Society is finally changing. The mainstream is starting to accept the LGBTQ community. The United States and many other countries around the world have legalized same-sex marriage. People are realizing, after all the years of persecution and prejudice against the LGBTQ community, that gay people, bisexual people, and trans people are ‘just like us.’
The entertainment industry has been hugely progressive in this arena, as openly gay entertainers and LGBTQ-themed entertainment are opening people’s eyes around the world. There is a dark side to this, however, as some celebrities in the media choose their words poorly and fuel misconceptions about the LGBTQ community.
Kevin Spacey did this recently, as he combined coming out as gay with apologizing for attempting to sexually assault a minor. People who are in entertainment carry a lot of clout in the world, and brave celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner can change opinions and make other LGBTQ people feel safe to come out. So, here are the 15 most influential LGBTQ people in entertainment.
15. Neil Patrick Harris
The talent of Neil Patrick Harris knows no bounds. He’s managed to play two infamous womanizing lotharios on the screen—Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother and a skewed version of himself in the Harold and Kumar movies—all the while being gay himself in real life.
Harris’ talent has reached the Broadway stage, the big screen, the small screen, comedy, drama, hosting the Oscars—he’s done it all! In 2010, he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
Harris is also a fervent activist for gay rights, celebrating the legalization of same sex marriage in 2013 by marrying his long time partner David Burtka, with whom he has two wonderful children who they had through surrogacy. Their family proves that a family with two fathers is just like any other family, and it’s an inspiration to us all.
14. Kate McKinnon
Easily the funniest cast member on Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon has also been routinely cropping up in comedy movies around Hollywood to steal every scene she’s in— Ghostbusters reboot, Office Christmas Party, Masterminds, Rough Night, and Sisters.
McKinnon is famous for her celebrity impressions on SNL, which include such a wide variety of figures.
She’s spoofed Hillary Clinton, Susan B. Anthony, Iggy Azalea, Ingrid Bergman, Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle, Eleven from Stranger Things, Penelope Cruz, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert Durst, Edie Falco, Jodie Foster, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kris Jenner, Angela Merkel, Jeff Sessions, Shakira, Ed Sheeran, Maggie Smith, Martha Stewart, Keith Urban, and Elizabeth Warren.
In addition to her fierce comedic talent, McKinnon broke new ground by being the first openly lesbian cast member on Saturday Night Live. She explained her journey in an interview: “I figured it out by watching The X-Files and noticing my physiological reaction to it.”
“I thought it was a product of David Duchovny’s face, but it was Gillian Anderson, who still is the queen of my heart. So, I knew then. I told some of my friends. Eventually I told my mother. She found me crying and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I said, ‘I think I’m gay’, and she said, ‘Fine. Love it. Whatever you want to be.’”
13. Jane Lynch
Jane Lynch has managed to succeed as a woman in Hollywood without sexualizing herself. Instead, she got by with sheer comic talent. She stole all of her scenes in supporting roles in movies like Role Models and The 40 Year Old Virgin—where she has that famous exchange with Seth Rogen, describing what it’s like to watch the movie Gandhi high.
And she also managed to emasculate Charlie Sheen of all people when she played his psychiatrist on Two and a Half Men. And even then, she still hadn’t played her utmost defining role. That was Sue Sylvester, the gym teacher in Glee. Lynch was included in Power Up’s list of 10 Amazing Gay Women in Showbiz and she has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
12. Sarah Paulson
Sarah Paulson is a terrific actress who has been making a splash over the past couple of years as the go-to leading lady for TV mogul Ryan Murphy. Perhaps her most famous and best remembered role is that of OJ Simpson’s prosecutor Marcia Clark in the critically lauded first season of true crime drama series American Crime Story, The People vs OJ Simpson.
Marcia Clark has been prevalent in pop culture for two decades since the OJ trial, but Paulson managed to bring a fresh perspective and extra dimensions to the role. Paulson has also played roles in every season of American Horror Story, and has appeared on Broadway in the acclaimed plays The Glass Menagerie and Collected Stories.
When asked about her sexuality, Paulson said, “The situation is fluid for me.” She has been in relationships with both men and women, and she’s currently in a relationship with Holland Taylor, better known as Evelyn Harper—Charlie and Alan’s mother from Two and a Half Men.
11. Jamie Clayton
Jamie Clayton is a transgender actress and model who has had a phenomenal career. Her big break was on the Netflix original science fiction drama series Sense8, which was spearheaded by the Wachowski siblings, who are also transgender.
Clayton did not have to hide who she really was behind a more ‘mainstream’ role. She got to play a real trans character in a raw and relatable way. She also played a recurring role on Hung, provided the voice for a character in BoJack Horseman, and appeared in Nicolas Winding Refn’s dark horror odyssey about the cutthroat modeling industry, The Neon Demon.
In an interview about her trans character in Sense8, Clayton said, “Playing a trans character on a show being shepherded by Lana Wachowski, I knew I would be protected and represented in a way that trans people have never been represented before on TV.”
10. Graham Chapman
As a member of the surrealist British comedy troupe Monty Python, Graham Chapman revolutionized the world of comedy. Along with the other Pythons, Chapman made punchlines moot with a focus on more conceptual and stream of consciousness comedy, and brought an absurdist outsider style to humor, which had until then been rather conventional and mainstream.
Chapman was also a genius, having turned down a career as a doctor in order to be a comedian. Throughout his career and his place in the public spotlight throughout the infamously homophobic decades of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s—he died in 1989, far too soon—Chapman bravely chose to be openly gay.
In television interviews, he never hid the fact that he was gay. He didn’t care what conservative homophobes thought. He was who he was, and no one could take that from him. It’s inspiring.
9. Ryan Murphy
Ryan Murphy has single-handedly dominated the cable drama market. As a producer, he’s had similar success to Chuck Lorre, who wrangles a number of the most successful network situation comedies at any given time.
Except where Lorre is an infamous misogynist who casts all-white shows, Murphy is openly gay and famed for using his position of power to hand out opportunities to all the marginalized minorities he can.
The producer recently launched a campaign called the Half project, through which he will make sure that at least half of the episodes of his various shows are directed by women, people of LGBT status, and different ethnicities.
Murphy is the creator, producer, and occasional writer and director of many of the most popular drama series on cable television today, including American Horror Story, American Crime Story, Feud, the upcoming 9-1-1 and Pose, and past favorites Glee, Nip/Tuck, and Scream Queens.
8. Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury was the lead vocalist for the beloved and iconic rock band Queen. Mercury wrote songs, too. He wrote all of Queen’s best and most memorable songs, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Killer Queen,” “Somebody to Love,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and “We Are the Champions.”
Mercury’s life was tragically cut short at the age of 45. While he was initially disparaged for having been a homosexual and died of AIDS—he had been diagnosed with AIDS, but died of pneumonia—at the height of the epidemic—which fuelled the homophobia of that era—Mercury has since been remembered for the legacy that he deserves.
His home has been declared an English Heritage site, he is consistently ranked among the greatest singers of all time, and there’s a wax version of him at Madame Tussauds in London.
7. Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry is one of the smartest people in the world. He’s written novels like The Hippopotamus and non-fiction books like The Ode Less Traveled, and he was the host of QI, the show for smart people where he blew audiences away every single episode with some ingenious insight that he had about something.
He’s also tremendously comically gifted in his sketches as one half of the comedy duo Fry and Laurie—in which he performed hilarious and thought-provoking sketches with none other than House’s Hugh Laurie. Fry is also a fierce actor and documentarian, and he’s utilized his booming, distinctive voice for good use by recording the audiobooks for all seven Harry Potter books.
He’s also a famed activist and openly comments about his sexuality. When he was asked when he first acknowledged being a homosexual, Fry joked, “I suppose it all began when I came out of the womb. I looked back up at my mother and thought to myself, ‘That’s the last time I’m going up one of those.’”
6. Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey is a terrific actor who has given some truly brilliant performances and showed a wide range of his talents over the years, including Lester Burnham in American Beauty, Verbal Kint (or Keyser Soze) in The Usual Suspects, Frank Underwood in House of Cards—which has now been canned by Netflix—John Doe in Se7en, and Jack Vincennes in L.A. Confidential.
For years, there were rumors about Spacey’s sexuality, and while he recently did come out as gay, he couldn’t have picked a worse time to do it. Actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of attempting to sexually assault him three decades ago when Rapp was a 14-year-old minor.
After offering Rapp “the sincerest apology” for “deeply inappropriate drunken behaviour,” Spacey took the opportunity to come out. This landed him in hot water. Critics said that Rapp’s gender was not the cause for outrage.
They said Spacey’s coming out was an attempt to distract from the allegation, and that his comments make the inaccurate connection between homosexuality and pedophilia.
5. Lily Tomlin
Lily Tomlin has forever been regarded as one of the greatest and most daring comediennes on the planet. Her TV comedy special Lily won her Emmy Awards, while her comedy album This is a Recording won her a Grammy Award.
Standup comedy is one of the most difficult mediums for a woman to break into, especially in the sexist ‘70s. Tomlin explained when she came out publicly in 2008, “Everybody in the industry was certainly aware of my sexuality and of Jane [Wagner] in interviews. I always reference Jane and talk about Jane, but they don’t always write about it.”
In 2013, Tomlin and Wagner finally got to tie the knot after 42 years together when same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States.
4. Elton John
Sir Elton John was one of the first few gay men to be fully accepted by society. Well, mostly accepted—you still get the odd conservative homophobe who will denounce him. Still, over the past five decades, history has shown that the world loves Sir Elton, and they don’t care that he’s gay.
In fact, it should be celebrated. Sir Elton has sold over 300 million records worldwide, which makes him one of the bestselling musicians of all time. He’s had over fifty hits in the Top 40—most artists would kill to have just one. He blessed the world with “Candle in the Wind,” “Rocket Man,” “Your Song,” and the soundtrack from The Lion King.
He’s won Grammy Awards, Brit Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, a Tony Award, and the Kennedy Center Honors. His influence on the world at large is astounding. He’s battled homophobia, AIDS, and the UK law against gay marriage, which was finally abolished in 2014, after which he quickly married the love of his life, David Furnish.
3. Ellen DeGeneres
Today, we know her as a big star from her talk show and from the Finding Nemo movies, in which she plays the ever-popular and ever-clueless Dory. We also know her as a celebrated lesbian and a beacon of hope in the plight for LGBTQ acceptance. However, Ellen DeGeneres faced hardships in the early days of her career due to her sexuality.
She had a hugely popular sitcom on ABC called Ellen, and in one episode, her character came out as gay. It was a very courageous move by DeGeneres, making it the first ever TV show to have a main character come out as gay. But still, she faced massive backlash for it.
J.C. Penney and Chrysler pulled their ads from the show as a result of Ellen’s lesbianism, and ABC canceled the whole series shortly after, all because she was gay. But look at her now, back with a vengeance and married to Portia de Rossi.
2. Caitlyn Jenner
It was a watershed moment back in 2015 when Bruce Jenner, the Olympic decathlon winner and “world’s greatest athlete,” announced in a 20/20 interview that he identified as a woman. “For all intents and purposes, I’m a woman.” It changed everything.
Before that moment, transgenderism was not widely understood, recognized, or accepted. Until then, transgenderism wasn’t on the map. It was considered to be ‘weird’ and trans people were outcasts from society.
However, the courage displayed by Jenner in coming out so openly and candidly, and having such a public platform from which to educate society about transgenderism, changed all of that. Caitlyn Jenner revealed her true identity to the world.
She took the the Twitter handle @Caitlyn_Jenner and tweeted, “I’m so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can’t wait for you to get to know her/me.” Society would never be the same again.
The magic that is RuPaul can’t really be explained. He’s released 14 studio albums, he’s hosted a talk show on VH1, he was a spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics, he’s found success as an actor in both films and television, and since 2009, he has produced and hosted the reality competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race, for which he’s won two Primetime Emmy Awards.
RuPaul is a huge inspiration to people who struggle with their gender identity. He doesn’t much care for gender specific pronouns, writing in his autobiography, “You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don’t care! Just as long as you call me.”
And the core belief of his overall philosophy is that you have to love yourself. It’s a simple message, but it’s arguably the most important one in the world.
Everyone who struggles with their gender identity or their sexuality or quite simply just plain struggles with who they are can refer to his wisdom. “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”