How Degrassi Has Told LGBTQ Stories Throughout The Years

Photo: Netflix
When Degrassi: The Next Generation premiered in 2001, it promised teenagers one thing: This was a show that would accurately depict their high school experience, with all of its trials and tribulations.

Degrassi: The Next Generation
(later known simply as Degrassi) a successor of Canadian dramas Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, tackled the tough stuff — teen pregnancy, eating disorders, school violence received multiple episodes throughout the series — but what it did best was give a voice to characters most shows don't allow viewers to get to know intimately.

followed LGBTQ characters through their own journeys, always treating characters like people as opposed to storytelling devices. Queer characters didn't exist simply to educate their (straight) peers about the LGBTQ community. In getting to know these characters, fans bore witness to the unique struggles of queer youth: Characters faced unsupportive families, anti-queer violence, and internal battles with confronting their sexuality, amongst other issues.

Now in a new iteration — Netflix's Degrassi Next Class — the TV franchise continues to tell LGBTQ stories, with more specificity than ever before. Click through to read about how the franchise has tackled these issues over the years.

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Marco Confronts Homophobia & Violence (Season 3, Episode 5)

In season 3's two-part episode "Pride," Marco (Adamo Ruggiero), who had previously been "confused" about his sexuality, comes out as gay to his friends. Most are supportive, save for Spinner (Shane Kippel) whose discomfort with Marco's sexuality causes him to lash out at his friend and even scrawl a homophobic slur on the bathroom wall. Later, Marco is physically assaulted on his way to a hockey game in a horrific gay-bashing incident. Marco reminds Spinner that he wasn't assaulted "because of his shoes" — he was targeted because his attackers knew he was gay, and hated Marco for it. While Spinner doesn't exactly get woke overnight, he does realize that he's been the worst.
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Prejudices Against The Gay Community Are Revealed (Season 4, Episode 19)

In season 4's "Moonlight Desires," Marco isn't allowed to donate blood during a drive due to the fact that he has been sexually active with another male. The reason for this, as the nurse informs him, is that there is a higher rate of HIV in the gay community. Nothing is resolved in the episode (nor in real life — the debate recently resurfaced after the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando) but the episode served as a reminder of the bias against the LGBTQ community.
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Marco Comes Out To His Mom (Season 4, Episode 3)

By season 4, Marco was out to most of the school — but not to his conservative Italian parents. His boyfriend Dylan (John Bregar) pressures Marco to tell his mom and dad about their relationship, but Marco is too afraid of their reaction to go through with it. When Alex (Deanna Casaluce) threatens to out him in front of the entire school, Marco tearfully comes out to his mother, who is mostly understanding. Marco holds back on telling his dad the truth, and reminds Dylan that he needs to make these steps in his own time. For audiences, it's a reminder that no one, well-meaning or not, has the right to out someone else before they're ready.
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Paige Discovers Her Sexual Fluidity (Season 5, Episode 12)

Paige (Lauren Collins) has only dated men, and when she finds herself attracted to her friend Alex (Deanna Casaluce) she must reevaluate her identity. When Paige decides to pursue a relationship with Alex, not everyone is onboard — including her best friend Hazel (Andrew Lewis) who accuses Alex of "turning Paige gay." Paige ultimately decides to forego labels in favor of following her heart.
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Riley Learns Self-Acceptance (Season 8, Episode 5)

Riley (Argiris Karras), Degrassi's star athlete, can date pretty much any girl in school — but he doesn't want to. Riley is gay, but struggles so much with accepting his orientation that he develops anger issues and even bullies others for their sexual orientation. Riley doesn't know how to reconcile his love of sports and more "masculine" persona with his sexual identity, but eventually learns that there's no "right" way to be gay or a man.
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Adam Struggles With Self-Harm (Season 10, Episode 15)

In season 10's "My Body Is A Cage," Adam (Jordan Todosey) must cope with the world not understanding or accepting his gender identity. Adam was born female, but identifies as male. When Bianca (Alicia Dea Vita Jones) learns that Adam is transgender, she and her friends relentlessly bully him for it. However, the most painful aspect of Adam's journey is his mother asking Adam to present as female for dinner with their grandmother. Though Adam complies, doing so deeply upsets him, and he starts self-harming — something he used to do before coming out as trans. It's only when he confronts his mother about saying goodbye to her "daughter" that he is able to feel a bit better in his own skin.
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Miles Proves His Bisexuality Is NBD (Season 13, Episode 39)

Tristan (Lyle Lettau) and Miles (Eric Osborne) hook up during a rainstorm (because hey, this is still a teen drama) and start dating. While Tristan has only been with men, Miles has dated women in the past. What makes Miles and Tristan's story so notable is that their relationship isn't seen as a big deal or a scandal — it's proof that attitudes have shifted towards sexuality. Unlike Marco, Miles and Tristan don't go through "coming out" in any dramatic way.
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Zoe Deals With Her Mom (Next Class: Season 3, Episode 2)

Zoe's (Ana Golja) mom Consuela (America Olivo) was always pretty shallow and awful, but she definitely proved it in season 3 of Degrassi: Next Class, when she told Zoe that being a lesbian was a "phase" because she didn't "look gay." When Zoe brings new girlfriend Rasha (Dalia Yegavian) to her mom's wedding, Consuela loses it and kicks her daughter out. Rasha also gets angry at Zoe as she's faced her own family conflicts due to her sexuality: back in Syria, Rasha's aunt called the police to a family party when she found out that Rasha liked girls.
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Photo: TeenNick
The world has changed since Degrassi: Next Generation premiered just over 15 years ago. It's worth wondering: Would Marco have been as scared to come out to his friends in 2017 as he was in 2004?

Yet progress does not mean these issues are resolved. Degrassi continues to give this community a platform to discuss LGBTQ issues large and small. It's a move that reminds its audience their stories are worth telling — especially when we so rarely see them portrayed in such nuanced ways on other shows.
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