1. Ashley Spinelli from Disney’s Recess
Why she was a hero: Spinelli was a tough tomboy who refused to take shit from anybody. She didn’t want to be associated with the group of mean girls known as The Ashleys, so she shed her first name altogether, showing kids the power of reinvention, self identity, and paving your own path in life. Spinelli was sort of a childhood stepping stone to idolizing Jane from Daria.
2. Helga Pataki from Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold!
Why she was a (tragic) hero: No other character in the ’90s truly understood the ache of secret, unrequited love the way poor Helga Pataki did. Every LGBT kid struggles with crushin’ on someone who won’t like them back at some point, and the urge to go full Helga-style stalker is something most of us are still trying to avoid.
3. Usagi/Serena Tsukino from Toei’s Sailor Moon
Why she was a hero: Long before the introduction of queer superheroes like Batwoman, there were the Sailor Scouts. Sailor Moon was a champion of love, equality, justice, and cute outfits. Though the American translation of the original Japanese cartoon altered a ton of storylines, the show featured numerous gay, lesbian, and genderqueer characters, both good and evil. Of note were the Sailor Starlights, who were men in civilian form and transformed into women to battle evil.
4. Angelica Pickles from Nickelodeon’s Rugrats
Why she was a hero: Sure, she was sort of a vicious bully, but Angelica was also a crafty mastermind. She knew what she wanted and she went for it, and she wasn’t about to let any dumb babies get in her way. She was basically the prototype for Jane Lynch’s Coach Sue Sylvester.
5. Doug Funny from Nickelodeon’s Doug
Why he was a hero: Doug was constantly fantasizing about being someone else (a superhero, a musician, a spy) which is something a lot of LGBT kids do when things get rough. Even though Doug was shy and insecure, he was enormously caring and sensitive. Doug was a great role model, even if he dressed like a grandpa—sweater vest over a short sleeve half turtleneck? Girl.
6. Judy Funny from Nickelodeon’s Doug
Why she was a hero: In contrast to her brother, Judy was the epitome of cool. Most kiddos watching Doug couldn’t fully appreciate Judy’s brand of ostentatious snark, but she absolutely left an impression on a generation of sarcastic queer 20-somethings with Tumblrs. Plus, she was rockin’ the half-shaved head thing literally decades before Cassie picked up a pair of buzzers.
7. Spongebob and Patrick from Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants
Why they were heroes: Series creator Stephen Hillenburg claims that Spongebob and Patrick aren’t gay, but it’s pretty obvious they’re loving and supportive partners. In the episode “Rock-a-Bye Bivalve,” the duo adopt a baby scallop, which they name Junior. It was a pretty obvious depiction of gay parenthood and showed kids that LGBT individuals can form healthy family units like anyone else.
8. Prince Adam/He-Man from Mattel’s Masters of the Universe
Why he was a hero: First of all, He-Man was thinly veiled propaganda to get kids interested in leather BDSM culture. And hey, that’s cool. Different strokes for different folks. Moreover, He-Man and villain Skeletor’s rivalry was actually a tragic gay love story.
9. Alexandra Mack from Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack
Why she was a hero: Alex Mack went through a massive change as a teenager and subsequently had to struggle with being an outsider and coming to terms with who she was. Sound familiar? Her awkward reveal of her powers to her parents in the series’ finale mirrored the future coming out stories of many LGBT kids, even if they couldn’t make the connection quite yet.
10. Gloria, Iggy, and Jacob from CBC’s Under the Umbrella Tree
Why they were heroes: Under the Umbrella Tree was the original Modern Family, teaching little ones that families come in all shapes and sizes. Kids had their pick of who to look up to: Gloria was a theatrical tomboy, Jacob was sensitive and creative, and Iggy was a cocky, competitive jock. If there were a Grindr app for iguanas, you know Iggy would be all up on that today.
11. Pepper Ann from Disney’s Pepper Ann
Why she was a hero: Pepper “Too Cool To Be Twelve” Ann was an emotional, nerdy weirdo, but she refused to let that cause her turmoil. The show’s theme song said it all: she marched in her own parade, was much too cool for seventh grade, and she was her own biggest fan. A true call for personal acceptance if there ever was one.
12. Heffer Wolfe from Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life
Why he was a hero: Heffer, a cow, grew up in a family of wolves, and was clearly the odd man out. And yet his family accepted him, even though the desire to eat him was a constant challenge. The important part is that they accepted him for being different, because love is love, even if you’re a cow.
13. Nona F. Mecklenberg from Nickelodeon’s Adventures of Pete and Pete
Why she was a hero: Little Pete’s best friend was the ultimate badass and a true individual. Her arm cast was always decorated with “Make It Work” flair long before the phrase ever passed from Tim Gunn’s lips. In the ’90s, little queer girls wanted to be her and little queer boys also wanted to be her. Because she was incredible.
14. Demona from Disney’s Gargoyles
Why she was a
hero badass villain: Demona hated humans for treating her kind like an outcast and would stop at nothing to destroy them all. Fantasizing about revenge is something that crossed a lot of LGBT kids’ minds, even if they’d never resort to total annihilation. Thankfully they had Demona to live through vicariously.
15. Ma-Ti from Hanna-Barbera’s Captain Planet and the Planeteers
Why he was a hero: Straight up, Ma-Ti had the lamest power of all the Planeteers. While his friends could could control fire, water, wind, and the earth, Ma-Ti’s power was heart, meaning he always seemed like an outcast even in his own clique. Still, he was a vital part of the group—his power was necessary to summon Captain Planet. What’s a rainbow without every color? You go, Ma-Ti.
16. Red from Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock
Why she was a hero: Red was definitely the Peppermint Patty of the Fraggles’ underground world: exuberant, sassy, and athletic. She was also completely fearless—she was a redhead who dared to wear red and she made it work. Snaps
17. Oblina from Nickelodeon’s Aaahh!!! Real Monsters
Why she was a hero: Oblina was essentially the Hermione Granger of her deformed monster group, and she always sort of seemed like she took style cues from ’80s drag queens. LGBT kids could look up to her because although she was strange and awkward, she was highly intelligent and confident in her abilites.
18. Clarissa Marie Darling from Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All
Why she was a hero: Why wasn’t she a hero? Her fashion sense was on point, she was quirky for days, and she taught herself to code video games on her computer. Clarissa was adventurous and dangerous and single-handedly instilled courage in a generation of gaybies.