No matter who you are or how you see yourself, it’s normal to look for leaders, entrepreneurs, celebrities and activities with whom you have something in common. For LGBT teens and young people, the pickings have been pretty slim as many people who identify as gay, lesbian, bi or trans have stayed well within the closet throughout their careers with many only finally coming out years later. Robert Reed, the dad from the Brady Bunch, for example, hid his personal life from the public for years, going as far as to marry a woman and have a child before divorcing rather quickly,. It was only after his death in 1992 that colleagues and co-stars like Barry Williams and Florence Henderson publically acknowledged they knew about his homosexuality but never discussed it. Reed kept his sexual identity a secret over fears it would damage not only his career, but the popularity of the show. Today, stars know that coming out of the closet still carries some serious risks, but that being courageous and simply being who you are sends a strong message to all people – love who you are and be happy in your life. These LGBT leaders have become the perfect examples of this approach and their careers have been better for it.
1. Beth Ditto
Beth Ditto has been giving absolutely zero shits about what people think of her sexuality and her size since at least 1999, when she started fronting the band Gossip. She’s been at the forefront of LGBT right and the body positive movement for years, making headlines for posing naked or nearly naked on magazine covers. She’s also written an advice column for The Guardian Newspaper, wrote a memoir, contributed to a Riot Grrrl anthology and continues to advocate for the rights of everyone in between music and theater projects.
2. Kane Sarhan
Kane Sarhan doesn’t waste time and has already become an active force behind improving education by creating Enstitute, an on-the-job alternative to traditional university education. He’s also an avid author and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.
3. Ellen DeGeneres
When Ellen first appeared in the mainstream world, it was thanks to her popular sitcom, Ellen. In the show’s fourth season, Ellen’s character came out of the closet to her therapist (played by Oprah Winfrey) as well as coming out publicly on Oprah’s own talk show. After her public disclosure ABC and its parent company, Disney, promoted the show less and Ellen received a lot of backlash in the media and in the public. She later re-established herself as a stand-up comedian and now hosts her own popular daytime talk show and is married to her wife, Portia de Rossi. The ups and down of Ellen’s career has made her not only a tireless advocate for LGBT rights but a shining example of what people can go through in order to find their way in the world without hiding who they are.
4. Peter Thiel
You may have never actually heard of Peter Thiel, but chances are good that he’s a part of your day to day life. Thiel not only co-founded PayPal back in 1998, he was also an early investor in Facebook, helping the website get its start in 2004. He’s a serial philanthropist and has contributed to causes that promote anti-aging research, artificial intelligence and supporting early-stage scientific research. He’s a Libertarian and active in a variety of political causes, including the advancement of LGBT equality. Also a Christian, he understands that his beliefs are his own and feels no need to impose them on others. He has been quoted in interviews as saying “I believe Christianity is true [and] I don’t sort of feel a compelling need to convince other people of that.”
5. Sara Sperling
Sara Sperling made a lot of headlines in her position as head of Diversity with Facebook’s Human Resources department. She was a driving force behind the company’s involvement with the San Francisco Gay Pride festivities since 2011 and also helped the company to develop its current Transgender & Gender Identity Policy which has given people more options when it comes to identifying themselves on the website. After leaving Facebook she spent a short time working with Snapchat and announced she was leaving in 2015. Today, Sperling remains busy with speaking engagement like the Lesbians Who Tech summit and other groups which promote equality.
6. Edith Windsor
When it comes to advancement in LGBT rights, Edith Windsor is a name you need to know. In 2010 she launched a civil rights case against the United States over estate taxes that arose after the death of her wife, Thea Spyer. Windsor won the case and established a precedent which has been used to advance marriage equality ever since.
7. Jon Hall
Jon “Maddog” Hall is the executive director over at a little company you may have heard of – Linux International. Hall broke into the computer industry way back in 1969, when it was seen as little more than science-fiction. He came out publicly on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, the genius who helped cracked the Enigma Code in World War II, developed the first computers in the 1940s and ultimately died in 1954 after eating a poison apple. Though Turing left no note, he had a history of struggling with his sexuality and had actually been imprisoned and chemically castrated by the British Government for his crimes of homosexuality.
8. Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook is a notoriously private person and was actually outed accidentally by CNBC host Simon Hobbs during a segment on “Squawk on the Street”. When the awkward moment passed, Tim didn’t run from the attention, instead he grabbed onto it and used it as a way to advocate for LGBT rights through an open letter published in the Wall Street Journal all while helping Apple to record profits and brand loyalty.
9. Amy Weston
There used to be a time when simply telling girls “You can be an astronaut” was seen as being overly optimistic (to say the least). But times have changed and now dozens of women have been to space and female astronauts are awe inspiring simply because of their career choice – no their gender. Amy Weston, however, is set to become the first transgendered woman in space, a notable achievement many experts think is only a matter of time. Even if Weston doesn’t make it on the next flight crew, her work with NASA already sets her up as an amazing to anyone with an interest in science. In fact, even without a spacewalk, she’ll be exploring the universe thanks to her ongoing work with a team who is endeavoring to determine what happened in the very first nanoseconds (seriously, the first 10^34 seconds) after the Big Bang occurred.
10. George Takei
George Takei has become one of those celebrities that transcends entertainment and becomes a part of pop-culture and, in this case, a growing cultural shift. Takei is probably best known for his work as Hikaru Sulu on the iconic TV show Star Trek. Today, however, he’s become one of the most well-recognized faces of the LGBT movement. He has worked with just about every LGBT organization under the sun, publically advocates for human rights and is a practicing Buddhist. Takei is passionate about all human rights and is also dedicated to Japanese-American relations. Most recently, he was at the forefront of a boycott against Indiana when their governor, Mike Pence signed a religious protection law into effect that allowed for open discrimination.