Updated: Jul 9, 2020
To celebrate the end of Pride month, I felt it fitting to make my first Top Ten (for which I will be bringing one to you each week) a tribute and a celebration of actors within LGBTQ community.
As a Bisexual woman myself and one who leans more towards women than men, seeing these actors and celebrities standing up in front of the world and declaring who they are and being proud of it is an inspiration. Especially in a world where discrimination and homophobia are still much more rampant than they should be. So celebrating these actors and pride itself is more important than ever. There is nothing wrong with being who you are and loving who you love; and thanks to actors such as those listed below, we can continue to thrive as a community and show that we won’t be pushed back into the shadows, or back into the closet.
We are out, we are loud, we are proud and we are here to stay.
Those listed below are some of my personal favourite LGBTQ actors. Actors who are out and proud, and who have had a particular impact on me in some way. They are actors who have created iconic characters within film and tv, characters which we have come to know and love for many different reasons. They are listed in no particular order. There are of course, many more than those listed here, and many of these have made their careers by playing straight iconic characters, I will be doing a later top ten covering my favourite LGBTQ characters. Ironically most of these are played by straight actors.
On a side note Ellen DeGenerous hasn’t been included in this list, even though I love her, as I consider her to be more a talk show host and celebrity rather than an impactful actor. She herself has been one of the most impactful celebrities to the LGBTQ community and I will cover her in a separate article to come later, so keep an eye out for that.
So take a gander at some of my favourites and I would love to hear yours.
1. Sarah Paulson
Even though I try not to have favourites, I have to admit Sarah Paulson is one of mine. And if this top ten were in order then she would be my number one. Paulson is an American actress who started acting right out of high school and has been seen in many films and tv shows over the years. But it wasn’t until she gained a regular role on American Horror Story that her following and presence reached a wider audience. American Horror Story is a niche television show, but one that quickly gained a large cult following, and gaining a cult following these days can do wonders for you. As it did for Paulson. For several years she was a season regular on AHS while juggling other higher profile film and tv roles. In my personal opinion, one her most important roles to date was in her AHS season two role of Lana Winters, a writer who is committed in an asylum for being a lesbian. Set in the 60s it really portrays the evolution in humanity and how it has come to ‘accept’ those who are sexually attracted to people of the same sex. During Asylum, Paulson’s character is believed to be mentally ill because of her attraction to women, and she is forced to undergo several extreme ‘therapies’ in order to ‘cure’ her. Now I know that this is a tv show and it therefore has an element of artistic license, but the fact is that therapies such as those Lana experienced did actually happen. The role of Lana really resonated with the audience, and to date Asylum is considered, by the majority of fans, to be the best season to date and no season since has been able to match it in quite the same way. Most recently Paulson has appeared in the Hollywood Blockbuster Ocean’s 8 starting an all-female ensemble cast, and as the psychiatrist in M. Night Shyamlan’s most recent supernatural thriller Glass, where she starred alongside James McAvoy, Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson.
Paulson is not ashamed of who she is, and proudly acknowledges her relationships with women since accidentally coming out in 2008, becoming a strong female role model for those within the LGBTQ community. Currently she is in a relationship with actress Holland Taylor and having been together since early 2015 they are going strong and are a couple many love to watch out for.
2. Sir Ian McKellen
An English born actor who has been acting since before even my parents were born. McKellen is a British icon and an actor who has seen a long and successful career and the recipient of numerous awards. In some ways he is the most important listing within this top ten, as he is of an age where he has seen and been a part of the struggle for gay acceptance. He came out at a time, in 1988, when British Government put a new law in place, legalising homosexuality but effectively forcing it to be discriminated against. So effectively he was a gay man, gaining prominence as an actor, in a time when it was illegal to speak about who he was. Because of this, he has become a strong activist with the LGBTQ community and makes no secret, or apologies for who he is. So much so that he is a co-founder of Stonewall, an LGBTQ right lobby group in the UK. Luckily for us, McKellen’s ‘coming out’ at the time he did, did not stop him from becoming the British icon he is today and sharing with us his acting talent. Over the years he has appeared in A LOT. But I think a lot of people probably most know him from his role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a role which he reprised a few years later in The Hobbit trilogy. This role of course if that of Gandalf the Grey, the wizard who sets young Frodo off on his adventure to destroy the one ring. It is great to see an older British actor taking on not only iconic roles within film, but also being a strong activist for the LGBTQ community, keep it up Sir Ian.
3. Jane Lynch
Probably one of the lesser known actors of this list, especially within the UK, but for those of us who were secret Glee fans, Jane Lynch will always have a special place in our hearts. Best known for her role in the musical drama, American actress Lynch has seen a long standing career within film and tv. She has had a lot of supporting roles over the years but her role of Sue Sylvester is where she really stood out and gained her a large fan following. For many, she alone made Glee worth watching. Her take on the harsh cheerleading coach was refreshing and hilarious. She is the ultimate bully with a heart and was the shows main antagonist. Playing a bully is not easy, especially not in a way that is almost likeable, yet Lynch pulled it off, and I don’t think there are many others that would have been able to in quite the same way. Ken Tucker for Entertainment Weekly once called Sue “the greatest Broadway-musical villain to ever co-star in a TV series”, and he nails it, because she is. Her portrayal of the character was so good she even won an Emmy and a Golden Globe. It helps that she has some of the best lines in a tv show ever, but great written lines can easily be ruined if spoken by the wrong actor (trust me, as a screenwriter this is something I am all too familiar with). As well as playing one of the most iconic characters in history of recent tv and being an LGBTQ figure, she continues to be a strong advocate for those within the community.
4. Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox is another one of those whose importance rates at the top of this list, only in a very different way to Sir Ian. Cox is an openly transgender American actress, and one whose prominence has seen her become the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in any acting category, to place a person of transgender playing a transgender person as a series regular on broadcast TV, to be the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time and Cosmopolitan magazine, and to be the first openly transgender person to have a wax figure at Madame Tussauds. Achieving these feats helps to show how open and accepting the majority of society has become of transgender people.
Her role as Sophia Burset on Netflix’s hugely popular Orange is the New Black, is what really helped to thrust Cox into the forefront of society as a transgender actress. The role was an important one for the LGBTQ community as it helped to show the struggles of acceptance that a transgender person receives, especially in the face of a situation that they cannot remove themselves from. For this role, as well as others she has taken on as transgender women, and her strong voice within the community, Cox has been described as a trailblazer for the transgender community and a figure of hope for those who are struggling with their own acceptance.
5. Ellen Page
The youngest name on my list, Ellen Page is a Canadian Actress who has starred in many notable and high profile Hollywood films. She is most known for her roles in Juno, Whip It and the X-Men film franchise.
Page is very much an advocate, and since she came out in 2014 she has become an icon for many young women who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. Page herself knows how it feels to be ashamed of her sexuality, and that it can be destructive. One should not feel ashamed of who they are, but a prominent male filmmaker made several homophobic and abusive comments to her when she was only 18, and made her feel violated and as though it wasn’t ok to feel what she felt. It took a decade for her to come out as a lesbian after that experience. Since, she has outed this filmmaker for his comments and destructive behaviour, and has been backed by follow actor and openly bisexual woman Anna Paquin. To this day, Page continues to speak up for women in the LGBTQ community and I say, keep at it girl.
6. Luke Evans
I going to admit here to putting Luke onto this list because he is a little bit dreamy and because I loved his portrayal of Gaston in Disney’s 2017 live action remake of Beauty and the Beast. But with that, Evans is an openly gay man, however he tends to keep very much to himself. He is the type of man who does not hide who he is, but who believes that his personal life is just that, personal, so tends to stay out of the limelight. Interestingly so, he is not often seen as being gay, and I myself, must admit to not knowing he was gay until only recently. Evans himself is fairly new to the world of film as his career began in London’s West End, but his role in the 2010 Clash of the Titan’s remake saw him breakthrough into mainstream Hollywood. Since then he has appeared in such movies as The Hobbit, Fast and Furious 6, Dracula Untold, and as I have already mentioned, Beauty and the Beast. With his roguish good looks and action star figure and lack of prominence within the LGBTQ community means it is easy to see why is often mistook for being a straight man. And while some may condemn him for his lack of prominence within the gay community, I can understand his desire to keep his private life his own.
7. Zachary Quinto
Zachary Quinto came onto my radar with his first film role as Spock in the reboot of the Star Trek’s film franchise in 2009. His portrayal of a character, previously made famous by Leonard Nimoy (also an LGBTQ actor), was refreshing and Quinto was admired for bringing a ‘gravity and an incredible sense of humour’ to a character who is complicated and supposed to lack emotion. He has since reprised the role in two follow on sequels, and I'm hoping for a fourth some time in the future.
At the time when Star Trek was hitting the headlines, Quinto had yet to come out publicly as being a gay man, that he didn’t do until October 2011. He made the decision to come out following the publicity of the death of a gay teenager. Quinton said “that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality.”
Since then his career has continued to flourish, much as he has continued to be a strong LGBTQ supporter and activist. One of the more memorable roles for me of Quinto’s was his role in Season Two of American Horror Story where he starred alongside Sarah Paulson. His role of Dr. Oliver Thresdon is one that will stay with me, as it is a role in which I saw Quinton in a new light, albeit a creepy one, but one that showed he has such a great diversity as an actor. Most recently he has taken on a role in the supernatural horror TV series NOS4A2, which I am personally dying to see, but currently in the UK, it is very restricted in viewing availability.
8. Jodie Foster
Jodie Foster is another of those bigger Hollywood names on the list having been acting since she was around 6 years old. Some of her most known roles come from when she was just a teenager when she starred in Taxi Driver, Bugsy Malone, and Freaky Friday (1976 version obviously). But one of her most infamous roles was when she starred in Silence of the Lambs in the early 90s alongside Anthony Hopkins. It is her portrayal of young FBI cadet Clarice Starling for which she truly stands out; a role which earned Foster her second Academy Award and a role which she herself states as one her favourite. Though the film received a positive reception in the most part, and to this day it remains a classic and one of the top must see movies, for some it was considered homophobic based on its portrayal of a serial killer who is bisexual and has transgender yearnings. Foster herself became a figure of public discussion during this time and was called out by several LGBTQ activists and magazines for being a ‘closeted’ lesbian. She did not come out until 2013.
Foster continues to star in films, but in the past couple of years has moved to focusing on working as a director within film and tv. As such a strong and iconic female figure within the film industry I hope she continues to use her place to push for the equal rights of those who are LGBTQ.
9. Lily Tomlin
Lily Tomlin in an American actress and comedian who has been on the scene for many, many years. She only recently came onto my radar with the hit Netflix show Grace and Frankie, which tells the tale of two women who form an unlikely friendship in the wake of their husbands leaving them for the others husband. Tomlin co-stars alongside Jane Fonda to create a much loved comedic duo who are relatable in ways to all of us. The character Tomlin plays, Frankie, is straight, however, the series itself is a tribute to the LGBTQ community as it tells the story of two older men who decide to finally marry after loving each other for so long. All the characters are nothing but supportive of them, you know, besides the whole leaving their wives for each other. Tomlin’s portrayal of Frankie, as a hippy as they come strong feminist woman is just so refreshing to watch and she plays her so well, that the show has gained a large young following and continues to thrive with a seventh and final series due soon.
Even though Tomlin has never formally come out to the press, it is well known and has been since the late 70’s, that she was gay and in a relationship with writer Jane Wagner. That relationship has lasted the ages and they married in 2013.
She was offered the chance to be on the cover of Time magazine in 1975, but only if she came out on that cover, something Ellen DeGeneres then did years later in 1997. But Tomlin declined. She has since had to defend her decision to decline stating that “i wasn’t going to play their game.” She wasn’t ready at the time and wasn’t going to be forced into something and that can only be applauded, no-one should be forced into something until they are ready. The most important lesson we can take from Tomlin, is in sustaining a relationship for over 40 years while facing the ups and downs of society and the stigma it placed on people within the LGBTQ community.
10. Jim Parsons
Best known for his memorable role on the American comedy The Big Bang Theory, Jim Parsons came out in an interview with New York Times in 2012. During the interview he revealed that he had been in a relationship with another man for 10 years, this man, art director Todd Spiewak and Parsons later married In 2017.
Parsons began acting in the early 90s, but it wasn’t until he landed the role of Sheldon Cooper in the Big Bang Theory that he became a household name. The comedy series that centred around 4 ‘science nerds’, quickly became a massive hit. It is this that gave Parsons some concerns when it came to deciding to come out as a gay man. He believed it ‘might cause trouble, quote unquote, for our big television show”. But once the interview and Parsons was out, he was able to breathe a sigh of relief as the revelation quickly faded into nothing and had no effect on the show, so much so, that the series continued to gain a strong following and lasted for many more seasons. But one thing he does credit coming out with doing, is allowing him to gain a sense of ‘ownership’ and also enabling him to become a ‘participatory’ member of the LGBT community. Go Parsons is all I can say.
So there they are, my top ten LGBTQ actors. I would love to hear who would make your list and why. And if there are any specific top tens you would like me to cover just pop me a message and I’ll get on it just for you.
Until next time.