Actors Who Were Inspired To Come Out After Playing An LGBTQ+ Character

The path to acceptance has been a long and arduous road for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Even today, in the 21st century, homosexuality is illegal in a number of countries; in the first two months of 2023, over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were filed in the United States. While a great deal of progress has been made in regards to LGBTQ+ rights in recent years, we've clearly still got a long way to go. And so, coming out can still be a complicated process for everyday people and Hollywood stars alike. 

After being advised to stay in the closet for the sake of her career for years, actor Kristen Stewart came out as gay on "Saturday Night Live" in February 2017. She later said in Harper's Bazaar, "I have fully been told, 'If you just like do yourself a favour, and don't go out holding your girlfriend's hand in public, you might get a Marvel movie.'" Her story is but one of many.

As difficult as all the adversities that come with coming out of the closet may be, accepting and being open about who you truly are can be a liberating and comforting experience. Here's a list of actors who have not only played inspiring LGBTQ+ characters, but have inspired us by sharing their own sexuality and gender identity journeys. 

Demi Lovato holds her Glee role dear

In the fifth season of "Glee," singer and actor Demi Lovato was cast as Dani, the girlfriend of Naya Rivera's character, Santana Lopez. Years later, Lovato would participate in a cast tribute to Rivera following her tragic death. In a video for the 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards, Lovato said, "I will always cherish the chance I got to play Naya's girlfriend Dani on 'Glee.' The character Naya played, Santana Lopez, was groundbreaking for closeted queer girls, like I was at the time."

Since their time on "Glee," Lovato has been open about their sexuality and identity. In a March 2021 interview on "The Joe Rogan Experience," Lovato explained that they are pansexual. A few months later, Lovato came out as non-binary and addressed their preferred pronouns in an Instagram post. "I am proud to let you know that I identify as non-binary and will officially be changing my pronouns to they/them moving forward," the singer wrote. "This has come after a lot of healing and self-reflective work."

In 2022, Lovato started using "she/her" pronouns again in addition to "they/them." As the singer explained on an episode of the "Spout" podcast, "Recently, I've been feeling more feminine, so I've adopted she/her again." As of this writing, Lovato is dating musician Jordan Lutes.

Sean Hayes regrets not coming out during Will & Grace

Today, it may be no secret that "Will & Grace" star Sean Hayes — the actor whom we thank for bringing our beloved Jack to life — is a gay man, but it hasn't always been that way. Unlike Jack, who was out and open about his sexuality, Hayes didn't publicly address his own sexuality until after the show's initial run ended. "I was a young closeted actor having his first taste of a little success and unfortunately, in my mind, my lucky break was inextricably tied to me thinking that I had to stay in the closet in order to keep moving forward," he said at the 2016 Outfest Legacy Awards, per The Hollywood Reporter. He also said he wished he came out earlier in his career.

Back in 2006, The Advocate published a piece titled "Sean Hayes: The Interview He Never Gave," where they framed an imaginary interview with bits taken from interviews Hayes had given to other publications. To say the least, Hayes wasn't thrilled with how the article dealt with his sexuality. Four years later, Hayes decided to sit down with the magazine and address the aforementioned "interview" and talk about his sexuality. Looking back at the story, he said, "Really? You're gonna shoot the gay guy down?" He continued, "I never have had a problem saying who I am. I am who I am." Hayes married his longtime partner, music composer Scott Icenogle, in 2014.

Sara Ramirez felt truly represented by Callie Torres

Back in May 2016, when Sara Ramirez appeared as  bisexual orthopedic surgeon Callie Torres on "Grey's Anatomy" for the last time, their character became one of the longest-running LGBTQ+ characters in the entire history of television. The character of Callie made an impression on the queer community as well as Ramirez. As the actor told Out magazine in 2021, "Prior to Callie Torres, I'd never seen myself represented on television."

In October 2016, Ramirez came out as bisexual and queer while speaking at the True Colors: 40 to None Summit, a conference that focused on the homelessness of queer Americans. As they put it, "Because of the intersections that exist in my own life: Woman, multi-racial woman, woman of color, queer, bisexual, Mexican-Irish American, immigrant, and raised by families heavily rooted in Catholicism on both my Mexican and Irish sides, I am deeply invested in projects that allow our youth's voices to be heard." In 2020, they came out as nonbinary through an Instagram post. "In me is the capacity to be / Girlish boy / Boyish girl / Boyish boy / Girlish girl / All / Neither / #nonbinary," the "And Just Like That..." actor wrote. Ramirez married businessman Ryan DeBolt in 2012, and the pair decided to part ways in 2021.

Chyler Leigh was moved by her Supergirl storyline

Alex Danvers, the adoptive sister of Kara Zor-El in The CW's "Supergirl," was a character that inspired many — including Chyler Leigh, the actor who played Alex. In a 2020 blog written for a website called Create Change (via Out), Leigh opened up about how she was influenced by Alex coming out as lesbian in the second season of the show and how it helped her accept who she really is. She wrote, "What I didn't realize was how the scene where she finally confessed her truth would leap off the pages of the script and genuinely become a variation of my own. [In real life]." Without explicitly spelling out her gender identity or her sexual orientation, Leigh added, "My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest each take we filmed, every time presenting another opportunity to get those honest words out of my mouth."

While some members of her inner circle took issue with Alex's coming out storyline on the series, Leigh only continued to take pride and embrace her true self. "[My husband] and I are still discovering the depths of ourselves and each other, but throughout our journey we've learned to be proud of who we are, no matter the cost," she wrote. Leigh and actor Nathan West tied the knot in 2002 and are now parents to three children.

Samira Wiley's roles played a part in her 'journey'

Samira Wiley, the actor who shot to fame as Poussey Washington in the first four seasons of "Orange Is the New Black," didn't technically come out herself. Rather, she was outed by a cast member else during the first season of the Netflix show. In a 2018 episode of WNYC Studios' podcast "Nancy" (via Nylon), Wiley remembered being deeply upset when she saw that one of her co-stars had outed her in an interview. "Everyone's journey is their own, you should be able to come out on your own terms," she said. 

Wiley, who also plays Moira Strand — a gay woman — in Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale," also discussed how playing queer characters helped her be more comfortable with her sexuality. "I think that if I wasn't portraying these characters I wonder how my own journey with my own sexual orientation, how I would embrace that how I would walk through the world if I wasn't being able if I wasn't able to inhabit the characters that I have been," she said on the podcast. Wiley and her wife, TV writer Lauren Morelli, have been married since 2017 and are the proud parents to daughter George Elizabeth.

Jake Borelli related to his Grey's Anatomy character

When the character Levi Schmitt, a surgical resident at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, shared a kiss with attending orthopedic surgeon Nico Kim in a November 2018 episode of ABC's "Grey Anatomy, it became the first queer romantic relationship between two men on the show. The day that episode aired, actor Jake Borelli, who plays Levi, decided to come out to the world as gay through an Instagram post. The caption of the inspirational post read, "As a gay guy myself, tonight's episode was so special to me... To all of you who feel like little Levis out there, know that I do too, that you are seen, and that we're all in this together."

At the time, Borelli opened up about his sexuality and how he felt connected to his character in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "I've known that I was gay since I was very young, 8th or 9th grade, and I came out to myself around that time. The back and forth that Levi's feeling right now and this confusion with all these new emotions he's feeling [is] something I had at a much younger age," he said. Borelli had been open to his friends and family about his sexual orientation for years before he came out publicly, but that Instagram post was still a milestone for him. "This is not just coming out for me. This is about speaking your truth and being authentic and really being vulnerable," he told the outlet.

Joshua Rush was inspired by his 'powerful' Andi Mack role

Cyrus Goodman from "Andi Mack" — a Disney Channel show that premiered in 2017 and concluded in 2019 — made history by being the first openly gay character on the network. Joshua Rush, the actor who played Cyrus, was honored to take on the groundbreaking role. "It feels cool," he said in a 2018 Hollywire interview. "It feels powerful. I think so many people have been and are going to continue to be affected and impacted in a positive way because of this story."

In August 2019, days after the show's finale aired Rush came out as bisexual through a series of tweets that have since been deleted. The first tweet read, "First to respond to this tweet is bi lol." Shortly after, he followed it up with another post: "First! i win! it's me. i'm bi. And now that I've said that, I have a few things to rant about. There are more important things to talk about than me liking a whole bunch of genders, but I do want to share a few things with you guys."

In subsequent tweets, Rush candidly talked about how he wasn't previously sure about his sexuality and gender identity and how he grappled with internalized homophobia. He also discussed the struggles of the people of the LGBTQ+ community and asked his followers to donate to GLAAD and The Trevor Project. Thanking everyone for their support, Rush concluded, "I have so many bi jokes ive been waiting to drop this is so exciting."