25 actors who’ve come out after playing an LGBTQ+ character
Film and TV representation of LGBTQ+ individuals has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent decades, and this long-overdue movement has already translated into significant social progress in the real world. From veteran performers like Ellen DeGeneres to younger actors like Noah Schnapp, many celebrities have publicly come out after playing an LGBTQ+ character on screen, marking an important milestone in the entertainment industry.
Whereas LGBTQ+ creatives like Dan Levy and Sean Hayes once concealed their sexuality for fear of discrimination, many actors today have come out without facing damage to their careers or personal lives. Several celebrities have gone on to play additional LGBTQ+ roles after coming out, providing further representation of the community both on- and off-screen.
To recognize these actors and their impact, Stacker compiled a list of 25 celebrities who have come out after playing an LGBTQ+ character, using interviews from such publications as Variety and Out Magazine and IMDb data to confirm these actors’ filmography.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Many more performers, like Aubrey Plaza, Maulik Pancholy, and Wayne Brady, have come out after playing LGBTQ+ roles.
Ronen Rubinstein won over countless “9-1-1: Lone Star” viewers in his role as T.K. Strand, an openly gay paramedic in a relationship with police officer Carlos Reyes (Rafael L. Silva). T.K. provided an opportunity for Rubinstein to embrace his own sexuality, and the actor publicly came out as bisexual in April 2021. In an interview with Variety, he explained that fans’ positive reactions to “Tarlos” encouraged him to come out.
Noah Schnapp shot to fame after playing Will Byers on Netflix’s ’80s-set supernatural series “Stranger Things.” Though fans had long speculated on Byers’ sexuality, noting the dynamics between him and other characters, Schnapp confirmed in July 2022 that Byers is gay but still closeted. Schnapp himself publicly came out as gay a few months later; to see whether Byers will do the same, we’ll have to keep an eye out for the fifth season of “Stranger Things.”
Samira Wiley played the lesbian character Poussey Washington on “Orange Is the New Black” and came out publicly as a lesbian in 2014. Unfortunately, it wasn’t by choice: Wiley revealed in 2018 that an unnamed castmate from the series accidentally outed her in an interview, leading her to come out sooner than she’d initially planned.
Seven years after making their professional acting debut on “Game of Thrones,” nonbinary actor Bella Ramsey became a household name for starring on another hit HBO series, “The Last of Us.” Based on the popular video game series of the same name, “The Last of Us” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a mind-controlling fungus, following survivors Ellie (Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) on a quest across the former United States.
Though Ellie’s sexuality hasn’t been explicitly discussed on “The Last of Us” yet, Ellie shared an on-screen kiss with friend Riley (Storm Reid) in Season 1. Ramsey also described their own sexuality as “not 100 per cent straight” in an interview with British Vogue a few months after the show’s premiere.
An adaptation of Alice Oseman’s graphic novel series, teen drama “Heartstopper” quickly became one of the most popular Netflix series when it premiered in 2022. But all that fame came at a cost for Kit Connor, who plays the bisexual character Nick Nelson on the show. Connor came out as bisexual on Twitter (now called X) in November 2022 after revealing he’d been “forced” to come out to field accusations of queerbaiting.
After voicing lesbian witch Amity Blight on Disney’s animated series “The Owl House,” which premiered in 2020, Mae Whitman came out as pansexual in 2021. “Just taking a moment to say I am SO proud to be even a small part of a show like ‘The Owl House,'” Whitman wrote on X. “Being pansexual myself, I wish I had such incredible characters like Amity and [bisexual character] Luz in my life when I was growing up.”
Chris Colfer is perhaps best known for playing Kurt Hummel, an openly gay character on “Glee.” Though Kurt came out as gay during the show’s first season, Colfer himself wasn’t yet out of the closet at the time and spent much of those early shoots “terrified” as a result. Colfer eventually came out as gay after the series debuted in 2009. Still, he has since compared his coming-out experience to that of Kit Connor, saying he felt similarly pushed to go public with his sexuality before he was ready.
Until she departed from the series in 2023, Broadway actor Reneé Rapp starred on “The Sex Lives of College Girls” as Leighton Murray, a closeted lesbian who comes out publicly during the show’s second season. While Murray struggled with her sexuality throughout the series’ first season, Rapp was going through some struggles of her own, saying in later interviews that she felt insecure as a bisexual woman playing a lesbian character. Despite saying she “hated the first year of filming” as a result, Rapp has described the series as her coming-out experience.
“Grey’s Anatomy” star Jake Borelli came out on Instagram at the same time his character, Dr. Levi Schmitt, came out on screen. When the episode in which Schmitt kisses fellow doctor Nico Kim (Alex Landi) aired in 2018, Borelli posted a photo with the caption, “As a gay guy myself, tonight’s episode was so special to me.” The episode was also special for “Grey’s Anatomy,” marking the start of the first gay male romance on the long-running medical show.
Jake Borelli isn’t the only “Grey’s Anatomy” star to come out after playing an LGBTQ+ character on the show. Mexican American actor Sara Ramírez played bisexual surgeon Callie Torres on “Grey’s” from 2006 to 2016. Seven years after Torres came out on screen in 2009, Ramirez came out publicly as bisexual. They later came out as nonbinary in 2020 and have portrayed the nonbinary character Che Diaz on HBO’s “And Just Like That…” since 2021.
As she’s now one of the most famous openly gay celebrities in the entertainment industry, it’s hard to remember a time when Ellen DeGeneres wasn’t out. DeGeneres came out as lesbian in 1997, during the same time her on-screen character, Ellen Morgan, came out on the fourth season of the comedian’s ABC sitcom “Ellen.” The decision made Morgan the first gay or lesbian lead character on any U.S. network television show. Though DeGeneres’ decision to come out received some pushback from the public, it also marked a significant step forward for LGBTQ+ representation in TV.
Sean Hayes starred as the openly gay character Jack McFarland on “Will & Grace,” but Hayes waited several years after the series first concluded in 2006 to come out as gay himself. He began to speak publicly about his sexuality in 2010, though he’s said he regrets not coming out during the show’s initial run. Hayes later returned to the screen as Jack, reprising his role for the 2017 reboot that concluded in 2020.
Though Canadian teen drama “Degrassi: The Next Generation” has come under fire in recent years for its, shall we say, somewhat problematic plot points, there’s no denying the show provided groundbreaking LGBTQ+ representation when it aired in the early 2000s. That representation included Adamo Ruggiero’s character, Marco Del Rossi, who initially struggled to accept his sexuality before eventually coming out as gay. Ruggiero came out as gay in 2008, saying in later interviews that he strongly resonated with his character.
Between murder plots and other nefarious schemes, there’s a lot competing for viewers’ attention on Netflix’s Spanish series “Élite.” But Omar Ayuso’s role as Omar Shanaa, a closeted Muslim teen, easily stands out amid the series’ high-stakes drama. Ayuso himself made waves on the internet in 2020 when he made his relationship with artist boyfriend Alonso Díaz Instagram-official.
From 2004 to 2009, Kate Moennig played one of the few lesbian TV characters in the early aughts on “The L Word.” While her character, Shane McCutcheon, was busy breaking hearts and taking names on screen, Moennig was figuring out her own sexuality. Now married to musician Ana Rezende, Moennig credits her time shooting “The L Word” as helping her embrace her attraction to women.
Though most fans know Dan Levy for playing the openly pansexual character David Rose on the hit comedy “Schitt’s Creek,” he hasn’t always been so public about his sexuality. He stated in a past interview that he kept quiet about being gay when he first began working in the entertainment industry, fearing a hit to his career. The actor-comedian officially came out in 2020 on an episode of “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.”
Kristen Stewart’s romantic life has been subject to public scrutiny since the early days of her “Twilight” stardom, and her role as Valentine in the 2014 film “Clouds of Sils Maria” only further fueled the rumor mill. But the actor confirmed those rumors in 2017 by calling out Donald Trump in an opening monologue for “Saturday Night Live,” saying that the then-president of the United States wouldn’t like her because “I’m, like, so gay, dude.” Stewart has since come out as bisexual and has played several more LGBTQ+ film roles, including starring opposite Mackenzie Davis in the lesbian holiday rom-com “Happiest Season.”
Victor Garber starred on “Will & Grace” as the openly gay character Peter Bovington, who appeared on a 2004 episode of the beloved sitcom. Garber earned an Emmy nomination for the role and came out publicly as gay in 2013, saying, “I don’t really talk about it, but everyone knows.” He’s since appeared on many hugely successful shows, including “And Just Like That…” and “Schitt’s Creek.”
After starring as the pansexual character Josie Saltzman on “Legacies,” a spinoff of the CW series “The Vampire Diaries,” Kaylee Kaneshiro had a statement of her own to make. The then-23-year-old actor took to Instagram for Pride Month 2021, posting a photo of herself with a rainbow flag and the caption, “My name is Kaylee, and I’m queer!”
Zachary Quinto played the bisexual character Sasan on Tori Spelling’s VH1 series “So Notorious,” which had one season in 2006. Five years later, Quinto came out as gay in 2011 following the suicide of gay teen Jamey Rodemeyer. In a statement posted to his website, Quinto wrote: “In light of Jamey’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.”
When it premiered in 2016, the supernatural Western series “Wynonna Earp” quickly garnered a massive fanbase among the LGBTQ+ community due to the show’s dynamic, three-dimensional LGBTQ+ characters like Waverly Earp (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), who is bisexual. So fans were quick to express support when Provost-Chalkley came out as queer via blog post in early 2020. The actor has since also come out as nonbinary and genderfluid.
Tyler Posey is famous for playing the lovable (straight) werewolf Scott McCall on MTV’s “Teen Wolf” series, but he’s taken on multiple LGBTQ+ roles since his days of howling at the moon. In Seasons 3 and 4 of “Jane the Virgin,” he appeared as Adam Alvaro, a bisexual musician and comic book artist. Posey also acted opposite Avan Jogia in the sci-fi series “Now Apocalypse” in 2019. In 2020, Posey came out as queer and has described his sexuality as fluid.
Grammy-nominated singer and actor Demi Lovato came out in 2021, more than five years after her brief stint on “Glee” playing Dani, Santana’s (Naya Rivera) girlfriend. Lovato has opened up about being queer in recent years but has since clarified they are pansexual and nonbinary.
Rwandan Scottish actor Ncuti Gatwa starred on the hit Netflix series “Sex Education” as Eric Effiong, a proudly gay teen in small-town England, from 2019 to 2023. Shortly before the show’s final season premiered, Gatwa officially came out as queer during an August 2023 interview with Elle UK. The “Doctor Who” and “Barbie” actor acknowledged that while he’s avoided discussing his sexuality in the past, his role as Eric “taught me the importance of representation: it’s so powerful and necessary.”
In 1999, actor and filmmaker Clea DuVall starred opposite Natasha Lyonne in a movie that would quickly become a cult classic, especially in the LGBTQ+ community: “But I’m a Cheerleader.” The comedy follows DuVall and Lyonne’s characters through their time at a conversion therapy camp, where the two meet and eventually become romantically involved. DuVall came out in 2016 and went on to direct the 2020 holiday rom-com “Happiest Season,” starring Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, and Dan Levy.
Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Paris Close.
Provided by Stacker