In the last ten years, in the midst of the eradication of gay marriage bans and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” aiding the cause for equal rights for the LGBT community, several celebrities have come out to their public. It’s an admirable and generally popular move – for many in both the LGBT and heterosexual communities, a celebrity coming out is inspirational and a step in the right direction towards equal rights and acceptance regardless of sexuality.
But despite having made great strides in LGBT rights in America and Europe, we still have a long way to go in the fight for equal rights; gay marriage is still illegal in several states in the United States and even in parts of Europe. Indeed, we still live in a world marked by tragic suicides of young people who have struggled with bullying directed at their sexuality both before and after coming out. This led to the launch of the renowned “It Gets Better” project, a celebrity-endorsed campaign focused on the message that being open about one’s sexuality is a rewarding choice despite the fact the initial potential difficulties.
When a celebrity comes out, it’s more than just an impulsive decision to gain popularity or good ratings; it’s an extremely personal decision, carefully thought out and responsibly acted upon. Coming outs have now become a cause for a celebration and a time for the LGBT community and LGBT rights activists to unite and publicly demonstrate their support for one another and for the cause. These top ten celebrity “coming outs” date back to the mid-90s; many of these names are already familiar as well-known proud members of the LGBT community. But there was a time before these well-loved celebrities came out, when they were still unsure of the reaction they would receive from their public. With their ongoing popularity, and the huge affection the public have for these stars, these celebrities have contributed in no small part to removing antiquated taboos around the LGBT community and to forging the way for equal rights in the western world.
10. Ellen DeGeneres – 1997
Ellen DeGeneres was one of the first celebrities to come out of their own accord (Chaz Bono was outed in 1995 by a tabloid magazine). But with true quirky, larger-than-life DeGeneres style, she came out as a lesbian on the cover of TIME Magazine with the words, “Yep, I’m Gay”. She started dating model and actress Portia de Rossi in 2004 (who came out in an issue of The Advocate in 2005), and the couple got married in 2008 after the California Supreme Court declared the previous gay marriage ban unconstitutional. When she initially came out, Ellen told TIME Magazine, “Now, I feel completely comfortable with myself, and I don’t have to be fearful about something damaging my career if it gets out, because now I’m in control of it – sort of.” Ellen, one of America’s best-loved TV hosts and comedians, is now an inspiring icon of the LGBT community.
9. George Takei – 2005
George Takei is best known as Hikaru Sulu on the hit television series, “Star Trek”. Takei played the role as the Enterprise’s helmsmen for three seasons and six films. He came out in 2005, admitting that he was gay and had been in a relationship with his partner Brad Altman for 18 years. Takei came out in the gay and lesbian magazine Frontiers after being inspired by playing the role of Martin Dysart in the play, “Equus” on stage. In 2008, Takei and Altman were married, and have taken on an active role in the fight for LGBT rights.
8. Lance Bass – 2006
For years in the nineties and the early 2000’s, girls were fawning over Lance Bass while he was a member of the popular band ‘N Sync. Bass came out in 2006 on the cover of People Magazine with the simple words, “I’m Gay” on the front cover. So why did Bass, who recently got engaged to boyfriend Michael Turchin, wait so long to come out? “I knew that I was in this popular band and I had four other guys’ careers in my hand, and I knew that if I ever acted on it or even said (that I was gay), it would overpower everything. The thing is, I’m not ashamed – that’s the one thing I want to say. I don’t think it’s wrong, I’m not devastated going through this. I’m more liberated and happy than I’ve been my whole life. I’m just happy.”
7. Neil Patrick Harris – 2006
Neil Patrick Harris first came into the public eye playing the boy genius doctor in the show “Doogie Howser, MD” but these days we know him best as shameless womanizer and ‘bro code’ fanatic Barney Stinson in the hit series, “How I Met Your Mother”. In 2006, at the height of his HIMYM fame, Harris came out in an issue of People Magazine, stating, “…I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love.” He and his partner David Burtka are parents to twins Harper and Gideon, and they’ve come to be known as one of the most beautiful (not to mention adorable) families in Hollywood.
6. Chely Wright – 2010
In an industry that’s often associated with tradition and religion, country music singer Chely Wright made a memorable stand when she took to The Today Show to officially come out to the public. During the interview, she shared intimate details of her journey, explaining how she was rejected by the country music community and for a time, even considered suicide. In her decision to come out, Wright stated that she wanted to challenge stereotypes and be honest with herself. Wright shared, “I also hope that people who don’t think that they know anybody like me might come across it and realize that you don’t have to be gay to believe in the equality movement — you just have to be human.” Wright even had her coming out filmed in the documentary, “Wish Me Away”.
5. Ricky Martin – 2010
In March 2010, world renowned singer Ricky Martin came out as gay on his website. Having recently become a father to twins at that time, Martin was inspired to be true to himself, as well as the world, stating, “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am. […] These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn’t even know existed.”
4. Anderson Cooper – 2012
Famous host and respected news anchor, Anderson Cooper came out in 2012 in a letter that he emailed to Andrew Sullivan. There had already been speculation about Cooper’s sexuality, and with his permission, Sullivan posted the email on The Daily Beast. Many people around the world were inspired and gave their support to Cooper, who stated in his letter, “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.”
3. Frank Ocean – 2012
In July of 2012, the hip-hop singer took to Tumblr to officially come out as bisexual, an important stance in a music industry that has often been slated as homophobic. When Frank Ocean came out, he did so by movingly sharing a personal love story with another man: “4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost… Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping.” Ocean’s coming out was unusual in that he highlighted the internal conflict he battled: “In the last year or 3 I’ve screamed at my creator, screamed at the clouds in the sky, for some explanation. Mercy maybe. For peace of mind to rain like manna somehow.” Many members of the LGBT community found that they could relate to that last very real and emotive passage, and an outpouring of support flooded Ocean on social media.
2. Raven-Symoné – 2013
After the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned by the Supreme Court of July 2013, Raven-Symoné took to Twitter and said, “I can finally get married. Yay government! So proud of you!” The tweet took the Internet and media by storm as the famed child actress from the Cosby Show and Disney starlet came out of the closet. Raven-Symoné later cleared up her tweet to E! News stating that she wasn’t actually getting married by saying, “I was excited to hear today that more states legalized gay marriage. I, however am not currently getting married, but it is great to know I can now, should I wish to.”
1. Ellen Page – 2014
After much speculation about her sexuality, actress Ellen Page publicly came out as gay in February 2014 while giving a speech at the National Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “Time To Thrive” conference. She admits that her coming out was an 8 year process, as she first came out to her parents when she was 19. In her speech, Page stated, “I’m here today because I am gay. And because… maybe I can make a difference […] I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years, because I was scared to be out.” Ellen DeGeneres was among those who offered her support to Page, and she admits that her coming out has been very positive.