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10 LGBTQ+ Shooting Stars of 2022
10 Amazing Queer Rising Stars in 2022
Awards shows including the Oscars and Emmys are being called out by media outlets to finally do what the Grammys, Brits, and MTV Movie Awards have already done: drop their gendered categories. With the new crop of LGBTQ+, nonbinary, and gender-fluid actors appearing on movie screens and television screens, that request is more germane than ever. Many out performers -- like the ones profiled below -- refuse to consign themselves to one gender or hide any aspect of who they love or the causes they champion. It is now the age when queer actors like Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose are smashing down doors, and when Billy Eichner can assemble an entirely queer cast for a major Hollywood comedy. Those who are proudly out are working to dissolve the celluloid closet so that upstart queer actors may blossom, personally and professionally, in a way never previously witnessed.
Here are 10 such actors.
This story is part of The Advocate's 2022 Entertainment Issue, which is out on newsstands April 2, 2022. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.
An actor, singer, dancer, and movement artist, with a clown persona named "One," Esco Jouley is making their mark all over the arts. The nonbinary performer recently starred in the second season of SundanceTV's 10-episode, 10-minute each series State of theUnion alongside thespian stalwarts Patricia Clarkson and Brendan Gleeson. Dubbed a short-form drama, the series from Philomena director Stephen Frears and About a Boy writer Nick Hornby features Clarkson and Gleeson as a married couple at the end of their relationship. Jouley's nonbinary and asexual Jay is the barista they interact with ahead of their therapy appointments. Between artisanal coffee pours, Jay challenges their notions of tolerance as Gleeson's privileged straight cis white guy Scott learns to open his mind a bit and Clarkson's progressive Ellen learns to not presume she knows someone's full identity.
"It was an honor and a special moment in time to work with Patricia and Brendan, and we created characters that reflect real human experiences. I was a part of a team where we all knew these characters had different perspectives and we ultimately felt like everyone wanted to tell the most honest story," Jouley says about the series. "With Nick Hornby, it's all about the words. One of my favorite lines from the show is 'People are driven demented by ambiguity.' It's such a great line because it offers a very interesting view on the way it affects people to stand outside of what might be considered 'normal.'"
With roles on buzzy shows like High Maintenance, Blindspotting, and the recently released Netflix series Inventing Anna, Jouley is one to watch. --Tracy E. Gilchrist
The news that HBO's new surprise offbeat hit, Somebody Somewhere, will be renewed for a second season was welcomed news to the show's costar, actor and comedian Jeff Hiller, who can finally quit his myriad day jobs.
"Oprah convinced me -- not personally of course -- to move to New York over 20 years ago to pursue my dream of becoming an actor," Hiller recalls with his bubbly sense of humor. "And since I've arrived, I've toiled in numerous odd jobs to pay the bills."
Hiller says he could write an entire essay about all the jobs he's worked to get where he is today. "I worked for the college boards and was a costumed character for a while at the famous Manhattan Jekyll & Hyde club. I also did tons of clerical jobs, worked at...famous chains like Barnes & Noble and the Olive Garden as a waiter. I taught CPR, was a waiter again, and taught improv classes to students, corporate professionals, land lawyers, as part of continuing education programs. Things are much better now that I finally have steady work as an actor."
However, Hiller points out, it's a show that's hard to describe. "When people ask me what the show's about, I sort of say, mmm, well..."
Mashable said that the heart of the show is the chemistry between its star Bridget Everett's Sam and Hiller's character Joel, who are best friends and soul mates.
As for his newfound celebrity, Hiller says he's been stopped on the street a few times.
"It's happened twice, and I was so excited that I took pictures of them instead of them taking pictures of me," Hiller says with his infectious laugh. -- John Casey
Mindy Kaling's latest series, The Sex Lives of College Girls, arrived on HBO Max ahead of the holidays in 2021 like an end-of-the-year present to viewers. Loaded with humor, love, a fair amount of sex befitting the title, and important stories of familial expectations and sexual harassment and abuse, the show was a hit. It was picked up for season 2 practically before the episodes dropped. One of the poignant and intensely romantic stories in the series occurred between lead character Leighton (Renee Rapp), a beautiful and haughty student of considerable privilege who is secretly hooking up with women but ends up falling for Midori Francis's Alicia, a cute queer activist whose second home is the campus women's center.
Although Alicia was introduced a few episodes in, she quickly became one of the show's touchstones due in part to her unabashed queerness, sense of humor, and concern for others (when Leighton's roommate Bela, played by Amrit Kaur, shares she's been sexually harassed, it's Alicia they go to for help).
Francis, who is best known for Netflix's charming romantic comedy Dash & Lily (2020), is proud of the representation in The SexLives of College Girls. Increasingly, queer actors are being cast in queer roles, and she and Rapp (who is also queer) are a part of that evolution. It's something Francis says would have been impactful for her growing up. She hopes that being a queer actor playing a character in love with another woman is meaningful to those who view the series.
"Part of my own journey with my sexuality has been that I felt otherized as a kid. The opportunity to be a fully rounded human being who happens to be Asian and also happens to like women, it feels so empowering," she says. "If I was a kid and I saw someone as cool as Alicia out there -- also, she's able to be sexy, and she's able to be funny, and she's able to be strong -- maybe that would have comforted me. The idea that it could bring comfort to other people and other maybe queer Asian women is amazing." --TEG
Out actor Chris Medlin found initial success on Broadway, appearing in buzzy shows like Mean Girls and Diana, but SweetMagnolias has rocketed him to stardom. When season 2 of the Netflix series dropped in February, the show immediately climbed to the top of the streaming giant's most downloaded programs.
Medlin's character Isaac moves to the show's fictitious Serenity, S.C., to find his birth mom, who allegedly hailed from the small town. Isaac's character was personal for Medlin. "I come from a small town in Tennessee, and it's the same town that Dolly Parton was born in," he says. "In fact, my grandmother went to grade school with her. And just like the show's Serenity, everyone in my hometown was always there for one another."
"Isaac's story is very common for so many who come from broken homes, have absent parents, or who were adopted and want to know who their birth parents are," Medlin says. "So many people related to Isaac, and I was so surprised to hear from so many people who were also searching and wondering about their parents."
One of the mysteries of the show is whether Isaac is gay. "I don't know, and I get the question a lot. In Isaac's case, he had a massive challenge in front of him of locating his birth parents, and he did that in season 2," the actor notes. "I imagine in season 3, if we are renewed, that the writers will delve into the more personal aspects of Isaac."
Medlin says that since the show has become a big hit, he is starting to get recognized in public. "It's funny, I'm wearing a ball cap and mask, and people come to me and say, 'Oh, my God, you're on that show!' I can't believe they can tell it's me with half my face covered up. I'm anxious to see what happens once I stop wearing a mask." -- JC
With the second season of Amazon Prime Video's comedy hit Harlem confirmed, audiences can look forward to more of the magnetic queer actor Jerrie Johnson as the show's lesbian lothario Tye. The series, set in -- you guessed it -- Harlem, stars Johnson, Meagan Good (D.E.B.S.), Grace Byers (Empire), and Shoniqua Shandai (I Am the Night) as friends navigating love, career, and gentrification. The series not only centers and uplifts Black women, but it also places Tye's relationships and hookups on an even playing field with those of her friends.
Johnson, who uses she/they pronouns, made their TV debut on Freeform's super LGBTQ-inclusive series Good Trouble before landing the plum gig as a lead on Prime Video's breakout series. Harlem is the latest in shows that revolve around female friendship, from TheGolden Girls to Living Single to Sex and the City, and Johnson says there's a reason such shows endure.
"I think [female solidarity] directly presses against the patriarchy and white supremacy, right? Because women are the most powerful beings to walk this Earth," Johnson says. "If women were liberated in friendships and collaborative, were able to reproduce however, wherever, and whenever they wanted, and knew that sex was a form of liberation and that the erotic is power, this would all be different. These high-rises would be down. We'd all be living in circles." --TEG
With credits that include Younger, Billions, Manifest, and Broad City already under her belt, Jojo Brown was seen earlier this year stealing scenes as the no-nonsense grocery store manager Mindy to Sofia Black-D'Elia's Samantha in Single Drunk Female.
Brown's performance as Mindy, a recovering alcoholic with endless sass and a love of video games, is the kind of nuanced and authentic storytelling that trans people still don't often get in media, and it's not lost on Brown, who is trans herself, how much that means to fans of the show.
"I love that Mindy exists in a world where she is surrounded by people who love, support, and value her for everything that she is -- without her having to fight for it," Brown says. "This gives me the room to have fun and revel in Mindy's multiplicities: She's a queen bee, a mentor, a video gamer, and a fiercely confident fashionista. She can be very snarky but also incredibly tender. Many people from all over have told me they identify strongly with her, and that means the world to me." -- Raffy Ermac
It's hard to shake things up in a series that already tackles sexuality as frankly as Netflix's Sex Education. But that's just what Minneapolis-based nonbinary singer and actor Dua Saleh did when they joined the show's fourth season as a new student, Cal. The season centers around a militaristic change in leadership at the show's Moordale High when Jemima Kirke's headmistress Hope implements strict uniform codes and more. Cal, who is nonbinary, is in Hope's crosshairs for refusing to wear a skirt that doesn't align with their gender identity, and Sex Education touches on the inherent transphobia in such rules. The series that stars Gillian Anderson as a sex therapist and features beloved boyfriends Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and Adam (Connor Swindells) as well as several other LGBTQ+ characters, traversed new ground in TV storytelling when Cal and popular cis male swimmer Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) acted on their chemistry. Cal begins a real and necessary conversation with Jackson if he's ready to be in a queer relationship. Saleh, who's released the EPs Nur, Rosetta, and Crossover -- one a year since 2019 --felt welcomed and held by the care taken with Cal's story.
"It's beautiful how they approached it. They had consultants who were nonbinary. They asked me a lot of questions. I actually got a lot of questions from the writers' rooms. The producers, they checked in with me, oftentimes," they say. "I feel privileged in a way to have come on to such a remarkable show that is so intentional and that cares so deeply and authentically about the people that they're portraying." --TEG
An alum of LGBTQ-inclusive series like STARZ's beloved Vida and TikTok's micro soap opera Hidden Canyons, Mexican-American actor and Los Angeles native (Boyle Heights) Tonatiuh currently stars on ABC and Hulu's Promised Land, a delectable family drama that tells the ongoing saga of patriarch Joe Sandoval (John Ortiz), an aging vineyard owner in Sonoma County, Calif., who is gearing up to pass down the family business to one of his many children; Tonatiuh's character Antonio is one of them. (Think Succession, but with a Latinx family and in wine country.)
Once exiled from the Sandovals, Antonio has a storyline that is immediately relatable for any queer person who has ever felt left out or rejected by their biological family. And though he's not the hero in this series, viewers can't help but be drawn to Antonio as he attempts to take over the family's wine business (with the help of his mother) after being scorned.
As Antonio, Tonatiuh brings queer pizzazz and flair to the character that an actor without that lived experience probably wouldn't be able to. We're utterly hooked. -- RE
In the Bruce Willis film American Siege, Grace Baker is a woman on a mission. She wants answers about who killed her sister and she's willing to take down anyone who stands in the way. She's ruthless, violent, and could not be further from the reality of the woman who plays her, Anna Hindman, who nevertheless really connected with the role. "I love stories where it's kind of [about] the underdog or maybe the antihero," she says. Hindman was also thrilled to do her own stunts, no matter when the need arose.
"I showed up to set one day, and they were like, 'All right, so we're going to choreograph a little fight scene,' and I was like, 'Oh, great. It's 5:30 in the morning. Let me grab some coffee and I'll be right over,'" she laughs.
That's all a far cry from her usual day job: teaching middle school students. This might seem at first glance to have little in common with acting, but Hindman says it's been invaluable to her craft. "As a teacher, one of my huge things is working from an empathy standpoint and kind of just granting these kids an empathetic view of life," she explains. "I also approach [acting] from an empathy standpoint, because you're putting yourself in another character's shoes and trying to find those connections."
Having a wife who's a strong support system also helps Hindman balance her two careers. The two first met on TikTok, shares Hindman, who spotted her future wife on the social media platform and slid into the comments. "I was like, 'Oh, she's really cute'...and then we ended up messaging each other a little bit," she reveals. From there, they moved to FaceTime, and the rest was history.
Hindman, who is out and proud in her dual careers, made that choice because she needed to be herself unapologetically. "If it costs me friends, if it costs me a job, that wasn't meant for me to begin with," she says. "I don't want to have to hide who I am." --Rachel Shatto
Warren Egypt Franklin
Warren Egypt Franklin made his TV debut last year as Des in Freeform's Grown-ish. Now in its fourth season, the popular college-themed sitcom (and spinoff from Black-ish) continues its legacy of including the thought-provoking issues that young people are currently dealing with in real life, by introducing Des as the love interest to Chloe Bailey's character Jazz. A masculine-presenting track star with an affinity for fabulous dresses, Des challenges Jazz's comfort level as a straight woman dating a queer person in ways we don't often see on TV, a fact that is made even more important when you consider that there aren't that many Black queer pansexual characters on TV period. Des isn't afraid to wear what he wants, date who wants, and be who he wants, and it's that kind of representation and visibility that queer folks of color deserve to see more of on-screen.
Franklin's performance as Des is just the start of what is sure to be a blossoming career -- but make no mistake, he's no stranger to performing. In a touring company of Lin-Manuel Miranda's ever-popular musical Hamilton, the Cleveland native became the youngest actor to play the dual roles of Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson.
Given his stage career and his role helping viewers examine their biases and views of gender fluidity in Grown-ish, we can't wait to see whatever he does next. --RE