Celebrities have long used their fame and access to speak out about social and political matters important to them. Now that issues relating to gender identity and the LGBT community have trickled their way into the mainstream, more and more famous figures are stepping up to lend their voices and support.
Here's a collection of celebs who are challenging conventional notions of gender and sexuality, while inspiring a huge number of overlooked individuals in the process.
1. Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus made headlines when she admitted to multiple publications that growing up has meant questioning her own sexuality and gender identity. Though she doesn't label herself as genderqueer, she shies away from the gender binary (two distinct and opposite classifications of men and women). She told Paper Magazine:
"I don't relate to being boy or girl, and I don't have to have my partner relate to boy or girl."
But what's even more impressive than her frank discussion about gender and sexuality is Miley's ability to put her money where her mouth is. She recently created the Happy Hippie Foundation, a charity that benefits homeless youth from the LGBT community, who are at a larger risk of being kicked out of their homes. Many celebs make sure their charity work gets publicity, but very few do something quite so tangible to help vulnerable populations.
2. Maria Bello
Actress Maria Bello is in a longterm relationship with her best friend, social activist Clare Munn. She penned an amazing column for The New York Times' "Modern Love" section entitled "Coming Out as a Modern Family." In it, she talks about realizing her connection to Clare while holding dear her relationships with former male partners and other family members.
Once she accepted a fluid approach to her life and love, she ended up happier than ever:
"What had I been waiting for all of these years? She is the person I like being with the most, the one with whom I am most myself."
3. Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox hit the big time as one of the stars of Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, and she has parlayed her newfound success into a platform to speak about the major barriers to the acceptance of transgender individuals in the United States. After a series of eloquent speeches about self-love and her real life experiences as a trans woman, Cox cemented herself as an inspiring role model, or as she likes to put it, a "possibility model."
"I would never be so arrogant to think that someone should model their life after me. But the idea of possibility… the idea that I get to live my dreams out in public, hopefully will show to other folks that it’s possible. So I prefer the term ‘possibility model’ to ‘role model'."
Her commitment to human rights has been recognized by Time magazine, where she appeared on the cover, and Madame Tussauds, where she'll be the first transgender woman to have a wax statue modeled after her.
4. Alan Cumming
For both the straight and the gay community alike, bisexuality has long been erroneously considered something of an in-between, or something that's a stepping stone to being attracted to one gender. Nowhere is this more clear than in the case of Alan Cumming, who is constantly referred to as gay despite the fact that he identifies as bisexual. Cumming challenges the idea that he must be exclusively attracted to men simply because he currently has a man as a partner.
He also does a great job of using inclusive terminology (even if the audience thought this moment at the Tony's was a joke).
5. Ruby Rose
After starring in the most recent season of Orange is the New Black, Australian model Ruby Rose caused a major stir as legions of straight women claimed she was making them question their sexuality. Rose's androgynous style is an expression of her genderfluid identity, meaning that she does not identify as strictly a man or a woman but instead somewhere in between.
"I am very gender fluid and feel more like I wake up every day sort of gender neutral."
Ruby Rose recently became engaged to her longtime partner Phoebe Dahl, who just so happens to be the granddaughter of author Roald Dahl.
6. Caitlyn Jenner
If there is one recent news story that points to the shifting public response to trans issues, look no further than Caitlyn Jenner. The Olympian and Keeping Up with the Kardashian star sat down for an illuminating interview with Diane Sawyer where she candidly spoke about her gender identity and the lifelong struggle to come to terms with it.
When her Vanity Fair cover came out at the start of this month, Jenner became a worldwide sensation, providing a face to the movement and amassing one million Twitter followers faster than anyone else. The overwhelmingly positive response to Jenner's transition was nothing short of inspiring and definitely exemplifies a push for broader LGBT+ visibility and representation.
7. Jaden Smith
Jaden Smith is a prime example of bucking gender norms, even if his gender identity aligns with the sex he was assigned at birth. Though many gossip blogs posted quizzical articles about his carefree choice to wear dresses and skirts (even if sometimes they were actually long shirts, the statement he made was clear), many young people were impressed by Smith's choice to not ignore a garment just because it's conventionally "for girls."
Indeed, Smith doubled down on his personal style and disregard of social mores when he joined actress Amandla Stenberg for her prom, once again donning a long dress.
8. Anna Paquin
Like Alan Cumming, Anna Paquin identifies as bisexual and has had to contend with ignorant assumptions from the press. However, she has managed to answer questions that disregard her sexuality and turn them into profound teaching moments. Take an interview with Larry King, for example, when he asks if she's a "non-practicing bisexual" because she's married to a man.
She shuts him down immediately and uses the opportunity to confirm that her bisexuality was not a stepping stone to a heterosexual relationship.
9. Cara Delevingne
The rising star and upcoming Enchantress in Suicide Squad has enthralled the general public with her easygoing attitude to her sexuality. Though many news outlets love to refer to her "gal pals," she's been romantically linked to many famous women including Michelle Rodriguez and Annie Clark a.k.a. St. Vincent. In a recent interview with Vogue, Delevingne opened up about how hard it is to be bisexual in the public eye, but she also discussed how no one should be scared of who they are.
"I think that being in love with my girlfriend is a big part of why I’m feeling so happy with who I am these days."
Of course, the same article is being criticized for playing into old lesbian stereotypes, so clearly we still have a ways to go.
10. Eddie Izzard
Comedian and actor Eddie Izzard has been in the entertainment business for years and admirably never once sacrificed his unconventional gender expression to fit in. He identifies primarily as a transvestite and openly discusses how he enjoys wearing make-up, skirts, and heels. He does not consider this to be part of his performance nor a sexual fetish, and puts it very simply when people get confused:
"Women wear what they want and so do I."
He sometimes uses the word transgender but more often describes himself as "a complete boy plus half girl."
11. Jamie Clayton
For the first time ever, trans characters in film and TV are starting to be played by actual trans actors, and that is significantly helping both portrayals and the respect their roles are given. Jamie Clayton, who plays the trans hacker Nomi Marks on Netflix's Sense8, has spoken about the positive shift in representation and how it's breaking the view that trans people are something "not normal."
"I am really proud to have this opportunity and to show that transgender actors can play someone other than the hooker or the mistress."
Clayton plays an accomplished, complex character who may face hardships because of her gender identity but goes on to be heroic and extremely positive as the show continues.
12. Ezra Miller
The future Flash won't be making his onscreen appearance for another couple years, but Ezra Miller already became a hero to many when he spoke honestly about his sexuality. Miller identifies as queer (a recently reclaimed word that encompasses many more categories than simply gay) and doesn't find himself solely attracted to one gender.
"The way I would choose to identify myself wouldn’t be gay. I’ve been attracted mostly to ‘shes’ but I’ve been with many people and I’m open to love wherever it can be."
As all of these people prove, not everyone is going to be the same or fit into a familiar mold, and that's a-okay. I think a push for honesty and authenticity can only lead to positive things, and now there are plenty of young people who can see themselves across many more famous faces.