Celebrities Come Out for Equality in 2016
Whether it’s coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or as an ally, countless American actors, athletes, musicians and YouTube sensations have helped advance the movement for equality. In honor of National Coming Out Day, here are a few of the standout coming out moments in pop culture from the last year.
Marcelas Owens became known as the "Obamacare kid" in 2010 after standing next to President Barack Obama while he signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Earlier this year, Owens came out as transgender.
“I’m going through a reinvention process,” she said in an interview with CNN. I’m growing into adulthood. I’m not the Obamacare kid anymore.”
Owens’ grandmother, who raised Owens and her three sisters after their mother passed away, shared her support in a letter on Facebook addressed to “My first born grandchild.”
“Today, on your 17th birthday; I tell you AND the world; My grandson is on a new journey in life... I am so happy that SHE has trusted our relationship enough where SHE felt more comfortable sharing with me first; BEFORE the rest of the world... I give my heart & blessing to HER. I LOVE YOU AND YOUR COURAGE IN LIFE, MORE THAN YOU WILL EVER KNOW. Walk your journey in love & light."
A photo posted by Marci Owens (@marciloveyouit) on
WNBA All-Star Stefanie Dolson discussed her decision to come out in a piece she wrote for ESPN The Magazine’s WNBA Issue in May. Dolson, who came out through a social media post, said she made the decision because she had to be true to herself as well as her fans.
“Before posting, I thought about what people might say because this photo made it clear that we’re together, but then I realized that the reactions of others didn’t matter to me,” Dolson wrote. “I wanted people who are fans and supporters to know who I really am.”
She also noted that her generation’s ever-growing comfortability with sexuality and being open has taught her that gender comes second to someone’s personality.
“There are a lot of girls who struggle being who they are. We need people who are out so that those girls know it’s OK to be themselves, regardless of stereotypes,” wrote Dolson. “I just am who I am. And I’m happy."
In December 2015, following disturbing homophobic slurs made by Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo, NBA veteran referee Bill Kennedy came out publicly as gay.
“I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man,” Kennedy told Yahoo Sports. “I am following in the footsteps of others who have self-identified in the hopes that will send a message to young men and women in sports that you must allow no one to make you feel ashamed of who you are.”
The NBA suspended Rondo, and league commissioner Adam Silver delivered a statement in support of Kennedy to Yahoo Sports.
“I wholeheartedly support Bill’s decision to live his life proudly and openly,” Silver said. “While our league has made great progress, our work continues to ensure that everyone is treated with respect and dignity.”
Michael Angelakos, lead singer of the band Passion Pit, came out in November 2015.
“I am saying something that I’ve never said before publicly,” he told Bret Easton Ellis in a podcast interview. “I’m gay. And that’s it. It just has to happen.”
Angelakos later tweeted his appreciation to fans on Twitter writing, “I’ve received so many kind and supportive messages today. Thank you for reaching out and being so kind to me."
Actress Amandla Stenberg came out as bisexual in a Snapchat takeover for Teen Vogue earlier this year.
“It’s a really, really hard thing to be silenced and it’s deeply bruising to fight against your identity and to mold yourselves into shapes that you just shouldn’t be in,” she said in the video. “As someone who identifies as a black bisexual woman, I’ve been through it and it hurts and it’s awkward and it’s uncomfortable.”
Stenberg is perhaps best known for her role in the movie The Hunger Games as Rue, a part for which she was nominated for a 2013 NAACP Images Award. She, alongside actress Rowan Blanchard, received the most votes for Feminist Celebrity of 2015 in an online survey promoted by the Ms. Foundation for Women in partnership with Cosmopolitan.com.
Shared something on the teenvogue snapchat last night. Bi black girls unite. https://t.co/gvXdtKLUfT— Amandla (@amandlastenberg) January 8, 2016
Teen Wolf actor Charlie Carver came out as gay through five emotional posts on his Instagram page. Each post had its own message and was accompanied by an image that read, “Be who you needed when you were younger.”
“As a young boy, I knew I wanted to be an actor...It was around that age that I also knew, however abstractly, that i was different from some of the other boys in my grade,” Carver wrote. “Over time, this abstract ‘knowing’ grew and articulated itself through a painful gestation marked by feelings of despair and alienation, ending in a climax of saying three words out loud: ‘I am gay.’"
“I now believe that by omitting this part of myself from the record, I am complicit in perpetuating the suffering, fear, and shame cast upon so many in the world,” he continued. “So now, let the record show this - I self-identify as gay...I owe it to myself, more than anything, to be who I needed when I was younger.”
Actress Rowan Blanchard took to Twitter earlier this year to declare herself as queer.
The relationship between Blanchard’s character Riley Matthews and her best friend Maya Hart on the popular Disney Channel show Girl Meets World had led to speculation that the two are more than just friends. This, in turn, inspired a fan to tweet to Blanchard with the message, “BisexualRileyMatthews2k16”.
The 14-year-old Blanchard responded, “would really be here for this! If not Riley-its vvv important to me, being queer, that there is representation on our show [sic].”
She went on to tweet the following message, “in my life-only ever liked boys however i personally dont wanna label myself as straight gay or whateva so i am not gonna give myself labels to stick with- just existing : )”
She joined fellow actress Amandla Stenberg atop the list for Feminist Celebrity of 2015 in an online survey promoted by the Ms. Foundation for Women in partnership with Cosmopolitan.com.
Dubbed one of the best freeskiers in the world, Gus Kenworthy came out as gay in an interview with ESPN The Magazine. A 2014 Olympic silver medalist, Kenworthy shared the interview in a heartfelt Facebook post.
“I am gay. Wow, it feels good to write those words. For most of my life, I’ve been afraid to embrace the truth about myself. Recently though, I’ve gotten to the point where the pain of holding onto the lie is greater than the fear of letting go, and I’m very proud to finally be letting my guard down,” Kenworthy shared.
Following the announcement, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association president Tiger Shaw stood in solidarity with Kenworthy saying, “We admire Gus for having the strength to tell the world who he is as a person, and paving the way for others to do the same.”
I am gay. pic.twitter.com/086ayvChq2— Gus Kenworthy (@guskenworthy) October 22, 2015
American Idol finalist Rayvon Owen came out on Valentine’s Day in a video for his song “Can’t Fight It,” released on Billboard.
“I was given an incredible platform with American Idol and I felt I had a responsibility to do something positive with it, especially if there was a chance that it would help others,” Owen said in an exclusive interview with HRC. “When it came time to storyboard my new music video, the director, not knowing I was gay, presented the idea of a female love interest. At that moment, I knew in my heart that it needed to be a man. Authenticity suddenly became more important to me than hiding who I am.”
Owen, who is grateful to out artists such as Sam Smith, Troye Sivan and Frank Ocean for paving the way, has an inspiring message for LGBTQ youth.
“Surround yourself with people who love you unconditionally and who lift you up. Find your tribe. I promise there are people out there who will understand and love you. Life is short and tomorrow is never promised, so be proud of who you are and spend time with people who make you happy.”
At HRC’s third annual Time to THRIVE Conference for LGBTQ youth in February, YouTube star Brendan Jordan said that he identified as both male and female and was happy to use both pronouns “he” and “she.”
“I’m still figuring it out. I’m starting to identify as one or as part of the trans community,” Jordan said to the crowd. “I can’t really label it because, you know, some days my more feminine side comes out - the ‘she’ - and some other days I just don’t really feel like putting on my fabulous mask and the ‘he’ comes out. And I’m totally okay with that.”
While Jordan admitted that being a teenager and dealing with bullying can be tough, his advice to his fellow youth is, “Be true to yourself and don’t care about anything anyone else says about you.”
Actor Colton Haynes opened up about being gay in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in May. Haynes acknowledged that prior to coming out, hiding his reality took a toll on his health, both mentally and physically.
“People don’t realize what it’s like to act 24 hours a day. I’d go home and I was still acting,” Haynes said. “People who are so judgmental about those who are gay or different don’t realize that acting 24 hours a day is the most exhausting thing in the world.”
Now that Haynes is living his truth, his life is in a positive place.
“I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and healthier than I’ve ever been, and that’s what I care about.”
Haynes gave a touching and emotional speech after being awarded HRC’s Visibility Award at its annual Seattle dinner in August.
“My promise...I am making it to the next generation of lesbians and gay men, bisexuals, transgender youth, and I hope my example will give them the confidence and hope to be who they are, and for them to conquer their own fears and their own hesitations” Haynes said. “I want to give them just a little more courage to know that they’re loved just as they are, and to know that they’ll grow up beautiful and strong and proud.”
In March, filmmaker Lilly Wachowski, sister of director and producer Lana Wachowski, wrote a piece for the Windy City Times after tabloid reporters attempted to out her as transgender against her will.
“I am one of the lucky ones. Having the support of my family and the means to afford doctors and therapists has given me the chance to actually survive this process,” Wachowski wrote. “Transgender people without support, means and privilege do not have this luxury. And many do not survive.”
Wachowski went on to denounce the onslaught of anti-transgender laws appearing across the country.
“We continue to be demonized and vilified in the media where attack ads portray us as potential predators to keep us from even using the...bathroom. The so-called bathroom bills that are popping up all over this country do not keep children safe, they force trans people into using bathrooms where they can be beaten and or murdered. We are not predators, we are prey.”
Christian rock star and lead singer of the band Everyday Sunday, Trey Pearson came out as gay in (614) Columbus, as well as an open letter to his fans and friends that was first published by Religion News Service in May.
Pearson, who was raised in a conservative Christian home and is a big name in the Christian rock scene, made the brave decision to come out because he could no longer pretend to be something that he wasn’t. After accepting his sexual orientation, he soon realized he did not have to abandon his faith to live his truth.
“I hope people will hear my heart, and that I will still be loved. I’m still the same guy with the same heart, who wants to love God and love people with everything I have,” he wrote. “This is a part of me I have come to be able to accept, and now it is a part of me that you know as well. I trust God to help love do the rest.”
Actress, singer and songwriter Keke Palmer opened up about her sexuality in her music video “I Don’t Belong to You,” in which she leaves a male love interest and ultimately ends up with a woman.
In an interview with People, Palmer explained that she doesn’t feel the need to place herself in a specific box.
“The video was to represent the young woman today - it’s not the traditional woman anymore - and not the specifics of ‘Am I gay? Am I straight? Am I bi?’” she said. “I’m making the rules for myself, and I don’t have to be stuck down to one label.”
Palmer again refused to label herself in an interview with Hot 97 as she stated, “Where love is, that’s where I’m going. That’s what I’m about. It’s not about all that other stuff, it’s just about love. So if that’s a girl, great. If that’s a guy, great. It doesn’t really matter to me.”
Following the horrific shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, actress, author and former child star Mara Wilson opened up about her sexual orientation in a series of tweets after expressing heartbreak about the tragedy.
Wilson shared a photo of herself in a gay club at age 18 and went on to Tweet, “Being a ‘straight girl’ where I clearly didn’t belong, but I will say, I felt so welcomed there...But the LGBTQ community has always felt like home, especially a few years later when, I, uh, learned something about myself. So thank you.”
Shortly after, Twitter users began questioning Wilson about her sexuality and she responded by saying, “Let me put it this way: I’m a 2. I know a lot of people don’t like the Kinsey scale, and that is fine by me. But I am pragmatic at heart and find comfort in numbers.”
.@__SonjaLouise__ I said I *used* to identify as mostly straight. I've embraced the Bi/Queer label lately— Mara Wilson (@MaraWilson) June 14, 2016
In July, actress Aubrey Plaza sat down with The Advocate to discuss her various acting roles, in addition to her relationship with the LGBTQ community, and in turn ended up coming out as bisexual.
When asked if women ever hit on her, the Parks and Recreation star responded, “Oh, yeah. I don’t mind. I know I have an androgynous thing going on, and there’s something masculine about my energy. Girls are into me - that’s no secret. Hey, I’m into them too. I fall in love with girls and guys. I can’t help it.”
Alexis G. Zall
YouTube sensation Alexis G. Zall came out in a video titled 18 Tips for 18 Years on her YouTube channel a day ahead of her 18th birthday.
“I can say without a doubt I feel the most comfortable with myself as a human being that I have ever felt,” Zall said. “It is totally okay to be a girl who likes girls or a boy who likes boys, and me, personally, I am a girl who likes girls.”
Zall broke away from addressing the camera while she and a friend celebrated by dancing and chanting, “Gay, gay, gay!” She went on to say that she would not rule out dating guys in the future, but affirmed herself and others by saying, “I definitely like girls and it’s totally okay to just be that.”
After fellow actress Aubrey Plaza came out as bisexual in an interview with The Advocate, Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Stephanie Beatriz announced her bisexuality on Twitter.
Sharing a tweet from BUST Magazine that said, “‘I fall in love with girls and guys. I can’t help it.’ - Aubrey Plaza”, Beatriz simply wrote “Yup.” When a fan responded with one word, “IS,” encouraging her to elaborate, Beatriz responded, “yes y’all,” with four emojis - a girl kissing a boy, the A-OK symbol, a girl kissing a girl and the A-OK symbol.
@punkrockzo yes y'all. ��������❤️��������— Stephanie Beatriz (@iamstephbeatz) July 16, 2016
Elena Delle Donne
WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne became engaged to Amanda Clifton this summer.
Clifton shared a photo on her Instagram page of the couple’s dog with a sign that read, “Marry Me??” She captioned the photo, “I obviously said yes!”
While shying away from providing too many details about her dating life in the past, Delle Donne recently began opening up more by sharing photos of Clifton on her social media accounts.
“I’ve grown up in a family where I have the most unique sister in the world and we’ve always been taught to celebrate uniqueness,” Delle Donne said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in August. “It was easy for me to be who I am and hopefully others can be who they are as well.”
Claire Kittrell, creator and star of the viral video Gingers Do Have Souls came out as transgender in a YouTube video titled I’m done pretending. #TransPride in August.
“I wasn’t going to make this video,” Kittrell said. “I feel like I’m stronger now more so than I’ve ever been because I’m learning to accept myself and I’m learning to be more comfortable in my own skin.”
Kittrell said she was nervous to come out because she initially feared the public’s reaction, but ultimately knew she couldn’t go on pretending to be someone else.
In the description of the video, Kittrell wrote, “Take it or leave it, this is who I am. No longer going to hide...I knew that I had to do it for my own health I needed to get this off my chest and now I’m glad that I have done so [sic].”
In August, actress Bella Thorne shared photos and a video on Snapchat in which she is kissing a girl, immediately prompting questions from fans.
When asked on Twitter if she was bisexual, Thorne replied, “Yes.” She received an outpouring of love and a few hours later tweeted, “Aww thank you for all the accepting tweets from everyone. I love you guys #pride.”
On Celebrate Bisexuality Day in September, Thorne Instagrammed a photo with the caption, “Not only today but all days we should celebrate acceptance of others. Be who you want to be and it will take you to being your happiest self!"
Following her breakup from her now ex-boyfriend, YouTube star Eva Gutowski took to Twitter to announce that she is bisexual.
“I am ready for myself to fall in love with someone, no matter who they end up being, and have been since I was 12. Boy or girl,” she wrote in a series of tweets. “Why would you limit your love to half of what it could be, based off of being scared to ‘not be normal.’ No, love is for everybody to share.”
Gutowski was quick to respond to critics who claimed she wasn’t bisexual because she had never dated a woman.
“Just because you haven’t dated someone of the same sex does not mean you can’t be taken seriously as a bisexual,” she tweeted. “Let yourself love whoever you fall in love with. Don’t let your brain decide what boundaries your emotions have. Accepting yourself as being bisexual is not pledging to be ‘different.’ It’s pledging to be honest.”
I am ready for myself to fall in love with someone, no matter who they end up being, and have been since I was 12. Boy or girl.— Eva Gutowski (@lifeaseva) August 31, 2016
YouTube star Ricky Dillon posted a video on his channel titled My Sexuality, throughout which he explains that his sexuality is something he cannot easily define.
“I, first of all, don’t know what I am,” Dillon said in the video, which has been viewed more than one million times. “If I’m asked, my simple answer is, ‘I’m nothing. I’m none of the above. I don’t know what I am.’...If I were to label myself, I would be closest to asexual.”
Dillon expressed that he isn’t attracted to guys or girls, and acknowledges that he has no desire to date nor fall in love with anyone, and he is perfectly okay with that.
“My sexuality is something I don’t ever think about. It doesn’t define me at all,” he said. “I don’t want to label myself, I’ve never labeled myself. I just closely relate to that word [asexual].”
Reid Ewing, who is perhaps best known for his role in the Emmy Award-winning sitcom Modern Family, confirmed that he is gay on Twitter in November of 2015.
Ewing first took to the social media platform to comment on the attractiveness of a man on a Good Morning America segment. When a Twitter user asked, “Did you also just out yourself?” Ewing replied with a straightforward response, “I was never in.”
@MichaelJMapes I was never in— ♠️♥️♣️♦️Reid Ewing (@media_reid) November 21, 2015
Shawn Balentine became the first openly gay stuntman in Hollywood after sharing an emotional Facebook post in January. In the post titled Layers, Balentine explains that he was reluctant to show his vulnerable side and rarely allowed himself to wear his heart on his sleeve.
“Now it’s time to peel back the layers,” he wrote. “I’ve been waiting until I was ready to come out as [a] gay man on my terms. I’m ready now.”
Balentine noted that he hopes that his decision to come out will help people who feel alone and are afraid to live their truths.
“I didn’t choose to be gay; it’s simply who I am,” Balentine wrote. “I have been blessed to have fortitude and to not care anymore what anyone thinks...And it feels damn fine to let [you] see this layer of my life. Welcome friends, to knowing the real Shawn.”
Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, for whom Balentine serves as a stunt double, shared Balentine’s post on his own Facebook page with a touching message.
“This is Shawn Balentine...He’s a top-shelf professional stuntman and an amazing person. He’s also the first professional stuntman to come out of the closet...I could not be prouder of the guy. I’d walk through fire for him.”
The first deaf winner of America’s Next Top Model and Dancing With the Stars, Nyle DiMarco came out as sexually fluid on Twitter.
When a fan asked DiMarco if he preferred men or women, he responded, “fluid” with a link to an article titled How Fluid Sexuality Fits into the LGBTQIA+ Spectrum.
At HRC’s 20th annual National Dinner in September, DiMarco spoke about the intersectionality of our issues and embracing our differences.
“My passion is being my true self while inspiring young people who are struggling with their identities to love themselves for who they are,” DiMarco told the crowd. “As a sexually fluid deaf man, I know that embracing all of our identities is the way to thrive and overcome limitations and prejudices. There is no doubt in my mind that human diversity is what colors our world.”
Creator of the animated T.V. series Steven Universe, Rebecca Sugar came out as bisexual at Comic-Con in July.
At a panel for her show, a fan asked Sugar what inspired her to focus on women’s empowerment as well as LGBTQ themes when writing Steven Universe.
“Well, in large part it’s based on my experience as a bisexual woman,” Sugar said and was met with resounding applause from the audience. She continued to discuss the importance of these themes, not just for her but for other LGBTQ people, especially youth.
“These things have so much to do with who you are, and there’s an idea that these are themes that should not be shared with kids, but everyone shares stories about love and attraction with kids,” Sugar said. “So many stories for kids are about love, and it really makes a difference to hear stories about how someone like you can be loved, and if you don’t hear those stories it will change who you are. It’s very important to me that we speak to kids about consent and we speak to kids about identity and that we speak to kids about so much. I want to feel like I exist, and I want everyone else who wants to feel that way to feel that way too.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love announced that she was in love with a woman, her best friend Rayya Elias. In a Facebook post titled ME & RAYYA, Gilbert explained that she realized she was in love with Elias when Elias was diagnosed with terminal liver and pancreatic cancer.
“In the moment I first learned of Rayya’s diagnosis, a trap door opened at the bottom of my heart (a trap door I didn’t even know was there) and my entire existence fell straight through that door,” Gilbert wrote. “I love her, and she loves me. I’m walking through this cancer journey with her, not only as her friend, but as her partner.”
Gilbert revealed that she needed to be open and honest about their relationship so she could walk into a room feeling relaxed and comfortable about who they are as a couple.
“Sure, I could pretend that Rayya is still just my best friend, but that would be...you know...pretending. Pretending is demeaning, and it makes you weak and confused, and it’s also a lot of work. I don’t do that kind of work anymore.”
“My name is Brian Anderson and I am a professional skateboarder, and we are here to talk about the fact that I am gay,” Anderson said.
Anderson confessed that he thought being gay was something dangerous to talk about because of the slurs he heard growing up, so he kept it in for quite some time. His friends in the skating world, however, found him to the perfect example to effect change and represent the LGBTQ community in skating.
A VICE staffer asked fellow pro skateboarder Alex Olson, “So Brian’s basically your favorite skater, and then you find out he’s gay,” to which Olson jumped in and replied, “And it just made me like him him even more. I was like, ‘Oh, amazing!’ It makes him that much cooler.”
“I think of how I felt when I was younger and, you know, totally scared,” Anderson said. “A lot of these kids that don’t have hope are really scared to death. Hearing what I went through and to know how everything got better for me and I got a lot happier and felt more free, and didn’t have all of the shame buried inside my body, you become a happier person. So to convey that message was really important to me.”
Actress Holland Taylor opened up about her relationship with fellow actress Sarah Paulson in an interview last November.
“My relationship is with a woman,” the Emmy Award-winner said without referencing Paulson by name. “Most of my relationships have been with women.”
Taylor went on to say in an interview with Anna Sale on the podcast Death, Sex & Money, “I haven’t come out because I am out. I live out...It’s the most wonderful, extraordinary thing that could have ever possibly happened in my life.”
Paulson, who recently won an Emmy for her role in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, had a heartwarming message for Taylor to close her acceptance speech, “And Holland Taylor - I love you.”
Whether it's for the first time ever or the first time today, coming out can be an arduous journey. It is also a brave decision to live openly and authentically. For more information and resources on coming out and National Coming Out Day, visit HRC’s Coming Out Center and follow the hashtag #ComingOut.