As anyone paying attention is likely to know, the LGBTQ+ community has been integral to the performing arts for all of history, even the members of the entertainment industry were at times reluctant to admit it. Back in the days of the Hays Code from the 1930s to the '60s, movies that depicted same-sex love interests were censored by studios. Even today, movies that feature gay sex or LGBTQ+ characters are typically rated more strictly than movies with straight characters.
Given the stigma around showing LGBTQ+ content on the silver screen, it makes sense that celebrities who identify as being LGBTQ+ haven’t always been able to speak freely about their status. It wasn’t too long ago that the entertainment industry took every conceivable measure to keep the sexual orientation of its foremost stars under wraps. Look no further than Old Hollywood actor Rock Hudson, whose homosexuality remained a tightly guarded secret during the height of his fame.
Thankfully, many of today’s LGBTQ+ celebrities aren’t overly pressured into keeping their status a secret. Likewise, both the entertainment industry and society have made strides since the heyday of Rock Hudson, at least in terms of how both those entities approach and accept one’s sexual identity. This increased visibility of LGBTQ+ celebrities matters. Celebrities speaking openly about their identity and experiences can help destigmatize LGBTQ+ identities and boost the self-esteem of LGBTQ+ people by allowing them to see that there are successful people out there who are like them.
Although there is still quite a way for civilization to go when it comes to inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals, it’s becoming more and more apparent that a celebrity’s sexual orientation is not necessarily the career detriment it may have been in the past—in fact, now more than ever celebrities are speaking up for LGBTQ+ communities and becoming celebrated advocates for them. Just look at Billy Eichner vying for more overtly gay characters in TV and film. Or Lil Nas X, who has become an LGBTQ+ icon, even though just two years ago he was completely closeted with no plans to ever change that.
Stacker is highlighting 50 celebrities—in no particular order—and their contributions to the entertainment industry.
Since graduating from the role of Hannah Montana in 2011, actress and singer Miley Cyrus hasn’t shied away from expressing her sexuality through performance art—sometimes to downright scandalous effect. That said, it wasn’t until 2015 that Cyrus announced she was gender-fluid, meaning she doesn’t exclusively identify with one particular gender. In the time since, she’s become a passionate and vocal advocate for various LGBTQ+ issues.
Those who know Ellen Page by name are probably aware that she’s been openly gay since 2014, when she declared her LGBTQ+ identity during a powerful speech at a human rights conference.
Apple CEO Tim Cook came out in 2014 in a poignant Bloomberg editorial. While Cook doesn’t consider himself an activist, he did once tell Stephen Colbert that he felt a “tremendous responsibility” to speak up about his LGBTQ+ status, particularly on behalf of all the young people who are bullied or even disowned because of their sexuality.
In 2003, Drew Barrymore star told Contact Music, “I have always considered myself bisexual.” Despite this fact, her three marriages (and three divorces) have all been to men.
Billie Joe went mainstream in 1994 as the frontman to rock band Green Day. But while the celebrity is no stranger to headlines, it’s not widely known that he’s been openly bisexual since 1995. That was when he told The Advocate: "I think I've always been bisexual… I think people are born bisexual, and it's just that our parents and society kind of veer us off into this feeling of, 'Oh, I can't.' They say it's taboo. It's ingrained in our heads that it's bad, when it's not bad at all. It's a very beautiful thing."
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A powerful music mogul, Clive Davis is best known as the man who helped launch or revive the careers of Whitney Houston, Barry Manilow, and Billy Joel among numerous other superstars. In 2013, the twice-married executive released an autobiography, “The Soundtrack of My Life,” in which he detailed two long-term relationships with other men.
Between her former gig with the Black-Eyed Peas, her prior marriage to actor Josh Duhamel, and her unpopular 2018 performance of the national anthem, Fergie definitely manages to stay in the public consciousness year after year. What’s lesser known about the singer, however, is that she’s identified as bisexual since the early naughts.
While a certain percentage of Kristen Stewart’s fan base probably prefers to think of her as the perennial soulmate of “Twilight” co-star Robert Pattinson, the edgy actress has definitely moved on to new partners from both sides of the gender spectrum. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the fans from clamoring for a reunion with Pattinson—or at least trying to box Stewart in as far as her sexual identity is concerned.
It wasn’t until she began watching sci-fi TV series “The X-Files” that the first openly gay woman star of “SNL” Kate McKinnon said she realized she was attracted to women. Specifically, McKinnon found herself swooning over actress Gillian Anderson in the 1990s. Even decades later, McKinnon continues to describe Anderson as the “queen of my heart.”
“X-Files” star Gillian Anderson in 2015 told The Telegraph that she’d previously engaged in same-sex relationships, and was open to doing so again. Anderson is currently a star in the popular Netflix series, “Sex Education.”
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With her open-minded performance style, provocative lyrics, and massive LGBTQ+ fan base, it was not terribly shocking when pop star Lady Gaga identified as bisexual in a 2009 interview with Barbara Walters. Since then, the pop star has been accused of possibly making up her LGBTQ+ status for marketing purposes. She addressed the accusations head-on during an album release party and Q&A session in 2013, stating, “It’s not a lie that I am bisexual and I like women...This is who I am and who I have always been.”
In yet another scoop by LGBTQ+ outlet The Advocate, Aubrey Plaza in 2016 confessed to having intense feelings for both sexes. “I fall in love with girls and guys,” she said. “I can’t help it.” She was also quick to point out that she emanates “masculine energy,” and is attracted to men and women.
“Game of Thrones” fans will recognize actor Kristian Nairn as Hodor, a hero who says nothing but his own name when speaking. In a 2014 interview with Winteriscoming.net, Nairn professed, “I’ve never hidden my sexuality from anyone, my whole life in fact, and I’ve been waiting for someone to ask about it in an interview, cos it’s not something you just blurt out.”
Frank Ocean, a member of hip-hop collective Odd Future and breakout solo star, is among the biggest names in contemporary music. In 2012, he posted a statement on his Tumblr account, in which he seemed to declare his love for another man. A few years later, Ocean released his album, “Blonde,” to substantial acclaim and healthy sales numbers. As famous and respected now as he ever was, Ocean occasionally uses his celebrity status to help spread LGBTQ+ awareness.
Given the outward sense of machismo that permeates professional sports and its overzealous fan base, many LGBTQ+ athletes keep their sexuality a secret. Helping to change that is former NBA player Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay man to play in one of the four major professional team sports. In a 2014 Sports Illustrated article written by Collins, he expressed a desire to see more of his fellow athletes come out without facing repercussions, but ultimately conceded that we’re “not there yet.”
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Actor and director Angelina Jolie has been openly LGBTQ+ for so long that some folks might have forgotten about it. When asked in 2003 if she was bisexual, Jolie replied, “Of course. If I fell in love with a woman tomorrow, would I feel that it's OK to want to kiss and touch her? If I fell in love with her? Absolutely! Yes!"
Actor Victor Garber has starred in films like “Titanic” and “Argo,” along with TV shows like “Alias” and “The Flash.” In 2013, he confirmed that he was gay, though he hadn’t exactly been hiding his LGBTQ+ status—or his more than 20-year relationship with Rainer Andreesen for that matter. At the time, Garber said of his sexual orientation, “I don’t really talk about it, but everybody knows.”
According to a 2016 video for “It Gets Better,” actress and singer Raven-Symoné knew she was sexually attracted to other females as early as the age of 12 but hid the fact from others. Raven-Symoné hasn’t exactly become Hollywood royalty, but that might have more to do with her critiques of various hip-hop figures than it does her LGBTQ+ status.
She might have been engaged to Krazee Eyez Killa on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but in reality, Wanda Sykes prefers partners of the feminine persuasion. After coming out at a Prop 8 rally in 2008, the comedian claimed she was subsequently treated like a “unicorn,” in that most gay or bisexual African Americans don’t openly share their LGBTQ+ statuses. Sykes—who still performs to sold-out crowds—has been married to her wife Alex since 2008.
Known for his roles in shows like “Desperate Housewives” and “Teen Wolf,” actor Charlie Carver came out in 2016, using Instagram to make the announcement. Later, the actor claimed he made the decision in part because he was “ready to take on that conversation in a more public forum.” Carver has since been vocal about Hollywood’s tendency to perpetuate negative LGBTQ+ stereotypes, as well as pigeonholing openly gay actors into playing specific types of roles. Carver performed on Broadway in “The Boys in the Band,” which details the gay experience in 20th-century America before the Stonewall Riots occurred.
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Star of the 2018 film “Aquaman,” Amber Heard has been openly bisexual since 2010 when she was dating artist Tasya van Ree. Heard remains quite vocal about achieving equal rights, not just for members of the LGBTQ+ community, but for women in general. In a 2017 interview with Allure, she acknowledged that gender inequality is far graver than she once suspected, saying, “I had been living with my head in the sand…I did not realize how far we have to go to be equal.”
In a relatively short time, Golden Globe-winner Sarah Paulson has gone from Hollywood bit player to one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. Meanwhile, the versatile actress has been openly dating women for years, though she prefers that people don’t think of her as a lesbian.
Actress, singer, and fashion designer Bella Thorne declared her bisexuality in true, modern style. That is, she shared a picture of her kissing another girl on Snapchat, then confirmed that she was indeed a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Since that initial declaration, Thorne has made it a point to live life the way she wants to, making no apologies or compromises for her choices.
Before her untimely death, singer Amy Winehouse was in the news on a daily basis for just about everything one could imagine. It’s, therefore, no surprise that word of her bisexuality might have slipped under the radar. Winehouse’s friends reported to News of the World that Winehouse once said, "There is something about being with a woman that is very satisfying. I don't care what people think about me being bi—I do what feels good.”
Best known for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, Sir Alec Guinness kept his sexual orientation—and his arrest for a homosexual act in 1946—away from the public eye for the entirety of his adult life. It wasn’t until after Guinness passed away that his bisexuality was revealed.
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Actor Marlon Brando once told his biographer, "Like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences and I am not ashamed. I have never paid much attention to what people think about me." Unlike many of his contemporaries, Brando was an actor who could land desirable roles no matter what he chose to do in his personal life. To this day, his performances are heralded as some of the best ever committed to the big screen.
According to music legend Quincy Jones, one of Marlon Brando’s homosexual trysts was with comedy legend Richard Pryor in the 1970s. Jones made the claim in a controversial interview with Vulture in 2018, and his assertion was later confirmed by Pryor’s own widow, Jennifer Lee.
After coming out as bisexual in 2010, and then marrying actor Stephen Moyer that same year, “True Blood” and “X-Men” actress Anna Paquin experienced some backlash from the LGBTQ+ community. In response, she said of her bisexuality, “I am a happily married woman and I married a man. I don’t think that negates that aspect of my life.” Accordingly, Paquin hasn’t let anyone or anything stop her from speaking her mind about LGBTQ+ issues. As she told Cosmopolitan in 2014, "The reason I feel like it's important to talk about this stuff is that the more normal and, frankly, mundane and boring this stuff becomes, I think the better it's going to be for everyone who is part of our community."
Long before directing movies like “Precious” or co-creating Fox’s “Empire,” Lee Daniels was a young gay man coming to terms with his homosexuality while growing up in Philadelphia. As Daniels told the Hollywood Reporter in 2017, his father once threw him in a trashcan after he came down the stairs wearing high heels—a scene that “Empire” fans may find familiar. The director’s struggles would continue through the '80s as his friends began dying from AIDS. In fact, Daniels considers it a “miracle from God” that he never contracted the deadly virus himself.
Due to her liberal use of gay slurs on Twitter and in her lyrics, singer Azealia Banks faced accusations of homophobia in 2015. Hoping to quash the controversy, Banks came out as bisexual that same year, adding that nearly all of her friends are gay and that one of her siblings is transgender. Still, she was banned from Twitter in 2016 for making a racist comment. Her handle was deactivated again in 2018 in the wake of a disparaging tweet about a contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
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Hailing from a conservative upbringing just outside Atlanta, Georgia, rapper Lil Nas X knew he was going to take the secret of his sexuality to his grave. By the age of 19, Lil Nas X was a superstar thanks to his hit “Old town Road.” His superstardom, he discovered, also made him a hero among the queer community. Today, at 21 years old, he embraces his role as a representative and icon for LGBTQ+.
Janelle Monáe presented herself as an enigma when she first burst on the scenes in 2010 with her debut album, "The ArchAndroid." What she presented to the world was exactly that: an "immaculate android," or an "alien from outer space/the cybergirl without a face." But as the world began to get to know Monáe through her music, androgynous style, and prog-pop music, she let the world in on who the human is underneath. Originally she identified as bisexual but now aligns as queer as she continues to learn about topics like pansexuality and how they resonate with her.
Panic! At The Disco frontman Brendon Urie is, as he puts it, attracted to "just people." The singer has been an advocate of the LGBTQ+ community and officially came out in 2018 as pansexual. He told Pink News, "Yeah, I guess you could qualify me as pansexual because I really don't care," he said, referring to gender. That same month, he donated $1 million to GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), which works to create inclusive and safe environments in schools.
Many fell for Andrew Scott when they got to know him as "the hot priest" in the British comedy series, "Fleabag." For Scott, his LGBTQ+ "moment of fame" wasn't about coming out to the masses—he's been out for a while. What got the media's attention was his distaste at being referred to as, "openly gay." He told GQ during an interview, "You're never described as openly gay at a party...'This is my openly gay friend Darren.' 'She's openly Irish.' It implies a defiance I don't feel."
While his most notable role of the last few years put being gay front and center stage, actor Lee Pace was not always as forthcoming about his own sexuality. The actor, who played Joe Pitt in "Angels in America" on Broadway, came out every time he performed (as his character). It wasn't until 2018, however, that he came out to the public as himself, Lee Pace.
In an interview with The New York Times, he made it clear that his decision to keep quiet was to draw boundaries—that the public knew him as an actor who plays roles, and that's all that should matter. Pace was not always met with the most welcoming circumstances. While he admits he was never outright scorned for being gay, there have been instances where he felt it was more of a hindrance than just a fact that shouldn't matter. He told The New York Times, "Once you say those words and the sky doesn't fall down, or the earth doesn't open up, a lightning bolt doesn't zap you. You really can be anything."
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Jason Mraz is all about the wordplay, though he doesn’t mince words when it comes to his sexuality. The recording artist officially came out as bisexual in 2018, after admitting that it was hard for him to do so given his conservative upbringing. With the support of his now-wife, however, Mraz has fully embraced all sides of his sexuality and has celebrated how easy it was for him to be honest about who he is with the rest of the world.
Not all heroes wear capes—but Tessa Thompson certainly does, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. She won hearts with her role as Valkyrie in "Thor: Ragnarok." But it was in "Thor: Love and Thunder" that Marvel gave her an explicit LGBTQ+ storyline, a first for the brand, which made Thompson an icon not only for women but for the LGBTQ+ community, too.
Rebecca Black skyrocketed to notoriety back in 2011 with the launch of her song, "Friday"—which wasn’t exactly met warmly. She came out on Amy Ordman and Jack Dodge's podcast, "Dating Straight," saying: "I made, like, a conscious decision not to come out, but...people started asking, and I stopped responding...I'm still in the process, it feels like."
Alia Shawkat won fans' hearts as the sardonic, envelope-pushing Maeby on “Arrested Development.” Today, she’s a filmmaker in her own right, following the debut of "Duck Butter," which premiered in 2018. It follows the story of L.A.-based 20-somethings, Naima and Sergio, who, over the course of 24 hours, fall in and out of love with each other. Vulture called the film a "queer utopia," which was exactly what Shawkat—bisexual in real life—and director Miguel Arteta had envisioned.
Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, expanded her creative resume in 2020 with her on-screen debut in "The Nowhere Inn." The film, which debuted at Sundance Film Festival, is about Clark's on-stage persona, St. Vincent, as told from the perspective of her fellow musician and ex-girlfriend, Carrie Brownstein. The "mockumentary" is all about satire and will resonate strongly with those who vibe well with "Portlandia," Brownstein's other claim to fame.
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In 2002 Vanessa Carlton sang her way into superstardom with her hit, “A Thousand Miles,” which was nominated for a Grammy that year. Then, in 2010, Carlton made another debut: She revealed at Nashville Pride that she is a “proud bisexual,” though she revealed she’s been part of the queer community since she was 13 years old after moving to New York. As she’s gotten older, she confessed to the George Voice, a media source for LGBTQ Georgia, that pop stardom wasn’t really the path she wanted to follow. Today her songs are less about pleasing the pop gods and are more evocative to the type of music she wants to be known for—soothing, emotional, and deeply rooted in personal experience.
2020 was a breakout year for recording artist Halsey, but it didn’t have anything to do with her coming out. She’s been out for years, as evidenced by the rainbow flag that is omnipresent at her concerts. 2020 was about Halsey reclaiming the stage, in a manner of speaking. Her new album, "Manic," is, according to The Advocate's Daniel Reynolds, "a self-liberation from the definitions ascribed to the artist by others." Halsey herself said that she has felt like she's playing a supporting role in her own life, and "Manic" is about taking back the spotlight and showing the world that, according to Reynolds, "her experiences and her trauma [do] not exist to benefit some other...person."
Jim Parsons may forever be known as the acerbic (yet lovable) Sheldon Cooper, a role he mastered over 12 years to the tune of four Emmys, but as of late he has become a public champion for the LGBTQ+ community. Following the end of "The Big Bang Theory," Parsons has moved into more of a producer's role, and, most recently, is working on a docuseries based on the history of the LGBTQ+ movements. Called "Equal," the four-part series will highlight new footage, interviews, and reenactments to tell the stories of community heroes who have paved the way for thousands of others.
Fans of comedy already know Billy Eichner, host of "Billy on the Street." If you haven't seen the show, it's Eichner tearing up the pavement in Manhattan and quizzing random strangers about pop culture. But in addition to being a brazen funnyman, he uses his vocal volume to fight for LGBTQ+ rights. On social media, he's none-too-shy about his opinions on Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
He frequently tries to rally his millions of followers to be more politically active, according to Variety. He is also a huge proponent of developing more relatable characters for gay people in the media. He told Variety that while watching "Love, Simon," a love story with a gay protagonist, he realized, "Straight people go to the movies and literally see themselves all the time. It was so unusual to have a connection to what was happening on-screen instead of being a step or two removed."
Ben Platt is a force to be reckoned with—and he's not slowing down anytime soon. Platt, Tony winner, former cast member of "Pitch Perfect," and current star of Netflix series, "The Politician," is lightning in a bottle. Unlike many gay actors, Platt was one of the few who has more or less always been out to the public. He told Variety, "There was never like a gung-ho of 'Let's come out as soon as possible' because no matter how forward-thinking we all get, it becomes an obstacle a little bit in the case of auditioning, producers and casting and directors. Hopefully, we're moving a bit beyond that."
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Recording artist Sam Smith is a trailblazer for the LGBTQ+ community, having been one of the few celebrities to identify as nonbinary. The pop star decided to adopt the pronouns "they/them," not "he/him," in 2019. The singer is known for their soulful voice and record hits like, "Lay Me Down," "Stay with Me," "Too Good at Goodbyes," among others. When they made the nonbinary announcement on Instagram, Smith said, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis-gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you."
Jameela Jamil is a British actress known for her role in the comedy with Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. While you won’t be seeing Jamil's face on “The Good Place” anymore, you can hear her voice on her new podcast, “I Weigh,” which promotes the idea that people (women in particular) should be weighed by their achievements.
Jamil also came out as queer in February 2020, which was met with a considerable amount of backlash, seeing as she had been in a five-year relationship with musician James Blake. She told The Guardian that she had not come out before, “because I was worried that people would think I was jumping on a trendy bandwagon. So I understand the pushback.” What she disagrees with, however, is that people seem to think she’s lying about her identity. “What a weird lie,” she said.
When it comes to owning her sexuality, Demi Lovato is, above all other things, "Sorry Not Sorry." The sexually fluid performing artist came out in 2017 saying that that's just who she is, and who she has always been. An advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, she recently told Andy Cohen on his "Radio Andy" SiriusXM show that telling her parents was emotional, but that her family's reaction could not have been more supportive.
Ariana Grande has been a controversial figure in the LGBTQ+ community ever since her song “Monopoly” came out in 2019. For many it raised the question of whether or not the pop star herself was bisexual, while others criticized her for "queer baiting," which is when celebrities drop subtle hints at identifying somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum in order to attract that fan base. When asked about the song, whose lyrics say, "I like women and men," Grande replied on Twitter, "I haven't [labeled myself] before and still don't feel the need to now which is okay."
"The Matrix" fans are chomping at the bit for 2021 when the much-anticipated “Matrix 4” film is expected to debut with original stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. The film will also be written and directed by the sister superstar duo responsible for the first three: Lana and Lilly Wachowski, who are both transgender. "Many of the ideas Lilly and I explored 20 years ago about our reality are even more relevant now," Lana told Variety. "I'm very happy to have these characters back in my life and grateful for another chance to work with my brilliant friends."
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