A Decade of Coming Out: How LGBTQ Celebs Changed the Game in the 2010s
By Stacy Lambe
Coming out is never easy, but it’s something every member of the LGBTQ community eventually has to deal with as they come to terms with living an authentic life. And thanks to growing acceptance -- particularly in the U.S. with the “It Gets Better” campaign, the passage of marriage equality, growing participation in Spirit Day and National Coming Out Day, and the recent World Pride celebration in New York City -- more and more people are living out and proud lives. That also includes celebrities, athletes and musicians, who have helped shatter barriers, increase visibility and become advocates for the community by coming out as LGBTQ.
While each experience or journey out of the closet is uniquely their own -- from a high-profile magazine cover to a simple acknowledgment while accepting an award -- many have found that they’re faced with less and less adverse repercussions for living freely in the public eye. “I completely refute any suggestion it’s bad for your career. I just don’t think that’s true -- in my case,” says Fleabag star Andrew Scott, who recently opened up about the need to come out publicly while filming the 2014 film Pride in an interview with the Homophilia podcast. “It was incredibly powerful to do that.”
As the decade comes to a close, ET is looking back on some significant moments and major milestones for celebrities coming out -- while honoring all of those who have chosen to live an authentic life -- during the 2010s.
Anderson Cooper, Jodie Foster, Ricky Martin and more put an end to the “open secret” surrounding their sexual identities.
In May 2007, Out magazine published a controversial cover featuring two models holding up images of Cooper and Foster over their faces with a headline reading, “The Glass Closet: Why the Stars Won’t Come Out and Play.” While outing someone is never acceptable, the magazine was trying to rectify with the fact that some longtime stars never publicly discussed their sexuality despite not hiding the fact they were LGBTQ in their day-to-day lives. In the decade since, whatever barriers holding these stars back from coming out -- perhaps like the challenges Ellen DeGeneres faced in the late ’90s -- slowly faded away.
In March 2010, Martin came out as gay after years of speculation about his sexuality. In a post on his official website, he wrote, “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man... 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.” In July 2012, Cooper spoke out in a statement to journalist Andrew Sullivan: “It's become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something -- something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true. ... The fact is, I'm gay.” Six months later, while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 70th Golden Globe Awards, Foster addressed her sexuality by saying, “I already did my coming out about 1,000 years ago, back in the Stone Age. In those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, everyone she actually met.” In a similar fashion to Cooper, Will & Grace star Sean Hayes came out to the Advocate by saying, “I never have had a problem saying who I am. ... I am who I am.” Years later, Barry Manilowofficially came out in 2017 after years of avoiding questions about his sexuality, while Lee Pace publicly came out as “a member of the queer community” on Twitter.
Athletes like Robbie Rogers, Gus Kenworthy and Michael Sam change their respective games -- quite literally -- by coming out.
While Hollywood has seen many people come out as LGBTQ while still very much active in their careers, there was a time no athlete would come out while still playing. Only in the past decade has that changed, with Rogers coming out while playing for the LA Galaxy, Kenworthy coming out in between Olympic competitions and Sam becoming the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL. “I had set myself up in my head for the worst-case scenario. I thought that I was going to lose sponsors and maybe lose my spot on the U.S. team,” Kenworthy said in 2017, nearly two years after first talking with ET about coming out. “No one had come out in our sport, and I had heard people say things that had made me really scared -- other competitors or whatever -- and whether they were joking or it was just ignorance, I had felt very nervous to come out for all those reasons. The reception, I'd say, for the most part, is completely the opposite. So many people were so supportive and I was reached out to by people in all these industries that I would have never imagined. I just felt very loved.”
They were not alone in breaking barriers in the sports world. In April 2013, basketball player Jason Collins came out as gay, becoming the first active gay male athlete in one of the four major North American professional team sports. Five years later, soccer player Collin Martin became the first active player since Rogers to come out. In 2013, Olympic diver Tom Daley announced he was in a relationship with a man (who turned out to be director Dustin Lance Black). Soccer player Megan Rapinoe opened up about her sexuality in an interview with Out magazine years before becoming the face of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. Meanwhile, retired NFL player Wade Davis came out in 2012 as one of the few gay NFL players, active or retired.
Frank Ocean, Janelle Monae, iLoveMakonnen and Lil Nas X come out, marking a notable shift in queer acceptance among the hip-hop, rap and R&B community.
While there have been several LGBTQ artists to succeed within the music industry and dominate the charts with hit after hit, specific genres have been slower to see out artists rise to the top. In particular, the world of hip-hop, rap and R&B was long considered one of the last to see any artists come out and find success. But that’s shifted significantly over the past decade, starting with Ocean, who published an open letter on his Tumblr about unrequited love he had for a man in 2012, around the release of his debut album, Channel Orange. Around the same time, Angel Haze, who identified as androgynous at the time, started to break out. She later clarified that she’s non-binary and pansexual. In a 2018 cover interview with Rolling Stone, Monae revealed that she was also pansexual, while shortly after, longtime friend, actress Tessa Thompson, said that she was attracted to both men and women.
In 2017, rapper iLoveMakonnen came out as gay on Twitter, while Lil Peepcame out as bisexual months before his death. GRAMMY nominee Lil Nas X tweeted about his sexuality on the last day of Pride Month in 2019 just as “Old Town Road” became the song of the summer. While the response to Lil Nas was largely positive, he did receive backlash on Twitter from rappers 50 Cent and Boosie Badazz and was forced to explain his coming out to Kevin Hart on HBO’s The Shop. The 20-year-old rapper, however, was not deterred and clap backed at his online trolls.
Caitlyn Jenner comes out as a transgender woman in the wake of the transgender tipping point in media and storytelling.
During an interview with Diane Sawyer on 20/20, the former Olympian, longtime reality star and patriarch of the Kardashian-Jenner family came out as a transgender woman. In a candid conversation, Jenner opened up about her battle with gender dysphoria, years of cross-dressing while presenting as a man, and her marriages to Kris Jenner and other women. A month later, she revealed her new name and image on the cover of Vanity Fair and openly discussed her transition in an interview with Buzz Bissinger. The following year, her ongoing journey as a transgender woman and coming out to her family and friends was documented on the reality series I Am Cait. In a conversation with ET around the one-year anniversary of her coming out, Jenner reflected on the past year. “What we did is we opened up the conversation,” she said. “We started a conversation about a small segment of our population. [There are people] out there that have been persecuted. Suicide rate is so high. People don’t understand the difference between transgender, sexuality, and homosexuality. They just don’t get it and we started this conversation.”
By coming out, Jenner became one of the most famous faces of the transgender community. But she was not alone. The Wachowskis -- two of the biggest directors of the early 2000s -- both transitioned on their own time, with Lana reportedly completing her transition in 2008, but not stepping out publicly for the first time until July 2012. In March 2016, Lilly came out as a transgender woman after a reporter approached her at home. In a statement to the Windy City Times, she said, “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. Transgender people without support, means and privilege do not have this luxury. And many do not survive.” Later, while speaking with ET, she praised her sister for helping to forage a path for her to follow. “Even the simple act of being. She pushed all these fence posts out and, so in a lot of ways, I was just following in her footsteps. It was almost like she had her snowplow out and all these channels started opening up for me.” Additionally, singer and GRAMMY-nominated songwriter Teddy Geiger came out in October 2017, while a number of contestants -- from model Carmen Carrera to Pose actress Jiggly Caliente -- have come out as transgender over various seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Asia Kate Dillon, Nico Tortorella, Sam Smith and more break the mold of gender stereotypes by coming out as non-binary or genderfluid.
As the conversation around gender and sexuality continued to expand over the past 10 years, more and more celebrities came out as neither male nor female. Notably, Dillon began removing gender pronouns from their biography in 2015. A breakout star on Billions, they have since pushed for awards shows to get rid of gendered categories. “There was a time when it was important culturally to have the word ‘actress,’ I suppose, but when it comes to awards ceremonies we don’t have ‘Best Directress’ or ‘Best Cinematographeress’!” Dillon told ET in 2017 while vying for Emmy recognition. “Looking at why we have that category to begin with will lead to a deeper uncovering of the misogyny and patriarchy that has existed in Hollywood and culture for so long now, and those are the conversations I’m really excited to be having.”
In 2017, three years after coming out as gay, Smith announced they identify as non-binary. They said, “I feel just as much a woman as I am a man.” And after coming out as sexually fluid in 2016, Tortorella told ET they are “so much more than that. I do not define myself by my sexuality. I never have.” Two years later, the Younger star announced they identify as genderfluid in 2018. Beyond those stars, Miley Cyrus, Transparent creator Jill Soloway, Queer Eye host Jonathan Van Ness, The Hate U Give star Amandla Stenberg, Batgirl star Ruby Rose, as well as former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants Eureka O'Hara, Jinkx Monsoon, and Sasha Velour have all come out as gender non-binary or genderfluid.
All the “Boys in the Band” are openly gay for the first time in 50 years.
In 2018, a half a century after The Boys in the Band debuted on stage, Ryan Murphy brought Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking play to Broadway. About a group of gay men gathered at a mutual friend's apartment for his birthday celebration, the revival starred Andrew Rannells, Brian Hutchison, Charlie Carver, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Michael Benjamin Washington, Robin De Jesus, Tuc Watkins and Zachary Quinto. The revival marked the first time in the show’s history that the ensemble consisted entirely of openly gay actors -- many of whom started their careers in the closet before coming out publicly over the past decade.
“It’s very meaningful to be able to play these parts as out gay actors 50 years later, when so many of these men not only hid their sexuality but died of AIDS eventually, a disease that undoubtedly was allowed to get as bad as it did in part due to homophobia, a secretiveness and no action being taken,” Parsons told ET about participating in the revival. Most famous for playing Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, the actor came out in May 2012, after five seasons on the CBS sitcom, when a New York Times profile mentioned that Parsons “is gay and in a 10-year relationship.”
That same year, Bomer came out while accepting the Steve Chase Humanitarian Award and later revealed that he was married to his partner, Simon Halls. In October 2011, Quinto came out in an interview with New York magazine. In 2012, just as Rannells made his breakthrough on TV with two gay roles on Girls and The New Normal, the actor confirmed he was gay. Watkins came out in April 2013 during an interview with Marie Osmond on her talk show, Marie. In 2016, Carver took to Instagram to open up about his sexuality. “For me, I wanted to feel I was in a place where I could work comfortably and where I felt like I had something to say,” Carver explained to ET a year later. “Part of my decision to come out was because I was ready to take on that conversation in a more public forum.”
The casualness in the way the cast came out has been replicated ever since, with the likes of Sense8’s Brian J. Smith, The Walking Dead’s Daniel Newman, Modern Family’s Reid Ewing, XY’s Matt Dallas, Colton Haynes, Robin Roberts, Maria Bello, and Ellen Page all opening up about their sexuality in similar fashion.