In 2015, the USA finally got on board with the majority of the western world by legalizing gay marriage, giving hope to a number of people across the country. It had seemed that the world was beginning to adapt, minds were being educated, and attitudes were changing. However, in 2016 things took a step backwards, with the LGBT community seemingly back where they started, proven with the transphobic bathroom laws, in which bathroom bills were put into place, ‘regulating’ genders. 2016 also saw the worst mass shooting in the history of USA, which saw a number of the LGBT population targeted in a homophobic terrorist attack in an Orlando nightclub. And that’s not all. In fact, with the number of suicides increasing among LGBT identified young people, and the numerous homophobic attacks from presidential candidate Donald Trump, the next few years most certainly don’t look too promising.
However, that’s not to say that things aren’t improving. The LGBT community now, more than ever, are at their most prominent. With more and more individuals in the public eye coming out, and a more relaxed stance on the majority of attitudes towards sex and sexuality, it is a time where LGBT voices are finally being heard. In fact, not only did the Orlando tragedy bring the LGBT community together, it invited the rest of the world to join them, bringing together a whole bunch of people from different backgrounds into the fight against not only terrorism but homophobia. So, to help recognize those that bravely battle in the fight for equality everyday, here 15 of the most influential LGBT people in the public eye.
15. Jodie Foster
Upon receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award during the Golden Globes in 2013, Jodie Foster suddenly decided to share with us something that we kind of knew all along. “I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never been able to air in public,” she began, which then followed with the most uplifting, heart warming and most dramatic coming out speech that you would only expect from a Hollywood A-Lister. Yes, it may have come a little late, but everybody is entitled to that bit of privacy, right?
Yet it still matters, and it is still extremely important that someone of that caliber, so influential and so high profile, feels comfortable enough to now confirm everything that we already knew. Concluding her speech with “I already did my coming out, in those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers, and then gradually and proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met,” Foster finally ended with thanks to her ex-partner and mother to her children, calling her ‘my heroic co-parent, my ex-partner in love but righteous soul sister in life.’ Still the same bad-ass actress that we have all seemingly grown up with and subsequently fallen in love with, Foster will remain one of the leading examples of LGBT identification in cinema, as long as we forget that weird friendship with Mel Gibson, that is.
14. Chaz Bono
Son of one of the biggest gay icons in the world, Cher, Chaz Bono is one of a small group of transgender men in the public eye. After undergoing gender reassignment in 2010, Chaz has become a major player in the campaign for transgender rights and a vocal activist among the community. Starring in the documentary Becoming Chaz, viewers were given the opportunity to see first hand the struggles that trans people face when undergoing gender transition treatment.
A year later Chaz went on to star on the popular TV show, Dancing with the Stars, which became the first time an openly transgender man had starred on a major network television without the topic being of gender identification. Having been involved in LGBT activism throughout his life, Chaz has written books dealing with coming out to your family and going on to promote ‘National Coming Out Day.’ Still a very much-heard voice in the LGBT community, Chaz continues to educate and fight for the rights of many.
13. Anthony G. Watson
He may not be on the television or predominantly in the public eye but British-born, business savvy Anthony G. Watson has a number of credentials to his name, especially in the fight to rid homophobia from the world. From technology executive to human rights activist, Watson is currently the president and Chief Executive of Bitreserve. Not only is Watson a hard worker, he also sits on the board of the LGBT charity organisation GLAAD, and was the first non-US citizen to do so.
As well as GLAAD, Watson is an ambassador for the very influential charity Stonewall and is an acting judge for the European Diversity Awards. When questioned on why he is such a prominent gay rights activist, Watson claimed “I remember being shocked by a colleague using the term ‘filthy queer’ in a meeting, so much so that I had to pull him aside and say, ‘I’m gay, and you don’t get to use that language here. If you want to use it at home, that’s your call, but in this context, you don’t get to use that language.’ That’s actually why I came out at the time. It’s important that people take a stand on these issues”. Without tireless campaigners such as Watson, who often go unnoticed, the world would indeed be a very different place.
12. Ruth Hunt
Taking the helm as Chief Executive of the well known charity Stonewall in 2014, Ruth Hunt has only continued to bring good things to an already well established organization. Known for bringing together communities from all backgrounds, which not only include LGBT minorities, but also from different races and religions, Hunt was recently widely applauded for helping to administer the Stonewall campaign for trans equality.
Garnering praise from her admission that the charity had failed the trans community in the past, Hunt stated that “we made a series of cock-ups, so it didn’t look like we were trying to support people, it looked like we were a bit crap.” As well as her progressive work for the trans Community, Hunt also plays her part in a number of other areas such as civil partnership, same-sex marriage and as a practicing Roman Catholic, helping the relationship between faith leaders and the LGBT community.
11. Dr. Christian Jessen
Although fairly well known in the UK, Dr Christian Jessen is an unknown to the rest of the world. While studying medicine in London, Jesson gained a particular interest in HIV and sexual health, which followed him throughout his career. Notable for programs such as Embarrassing Bodies and Supersize vs Superskinny, Jessen is famed for helping people who are either too ashamed or embarrassed to help themselves. With huge success in both shows, Jessen went on to write, becoming an author of a number of books that specifically dealt with weight and medical questions people are usually too embarrassed to ask.
With his specialized subjects already in HIV and sexual health, Jessen spent a number of years working in Kenya and Uganda, studying and helping the community. Having recently gone undercover in a documentary exploring clinics for curing homosexuality, Jessen continues to push boundaries, bringing the unusual and often uncomfortable to the front of the line.
10. Anna Grodzka
While Poland is not particularly famed for embracing its gay community nor being accepting of it, the country is in fact the first to have a current, openly transgendered active member of parliament. Undergoing gender reassignment in 2010, Grodzka is a member of the Palikot’s Movement party, famed for its left wing values. As a prominent and vocal spokeswoman for the LGBT community, Grodzka has given lectures around the world on subjects such as transphobia and transgender awareness.
Hopeful that her acceptance within her workplace and her country will change future views on the LGBT community, Grodzka has faith that Poland will soon join most of its neighbors in regards to LGBT issues, claiming she is “100% confident that civil partnerships will become available in Poland at some stage. I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen it’s just a matter of time”. Famed for her no nonsense approach to homophobia, Grodzka and openly gay colleague MP Robert Biedron, purposefully sat in the front row of the Parliamentary benches after former Polish president Lech Walesa stated that “gay people belonged on the back benches of parliament or even behind the wall”.
9. Laverne Cox
Best known for her portrayal of inmate Sophia Burset on the critically acclaimed Netflix- produced series Orange is the New Black, Cox became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an acting award at the Emmy’s. Not only that, on June 26th 2015, the same day that same sex marriage was made legal in the USA, Cox was granted with her very own waxwork model at Madame Tussaud’s, the first openly transgender to achieve such a privileged accolade.
As an avid campaigner for the trans community, Cox has even graced the cover of Time magazine for her work. With regards to her activism, Cox has expressed a number of times on how the trans community are under-represented and receive little if no support, and has been applauded by various members of the community. Continuing her success in her career and in her activism, Cox is clear on her goal in which the trans community needs to be seen in order to move forward, recently expressing “it is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.”
8. Ellen DeGeneres
Universally acknowledged around the world, Ellen is probably the most famous if not most popular member of the LGBT community. Famed for her positive outlook on life and her ‘be kind to people’ mantra, Ellen has come a long way since she first burst on to the scenes and out of the closet. And burst she did, coming out via Time Magazine with the headline “Yep I’m gay”, sparking worldwide applause and acceptance; well, so she thought.
With the world seemingly not ready for such an iconic gay figure, Ellen’s promising career took a blow, going almost underground for a number of years. However due to her positive attitude and obvious talent, Ellen came back with a bang, never turning her back on the people that once turned their back on her. Married to actress Portia De Rossi since 2008, the pair are often pictured together on the red carpet, making them the most prominent and visible same sex couple in the media. From winning numerous awards for her daytime talk show Ellen to presenting the Oscars in bad-ass tux, Ellen and her sexuality have most definitely been accepted into the homes of many.
7. Russell T. Davies
Shattering stereotypes since time began, Russell T Davies first became apparent with his smash hit, TV drama Queer as Folk in 1999. Yes, gay characters had been seen before, usually as a best friend or next door neighbor, awaiting a grisly death or questionable disappearance. However, Davies changed all that, this time showing queer characters with lives, their jobs, and their romances. It was a show about them, and them only. Highly controversial at the time, Queer as Folk received many complaints due to the graphic sex scenes and age difference between two of the main characters, yet it is still ranked as one of the best TV dramas of all time.
Although not perfect, and portraying an unsavory representation of the lesbian community, it was still something and the first time anyone had really seen anything quite like such a world. Continuing to include Queer characters within his scripts over the years, Davies produced another ratings winner in 2015, with the drama Cucumber, Banana and Tofu, which told the story of a number of characters mixed together in the same community. Representing just about everyone in the LGBT spectrum and garnering the approval of lesbians everywhere, Davies had done it again, breaking down stereotypes on mainstream television to audiences all over the world.
6. Nikolay Alexeyev
Activist, lawyer and journalist Nickolay Alexeyev is one of the most brave, courageous, and valiant campaigners within the LGBT community. Campaigning against the banning of Moscow Pride in 2010, Alexeyev won the first ever case in relation to LGBT human rights violations in Russia. As an avid member of the Russian LGBT Human Rights Project, Alexeyev has taken part in a number of demonstrations throughout Russia and the world.
With Russia not having the friendliest attitude (to put it nicely) towards the LGBT community, Alexeyev has undoubtedly risked injury, arrest, and most importantly death due to his devoted involvement in LGBT rights. Declaring in 2007 that “it wouldn’t be possible to change things in Russia just by writing,” Alexyev quit his job and became a full time activist, working for the cause. With numerous awards under his belt and a thirst for change, Alexeyev only continues to fight for the good of the LGBT community, especially within his home country of Russia, giving hope to a huge number of people who are so often ignored and rejected by their own countries’ laws and regulations.
5. Cara Delevingne
A controversial choice, some may argue what on earth supermodel to the stars Cara Delevingne is doing on a list of the most influential LGBT people in the world. Born in 1992, British born Delevingne quickly rose to the top, winning Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards in 2012 and 2014. Appearing in a number of shows for a variety of highly acclaimed fashion houses such as Burberry and Dolce and Gabbana, Delevingne is also a highly acclaimed actress, receiving great praise at such an early time in her career.
Openly bisexual, the sought after supermodel is currently in a relationship and is often pictured with her girlfriend and famous musician St. Vincent, hand in hand and obviously very much in love. With her sexuality seemingly a non-issue, Delevingne never really seemed to be that bothered with regards to the rumors around her sexual preference. However when giving an interview for the popular fashion magazine Vogue, Delevingne confirmed her sexuality by stating “it took me a long time to accept the idea, until I first fell in love with a girl at 20 and recognized that I had to accept it”. Accepting her position as a role model for young girls everywhere, it is extremely refreshing to see a woman in such a career fully embracing her sexuality, all while breaking down stereotypes at the same time, thus being the reason she is on the list in the first place.
4. Owen Jones
Described by the popular magazine, Gay Times, as a “prominent voice for the LGBT community”, Owen Jones has often been applauded for his work as a political and social activist, yet has also been criticized for his highly opinionated articles. Working as a British columnist, Jones has written for a number of high profile British newspapers with special interest in sexuality, sexism, and homophobia. While being interviewed over the mass shootings in Orlando in which 49 people were shot dead in a nightclub, Jones challenged the presenters for ignoring the homophobic element surrounding the deadly shootings.
Angered at the lack of awareness towards homophobia, Jones walked out, garnering news coverage everywhere and a distinct change in how the story was to be presented in the future. Making waves with his recent publications, Jones is repeatedly being named among influential LGBT activists everywhere yet is adamant that his sexuality does not define him, recently claiming, “the very fact that coming out, whether you’re a TV anchor, pop star, teacher or train driver, remains such an event shows how far the struggle for equality has to go”.
3. Rachel Maddow
As the first openly lesbian news anchor to host a prime-time news program in the USA, Rachel Maddow has certainly made some waves during her stint as political commentator to the masses. Distinguishing herself as a powerful force in the world of politics, Maddow’s voice is most definitely heard, with her popular show the aptly named Rachel Maddow Show, continuing to be more successful each year with the ratings to prove it.
As well as being a major voice in the political news sector, Maddow is also extremely vocal within the LGBT community and is never afraid to report on what she believes is derogatory towards the community, highlighting such cases as transphobia and LGBT rights. With many claiming that she has inspired the LGBT community, and in particular lesbians, to sit up and take note of the current political climate, Maddow is not only extremely influential but also a great icon of representation.
2. Anderson Cooper
Speaking of news anchors, rivaling that of Rachel Maddow, CNN news broadcaster and silver-foxed stud Anderson Cooper is the number one newscaster for the popular prime time CNN news show. As well as being a highly respected news anchor, Cooper also hosts his own news program, Anderson Cooper 360°, garnering impressive ratings and critical acclaim. With his journalistic career earning him a number of awards and honors over the year, from Emmys to the established Edward R. Murrow Award, Cooper received the GLAAD media award in 2013, establishing him as one of the most famous and well known gay men on the planet.
Confirming his sexuality in 2012 after years of suspicion, Cooper valiantly declared “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.” Yet it has been his most recent coverage of the Orlando shootings in Florida that have seen him receive praise around the world due to his tender and compassionate storytelling and confrontational and angry interview with anti- gay attorney general, Pam Bondi, letting everybody know that he too is hurting, just like everybody else.
1. Sue Sanders
Teacher, trainer and LGBT rights activist Sue Sanders has been working for the community for well over forty years, helping educate those that also want to join the campaign in the fight against homophobia and transphobia. After training to be a teacher in London, Sanders went on to counsel those that were affected by alcohol, and began teaching women’s studies and drama at university. Having also worked as a management consultant and trainer to establishments such as the Metropolitan Police Force and the London Criminal Justice Board to a name but a few, Sanders advised each establishment on dealing with homophobic crime effectively.
However, it was her help in the launch of the UK’s first LGBT history month that really propelled her to LGBT stardom, in which the tradition has continued and helped accumulate universal awareness on the topic. Obviously not content with the huge amount of work that she has already helped deliver, Sanders has also directed a number of plays and has dabbled in poetry, articles, and short stories, mainly on the topic of homophobia and feminism. Loved by all, Sanders is undoubtedly one of the most unrecognized yet influential campaigners within the LGBT Community.