During Pride Month 2020, the LAPD separated us by race before separating us by gender.
The protest on June 2nd at Los Angeles City Hall had ended with the police corralling about a hundred of us, guns raised. They were enforcing a curfew, they were protecting themselves.
The first transport bus was loaded with most of the Black protesters, driven around for God knows how long, and taken to one of Los Angeles’ many police stations. The rest of us were made to wait for hours as the local television crews filmed us again and again.
My friends found out I was arrested because these camera crews seemed to be especially interested in me. My whiteness and my gender-nonconformity aided their narrative — the people arrested weren’t protesting police brutality against Black people, they were just weird leftist troublemakers protesting a curfew. The chyron confirmed the curfew part, my image the rest.
When we were finally loaded onto our own transport bus, I was placed with a 20-year-old trans boy who had recently moved to LA. I’d fought not to be placed on the male bus and the officers finally relented, opting to sequester me with their other point of confusion. The boy said that he felt like everything would be OK if they just hired more women cops, more queer cops, and more cops of color. I spent our time together explaining why this was wrong.
The boy was just repeating what he had seen on TV. More and more “good cops” were signified in media by their marginalized identities — or, simply, their friendships with people who have marginalized identities. This is what our screens show as change.
How is it that my transness can be used for the othering of protesters on the news while transness on a cop in a police procedural would be cause for liberal celebration? What does it mean for queerness to be villainized unless it’s serving the state?
June 2020 promised a shift in the public’s view of law enforcement. White liberals everywhere seemed to learn about racism and police brutality for the first time — as if the Ferguson protests hadn’t occurred six years earlier, as if there hasn’t been a similar reckoning again and again and again. This time was promised to be different. Television’s favorite cops were grappling with their profession, television’s Cops was being pulled off the air. But in the years since, media has not only returned to its former ways but doubled down. Cops is back and there are more procedurals than ever — the only change is they’ve never been more diverse.
It’s past time for queer audiences — especially white queer audiences — to stop letting their desires for representation excuse propaganda that harms the most vulnerable in our community. It’s time we reckon with these characters, these tropes. It’s time more actors refuse to play these parts. It’s time more viewers ignore them. A world without police is possible. It will require more than the end of a few television shows, but I do believe that imagination plays a part. If we can’t even imagine other forms of justice on screen, how will we imagine them in real life?
To change our future, it’s important we reckon with the past and present. I hope this history of LGBT law enforcement on-screen can act as part of that reckoning.
Queer Cops: Hollywood’s Noble Exception
The following data is based on 183 LGBT law enforcement characters from film and television ranging from October 1975 to June 2023. The cited works are predominantly English language from the US, UK, Canada, and Australia with exceptions made for non-English language work that received a prominent release in the English-language market. Law enforcement includes police officers, prison guards, FBI agents, and positions in sci-fi and fantasy that are analogous. The list does not include district attorneys or prosecutors — although an argument could be made for their inclusion. The list also doesn’t include the CIA, as I aligned them more with the military, a separate trope deserving of its own list.
Of 183 LGBT characters:
- 44.8% were police officers, 23.5% were police detectives, 14.8% were FBI agents, 4.4% were prison guards, and 12.5% were other.
- 25.1% were gay, 53.6% were lesbian, 15.8% were bisexual, and 5.5% were ambiguous.
- 27.3% were men, 71.6% were women, and 1.1% were nonbinary. 98.4% were cis and 1.6% were trans.
- 65.6% were white, 16.9% were Black, 9.8% were Latine, 4.4% were Asian, and 3.3% were Middle Eastern.
- 23.5% were played by LGBT actors, 66.1% were played by cis straight actors, and 15.8% were unknown.
- 12.6% were from films, 33.9% were from American network, 24% were from American cable, 9.3% were from American streaming, and 20.2% were from international shows.
Several patterns emerge when looking at these 183 characters. These patterns are most prevalent during certain decades but are not limited to them — for example, Blue Bloods has an episode in 2014 that would fit right in with the procedurals of the 70s and 80s.
But, in general, the 70s, 80s, and early 90s either used LGBT law enforcement for a joke or as a curiosity. Several shows had a single episode where a crime is committed at a gay bar and an off-duty cop is a witness. The off-duty cop then has to decide whether to come forward and be outed or stay closeted and abandon his duty. This leads to the main characters grappling with their own feelings about homosexuality. There are variations of this story — Starsky and Hutch instead has the closeted cop get killed after being spotted at a gay bar — but what remains consistent is the gay cop is shown as a noble exception to the perverse queer community. Often the criminal in these episodes is also queer.
The late 90s and 00s begin to introduce three-dimensional recurring LGBT characters. Some of these characters are underdeveloped compared to their straight counterparts and many either die or have a romantic partner die, but they are a bigger part of the movie or show. During this era, law enforcement is used as a sign of queer assimilation. The queer character’s position as law enforcement acts as a way of easing straight audiences toward acceptance by showing that not only are queer people human but they are brave, heroic, and, most importantly, law-abiding. During this time, more queer women characters begin to appear, which would soon become the overwhelming majority. Almost all of the characters who appear on network television during this period are white. Premium channels like HBO were less strict about race as well as less strict about respectability — Six Feet Under and The Wire being two notable examples of complex queer Black cop characters.
The 10s have a far greater range in LGBT law enforcement characters. Some are used as a joke, some are used for assimilation, and some are used to create sympathy for law enforcement among liberal audiences. This trope is especially prevalent after the Ferguson protests of 2014 and the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Movies and shows begin having more queer people and people of color involved with law enforcement and sometimes will even comment on issues such as discrimination and police brutality. The suggestion seems to be that if law enforcement is queer or adjacent to queer people, then they must be softer and therefore less harmful. While more prevalent during this time, it’s reminiscent of 1993’s The Silence of the Lambs, a movie that overtly recruited women and — possibly by accident — queer people to the FBI.
While the June 2020 protests seemed to bring about a reckoning in Hollywood, law enforcement media has simply increased the pattern from the years prior. There are more people of color and queer people in law enforcement media — especially Black queer people. There are also more movies and shows that acknowledge the abuses of police. With some exceptions, most of this media does not imagine an alternative to law enforcement, but rather gives voice to these concerns before returning to the same stories and ideas. There was a brief moment right after June 2020 where some shows were having characters quit for ethical reasons, but even these shows made sure to have other beloved characters remain. Very few movies and TV shows with LGBT law enforcement characters have been anti-police, and most of the shows that were got canceled.
While there are obvious patterns, there is also a lot of nuance within each movie and show. Art is not a binary — in quality nor ethics. The list below is not meant to be split between all good and all bad. But law enforcement has been invested in their on-screen representation for decades, keeping dossiers on Hollywood movies, acting as consultants in exchange for access. If we want the stories we tell to change — on-screen and in life — it’s time we do the same. For too long, law enforcement media has been thoughtlessly consumed. As queer people, especially, it’s time we honor our ancestors and study this history.
1975 – Barney Miller – Stanley “Wojo” Wojciehowicz, Sgt. Forbes
During the second season of this famous sitcom, a gay couple comes into the station to complain about an officer scamming gay men. It turns out it’s someone impersonating an officer, the implication being a true officer would never do that. Throughout the episode, series lead Wojo is very interested in the gay couple and knows the location of the gay bar. The joke is that this very masc, presumably straight character might be gay. This bit will return in season seven when he’s accused of sexually harassing a male pickpocket.
Sgt. Forbes is a guest character in that same first-season episode. He catches the imposter carrying out the scams and when Wojo questions him about being at the gay club in the first place, it’s implied Forbes is gay and doesn’t care who knows it. This delights the couple who filed the complaint and Forbes’ status as gay and cop is portrayed as desirable to them.
1977 – Starsky and Hutch – John Blaine
The episode revolves around an investigation into the murder of closeted cop John Blaine at a seedy motel who was last seen with a gay sex worker. Starsky and Hutch are surprised to learn Blaine was gay and spend the episode grappling with their feelings about gay people. The chief wants to keep things quiet because there is pressure on the force to allow gay people and he’s worried if advocates find out there already was a gay cop it will help their cause. The episode is notable for including a performance from drag artist Charles Pierce. The episode ends with Hutch and Starsky joking that they spend so much time together they could be considered gay.
1977 – The Streets of San Francisco – Inspector David Lambert
Lambert is introduced as a one-off character in the last season of this successful procedural. The episode is titled “A Good Cop… But” and Lambert is established as a very “good” cop. He is pursuing a crime boss who tells his men that it won’t be possible to buy Lambert off, so instead they need to find dirt on him. They discover that he’s gay and try to blackmail him, but he brings it to the lieutenant. There is concern that his testimony against the crime boss won’t be trusted by the jury if this information is revealed. He decides to let a tape be played during the trial that gives details of his life in order to get them for blackmail. This selfless act earns his homophobic partner’s sympathies. In the end, he’s allowed to keep serving as an officer, his position and partner intact.
1978 – Barney Miller – Officer Zatelli, Lt. Scanlon
First introduced in one episode of season four, Officer Zatelli is the first recurring character on the show who is explicitly gay and the first recurring law enforcement character across television. During the season six premiere, he comes out to Barney after Lt. Scanlon of Internal Affairs, the main antagonist, launches an investigation into an anonymous letter from a gay officer. In a later episode, he comes out to everyone in the main precinct. His last appearance is in season seven when he is outed by Wojo to Scanlon during the sexual harassment episode because Wojo claims not to really be gay like Zatelli.
Similarly to Wojo, a joke is made that Scanlon, himself, may be gay. He claims to be so invested in this investigation, because he could see how cops on stakeouts or in the shower might be tempted to hook up.
1982 – Partners – Officer Kerwin
This buddy comedy pairs Ryan O’Neal as Sgt. Benson, a straight cop, and John Hurt as Officer Kerwin, a gay records clerk. A serial killer is targeting gay men in Los Angeles and they are tasked with pretending to be a couple to infiltrate the community. Benson struggles to fit into gay culture and Kerwin struggles with the more “manly” side of policing. Despite a lot of dated humor, the journey of the film is Benson learning to appreciate Kerwin.
1982 – Prisoner: Cell Block H – Joan Ferguson, Terri Malone
Joan Ferguson was one of the main antagonists on this popular Australian show. She had an affair with a prisoner at a former job and that woman’s death turned her from strict to cruel. Throughout the series she is violent and inappropriate with the prisoners. Multiple campaigns against her involve accusations of sexual harassment, which are sometimes justified and sometimes expressions of homophobia. The series ends with her getting involved in her own crime that results in her going from officer to prisoner.
During season five, Ferguson dates a new corrections officer named Terri Malone. Their relationship is strained by Malone being closeted and strained again when she is outed. Malone eventually resigns from her job and she and Ferguson break up.
1983 – Hill Street Blues – Art Bradley
There is a shooting at a gay bar and Art Bradley is the only witness. He is closeted — with a wife and kids — so he tells the other officers his secret in confidence. They want him to testify but he refuses in order to protect his family. Instead, they carry out violent and coercive tactics to try to confirm the shooter by other means. This backfires when their methods are not admissible in court and the captain realizes what’s going on. He tells Bradley that either he can come forward himself or he’ll be outed. He decides to come forward. The captain tells him that his job is protected by law, but Bradley says they’ll always find a way to get rid of somebody like him. He is outed on the nightly news and then never appears on the show again.
1985 – Miami Vice – Mike Orgel
Although never appearing on-screen, this gay officer who was killed plays an essential role to the plot of one of the show’s most acclaimed episodes. Detective Crockett has a conflict with an undercover ATF agent named Evan. It’s revealed that both officers worked with Orgel in vice years earlier. When he came out, Evan reacted in disgust and Crockett didn’t defend him, and now both officers feel guilty about their reactions that led Orgel to take on a dangerous assignment as a way to die by suicide.
1986 – Moonlighting – Policeman
Judd Nelson plays an unnamed cop in an episode that also guest stars Whoopi Goldberg as a con woman on the run named Camille. The policeman continues to threaten Camille with arrest if she won’t bribe him. When he gives up waiting for money and goes to arrest her, the lead private detectives David and Maddie show up to save her. He flashes his badge and David says he’s too crooked to consider himself a cop. He then tells the policeman to think of his wife and kids. The policeman says that he’s gay and David responds, “Think of next month when all the new fall clothes will be out!”
1987- Who’s That Girl – Detective Bellson, Detective Doyle
This Madonna-starring tribute to screwball comedies features two detectives who seem to be gay and in a relationship with one another throughout the film. This is all played as a joke. At the end, they finally kiss and the camera quickly pans away to show another character’s disgust.
1989 – Hunter – Detective Frank Buchanan
Rick Hunter is investigating a series of murders targeting gay men. He arrests a homophobic man who admits to all the murders but one — the monogamous, respectable architect. Hunter learns that Frank Buchanan, one of his fellow officers, is gay and frequented the same piano bar as the architect. Hunter confronts Buchanan saying this makes him a suspect, because the architect’s killer had enough insight into the other killings to copy their patterns. Turns out someone else leaked the information and the architect’s murder had nothing to do with his sexuality and was actually connected to his business dealings. The episode ends with Buchanan coming out to the captain and the captain saying it doesn’t matter and he’s still recommending him for a promotion.
1993 – Prime Suspect 3 – Ray Hebdon
This British series involves an investigation into a pedophile ring and its possible connection to the police. When the other officers are discussing gay bars in the area, new vice squad member Ray Hebdon says that he is gay. While his expertise is valued, his colleagues do begin to treat him more coldly. This is another example of a show equating queerness with immorality — in this case pedophilia — while using its gay cop character as a counter-example of what a good gay person might be like. The series also has another officer fearing that he has AIDS, because someone HIV-positive bit him.
1993 – The Silence of the Lambs – Clarice Starling
One of the few characters on this list who is not explicitly queer, Clarice Starling deserves inclusion for the extent of her influence. Played by lesbian actor Jodie Foster — who was not out at the time — this Oscar-winning classic was a successful recruitment tool bringing more women to the FBI. Foster’s performance and Starling’s romantic disinterest in men make Starling at least queer-coded.
1994 – The Commish – Hank Radovich
A group of men in a white van are beating people up outside a gay bar. Most of the officers aren’t taking it seriously and Michael Chikilis’ titular commish demands more be done for justice. During the investigation, one of his officers, Hank Radovich, comes forward as a witness admitting that he was at the bar off duty. He wants to stay anonymous but the commish tells him his options are to officially come forward or be suspended. Radovich says the last guy he knew who came forward was ostracized and then shot himself. He comes forward anyway and faces harsh backlash until he himself is a victim of the white van men and everyone feels bad about it.
1996 – ER – Amy Elliot
Intern Maggie Doyle befriends John Carter, who becomes interested in her romantically. She invites him to a shooting range, which he believes is a date until Maggie spots her ex Amy Elliot, who she says is a jealous cop. They don’t interact and Amy Elliot doesn’t make another appearance.
1996 – NYPD Blue – Abby Sullivan
Abby Sullivan is a new officer who eventually attracts the attention of Detective Greg Medavoy. He asks her out but she reveals that she’s a lesbian. Their friendship continues and Abby eventually asks him to be the sperm donor for her and her partner Kathy. After Abby gets pregnant, Kathy is murdered. Abby decides to still have the baby and be a single mother. She leaves to give birth and was written off the show after only two seasons.
1996 – Water Rats – Helen Blakemore
Helen Blakemore was a regular on this Australian procedural throughout its six seasons. A no-nonsense desk cop, Blakemore was ambitious and exceptionally competent. Her sexuality was established from the beginning of the show but remained largely unexplored until the fourth season, when she has a romance with a lawyer. This included on-screen lesbian kisses, which was controversial for Australian TV.
1998 – Hard – Detective Raymond Vates
Screened at the 1998 Outfest Film Festival, this independent procedural film portrays a closeted gay cop facing off against a serial killer targeting gay men. Through genre conventions, the film aims to portray the discrimination faced by LGBT law enforcement and the indifference of police departments when victims are gay. The killer himself is also portrayed as gay and is inspired by Jeffrey Dahmer. The film features a cameo from Mitchell Grobeson, an LAPD sergeant who filed the first US lawsuit against LGBT discrimination in law enforcement.
1999 – Bad Girls – Lorna Rose, Helen Stewart
Orange is the New Black a decade before Orange is the New Black, this long-running British series about a women’s prison featured many queer characters among the incarcerated individuals and the guards. The first queer guard was Lorna Rose, who loved her job and wielding her power. She lived with her parents, never had a partner, and was too scared of running into formerly incarcerated women to go to any gay bars. She is arrested during the first season for smuggling drugs into the prison and is then off the show.
The other original queer guard character is Helen Stewart, who begins as a wing governor (warden) and grapples with her sexuality throughout the early seasons. She leaves her male fiancé, is sexually assaulted by her male superior, and then falls in love with someone who is incarcerated. She eventually leaves her job — and the show — to avoid her superior that assaulted her.
1999 – Mind Prey – Detective Black
This adaptation of the popular Lucas Davenport books is like an extended Criminal Minds episode — Eriq La Salle as Davenport uses excessive force but gets the job done while facing off against a scheming psychopath. Luiz Guzmán plays Davenport’s third in command, Detective Black, a gay stereotype with one earring and a lisp. He tells another detective a story about going on a failed date with a man, but otherwise his sexuality is more for jokes than plot and he seems to be operating under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” with most of his colleagues.
2001 – NYPD Blue – Susan Dalto
Only appearing in two episodes, Susan Dalto is the new lieutenant who quickly earns the anger of the rest of the squad for implementing new rules and standards. One of the main characters says the reason she can get away with being so strict is because she’s a woman and a lesbian, so she has the “double minority card” and no one will reprimand her. This proves not to be the case, because she is reassigned shortly after he says that.
2001 – Six Feet Under – Keith Charles
The on-again, off-again partner of funeral home director David Fisher, Keith Charles was one of the main characters of this acclaimed HBO show and one of the most notable queer law enforcement characters in TV history. Keith was an LAPD officer for nine years before being fired for using excessive force during a domestic violence call. He then starts working for a private security firm. When the series begins, David is closeted, but by the end Keith and David are together and adopt two children. During the finale, we see Keith is killed during his job in the year 2029. Throughout the series, Keith’s on-duty violence is shown to be connected to his overall anger and aggression issues. However, his status as a cop in the early seasons is still most often associated with being a protector and hypermasculine in a way David finds validating.
2002 – The Wire – Kima Greggs
A year after Six Feet Under premiered, lesbians got their own gay cop character on a prestige HBO show: Detective Kima Greggs. Greggs is the lead narcotics detective and openly gay. She tells fellow officer McNulty that being open about her sexuality shields her from sexual harassment — he responds that they can bond over a love of “pussy.” Greggs’ pregnant partner Cheryl is concerned for Greggs’ safety after she is shot, but Greggs shows her pictures of murdered girls and Cheryl understands the importance of Greggs’ job. While The Wire is notable for being more realistic than the average procedural in its portrayal of police work and corruption, the importance of police officers and the existence of good cops is still argued. Kima Greggs is portrayed as one such good cop — going as far as turning in McNulty in the series finale due to his unlawful policing.
2002 – The Bill – Gemma Osbourne, Debbie McAllister, Juliet Becker
Gemma Osbourne was the first out queer woman character on this long-running British procedural. She was a member of the Lesbian and Gay Police Association and didn’t experience much discrimination. She was good at her job and was really into cars. After she chooses her conscience over her job by letting a refugee and her daughter go at customs, her fitness for the job is questioned. This leads her to attempt suicide. She leaves the show before the results of her disciplinary hearing are revealed.
Debbie McAllister first appeared on the show before Osbourne, but spent her first seasons experiencing heterosexual drama — including sleeping with a superior to achieve a higher rank and later being forced to deliver his baby early at gunpoint. Eventually she has a romance with new officer Juliet Becker, who questions whether she really wants a lesbian relationship. Debbie seduces Juliet and they briefly date. Juliet is murdered and Debbie goes on to date a male officer before leaving the force and the show.
2003 – Bad Girls – Selena Geeson
The next queer guard to appear on Bad Girls after Helen Stewart was Selena Geeson. Geeson becomes a corrections officer to be close to her girlfriend Kris, who has a life sentence for murdering her father. She is a competent officer who gets along with — and flirts with — the other incarcerated women. Her role on the series ends with her protesting alongside Kris.
2003 – Smallville – Maggie Sawyer
This first rendition of comics character Maggie Sawyer only appears in a handful of episodes throughout the show’s run. She is portrayed as a competent, no-nonsense cop. Her sexuality is only implied during one moment when she bites her lip after taking a statement from Lois Lane and Chloe Sullivan.
2003 – Reno 911! – Lieutenant Jim Dangle
As a parody of the reality TV show Cops, the initial run of Reno 911! also acted as a satire of law enforcement itself. The officers are shown to be reckless, violent, ignorant, and petty. Dangle wears short shorts for “mobility” and is openly gay. His behavior is often predatory, which may have been intended as a joke on gay people — it now reads as commentary on law enforcement of any sexual orientation. The “stupid cop” is a trope in and of itself, and it’s debatable whether or not this trope reveals the failures of law enforcement or softens the real-life violence. However, Reno 911! is noteworthy within this trope for how nasty and mean-spirited it’s willing to get.
2004 – Waking the Dead – DS Dave Marvin
A two-part episode of this British procedural revolves around a killer murdering men and carving the word “Sorry” into their backs. It is suspected that most — if not all — of the victims are gay. Marvin is one of the officers investigating the case but is killed at the end of the first part. This murder and a photo of his partner in his wallet confirm his homosexuality. It turns out the murderer is the father of another new investigator and he isn’t targeting gay men, he’s targeting child molesters as an apology for his own abuse. Marvin’s murder turns out to be unrelated — he is the show’s good gay person in contrast with the child molesters.
2004 – Hellbent – Eddie
This low-budget slasher set in West Hollywood has plenty of thrills and kills. It also has a main character named Eddie, who comes from a law enforcement family. Eddie wanted to be a cop like his dad and sister but was unable to after losing an eye in a training accident. He still hangs around the police station trying to prove himself. Throughout the film, Eddie is eager to show that he can still belong to a kind of masculinity and respectability represented by law enforcement. This feels as connected to his sexuality as it is to his disability.
2005 – Nip/Tuck – Kit McGraw
One of the main characters in season three, Kit McGraw is a British detective brought to Miami to investigate The Carver, a masked serial rapist who disfigures his victims. Kit is bisexual and enters into a throuple with two of the main characters. Eventually, it’s revealed that her brother is The Carver, she is in an incestuous relationship with him, and she’s been helping him commit his crimes.
2005 – The Bill – Jo Masters
After Debbie McAllister left the show, Jo Masters arrived as the resident queer officer for the remainder of the series’ run. Masters is portrayed as an exceptional cop, although this includes breaking laws and cutting corners for a greater good. She begins her time on the series in a committed relationship, but that ends due to her being more committed to police work. The series ends with her having earned the respect of her fellow officers and being promoted to sergeant.
2005 – Bones – Angela Montenegro
Angela is an artist and software engineer who specializes in forensic facial reconstruction. She is the quirky bisexual on the show, balancing out the more type-A heterosexuals. The show only gives her one girlfriend, but she is open and comfortable about her sexuality. While her position is more about assisting law enforcement than being law enforcement herself, her role is noteworthy due to the misrepresentation of forensic research and forensic evidence on procedurals.
2006 – Bad Girls – Mandy Goodhue
Introduced in the final season, the last queer officer on Bad Girls is Mandy Goodhue. Goodhue is very open about her sexuality and talks a lot about her longtime partner Sandy and their two dogs. She is one of the kinder officers, but is seen as naive. Her final moments on the show portray her in shambles after Sandy leaves her for another woman.
2006 – Cold Case – Sean ‘Coop’ Cooper, Jimmy Bruno
During the celebrated episode “Forever Blue,” the case revolves around the murder of a police officer in the 60s named Sean ‘Coop’ Cooper. It’s revealed that he was having an affair with his married partner Jimmy Bruno and when it was discovered his lieutenant murdered him. By the end of the episode, the still living Bruno comes out. This episode is noteworthy for including one of the first gay makeouts on network television.
2006 – Will & Grace – Vince D’Angelo
Bobby Cannavale won an Emmy for his portrayal of one of Will’s longest-lasting boyfriends. His status as a police officer is something Will finds attractive. Vince is fired, because his (police) partner shoots a bystander while Vince is distracted trying on gloves. He later is rehired as a detective. The original series ends with Will and Vince together.
2008 – Paradise Falls – Cate Banning
This kooky Canadian soap opera focused heavily on queer women in its third and final season. Series regular — and occasional witch — Trish Simpkin falls for Cate Banning, a new cop who has come to town. Cate wants to prioritize her work but eventually falls for Trish. By the season’s end they have gone from lovers to enemies amid several soapy twists.
2008 – Sons of Anarchy – June Stahl, Amy Tyler
ATF agent June Stahl stands out on this list as one of the few officers who is overtly an antagonist. She is brash, violent, and treats her fellow officers as sex objects. She prioritizes her own personal success over any greater good. Eventually she is murdered out of revenge by the husband of one of her many victims.
Amy Tyler is another ATF agent who has a relationship with June. June murders Amy in order to frame her for a murder June herself committed.
2009 – Home and Away – Charlie Buckton
Police officer Charlie Buckton was added to this Australian soap to increase sex appeal. She is initially portrayed as straight, but she begins to develop feelings for a girl named Joey after getting involved in Joey’s rape investigation. They begin their relationship after Charlie saves Joey from drowning. Eventually Charlie cheats on Joey with a man and Joey leaves the show.
2009 – The L Word – Tasha Williams, Marybeth Duffy
While The L Word spent far more time exploring the topic of lesbians in the military, the final season also played into the related trope of lesbians in law enforcement. Tasha Williams, having now left the military, decides to become a police officer. By the show’s end, she is a police trainee.
The final season’s murder framing device also introduces police detective Marybeth Duffy. Her sexuality is not made explicit but the casting of Xena: Warrior Princess herself Lucy Lawless — and how she plays her — implies that she’s queer.
2009 – I Love You Phillip Morris – Steven Russell
Based on the true story of Steven Russell, his fictional counterpart also works as a police officer before quitting and then coming out as gay. This is also when he turns to crime. The framing of the story associates law enforcement with heterosexuality and crime with homosexuality — a more accurate depiction than most entries on this list. The film, however, does not include the years of inhumane solitary confinement Russell has been subjected to in recent years.
2009 – South Park – Sergeant Yates
The B plot in an episode where one of the boys accidentally becomes a pimp involves South Park police officer Sergeant Yates going undercover as a sex worker for a sting operation. He is dressed as a woman, but still has his mustache. The joke is that he takes the operation too far and actually has sex with the clients, raising questions about his sexuality. The episode ends with him using the name Yolanda and marrying his pimp.
2009 – The Good Wife – Lana Delaney
Despite appearing on the show for the first six seasons, FBI agent Lana Delaney was never developed much as a character. However, her sexual chemistry with lead Kalinda Sharma made the on-again, off-again lovers a popular couple and Lana a fan favorite. They sometimes slept with each other out of genuine interest, sometimes as a tool to get information.
2009 – Flashforward – Janis Hawk
Everyone on Earth blacks out for a few minutes, during which time anyone who is still going to be alive in six months has a vision of their future. FBI agent Janis Hawk comes up with the idea to create a website collecting data of everyone’s flashforwards to solve crimes. Her own flashforward involved her being pregnant. She begins dating Maya, whose flashforward involved her being engaged. Maya thinks their flashforwards are connected, which upsets Janis because she wants her pregnancy to be something she does on her own. They break up.
2009 – Southland – John Cooper
John Cooper was explicitly gay from the beginning, but for several seasons this was shown obliquely — mentions of an ex-wife, scenes of him in a bar filled with men, mentions of a man named Caesar. As the show went on, Cooper’s sexuality was dealt with more directly, with one female partner saying she chose him because she knew she was safe from harassment, as well as a male partner calling him a “faggot.” He also interacts with his dad, who tells him he’d rather he be dead than be gay. Cooper’s issues go beyond his sexuality, with the early seasons primarily focused on his drug addiction — including drugs he steals from crime scenes. Another storyline involves his partner shooting a child with a toy gun and Cooper deciding not to tell that she removed the orange tip afterward. She then gifts Cooper the orange tip when she leaves for a promotion. The series ends with him assaulting two men for calling him a “pig” and then being shot by another officer. The series attempted to show the harsh realities of policing, but centering the police characters and placing value on the other work they do potentially negates those attempts.
2009 – White Collar – Diana Berrigan
While underutilized throughout the series’ run, FBI agent Diana Berrigan was one of the main secondary characters on this show. Her personal life was not often a focus except for one storyline where she gets engaged to her doctor girlfriend Christie before breaking up because she’s unsure if she’s ready for marriage. Otherwise her role is primarily to provide assistance to the male leads.
2010 – Law and Order: LA – Arleen Gonzales
One of the most overt examples of queerness being used as police propaganda, commanding officer Arleen Gonzales comes out on the stand to defend the LAPD against racial profiling. The lawyer for a defendant shows an edited tape that portrays Gonzales as racist and Gonzales says that as a lesbian she understands prejudice so can’t be racist. Of course, people who experience one type of prejudice can still hold prejudice against others — they can even hold prejudice against their own identities. This moment is particularly brazen because otherwise Gonzales largely keeps her private life private, focusing instead on advocating for her detectives — no matter what they’ve done.
2010 – Lip Service – Sam Murray
Detective Sam Murray was one of the main characters on this lesbian-focused British series. Initially her profession acts as a shorthand for her personality — confident, direct, reliable — before later playing a larger role. She spends most of the series in a tumultuous relationship with Cat, who continually cheats on her with the same woman. Distracted by her guilt after one instance of cheating, Cat is hit by a car and dies. Distraught Sam begins to act out on the job, including beating up a drug addict and then using the person’s stash.
2010 – Rookie Blue – Gail Peck, Jen Luck, Frankie Anderson
This Canadian/American co-production featured several queer women throughout its run while emphasizing the importance of policing. One of the main characters was Gail Peck, a bisexual rookie officer who comes from a decorated police family. She feels pressure to perform and isolation from the other rookies due to her connections. She dates several people, most notably having an on-again, off-again relationship with forensic pathologist Holly Stewart.
Jen Luck is another officer, who appears in only one episode and hits on Gail.
Frankie Anderson is a detective brought in for the final season. She has a brief relationship with Gail before Gail ends the series back with Holly.
2011 – Death Valley – Carla Rinaldi
Lasting only one season on MTV, this comedy/horror show is about a group of cops who battle vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Officer Rinaldi is a hardworking, straight-laced cop who also happens to be a lesbian. She ends up dating a bisexual bartender named Julia and this leads to her coming out at work. A cop show with nonhuman villains allows the officers to be uncomplicated heroes with uncomplicated victims.
2011 – Certain Prey – Detective Black
The second adaptation of the Lucas Davenport books is an interesting case study in how things changed the past decade and how they stayed the same. Davenport, this time played by NCIS lead Mark Harmon, once again uses overtly unethical police tactics to get the job done. But Detective Black is played (this time by Anand Rajaram) with far more subtlety than the previous version. We first learn he’s gay because the villain calls him a “fairy” and he asks her to “cool it on the anti-gay bigotry.” In the final minutes of the film, he confirms his identity when he says, “Why are you asking me that? Because I’m gay?” Otherwise he is a respectable, perfectly assimilated cop.
2011 – J. Edgar – J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson
Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the titular role, this biopic attempts neutrality in its portrayal of the creator of the FBI. It shows Hoover to be tortured by his sexuality and to have a complicated sexual relationship with second-in-command Clyde Tolson. While some of the FBI’s worst actions are featured and Hoover is shown to be petty and controlling, it’s still a sympathetic portrayal that blames the pain of homophobia for many of his worst actions. Hoover has appeared in several other movies and TV shows as a character but this is the rare instance where he’s the focus and where his sexuality is centered.
2012 – Hit and Run – Randy Anderson, Terry Rathbinn
This action-comedy stars Dax Shepard (who also wrote and co-directed) as Charlie, a former getaway driver in witness protection. He agrees to help take his girlfriend, played by real life wife Kristen Bell, to a job interview out of state resulting in them being chased by US Marshall Randy Anderson, officer Terry Rathbinn, and Charlie’s former bank-robbing associates. Throughout the film Randy and Terry develop feelings for one another. They end up saving the day by apprehending the bank robbers and eventually they begin dating. Their relationship is not played as a joke, but one of the bank robbers being raped in prison is played as a joke.
2012 – Person of Interest – Root, Sameen Shaw
The Machine is an advanced computer program developed for the US government that is able to gather data to predict future terrorist attacks and the people planning them. Among queer viewers, the show is most well-known for its enemies-to-lovers storyline between hacker Root and government operative Sameen Shaw.
Root begins the series as an anti-law-enforcement hacker facing off against the FBI and The Machine. Throughout the series her loyalties are complex, and calling her law enforcement is questionable since she’s not working for the government who created The Machine as much as the sentient being The Machine becomes. Shaw’s loyalties are similarly complex, with her attraction to Root and her own moral questions leading her to sometimes betray law enforcement for a greater good. The show raises questions around surveillance and government corruption leaning into moral complications, especially in its later seasons. Root is eventually killed by someone who works for the government’s opposing surveillance mission. Shaw then kills him to avenge Root’s death.
2013 – The Good Wife – Jenna Villette
Police officer Jenna Villette arrests Kalinda Sharma as a favor to her friend, whom Kalinda was following. She keeps Kalinda in holding for the night, but this ends with her and Kalinda having sex at Jenna’s apartment instead. Later, Kalinda has a brief affair with Jenna again as a means of getting information. When Jenna realizes this, she slaps Kalinda in public.
2013 – Hannibal – Will Graham, Alana Bloom, Jimmy Price
While network limitations and show creator Bryan Fuller’s caution prevented the relationship from being made explicit, Fuller has confirmed what was obvious to most – FBI agent Will Graham and serial killer obsession Hannibal Lecter were gay for each other. Fuller recently said that were he to shoot the finale again, he’d suggest the characters kiss.
Psychology professor and FBI consultant Alana Bloom is, however, explicitly bisexual. She has romantic entanglements with Will and Hannibal, as well as a longer relationship with Hannibal’s sister Margot. She and Margot eventually get married and have a son.
Fuller has confirmed that crime scene investigator Jimmy Price, played by Scott Thompson, is also gay.
2013 – Horns – Eric Hannity, Wallace Sturtz
This offbeat indie stars Daniel Radcliffe as Ig, a man who wakes up with devil horns and the ability to get secrets out of people. During one scene, Ig asks one of the two cops who is following him if he’s gay, and the cop tells a story about being beaten by his dad for having gay porn. The other cop says that he’s also gay. The two cops then make out. Later as they beat up Ig, one of the cops says that he’s going to masturbate to the thought of this later. This is all played for laughs.
2013 – The Fosters – Stef Adams Foster
While this show about lesbian wives with a family of adopted children was celebrated for its LGBT representation, it also acted as an insidious work of police propaganda. One of the wives, Stef, was a police officer, and throughout the series her police work is portrayed as heroic. It is specifically troubling in regards to her case dealing with sex work and sex trafficking — furthering false narratives around both. While foster children and young queer people are, in fact, at risk of being forced into survival sex work, this is often a result of at-home abuse and homelessness. A storyline involving one of Stef’s daughters being kidnapped by a pimp instead reinforces human trafficking narratives used to scare parents into supporting a surveillance state and increased policing of sex workers. The show is critical of ICE and does have a storyline about racial profiling by law enforcement. The final two seasons also introduce a corrupt cop as a foil to Stef, and the show ends with her quitting her job as detective to run a nonprofit child welfare agency and shelter for abused women. Nevertheless, her job throughout the series still acts as a stain on what was otherwise a groundbreaking progressive series. Her career shift in the final episodes at least spares the spin-off Good Trouble from the same issues.
2013 – The Walking Dead – Tara Chambler
While never officially law enforcement, Tara Chambler was at a police academy training to be a police officer when the outbreak occurred creating the show’s zombie apocalypse. She was a series regular from season four through season eleven, growing from a cold outsider to the leader of a community. She becomes especially vindictive after her girlfriend Denise is killed. Tara eventually dies as well, because this is The Walking Dead and everybody gay or straight dies at some point.
2013 – Wentworth – Erica Davidson, Joan Ferguson
A remake of Prisoner: Cell Block H, this is another example where one can directly see how the same story has evolved over the decades. This version has many incarcerated queer characters as well as two queer guards. The first, Erica Davidson, is a prisoner advocate who immediately butts heads with the governor (warden) before taking over as governor herself. She struggles in this role, as she is unable to get the other guards to respect her authority or carry out her reforms. This eventually results in her leaving the position. While the character is shown to be compassionate, she does still kiss one of the inmates, an obvious abuse of power.
Joan Ferguson — also a character in the original — is brought in after Davidson leaves to restore order to the prison. She is ruthless and violent, willing to kill to enact her agenda. This rendition of the character is more complex and layered, making her less overtly homophobic but more apologetic toward law enforcement. Like in the original series, her affair with an inmate — if you can call it an affair — leads to the inmate being killed and Ferguson to begin a downward spiral that results in her going from governor to inmate. Unlike on the original show, Ferguson remains as a character while incarcerated.
2013 – The Fall – Stella Gibson, Danielle Ferrington
Gillian Anderson stars as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, who is sent from London to Belfast to help with an unsolved murder investigation. Gibson is bisexual, a fact made explicit in the second season. This show is reminiscent of Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake released the same year — a female police officer acts as a harbinger of justice against patriarchy. Despite their acclaim, these shows act as a sort of art house Law and Order: SVU. They are wish-fulfillment fantasies where an attractive female cop can fight back against violent misogyny. The appeal of these stories of simple justice is obvious even if in real life the presence of female officers does little to change the fact that police are more likely to enact misogynistic violence than prevent it.
The first season has a lesbian police officer named Danielle Ferrington, who helps Gibson with the case. Little is shared about her personal life beyond this label.
2013 – Brooklyn 99 – Captain Holt, Rosa Diaz
One of the primary debates in regards to law enforcement representation is whether it’s better to show the realities of policing or to show a fantasy of good policing. This sitcom from Parks and Recreation creator Michael Schur leaned hard into the latter throughout most of its eight-season run. From the beginning, Captain Holt was presented as an outlier, proudly the NYPD’s first Black and gay police captain, married to a classics professor at Columbia. There is one exception in season four when the show has one episode that addresses the racist violence of law enforcement. A Black officer named Terry is targeted by a white officer who doesn’t realize he’s a cop. Terry wants to file a complaint but Holt advises against it due to the possibility of retaliation. Eventually, Holt supports him but Terry does, in fact, lose out on a promotion.
During season five, the tough and secretive Rosa Diaz comes out as bisexual. Played by bisexual actress Stephanie Beatriz, this storyline was widely praised, with the show winning the 2018 GLAAD award for Best Comedy Series. Despite the praise and popularity, the show was canceled by Fox after season five. A fan campaign, led by Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda, resulted in the series being picked up by NBC.
After the June 2020 protests, the show’s writers rewrote the show’s eighth and final season in order to more directly engage with the realities of policing. The first episode of the final season finds Rosa Diaz having quit after the protests to be a private investigator and main character Jake trying to prove he’s “one of the good ones” by helping her with a police brutality investigation. The rest of the season introduces Frank O’Sullivan, the head of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, as the primary antagonist and a representative of “the bad ones.” This dichotomy of “good ones” and “bad ones” still reinforces myths of policing. The series ends with Holt being promoted to work on reforms citywide, suggesting that law enforcement needs reforms rather than to have reduced funding eventually leading to abolition.
Even if the final season had succeeded in addressing the realities of policing or had every officer quit, there is a difference between a movie that ends with a police officer quitting and a sitcom. Sitcoms are rewatched out of order and the legacy of the series will predominantly be the first seven seasons. Finally, it’s worth noting that the Ferguson protests occurred the year after Brooklyn 99 premiered, and the Rodney King protests occurred when Michael Schur was 17. The changes attempted in the final season occurred due to the pressures of the moment, not because the realities of policing had previously been hidden from the cast and crew.
2014 – The Calling – Ben Wingate
Ben Wingate, played by Topher Grace, is a new cop in a small Ontario town. As he and the main character, played by Susan Sarandon, investigate a series of murders, he opens up to her about his sexuality. He reveals that he moved from Toronto to this small town because his romantic partner died and the guys on the force didn’t take it well. It’s unclear if he means they didn’t take the death well or his sexuality. This is the last mention of his personal life in the film.
2014 – The Following – Gina Mendez, Jana Murphy
Gina Mendez is an FBI agent investigating serial killer and cult leader Joe Carroll. Her partner Jana Murphy was also training to be an FBI agent but quit to raise her and Gina’s children. It turns out Jana is secretly a follower of Carroll’s and has been working as a spy. Jana stabs Gina, who almost dies. Gina is so traumatized by this case that she quits the FBI. Jana dies by suicide.
2014 – Love is Strange – Roberto, Ted
This quiet indie from gay filmmaker Ira Sachs stars Alfred Molina and John Lithgow as a couple who lose their housing after being together for 39 years. They get separated and one of them moves in with their now former neighbors Roberto and Ted, who are both cops. They represent the younger generation of gay men, their jobs giving them an air of respectability in a movie that’s making a gay-marriage-era plea for acceptance.
2014 – Murdoch Mysteries – Chief Constable Giles
A body is found buried under the station house, launching an investigation into the police force of decades past. It’s discovered that the body is one of the former officers. It turns out this officer was blackmailing now Chief Constable Giles with a photo of him with a man. Giles confesses to the murder, but it turns out the murderer was actually a different constable who was simply loyal to Giles. Giles is charged with obstruction of justice, and they say due to being homosexual not only will he lose his job but he will likely face more jail time than the other man will for murder. This show takes place in the 1890s after all.
2014 – Gotham – Renee Montoya
The first live action screen appearance of Renee Montoya and the first screen appearance to have her be queer, this version of the character, played by Victoria Cartagena, is still a detective with the Gotham City Police Department. While investigating the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, Montoya has an affair with Commissioner Gordon’s girlfriend Barbara Keane. Montoya only appears in the first eleven episodes of the first season.
2014 – Blue Bloods – Alex Fuentes
This is another example of a hate crime happening at a gay bar and an off-duty cop being the only witness. One of the detectives questions whether this is still a big deal, and his partner — who like Fuentes is Latino — says that for Latinos it is. Fuentes’ police partner refuses to work with him and even punches him in the face when Fuentes urges him to talk it out. Fuentes’ family reacts negatively as well, disowning him. It turns out one of the killers is a bigoted New Jersey police chief’s son. This convinces Fuentes’ partner to take him back. Throughout the episode, the commissioner, played by Tom Selleck, grapples with how his tolerance toward gay people fits with his strict Catholic faith.
2015 – Banana/Cucumber – Kay
Sister series Banana and Cucumber both featured lesbian cop Kay, played by T’Nia Miller. She is primarily in Banana’s sixth episode, “Kay and Amy.” Amy has OCD and the episode largely focuses on her attempting to cope with this while preparing for and then going on a date with policewoman Kay.
2015 – Cuffs – Donna Prager
This short-lived British series follows a group of cops in Brighton. One of the main characters, Donna Prager, is a “taser cop” and a lesbian. She is shown to be heroic and exceptionally competent. She is more focused on her job than her personal life and is frustrated when others don’t do the same. She is often praised for her police work.
2015 – Freeheld – Laurel Hester
Based on a true story and made at the tailend of the gay marriage debate, this film stars Julianne Moore as Laurel hester, a police detective fighting on her deathbed for her partner to receive her pension. While designed as a palatable and emotionally manipulative gay film for straight people, it goes from harmless to harmful in its portrayal of the police. Hester is shown to be a hero through a subplot that’s reminiscent of the most right-wing procedurals with its reinforcement of the war on drugs. The film makes sure to show that Hester has many police allies, including her partner played by Michael Shannon. This is among the most obvious examples of law enforcement being used to assimilate queer people — a tool that often acts more as propaganda for law enforcement itself than queer people it aims to serve.
2015 – Love the Coopers – Officer Williams
Anthony Mackie plays a gay cop in this star-studded Christmas movie. He appears briefly, having arrested one of the main characters for shoplifting. He’s unhappy and closeted, in part due to his homophobic mother. This is revealed when the main character encourages him to do a role play where he pretends to be his mother and she pretends to be him as a child.
2015 – The Returned – Deputy Nikki Banks
Based on the French series Les Revenants, this one-season show is about a small town where people who have been dead for many years begin to reappear. Agnes Bruckner stars as Deputy Nikki Banks, a lesbian whose ex takes in one of the returned boys and names him Victor. Nikki spends most of the season investigating Victor’s mysterious past, causing conflict between her and Julie.
2015 – Supernatural – Jenna Nickerson
Appearing in two episodes of the long-running series Supernatural, Deputy Jenna Nickerson is a deputy who started the job three weeks before the zombie-like “Darkness” took over. Her sexuality is known because she briefly talks about her first kiss. She rescues a baby who ends up being infected and this results in her being infected and killing her grandmother. She is then also killed.
2015 – Jane the Virgin – Susanna Barnett
Jane’s future husband Michael is a cop and is shown to be heroic and a quintessential good guy until his death. During the second season, he gets a new partner, lesbian Susanna Barnett. They’re occasionally antagonistic toward each other, and it’s revealed that Barnett is secretly investigating Michael for Internal Affairs. The big twist is that Susanna Barnett is not real and is actually the main villain, Sin Rostro, in disguise. This occurs in a way that fits into the show’s telenovela roots — mostly that it’s a shocking twist that doesn’t quite make sense — still earning this maybe-not-a-real-person a place on this list.
2015 – Sense8 – Will Gorski
Created by the Wachowski sisters, this Netflix series and cult favorite follows a group of “sensates” who are psychically connected with other people in their “cluster” around the world. Will Gorski is an officer with the Chicago Police Department and is shown in the beginning of the series to be a fantasy of a good cop — justice-minded, slow to use violence against civilians. Throughout the series he uses his connections to the police to help his fellow sensates, his loyalties shifting away from the law and toward a truer sense of justice. His only relationship on the show is with a woman in his cluster, Riley, but he still makes the list because of the fluidity of sexuality shown among all of the sensates. His portrayal in the beginning feels like misguided wish-fulfillment and accidental copaganda, softened only by how often the other characters on the show — and eventually Will — find themselves in conflict with law enforcement.
2015 – Blindspot – Bethany Mayfair
The assistant director of the FBI’s New York field office, Bethany Mayfair is shown to be a committed and competent leader. She had a relationship with the deputy White House political director Sofia Varma until Mayfair believed Varma died by suicide. Varma reappears having faked her own death. Mayfair helps Varma get new documents. It turns out Varma is working for a terrorist organization and gets Mayfair falsely accused of murder. After being released, Mayfair is killed.
2015 – Quantico – Hannah Wyland
FBI agent Hannah Wyland is suspended in season one after causing a disturbance at a political rally even though this was done as a distraction to prevent a terrorist attack. She is later reinstated. Her bisexuality is only revealed in a later season via a phone call.
2015 – Stitchers – Camille Engelson
This sci-fi show introduces a government agency that has discovered a way to “stitch” people into the memories of the recently deceased in order to solve crimes. Camille Engelson is a bisexual computer scientist who begins working for this organization. She has her first relationship with a woman on-screen, a medical examiner, in the third season.
2015 – Bosch – Grace “Billets” Billets, Kiz Rider
Billets is the commanding officer of LAPD homicide. Her personal life remains largely absent throughout most of the series. During the final season, there is a harassment campaign against her that includes homophobic slurs being written on her car. The series ends with Bosch quitting to be a private detective and Billets getting promoted to captain. The series ended in 2021.
During the first season, Billets has a relationship with her subordinate, police detective Kiz Rider. Rider was a much larger character in the novels that inspired the series, but only appears briefly in the first season.
2016 – Power – LaVerne “Jukebox” Ganner
Played by Anika Noni Rose, Jukebox is an explicitly corrupt cop. She uses her position as a police officer to help her crew get away with robberies. She is ruthless and quick to kill when it serves her well — even children. She is eventually killed by her cousin Kanan. A younger, more sympathetic version of the character appears in the prequel series Power Book III: Raising Kanan.
2016 – Timeless – Denise Christopher
This procedural with a time travel twist includes Denise Christopher, a lesbian former cop and current Homeland Security agent. She has a wife and two kids, who end up in danger due to her job. She is portrayed as level-headed and by-the-book. She named herself after the police officer who comforted her after her father was murdered.
2016 – Orange is the New Black – C.O. McCullough
Committed to showing the realities of prison, Jenji Kohan’s Netflix hit revealed the importance of art grounded in these realities — and the limitations when that art is made by people without direct experience. The series had a number of queer people throughout its run, most of whom were incarcerated. Season four introduced CO McCullough, a military veteran who thinks of herself as better than her male colleagues despite sharing their racism. She is one of the guards held hostage after another guard kills one of the show’s most beloved queer characters and McCullough develops PTSD. During the final season, she has sex with main character Alex Vause. When Alex cuts things off, McCullough grows obsessive and eventually has her transferred in retaliation, an obvious example of the power imbalance between prisoner and guard, something the show occasionally disregarded for other characters.
2016 – Wynonna Earp – Nicole Haught
Wynonna Earp has one of the most committed queer fanbases of any show from the last decade. This is largely due to the ship Wayhaught, Wynonna’s younger sister Waverly and Sheriff Nicole Haught. This is a fantasy show with dragons and vampires, but Nicole Haught is just a human being with no special powers beyond being a smart and heroic police officer. Search Twitter for “Nicole Haught ACAB” and you’ll find many queers tweeting something along the lines of “ACAB except Nicole Haught.” But that’s not how this works. It’s possible to value the queer representation on this show and of this relationship while also acknowledging that it turns a police officer into a lovable hero just like so many works of media before and after.
2016 – NCIS: New Orleans – Tammy Gregorio
While the NCIS franchise is possibly more military than police, Tammy Gregorio still makes this list as a former FBI agent. Her training from the FBI is cited for why she becomes the group’s lead sniper as well as being tasked with creating criminal profiles. Her ex-husband embezzled money from FEMA and she now identifies as a lesbian.
2016 – Supergirl – Maggie Sawyer
This is another show, character, and ship with an avid fandom. Maggie Sawyer is a detective with the National City police and begins a relationship with Supergirl’s sister Alex Danvers. Since the character’s appearance on Smallville, obvious strides have been made with lesbian representation on TV. Alex and Maggie’s relationship is nuanced and well-conceived and if anything ended too soon for most fans. But — as we’ll see with Birds of Prey and Batwoman — just because a character is a cop in the comics that doesn’t mean the character has to be a cop on-screen.
I opted not to include Alex or any of the other characters who work for the DEO (Department of Extranormal Operations). This is an instance where sci-fi muddles the analysis as it’s unclear if they should be considered cops, military, or neither. Since it is a government agency, I could see an argument that it’s analogous to the Department of Homeland Security.
2016 – Janet King – Bianca Grieve
The titular character is a senior crown prosecutor on this Australian series. Between seasons one and two her wife is murdered off-screen, and in season two she meets Sergeant Bianca Grieve. Grieve is tough and good at her job but warm in comparison to King. They eventually date once Grieve gets King to open up about her grief. Grieve acts as King’s protector, at work and in their relationship. Their connection suggests that maybe prosecutors should’ve been included on this list.
2016 – Neighbours – Ellen Crabb
The Australian soap opera that launched the careers of Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, and Kylie Minogue has introduced several queer characters in recent seasons, including homicide detective Ellen Crabb. She is introduced investigating the murder of another character. She has a partner and a daughter and is prone to jealousy.
2016 – Mr. Robot – Dominique DiPierro
Played by Grace Gummer, Dominique DiPierro is a tough, foul-mouthed lesbian FBI agent. She is more preoccupied with her job than her personal life — using anonymous sex chats as her only form of gratification. She is dismissive of regular police, a common trope that frames the FBI as more competent than regular cops. Eventually she gets manipulated into being a mole for the hacker group she was hunting because they threaten to kill her family. She almost has an affair with a hacker named Darlene but refuses to open up. During her final moments, it seems like she might end up with Darlene after all.
2017 – Ten Days in the Valley – Nickole Bilson, Amira
This limited series is about a television producer making a show based on real-life police corruption who gets tangled up with her subjects. Nickole Bilson is one of the main antagonists of the series, having taken drug money for herself and then gone to great lengths — kidnapping, murder — to cover her tracks. It’s revealed that her actions were actually in service of her commander, who had been threatening her wife. Her fate is unclear but the commander she’s been working for gets arrested — a moment of triumph in the narrative that also suggests the issue is with select corrupt cops rather than cops in general.
Amira is an aid at the LAPD detective bureau who is dating the script supervisor of the TV show.
2017 – Shadowhunters – Ollie Wilson
Olivia “Ollie” Wilson is an NYPD detective who begins to suspect the existence of “the shadow world” after she is attacked by a werewolf. Her partner Luke Garroway is himself a werewolf, which Wilson suspects, but Garroway denies his knowledge of anything supernatural. Eventually, he confesses the truth to her and she begins using this knowledge to better solve supernatural-related cases. Throughout all of this she confides in her girlfriend Samantha about her suspicions.
2017 – The End of the F***ing World – Teri Darego, Eunice Noon
Teri and Eunice are two constables trying to solve a death caused by the lead teenage characters. Throughout the series they are shown to be compassionate and inquisitive even as they come into conflict with the leads. It’s revealed that they slept together once and Teri regrets it while Eunice does not. This complicates their relationship during the investigation. The series ends with one of the leads being shot and killed by other police officers, Teri and Eunice unable to apprehend the kids peacefully.
2017 – APB – Tasha Goss
Lasting only one season, this Fox procedural was about a Chicago police precinct that gets purchased by a tech billionaire who wants to equip them with the latest technology after witnessing the ineffectiveness of police in solving his friend’s murder. Tasha Goss is one of the officers and comes out as a lesbian in front of her partner while attempting to prevent a suicide. While the series aims to critique the current state of policing, it reinforces the idea that law enforcement needs more funding for more technology — rather than the reality that many police departments are overfunded and armed with military-grade equipment.
2017 – Electric Dreams – Sarah
The fifth episode of this Philip K. Dick anthology series stars Anna Paquin as a police officer in the future who is haunted by the trauma of witnessing her fellow officers get killed. Her girlfriend Sarah gifts her a chip that allows her to sink into another reality to play out a revenge fantasy. In this reality, Sarah is played by Terrence Howard. The episode spends more time on Sarah getting lost in which reality is real and hunting the killer than exploring the emptiness of violence or what it means for a white female cop to suddenly become a Black male vigilante.
2017 – Mindhunter – Wendy Carr
Based on a book co-written by the FBI agent at its center, this David Fincher Netflix series claims to show a realistic depiction of serial killers and law enforcement, while playing into the same tropes. The show suggests there is a specific psychological profile that leads to serial killing, a concept that results in the dehumanization of certain criminals and the suggestion that people who commit crimes are monsters. Serial killers are often used as a talking point against police and prison abolition — as if some humans are inherently evil and other humans in law enforcement are uniquely qualified to stop them. This series includes FBI psychologist Wendy Carr, who is a lesbian. We meet her ex Annalise, who she left to join the FBI. Wendy also dates a bartender named Kay, but they break up because Kay is unwilling to open up and be more serious.
2017 – Santa Clarita – Anne Garcia
Starring Drew Barrymore as Sheila, a suburban mom who begins craving flesh, this quirky Netflix comedy features bisexual actress Natalie Morales as Sheriff Anne Garcia. Initially, Anne is suspicious of Sheila and presents a problem to her and her husband, but eventually Anne begins to view Sheila as the messiah — which presents problems of its own. The series ends with Anne leaving Santa Clarita to go on a spiritual journey.
2017 – Claws – Arlene Branch
This crime comedy centered around a nail salon co-stars Judy Reyes as Quiet Ann, a lesbian fan-favorite who runs security at the salon. Ann has a relationship with police detective and then FBI agent Arlene Branch. They have sex for the first time in the back of a police car. During season three, Arlene breaks the law to try and make a deal to protect Ann. Soon after she is murdered.
2018 – S.W.A.T. – Chris Alonso
The first woman to join the LAPD’s SWAT team, Chris Alonso is committed to proving she’s good enough to belong. She is invested in getting other women interested in joining the SWAT team. Chris is bisexual and moves in with a couple, Ty and Kira, before realizing she only has feelings for Kira. She has a slow-burn relationship with fellow SWAT member Jim Street and ended her time on the show soon after they got together. Chris leaves the SWAT team in order to help and house undocumented girls seeking asylum. While actress Lina Esco said she just wanted to pursue other projects, the timing and narrative turn for this character seems connected to the June 2020 protests. Chris is still dating Jim off-screen so it’s possible she’ll return for the show’s last season, set to air sometime in 2024.
During Alonso’s final season, there’s a storyline where one of the new female officers is hazed. Chris recalls the humiliation of being hazed herself and Jim admits to regretfully being involved in that kind of abuse. This same episode introduces Janet Flynn, a beat cop whose cover is blown and needs the SWAT team to rescue her and her wife. It seems pointed that an episode willing to engage with abuse within the police force would also have a different storyline with a lesbian cop where she and the SWAT team end up looking heroic.
2018 – Condor – Sharla Shepard
FBI agent Sharla Shepard is a recurring character in the first season of this television adaptation of the book Six Days of Condor. The series is centered around a CIA analyst who is upset to discover his algorithm is being used to spy on civilians. Whatever possible critique this could imply is hollowed by the reveal that the Muslim man the CIA used the tool to spy on actually is a terrorist. There’s corruption and intrigue throughout the series, but it’s more concerned with updating the gender dynamics of the novel than saying anything tangible about the CIA or the US government. This liberal approach includes the introduction of Agent Shepard.
2018 – For the People – Anya Ooms
Kate Littlejohn, one of the lawyers on this Shonda Rhimes legal drama, is in a relationship with ATF agent Anya Ooms. Anya initially meets Kate when working on a case and gets Kate’s number under the guise of professional assistance. She follows through with this by calling Kate to ask if she has enough evidence to make an arrest. When Kate says no, they plan a sting together, arresting a soccer mom who was hiring a hitman to kill her daughter’s abusive partner. This is apparently a bonding moment, because later they go to a shooting range together and then kiss.
2018 – The Sinner – Heather Novack
The second season of this crime drama centers around a thirteen-year-old boy who kills his parents. Season one detective Harry Ambrose returns, now assisted by lesbian detective-in-training Heather Novack. Heather’s father was childhood friends with Ambrose and was also a detective. Throughout the season we see teenage Heather with her friend Marin and the twist is that the thirteen-year-old boy was really the son of Marin and Heather’s father, who raped Marin.
2018 – Station 19 – Elle Kingsley
The firefighters host a training and police officer Elle Kingsley is one of the attendees. She is bisexual and is hit on by two of the lead characters, one man and one woman. They flirt with her throughout the episode and both end up getting her number.
2018 – Falling Water – Alexis Simms
Played by L Word: Generation Q favorite Sepideh Moafi, Simms is an NYPD detective who becomes the lead’s partner in season two. She is tough and competent but does not share her partner’s interest in the deeper examination of a case, preferring instead to get home to see her girlfriend.
2018 – Doctor Who – Yasmin Khan
The representational achievement of a pansexual Muslim companion on this long-running show is soured by Yasmin Khan’s position as a police officer in training. She is shown to be more concerned with her job than her personal life, and that job gets more complicated when she begins working with the Doctor. She eventually asks her superior officer for time off as she continues her work with the Doctor.
2018 – How to Get Away with Murder – Claire Telesco
Claire Telesco is an FBI agent who is introduced in the investigation of the murder of the Philadelphia district attorney. After a different DA is also murdered, she’s assigned that case and suspects series lead Annalise Keating. Tegan Price has sex with her as a ruse, and Claire is eventually taken off the case for failing to protect someone in witness protection.
2018 – Will & Grace – Vince D’Angelo
Bobby Cannavale as Vince D’Angelo was brought back for one episode of the reboot. Will is attending Vince’s wedding to Ryan, his (police) partner. Jack and Karen attend the wedding because they want to ogle other police officers, so a man being a police officer is once again framed as something desirable. The only real change in ten years in regards to the show’s portrayal of police is that Ryan is Black.
2019 – Travelers – Joanne Yates
Appearing in the final season of this three-season time travel procedural, FBI agent Joanne Yates is contacted by a machine from the future through her dying mother asking her to help save the world. She becomes a liaison between the time travelers and the FBI, remaining skeptical of the time travelers the whole time. She mentions having a wife but she is never shown on-screen.
2019 – LA’s Finest – Sydney Burnett
Previously appearing in Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II, Gabrielle Union’s Syd Burnett is the lead of this spin-off. A former DEA agent, she’s now with the LAPD. She’s bisexual and free-spirited, which in the context of this cop show often means abusing her power out of a perceived greater good. Not following the rules is shown to be an admirable quality, something necessary to bring about justice. The show specifically reinforces a lot of narratives connected to the war on drugs.
2019 – Family Business – Élodie
This French Netflix show is about a man who turns his family’s kosher butcher shop into a pot dispensary. The police end up using nearby fields for training and Élodie is one of the officers. She develops feelings for the lead’s sister while also growing suspicious of the drug-related activity happening at the shop. Élodie is a gendarme, which in France is a militarized police officer who is among civilians.
2019 – Nancy Drew – Lisbeth
Lisbeth is introduced as the driver for the wealthy Hudsons, the family at the center of the show’s murder. She begins dating Nancy’s friend Bess. Bess discovers that Lisbeth is actually undercover with the state police but keeps Lisbeth’s secret until the case is solved so her cover isn’t blown. Later, Bess faces backlash from her family for this relationship, not because Lisbeth is a woman but because she’s a cop. They task her with trying to use Lisbeth for information. Bess can’t handle being torn between her family and her girlfriend and decides not to show up to meet Lisbeth’s parents rather than verbally breaking up.
2019 – FBI/FBI: Most Wanted – Sheryll Barnes
Barnes is an FBI agent who previously worked undercover for the NYPD. She is married and has a daughter. She is tough and brave, but gentle and empathetic with victims. She experiences sexism and racism from criminals, not from within the FBI. She first appeared in a couple episodes of FBI in 2019 before becoming the lead of the spin-off series FBI: Most Wanted in early 2020.
2019 – Dead to Me – Ana Perez
Starring Christina Applegate as a woman whose husband is killed in a hit-and-run and Linda Cardellini as the driver, this Liz Feldman Netflix show has Diana Maria Riva as lesbian cop Ana Perez investigating the case. The two lead women form an unlikely alliance and eventually Perez also makes choices to protect them. During the second season, it’s revealed that one of the lead’s new girlfriends played by Natalie Morales is Ana’s ex-girlfriend. This leads to further complications between the three women.
2019 – Law and Order: SVU – Kat Tamin
Throughout its 24 seasons, Law and Order: SVU has presented a reality where law enforcement is the solution for sexual assault survivors seeking justice. While this has provided comfort to many real-life survivors, it also acts as propaganda that ignores how regularly the justice system fails. Police officers are at best negligent and at worst the perpetrators in regards to cases of sexual violence. Main character Olivia Benson is popular among queer women, but it’s new detective Kat Tamin who is canonically queer. She spends New Year’s Eve with a woman named Céline, who is turned on by the fact that Kat is a cop, but Kat has to leave after receiving an amber alert. In a very post–June 2020 storyline, former SVU lead Elliot Stabler returns and Kat takes issue with Stabler’s violent behavior. This eventually leads her to leave the NYPD, but any point made is hollowed by Stabler’s continued role in the Law and Order universe as well as the exaggerated competence and importance of law enforcement shown in every episode for over two decades.
2020 – Birds of Prey – Renee Montoya
Cathy Yan’s Harley Quinn–focused spin on the Gotham universe stars Rosie Perez as lesbian detective Renee Montoya. There’s a scene with her ex-girlfriend, the district attorney. Throughout the film, Montoya grows disillusioned with the Gotham Police Department, and the film ends with her quitting the force in order to team up with Quinn and other outlaws to form the vigilante group the Birds of Prey. This movie stands out as one of the most explicitly anti-law-enforcement titles on this list and in the broader superhero genre.
2020 – The Valhalla Murders – Arnar
This Icelandic limited series released on Netflix is about Arnar, a police officer now in Norway who returns to his small Icelandic town for a murder case. He was kicked out as a teen by his Jehovah’s Witness family for being gay, making this return even more fraught. The local police are shown to be careless, allowing Arnar to fit the trope of the one hero cop who is smarter than everyone and saves the day.
2020 – 9-1-1: Lone Star – Carlos Reyes
Police officer Carlos Reyes and firefighter T.K. Strand are one of the most popular gay couples currently on TV. Ryan Murphy’s 9-1-1 universe boasts a diversity of identities while upholding the importance of police officers as first responders. Carlos is shown to be somebody who cares deeply about justice. Actor Rafael Silva has talked about training with a retired LAPD detective — something that’s standard in law enforcement media. The series acts as a prime example of the limits of diversifying the same stories, the same propaganda.
2020 – Deputy – Bishop
The first of only three trans characters on this list, Bishop is played by nonbinary actor Bex Taylor-Klause. Bishop acts as security detail for new acting sheriff Bill Hollister. Bishop wants to change the department and views Hollister as their best hope. Hollister is the cliché officer who plays by his own rules, less concerned with protocol than what he views as right. While this places him in opposition to other officers on occasion — sometimes for just reasons — it also feeds into this idea that a cop who doesn’t care about accountability is doing so out of heroism when it’s far more likely done in real life for unethical reasons. This show only lasted one season.
2020 – Tommy – Abigail “Tommy” Thomas
Edie Falco plays the titular role on this procedural about the first female chief of police for the LAPD. She is brought in from the NYPD due to accusations of gender discrimination. She is a lesbian and that identity is a major part of how her character moves through the series. The show attempts to be progressive by having Tommy face off against ICE and Trump supporters, but it confuses a cop being a woman and a lesbian (and a white savior) with actual change to our justice system. In the end, this is just another cop show and characters like Tommy are in some ways even more effective propaganda than those on an average procedural.
2020 – Roswell, New Mexico – Charlie Cameron
The second trans character on this list, Charlie Cameron is an FBI agent played by Jamie Clayton. She comes to Roswell to investigate a series of disappearances that may be connected to aliens. During her first appearance, another character expresses her distrust in law enforcement. Cameron is also arrested for leaking classified information. Throughout her episodes, her transness is never directly commented upon, a rarity in film and television.
2020 – Neighbours – Sky Mangel
First appearing on the Australian soap as a toddler, Sky Mangel has appeared and reappeared over the decades played by multiple actors. She was played by Stephanie McIntosh from 2003 to 2007 having a brief teen romance with Lana, the series’ first lesbian character. When Sky returns in 2020, she and Lana are married and Sky has become a cop.
2020 – Hunters – Millie Morris
Set in the 70s, this Amazon series follows a group of Nazi hunters. This group includes FBI agent Millie Morris, who spends the series growing disillusioned with the FBI and about working within the system. One of the few Black female FBI agents, she begins the show committed to law before realizing she’s more committed to justice. She breaks up with her girlfriend Maria as an attempt to protect her. Millie spends most of the second season on the run from the FBI after killing a Nazi who had been acquitted. Her character is complicated because she falls somewhere between the trope of someone in law enforcement abandoning law enforcement and the trope of someone in law enforcement breaking the law to be a singular hero. In the end, the US government decides to reward her, which can be viewed as celebratory or cynical depending on interpretation.
2020 – Reno 911! – Lieutenant Jim Dangle
This popular aughts satire returned on Quibi in 2020 and on the Roku Channel in 2022. The initial satire is even more overt as the show attempts to grapple more directly with the failings of law enforcement. Plotlines include the sheriffs actively trying to shoot more white people so the race statistics of their violence don’t look as bad and showing up for a wellness check half a dozen guns raised. Some of these attempts work better than others — suggesting the police station no longer has power because they were “defunded” misrepresents the reality of post-2020 policing. As for Dangle specifically, his sexuality is played less as a joke, with the humor deriving more purely from his stupidity. His confusion around trans people seems to imply his version of queerness has now become mainstream and he can join the others in a broader queerphobia. Again questions of the effectiveness of satire are raised — is the show portraying the incompetence of law enforcement or softening it?
2020 – Siren – Annie Brennan
Annie is a police trainee who appears in a few episodes of this fantasy series. Her ex-girlfriend cheated on her multiple times, giving her trust issues. This is exacerbated when she witnesses mermaid activity, but she is accused of making a false police report when a main character counters her claim as a cover-up. She still visits him in the hospital a few episodes later.
2020 – Run – Babe Cloud
The two lead characters on this HBO show accidentally cause a death. Babe Cloud is a sheriff investigating this death and is told by a taxidermist about two hitchhikers. The taxidermist invites her to karaoke, where they flirt and discuss the case. Cloud spends the last episode in pursuit of the two leads.
2020 – Snowpiercer – Bess Till
Based on the Bong Joon-Ho film, this series expands the world and introduces a murder mystery to the concept of a non-stop train where people live divided by class. A Detroit cop in the old world, Bess begins the series as a member of the train’s security force. She goes along with the violent assault of a passenger named Layton and is punished by being sent to the back of the train. During this time, she begins to bond with Layton and eventually helps him in solving the murder. She also has a relationship with Jinju Seong, one of the chefs on board. Eventually she is made head brakeman (detective) under Layton’s new leadership. TNT decided not to air the fourth season, so it’s unclear whether the show will grapple with what law enforcement looks like now that it’s run by the revolutionaries.
2020 – For Life – Safiya Masry
Based on the true story of Isaac Wright Jr., For Life is about Aaron, a man who is incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. Season one follows his time incarcerated, with Indira Varma playing Safiya Masry, the relatively progressive warden of the prison, who is sympathetic to his plight. Her attempts at reform anger the prison guard union, which results in them endorsing someone else for attorney general over Masry’s wife. During the second season, Aaron is exonerated and commits to fight for others hurt by the justice system. Masry, no longer the warden, returns to being a lawyer and acts as one of Aaron’s mentors. While press emphasized the second season’s increased importance after June 2020, it was soon canceled and did not get a season three.
2020 – Onward – Officer Spector
In recent years, Disney has claimed to have many gay “firsts” — without any of these characters being explicit enough to hurt their bottom line with homophobic audiences. Arguably, the first to truly be gay was the cyclops police officer voiced by Lena Waithe in Pixar’s Onward. At one point, she commiserates with her police partner saying, “My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out.” Considering how many heterosexual women still refer to their platonic friends as girlfriends, this fleeting line doesn’t deserve much praise. But it is worth noting that when Disney was ready to have a queer character, they made her an agent of the state.
2020 – Tiny Pretty Things – Isabel Cruz
This one-season Netflix thriller set at a ballet academy introduces lesbian cop Isabel Cruz as the lead investigator into the show’s mysteries. Cruz served in Afghanistan, where she met her eventual wife Zoe. Zoe experienced PTSD from the war and dies by suicide. While obviously traumatized from this history, Cruz is shown to still be ambitious and disciplined with strict values. Her experience in the military and her role as a cop are valued by the show as she tries to solve the mysteries of the academy.
2020 – Hightown – Jackie Quiñones, Leslie Babcock
The first season of Hightown stood out from other crime dramas by having its lead not only be a lesbian Latina but by having her be a National Marine Fisheries agent rather than a cop. She also struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, often distracting from her job. That said, the first season still played into many of the same tropes in its portrayal of drug dealers on-screen, which is why it was no surprise when Quiñones was promoted to being a full cop in season two.
She is partnered with by-the-book cop Leslie Babcock and eventually the two have a relationship. Leslie wants to keep things casual, and her ghosting after Jackie says “I love you” causes one of Jackie’s relapses. At the end of the season, Leslie chooses her career over Jackie, causing Jackie to relapse to an even greater extent. Ultimately, the show subverts very little — both in terms of cop shows and addiction storylines.
2021 – The Watch – Constable Cheery
The third trans character on this list, Constable Cheery is the forensic scientist for The Watch, a law enforcement agency in Ankh-Morpork, a city where crime is legalized. Nonbinary actor Jo Eaton-Kent plays Cheery with a punk cool and the show handles her gender with a rare subtlety. The show in general wants to achieve a punk aesthetic, which makes the decision to have The Watch be an official law enforcement group somewhat confusing. This is a show with lots of different fantasy elements, but it still can’t imagine anyone other than cops trying to protect a city with no enforceable laws.
2021 – NCIS: Hawai’i – Kate Whistler
When the series begins, Kate works for the Defense Intelligence Agency before resigning and joining the FBI. As an FBI agent, she continues to assist the NCIS team by providing information and even acting as backup. She’s in a relationship with NCIS junior agent Lucy Tara.
2021 – The Republic of Sarah – AJ Johnson
This short-lived CW series revolves around a high school history teacher named Sarah whose small New Hampshire town ends up as its own country after Sarah fights an industrial company trying to gain control. AJ Johnson is a police officer and Sarah’s best friend who is always ready to help Sarah when needed. AJ has an affair with the former mayor’s wife.
2021 – Pretty Hard Cases – Edwina Shanks
First announced in early 2020, this Canadian series was postponed due to COVID, during which time the show’s creators — who previously worked together on all six seasons of Rookie Blue — rewrote scripts to address the June 2020 protests. These changes were superficial at best, with only a few select moments where the Black lead talks about the challenges of being a Black cop and another moment where she deescalates a confrontation between a white officer and a Black boy. Otherwise, this is just a standard comedic cop show that thinks using the genre to focus on female friendship is enough to make it radical — a decade after Rizzoli & Isles and four decades after Cagney & Lacey. The show’s diverse cast includes Karen Robinson as the lesbian unit commander Edwina Shanks.
2021 – The Long Call – Matthew Venn
Starring gay actor Ben Aldridge, this limited-series crime drama is about British detective Matthew Venn, who returns to his hometown in Devon for his father’s funeral and ends up investigating a local murder. The series aims to explore Venn’s childhood trauma from being gay in a religious community and reveal the secret violence that exists in religious communities. But it still places the police as the solution to that violence. The series was announced five months after the June 2020 protests began. It was nominated for best new series by GLAAD in 2022.
2021 – Intergalactic – Ash Harper
Ash Harper is the lead of this sci-fi series about a sky cop born into the establishment who is falsely accused of a crime and has to go on the run. She ends up with a group of other escaped convicts and throughout the journey learns that her dad is actually the leader of a resistance movement. She has a brief relationship with one of the other escaped convicts before that person is revealed to be a spy. This is the rare show with a law enforcement character that gives its character a clear arc where they turn against the state and for the people. It was canceled after one season.
2021 – Vigil – Amy Silva, Kristen Longacre
Suranne Jones plays Amy Silva, a detective chief inspector with the Scotland police who is sent onto a submarine to solve a murder. She spends much of the show flashing back to memories of her detective sergeant Kristen Longacre, who she is also dating. Before going down to the submarine their relationship was in a tumultuous place. As she gets further involved in the plot intrigue, she also has to grapple with how to mend this relationship. The show was initially suggested before June 2020 but was written and produced long after. It was nominated for best limited series by GLAAD in 2022.
2021 – The One – Kate Saunders
This British Netflix series takes place in the near future when an app claims to have figured out an algorithm to find people their perfect romantic match. Police officer Kate Saunders matches with a woman from Spain named Sophia, but when Sophia ends up getting injured before they can meet it sends Kate into an investigation of the suspicious behavior of the app creators. Kate is bisexual and is drawn to Sophia’s brother as well. This series was first ordered in 2018 and it’s unclear whether the delay was simply due to COVID or if it was held due to its cop lead.
2021 – Creamerie – Constance
A comic twist on Y: The Last Man, this New Zealand series takes place in a world where all men have died from a plague. The women-led society has many differences, including police officer Constance using something called “bliss bullets.” Constance is secretly in a relationship with rebellious main character Alex. As a man is discovered and Alex and her friends begin to doubt the perfection of the new society, Alex and Constance have even more conflict. But, in the end, Constance helps Alex and her friends escape and has Alex shoot her with a bliss bullet so her betrayal of the law is covered up.
2021 – Kevin Can F*** Himself – Tammy Ridgeway
Blending multi-cam comedy and single-cam drama, this satire stars Annie Murphy as a cliché sitcom wife who decides to kill her husband. This leads her to discover that her neighbor, Patty, is secretly selling drugs out of her salon. Patty begins an affair with Detective Tammy Ridgeway, who is investigating the very drug ring she is involved with. Eventually, Tammy discovers Patty’s involvement with the drugs and with a murder. At the end, Tammy quits her job and wants Patty to move away with her, but Patty refuses.
2021 – 4400 – Keisha Taylor, Jessica Tanner
Keisha Taylor and Jessica Tanner are girlfriends who work as a parole officer and a DHS agent respectively in this reboot of the 2004 show of the same name. They are tasked with investigating the sudden reappearance of 4400 previously missing people who don’t remember what happened to them. Keisha is also teamed up with a social worker named Jharrel, who is more compassionate toward the returnees. Through working together, Keisha begins to mirror this understanding and Jessica feels like she’s betraying their relationship and their jobs.
2021 – Only Murders in the Building – Donna Williams
Cop shows turn law enforcement into superheroes with investigative prowess and heroism they rarely, if ever, possess in real life. Hollywood could still create crime and mystery shows while giving these skills to someone with another profession. That’s why it’s all the more disappointing that this crime comedy about an unlikely trio who start a true crime podcast still features a sympathetic cop character. Donna Williams initially considers the central case a suicide, but after her pregnant wife is listening to the podcast, she opens up to the possibility of it being a murder and secretly helps the trio. The show has little to say about policing or the true crime genre and seems to think having the cop character be a Black lesbian is enough in a post–June 2020 world.
2021 – Law and Order: Organized Crime – Ayanna Bell, Carmen Riley
One of the most transparent instances of copaganda since June 2020 is this new addition to the Law and Order universe from original L Word creator Ilene Chaikin. Former SVU main character Elliot Stabler is paired with Black lesbian detective Ayanna Bell. She clashes with Stabler due to his past abuses and current use of excessive force. Throughout the series, she warms up to Stabler and the two develop a close bond. Bell’s nephew-in-law is assaulted by police after being wrongfully arrested, and Bell’s wife Denise says that she’s going to sue the NYPD. Denise is offered a job by a corrupt politician, and when the politician ends up arrested, Denise is furious at Bell. Denise leaves and takes their son. She is shown as irrational and unfair compared to Bell. Law and Order as a franchise is one of the most obvious perpetrators of copaganda, but this specific show’s acknowledgement of real issues while using Blackness and queerness — notably from a white lesbian writer — to pull favor back toward law enforcement is unconscionable.
For one season, the show has another Black queer character, Carmen Riley, who is working undercover for Bell. Carmen quits the force not for any ethical reasons related to policing but after taking the law into her own hands and murdering a crime lord.
2021 – My Policeman – Tom Burgess
This Harry Styles vehicle is surprisingly honest about law enforcement’s history with queer people. Styles plays a closeted police officer named Tom, who begins an affair with a museum curator named Patrick, who is in a relationship with a woman. Patrick is eventually arrested for homosexuality, and his journals about Tom are used in court. Patrick is imprisoned for two years and Tom is forced to quit. The film never justifies why Patrick would risk flirting with and having sex with a cop, and it doesn’t engage with the continuing issues of policing in its present-day storyline. But it does show the pain caused and how that continues to impact all three main characters for decades to come.
2021 – Batwoman – Renee Montoya
Victoria Cartagena reprises her role as Renee Montoya, Gotham’s lesbian detective. In this rendition, Montoya has already quit the Gotham Police Department, joining the Rogues unit, which is still a law enforcement group connected to the mayor. The Rogues are underfunded, and it seems as if Montoya takes this position because it grants her the freedom and lack of oversight to protect Gotham in her own way. She teams up with Batwoman to find and save her former girlfriend Poison Ivy.
Batwoman’s primary love interest and Montoya’s secondary love interest, Sophie Moore, is not on this list, but it’s worth noting that Moore’s role in the private security firm the Crows is used for a storyline about the racial profiling Batwoman experiences. Vigilantes and private security/private detectives can have similar problems to state law enforcement and often work alongside state law enforcement in real life and on-screen. During the Ryan Wilder seasons, Batwoman attempted to explore these complexities in a way most superhero media ignores.
2022 – Riverdale – Jillian Drake
Jillian Drake is an FBI agent introduced in season six who helps Betty solve the Trash Bag Killer case. Late-season Riverdale is convoluted to the point of incoherence — for better or worse — but this plotline includes the suggestion — and maybe refute? — that a serial killer gene exists. While working together, Drake develops feelings for Betty. Betty rejects her and then also rejects Drake’s invitation to join the FBI.
2022 – American Horror Story: NYC – Patrick Read
The eleventh season of Ryan Murphy’s juggernaut anthology series takes on the lofty task of tackling the AIDS crisis and law enforcement’s disregard for — and abuse of — queer people. One of the main characters, played by Russell Tovey, is Patrick Read, a gay cop in a relationship with a leftist reporter more concerned with a serial killer targeting gay men than the police. The show’s flirtation with law enforcement critique is completely diminished when Patrick delivers a coming-out monologue to his boss where he says, “I am proud to carry this badge. I am a gay policeman. Nothing about who I am stops me from doing what I do.” The season ends with Patrick quitting, but everything that comes before is too confused to give that any weight.
2022 – The Rookie: Feds – Simone Clarke
Niecy Nash-Betts coming out and being madly in love with her now wife Jessica Betts has been one of the greatest blessings to the gay internet in recent years. It makes it all the more disappointing that the best Hollywood has been able to give this talented queer Black woman is a Ryan Murphy Jeffrey Dahmer show and an FBI procedural. Introduced in a backdoor pilot on The Rookie, Simone Clarke is a former school counselor who at 48 has achieved her lifelong dream of becoming an FBI agent. Simone’s dad was wrongfully incarcerated and is a police reform activist, and through him the show tries to grapple with the realities of law enforcement. But, like so many other titles on this list, the genre conventions win out in the end. While it’s great that Niecy Nash-Betts is leading a series — and can even have her wife as her on-screen love interest — shows like this are still police propaganda, simply propaganda for a liberal audience.
2022 – Outer Range – Joy Hawk
A western with a twist, this Amazon series centers around a Wyoming land dispute — that also happens to include the random appearance of a black hole. Tamara Podemski plays Joy Hawk, an Indigenous lesbian acting as interim sheriff in this conservative town. She has a wife and a daughter and is portrayed as heroic and moral. She is running to officially be sheriff and faces racism and homophobia in the community. The western genre has a long history of misrepresenting and villainizing Indigenous people, but it’s frustrating that the only way this show knows how to subvert that pattern is to have the queer Indigenous character work in law enforcement.
2022 – New Amsterdam – Aya Elizondo
Officer Aya Elizondo appears in only one episode of this medical drama. Iggy, one of the doctors, follows her around for a day to observe her and try to help her confront the PTSD from an experience where she broke someone’s shoulder. Iggy has to step in to deescalate when Aya pulls a gun on a man who is mentally ill. Iggy suggests that Aya is distant from her wife because she’s worried her wife views her as a bad person. He then says that the police shouldn’t be tasked with the mentally ill and that he received specific training. He then suggests that he train the entire NYPD on interacting with mentally ill people. This episode uses an abolitionist idea — that police officers should not be called to deal with people who are mentally ill — and uses it in a story that strives for empathy toward its violent cop character and argues for resources to be given to the NYPD.
2023 – Deadloch – Sergeant Dulcie
Sold as a comic feminist twist on the average crime drama, this new Australian series still centers law enforcement as its likable leads. The show engages with racism, colonialism, homophobia, and misogyny, but is more interested in liberal adjustments to the genre than an actual overhaul. While the male police officers are shown to be callous and incompetent, lesbian Sergeant Dulcie is smart, capable, and heroic — as is the rest of her female team. The show begins by showing “ACAB” graffiti, but, in the end, this is just another example of a show that thinks the “all” in “ACAB” only means white men.
2023 – Class of ‘09 – Hour Nazari, Ashley Poet
Split between three timelines — the past (’09), the present (’23), and the future (’34) — this limited series presents itself as a critique of the FBI. Ashley Poet and Hour Nazari are two agents who graduated in ’09 who have a fraught will-they, won’t-they throughout the decades. The show primarily focuses on the class of ’09’s desire to change the historically racist and corrupt FBI. This results in Hour helping to create a law enforcement system that is run by AI and theoretically removes human bias. Unfortunately, AI will always carry the bias of those who created it, and the FBI goes a step further by misusing this technology to arrest people based on conjecture before crimes are even committed. In the future, the characters are trying to stop their creation. This is an interesting and admirable approach to an FBI show, or, rather, it would be if the series didn’t end with the characters achieving their goal — and the FBI abandoning AI and turning to human-led reforms run by Poet herself. Rather than acting as a critique of AI and the FBI, the show ends up as a defense of gradual reform over radical reinvention.
What if we imagined a 2034 beyond reform? What if we imagined a 2034 without the FBI, without police? What might that world look like? How might that world be achieved?