List of 1980s American television episodes with LGBT themes

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With the onset of the AIDS epidemic, American television episodes with LGBT themes sometimes featured LGBT characters, especially gay men, as a way for series to address the epidemic. Legal dramas like L.A. Law and Law & Order included euthanasia storylines centered around the deaths of gay men with AIDS. Sitcoms would occasionally broach the subject, but for the most part followed the pattern that had developed during the 1970s, with episodes following one of a handful of plot devices: a character close to a lead character would unexpectedly come out, forcing the characters to confront their own issues with homosexuality; a lead character is mistaken for gay; a lead character pretends to be gay; or, less frequently, a recurring character from the series comes out. In the first instance, it was rare that the gay character would ever make another appearance.[1]



1980Archie Bunker's PlaceCBS"Archie Fixes Fred Up"Archie (Carroll O'Connor) sets gay waiter Fred (Dean Scofield) up with a woman to try to "straighten him out".
1980The AssociatesABC"The Censors"A television producer (Stuart Margolin), the network censor (Lee Wallace) and attorney Tucker Kerwin (Martin Short) consult with a gay activist (Richard Brestoff) to see if the gay community would be offended by the line "queer as a three-dollar bill". The activist initially acts stereotypically effeminate and lisps when he tells them that the phrase is not offensive in context but, dropping the stereotypical mannerisms, chastises them for so readily accepting the stereotypes and challenges them to create non-stereotypical gay characters.
1980Barney MillerABC"Inquisition"Inspector Scanlon (George Murdock) of Internal Affairs investigates an anonymous letter from a gay cop. Officer Zatelli (Dino Natali) comes out to Barney (Hal Linden).
1980Barney MillerABC"The Child Stealers"Gay father Darryl (Ray Stewart) kidnaps his son from a playground. Officer Zatelli comes out to the squad in response to bigoted comments from Darryl's ex-wife.
1980CBS ReportsCBS"Gay Power, Gay Politics"Purportedly about the power of the gay movement in San Francisco, this episode was widely criticized for sensationally focusing on sex and violating journalistic ethics.[2]
1980The Love BoatABC"Target Gopher/The Major's Wife/Strange Honeymoon/The Oilman Cometh"A groom and his best man are mistaken for a honeymoon couple in the "Strange Honeymoon" segment.
1980SanfordNBC"Cal's Diet Part 2"After taking Cal to a bar to meet women, Fred (Redd Foxx) is hit on by a man who mistakes him for being gay.
1980Speak Up, America!NBC"Lesbians Fighting to Stay in the Military"
1980TaxiABC"Elaine's Strange Triangle"Kirk (John David Carson), who Elaine (Marilu Henner) is interested in dating, has a crush on Tony (Tony Danza).
1980Three's CompanyABC"The Love Lesson"Ralph Furley (Don Knotts) tries to "cure" Jack (John Ritter).
1980Vega$ABC"The Man Who Was Twice"The death threats being made against female impersonator Jeremy Welles (Jim Bailey) are coming from Welles' second personality, "Martin".
1980WKRP in CincinnatiCBS"Hotel Oceanview"Herb (Frank Bonner) tries to seduce a potential client's assistant, Nikki (Linda Carlson). Nikki eventually tells Herb that she used to be Nick, his childhood friend.
1981Barney MillerABC"Movie", part 1Lieutenant Scanlon investigates a complaint that Wojohowicz (Max Gail) molested a male suspect. Wojohowicz outs Officer Zatelli. Series creator Danny Arnold worked closely with the National Gay Task Force to develop the Zatelli storyline.
1981Three's CompanyABC"Night of the Ropers"Mr. Roper (Norman Fell) returns and Jack pretends to be gay when he is around.
1981Trapper John, M.D.CBS"Straight and Narrow"A police detective (Frank Martin) shoots and paralyzes San Francisco's first openly gay police officer (Joseph Cali) because he believes the police force is being "contaminated". Craig Russell plays "Judy", a drag queen who cheers up a lonely older patient.
1982American PlayhousePBS"Fifth of July"Kenneth Talley Jr. (Richard Thomas) is a gay paraplegic Vietnam veteran who lives at his family home with boyfriend Jed Jenkins (Jeff Daniels).
1982Cagney & LaceyCBS"Conduct Unbecoming"Cagney and Lacey's partner in uncovering an illegal handgun operation is accused of being gay after it is discovered that he has done gay pornography.
1982Diff'rent StrokesNBC"On Your Toes"Willis (Todd Bridges) is upset that Arnold (Gary Coleman) has taken up ballet, believing that it something for sissies or "sweet" [read: gay] men.
1982DynastyABC"The Two Princes"Steven (Al Corley) comes out as gay to his family.
1982Gimme a Break!NBC"The Chief's Gay Evening"An anti-gay joke leads to one of the Chief's (Dolph Sweet) officers (Eugene Roche) coming out.
1982Hill Street BluesNBC"Trial By Fury"Belker (Bruce Weitz) befriends a gay prostitute named Eddie Gregg (Charles Levin). Eddie appears in a number of future episodes before dying of AIDS in "Slum Enchanted Evening" (1986).
1982Magnum, P.I.CBS"Jororo Kill"Magnum (Tom Selleck) must prevent a man, discharged from the British armed forces for being a transvestite, from killing a visiting Prime Minister.
1982Too Close for ComfortABC"Monroe's Secret Love's Secret"Monroe develops a crush on a cross-dresser, not realizing the woman he's in love is actually a man.
1983CheersNBC"The Boys in the Bar"One of Sam's (Ted Danson) best friends (Alan Autry) comes out as gay in a new autobiography and some of the regulars worry that Cheers might turn into a gay bar.
1983Diff'rent StrokesNBC"Bicycle Man"A police detective arrests the pedophile who was attempting to molest Arnold and one of his friends and clears up the misconception raised by Willis that the suspect was "gay".
1983Gimme a Break!NBC"Melissa"Nell (Nell Carter) sets the Chief up with a woman (Victoria Carroll), not knowing that the woman is actually an MTF transgender.
1983HotelABC"Faith, Hope, and Charity"Playwright Zan Elliott (Carol Lynley) invites old friend Eileen Weston (Barbara Parkins) to the premiere of her new play. Eileen is disturbed to learn that Zan is a lesbian but maintains the friendship.
1983Magnum, P.I.CBS"Limited Engagement"Two elderly sisters are robbing a chain of convenience stores by dressing up as men.
1983St. ElsewhereNBC"Release"Dr. Craig's (William Daniels) college roommate (Andy Romano) is planning to have a sex change operation.
1983St. ElsewhereNBC"AIDS and Comfort"A Boston politician (Michael Brandon) checks into St. Eligius and learns that he has AIDS. He admits privately that he has had sexual encounters with men in the recent past. The first American medical drama to deal with the pandemic.[3]
1983Tony Brown's JournalPBS"Homosexuality Among Blacks"
1983Trapper John, M.D.CBS"Baby on the Line"The parents of an infant diagnosed with congenital adrenal hyperplasia must decide whether to raise the child as a boy or a girl.
1984HotelABC"Mistaken Identities"A father (Steve Kanaly) fears his son (Lance Kerwin) is gay so he attempts to set him up with a female prostitute.
1984HotelABC"Transitions"Maggie Dawson (Deirdre Hall) catches her sportscaster husband (Robert Reed) in the arms of his director, Biff (Granville van Dusen).
1984Kate & AllieCBS"Odd Boy Out"Chip's (Frederick Koehler) friends think he's a sissy because he lives in a house with two women.
1984Kate & AllieCBS"Landlady"Kate (Susan St. James) and Allie (Jane Curtin) pretend to be a gay couple so that their landlady, who is gay and has a lover, will not increase their rent.
1984The Love BoatABC"Country Blues/A Matter of Taste/Frat Brothers Forever"Doc's (Bernie Kopell) fraternity brother Buzz (Roy Thinnes) comes out to him in the "Frat Brothers Forever" segment.
1984Murder, She WroteCBS"Birds of a Feather"Jessica (Angela Lansbury) travels to San Francisco to attend the wedding of her niece, Victoria, only to learn that her fiancé is cross-dressing at a nightclub to earn a living, and is subsequently charged with the murder of his boss. The fiancé really is straight, as is the other female impersonator.
1984Night CourtNBC"The Blizzard"Dan (John Larroquette) is trapped in an elevator during an electrical outage with a gay man who is attracted to him.
1984Nine to FiveSyndicatedtitle unknownBud (Edward Winter) learns that his college girlfriend is dating another woman.
1984St. ElsewhereNBC"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"Dr. Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes) invites visiting medical researcher Christine Holtz (Caroline McWilliams) to stay with her, only to become uncomfortable when Holtz comes out to her. Cavanero violates Holtz's confidence by telling several members of the staff and berates her for being "unnatural". She later apologizes.
1984Too Close for ComfortABC, then Syndicated"Shipmates"When Ted (Ted Knight) invites Frank (Gerald S. O'Loughlin), an old acquaintance from the Navy, to dinner, Frank agrees to bring "Carol", with whom he's been living for 25 years. "Carol" turns out to be Carroll (William Prince). Carroll dies (off-screen) by the end of the episode.
1985American PlayhousePBS"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"Tommy Lee Jones plays Brick Pollitt, pining for his dead friend Skipper.
1985The Golden GirlsNBC"Pilot"The girls have a gay live-in cook named Coco (Charles Levin), who was not retained in the regular series.
1985Hill Street BluesNBC"Queen for a Day"Officer Coffey (Ed Marinaro) is propositioned by his former coach during a prostitution sting.
1985HotelABC"Rallying Cry"Guests Cameron (Lloyd Bochner) and Nora Wheeler (Marion Ross) sue for custody of their niece (Missy Francis) after learning that she has been left in the custody of a gay couple, Dr. Michael Vaughn (Douglas Barr) and Alex Halpern (Michael Sabatino).
1985Miami ViceNBC"Evan"Crockett (Don Johnson) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) join forces with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ... including Crockett's old partner and former friend, Evan Freed (William Russ). After Crockett rejects Freed's many attempts at rekindling the friendship, Tubbs tries to understand their troubled relationship. Crockett later confesses that years ago, both he and Freed had been best friends with a man named Mike Orgell. After admitting his homosexuality to his friends, Orgell faced serious harassment from Freed. The harassment from Freed became so bad that Orgell committed suicide. Crockett had not forgiven Freed and blamed him for the suicide. Later in the episode, Freed is revealed to have tremendous guilt over Orgell's suicide. Evan Freed is shot at the end of the episode and dies in the arms of Crockett, who has forgiven him. [4]
1985The New Alfred Hitchcock PresentsNBC"An Unlocked Window"A remake of a 1965 episode with Bruce Davison reprising the role of a transvestite nurse strangler originally played by T. C. Jones.
1985Night CourtNBC"Best of Friends"Dan is upset when an old male friend (Jim Bailey) comes to visit after having become a woman.
1985Trapper John, M.D.CBS"Friends and Lovers"Nurse Libby (Lorna Luft) is crushed to discover an old boyfriend (Robert Desidero) is both gay and suffering from AIDS. When Trapper (Pernell Roberts) learns that AIDS patients are being routinely transferred to another facility, he persuades the hospital to open an AIDS ward.
1986The Golden GirlsNBC"Isn't It Romantic"
Dorothy and Jean in "Isn't It Romantic?"
Dorothy's (Beatrice Arthur) old friend Jean (Lois Nettleton), a lesbian whose partner has recently died, comes to visit and develops a crush on Rose (Betty White).
1986Hill Street BluesNBC"Look Homeward, Ninja"Officer Kate McBride (Lindsay Crouse) is falsely accused of sexually harassing a female suspect. While she is innocent of the charge, she does come out.
1986HotelABC"Scapegoats"Homophobic bartender Frank (Ken Kercheval) believes he has contracted AIDS from gay waiter Joel (Leigh McCloskey), who is HIV-negative. Frank's wife assumes Frank is sleeping with men and his son (Doug Savant) assumes he is an IV drug user. He in fact was infected by a blood transfusion.
1986HotelABC"Undercurrents"Army officer Nick Hauser (Jan-Michael Vincent) learns that fellow officer Roger Gage (Boyd Gaines) is gay after Roger is bashed. The same gang later attacks Nick and bellhop Dave (Michael Spound) and Nick beats them. Nick is unable to accept Roger, who decides to come out and press charges even though he will lose his military career.
1986L.A. LawNBC"The Venus Butterfly"In "The Venus Butterfly" and "Fry Me to the Moon", Christopher Appleton (Peter Frechette) is a person with AIDS prosecuted by Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey) for the mercy-killing of his lover, who also had the disease. Stanley Kamel plays Appleton's gay attorney, Mark Gilliam, who would make several additional appearances.
1986L.A. LawNBC"Fry Me to the Moon"In "The Venus Butterfly" and "Fry Me to the Moon", Christopher Appleton (Peter Frechette) is a person with AIDS prosecuted by Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey) for the mercy-killing of his lover, who also had the disease. Stanley Kamel plays Appleton's gay attorney, Mark Gilliam, who would make several additional appearances.
1986MatlockNBC, then ABC"The Stripper"In the final moments of the episode Matlock (Andy Griffith) tells the court that the mysterious and elusive murderer Helen Shelly is really a cross-dressing male strip club worker suffering from "identity confusion."
198721 Jump StreetFox"Honor Bound"The team investigates a military school where cadets are killing gays.
1987American PlayhousePBS"Waiting for the Moon"Alice B. Toklas (Linda Hunt) takes care of her lover, Gertrude Stein (Linda Bassett), when she falls terribly ill during the 1930s.
1987CBS Schoolbreak SpecialCBS"What If I'm Gay?"Todd (Richard Joseph Paul) comes out after his friends find a gay magazine in his desk. Todd confronts Kirk (Manfred Melcher) about Kirk's homophobia, which may be rooted in his own anxiety about his sexual orientation and the sexual experimentation he and Todd engaged in when younger.
1987Designing WomenCBS"Killing All the Right People"Tony Goldwyn plays Kendall Dobbs, a gay man with AIDS who asks the Sugarbaker firm to design his funeral. Series creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason wrote the script after her mother died of AIDS contracted via a blood transfusion.[5] The episode's title is derived from a comment she overheard in the hospital: "The good thing about AIDS is that it's killing all the right people."[6] She incorporated a version of the remark into the script. "Killing All the Right People" was nominated for two Emmy Awards, for writing and editing.[7]
1987FameNBC, then Syndicated"Best Buddies"Danny's (Carlo Imperato) best friend comes out.
1987Frank's PlaceCBS"Season's Greetings""Bubba" Weisburger (Robert Harper), longtime friend of Frank (Tim Reid), tells his mother that Frank is his lover in an effort to stop her nagging questions about when he is going to marry and settle down.
1987The Golden GirlsNBC"Strange Bedfellows"Blanche (Rue McClanahan) is caught up in a scandal with a politician (John Schuck), who used to be a woman.
1987Leg WorkCBS"Life Itself"Claire McCarron (Margaret Colin) helps a friend of hers, who has contracted AIDS, find his former lover as a dying wish.[8]
1987Miami ViceNBC"God's Work"A drug kingpin's son (Esai Morales) returns to Miami to be a part of his father's business and also holds a personal secret that he is gay.
198821 Jump StreetFox"A Big Disease with a Little Name"The team protects a high school student living with AIDS. He initially claims he is a hemophiliac who contracted the disease through contaminated blood products but eventually acknowledges that he is gay and the hemophilia story is a lie.
1988The Bronx ZooNBC"Crossroads"Teacher Harry Barnes (David Wilson) learns that a student who is engaged to be married is secretly gay; Harry plans to out him to his fiancée.
1988Friday the 13th: The SeriesSyndicated"Night Prey"An implied allegory of vampires to homosexuality. The episode also featured a female prostitute being paid to kiss a female vampire.
1988The Golden GirlsNBC"Scared Straight"Blanche's younger brother Clayton (Monte Markham) comes out as gay on a visit to Miami.
1988HotelABC"Contest of Wills"Joanne Lambert is killed in a car accident. When her father (Dick O'Neill) arrives to claim her body he learns that she had been living with hotel catering manager Carol Bowman (Christopher Norris). Although he is initially hostile to her, the two bond and Carol accompanies him home for Joanne's funeral.
1988Midnight CallerNBC"After It Happened"Bisexual Mike Barnes (Richard Cox) deliberately infects Tina (Kay Lenz) (the ex-girlfriend of radio host Jack Killian (Gary Cole)) with HIV. Russ (J. D. Lewis) is Mike's ex-boyfriend who Mike abandoned when Russ got sick. Gay and AIDS activists protested during and after filming. Then-NBC affiliate KRON-TV in San Francisco ran a disclaimer before the show with an AIDS hotline number and aired a half-hour live special, Midnight Caller: The Response during which activists and public health officials aired their grievances.[9]
1989Alien NationFox"Chains of Love"Sikes (Gary Graham) has to deal with a male Newcomer who has developed a crush on him as a result of a love potion called "sardonac".
1989American MastersPBS"James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket"This episode explored the life of James Baldwin, the openly gay writer.
1989Dear JohnNBC"Stand By Your Man"Tony (Cleavon Little) develops a crush on John (Judd Hirsch) and when John tries to let him down easy Tony makes a scene at a restaurant.
1989Dear JohnNBC"Margo"The group tells John that the knockout who's knocking him out is really a new member's transvestite husband.
1989Doctor, DoctorCBS"Torch Song Cardiology"Mike's (Matt Frewer) gay brother Richard (Tony Carreiro) helps Grant (Beau Gravitte) write a speech and the two become close friends, prompting some homophobia from Mike, Deirdre (Maureen Mueller) and Abe (Julius Carry III).
1989Friday the 13th: The SeriesSyndicated"The Secret Agenda of Mesmer's Bauble"A man is so obsessed with a female singer, that he wants to become her.
1989HunterNBC"The Fifth Victim"The search for a serial killer of gay men leads to the knowledge that the supposed fifth victim was actually a copycat. Detective Frank Buchanan (Rick Giolito) comes out during the investigation.
1989L.A. LawNBC"The Accidental Jurist"Kuzack (Harry Hamlin) chooses a retired judge (Donald Moffat) whom he knows is secretly gay to hear the case of an athlete (Brian McNamara) who loses an endorsement deal after coming out.
1989Night CourtNBC"Passion Plundered"Harry (Harry Anderson) and Dan pursue a reporter sent to interview Harry, only to find out she is a lesbian.
1989thirtysomethingABC"Strangers"Melissa's (Melanie Mayron) gay friends Russell (David Marshall Grant) and Peter (Peter Frechette) are seen in bed together after having had sex. The actors were not allowed to touch during the scene and the episode generated controversy and alienated advertisers.


  1. ^ Tropiano, p. 191, 212, 224
  2. ^ Alwood, p. 189
  3. ^ Tropiano, p. 33
  4. ^ "Evan". Miami Vice Chronicles.
  5. ^ Bianco, Robert (1988-08-05). "The Lady Behind 'Designing Women'". Deseret News (Scripps Howard News Service). Retrieved 2009-01-29.
  6. ^ Capsuto, p. 221
  7. ^ Vancheri, Barbara; Weiskind, Ron (1988-12-13). "Networks play it 'safe' with AIDS". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: p. 17.,3867917&dq=designing-women+killing-all-the-right-people. Retrieved 2009-01-29.[dead link]
  8. ^ "Episode Detail: Life Itself - Leg Work". TV Guide.
  9. ^ Tropiano, p. 103


See also