BooksOpinion

The Top Ten LGBT Characters in Young Adult Literature

Madison Gallup ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

While there are some absolutely wonderful characters who identify as part of the LGBT community, there is undoubtedly a need for more. These characters better serve to provide insight into the LGBT community, and perhaps even more importantly, they allow someone who identifies as part of the community to see themselves reflected in popular culture. It is crucial for there to be more diversity in the sexual orientation of characters who make up the world of Young Adult (YA) literature, since it is within that world that many young people first start to form opinions about themselves and the people around them. With an underwhelming number of 94 books published with any kind of LGBT character in them in 2013 (http://www.malindalo.com), and the majority of them having cisgender male protagonists, the need for more representation is evident. Here are ten of the most important YA characters who identify as a part of the LGBT community.

1. Dumbledore (Harry Potter series)

Michael Gambon in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Photo Credit: Murray Close/Warner Bros.
Michael Gambon in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Photo Credit: Murray Close/Warner Bros.

Beginning with one of the most popular and controversial LGBT characters, the great Albus Dumbledore from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a prominent member of the literary LGBT community. No, he never officially comes out in the course of the series, but there are hints to the wizard’s sexuality. Not making Dumbledore’s sexual orientation define his character was an interesting and important choice for Rowling to make. Even though she was quick to say that she wrote Dumbledore as a gay man, it is not explicit in the text. Perhaps Dumbledore would be a more powerful icon if he had come out within the series, but he serves as a reminder that a character’s sexual identity should not be what makes them intriguing and worthwhile to write about.

2. Wallace Wells (Scott Pilgrim)

Kieran Culkin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
Kieran Culkin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Many may recognize this character as Scott Pilgrim’s gay roommate from the Scott Pilgrim series (a group of six graphic novels) by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Even though Wallace is quite the opposite of Dumbledore in terms of being defined by his sexuality, he still adds a lot of humor and depth to O’Malley’s series. Yes, Wallace does follow a lot of the stereotypes associated with a gay man, but that does not mean he is not a worthy and important member of the LGBT literary community. It is just as important to have characters who do meet stereotypes (and are still awesome within the novel) as it is to have characters who defy them.

3. Petra West (Beauty Queens)

Beautyqueens

A transgender woman from Libba Bray’s novel Beauty Queens, Petra West is a fierce and fascinating character. The fact that Petra is the only transgender member of the LGBT community to be on this list really speaks to the lack of representation that this group has in literature. More author’s should take a page out of Bray’s book and include transgender characters in their own work. Petra West is another example of a character who is not defined by how she identifies — she is not even revealed as a trans woman until later in the book. Bray really creates a great variety of interesting women characters in her novel, and she spends time focusing on each one of them. Petra West’s storyline is reason enough to pick up this feminist YA novel.

4. Cameron Post (The Miseducation of Cameron Post)

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Emily M. Danforth wrote The Miseducation of Cameron Post and introduced readers to 12-year-old Cameron Post who is sent to a camp meant to “turn her straight.” Clearly this does not fly with Post, and the novel is all about the struggles she faces coming to terms with her sexual orientation in an environment that does not accept her. Characters like Post are important to represent the oppressed part of the LGBT community who must try to remain strong despite the bad living situations they find themselves in.

5. Tony (Boy Meets Boy)

boymeetsboy

This supporting character in David Levithan’s novel, Boy Meets Boy, is notable for the fact that he lives in a toxic home environment. While Tony is fortunate to have supportive friends and go to a remarkably (almost utopian) gay friendly high school, he is still very much affected by his unsupportive family. This is the first of several Levithan created characters to make an appearance on the list. This is no accident, as David Levithan is one of the people who work hardest to increase the representation of LGBT characters in YA literature, both through writing them himself and helping to publish books that include them.

6. Avery Dekker (The Bermudez Triangle)

The Bermudez Triangle. Photo Credit: Razorbill.
The Bermudez Triangle. Photo Credit: Razorbill.

Avery is one of the three central characters in Maureen Johnson’s novel, The Bermudez Triangle. Nina Bermudez is shocked to discover that her two best friends, Melanie and Avery, have struck up a romance while she has been away for the summer. This steadfast friend group is rocked as Mel and Avery discover their sexuality together, and Nina has to learn to cope with the changing dynamic. Avery Dekker is important because she comes to realize that she is bisexual. The B in LGBT is even less represented than the rest of community, so it is important to have characters like Avery exist. She reflects a grey area in the sexual orientation spectrum that many people deal with, even though it is not often shown in literature.

7. Tiny Cooper (Will Grayson, Will Grayson)

WillGrayson

Another David Levithan creation, Tiny Cooper from Will Grayson, Will Grayson is loud and proud of who he is. The book, written by John Green and David Levithan, deals a lot with the LGBT community at a high school level. Tiny Cooper is president of the GSA at his school, as well as a football player and a force of creativity. Tiny is a very flamboyant person, but (as mentioned with Wallace Wells) this is not a bad thing to show in literature. Tiny is one of the most confident gay characters encountered in YA, and he does not let very much phase him. This makes him an inspiring member of the community.

8. Patrick (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment.
Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment.

Like Tiny Cooper, Patrick from Stephen Chbosky’s novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is a force to be reckoned with. He certainly is not a perfect person, and he faces a lot of pain in high school. This pain primarily stems from a hidden romance he has with the closeted quarterback. Patrick takes advantage of having Charlie (the main character of the novel) around whenever he feels lonely or upset. He hopes for a better life, one that he doesn’t have to zone out of, after he gets into college. Serving as a prime example of his struggles to shut out pain and wait for things to “get better,” Patrick is a popular and prominent member of the LGBT YA community.

9. Harry and Craig (Two Boys Kissing)

Two Boys Kissing. Photo Credit: Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Two Boys Kissing. Photo Credit: Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Okay, yes… there are two characters in this space meant for one, but to split up Harry and Craig from David Levithan’s recent novel, Two Boys Kissing, would be a crime. Harry and Craig’s whole mission throughout the novel is to stick together. They want to make a statement against a homophobic community by taking over the world record for the world’s longest kiss. Levithan does a masterful job at representing all sorts of situations that gay people have to deal with through the characters in Two Boys Kissing, but Harry and Craig are particularly motivational because of the dedication they show to their cause. This strong sense of purpose and activism they have at a young age is just as important as the fact that both boys identify as gay.

10. A (Every Day)

every-day

Ending with one of the most complex and interesting of Levithan’s creations, A is the protagonist of Every Day, a novel which explores the life of a character who wakes up in a new person’s body every morning. For this reason, A does not have a gender or sexuality with which to identify. A still experiences feelings and desires, but struggles with the temporary nature of every bond formed in the span of a single day. While A does not fall precisely within the boundaries of the LGBT community, this does not diminish how important it is that a character like A exists in YA literature. Many people struggle to pigeonhole who they are and how they feel, and A serves to represent this uncertainty. Not everyone will fit into a category perfectly, and that is important to show.

There are some pretty wonderful characters in Young Adult literature who identify as part of the LGBT community, but there is definitely a need for more to exist. The community especially lacks in representation of bisexual and transgender characters, as seen demonstrated in this top 10 list. Also evident in the list is the fact that many of these characters come from the same author: David Levithan. There is just as much of a need for a greater variety of authors to write about this underrepresented community as there is for the characters to exist. Future authors should keep this in mind — the more representation there is for the LGBT community, the better!

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34 Comments

  1. This article is actually pitiful. Albus Dumbledore should not be considered the most important character, by a long shot. Representation is the important part of seeing LGBT characters in books, and in the Harry Potter series, you’re right, his homosexuality is nothing more then subtext. In fact, readers didn’t even learn he was gay until after all the books were published, and the character was dead. It wasn’t even through the books that readers discover he’s gay and isn’t a part of his character identity. JK Rowling stating that he is gay after the books forward is a tiny step forward for the LGBT community, considering him number 1 is a step backwards, and re-enforcing the belief that you can be gay as long as you don’t show it.

    “With an underwhelming number of 94 books published with any kind of LGBT character in them in 2013 (http://www.malindalo.com)”
    This is incredibly inaccurate. The list only includes main characters who identify as LGBT, yet that sentence indicates that there are only 94 books that include an LGBT character. In fact, there is even a correction at the end of the article, stating that she missed a book and there was actually 95 books published in 2013 with LGBT main characters. (http://www.malindalo.com/2013/10/2013-lgbt-ya-by-the-numbers/)

    It also doesn’t sit well with me that of the top 10 characters, David Leviathan created almost half. (4/10) This list reads more as the Top Ten Most Popular LGBT characters in YA Literature, not the most important.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read both my article and the one I cited :). I agree that this list is mainly showing some of the characters that are most “popular,” but I think they are actually important for this reason because popularity is very relative when it comes to LGBT characters. The fact that these characters have any kind of media attention at all is very telling to the impact they are making in the community. There is a very interesting and worthwhile discussion to be had about whether the impact is harmful or not (see Dumbledore- who is not #1 on the list, just a member of the top 10), but it is this impact that makes these characters important.

  2. I’m genuinely surprised that this list includes a figure like Dumbledore, whose orientation is only ever stated outside of the books, and who you even describe as only having ‘hints’ in the books. You can have a character state their sexuality, state that they have a love interest of the same gender, and not make that their defining character trait. If Dumbledore had blatantly said that he was gay, or that he was in love with Grindelwald, that wouldn’t have taken away from his other traits. He still would’ve been notable for being Dumbledore, just that now with the addition that he’s actually gay. Instead, I would have suggested you put Nico di Angelo from Heroes of Olympus into your list to fill the blank. Unlike Dumbledore, Nico provides actual representation, without having to resort to ‘hints’.

    1. I am not as familiar with Nico as I am with Dumbledore, though I am sure that he does provide good “actual” representation. I would argue that most people are aware that Dumbledore is a gay character despite the fact that he is not branded with any sort of title in the book. It is this awareness that made him an important member of my personal list of the LGBT characters most important in the books I have read (again, he is NOT the #1 character, this list was not intended to be a countdown or show any sort of order). The fact that Dumbledore is nuanced, powerful, intriguing, and gay makes him (in my mind) a prominent and important character in YA literature. Is he the best representation or role model? Certainly not. But he is important in the community regardless.

  3. Not a comment on the contents of who is included, just a small technical comment – Tiny Cooper is not a David Levithan creation – he is a John Green creation. The odd (Will Grayson) chapters were written by John, the even (will grayson) chapters were written by David.

    1. You’re right, sorry about that! I knew that John and David were both working with Tiny Cooper as a character throughout the novel, but John did “birth” him. Green deserves the credit on that one! :)

  4. Sorry, this is bullshit, (re Dumbledore)the only way that we know he was gay was that Rowling said so years after the fact in an interview, this is NOT REPRESENTATION. His sexuality had no bearing on the story, people reading the books never identified him as gay, and therefore he had no resonance on them as a gay character, except now it’s perhaps a novelty. If anything, he’d be top of the last for WORST gay character in YA.

  5. I agree that Dumbledore shouldn’t be part of the list. Characters are what they are inside of the pages of the book–not in head-canon (even if it’s the author’s own head-canon.) We should know who they are by reading.

    Also, there are a TON of LGBT characters in popular books that you didn’t mention. For example, one of the Pretty Little Liars is a lesbian. She’s very in the closet about it (I’ve only read a few of them, so I don’t know if she comes out completely), but if you’re including gay characters because they’re in popular literature, she should certainly make the list.

    David Levithan is really awesome and fun to read, but he’s not the only popular YA author. I’m actually really surprised that Alex Sanchez didn’t even make your list. He was writing gay YA for over 15 years. I can’t keep Rainbow Boys or any of his books on the shelf. They are either checked out, loved to death or stolen.

    1. I’m sure your suggestions are worthy of a list, however I did not want to include characters on my list that I had not read about or knew very well. There are certainly other LGBT characters that are not on my list, and should be spoken about in other lists by people who know them better and hold them in high regard. Rainbow Boys sounds very interesting, i’ll be sure to check that out! :)

  6. The #fakeoutrage level of some of these comments has been turned to 11. Madison has an opinion, you have an opinion. It’s ok to give your comments without telling people how to think or feel.

    1. Thanks :) I welcome the discussion. Any discussion about LGBT representation in literature makes me very happy. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that this list is entirely opinion, and formed of characters that I know and have read about. I would encourage many more lists to be made to reveal more books and characters worthy of attention!

  7. Thanks for writing about this! I completely agree that we need more LGBT representation in YA books. You list some great titles here, including a few of my favorites (I adore Beauty Queens!!). Just be careful about calling these 10 of the most important YA LGBT characters, especially when so many come from David Levithan. It makes it seem like he’s the be all end all to LGBT YA lit, and while he’s definitely important and has been influential, there are so many other amazing authors out there writing LGBT characters. I recommend checking out the Stonewall Award and the Rainbow List to find some really great examples! :)

  8. I absolutely love this list. I think it’s a pretty comprehensive list. The only thing that I would have added was Infinite Darlene from Boy Meets Boy. She was an incredibly powerful character that both fell into stereotypes, and broke out of them. As a trans-identified football player who was large and in charge and not afraid of ruining her makeup on the field and walking in a lavish dress on Homecoming Court, Infinite Darlene shows that it’s hard to label people even if they do fall into certain stereotypes. She is an awesome character and never gets enough credit!

    Also, for Tony in Boy Meets Boy: while he is very fortunate to have loving and accepting friends, he isn’t fortunate enough to go to a utopian-style school. He goes to a different school than the rest of the kids, one that has been alluded to being not nearly as open and friendly.

    Awesome list! And I definitely agree that Dumbledore should be on this list. Though it was never stated explicitly that he is gay, the degree to which he has become an inspiration to many people is not something to be overlooked. He has absolutely become an icon and a hero to many young (and old) people. It may not have ever been stated explicitly in the book, but everyone knows it and it has absolutely affected people. So I’m glad you included it!

  9. This is awkwardly written at times; also, Avery Dekker never actually comes out as bi. Johnson ends the novel with Avery questioning her sexuality, which suggests she’ll eventually realize she’s bi (or pan or just queer)–but Avery herself never says or thinks it. This blog post, while well-intentioned, might be better served with more explicit/precise phrasing and better research and/or close reading of the texts discussed.

  10. I thought this an interesting article. I tend to agree to with comments in relation to the inclusion of Dumbledore. However, this is just the authors opinion.

    I just wanted to point out that, while the author has gone to lengths to include a transgender woman and a bisexual woman, no lesbian identifying character has been included on this list. I think this is a disappointing oversight. Particularly when 8 of the Top 10 characters are gay males.

  11. I like the IDEA of this list. But yeah, this is highly problematic. While no list is perfect, “I did not want to include characters on my list that I had not read about or knew very well,” doesn’t cut it if you’re going to call a list The top ten LGBT characters in YA books. That makes no sense. Why not just call it your favorite YA lgbt characters, or 10 awesome YA lgbt characters. YA is a genre that goes back decades and includes pioneering and perennial classics like Annie on My Mind, and The Front Runner. Even limited to contemporary YA, ever hear of Brent Hartinger? And these are just the high profile ones.

    1. Generally, the idea of opinion and bias is somewhat implied in a Top 10 list. This is especially true when the list is being made by a freshman college student who is hoping to promote discussion with her article. So, while I hear what you are saying, I think it is a bit silly to call for a name change in the list or condescend about which books I should have read and incorporated into the list. By all means, please make a list of your own that you can name whatever you wish and incorporate some more “classic” YA. :)

      1. But isn’t this a discussion being promoted? Are we really getting nothing out of this? I would generally not respond, but there is an important discussion and lesson here about having a sense of something larger. If you don’t want that, I would indeed advise a title change, as the onus is on you as a writer with respect to your community. Don’t worry about “condescension”; worry about your own sense of humility and community in a larger world. I could easily say you are condescending to tell us bias is implicit in any list – which we already know – but understand that what you’re saying and doing has larger implications, and that what you’re circulating gives the promise of something informative as opposed to personal. Otherwise, just own it. Just say “My top ten.” Don’t just avoid this issue and deflect as if something you’re putting out into the world is beyond critique or context.

        1. Again, you are putting words into my mouth here. My point is, the title of the article is not dissuading discussion from happening. In fact, I would argue that keeping the “my” out of the title opens it up further and leaves room for more debate. It is my hope that people can discuss in a way that does not point fingers and insult me for my choices from the books I know and love, but informs others of choices that they would include on a list of their own. I certainly was not intending to condescend by pointing out the inherent bias in a list; rather I was pointing out that this makes a name change unnecessary in the greater scheme of things. I think my list is a mixture of informative and personal, and I hope that there are many more like it that continue to spread the LGBT love!

  12. Lists like this one have serious implications for marginalized communities. What words have I put in anyone’s mouth? Where are there any personal insults simply because of a disagreement about the approach and the offered alternatives? I would think you’d be more interested in why you’re getting some of the reactions you’re getting. You’re not, and seem unwilling to deal with the objective implications of the approach, and with the responsibility a writer undertakes in your engaging readers’ attention in this way. At this point, I’m replying more for the benefit of others who will actually think about this.

    However, we do agree this energy may be better spent in including more titles. I’ve already mentioned two, and would at the very least add Brent Hartinger’s Russel Middlebrook as an influential character from the last ten years. Molly Bolt from Rita Mae Brown’s coming-of-age classic Rubyfruit Jungle is another who influenced an entire generation.

    1. I apologize if you are getting a confrontational tone from any of my replies, as I am just engaging with the ideas you are putting out there and clarifying what I really mean. I am certainly interested in the reactions I am getting to this list. Again, what is important to me is that there are more lists like this out there in the world. I am one person who is still delving into the world of YA, and I know there are many LBGT characters worthy of writing about. This is never an idea I dismissed within my list, all I did was mention some of the characters I know and love best. Thank you to everyone who has chimed in with some of their favorites. It is so so important to keep the attention on what is truly important here- the need for more LGBT representation and a celebration for what is already out there.

  13. A list of ten LGBT characters (or eleven, since you counted Harry and Craig). One lesbian character, one bi character, one trans character, one agender/genderqueer character…and seven gay characters.

    Maybe think about that one, is all I’m saying.

  14. What I never see in LGBT character lists is Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane (The Mortal Instruments). Magnus is bisexual! (highlighting because the article said we need more bisexual characters). They are protagonists and very important to the story! Plus, Cassandra Clare has two different series coming out these next years (The Dark Artifices and The Last Hours) and there’s a trans character in each as well as lesbian and gay romance. I’m looking forward to reading about them!
    Also, The Darkest Part of The Forest by Holly Black features a gay character. In fact, Holly always includes LGBT characters in her books!
    Note The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater as well as it has a gay and a bisexual character (I won’t tell who. You get to discover along with the characters :))
    Make sure to check them out!

  15. I think a character would make a great addition to this is Nico DiAngelo from the Percy Jackson series. He had to tell cupid about his crush on the main character in the second to last book and even got a love interest in the last book. (Though a really shoehorned one.) Plus the series was popular enough to warrant some terrible movies.

    Perhaps a new and updated article is in order?

  16. I feel like Nico di Angelo from the Percy Jackson series should be on here since he has fought with his sexuality and fear of not being accepted through several books and series.

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