Love & Sex

13 Inspiring Coming Out Stories From Our Favorite Luminaries

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In honor of LGBT History Month, we're saluting some of our favorite people's big moments.

Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day, and we figured now was a good time to look back at the history of public self-disclosure. Below, our favorite courageous, surprising, and inspiring "coming-outs" (out-comings?) through the ages. Click the images to advance. 

1. Sal Mineo

Actor Sal Mineo came out as bisexual in the 1960s, following major Hollywood success in Rebel Without A Cause. He admitted to being sexually attracted to both men and women, and believed everyone had the capacity to feel the same way, an opinion echoed by many LGBT activists, but a groundbreaking one in Mineo's time. 

In his own words: "What’s wrong with being bi? Maybe most people are, deep down… I don't like to be told I can only love a woman — or a guy."

2. Elton John

After first coming out as bisexual in 1976, the Rocket Man then revisited the subject by declaring himself a gay man in 1988. John says he wasn’t hiding the truth — he just assumed everyone already knew.

In his own words: "There's nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex. I think everybody's bisexual to a certain degree. I don't think it's just me. It's not a bad thing to be. I think you're bisexual. I think everybody is." — to Rolling Stone

3. Martina Navratilova

In 1981, after her tennis prowess made her a household name, Martina Navratilova came out, costing herself (by her later estimate) about $10 million in endorsement deals. She was eighteen. She spoke before the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993, and continues to campaign for gay rights today.

In her own words: "I want the fact that I’m gay to be irrelevant one day." — to OutSports

4. Barney Frank

Barney Frank was elected to the House of Representatives in 1980 when there were fewer than ten openly gay elected officials in the country. When he came out in 1987, he was met with equal parts support and animosity, but that didn't deter him from continuing his political career. Frank has been fighting for gay rights on the political front since 1972, even before he was out, making him one of the truly hallowed names in LGBT history.

In his own words: "Prejudice is based on ignorance. And the best way to counterbalance it is with a living example, with reality. At the time, of course there were gay politicians, but we had been very successful in hiding who we were. And by hiding we inadvertently helped perpetuate the stereotypes about us. So I had to do it [come out]." — to The Boston Globe

5. k.d. lang

The singer-songwriter came out publicly in 1992, and underscored the announcement the following year when she appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in drag with Cindy Crawford pretending to shave her face. For a country star, coming out is rough: it's like publicly denouncing John Deere or Ford. But lang did it, prospered, and paved the way for other out-and-proud women rockers like Melissa Etheridge.

In her own words: "I was always out and coming out wasn't really a big deal for me just because I was living out to my family, and in the world, for a long time. But it certainly made things easier [...] just because it kind of stripped away the question marks in the audience's minds or the business mind — the sort of public understanding of who I was. It took away any pretense or any question." — to Seattle Gay News

6. Melissa Etheridge

Etheridge came out at The Triangle Ball, a gay celebration of Bill Clinton's first inauguration, in 1993. Though she'd come up performing in lesbian bars in the '80s, her orientation wasn't common knowledge into the '90s. To have her come out at such a massive event was the auspicious beginning for a very visible career in LGBT activism, and Etheridge hasn't looked back since.

In her own words: "It was a slow evolution. It was three albums of being vague, of using non-gender specific words — my partner, my lover — and skipping around it, not feeling safe with it. And that night, there were a thousand queers all dressed up, and everyone was all very happy that we have this new president, and I said to the crowd, 'Gee, I'm very happy to be here and I've been a lesbian all my life!' I didn't know in advance that I was going to say that. Didn't even think about it." — to MetroWeekly

7. Andy Bey 

As a jazz singer and pianist in the 1960s and 70s, Andy Bey faced rampant homophobia in the tight-knit jazz community. (This was a long-held tradition, despite a few LGBT jazz luminaries like Duke Ellington's writing partner Billy Strayhorn.) Bey's decision to come out to friends and family in the 1970s and again publicly in the '90s was influenced by his desire to spread awareness and compassion in the space where two of his communities overlapped.

In his own ords: "There’s homophobia in the jazz business: the jazz-club owners, the jazz writers, the whole thing. We create our own little thing. We pick who we want to pick, we make those big, we make those small. We don’t acknowledge people that have a gift or talent. We acknowledge who we want to acknowledge." — to NAJP

8. Ellen DeGeneres

DeGeneres came out publicly on an episode of Oprah in 1997, then wrote her coming out into the script of her sitcom The Ellen Show, before appearing on the cover of Time with the words, "Yep, I’m Gay," plastered next to her face. The backlash from this blitz was considerable, though: following a very public breakup with then-partner Anne Heche, DeGeneres was out of work for three years and "mired in depression."

In her own words: "Now, I feel completely comfortable with myself, and I don't have to be fearful about something damaging my career if it gets out, because now I'm in control of it — sort of." — to Time

9. George Takei

Takei came out just seven years ago at the age of sixty-eight, when he said he finally felt able to discuss his sexuality. It had been something of an open secret amongst Star Trek fans since the 1970s, and Takei didn't hide his membership in LGBT organizations. Since coming out, though, he's become an eloquent advocate for gay rights. In 2008, he and long-time partner Brad Altman were the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage certificate in West Hollywood.

In his own words: "It’s not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It's more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen." — to Frontiers

10. Laura Jane Grace

Born Thomas Gabel, the singer of punk band Against Me! came out as transgender earlier this year, a brave move in a subculture that hasn't always been welcoming towards LGBT people. (Fat Mike of NOFX tells us, "The more people who do it, the more people feel comfortable coming out… I think that's going to make it easier for tons of people.")

In her own words: "You feel like you're a deviant, and there is this danger of being caught, and you're terrified… You believe you have a choice in the matter. But it becomes apparent to you, after a while, that you really don't have a choice in the matter… Saying 'I'm a transsexual' completely puts the power of the conversation in your corner. Because after that, what's the worst anyone can do to you?" — to The Guardian

11. Anderson Cooper 

When Anderson Cooper came out officially this July, the world responded with a giant shrug. (Although a certain web site did write a series of moving haiku to commemorate the occasion.) But Cooper’s coming out epitomizes what seems to be a growing trend — never having been "in" to begin with.

In his own words: "The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud." — to The Daily Beast

12. Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean caused a lot of waves this August when he told the public that the first person he fell in love with was a man. This was not only because Ocean's a huge name in one of the last genres of music where homophobia is still accepted, but also because Ocean is one of a handful of people actively pushing that genre forward.

In his own words: "I suppose a percentage of that act was because of altruism; because I was thinking of how I wished at thirteen or fourteen there was somebody I looked up to who would have said something like that, who would have been transparent in that way. But there's another side of it that's just about my own sanity and my ability to feel like I'm living a life where I'm not just successful on paper, but sure that I'm happy when I wake up in the morning, and not with this freakin' boulder on my chest." — to The Guardian

13. Orlando Cruz

About a week ago, Orlando Cruz came out as a “proud gay man,” making him the first openly gay boxer in the sport’s history. It's incredible to see people coming out in such difficult situations — we wouldn't pick worse environments to come out in than country music, hip-hop/R&B, and boxing. But that's what makes these stories that much better.  

In his own words: "I've been fighting for more than twenty-four years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man." — to The Telegraph