Recent years have seen the LGBTQ+ community make real strides in representation on our screens.
Thankfully, this also means we have seen more and more stars from the community emerge and inspire audiences around the world with their talent and conviction.
While they may have always been stars and had already begun to make their mark in years gone by, RadioTimes.com has selected 10 artists for whom 2022 truly feels like their year.
Whether they are recent Oscar winners, writers, or the faces of some of the buzziest shows on television, these 10 individuals are stars to keep an eye on in the coming months and years but, for now, let us celebrate them.
10 LGBTQ+ rising stars - from Heartstopper stars to Ariana DeBose
It feels strange to consider a recent Oscar winner a rising star, but Ariana DeBose was not widely known outside of theatre-loving circles until her stunning breakout turn as the complicated Anita in the recent Steven Spielberg adaptation of the beloved musical West Side Story.
Like Rita Moreno before her, DeBose went on to be awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role of Anita, and she also made history as the first Afro-Latina and openly queer woman of colour to receive an Oscar.
Prior to her turn as Anita, DeBose had enjoyed a successful theatre career on Broadway and also starred in Apple TV series Schmigadoon! and Ryan Murphy's Netflix musical film The Prom. Next, DeBose can be seen as Evan Rachel Wood's roommate in the cryptic sci-fi series Westworld.
The very definition of a triple threat, DeBose can boast killer vocals, heart-stopping dance moves and also an incredibly rich emotional range in her acting, making her a performer for the ages - and one who openly celebrates her queer identity with true pride. Lewis Knight.
Has there been a more heartwarming show than Heartstopper this year?
The Netflix teen drama series focusing on a young love story between two teenage boys captured the public imagination and showed a gay love story with true positivity.
One of the warmest presences in Heartstopper has to be one of its co-leads, the sweet and lovable Charlie Spring, played by openly gay newcomer Joe Locke.
Charlie is sweet-natured and hopeful, despite the difficulties he faces in school, and Locke makes his spirit shine through in every scene with quiet bravery.
With a growing and loyal social following, Locke is already a star to keep our eyes on and, after revealing hopes to be a Queer Disney Prince or Marvel Superhero to Soho House, it seems that the sky is the limit.
On being selected as an LGBTQ+ rising star, Locke told RadioTimes.com: "I feel really honoured to be included in this list of extraordinary people.
"I’m so glad that Heartstopper has been able to leave a positive impression on so many people, and to be part of a project that means so much to many people as my first job is really a dream come true!" Lewis Knight.
Dua Saleh joined the cast of Sex Education three seasons in when I was already fiercely invested in the hopes and dreams of the established characters, but that didn’t stop Cal from becoming someone I quickly grew to champion, such is the strength of the writing and Saleh's talent.
Our first few encounters with Cal are brief but the singer immediately draws you in, their innate charisma demanding your attention, which is no small feat given the multiple storylines being juggled. Between Eric and Adam's tumultuous romance and the ongoing saga between Maeve and Otis, establishing yourself as a key player is a big ask, but Saleh rose to the occasion.
They also join the growing list of Black trans actors gracing our screens – a group which, until very recently, was disregarded by popular culture. But as that continues to shift, with performers such as Saleh, who refuse to compromise their authentic selves, embraced in mainstream storytelling, the positive real-world implications are life-changing and, for some, life-saving. Abby Robinson.
Connor Jessup is about to bid farewell to Netflix’s creepy comic book adaptation Locke & Key, where he plays the eldest of three siblings who discover mysterious magical keys hidden around their family home. With the third and final season dropping in August, there’s limitless potential as to where his career could go next.
Prior to his current work, Jessup had showcased his action hero potential in the post-apocalyptic series Falling Skies, but he has also found great success in quieter character dramas. Among the most notable is American Crime, an acclaimed anthology series from Academy Award winner John Ridley (which STILL hasn’t made its way to the UK, despite us now having a gazillion streaming platforms – *shakes head*).
In addition to his promising career, Jessup has been a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ+ community since publicly coming out via Instagram in June 2019. More recently, he’s been posting snaps from his New York trip with Heartstopper stars Joe Locke and Sebastian ‘Bash’ Croft, leaving fans to wonder if he could appear as a guest star in season 2 or 3.
When asked about how it feels to be an LGBTQ+ rising star, Jessup answered RadioTimes.com: "I mean, it’s flattering! But on this trail, I’m a stumbling follower. So many queer people, some of them famous, most of them not, have cleared this path over centuries. I'm grateful to them for the ability to live in peace and to even say any of this." David Craig.
Jesse James Keitel
Non-binary actor Jesse James Keitel has quietly been building an impressive body of work in recent years but 2022 truly feels like her moment.
While Keitel already made history as one of the first non-binary actors to play a non-binary series regular when appearing in the series Big Sky, her most riveting role to date arrived this year.
As Ruthie, one of the major characters in the 2022 re-imagining of Queer as Folk, Keitel brings authenticity, conviction and vulnerability to a complex character grappling with identity, romance and parenthood.
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We will definitely be seeing more of this star, but Keitel is not resting on her laurels.
When asked how it feels to be considered such a trailblazer, Keitel told RadioTimes.com: "Queer people are constantly breaking new grounds because we've never been let in the room before and/or let in the room in a respectful way before. So it's like, of course, we're breaking boundaries every other day - because there are a lot of boundaries that need to get broken.
"You know, I hate to go there, but like, if there had been an adequate response to the AIDS crisis, none of us would ever be the first of anything, someone would have done what we're doing 30-something years ago. So um, it feels it's like a double-edged sword. It feels great. I'm glad new ground has been broken. But, like, we got a long way to go." Lewis Knight.
With the third season of The L Word: Generation Q in production, audiences can look forward to more of Leo Sheng’s trailblazing character Micah Lee. Like its predecessor, Generation Q does mostly revolve around the tales of queer women living in LA, but Sheng’s character – a mid-30s Asian trans man – expands the series’ scope and goes some way to righting the wrongs surrounding the original L Word character Max Sweeney.
Through Micah, the show serves us accurate trans representation as the character navigates dating in the age of Grindr and explores his evolving sexuality, before falling in love with his neighbour. Sheng actually changed Micah for the better when he joined the cast, insisting the character’s job was changed from a scientist to a social worker to avoid the only Asian character on the show being in a STEM field.
Prior to Generation Q, Sheng got his break in acting at 21 years of age with the 2019 Sundance movie Adam. And with a recent role as Bobbi, Neo’s secretary at his game company, in The Matrix Resurrections, Sheng is one to watch.
"It's such an honour to be included on this list among so many incredibly talented artists," Sheng commented to RadioTimes.com. "It's a massive privilege to be part of this shifting tide of representation and visibility in media, and I'm hopeful that the images we see, and stories we tell continue to expand and evolve so that more of our communities see themselves reflected on screen." Molly Moss.
This year saw comedian and writer Jack Rooke emerge as an exciting new voice on the sitcom scene with his comedy-drama Big Boys, a semi-autobiographical tale of how he tackled university whilst exploring his sexuality and dealing with the death of his father. The six-parter can be as intense as it sounds at times, but there’s just as much rib-tickling lightness as there is darkness throughout this uplifting tribute to male friendship.
Rooke, who narrates the series but is portrayed by Derry Girls’ Dylan Llewellyn on-screen, draws on his own experiences of coming out at university, stories he’s explored in his numerous stand-up shows – Good Grief, Happy Hour and Love Letters. The 28-year-old showcases his talent for juggling important yet heavy issues with heartfelt laughs in Big Boys – which will undoubtedly catch the attention of a few awards bodies this year – and with his debut sitcom continuing to grow momentum, Rooke is set to become a promising name in comedy with a focus on queer issues and mental health.
When asked how it feels to be considered an LGBTQ+ role model, Rooke told RadioTimes.com: "Hahahaha, I’m just a dumb boy from Watford. I don’t know how much of a role model I am, aside from the fact that within the television industry l do think I have had to really fight to make Big Boys a show about a gay guy and his straight best mate in the most inclusive, funny and honest way.
"I’m incredibly chuffed we got there and many brilliant straight and queer creatives worked to make that happen and I’m thrilled so many people of different identities, ages and backgrounds love the show. That genuinely means the world, especially when it’s proper straight geezer blokes that love it."
Referring to the straight co-lead character of Big Boys, Rooke added: "We need more Dannys in real life so we can continue to progress with more LGBT stories being just as commonplace and blended in with straight ones." Lauren Morris.
Yasmin Finney has already been making headlines and she only truly entered the public eye a few months ago!
The openly trans actress - who already has a strong social media following - won a new legion of fans for her endearing turn as trans teen Elle Argent in the Netflix series Heartstopper.
As the series follows Elle's journey, Finney brings presence, humour and an understated pathos even in her more challenging scenes.
On the back of this reception, it is little surprise that the actress has been cast in next year's Doctor Who 60th anniversary celebrations in the mysterious role of "Rose", matching the name of the iconic Doctor Who companion Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper.
The exact nature and scope of Finney's turn have yet to be revealed but theories abound. Either way, Finney is bringing a new level of trans representation to Doctor Who and proving that she is a true star on the rise. Lewis Knight.
Erin Doherty catapulted to fame with her witty portrayal of Princess Anne in Netflix’s The Crown and since then, she’s gone from strength to strength.
The 29-year-old, who is in a relationship with The Pact’s Sophie Melville, went from stealing the show in Peter Morgan’s historical drama to topping the call sheet in BBC One’s psychological thriller Chloe, in which she played a Bristolian woman investigating the death of her social media-obsessed childhood friend.
Having already showcased her dramatic chops in shows like Chloe, Les Misérables and The Crown, Doherty is certainly one to watch in the acting world – especially with her upcoming role in psychological horror Firebrand, starring Alicia Vikander, Jude Law and Eddie Marsan. If her previous performances are anything to go by, Doherty is on a fast-track path to establishing herself as one of Britain’s great queer performers.
When asked by RadioTimes.com how it felt to be considered an LGBTQ+ rising star and trailblazer, Doherty commented: "A bit mind-blowing, to be honest. I am incredibly aware that not so long ago, members of the LGBTQ+ community were made to feel they couldn’t be open about who they are. So now I just feel immense gratitude to be seen and embraced."
On the future of representation on-screen, she added: "I think we are on the right track in terms of representation, but I’d love to see more nuanced stories and experiences being told now." Lauren Morris.
Hunter Schafer is one of TV’s most promising young stars. The 22-year-old has made waves with her Euphoria character Jules, who is one of the show’s many complex characters – and not because she’s trans. While still exploring her relationship to gender in the HBO show, Schafer’s Jules is also shown dealing with what it means to be a teen as she navigates relationships and romance.
Schafer was already a rising star before bagging the part of Jules in Euphoria. After graduating high school in North Carolina, Jules quickly became a big name on the modelling scene, working for fashion brands like Dior and Marc Jacobs. She has also appeared on the pages of Dazed and in campaigns for Vera Wang.
If that wasn't enough, Schafer is also breaking into film roles and has been cast in the role of Tigris in the Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
With Euphoria season 3 also on its way, we can’t wait to see Schafer’s next performance. Molly Moss.
- Read more: What is Pride? Stars behind major LGBTQ+ characters talk representation
- Read more: Meet the LGBTQ+ consultants changing the face of TV
- Read more: 26 inspiring LGBTQ+ characters and why we love them
- Read more: Best educational and inspiring LGBTQ+ documentaries to watch now
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