“Be you because that is what makes you special”. These are the words from Julian Walker, one of the successful black and gay actors on our list. If you don’t belong to these communities, it can be difficult to imagine the struggles and daily experiences, but the actors on this list bring to light some of these circumstances and situations. Through their productions and projects, as well as their activism in the LGBTQ community, they are able to shed some light on a very important and critical topic. Even in 2016, we still have people at odds over their stance on gay rights and equity. So we are here to bring these people into the spotlight through our list of 13 LGBTQ Actors of Color Who May Surprise You.
Recognized by GLAAD, Sundance, and many other pivotal organizations, these celebrities have broken out and forged a new path, one that more and more people are going to follow. It is important to point out that these people are part of two communities that are widely marginalized in the United States and elsewhere. On the one hand, they are people of color, which means that they are criticized and judged very easily by some people. Secondly, they are openly LGBTQ, which can be dangerous in some instances. Yet they have used that fear as motivation to speak out and do what they believe in. For these 13 actors and actresses, they have helped inspire countless others to find their own identity and we are sure they will not be the last celebrities of color to come out.
13. Wilson Cruz
When the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub took place in the summer of 2016, Wilson Cruz was one of the celebrities to speak out about the event. In fact, Cruz was personally touched by the tragedy because he lost one of his own family members in the shooting: an aunt by marriage named Brenda Lee Marquez McCool. Cruz described himself as wanting to do something and take action, but he just broke down when he first heard the news. Cruz uses his acting abilities and celebrity status to make statements about LGBTQ rights and equality on a regular basis. For instance, he starred in My So-Called Life, in which he played a queer teenager. The Brooklyn native is now in his early 40s, and he understands the struggle of coming to terms with one’s sexuality and how difficult it can be to come out.
12. Lee Daniels
This Philadelphia-born actor has dealt with tons of adversity throughout his long life, and he uses those experiences to better himself and those around him. Refusing to be a victim, Daniels has instead turned to a pivotal career as a Hollywood director, producer, screenwriter and actor. His efforts and talents have earned him nods for an Academy Award, as well as high status as an LGBTQ supporter and advocate. One of the things that Daniels has been very outspoken about is that he wants the black community at large to be more accepting of the LGBTQ community. The two entities do not have to be separate, and a person should not be afraid to be both black and LGTBQ. Daniels deems that there is no room for fear in these communities, and we hope that his efforts will not go unnoticed. So far he has been making great strides and has been vocal in various forms of media.
11. Alex Newell
At just 24 years of age, Alex Newell has already got a good head on his shoulders and enough achievements to fulfill a lifetime. Either way, he is not slowing down. You may have seen Newell in Glee, where he played a transgender student. When Newell first branched out on Glee, he was supposed to just be a very minor character, but he was such a talent and his message was so powerful that the producers decided to keep him on as a series regular! Besides that, Newell scored a record deal and was able to release singles such as “Show Me Love”, “This Ain’t Over”, and “Stronger”. Newell has also been widely recognized by the LGBTQ community of actors and professionals, performing at Coachella, the Governor’s Ball, and donating to The Trevor Project, which fundraises and advocates for LGBTQ teens with suicidal thoughts.
10. Paris Barclay
At 60 years of age, you might not think that Paris Barclay is totally relevant, but the truth is that he is a huge figure in the LGBTQ community, especially regarding people of color. Barclay has won two Emmy Awards and worked on music videos for the likes of Janet Jackson, New Kids on the Block, and Luther Vandross. He has been recognized by MTV, the NAACP, and GLAAD, among others. Barclay has been an openly gay man since he was in his early twenties, so he definitely understands the struggle of being black and part of the LGBTQ community. He likes to bring that experience to the screen or stage through his work. Being out for over 20 years, Barclay is so comfortable with himself, and yet he still understands the fears that a gay person of color may feel in a white-centric, cis-gendered world.
9. Patrik-Ian Polk
It was actor Patrik-Ian Polk who said that he’s used to actors being afraid to portray gay characters in Hollywood productions. It is pretty easy to see that there is a disproportionate number of LGBTQ characters in some of the most popular TV shows out there today. And yet there is supposed to be an understanding that LGBTQ people are just as deserving of representation and love and tolerance. Polk is looking to change that mindset, and his professional work has been dedicated to LGBTQ productions, such as Noah’s Arc, Punks, and The Skinny. Many of Polk’s personal experiences have found their way into his career and repertoire and that has been great for society at large. Thanks to his productions and projects, more LGBTQ actors can be out and proud and share their stories. If more of his work could make it into the mainstream, then we would really be in business!
8. Dee Rees
Have you ever seen Bessie or Pariah? Then you have Dee Rees to thank for that. She has acted, produced, and directed in the name of LGBTQ equality and acceptance for years. She has attended New York University and worked with the Sundance Film Festival. In short, she is a pretty big deal! Rees’ next film is coming out soon (no pun intended) and is called Mudbound. As far as television is concerned, she was involved in an episode of Empire, another huge hit series. Rees has won too many awards to recount right now, but one thing that we should stress is that Rees totally understands what it feels like to become comfortable with her sexuality, even when the rest of the world may have different viewpoints about it. After dealing with isolation and depression, Rees was able to fully come out and support who she truly was 100%.
7. Jussie Smollett
The start of 2016 was something new for Jussie Smollett, who became 100% out about his sexuality. Being an openly gay man in Hollywood is not exactly the easiest thing in the world, and yet Smollett is really making waves and exceeding with flying colors. Many people know of Smollett from the hit TV series Empire, in which he plays Jamal Lyon. Not only did Smollett have to come to terms with his homosexuality, but he is also of Jewish and African-American descent, which can pose its own series of struggles. Smollett had to figure out how to belong to both communities and be supportive as well. Not only that, but he wanted to be supported by both of them, and this is something that so many people are still trying to achieve. How can one be accepted by their peers while also being true to themselves? Look to Smollett for inspiration.
6. Blake Young-Fountain
With prominent roles in The Skinny, The Houseboy, and Chasing the Green, Blake Young-Fountain is one LGBTQ actor of color that you need to know about. The 35-year-old has worked on TV series, movies, and other productions, as he works not only as an actor, but as a producer as well. He even has a modeling career on the side, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Being openly gay has certainly provided its own set of challenges, and his involvement in the African American community also means that he sometimes struggles with belonging to distinct and sometimes opposing camps. His most recent project is a screen adaptation of Alex Munoz’s book, Do You Know the Way to San Jose?, in which Young-Fountain plays the character of Leviticus. Developed by the Sundance Writer’s Lab, it is sure to be a great film and faces high expectations from movie critics.
5. Wanda Sykes
Some people actually don’t know that Wanda Sykes is an out lesbian. The 52-year-old actress, comedienne, writer, and voice actress is known for her biting comedy skits and her quick wit. She is a beloved celebrity not only in the LGBTQ community, but among many demographics. She even had her own late-night talk show, although it only lasted for one season. Plus, this woman is one smart cookie. She used to work for the NSA, but was dissatisfied with the work and took it upon herself to start a comedy career, beginning with stand-up. She powered through to become one of the most successful black and lesbian comediennes of our time. Her awards include a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing, an American Comedy Award, and a Comedy Central Commie Award, among others. She has been vocal about Proposition 8 and other LGBTQ topics. Her 2017 is slated to include the film Mother/Daughter.
While many people know of Raven-Symone, her sexual identity has been a bit of a blur for the past few years. We have waited in the wings and allowed Raven to figure things out for herself (and about herself), although this hasn’t been without criticism and some eye-rolling. Raven is absolutely familiar with the backlash from critics and viewers, but she continues to stand strong. She is known for proclaiming to Oprah that she is a “human being that loves other human beings”. We weren’t quite sure what that meant back then, but now we know that Raven at least has sexual feelings for women. She dated AzMarie Livingston for three years before breaking up last year. Don’t call Raven a lesbian or bisexual though; she refuses to “label” herself, and won’t even say that she is African American, which put her in hot water with the black community and fans.
3. Doug Spearman
If you do not know the name Doug Spearman, then we can bet that you at least know some of his acting roles, even if you don’t realize it at first. He had appearances in Charmed, Star Trek Voyager, MAD TV, Girlfriends, and many more. Besides his work in mainstream acting roles, he has also made it a point to star in productions that highlight the LGBTQ experience. For example, he pointed out the AIDS epidemic among the gay community through his work in The Ice Pick. Besides acting, Spearman has lent his talents to ABC, CBS, E!, NBC, BET, and others by producing, directing, and writing. In 2013, he broke out with a gay comedy called Hot Guys With Guns, which he helped to write and produce. The project received glowing reviews and was a fresh take on the gay experience. This guy is glowing too; he has a number of awards for his work and activism.
2. Dalila Ali Rajah
If you made it to season 7 of Grey’s Anatomy, then you have seen Dalila Ali Rajah. She played Leanne Collis in the hit series’ episode titled “Something’s Gotta Give”. She was also one of the actresses in Hot Guys With Guns, the project that another LGBTQ figure (Doug Spearman) wrote and produced. Dalila Ali Rajah is a pro at making cameo appearances in many different TV series and films. In 2016 alone, she was in NCIS, Acting Out, and The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. We would love to see this actress branch out and star in a feature-length film or TV program on her own terms as a main character. In 2017, she is slated to appear in the short film The Good Time Girls. Oh, and Dalila was involved in the 2007 GLAAD Media Award Winning productionBluebonnet Court, which won for Outstanding Los Angeles Theater.
1. Julian Walker
Julian Walker was barely an adult when he stumbled upon fame. He had never been professionally trained in acting, but he decided to go out on a limb and audition for a production that was filming in his city in Mississippi. Believe it or not, he won over the talent scouts and was cast as the leading role in Blackbird (he also contributed a few songs and vocals to the movie’s soundtrack). Needless to say, after the success and acclaim he received from his work in Blackbird, Julian decided to actually study acting for real and now he is a trained and accomplished actor. Graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi, he is openly gay and has appeared on the theater stage as well as the big screen. He was publicly recognized by GLAAD and has served as a motivational black and gay actor to other young people in similar circumstances.