visibility to the community, and although not always perfect, queer representation in mainstream media enabled society to familiarise itself with the LGBTQ+ community. By changing the perspective on queer folks, pop culture contributed to carrying social change.

So on that note, let’s take a look at some LGBTQ+ pop culture moments that helped shape our history.


The Queen

Precursor of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Pose, the legendary 1968 documentary The Queen encapsulates a major underground drag competition in New York. As cross-dressing was illegal at that time in most of the US, the film provides insight into queer history and culture pre-Stonewall era.

Paris is Burning

The 1990 documentary Paris is Burning portrays the ballroom culture of ’80s New York, spearheaded mainly by African American and Latinx queer communities. Touching on issues of racism and poverty, the film features interviews with a number of renowned performers, including Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija and Dorian Corey.

The first gay kiss on Irish television

The first (almost) same-sex kiss happened on Fair City, an RTÉ soap broadcasted since 1989. Jaws dropped when characters Eoghan and Liam almost kissed on an episode aired on 1996, but the pair were sadly interrupted. Later that year on Ros na Rún, Tom and Owen shared a tender actual kiss on Irish television. These two pop culture moments were big milestones for the Irish LGBTQ+ community.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters


Sarah Waters is one of Britain’s most successful novelists. Her first lesbian novel, entitled Tipping the Velvet, was published in 1998 and revolutionised queer and British literature. Dismantling gender roles, it tells the story of an oyster girl who falls in love with a male impersonator in a Victorian England setup.

Queer as Folk

Queer as Folk was the first-ever show to feature gay protagonists, following five men and their lives in Manchester. An instant classic, it aired in the UK in 1999, inspiring an American reboot which released one year later and ran until 2005.

Queer Eye

Reuniting the straights and the gays, the makeover show Queer Eye For the Straight Guy was a first of its kind when it aired on television in 2003. A more diverse and newer reboot called Queer Eye made its way onto Netflix in 2018, establishing itself as a show that helps people achieve their dreams. Both represented milestones for the queer community and brought LGBTQ+ representation to the mainstream.

The L World

Similar to Queer as Folk, The L World was the first series to have only queer women at its centre when it aired in 2004, portraying the characters’ lives in West Hollywood. The show received backlash concerning its inaccurate representation of trans and bisexual people, as well as its lack of diversity. The reboot, The L World: Generation Q, taking place 10 years later, addressed the criticism by improving the representation of minorities and enhancing diversity.

Stephen Fry gives Grindr visibility

On a 2009 episode of the BBC’s hit show Top Gear, Stephen Fry happily explained the gay hook-up app Grindr to host Jeremy Clarkson and the show’s 350 million viewers. This led to controversy in mainstream media, however, it also managed to increase Grindr users by 50% at the time.

“Start your engines…”

You’ve been waiting to see it on the list: the iconic RuPaul’s Drag Race. Launched in 2009 on Logo, the show is now a massive worldwide franchise. It has put drag performers in the spotlight and helped to normalise the presence of queer individuals, as well as drag artists in mainstream media. Probably one of the biggest pop culture reference points for the LGBTQ+ community, the show has won numerous awards, with RuPaul making history by winning the most Emmys for his role as host.

‘Born This Way’ by Lady Gaga

In 2011, pop icon Lady Gaga gave us a new queer anthem that went directly to Number 1 on the Billboard 100. Her lyrics “No matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgender life” resonated immediately with the LGBTQ+ community and the track can still be heard on the dancefloors of our clubs today.

Eurovision 2014

Austrian bearded drag queen, Conchita Wurst, took over Eurovision in 2014 with her song ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’. The track led her to win the content and our hearts, and she is now an icon of LGBTQ+ culture and history.

Laverne Cox – the first trans person on Time‘s cover



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Orange is The New Black‘s Laverne Cox became the first-ever trans person to be on the cover of Time. She played Sophia Burset in the series, for which she was the first trans person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in an acting category. As an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, Laverne Cox was instrumental in achieving visibility for trans individuals.

British icon Asifa Lahore



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You may have heard of Asifa Lahore, Britain’s first out Muslim drag queen. Based in London, she was censored by Birmingham Central Mosque in 2014 after openly discussing homosexuality and Islam on BBC Three’s Free Speech. The turmoil in British media allowed her to gain visibility and become a voice of her community. As a proud South Asian and Muslim trans woman, Asifa Lahore is an intersectional activist in Britain.


Irish drag queen Panti Bliss gave a crucial speech at the Abbey Theater in 2014, advocating against homophobia in Ireland and stressing the need for change. The speech referred to a controversy which happened a few weeks prior on The Saturday Night Show with Brendan O’Connor, in which Rory O’Neill (Panti out of drag) evoked homophobic figures in the media and was pushed to name them, leading to national turmoil. However, Panti’s speech became an international phenomenon, pushing the public and political debate on same-sex marriage, which was adopted a year later by a referendum in Ireland.

And the Oscar goes to…

Moonlight! Directed by Barry Jenkins, it made history as the first LGBTQ+-themed movie to win Best Picture at the Oscars in 2017. Now a classic of the queer community, the film looks at three defining chapters in the life of Chiron, a young Black queer man growing up in Miami.


Pose by Ryan Murphy impacted LGBTQ+ pop culture by making history in 2018 for having the largest cast of trans actors playing series regulars. Portraying the New York ballroom scene in the 1980s, the series centres queer and trans people of colour and addresses issues like HIV/AIDS and transphobia.

Sam Smith comes out as non-binary



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Sam Smith has been openly queer since the beginning of their career, however, they came out as non-binary in 2019. One of Britain’s most influential and successful artists, they instantly became a role model for queer, trans and non-binary individuals. Their openness about their identity and sexuality is inspirational to many.

It’s a Sin

Broadcasted on Channel 4 in 2021, Russell T. Davies’ mini-series follows three young gay men who moved to London in the ’80s. Set at a time when HIV/AIDS was moving across the Atlantic, the show portrays life during the crisis, and the devastating impact of the epidemic.


Premiered on Netflix in 2022, Heartstopper is an adaptation of Alice Oseman’s graphic novel series. Focusing on queer love, identity, and homophobia, it tells the teen romance between Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) and has been a mainstream hit among adolescent audiences.

That concludes our list of pop culture moments that have revolutionised LGBTQ+ visibility. We hope you’ve enjoyed rewinding the tape with us, and hopefully you’ve also discovered some new ones!

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