Gay rights have come a long way since the 1950’s when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order banning homosexuals from working for the Federal Government. Nowadays, those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (or LGBT for short) are allowed to work wherever they like and can even now marry someone of the same gender, should they be lucky enough to fall in love with Mr. or Miss Right.
Illinois was the first state to decriminalize homosexuality, when it repealed its sodomy laws in 1961, but we had to wait until 2003 for it to be legal to be gay across the whole country, when the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision which repealed existing laws in Texas and Georgia. By then, Vermont had already become the first state to legalize same-s*x civil partnerships, soon followed by the first same-s*x marriage in Massachusetts in 2004.
Hollywood has always been a more welcoming environment for gays, and many of the biggest stars kept the fact that they were homos*xual hidden from their fans. These days, there is no need for celebrities to be ashamed of being gay, and many actors, musicians, and even sports stars are well and truly out and proud. Here are 15 of them.
15 Alan Cumming
Scottish actor and musical theater star Alan Cumming has won a Tony award for his portrayal of the flamboyant Emcee in Cabaret, and he is no less flamboyant when it comes to real life. He is known in his native Scotland for playing the ridiculously camp air steward, Sebastian Flight, in the sitcom The High Life and currently lives with his husband, Grant Shaffer, in New York with their dogs, Jerry and Lala. Despite his love of all things camp, Cummings is actually bisexual and was previously married to actress Hilary Lyon for eight years from 1985.
14 George Takei
Actor George Takei is still instantly recognizable as Star Trek pilot Lieutenant Sulu having appeared in many of the TV episodes and the first six movies in the franchise. He eventually came out in 2005, marking the legalization of same-s*x marriages in California by revealing that he had been in a relationship with his partner, Brad Altman, for the previous 18 years. The couple themselves married in almost 10 years ago in 2008. Takei has become an outspoken activist for LGBT rights and his Facebook page, noted for its humorous political, social, and pro-gay postings, has almost 10 million followers at this point.
13 Jane Lynch
Fans of Glee will recognize actress Jane Lynch as the genius behind gym teacher and choir nemesis Sue Sylvester, but she has also appeared in a number of Christopher Guest’s infamous mockumentaries. Lynch is openly gay, marrying her partner, Lara Embry, in Massachusetts in 2010, although the couple has since divorced. Lynch has been honest about the struggle she experienced while coming to terms with her sexuality as a young teenager, although she now enjoys a prominent role as an LGBT activist and was even honored with the Annual Achievement Award at the 2010 Outfest Film Festival for gay actors.
12 Elton John
Given Elton John’s penchant for flamboyant costumes and overly dramatic performances both on and off the stage, it’s something of a miracle that many people didn’t even know he was gay until he came out in 1988. Since then, he has been a very vocal supporter of AIDS charities, establishing the Elton John Aids Foundation which has raised $200 million since 1992, mainly thanks to the lavish and infamous Oscars parties which the singer throws every year. Elton (real name Reginald Dwight!) entered into a civil partnership with long-term boyfriend David Furnish in 2005, and the couple then wed in 2014, after the UK legalized same-s*x marriage.
11 Wentworth Miller
The star of Prison Break and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow broke the hearts of thousands of female fans when he came out as gay in 2013, although he did make thousands of his male gay fans very, very happy! Miller came out when he declined an invitation to the Saint Petersburg International Film Festival, writing on the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) website that he couldn’t visit a country where “people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly.” Miller later revealed that he even tried to commit suicide several times during his early struggles with his s*xuality.
10 Jodie Foster
Hollywood star Jodie Foster has been plagued by rumors about her s*xuality throughout her career and she continues to guard her family’s privacy fiercely. She has two sons from when she was with her partner, Cydney Bernard, who she met while filming Somersby in 1993, and has been married to actress and photographer Alexandra Hedison since 2014. Foster has never officially said that she is gay, leading many to speculate that she could actually be bisexual, although she did address the subject in her Golden Globes acceptance speech in 2013, when she was receiving the prestigious Cecil B. de Mille award.
9 Graham Norton
Host of a successful UK comedy chat show and the voice of the Eurovision song content, Irish comic Graham Norton is about as camp as Christmas. Norton is openly gay and, while he is best known for his irreverent and risqué comedy, also considers himself something of an LGBT activist. He was particularly enraged when Irish broadcaster RTE decided to settle out of court with two opponents of gay marriage who had been described as homophobic during a studio debate on the issue. Norton’s native Ireland legalized gay marriage in 2015, and the country now has its first openly gay Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar.
8 Sean Hayes
Sean Hayes was one of the stars of Will and Grace, itself a groundbreaking TV show for making a sitcom that revolved around the lives and loves of ordinary gay men and women. Although, there was little that was normal about Hayes’ exuberant portrayal of Will’s good friend, Jack. Hayes had always avoided talking about his s*xuality, as he was concerned that audiences and directors would start to pigeon hole him if they started to think of him as a “gay actor.” However, Hayes finally proudly announced in 2014 that he had married his boyfriend of eight years, Scott Icenogle.
7 Sir Ian McKellen
A legend of English film and theater, Sir Ian McKellen is probably more familiar to younger viewers as the evil Magneto in the X-Men Films, starring opposite his good friend, Patrick Stewart. McKellen lived with his first partner, Brian Taylor, in London in 1968, during a time when homos*xuality was still illegal in the UK. Although his s*xuality was something of an open secret among his theater friends, he only really came out in 1988, the catalyst being a controversial proposal to introduce a ban on schools teaching about homos*xuality. He has since been a vocal LGBT activist on a number of issues.
6 Ellen Page
Oscar-winning actress Ellen Page came out in 2014 when she gave a speech to a human rights conference in Las Vegas. She has previously dated surfer Samantha Thomas, who was her plus one on the red carpet at the premiere of her film Freeheld, and is currently in a relationship with dancer Emma Portner. In 2017, in the wake of a number of allegations of s*xual assault against key Hollywood figures, Page alleged that X-Men director Brett Ratner actually outed her on the set of the film in 2004 when Page was just 18 years old—an incident that was confirmed by her co-star Anna Paquin.
5 Ricky Martin
Famous for Livin’ La Vida Loca, singer Ricky Martin was dogged by rumors about his s*xuality throughout his career, so much so that even Barbara Walters later apologized for the way she had harassed him on the issue during an interview in 2000. He became a father to twin boys in 2008–born to a surrogate mother–and came out publicly in 2010, thanking his long-term partner, Carlos González Abella, when he was recognized at the 2011 GLAAD Awards. Martin has been a longtime supporter of same-s*x marriage and is currently engaged to artist Jwan Yosef.
4 Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry is not just an actor, comedian, TV presenter, author, and general intellectual; he is also an English treasure. Yet, Fry has struggled to deal with issues around his s*xuality, as he describes in his autobiographies, and has also examined the prejudices against gay people around the world in a series of eye-opening documentaries. Fry was celibate for many years, but married his boyfriend Elliot Spencer in his native Norfolk in 2015. Spencer, a fellow comedian, is 30 years Fry’s junior, but it seems that the age difference is basically irrelevant for this happy couple.
3 Adam Lambert
Adam Lambert first became famous when he finished as runner-up in Season 8 of American Idol in 2009. He has since elevated that fame to icon status by “joining” Queen as their new front man for a series of world tours. While no one could ever replace Freddie Mercury, the flamboyant and colorful Lambert certainly outs his own spin on the role! Lambert revealed the worst-kept secret about his s*xuality in an interview just a few weeks after American Idol finished screening. As he said himself in the Rolling Stone article, “I don’t think it should be a surprise to anyone to hear that I’m gay.”
2 Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris may play one of TV’s biggest womanizers in Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, but in real life, he very much bats for the other team and has been out since 2006. Harris, who first found fame as child doctor Doogie Howser MD, is now a respected theater star, winning a Tony Award in 2014 and becoming the first openly gay man to present the Oscars in 2015. He wed his long-term partner, David Burtka, in 2014 (with Elton John as wedding singer!) and the couple have twin boys, born in 2010 to a surrogate mother.
1 Ellen DeGeneres
Known simply by her first name to her millions of fans, Ellen has done more than any other openly gay celebrity to break down some of the barriers and misconceptions surrounding homos*xuality. She came out on the Oprah Winfrey Show back in 1997, at the same time as her sitcom character also came out as gay to a therapist played by Winfrey! Her sitcom character went on to explore many of the issues facing gay people as they come out to family and friends. In 2008, she married actress Portia de Rossi, and the couple now live in California with their four dogs and three cats.