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How the Arrowverse Changed the Game in LGBTQ+ Representation on TV

When Arrow first created in 2012, no one could have predicted that it would lead to the creation of an entire superhero media franchise, including several different TV shows, and revolutionize the way shared universes are portrayed on the small screen. However, one of its most valuable but perhaps underrated contributions to popular culture is the inclusion and portrayal of queer characters. While the shows that are part of the Arrowverse aren’t the only ones to be thanked for the positive portrayal of members of the LGBTQ+ community that audiences have today, they’ve played a crucial role in normalizing different characters. across the queer spectrum. Additionally, the Arrowverse’s success has also seemingly prompted DC to introduce even more LGBTQ+ themes into the comics.

Greg Berlanti, who has been behind the development of every show in the shared universe, is a big factor in ensuring the inclusion of queer storylines in the Arrowverse. The openly gay writer and producer, whose work in film and television has brought him worldwide recognition over the past decade, has received several accolades for his contributions to the media, in particular for his efforts in support of the LGBTQ+ inclusion. Berlanti, whose other shows include Riverdale, You, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The stewardess, among many others, led WarnerMedia to include even more LGBTQ+ content in other non-Arrowverse shows.

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Crisis on Earth-X Alex Danvers Sara Lance

The first prominent queer character in the Arrowverse, Sara Lance, made her debut in the flagship show’s pilot episode, through a cameo appearance. When the character was recast with actress Caity Lotz for Season 2, as the first series adaptation of DC’s superhero Black Canary, Sara quickly became a fan favorite. During this season’s episode, “Heir to the Demon”, it was revealed that Sara had a past romantic relationship with Nyssa al Ghul, thus making her bisexual. What was most interesting about how the show handled the revelation of Sara’s sexuality was that it was never meant to shock audiences, and that was reflected in the way the other characters reacted to it. At a time when most queer stories were about coming out, fighting homophobia, and being rejected for who you are, Arrow chose to ignore these themes altogether. Instead, the characters were quick to accept the new information, and the episode’s main plot continued almost immediately afterward, acknowledging Sara’s homosexuality as just another part of herself.

This storytelling technique of introducing LGBTQ+ characters without frequently putting them in storylines involving rejection, turmoil, or discrimination based on their identity has become standard practice for Arrowverse shows. This played a big role in normalizing these characters for audiences, as they were portrayed as having no more disadvantages than other heteronormative characters. The only exception to this rule was Alex Danvers’ coming out storyline during season 2 of super girl. Kara Danvers’ adoptive sister was a central part of the show since its first season, but the character resonated much more with fans in its second season. The reason for this was Alex’s emotional journey of self-discovery and her search to live an authentic life as a proud and proud lesbian. The show garnered particular praise for choosing to feature an outgoing character later in life instead of a teenager, which was a more typical option at the time.

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Freedom fighters in crisis on Earth-X

One of the Arrowverse’s biggest accomplishments to date is the introduction of Nia Nal, better known as Dreamer, the first transgender superhero on television. Season 4 of super girl highlighted Nia, played by actress and transgender rights activist, Nicole Maines, as she flourished under Kara’s tutelage as both a journalist and a superhero. By the end of the series, Nia had become an independent and powerful heroine in her own right, reflecting the real-life activist who represented her. Thanks to Maines’ inclusion, the show was also able to explore different themes regarding the trans community, such as violence against trans people in the Season 5 episode “Reality Bytes”.

Another important aspect of Arrowverse’s queer narrative is the depiction of same-sex marriage. During the 2014-2015 television season, the two Arrow with Curtis Holt and the flash with David Singh, introduced married gay characters to their loved ones. In 2021, the Arrowverse featured not one but three different marriages between queer characters with, Alex Danvers and Kelly Olsen in super girlseries finale, Anissa Pierce and Grace Choi in Black Lightningseries finale, and finally Sara Lance and Ava Sharpe in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Season 6 finale. The fact that a more traditional happy ending was made available to so many queer characters in a shared universe almost at the same time is unprecedented.

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Of course, with such representation across multiple shows, it was only a matter of time before LGBTQ+ heroes headlined their own TV series. In 2014, infamous occultist and DC bi-icon John Constantine got his own live-action series, starring actor Matt Ryan. Although the series was short-lived, the character was incorporated into the Arrowverse soon after, becoming a main character in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. In 2017, the superhero known as The Ray led his own animated series in Freedom Fighters: Ray, where he was voiced by openly gay actor, Russell Tovey. Tovey later returned to portray the character in live-action on the Arrowverse crossover event, “Crisis on Earth-X”, where The Ray was revealed to be engaged to Wentworth Miller’s Leo Snart. In 2019, The CW debuted batman, DC’s first live-action solo series in the shared universe featuring a gay superhero. Originally directed by Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane, the second season sees Javicia Leslie’s Ryan Wilder take over as the protagonist, showing a lower-class queer woman of color navigating life and eventually becoming the greatest protector of Gotham City.

More recently, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow revealed another queer character among its main roster during season 7. Esperanza Cruz, primarily known as “Spooner”, came out asexual in the episode “The Fixed Point”, making her the first character to identify as such in this universe. In a decade, the Arrowverse has been able to tell the stories of people from all walks of life and while its representation has not always been perfect, it has certainly succeeded in familiarizing audiences with the LGBTQ+ community, normalizing homosexuality and to make homosexual people feel seen.

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