25 Famous Women on Coming Out

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Though the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in 2015 — a landmark ruling that many considered to be monumental step for the gay-rights movement recent political events including the “gay wedding cake case” have left members of the LGBTQ community fearful for their status in today’s America. Nevertheless, queer women remain strong and visible, with many celebrities using their platforms to advance LGBTQ rights and ensure that all love is treated with respect.

In honor of Pride Month — including this weekend’s New York City Pride Parade — we’ve gathered thoughts from famous women on how and why they chose to come out, and their lives since. Ellen DeGeneres, Janelle Monáe, Amandla Stenberg, and more share their stories below.

1. Janet Mock
“I never wanted to be the poster child for transsexuals — pre-op, post-op, or no op. But the recent stories about kids who have killed themselves because of the secrets they were forced to keep has shifted something in me. That’s why I decided to come out — It used to pain me to hear my birth name, a heartbreaking insult classroom bullies would shout to get a rise out of me. But talking and writing about my experiences have helped me finally accept the past and celebrate the fact that I was once a big dreamer who happened to be born a boy named Charles.”
Marie Claire, May 2011

2. Alia Shawkat
“I was a tomboy growing up, and I remember my mom asking me when I was 10, ‘Are you attracted to boys or girls?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ Now, I consider myself bisexual, and I think balancing my male and female energies has been a big part of me growing as an actor.”
Out, May 2017

Sarah Paulson and Holland Taylor. Photo: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

3. Sarah Paulson
“I was very young, and I was in love. It was the reality of the person I was with. She just won a Tony Award — I’m not gonna pat her on the back, give her the big thumbs up and say, ‘Go up there and get your award, sweetie.’ It was not a really conscious thought. I didn’t think of what the implications were gonna be. I just did what was true and honest to me in that moment.”
Dallas Voice, December 2015

4. Laverne Cox
“I came out to my mom 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. 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; it was just like, ‘Girl, you gotta get this together.’”
Out, October 2017

5. Abby Wambach
“I came from a fairly conservative [upbringing] … I know my mom loves me — I know my family loves me. But sometimes for really deep-feeling people, it’s hard to actually feel that … Being gay and then having some of these demons that I felt I had to numb away — and some of the pain that I had throughout my career — it was part of who I am. Being inside my own skin and being scared and being in pain? I just really wanted to feel love.”
People, September 2016

Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi. Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

6. Ellen DeGeneres
“I don’t think I could have done this a long time ago, and I don’t think people would have accepted it as readily as they do now. Now I feel 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. No one can hurt me now.”
TIME, April 1997

7. Tracey “Africa” Norman
“I’ve always said that the person that walks through the door first leaves the door cracked. There was a perception that a transgender woman couldn’t be passable and work in fashion magazines and land contracts. I proved that wrong. I left the door cracked for other [transgender people] to walk through — And then the doors slammed … Once the doors closed, I was no longer a woman and I no longer got the respect of a woman. People who used to say ‘she’ now said ‘he,’ and it’s not who I am and it’s not the person that I identify with. It’s like you, as a person, no longer exist.”
The Cut, December 2015

8. Portia De Rossi
“I really, honestly think that anybody who is openly gay and visible is powerful. It doesn’t matter what you do, you are impacting people.”
Out, April 2013

Janelle Monáe. Photo: John Sciulli/Getty Images for YouTube

9. Janelle Monáe
“Being a queer black woman in America, someone who has been in relationships with both men and women — I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker … I read about pansexuality and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too.’ I’m open to learning more about who I am. … I want young girls, young boys, non-binary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you. This album [Dirty Computer] is for you. Be proud.”
Rolling Stone, April 2018

10. Amandla Stenberg
“Had I had more representations of black gay women growing up I probably would’ve come to conclusions around my sexuality much earlier because I would’ve had more of a conception of what was possible and okay. Having more representations of black gay women now and seeing myself reflected in them has been a huge aid in seeing myself as whole, complete, and normal.”
Wonderland, June 2018

Emma Portner and Ellen Page. Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

11. Ellen Page
“I’m here today because I am gay, and because maybe I can make a difference, to help others have an easier and more hopeful time. Regardless, for me, I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility … I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered, and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain.”
Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive conference, February 2014

12. Natalie Morales
“I’ve been in relationships with all sorts of beautiful, amazing, inspiring human beings. I have been lucky to stand by them and to learn from them. Many of them have helped me open up to myself and to the world … I don’t like labeling myself, or anyone else, but if it’s easier for you to understand me, what I’m saying is that I’m queer. What queer means to me is just simply that I’m not straight. That’s all. It’s not scary, even though that word used to be really, really scary to me.”
Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, June 2017

13. Dusty Springfield
“My relationships have been pretty mixed and I’m fine with that. Who’s to say what you are? Right now I’m not in any relationship by choice, not because I’m afraid I’d be that or that. Yet I don’t feel celibate, either. So what am I? It’s other people who want you to be something or other — this or that. I’m none of the above. I’ve never used my relationships or illnesses to be fashionable, and I don’t intend to start now.”
New York Times Magazine, October 1995

Audre Lorde, 1983. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

14. Audre Lorde
“Frances [Clayton] and I began living together when the children were 6 and 7; so we essentially raised the children together and we decided very early on that we had to arm them in the same way we armed ourselves. We lived of course in Staten Island which is probably the most regressive borough of New York City. It was green and there was a lot of space for us which are things that we needed. But both Frances and I decided that the position of strength was one of knowledge and so we spoke to the children very early on about what they could expect. About the fact that we were lesbians, what it meant and what they would expect. In the same way that we spoke about what it meant to be an interracial family.”
Bomb Magazine, July 1996

15. Miley Cyrus
“My whole life, I didn’t understand my own gender and my own sexuality. I always hated the word ‘bisexual,’ because that’s even putting me in a box. I don’t ever think about someone being a boy or someone being a girl. Also, my nipple pasties and shit never felt sexualized to me. My eyes started opening in the fifth or sixth grade. My first relationship in my life was with a chick. I grew up in a very religious Southern family. The universe has always given me the power to know I’ll be OK. Even at that time, when my parents didn’t understand, I just felt that one day they are going to understand.”
Variety, October 2016

16. Lea DeLaria
“I am of a generation that wasn’t as open to being gay. I dated guys and hated it right up until I realized, “Wait a minute, I don’t have to do this.” I was 16 when I realized I couldn’t date guys anymore.”
The Sydney Morning Herald, May 2018

Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, 1986. Photo: Oliver Morris/Getty Images

17. Lily Tomlin
“I only officially came out in 2001 or something. And that’s because a guy who was interviewing me said something about being gay and I said, ‘Yeah.’ First of all, ten years ago I couldn’t imagine that anybody would be interested in my sex life … It wasn’t necessarily easy for me to come out. When I was doing specials in the ’70s, everybody in my company knew that Jane [Wagner] and I were a couple. I had one of our writers say to me, ‘I think you and Jane should come to work in different cars.’ I said, ‘Well why would we do that?’ She said people everywhere are talking. I said, ‘Well we’re not gonna go out and get another car just to drive to work!’”
Rolling Stone, August 2015

18. Nicola Adams
“I didn’t really come out kinda thing, I was just me, and it was just kind of accepted I guess — I just wanted that to be one part of me, it’s not everything I do and at the end of the day I’m a sports player, I’m an athlete, and that’s just one part of me … I get tweets and messages all the time saying by seeing you coming out it has helped me come out as well and I think I was just being myself.”
HuffPost, December 2016

19. Rosie O’Donnell
“I’m a dyke! I don’t know why people make such a big deal about the gay thing. People are confused, they’re shocked, like this is a big revelation to somebody.”
Ovarian Cancer Research benefit, February 2002

Christine Marinoni and Cynthia Nixon. Photo: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

20. Cynthia Nixon
“There are some people who are stringently secretive about what their romantic status is — whether they have a permanent partner or are married. That is fine. It is admirable — and I think very hard to pull off. For most of us in our lives, whether we are public people or not, generally the person we go to bed with that night, that person is not a secret. You wouldn’t try to hide your husband or your wife or your girlfriend or your boyfriend, the person that you’re sharing your life with. That does seem public knowledge whether you’re a public person or not.”
The Independent, February 2016

21. Kristen Stewart
“I didn’t talk about my first relationships that went public because I wanted things that are mine to be mine. I hated it that details of my life were being turned into a commodity and peddled around the world. But considering I had so many eyes on me, I suddenly realized [my private life] affects a greater number of people than just me. It was an opportunity to surrender a bit of what was mine, to make even one other person feel good about themselves.”
The Sunday Times, March 2017

22. Suze Orman
“In 1980, when I first became a stockbroker … everybody knew I was gay. All these men were comfortable with it because I was comfortable with it … If you could just be comfortable in your own skin, if you could just say who you are as if it’s not a big deal … in today’s day and age I think you would find that many people around you would absolutely just go, ‘Okay.’”
HuffPost, February 2016

Alex Sykes and Wanda Sykes. Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

23. Wanda Sykes
“I don’t really talk about my sexual orientation. I didn’t feel like I had to. I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life. Everybody that knows me personally, they know I’m gay.”
Gay Rights Rally Las Vegas, November 2008

24. Ruby Rose
“I was just worried because I didn’t know it was a thing. I knew how I felt and what I kind of identified as, but the words gay or lesbian … I didn’t know anyone else that was gay or a lesbian. So I didn’t really know how to word it. So I was just like, ‘I think I should let you know that when I eventually get a boyfriend, they’ll be a girl.’ And [my mom] was just like, ‘I know.’”
Sunday TODAY with Willie Geist, February 2017

25. Roxanne Gay
“When I came out I knew it wasn’t the whole truth. I knew that I was also still attracted to men, but I was so scared of me that I just thought, ‘OK, I’m just going to find some safe harbor here,’ and so I wanted to be the best lesbian I could so that maybe that would make my attraction to men go away — No community has been more welcoming to me, and when I needed community the most, [that] community was there for me. It was like discovering water for the first time, discovering clean air for the first time — to be seen, and to be appreciated and to be thought of as sexy and beautiful, it was just invaluable and I will never, ever forget the ways in which I was embraced by my community as I came out.”
NPR, June 2017

25 Famous Women on Coming Out