The untold truth of Sara Ramirez

Sara Ramirez caught her big break when she landed the role of Dr. Callie Torres on Grey's Anatomy in 2006. The actress' on-screen alter-ego on the hit Shonda Rhimes drama broke new ground in LGBTQ+ representation in the media. For an entire decade, she portrayed one of the first openly bisexual women of color on network television, who became the longest-running queer series regular on TV. The fan-favorite character cemented Ramirez's place in pop culture history, and earned her a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series in 2007.

After leaving Shondaland in 2016, the actress went on to star as political strategist Kat Sandoval on Madam Secretary, while focusing much of her time and energy on her activist work. But while there's much to be said about Ramirez's on-screen counterparts, how much do you really know about the TV star's real life? Here are a few facts that might surprise you.

Her coming out story

During Ramirez's time on Grey's Anatomy, she played a large role in creating her groundbreaking character. As she wrote in an email to Vox in 2018, "I realized I was in the unique position to be able to develop a character that made me feel seen and accepted in areas I typically found myself apologizing for my existence in, with room to explore a wide range of universal emotions about it."

However, it wasn't until months after the actress left the ABC drama that she herself publicly came out as bisexual. "I didn't know if I was ready," Ramirez told Entertainment Weekly and People's "Coming Out Stories," explaining that the increase in violence against the LGBTQ+ community, including the devastating Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016, had compelled her to live openly. "An organic, incremental urgency to use my platform to empower those who are part of these communities that I'm a part of came over me in a way that I've never felt before," she continued. "It's been a form of liberation for me to own all of my identities."

She moved to the United States as a child

Ramirez spent the first eight years of her life living in Mexico, before her parents divorced and she moved to the United States with her mother. But starting a new life in San Diego wasn't necessarily an easy transition. "Between the culture shock of coming from another country," Ramirez wrote in an essay for Glamour in 2006, "and the stigma of having an accent (I heard my share of 'Do you have a green card?' jokes), I always felt like I stuck out."

The actress, who fluently speaks both Spanish and English, has noted how her multi-cultural upbringing has informed her activist work and world view. "Because of the intersections that exist in my own life," she tweeted in 2016, "woman, multiracial woman, woman of color, queer, bisexual, Mexican-Irish American, immigrant … I am deeply invested in projects that allow our youth's voices to be heard, and that support our youth in owning their own complex narratives so that we can show up for them in the ways they need us to."

She's a Broadway baby

Ramirez got her start performing on stage. Having appeared in a number of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions since the late '90s, the actress was well-known among New York City theater buffs long before she became the TV star we all know and love. "I consider New York and theater my home base, where I sort of grew up," she told TV Fanatic in 2007. "I miss it and I hope they'll have me back whether it's a musical — it doesn't have to be on Broadway — or a play. I miss the theater, the whole symbiotic relationship between actor and audience and being on stage. The live factor."

Well, considering her iconic run as the Lady of the Lake in the musical Spamalot, it's probably safe to say that theater nerds everywhere would welcome Ramirez back to the Great White Way in a heartbeat. Just before landing her role on Grey's Anatomy, the triple threat earned rave reviews and the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical in 2005 for her showstopping performance in the Monty Python show.

Overcoming her body image issues

Ramirez has struggled with body image issues since childhood. "I was a lot taller and bigger-boned than most girls my age," she wrote for Glamour, adding, "I grew up wanting to look like someone else rather than appreciating the body I had." 

During her 20s, the actress' weight and insecurities yo-yoed as she turned to diet pills and developed unhealthy eating habits. "There's a whole list of things you could worry about," Ramirez told Latina magazine in 2011 (via After Ellen). "Are you skinny enough? Talented enough? In all kinds of ways, I used to be really, really hard on myself."

The TV star has credited her Spamalot and Grey's Anatomy roles for helping her to overcome her self-esteem issues and maintain a healthier lifestyle. As she revealed in Glamour, the former "gave me confidence that had nothing to do with how I looked." Meanwhile, acting out Callie Torres' famous dancing-in-her-underwear scene on the latter helped Ramirez to "get over a lot of [her] issues." As she added, "I had to accept my body."

She's an outspoken activist

Ramirez is a longtime activist devoted to using her celebrity to foster change in the world. While the actress is a supporter of a number of charities, she spends much of her time and energy advocating on behalf of LGBTQ+ rights and issues. The actress, who was awarded the Human Rights Campaign's Ally for Equality Award in 2015, took a one-year hiatus from the entertainment industry after coming out to focus her efforts on creating safe spaces for the most vulnerable and marginalized populations among the LGBTQ+ community.

"I know there are people in this room who don't feel safe or comfortable to openly identify as bisexual, pansexual, or fluid," Ramirez said while accepting the Trailblazer Award at the New York City LGBT Center's 20th Annual Women's Event in 2017. "I want you to know that despite this, I see you. I was you. I love you. And maybe in a couple of years, we will feel safe enough to show ourselves, and celebrate one another openly without fear."

For Ramirez, the main connection between acting and activism is that they're "both about empathy," she told NPR in 2015. "You're trying to get people to see other people as real and human. And to care."

She's an acclaimed singer

Ramirez isn't just an award-winning actress and philanthropist, she's also an acclaimed singer. In addition to her prolific work in the theater, she famously stole the show during Grey's Anatomy's musical episode in 2011. Considering the fact that she trained at Juilliard in the mid-'90s, this perhaps isn't too surprising. During an interview shared on the school's Alumni Reflections page, Ramirez said she "wouldn't change a thing" about her experience at the prestigious performing arts school. She went on to credit one of her professors for "opening [her] voice up to a higher range, in acting class," which turned out to be a game-changer for the aspiring actress. "If it weren't for her, I don't think I would have the courage to sing some of the music I get to sing."

Ramirez's musical ambitions culminated in the release of her self-titled debut EP in 2011. Featuring original songs and a cover of Brandi Carlile's "The Story," it peaked at #37 on the Billboard 200.

Her quiet married life

After sky-rocketing to fame over a decade ago, Ramirez is understandably guarded when it comes to keeping her personal life out of the spotlight. On July 4, 2012, the actress quietly married business analyst Ryan DeBolt in New York City following a one-year engagement. "We had a very intimate ceremony with friends and family and there was so much love in that space, I can't even tell you," Ramirez said of their nuptials during an interview with Latina magazine. "We were surrounded by people who had nothing but joy and love for us, really evolved, conscious love. And that is something that we were very clear about wanting."

While the notoriously private pair have since kept their longtime romance largely under wraps, it sounds like the couple has been going strong since the moment they met. "The connection was there very early on," the TV star added. "Pretty much when I first met him we both knew something on some very kind of spiritual level."

She's a voice-over actress extraordinaire

One of Ramirez's earliest professional acting gigs was voicing the titular character in PlayStation's guitar-based musical game Um Jammer Lammy in 1999. While she reprised the role in 2001's PaRappa the Rapper 2, Ramirez wouldn't return to voice-over acting until over a decade later. But ever since 2012, her impressive pipes have voiced Queen Miranda on the Disney Channel's animated series, Sofia the First.

"I grew up watching animation," Ramirez told TV Guide. "This was kind of like a dream come true." As an added bonus, the long-running role has given the multi-hyphenate an opportunity to return to her musical roots. "I love voice-over work," she told Oh My Disney in 2013. "The show has a lot of music that's written for it, so a lot of us are getting to sing which is really fun. Again getting to tap into a different side of what I do and that certainly keeps it diverse and interesting."

She's battled severe depression

Ramirez suffered a terrible loss in 2009 when her best friend, Al D. Rodriguez, passed away. "For about 10 or 11 years, up until he died, he opened my eyes up to accepting myself and loving myself," she told Latina magazine two years later, while referring to Rodriguez as her "gay husband" (via After Ellen). "He would sleep with guys and I would do my thing, but we were going to grow old together."

Following his death, Ramirez fell into a severe depression. As she mourned the loss, she sometimes struggled to get out of bed and suffered from mood swings, which eventually affected her work on Grey's Anatomy. Thankfully, the actress sought professional help and was able to work through her grief. "Somehow I managed to do it, but it wasn't pretty," she said (via The Hollywood Reporter). "There were days that I would show up to work and come out the side of my face to people who didn't deserve it."

She's continued to break new ground in television

Sara Ramirez famously made history for LGBTQ+ representation during her Grey's Anatomy run. In 2017, the actress continued to break new ground in television with her portrayal of Kat Sandoval, another openly bisexual character, on Madam Secretary. This career move was not only a conscious collaborative decision made with the CBS series' writers, but also one that's been reflective of Ramirez's journey toward self-acceptance in her own life.

"This past year and a half has taught me how to embrace myself fully, to never ever be afraid to claim my truth and power in spaces," she told Entertainment Weekly. "And that bisexual, pansexual, queer-identified women of color, of all genders, or no genders, deserve to exist fully and equally in any and every space with respect to our visibility, representation, dignity, and various intersecting identities."

At the time, Ramirez was hopeful the character, who is "outspoken and unapologetically herself," would help to "continue normalizing, strengthening, and celebrating these types of inclusive outcomes in the world."