Last night at the Golden Globe Awards, while accepting the Cecille B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement, actress and director Jodie Foster finally came out publicly. In the tacit speech, which prompted people to wonder if the star was also announcing her retirement, Foster thanked her former partner (and children) and discussed her initial coming out, “back in the Stone Age.” The lengthy speech has been called “weirdly defensive,” “clever and elegant,” and “inspiring.” While the praise and criticism builds, we wanted to take a look back at other inspiring coming out speeches — moments where people in the public eye discussed being gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, or supported the cause and importance of coming out. Not everyone had a podium at their disposal, so we’ve included a few lengthy statements (some with videos) as well. Several of these speeches are unprecedented in their context, all of them are moving, and each one added to the visibility of the LGBT community.
Just a few months ago, audiences at the Human Rights Campaign’s gala fundraising dinner in San Francisco and people across the world were moved by the words of Cloud Atlas director, Lana Wachowski, when she accepted the organization’s Visibility Award. In the emotional, funny, and empowering speech, the filmmaker revealed her struggles growing up as a transgender person:
“I am here because when I was young, I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn’t find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others. If I can be that person for someone else, then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value.”
Read the full transcript over here, but we highly recommend watching the 25-minute video if you haven’t already.
In 2010, Star Trek actor Zachary Quinto recorded an “It Gets Better” video as part of The Trevor Project to show his support to struggling lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. A year later, he gave an interview in New York Magazine where he publicly came out. An 8-week stint in the play Angels in America and the rising number of gay teen suicides prompted a heartfelt note on his website:
“In light of [Jamey Rodemeyer’s] death — it became clear to me in an instant 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. Our society needs to recognize the unstoppable momentum toward unequivocal civil equality for every gay lesbian bisexual and transgendered [sic] citizen of this country… I believe in the power of intention to change the landscape of our society — and it is my intention to live an authentic life of compassion and integrity and action.”
Read the letter in full over here.
“The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud,” Anderson Cooper recently said in an email to friend and writer Andrew Sullivan. “I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.” His letter sparked a healthy conversation about rights to privacy and the importance of gay role models.
Comedian Wanda Sykes gave a spirited coming out speech during a round of protests against California’s Prop 8:
“I got married October 25. I don’t really talk about my sexual orientation, I felt like I was living my life, I wasn’t in the closet, but I was just living my life. Everybody who knows me personally, they know I’m gay. And that’s the way people should be able to live our lives, really. We shouldn’t have to be standing out here demanding something we automatically should have as citizens of this country… They pissed off the wrong group of people. They have galvanized a community. We are so together now and we all want the same thing and we shouldn’t have to settle for less. Instead of having gay marriage in California, no, we’re gonna have gay marriage across the country. When my wife and I leave California, I want to have my marriage also recognized in Nevada, in Arizona, all the way to New York… I’m proud to be a woman, I’m proud to be a black woman and I’m proud to be gay.”
During his post-Menudo career, many people speculated about Ricky Martin’s sexuality. In 2011, he came out in a statement reflecting back on the “fear and insecurity [that] became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sabotage.” The proud father said he now felt filled with “strength and courage” to talk about his sexuality openly. “These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn’t even know existed… I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.”
Neil Patrick Harris
When rumors about the How I Met Your Mother star’s sexuality started to spread in 2006, he took to People to officially come out. “I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love,” he told the magazine. Years later, he made a video for young people encouraging them to “stand tall” and be proud of who they are. “You can act with strength, you can act with courage, and you can act with class,” the childhood icon said.
Just three weeks before his assassination, member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk, delivered a passionate victory speech at the “No on Proposition 6” headquarters:
“So far a lot of people joined us and rejected Proposition 6, and we owe them something. We owe them to continue the education campaign that took place. We must destroy the myths once and for all, shatter them. We must continue to speak out, and most importantly, most importantly, every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is you must tell your immediate family, you must tell your friends, if they indeed they are your friends, you must tell your neighbors, you must tell the people you work with, you must tell the people in the stores you shop in, and once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do, you will feel so much better.”
Etheridge’s coming out speech was short and sweet, but no less joyous and inspiring — especially during a time when being a lesbian celeb was still a hushed secret. She spoke at the 1993 Triangle Ball, which was the first event thrown in honor of the LGBT community during a presidential inauguration (Bill Clinton). After a woman planted a kiss on a surprised Etheridge, the musician simply said, “I’m really excited to be here, and I’m really proud to have been a lesbian all my life.”
“I was 19 years old. He was too,” Frank Ocean wrote in a beautiful letter on his Tumblr about his first love — another man. “We spent that summer, and the summer after together. Every day almost. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling, no choice. It was my first love. It changed my life.” Legions of “thank you” messages praising the R&B singer’s courage appeared across the hip hop community, from Jay-Z, Beyoncé, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, and more. It was a historical move for a music culture steeped in heterosexist sentiment. GLAAD director of media and community partnerships, Daryl Hannah, later said, “[The support for Frank is] an extension of the overall kind of support we’re seeing across the country for LGBT people, and not just in a broad sense, but specifically from iconic members of the black community.”
CNN anchor Don Lemon, who also came out last year, shed more light on the difficulty and importance of coming out as an African-American: “It’s quite different for an African-American male. It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.”
In 2011, the Secretary of State gave an unprecedented speech in Switzerland on International Human Rights Day (December 10), discussing LGBT rights around the world. In her landmark statement, she talked about the need to protect those who come out and ways to end the “violence and harassment” and the “bullying and exclusion” of young people. “I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people,” Clinton stated. “Human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time.” The above 30-minute video is well worth your time.