In a time of great progress in the fight for LGBT equality, it's easy to forget how much work there is left to do to advance our cause politically and culturally. Young people can often be the biggest culprits of this; there has always been this idea out there that youth tend to be apathetic, complacent, and disinterested in their history or their future. The following 10 individuals defy that stereotype and are making a real, positive difference for the community and for broader society today.
The 24-year-old football player has received a lot of media attention for becoming the first openly gay draft pick in NFL history. It is important, however, to stop and think about how truly monumental this moment really is for sports and for our country. From the passionate kiss with his boyfriend that played on televisions across America, to his constant wearing of a rainbow bracelet, Sam is out on the forefront of the gay civil rights movement and in a strident, no-holds-barred way. In an instant he has done away with the status quo; he is what I would call a true revolutionary.
This 24-year-old is also a cultural revolutionary, except he made his mark in music. Back in 2013, Grand made a splash with his brave, bold song “All-American Boy.” Its accompanying video received millions of plays on YouTube. Recently he made another huge statement by raising funds for his new album and concert tour, ending up as the third most successful music-related Kickstarter campaign of all time and the most successful for an artist without major label affiliation. Grand is unabashed and unafraid in his quest to make a difference in music and in our lives.
The 27-year old actress is not new to the Hollywood scene. She made her big debut in 2007 with the highly acclaimed, successful film Juno and starred in Inception. She is new, however, to the LGBT political cause, coming out as a lesbian earlier this year in a confident, unapologetic speech to the Human Rights Campaign. Her first movie released after the big news was the incredibly successful X-Men: Days of Future Past, which only helped cement Page as one of her generation's leading women.
I identify with Stephen in many different ways. The son of actors Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, he has used his platform as the child of high-profile celebrities to contribute something valuable and meaningful to the world. Some of what he says on his blog and other social media have been controversial, but it’s great to see a young transgender individual who is passionate and willing to wade into the political and cultural debate. We need more young people who are informed and eager to have a say in the important discussions we face.
The 26-year-old singer has had an incredibly large impact not just in the R&B world but in mainstream music and pop culture as well. He was one of the trailblazers back in 2012 who really helped bring LGBT issues into the forefront of our cultural dialogue. He came out before Macklemore released “Same Love,” before anyone could argue it's cool or trendy to discuss gay topics in his genre. He continues to push boundaries both societally and artistically, and has shown all the young LGBT R&B enthusiasts throughout the world that there is a place for them too.
Athletes play a particularly big role lately in pushing for LGBT equality. One of those athletes I am most proud of is Tom Daley, who stands out as an example for youth. While all the other individuals I’ve mentioned in this piece are young and courageous, the fact that Daley came out as a 19-year old — and jeopardized almost everything he had to do it — is a testament to his character and principled desire to stand up for what is right. Plus, his positive, idealistic demeanor makes him all the more a great role model for our community.
Although perhaps not as high profile as some of the others mentioned, Alex Morse is a reminder of what's possible. Elected to serve as Mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts at the age of 22, he serves as an example of how gays are no longer a novelty in public office and that we one day — through the election of people like Morse to positions such as mayor, Congressman, senator and governor — might soon have our first openly gay president of the United States. It’s all about taking the critical steps toward progress.
He may be a little older than most of the others I’ve mentioned, but 29-year-old actor Jonathan Groff has broken through many glass ceilings and a lot of status quos in Hollywood. There was a time not long ago when an openly gay actor supposedly couldn't craft a major career for himself (outside of musicals and playing flamboyant gay men). Groff has done musicals, dramas, period pieces, animated movies, and TV; pretty much every genre and medium you can imagine. He has been out from the beginning. That proves that being honest about who you are is a positive, not a negative, toward forging a career in Tinseltown.
One of the world’s leading young inventors, scientists, and cancer researchers at the age of 17, Jack Andraka has made a far more valuable contribution to the world than just being openly gay. By that I mean that although being open about his sexuality from the age of 13 is a huge thing, he also has been honored as one of TIME Magazine’s “30 Under 30: World Changers” due to his groundbreaking scientific discoveries.
The 27-year-old Rogers is another athlete, yet one who has taken a particularly active role as an activist for equality. Just last week I had the honor of co-hosting an event with him and his boyfriend, director/producer Greg Berlanti, to benefit the organization GLSEN. Rogers is an example of true courage, of someone who doesn’t just talk but walks the walk, and of someone who has used their status as a high profile soccer star on one of the best teams in the country to inspire other youth to feel proud and confident in who they are.