As 2016 comes to a close, there is no doubt that this year was difficult for many in the LGBTQ and allied community. After a year of such celebration and momentous progress in 2015, 2016 was a shocking wake-up call to many about the realities that LGBTQ people face. From the rise in anti-LGBTQ legislation to the horrific shooting at Pulse, from the incidents of anti-transgender violence to the election of a presidential ticket that threatened to undermine equality and justice, we know that our job is more important now than ever before.
However, through these difficult times, we witnessed countless moments of inspiration. Throughout the year, time and time again, we saw people stand up and do what was right. Whether they were celebrities, politicians, a friend or just an acquaintance, we saw people stand up for equality and inspire us all. Their stories made us cry, gave us hope and reminded us that love will conquer hate.
Whether it’s coming out as LGBTQ or as an ally, countless American actors, athletes, musicians and YouTube sensations have helped advance the movement for equality this year. Here are a few of our favorite, inspirational coming out stories from 2016:
American Idol finalist Rayvon Owen came out on Valentine’s Day in a video for his song “Can’t Fight It,” released on Billboard.
“I was given an incredible platform with American Idol and I felt I had a responsibility to do something positive with it, especially if there was a chance that it would help others,” Owen said in an exclusive interview with HRC. “When it came time to storyboard my new music video, the director, not knowing I was gay, presented the idea of a female love interest. At that moment, I knew in my heart that it needed to be a man. Authenticity suddenly became more important to me than hiding who I am.”
Owen, who is grateful to out artists such as Sam Smith, Troye Sivan and Frank Ocean for paving the way, has an inspiring message for LGBTQ youth.
“Surround yourself with people who love you unconditionally and who lift you up. Find your tribe. I promise there are people out there who will understand and love you. Life is short and tomorrow is never promised, so be proud of who you are and spend time with people who make you happy.”
In October, Owen took over @HRC‘s Twitter account in honor of National Coming Out Day to discuss his brave decision to come out as gay.
— HumanRightsCampaign (@HRC) October 11, 2016
The first deaf winner of America’s Next Top Model and Dancing With the Stars, Nyle DiMarco came out as sexually fluid on Twitter.
When a fan asked DiMarco if he preferred men or women, he responded, “fluid” with a link to an article titled How Fluid Sexuality Fits into the LGBTQIA+ Spectrum.
At HRC’s 20th annual National Dinner in September, DiMarco spoke about the intersectionality of our issues and embracing our differences.
“My passion is being my true self while inspiring young people who are struggling with their identities to love themselves for who they are,” DiMarco told the crowd. “As a sexually fluid deaf man, I know that embracing all of our identities is the way to thrive and overcome limitations and prejudices. There is no doubt in my mind that human diversity is what colors our world.”
Actor Colton Haynes opened up about being gay in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in May. Haynes acknowledged that prior to coming out, hiding his reality took a toll on his health, both mentally and physically.
“People don’t realize what it’s like to act 24 hours a day. I’d go home and I was still acting,” Haynes said. “People who are so judgmental about those who are gay or different don’t realize that acting 24 hours a day is the most exhausting thing in the world.”
Now that Haynes is living his truth, his life is in a positive place.
“I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and healthier than I’ve ever been, and that’s what I care about.”
Haynes gave a touching and emotional speech after being awarded HRC’s Visibility Award at its annual Seattle dinner in August.
“My promise…I am making it to the next generation of lesbians and gay men, bisexuals, transgender youth, and I hope my example will give them the confidence and hope to be who they are, and for them to conquer their own fears and their own hesitations” Haynes said. “I want to give them just a little more courage to know that they’re loved just as they are, and to know that they’ll grow up beautiful and strong and proud.”
Actress Amandla Stenberg came out as bisexual in a Snapchat takeover for Teen Vogue earlier this year.
“It’s a really, really hard thing to be silenced and it’s deeply bruising to fight against your identity and to mold yourselves into shapes that you just shouldn’t be in,” she said in the video. “As someone who identifies as a black bisexual woman, I’ve been through it and it hurts and it’s awkward and it’s uncomfortable.”
Stenberg is perhaps best known for her role in the movie The Hunger Games as Rue, a part for which she was nominated for a 2013 NAACP Images Award. She, alongside actress Rowan Blanchard, received the most votes for Feminist Celebrity of 2015 in an online survey promoted by the Ms. Foundation for Women in partnership with Cosmopolitan.com.
In March, filmmaker Lilly Wachowski, sister of director and producer Lana Wachowski, wrote a piece for the Windy City Times after tabloid reporters attempted to out her as transgender against her will.
“I am one of the lucky ones. Having the support of my family and the means to afford doctors and therapists has given me the chance to actually survive this process,” Wachowski wrote. “Transgender people without support, means and privilege do not have this luxury. And many do not survive.”
Wachowski went on to denounce the onslaught of anti-transgender laws appearing across the country.
“We continue to be demonized and vilified in the media where attack ads portray us as potential predators to keep us from even using the…bathroom. The so-called bathroom bills that are popping up all over this country do not keep children safe, they force trans people into using bathrooms where they can be beaten and or murdered. We are not predators, we are prey.”
As this year comes to a close, we honor all who have come out as LGBTQ or as a straight ally for equality – that takes bravery, and we commend you. Watch HRC’s National Coming Out Day 2016 video below and learn more about coming out here.
Follow along with HRC’s blog in the coming days as we recognize the people who inspired us and gave us hope, courage and strength in 2016.