The LGBTQ+ community has been integral to the performing arts (and the tech behind said arts) for as long as there has been performing arts, even though many members of the entertainment industry were at times reluctant to admit it. Back in the days of the Hays Code from the 1930s to the 1960s, movies depicting same-sex love interests were censored by studios. Even today, movies featuring gay sex or LGBTQ+ characters are typically rated more strictly than movies with straight characters.
Given the stigma around showing LGBTQ+ content on the silver screen, it makes sense that celebrities who identify as being LGBTQ+ haven’t always been able to speak freely about their status. It wasn’t too long ago that the entertainment industry took every conceivable measure to keep the sexual orientation of its foremost stars under wraps. Look no further than Old Hollywood actor Rock Hudson, whose homosexuality remained a tightly guarded secret during the height of his fame.
Thankfully, many of today’s LGBTQ+ celebrities aren’t overly pressured into keeping their status a secret. Likewise, both the entertainment industry and society have made strides since the heyday of Rock Hudson, at least in terms of how both those entities approach and accept sexual identity. This increased visibility of LGBTQ+ celebrities matters. Celebrities speaking openly about their identity and experiences can help destigmatize LGBTQ+ identities and boost the self-esteem of LGBTQ+ people by allowing them to see that there are successful people out there who are like them.
We’ve curated a list of 50 major celebrities in the LGBTQ+ community who have made significant contributions to the community itself and/or the entertainment industry. Although there is still quite a way for civilization to go when it comes to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals, it’s increasingly apparent that a celebrity’s sexual orientation need not be the career detriment it may have been in the past. In fact now, more than ever, celebrities are speaking up for LGBTQ+ communities and becoming celebrated advocates for them. Just look at Billy Eichner vying for more overtly gay characters in TV and film. Or Lil Nas X, who has become an LGBTQ+ icon after spending years closeted with no plans to publicly come out.
Since graduating from the role of Hannah Montana in 2011, actress and singer Miley Cyrus hasn’t shied away from expressing her sexuality through performance art—sometimes to downright scandalous effect. That said, it wasn’t until 2015 that Cyrus announced she was gender-fluid, meaning she doesn’t exclusively identify with one particular gender. In the time since, she’s become a passionate and vocal advocate for various LGBTQ+ issues. Her organization, Happy Hippie Foundation, concentrates on youth homelessness, the LGBTQ+ community, and other vulnerable populations.
Elliot Page, famous for roles in "Juno," "Hard Candy," "Tallulah," and "Inception," in 2014 declared his LGBTQ+ identity during a powerful speech at a human rights conference. Page came out as transgender in December 2020; his public pronouncement and subsequent interview with Time was celebrated for giving hope to those struggling with their identities or those facing internal or external barriers to coming out publicly. Page also graced the cover of Time magazine in 2021, becoming the first openly trans man to do so.
Apple CEO Tim Cook came out in 2014 in a poignant Bloomberg editorial. “I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” Cook said. While he doesn’t consider himself an activist, Cook did once tell Stephen Colbert that he felt a “tremendous responsibility” to speak up about his LGBTQ+ status, particularly on behalf of all the young people who are bullied or even disowned because of their sexuality.
In 2003, Drew Barrymore star told Contact Music, “I have always considered myself bisexual.” She added, “I love a woman's body. I think a woman and a woman together are beautiful, just as a man and a woman together are beautiful.” Additionally, Barrymore has not only been open about her bisexuality but also issues around mental health and addiction.
Billie Joe Armstrong went mainstream in 1994 as the frontman to rock band Green Day. But while the celebrity is no stranger to headlines, it’s not widely known that he’s been openly bisexual since 1995. That was when he told The Advocate: "I think I've always been bisexual… I think people are born bisexual, and it's just that our parents and society kind of veer us off into this feeling of, 'Oh, I can't.' They say it's taboo. It's ingrained in our heads that it's bad, when it's not bad at all. It's a very beautiful thing." Armstrong also touched upon his sexuality in the song “Coming Clean” from Green Day’s 1994 album “Dookie.”
A powerful music mogul, Clive Davis is best known as the man who helped launch or revive the careers of Whitney Houston, Barry Manilow, and Billy Joel, among numerous other superstars. In 2013, the twice-married executive released an autobiography, “The Soundtrack of My Life,” in which he detailed two long-term relationships with other men. In interviews, Davis has revealed being romantically involved with a male doctor for 13 years, and another man whom he doesn’t name.
Between her former gig with the Black Eyed Peas, her prior marriage to actor Josh Duhamel, and her unpopular 2018 performance of the national anthem, Fergie definitely manages to stay in the public consciousness year after year. What’s lesser-known about the singer, however, is that she’s identified as bisexual since the early ’00s. “I think women are beautiful,” she told The Advocate. “I've had a lot of fun with women, and I'm not ashamed of it.”
While a certain percentage of Kristen Stewart’s fan base probably prefers to think of her as the perennial soulmate of “Twilight” co-star Robert Pattinson, the edgy actress has definitely moved on to new partners from both sides of the gender spectrum. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the fans from clamoring for a reunion with Pattinson—or at least trying to box Stewart in as far as her sexual identity is concerned. In 2017, Stewart stated that she is bisexual, telling The Guardian, “You're not confused if you're bisexual. It's not confusing at all. For me, it's quite the opposite.”
It wasn’t until she began watching sci-fi TV series “The X-Files” that the first openly gay woman star of “SNL” Kate McKinnon said she realized she was attracted to women. Specifically, McKinnon found herself swooning over actress Gillian Anderson in the 1990s. Even decades later, McKinnon continues to describe Anderson as the “queen of my heart.” McKinnon has also cited openly lesbian comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as an inspiration and saluted the decorated star at the 2020 Golden Globes for encouraging her to pursue a career in TV.
“X-Files” star Gillian Anderson in 2015 told The Telegraph that she’d previously engaged in same-sex relationships, and was open to doing so again. “To me a relationship is about loving another human being; their gender is irrelevant,” said Anderson. In addition to “The X-Files,” Anderson starred in other popular TV shows like “The Fall,” “Sex Education,” and “The Crown."
With her open-minded performance style, provocative lyrics, and massive LGBTQ+ fan base, it was not terribly shocking when pop star Lady Gaga identified as bisexual in a 2009 interview with Barbara Walters. Since then, the pop star has been accused of possibly making up her LGBTQ+ status for marketing purposes. She addressed the accusations head-on during an album release party and Q&A session in 2013, stating, “It’s not a lie that I am bisexual and I like women... This is who I am and who I have always been.” Gaga has also been involved in many LGBTQ+ rights and mental health causes over the years, including launching her own Born This Way Foundation to empower youth, prevent bullying, and improve mental health.
In an interview with LGBTQ+ outlet The Advocate, Aubrey Plaza in 2016 spoke of having intense feelings for both sexes. “Girls are into me — that's no secret. Hey, I’m into them too,” said Plaza. “I fall in love with girls and guys. I can’t help it.” She also pointed out that she emanates “masculine energy,” and is attracted to men and women.
“Game of Thrones” fans will recognize actor Kristian Nairn as Hodor, a hero who says nothing but his own name when speaking. Prior to 2014, he’d not spoken publicly about his gay identity. In an interview with Winteriscoming.net that year, though, Nairn explained: “I’ve never hidden my sexuality from anyone, my whole life in fact, and I’ve been waiting for someone to ask about it in an interview, cos it’s not something you just blurt out.”
Frank Ocean, a member of hip-hop collective Odd Future and breakout solo star, is among the biggest names in contemporary music. In 2012, he posted a statement on his Tumblr account, in which he seemed to declare his love for another man. “ To my first love, I’m grateful for you,” he expressed. “Grateful that even though it wasn’t what I hoped for and even though it was never enough, it was.” A few years later, Ocean released his album, “Blonde,” to substantial acclaim and healthy sales numbers. As famous and respected now as he ever was, Ocean occasionally uses his celebrity status to help spread LGBTQ+ awareness.
Given the outward sense of machismo that permeates professional sports and its overzealous fan base, many LGBTQ+ athletes keep their sexuality a secret. Helping to change that is former NBA player Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay man to play in one of the four major professional team sports. In a 2014 Sports Illustrated article written by Collins in which he announces his retirement, he expressed a desire to see more of his fellow athletes come out without facing repercussions. “When we get to the point where a gay pro athlete is no longer forced to live in fear that he’ll be shunned by teammates or outed by tabloids … then coming out won’t be such a big deal,” Collins wrote, but ultimately conceded that we’re “not there yet.”
Actor and director Angelina Jolie has been openly LGBTQ+ for so long that some folks might have forgotten about it. When asked in 2003 if she was bisexual, Jolie replied, “Of course. If I fell in love with a woman tomorrow, would I feel that it's OK to want to kiss and touch her? If I fell in love with her? Absolutely! Yes!" Speaking with the former website Movieline in another interview, Jolie revealed: “When I was 20, I fell in love with somebody who happened to be a woman. I was open about it (bisexuality) because I wanted people to know that I had been with a woman.”
Actor Victor Garber has starred in films like “Titanic” and “Argo,” along with TV shows like “Alias” and “The Flash.” In 2013, he confirmed that he is gay, though he hadn’t exactly been hiding his LGBTQ+ status—or his more than 20-year relationship with Rainer Andreesen, for that matter. At the time, Garber said of his sexual orientation, “I don’t really talk about it, but everybody knows.” The couple married in 2015.
According to a 2016 video for “It Gets Better,” actress and singer Raven-Symoné knew she was sexually attracted to other females as early as the age of 12 but hid the fact from others. Raven-Symoné hasn’t exactly become Hollywood royalty, but that might have more to do with her critiques of various hip-hop figures than it does her LGBTQ+ status. In 2020, Raven-Symoné announced she’d married Miranda Maday, a social media manager, in an intimate wedding ceremony.
She might have been engaged to Krazee Eyez Killa on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but in reality, Wanda Sykes prefers female partners. After coming out at a Prop 8 rally in 2008, the comedian claimed she was subsequently treated like a “unicorn,” in that most gay or bisexual African Americans don’t openly share their LGBTQ+ statuses. Sykes, who still performs to sold-out crowds, has been married to her wife Alex since 2008. The couple became parents in April 2009.
Known for his roles in shows like “Desperate Housewives” and “Teen Wolf,” actor Charlie Carver came out in 2016. Carver took to Instagram to make the announcement in an emotional message to his fans. Later, the actor claimed he made the decision in part because he was “ready to take on that conversation in a more public forum.” Carver has since been vocal about Hollywood’s tendency to perpetuate negative LGBTQ+ stereotypes, as well as pigeonholing openly gay actors into playing specific types of roles. Carver performed on Broadway in “The Boys in the Band,” which details the gay experience in 20th-century America before the Stonewall Riots occurred.
Star of the 2018 film “Aquaman,” Amber Heard has been openly bisexual since 2010 when she was dating artist Tasya van Ree. Heard and Ree dated from 2008 to 2012. Heard remains quite vocal about achieving equal rights, not just for members of the LGBTQ+ community, but for women in general. In a 2017 interview with Allure, she acknowledged that gender inequality is far graver than she once suspected, saying, “I had been living with my head in the sand…I did not realize how far we have to go to be equal.”
Golden Globe-winner Sarah Paulson
Actress, singer, and fashion designer Bella Thorne declared her bisexuality in true, modern style. That is, she shared a picture of her kissing another girl on Snapchat, then confirmed that she was indeed a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Since that initial declaration, Thorne has made it a point to live life the way she wants to, making no apologies or compromises for her choices. In 2019, the actress has stated that she identifies as pansexual.
Before her untimely death, singer Amy Winehouse was in the news for a variety of things. So it would be no surprise that word of her bisexuality might have slipped under the radar. Winehouse’s friends reported to News of the World that Winehouse once said, "I like girls as well. … There is something about being with a woman that is very satisfying. I don't care what people think about me being bi—I do what feels good.”
Best known for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, Sir Alec Guinness kept his sexual orientation—and his arrest for a homosexual act in 1946—away from the public eye for the entirety of his adult life. It wasn’t until after Guinness passed away that his bisexuality was revealed. According to reports by his biographers, however, Guinness’ bisexuality had “always been known” to his family and friends.
Actor Marlon Brando once told his biographer, "Like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences and I am not ashamed. I have never paid much attention to what people think about me." Unlike many of his contemporaries, Brando was an actor who could land desirable roles no matter what he chose to do in his personal life. To this day, his performances are heralded as some of the best ever committed to the big screen. Among them include “The Godfather,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and “Apocalypse Now.”
According to music legend Quincy Jones, one of Marlon Brando’s alleged homosexual trysts was with comedy legend Richard Pryor in the 1970s. Jones made the claim in a controversial interview with Vulture in 2018, and his assertion was later confirmed by Pryor’s own widow, Jennifer Lee. “He’d f--- anything,” Jones said of Brando. “Anything! He’d f--- a mailbox. James Baldwin. Richard Pryor. Marvin Gaye.”
After coming out as bisexual in 2010, and then marrying actor Stephen Moyer that same year, “True Blood” and “X-Men” actress Anna Paquin experienced some backlash from the LGBTQ+ community. At the time, Paquin described the outrage to her coming out as “hateful.” In response, she said of her bisexuality, “I am a happily married woman and I married a man. I don’t think that negates that aspect of my life.” Accordingly, Paquin hasn’t let anyone or anything stop her from speaking her mind about LGBTQ+ issues. As she told Cosmopolitan in 2014, "The reason I feel like it's important to talk about this stuff is that the more normal and, frankly, mundane and boring this stuff becomes, I think the better it's going to be for everyone who is part of our community."
Long before directing movies like “Precious” or co-creating Fox’s “Empire,” Lee Daniels was a young gay man coming to terms with his homosexuality while growing up in Philadelphia. (Daniels, in 2015, clarified his sexuality, describing himself as sexually fluid.) As Daniels told the Hollywood Reporter in 2017, his father once threw him in a trashcan after he came down the stairs wearing high heels—a scene that “Empire” fans may find familiar. The director’s struggles would continue through the '80s as his friends began dying from AIDS. Daniels considers it a “miracle from God” that he never contracted the deadly virus himself.
Due to her liberal use of gay slurs on Twitter and in her lyrics, singer Azealia Banks faced accusations of homophobia in 2015. Hoping to quash the controversy, Banks came out as bisexual that same year, adding that nearly all of her friends are gay and that one of her siblings is transgender. Speaking to The New York Times, Banks said, “I'm not trying to be, like, the bisexual, lesbian rapper. I don't live on other people's terms.”
Lil Nas X
Janelle Monáe presented herself as an enigma when she first burst on the scenes in 2010 with her debut album, "The ArchAndroid." What she presented to the world was exactly that: an "immaculate android," or an "alien from outer space/the cybergirl without a face." But as the world began to get to know Monáe through her music, androgynous style, and prog-pop music, she let the world in on who the human is underneath. Originally she identified as bisexual but now aligns as queer as she continues to learn about topics like pansexuality and how they resonate with her. Monáe has also encouraged conversations on breaking the gender binary, tweeting the hashtag “#IAmNonbinary” in January 2020 in support of Nonbinary Day.
Panic At The Disco Front Man, Brendon Urie
Many fell for Andrew Scott when they got to know him as "the hot priest" in the British comedy series, "Fleabag." For Scott, his LGBTQ+ "moment of fame" wasn't about coming out to the masses—he's been out for a while. (He first spoke publicly about his sexuality in an interview with The Independent in 2013.) What got the media's attention was his distaste at being referred to as, "openly gay." He told GQ during an interview, "You're never described as openly gay at a party...'This is my openly gay friend Darren.' 'She's openly Irish.' It implies a defiance I don't feel."
While his most notable role of the last few years put being gay front and center stage, actor Lee Pace was not always as forthcoming about his own sexuality. The actor, who played Joe Pitt in "Angels in America" on Broadway, came out every time he performed (as his character). It wasn't until 2018, however, that he came out to the public as himself, Lee Pace. (Reportedly, however, Pace made headlines in 2012 when his “Hobbit” co-star, Ian McKellen, accidentally described Pace as gay in an interview.) In an interview with The New York Times, he made it clear that his decision to keep quiet was to draw boundaries—that the public knew him as an actor who plays roles, and that's all that should matter. Pace was not always met with the most welcoming circumstances. While he admits he was never outright scorned for being gay, there have been instances where he felt it was more of a hindrance than just a fact that shouldn't matter. He told The New York Times, "Once you say those words and the sky doesn't fall down, or the earth doesn't open up, a lightning bolt doesn't zap you. You really can be anything."
Jason Mraz is all about the wordplay, though he doesn’t mince words when it comes to his sexuality. The recording artist officially came out as bisexual in 2018, after admitting that it was hard for him to do so given his conservative upbringing. (He penned an lover letter to the LGBTQ+ community in 2018 for Billboard for Pride Month.) With the support of his now-wife, however, Mraz has fully embraced all sides of his sexuality and has celebrated how easy it was for him to be honest about who he is with the rest of the world.
Not all heroes wear capes—but Tessa Thompson certainly does, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. She won hearts with her role as Valkyrie in "Thor: Ragnarok." But it was in "Thor: Love and Thunder" that Marvel gave her an explicit LGBTQ+ storyline, a first for the brand, which made Thompson an icon not only for women but for the LGBTQ+ community, too. Although Thompson has dated men and women, she chooses not to label herself as bisexual.
Rebecca Black skyrocketed to notoriety back in 2011 with the launch of her song, "Friday"—which wasn’t exactly met warmly. She came out on Amy Ordman and Jack Dodge's podcast, "Dating Straight," saying: "I made, like, a conscious decision not to come out, but...people started asking, and I stopped responding...I'm still in the process, it feels like." Black has stated that she identifies as queer.
Alia Shawkat won fans' hearts as the sardonic, envelope-pushing Maeby on “Arrested Development.” Today, she’s a filmmaker in her own right, following the debut of "Duck Butter," which premiered in 2018. It follows the story of L.A.-based 20-somethings, Naima and Sergio, who, over the course of 24 hours, fall in and out of love with each other. Vulture called the film a "queer utopia," which was exactly what Shawkat and director Miguel Arteta had envisioned. Shawkat identifies as bisexual.
Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, expanded her creative resume in 2020 with her on-screen debut in "The Nowhere Inn." The film, which debuted at Sundance Film Festival, is about Clark's on-stage persona, St. Vincent, as told from the perspective of her fellow musician and ex-girlfriend, Carrie Brownstein. The "mockumentary" is all about satire and will resonate strongly with those who vibe well with "Portlandia," Brownstein's other claim to fame. Clark also held a romantic relationship with actress-model Cara Delevingne, and rumoredly, Kristen Stewart.
In 2002 Vanessa Carlton sang her way into superstardom with her hit, “A Thousand Miles,” which was nominated for a Grammy that year. Then, in 2010, Carlton made another debut: She revealed at Nashville Pride that she is a “proud bisexual,” though she revealed she’s been part of the queer community since she was 13 years old after moving to New York. As she’s gotten older, she confessed to the George Voice, a media source for LGBTQ Georgia, that pop stardom wasn’t really the path she wanted to follow. “I don’t look at the community as separate from my life,” she told the outlet. “I was never able to differentiate it because I was just always in it.” Today, her songs are less about pleasing the pop gods and are more evocative of the type of music she wants to be known for—soothing, emotional, and deeply rooted in personal experience.
The year 2020 was a breakout year for recording artist Halsey, but it didn’t have anything to do with her coming out. She’s been out for years, as evidenced by the rainbow flag that is omnipresent at her concerts. 2020 was about Halsey reclaiming the stage, in a manner of speaking. Halsey said that she has felt like she's playing a supporting role in her own life, and her album "Manic" is about taking back the spotlight. In March 2021, Halsey announced their personal pronouns are they/them and she/her.
Jim Parsons may forever be known as the acerbic (yet lovable) Sheldon Cooper, a role he mastered over 12 years to the tune of four Emmys, but as of late he has become a public champion for the LGBTQ+ community. Following the end of "The Big Bang Theory," Parsons has moved into more of a producer's role, and, most recently, worked on the docuseries "Equal," based on the history of the LGBTQ+ movements. Parsons has been married to art director Todd Spiewak since 2017.
In addition to being a brazen funnyman, Billy Eichner uses his vocal volume to fight for LGBTQ+ rights. He frequently tries to rally his millions of followers to be more politically active, according to Variety. He is also a huge proponent of developing more relatable characters for gay people in the media. He told Variety that while watching "Love, Simon," a love story with a gay protagonist, he realized, "Straight people go to the movies and literally see themselves all the time. It was so unusual to have a connection to what was happening on-screen instead of being a step or two removed." In March 2021, Eichner announced he is writing and will star in “Bros” from Universal Pictures, the first adult-oriented LGBT film to be produced by a mainstream movie studio.
Ben Platt is a force to be reckoned with—and he's not slowing down anytime soon. Platt, the Tony winner who also starred in "Pitch Perfect" and "The Politician," is lightning in a bottle. Platt came out as gay to his family at 13 and came out publicly in 2019. Unlike many gay actors, Platt was one of the few who has more or less always been out to the public. He told Variety, "There was never like a gung-ho of 'Let's come out as soon as possible' because no matter how forward-thinking we all get, it becomes an obstacle a little bit in the case of auditioning, producers and casting and directors. Hopefully, we're moving a bit beyond that."
Recording artist Sam Smith is a trailblazer for the LGBTQ+ community, having been one of the few celebrities to identify as nonbinary. The pop star decided to adopt the pronouns "they/them," not "he/him," in 2019. The singer is known for their soulful voice and record hits like, "Lay Me Down," "Stay with Me," "Too Good at Goodbyes," among others. Smith had also been in a romantic relationship with “13 Reasons Why” actor Brandon Flynn. When they made the nonbinary announcement on Instagram, Smith said, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis-gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you."
Jameela Jamil is a British actress known for her role in the comedy with Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. While you won’t be seeing Jamil's face on “The Good Place” anymore, you can hear her voice on her podcast, “I Weigh,” which promotes the idea that people (women in particular) should be weighed by their achievements. Jamil also came out as queer in February 2020, which was met with a considerable amount of backlash, seeing as she had been in a five-year relationship with musician James Blake. She told The Guardian that she had not come out before, “because I was worried that people would think I was jumping on a trendy bandwagon. So I understand the pushback.” What she disagrees with, however, is that people seem to think she’s lying about her identity. Her response? “What a weird lie,” she said.
When it comes to owning their sexuality, Demi Lovato is, above all other things, "Sorry Not Sorry." An advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, they told Andy Cohen that telling Lovato's parents was emotional, but that their family's reaction could not have been more supportive. In 2021, Lovato announced they use “they/them” pronouns and identify as pansexual and sexually fluid.
Ariana Grande has been a controversial figure in the LGBTQ+ community ever since her song “Monopoly” came out in 2019. For many it raised the question of whether or not the pop star herself was bisexual, while others criticized her for "queer baiting," which is when celebrities drop subtle hints at identifying somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum in order to attract that fan base. When asked about the song, whose lyrics say, "I like women and men," Grande replied on Twitter. "I haven't [labeled myself] before and still don't feel the need to now which is okay," she wrote at the time.
"The Matrix" made household names out of Lilly and Lana Wachowski, who are both transgender. After "The Matrix" they go on to explore gender and identity in more sci-fi projects like "Cloud Atlas" and "Sense8." "Many of the ideas Lilly and I explored 20 years ago about our reality are even more relevant now," Lana told Variety. "I'm very happy to have these characters back in my life and grateful for another chance to work with my brilliant friends." (The sisters have since reunited to deliver the latest Matrix film, “The Matrix Resurrections,” in December 2021.)