We limited ourselves to selecting the 10 people who were most influential on LGBT lives during 2014, and the resulting list represents ongoing changes happening worldwide. This was a landmark year for the spread of marriage equality but also for visibility of the full spectrum of LGBT people, and the list reflects progress and struggles culturally, in courtrooms, and more.
Who is The Advocate's Person of the Year? (Find out here.) The selection was revealed during The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on Thursday. Here are nine other runners-up for the title.
Tim Cook: Leading By Example And By Lobbying
Tim Cook is a late addition to the list, one who couldn't be considered for the cover having came out less than a week ago. But there's no question the first out CEO of a Fortune 500 company would make a list such as this merely for doing what no one else has dared to do.
Still, that's not what makes the Apple CEO so influential in the lives of LGBT people. Yes, he helms a global brand so his example raises LGBT visibility worldwide, and his coming out inspired a rash of irrational responses that remind us living openly is especially dangerous in some places. Take Russia, for example, where a statue of Steve Jobs in St. Petersburg was removed because it suddenly violates the antigay "propaganda" law. Plus, Vitaly Milonov, a key author of Russia's ban on "nontraditional sexual relations," wants to ban Cook from the country because, "What could he bring us? The Ebola virus, AIDS, gonorrhea?"
Even before coming out in an essay in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Cook had been advocating for workplace protections for LGBT employees. He called on Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, and then on Twitter. He spoke about the subject while accepting Auburn University's Life Time Achievement Award and in a speech before lawmakers in his home state of Alabama, where he was being inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor.
And earlier this year when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer had to decide whether to sign legislation that would have created a broad "license to discriminate" for employers, business owners and service providers, Cook's company formally requested she veto it. The request was made against the backdrop of plans for a new manufacturing plant in Arizona expected to create more than 2,000 jobs.
Cook may have been silent publicly about his own sexual orientation until last week, but he was never quiet about whether LGBT workers deserve the security of knowing they can't be fired for who they love or who they marry.
"Protections that promote equality and diversity should not be conditional on someone's sexual orientation," Cook wrote in his Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2013. Then in his coming out essay, Cook showed he's aware his example might make more of a difference than any of his lobbying.
"I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: 'Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' I often challenge myself with that question," wrote Cook, "and I've come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That's what has led me to today." --Lucas Grindley
Laverne Cox: Raising More Voices Than Her Own
You know it's been a banner year when a historic Emmy nomination is among the least exciting mentions on your updated resume.
But that's the kind of year it's been for Laverne Cox, who in July became the first out transgender person nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. And even though Cox's Orange Is The New Black costar Uzo Aduba took home the statuette for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, 2014 will irrefutably go down as the year of Laverne Cox. On Wednesday, Glamour magazine announced it will honor Cox with its Woman of the Year Award, given to those who use their prominence to influence women around the world.
Whether she was gracing national magazine covers from The Advocateto Time to Essence, pointedly educating journalists and talk show hosts about how to respectfully report on trans people, or directing a groundbreaking documentary seen by millions of Americans, Cox has become the most recognizable and well-spoken advocate for transgender people and causes this country has ever seen.
But it isn't just Cox's carefully crafted media prominence (the classically trained actress has been patiently picking up smaller roles for more than a decade) that makes her influential. Neither is it her stunning good looks or uncanny fashion sense.
What makes Cox so monumentally important for LGB and especially T people today is her dedication to using her notoriety to elevate voices that highlight the very real issues facing transgender Americans. Her documentary, which is still airing on Logo and MTV, Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, features Cox primarily as narrator and interviewer, introducing the audience to a diverse group of seven transgender young people who powerfully speak about their own lives, loves, triumphs, and struggles. Cox is also still at work on a feature-length documentary titled Free CeCe, telling the story of CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman in Minnesota who spent 19 months in a men's prison on charges of manslaughter resulting from her efforts to defend herself against an unprovoked, violent, racist, transphobic attack.
When Cox was one of the grand marshals for New York City's Pride celebration this year, she traversed the parade route carrying a photo of Islan Nettles, a transgender woman who was murdered last year in Harlem across the street from a police station. Despite the fact that police had a suspect in custody, more than a year after her death, no arrest has been made in Nettles's murder.
Cox steadfastly refuses to discuss the specifics of her medical transition, setting a powerful precedent that works to interrupt the general media's fascination with what's in transgender people's pants. When confronted with an insensitive or ignorant question, Cox remains remarkably cool-headed, calmly explaining why such queries are inappropriate while reinforcing the fundamental humanity and right to privacy that should be enjoyed by all trans people.
And while Cox demurs from being labeled a role model, preferring the arguably more inspiring term "possibility model," it's no accident that she's using her fame to help give voice to a population that has for too long heard their concerns shouted down by those with more power and privilege.
"If I'm going to have a public platform, I want to use it not just to elevate myself but to elevate issues that are important to me," Cox told The Advocate in our July cover story. "I know a lot of people would rather not have me be the face of this thing ... but what's exciting about what's happening now, culturally, is that there are so many more trans folks coming forward and saying, 'This is who I am, this is my story, I will not be silent anymore, I will not be in hiding anymore,' and that's when a movement really happens, right?" -- Sunnivie Brydum
Michael Sam: Chin Up And Pushing On
While The Advocate has interviewed its fair share of female athletes who were out while competing in their respective sports, or retired players who came out after leaving competition, there has always been that one nagging question: When will there be an openly gay player in one of the major men's sports? In 2013, Jason Collins made history by becoming the first active player in the NBA to come out, so the next question was, When would a gay man get drafted?
A few months later, we were publishing stories about a young guy about to enter the NFL draft named Michael Sam. The SEC co-defensive player of the year was a strong player at Missouri with a character embodying the spirit of a true athlete and leader. His teammates loved and respected him, as did the thousands of Michael Sam fans who rallied around him when he needed them.
This year Sam has endured a relentless media cycle, taunts from ignorant spectators, a league with multiple problems concerning sexuality and gender, and the mantle of becoming a representative of LGBT people at the highest level in American sports. Sam didn't make the roster on any NFL team, and his athletic future may be uncertain, as he hasn't been selected for a new practice squad after being released by the Dallas Cowboys earlier this year. But he knows his journey isn't over.
"I will take the lessons I learned ... and continue to fight for an opportunity to prove that I can play every Sunday," Sam said.
The numerous closeted athletes watching the Sam saga might not feel reassured about how professional sports or the media will handle a high-profile athlete coming out, but they do get a powerful example of strength under that pressure, and perhaps it will inspire whoever inevitably comes next. -- Michelle Garcia
Neil Patrick Harris: Major Star, Model Dad
Whether he's playing iconic roles on the big and small screens or dancing down the Great White Way, Neil Patrick Harris is a star who shines bright in any setting. As an out gay actor, his success is an inspiration for all LGBT people, but the 41-year-old is more than a visible member of our community with a high-profile career. He continues to break down barriers separating LGBTs from the mainstream by living genuinely.
As womanizer Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother, Harris proved mainstream audiences wouldn't simply accept an out gay actor in a straight role, they would make him a superstar. His turn as Stinson catapulted his career to a higher level and eclipsed his years as a successful child actor in Doogie Howser, M.D., more than a decade earlier.
Harris's willingness to share details about his family life with his husband, David Burtka, and their children -- twins Gideon Scott and Harper Grace -- routinely paints a picture that flies in the face of antigay bigots' claims marriage equality is destructive. Instead, his family is a prime example of the everyday happiness and challenges facing same-sex parents and straight parents alike.
He's an actor who has become a household name for all ages thanks to roles in a range of projects from family-friendly fare like the Smurfs feature film franchise and his recent turn as a trans rock star in Broadway's Hedwig and the Angry Inch to his clever new book, Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography, and his upcoming stint as the host of the 87th Academy Awards in 2015.
"Two of the things I hold dear, as tenets, are creativity and authenticity," he told Out magazine, and those principles have served him well. Harris's decision to live life as his most authentic self has cemented his status as an entertainment legend and an LGBT icon. -- Jase Peeples
Ellen Page: Shattering the Closet Door
There's coming out, and then there's really coming out. Ellen Page did the latter, forgoing the Photoshopped People cover and bursting through the closet this year with a ferocity rarely seen.
"I'm here because I'm gay," the Oscar-nominated Juno actress said on Valentine's Day to a gathering of LGBT youth at a Las Vegas Human Rights Campaign conference. "I am tired of hiding, and I'm tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered, and my relationships suffered. And I'm standing here today with all of you on the other side of that pain."
The truth really did set Page free; she instantly embraced her new role as advocate, speaking about her coming out to a variety of media personalities, such as Ellen DeGeneres and the hosts of Good Morning America. She presented the Stephen F. Kolziak GLAAD Media Award to transgender actress Laverne Cox, clearly thrilled with her newfound ability to declare her solidarity with another LGBT hero. GLAAD's pairing of Page with Cox was on-point, as the two women are both members of a very exclusive club: successful, respected celebrities who aren't simply out, they're role models who relish the job.
Page hasn't signed on to activism full-time, though, as her coming-out hasn't diminished her star power -- in fact, it may have burnished it, thanks to an increased visibility and more resonant voice. After starring in much-loved girl-power movies like Hard Candy, Whip It, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, Page is currently filming the apocalyptic drama Into the Forest with fellow out actress Evan Rachel Wood. Her longtime passion project,Freeheld, is also getting off the ground. The movie tells the story of Laurel Hester (played by Julianne Moore), a dying woman fighting for her pension benefits to be transferred to her partner (Page).
The 27-year-old is also producing the movie, a project that has the potential to alter mainstream perception of LGBT issues in a monumental way (it's written by Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, after all). During her big speech in Las Vegas, Page had said, "Maybe I can help others to have an easier time."
Something tells us her coming-out was just the first page in a story that's bound to make an easier and easier time for those who follow. -- Neal Broverman
United Church of Christ: The Religious Case for Marriage Equality
Representatives from this faith and several others joined forces to bring down North Carolina's marriage ban under a religious freedom argument, blazing a new path toward the freedom to marry. That means marriage equality came to North Carolina via an unexpected route: the clergy.
The United Church of Christ filed its federal lawsuit in April of this year, claiming that the state's marriage ban violated the church's First Amendment right to religious freedom.
Because the state allowed clergy to bless heterosexual unions but punished those who performed same-sex marriages with fines, the interfaith group argued it was an unconstitutional infringement on their religious liberty. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. sided with the plaintiffs and allowed marriage to start immediately.
It was a novel approach to a federal marriage-ban challenge. Previously, most lawsuits had attacked antigay laws on 14th Amendment claims based on constitutional promises of Equal Protection and Due Process. A few suits also argued that bans constitute impermissible gender-based discrimination. There had never before been a First Amendment challenge to a marriage ban from a religious organization.
Explaining the faith-based argument for equality, the Rev. Nanny Ellett Allison -- one of the clergymembers involved in the UCC lawsuit and the pastor at Charlotte's Holy Covenant UCC -- noted that the generally progressive denomination welcomes all members to be baptized and receive communion.
"So, too, should the rite of marriage be available to all adults who are able to forge a committed relationship of love and honor," wrote Allison in an article at Creative Loafing Charlotte. "Through the years I have witnessed the strength and stability of thriving same-gender relationships. These couples and families value their commitments and should be granted the same legal and cultural status marriage carries for opposite-gender couples."
"It seems so intuitive that since our federal and state governments trust our discretion as clergy to officiate at weddings, they should also trust us to determine which couples are worthy of marriage in our communities," continued Allison, writing on behalf of fellow plaintiff Rabbi Johnathan Freirich, "All of the mainstream movements to which Rabbi Jonathan belongs, including reform and reconstructionist Jewish communities, advocate LGBT inclusion and officiating at same-gender weddings -- this perspective is not a minority view."
Crucially, Cogburn didn't rule on the religious freedom argument -- only on Due Process and Equal Protection. The UCC's First Amendment claims remain untested. But with marriage bans still in effect in roughly two dozen states, the groundbreaking North Carolina lawsuit could provide a useful new argument for overturning the remaining bans. Lawyers in states like Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee and Puerto Rico could adopt the same argument -- provided, of course, that they can find willing plaintiffs in those states. But that might not be difficult, given the UCC's enthusiastic embrace of equality.
The UCC was the first mainline Protestant group to ordain an openly gay minister, all the way back in 1972. It has supported marriage equality since July 4, 2005, when the General Synod voted to adopt a pro-equality resolution. "Children of families headed by same-gender couples should receive all legal rights and protections," the Church wrote at the time, adding, "the Twenty-fifth General Synod of the United Church of Christ affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage."
No matter if this argument one day makes its way to the Supreme Court, the UCC message is that social conservatives do not have a monopoly on God, and the law should respect our differences in religion. -- Matt Baume
Robin Roberts: Unparalleled Visibility Helps So Many
It's not just LGBT visibility that needs to expand -- it's people of color's too. A recent survey over the summer showed that three-quarters of white Americans don't have a black friend. For some of us in cities and large towns, that might seem ridiculous, but while it may be silly to say a TV personality can be like a friend to some, there's no doubt that the very humane visibility that Robin Roberts shares as both a lesbian and a black woman is unparalleled.
Roberts, who was named the most liked personality in morning news this year, is one of the most influential LGBT Americans in the media as well as one of the most influential women of color. She's a cheerful yet authoritative voice in the malaise of morning news shows, and her cachet has only increased after she came out last year through Facebook.
Roberts's face is beamed into homes across the country, as her show, Good Morning America, continues to dominate the highly coveted ratings in morning news. As Ellen DeGeneres has had an influence just by being so visible to viewers of her highly successful daytime talk show, so has Robin Roberts. While it's only a tiny step, Roberts has given straight white American viewers who don't have too many friends or family who don't look like them a friendly and smart person to relate to, even if it's just through a TV screen. -- Michelle Garcia
Jill Soloway: Her Groundbreaking Transgender Story
In 2013 the streaming service Netflix changed the face of entertainment with its release of Orange Is the New Black, a prison dramedy that familiarized a worldwide audience with one the most diverse casts of characters never seen on network television, including transgender actress Laverne Cox, who gave an Emmy-nominated performance in a supporting role. In its bid to become the lead contender in streaming content, Amazon released its own groundbreaking series this year, Transparent, created by Jill Soloway, which placed the story of a transgender woman's self-discovery front and center.
Since its release, Transparent has become a source of celebration and controversy for the LGBT audience. Garnering critical acclaim and a prominent platform, the series introduced viewers from all walks of life to the beautiful, complex character of Maura, the head of a Los Angeles family who comes out to her loved ones as a transgender woman. The premise is drawn from the experiences of Soloway, whose own father came out as transgender late in life. However, many transgender people questioned the authority of Soloway, a cisgender woman, to tell this story, and criticized the casting of Jeffrey Tambor, a cisgender actor, as its lead. In the year described by Time magazine as the "transgender tipping point," it was Soloway's series that launched a thousand op-eds on media portrayals and the politics of Hollywood, which historically has not hired LGBT actors or writers to provide authenticity to their stories. Responding to the backlash, Soloway vowed to hire a transgender woman writer to give more heart and soul to her lead, and even went so far as to say that she would train a candidate in TV writing when one could not be found.
In succeeding to realize her series, Soloway became a contender as one of the year's most influential people for the LGBT community. But her position in this list was solidified by the dialogue sparked by Transparent as well as her commitment to bring diversity to every level of production, which is still sadly lacking in most of Tinseltown. Moreover, Soloway, a former writer for HBO's Six Feet Under, showcases queerness in ways that have never before been portrayed on television. Nearly all of her main characters experience shifts in sexuality and gender identity throughout the first season, a quietly revolutionary worldview that is often overshadowed in debates over Maura. Ultimately, we love Soloway and Transparent for keeping viewers curious -- and bi-curious -- for more. -- Daniel Reynolds
Anna Paquin: Bringing True Bisexual Visibility
With many people -- even some LGBT ones -- continuing to deem bisexuality "a phase" or assuming bisexuals can't be monogamous, the talented actress Anna Paquin stands out (and proud) as a booster of bisexual visibility.
The True Blood and X-Men star came out as bisexual in 2010, and she's been demolishing wrongheaded assumptions about bi folks ever since. In a July interview on Larry King Now,she set the host straight, so to speak, when he asked if she's "a nonpracticing bisexual."
"I don't think it's a past tense thing," said Paquin, who also noted that she is happily and monogamously married to fellow True Blood actor Stephen Moyer; they are parents of twins. "Are you still straight if you are with somebody? ... If you were to break up with them or if they were to die, it doesn't prevent your sexuality from existing. It doesn't really work like that."
In June, for LGBT Pride Month, Paquin observed the occasion by tweeting, "Proud to be a happily married bisexual mother. Marriage is about love not gender." A few weeks later, in an interview for Huffington Post Live, she explained why she's so outspoken on the topic. "The reason that I feel like it's important to talk about this is stuff is that the more normal and mundane and boring this stuff becomes, the better it's going to be for everyone who is part of our community," she said.
Paquin fans may be going through a bit of withdrawal right now; True Blood ended its seven-season run on HBO this year, and in this summer's X-Men: Days of Future Past, most of the footage involving Paquin's character, Rogue, ended up on the cutting room floor. But the actress, who won an Oscar at age 11 for her turn in The Piano, likely won't be out of the spotlight long. CASM, Paquin and Moyer's production company, is developing feature films including Pink Hotel, based on the novel by Anna Stothard, with Paquin adapting and directing, and Bury This, based on the novel by Andrea Portes and starring Paquin. CASM has also signed a contract with HBO giving the network first look at any series and films it creates. So expect continued Paquin visibility, in art and life alike. -- Trudy Ring