By Peter Knegt
There’s no denying 2014 was a landmark year for the visibility of LGBT people around the world. While the world remains far from an ideal place for sexual minorities – the Sochi Olympics were a troubling reminder of that – so many public figures did their best to counter that by doing exactly what the late, great gay activist Harvey Milk so powerfully advised: quite simply, they came out. And while that individual act seems far from revolutionary in this day and age, the contexts in which these six folks in particular did so remained brave acts that defied convention and certainly gave a lot of people hope for their own futures.
Michael Sam, football player
The world of professional sports has historically been one of the most homophobic places around, particularly American football. Michael Sam made one giant step toward changing that when he became the first openly gay football player to ever be drafted to the NFL And he didn’t even wait until after it happened to publicly acknowledge what his coaches and teammates already knew. In a February New York Times article, the then defensive lineman for the University of Missouri discussed how he had come out to them during the preseason. “I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads – like, finally, he came out,” Sam said.
Ellen Page, actress
Fellow Canadian Ellen Page gave LGBT folks a lovely Valentine’s Day gift back in February when she took the stage at an LGBT conference in Las Vegas. “Maybe I can help others have an easier time,” she said. “I am tired of hiding, and I’m tired of lying by omission.” While Page certainly isn’t the first Hollywood star to come out, as a result she remains part of a considerable minority by being as loud and proud as she was right out of the gate. Compare her to Jodie Foster, for example, who a few weeks prior to Page’s speech subtly acknowledged her own sexuality at the Golden Globes in a manner that surely did very little to help others have an easier time.
Sam Smith, singer
One of the biggest new names in music in 2014 was Britain’s Sam Smith. His debut album “In The Lonely Hour” spawned numerous huge singles (most notably “Stay With Me”), and capped of the year by being nominated for six Grammys – tying Smith with Beyonce for the most nominations. In an interview with The Fader back in May, Smith spoke candidly about how the album is about a man he fell in love with who didn’t love him back, and the biggest deal about that was how uneventful it was, both for Smith and the industry he’s a part of. “I’ve been treated as normal as anyone in my life,” Smith told The Fader. “I’ve had no issues. I do know that some people have issues in life, but I haven’t, and it’s as normal as my right arm. I want to make it a normality because this is a non-issue.”
Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman, country singers
While the pop music world Sam Smith belongs to may be a pretty open place for LGBT performers, that is not the case with its country music counterpart. But on two days in November, Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman rebelled against that. The former announced he is “an out, proud and happy gay man” on Entertainment Tonight, inspiring the latter to post a video announcing he is gay a day later. “I’m in a genre and industry that is ashamed of me for being me,” Gilman said in his video. In case you’re not in the country music know, Herndon has had 17 Billboard country hits spanning almost two decades, while Gilman became the youngest singer to land a Top 40 hit on the country music charts back in 2000 (when he was only 11 years old).
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
While it was basically an open secret that Apple CEO Tim Cook was gay, this year he made it official. “Let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me,” Cook wrote in a powerful essay for Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day.” And with that, the global LGBT community got a new candidate for its most powerful member.