- Friday, October 11 is National Coming Out Day – a holiday dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ people and their process of coming out to their communities, their families, or themselves.
- With more openly LGBTQ celebrities than ever before, transgender and queer visibility are reaching new heights.
- In honour of the day, here’s a list of 16 notable celebrities’ coming out stories.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
LGBTQ people are in a new era of visibility in 2019, with more openly transgender, gender-noncomforming, and queer celebrities than ever before.
With National Coming Out Day – a day dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ people and their process of coming out – on Friday, it’s especially relevant to reflect on the journey many LGBTQ people take in finding acceptance, both from their community and from within.
While more legal protections exist now than ever in the United States to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, it is important to note that queer and transgender people still face disproportionately high rates of unemployment, discrimination, and violence – especially transgender women of colour. These threats can make it particularly difficult for LGBTQ people to come out of the closet.
In honour of National Coming Out Day, here’s a list of 16 of the most notable celebrity coming-out stories.
Record-breaking musician Lil Nas X came out through a series of cryptic tweets during Pride month in 2019.
“Old Town Road” rapper Lil Nas X came out to fans in an unconventional, yet all-too-Gen-Z way in June 2019.
On the last day of Pride month, the artist unleashed a flurry of tweets telling fans to “listen closely” to “C7osure,” the last track on his EP “7.” A rainbow emoji was also thrown in the mix for some added hinting.
After the Twittersphere exploded in debate about the meaning of the tweets, Lil Nas X tweeted “thought I made it obvious” attached to two pictures – one of the album cover to his single “Panini” and the other a zoomed-in photo of the same picture, focused on a rainbow in the cover art.
In a later interview on LeBron James’ new HBO show “The Talk,” Lil Nas X candidly discussed why he decided to come out during the height of his popularity, and the difficulty of growing up being taught to hate his sexuality.
While explaining why he thought it was “necessary” for himself to come out, comedian Kevin Hart interjected, asking why the rapper would be taught to hate gay people.
“Come on now, if you’re really from the hood, you know,” Lil Nas X replied. “So it’s like, for me, the cool dude with the song on top of everything to say this – any other time, ‘I’m doing this for attention,’ in my eyes. But if you’re doing this while you’re at the top, you know it’s for real and it’s showing it doesn’t really matter, I guess.”
Fans and celebrities alike have celebrated Lil Nas X’s decision to come out publicly.
YouTube superstar-turned-talk-show-host Lilly Singh came out as bisexual in 2019 — and now even uses it as a consistent punchline in her new show.
Like Lil Nas X, YouTube sensation Lilly Singh took to Twitter to come out this year. In a February tweet listing identities that have “proven to be obstacles from time to time” that she is now “fully embracing” as “superpowers,” Singh listed “female,” “coloured,” and “bisexual.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she discussed the process of getting the courage to tell her family and friends, setting a deadline for herself to tell them about her sexuality by her 30th birthday.
Singh went on to discuss the significance of her coming out particularly as a South Asian woman during the same interview.
“The very next meet-and-greet that I did after coming out was in India, and I would say 50% of people in that line came out to me,” she said. “To me, that is success.”
It was announced in March that Singh would be replacing the time slot for NBC’s “Last Call with Carson Daly” to launch her own show, “A Little Late with Lilly Singh,” which premiered in September. Singh is the first openly bisexual woman and the first woman of colour talk show host in US history – which she has had no problem discussing and even joking about on her show.
Singer-songwriter Sam Smith came out as non-binary in 2019 and announced that they use ‘they’ and ‘them’ pronouns via Instagram.
During an appearance on the Instagram-based show “I Weigh Interviews” with Jameela Jamil, singer Sam Smith told the actress that “I am not male or female. I float somewhere in between.” Smith went on to specify that they identify as genderqueer, or someone who identifies as neither a man or a woman.
“You are a mixture of all different things. You are your own special creation,” Smith said in reference to what it means for them to be genderqueer.
During the interview, Smith also made it clear that they use the pronouns they and them rather than he or her, later repeating the announcement on Instagram. Though the English pop singer made their pronouns abundantly clear, and Merriam-Webster even recently added the gender-neutral “they” to its dictionary, some publications and people have continued to misgender Smith.
Their decision to come out has been applauded by fans and fellow celebrities alike.
Janelle Monáe came out as pansexual in a 2018 Rolling Stone cover story and went on to create what many call a black queer feminist work of art, “Dirty Computer.”
Musician and actress Janelle Monáe told Rolling Stone that she was pansexual in an April 2018 cover story, after years of speculation among fans and members of the media.
“Being a queer black woman in America,” she told the publication, “someone who has been in relationships with both men and women – I consider myself to be a free-a– m———-r.”
Initially identifying as bisexual, Monáe said she came to the label pansexual – which GLAAD defines as “anyone attracted to people of all genders or sexes, or regardless of sex or gender” – after reading more about it and feeling like the definition aligned more with who she was.
Later in the interview, she discussed the importance of her album “Dirty Computer,” especially in terms of pushing the boundaries of what it means to exist as a queer black woman.
“I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracised or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you,” she said. “This album is for you. Be proud.”
Cardi B’s younger sister, Hennessy Carolina, discussed the difficulty of coming out to her family as queer in a 2018 Paper magazine interview.
Hennessy Carolina, rapper Cardi B’s 23-year-old little sister, is building quite a name for herself as a fashion influencer, budding actress, and LGBTQ icon. In a 2018 Paper magazine, Carolina discussed the process of coming out to her traditional family that ultimately lead to acceptance.
“I taught my family and they actually became accepting because I sat them down,” she told the publication. “I spoke to them, and told them what it is and how life works.”
After sliding into her now girlfriend Eva Diaz’s direct messages on Instagram, Carolina and Diaz began dating in 2017. It was then that Carolina decided to come out to her family.
“I’m so happy I’m actually spreading awareness because you don’t understand, my family is Caribbean – they do not like that,” she said. “They do not play like that. My mum, she did not play with that. And I opened up her heart, I opened up her eyes and she’s now so accepting about it, and even her family is accepting now.”
Carolina came out publicly during Pride month 2018 by posting a photo of herself and Diaz kissing at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Carolina and Diaz are still dating and gracing Instagram with cute couples photos for all the world to see.
Tessa Thompson came out publicly in a more quiet way in a 2018 interview, but some argue her performances in Janelle Monáe’s ‘Pynk’ and ‘Make Me Feel’ music videos spoke loudly in their own way.
Actress Tessa Thompson is known for her roles in “Avengers: End Game,” “Creed,” and “Dear White People.” Aside from her acting roles, Thompson has also captivated the public with her rumoured romantic relationship with actress and musician Janelle Monáe.
After starring in music videos for Monáe’s songs “Pynk” and “Make Me Feel,” the nature of her and Thompson’s relationship became the subject of even more debate.
In a 2018 interview with Net-A-Porter, Thompson discussed the freedom her family gave her in terms of exploring her sexuality and dating whomever she wants.
“I can take things for granted because of my family – it’s so free and you can be anything that you want to be,” she said. “I’m attracted to men and also to women. If I bring a woman home, (or) a man, we don’t even have to have the discussion.”
She went on to address why she felt it was important for her to discuss her personal dynamic with Monáe despite both of the stars being private people.
“That was something I was conscientious of in terms of this declaration around Janelle and myself. I want everyone else to have that freedom and support that I have from my loved ones,” she said. “But so many people don’t. So, do I have a responsibility to talk about that? Do I have a responsibility to say in a public space that this is my person?”
She then set the record straight on the pair’s relationship – kind of.
“Janelle and I love each other deeply,” Thompson said. “We’re so close, we vibrate on the same frequency. If people want to speculate about what we are, it doesn’t bother me.”
NFL free agent Ryan Russell came out as bisexual in 2019. He is the only openly LGBTQ professional male athlete in the four major professional sports leagues.
NFL free agent Ryan Russell came out in a personal essay published on ESPN earlier this year.
“Today, I have two goals: returning to the NFL, and living my life openly,” Russel wrote. “I want to live my dream of playing the game I’ve worked my whole life to play, and being open about the person I’ve always been.”
“Those two objectives shouldn’t be in conflict. But judging from the fact that there isn’t a single openly LGBTQ player in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball or the NHL, brings me pause,” Russel continued. “I want to change that – for me, for other athletes who share these common goals, and for the generations of LGBTQ athletes who will come next.”
Since coming out, Russel has gotten praise from athletes, advocates, and fans alike – including tennis legend Billie Jean King, who tweeted “His desire to make this process easier for L.G.B.T.Q. professional athletes in the future is inspiring.”
‘Grey’s Anatomy’ star Sara Ramirez was inspired by instances of anti-LGBTQ violence, such as the Pulse nightclub shooting, to come out as bisexual in 2016.
Sara Ramirez, known for her roles as Callie Torres in “Grey’s Anatomy” and Kat Sandoval in “Madam Secretary,” came out as bisexual while giving a speech at the True Colours Fund’s 40 to None Summit in 2016.
“I was concerned it would affect my career in a negative way. I was afraid of the discrimination I might face not just outside of Hollywood, but within,” Ramirez said during an interview for Entertainment Weekly and People magazine’s series “Coming Out Stories.”
Appalled by violent acts against LGBTQ people like the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Ramirez said that she decided to come out in spite of her fear of discrimination as a means of empowering and supporting other LGBTQ people.
Pop sensation and Twitter-anointed ‘Lesbian Jesus’ Hayley Kiyoko knew she was gay when she was 6 years old — but publicly became a ‘lesbian icon’ after the release of her hit single ‘Girls like Girls’ in 2015.
Before pop singer and Twitter-proclaimed “Lesbian Jesus” Hayley Kiyoko was creating videos promoting queer love and performing at Pride events, she was known for her acting roles, like her performance as Velma in the live-action movie “Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins.” The actress began making the transition to music in 2011 with her role in the Disney Channel musical film “Lemonade Mouth.”
But what many say catapulted her into LGBTQ iconography was her 2015 music video for her single “Girls like Girls,” which illustrated a love story between two teenage girls and the violence that queer people often face for living authentically.
Kiyoko told Paper magazine that the first time she actually came out to anyone was to one of her cowriters, Lili-May Young, while producing the song.
“All she knew was that something was upsetting me and she was like, ‘What is something you’ve never sung about before?'” Kiyoko said. “I came out to her, and said, ‘I just want to sing about being cocky and stealing someone’s girl, because that’s my dream.’ She told me to write about it.”
Kiyoko has since gone on to star in and direct more music videos about queer love, including “Feelings,” “Sleepover,” and “What I Need,” featuring fellow queer icon Kehlani.
In a 2017 letter written for Billboard’s series collecting love letters from LGBTQ artists for Pride month, Kiyoko detailed the gratitude she felt towards her community.
“I’m grateful to the LGBTQ community for giving me the courage to write music about who I am and not just about my sexual orientation,” Kiyoko wrote. “Every day, whether it’s online or in-person, I witness the compassion and acceptance within the community, which inspires me to share my personal experiences through my music.”
Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner made headlines and history when she came out as transgender in 2015.
Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out was possibly one of the most well-documented and publicized coming-out stories of the decade.
Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair alongside the headline “Call me Caitlyn,” with a full-length article detailing her transition process on the interior pages. In addition to the Vanity Fair story, Jenner also detailed her transition on an ABC News television special that garnered over 16.8 million viewers the night it aired.
But Jenner was no stranger to the press. Long before Jenner graced the background scenes of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” she was America’s darling. Earning a gold medal in the men’s decathlon at the 1976 Olympic Games, Jenner was a superstar long before marrying into the Kardashian family.
“If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life,'” Jenner told Vanity Fair on her decision to come out.
Former NBA player Jason Collins came out as gay in 2013, making him the first openly LGBTQ male athlete in the four major US sports leagues.
Jason Collins played in the NBA for 12 seasons before coming out as gay in a Sports Illustrated column in 2013.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA centre. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins wrote.
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
Collins was inspired to come out after the deadly Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, which he said “reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?”
In the column, Collins revealed that he had started wearing the jersey number 98 in honour of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student whose murder in 1998 led to the expansion of federal hate-crime laws.
After coming out, Collins was signed by the Brooklyn Nets and played in 22 games before retiring from the NBA. Collins has since gone on to advocate for LGBTQ rights.
Raven-Symoné came out on Twitter in response to the Supreme Court decision to overturn the Defence of Marriage Act.
In 2013, the US Supreme Court struck down the Defence of Marriage Act, ruling that a federal ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
Immediately after the decision was announced, actress and singer Raven-Symoné tweeted, “I can finally get married. Yay government! So proud of you!”
Raven-Symoné has stated in later interviews that her journey to coming out publicly was met with pushback from the entertainment industry, leading her to feel pressured to stay in the closet for the sake of her career. She said a friend was ultimately the one who helped her make her decision to come out of the closet to inspire her fans who might be struggling through the same problems.
“(He) said, ‘If you don’t come out, little kids are going to wither away.’ And I went, ‘What! How dare you put the pressure on me. This is my life.’ Now, I am in deep debt to him, and tell him at least once per week, ‘Thank you for pushing me,” she told Variety.
Singer Frank Ocean came out in a post on Tumblr in 2012 — one that still resonates with many LGBTQ people.
Singer Frank Ocean – known for his hit albums “Blonde” and “Channel Orange” – came out in a Tumblr post in 2012. In the post, Ocean shared his experience of falling in love with a man four years prior, writing:
“In the last year or 3 I’ve screamed at my creator, screamed at the clouds in the sky, for some explanation. Mercy maybe. For peace of mind to rain like manna somehow.
4 summer ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost… Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realised I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping.”
The letter was met with widespread praise at the time of its publication and continues to resonate with queer people across the world. The artist has since elaborated on his queerness in his music. In his song “Chanel,” Ocean sings about his love with a man in lines like “My guy pretty like a girl/And he got fight stories to tell/I see both sides like Chanel/See on both sides like Chanel.”
In a 2012 interview with GQ, Ocean discussed the night he posted the letter and his aversion to labels. Despite popular belief, Ocean does not identify as bisexual and instead aligns himself more with romantic and sexual fluidity.
“The night I posted it, I cried like a f—— baby,” he said. “It was like all the frequency just clicked to a change in my head. All the receptors were now receiving a different signal, and I was happy.”
Ellen DeGeneres faced backlash from advertisers and religious groups when she came out in 1997.
From her 16-year-long run as the host of “The Ellen Show” to her Netflix comedy special, comedian Ellen DeGeneres has become one of the most recognisable faces on television. But before the comedian became a household name, DeGeneres had to overcome homophobic backlash earlier in her career.
The comedian came out with a bang in 1997, gracing the cover of Time magazine with the headline “Yep, I’m gay” – making her one of the first mainstream celebrities to publicly come out.
Coinciding with the Time story, DeGeneres’ character on her ABC comedy series “Ellen” came out in the groundbreaking “Puppy Episode.” The episode was a ratings hit and was well-received by critics, earning the show Emmys for writing and editing. But the backlash from advertisers and religious groups was harsh, and after one more year on the air, “Ellen” was cancelled.
ABC President Robert Iger said that after the episode, the show “became a program about a lead character who was gay every single week, and I just think that was too much for people.”
Actor Billy Porter came out during his early 20s in the 1980s and rose to fame in spite of the hardships.
Perhaps better known as Pray Tell in the FX award-winning series “Pose,” actor, musician, and Broadway performer Billy Porter came out in the 1980s during his early 20s. He told the Gay Times that his process was an extremely difficult one, especially coming from a difficult home life.
“I was trying to get out of my circumstances and remove myself from the trauma and the toxic energy that was my childhood and my early teenage development,” he said. “It was very traumatic and it was homophobic – it was violently homophobic.”
Porter said he wished he could have told his 16-year-old self to “extract yourself from the danger.”
“Extract yourself from the people who don’t know how to love you,” he told the publication. “Extract yourself from anything that’s toxic.”
After his Emmy win for outstanding lead actor in a drama series for his role on “Pose” this year, Porter now holds an Emmy, Grammy, and Tony award, leaving him just an Oscar short of the vaunted “EGOT.” He would be the first openly gay black man to achieve the milestone.
Actress and LGBTQ rights advocate Laverne Cox said that she had ‘two coming outs’ in a way — one for her sexuality and the other for her gender identity.
“Orange is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox shared her coming-out story in a video series in partnership with Out magazine and Barefoot Wine created for National Coming Out Day 2017.
In the video, Cox said that she had “kind of two coming outs.”
“I came out to my mum first as gay my sophomore year, and she freaked out. And then, when I came out to my mother as trans a few years later, it was after I started my medical transition, she took that easier,” Cox said. “This time I was living in NY, I was supporting myself, and so she never said, ‘I don’t want you in my life.’ It was just that she didn’t understand and she had issues with the pronoun thing and the name change.”
For Cox, coming out to her mother was an important step in the process of accepting who she was, she said in the video. Cox’s mother has since learned to accept the actress for who she is and according to Cox, she is one of her biggest supporters.
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