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Trailblazing Transgender Celebrities

Thanks to high-profile transitions such as Caitlyn Jenner’s, the world has become more aware of the experiences of those who identify as transgender — but there’s still a long way to go. Violence against trans people stills runs rampant throughout the U.S., and according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a staggering 41 percent of trans folks in the U.S. will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Hopefully, then, these boundary-breaking celebrities will help make the path to happiness smoother for those who follow in their footsteps.

Candis Cayne

In 2007 Candis Cayne became a pioneer. As Carmelita on the ABC show Dirty Sexy Money, she became the first trans actress to play a trans character in a recurring role on primetime TV. More recently, Cayne’s been seen on Caitlyn Jenner’s E! reality show I Am Cait and in Grey’s Anatomy. In 2015 she also became a global creative director of the LGBT social networking app MOOVZ.

Isis King

Model and designer Isis King has described herself as “born in the wrong body” rather than “transgender.” That same phrase is also the title of the 2007 MSNBC documentary that helped moved her towards the mainstream. And King has been breaking boundaries ever since. She’s become the first trans woman contestant on America’s Next Top Model — a move that both kickstarted her career and made trans people more visible on national TV.

Jazz Jennings

Although Jazz Jennings was assigned male at birth, she was adamant that she was a girl from a very young age. Now, she’s grown up to be one of the youngest but most influential transgender activists in the world. Jennings even clinched her own reality show, I Am Jazz, on TLC in 2015.

Fallon Fox

Fallon Fox is the first transgender MMA fighter in history — an achievement that unfortunately has seen her draw transphobic flack from some people. Fellow MMA star Matt Mitrione called her a “disgusting freak” in 2013. Countless other people in and out of the sport have also weighed in on her muscle strength and other personal parts of her identity. But Fox has continued to kick butt and take names like a pro, with a near-flawless fight record under her belt and to her credit.

Caroline Cossey

Caroline Cossey had a successful modeling career before being cruelly outed as trans by the British tabloid the News of the World. She even appeared in the 1981 James Bond flick For Your Eyes Only. But Cossey has since had the last laugh. Now, she’s considered a trans pioneer, while the newspaper was shut down in 2011 amid allegations of illegal activity. Karma in action, perhaps?

Lana Wachowski

As one-half of the Wachowskis, Lana Wachowski co-directed the Matrix movies before she came out as transgender in 2012. In October of that year, she also picked up a Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award. Wachowski used her acceptance speech to talk about the importance of transgender role models, and she can now claim to be one herself for aspiring trans filmmakers.

Lilly Wachowski

Four years after Lana Wachowski came out as trans, her sibling and fellow movie director Lilly Wachowski did, too. Unfortunately, she was more or less forced to do it after the British newspaper the Daily Mail threatened to out her. But Lilly, to her credit, made lemonade out of those lemons. She used her confirmation of her gender transition as a platform to speak out against transphobia to the entire world.

Andreja Pejić

At first, the impossibly beautiful Andreja Pejić presented herself as an androgynous male model. In 2014, however, she came out as transgender, and the magazine shoots and catwalk jobs have continued to come in droves. She’s been admirably encouraging and supportive of her trans and gender-nonconforming fans, too, writing to them on Facebook, “It’s your right to be accepted as what you identify with.”

Janet Mock

After journalist Janet Mock came out as transgender in 2011, she soon became a dedicated advocate for the trans community. And in the past few years, Mock has definitely put in the work to raise awareness of trans issues and provide support to trans people through her media appearances and Twitter campaigns. Her 2014 memoir Redefining Realness was a New York Times bestseller, and her work on the TV show Pose further cemented Mock as a vital voice for the trans community.

Chaz Bono

Chaz Bono — the only child of Sonny Bono and Cher — announced that he was a transgender man in 1995 and legally changed his gender 15 years later. His famous mother allegedly struggled to accept his transition at first, but happily, the pair seem to be close again. And in 2011 Bono made headlines in his own right for his turn on Dancing with the Stars. There, he appeared as the first trans man on a ratings-winning TV show where the focus wasn’t on his gender identity or transition.

Carmen Carrera

Though Carmen Carrera presented as male when she appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race, it wasn’t long after the season finished that she revealed that she was in fact a transgender woman. Now, she’s one of the best-known trans models in America. In 2013 fans even started a campaign to make her the first transgender Victoria’s Secret Angel.

Jenna Talackova

In 2012 Canadian model Jenna Talackova was disqualified from Miss Universe for being transgender. But she fought against that decision, won, and became an instant international role model for transgender women as a result. After her legal victory, Talackova told the Toronto Star, “Now I think people are seeing, through media and other transgender women in media, that we are normal girls and we live normal lives.” She’s since gone on to film her own reality show, Brave New Girls, which was aired in Canada in 2014.

Thomas Beatie

In 2007 Thomas Beatie became quite the media cause célèbre. He was dubbed by some as “The Pregnant Man,” as although he is a trans man, he was still carrying a child. And although his first pregnancy sadly didn’t work out, he eventually gave birth to three bouncing babies. Now, he speaks out on LBGTQ+ and trans fertility issues all over the world as a public lecturer.

Hari Nef

“I want to be the first trans woman to win an Academy Award,” Hari Nef told i-D magazine in 2014. And while she hasn’t achieved that goal quite yet, she’s still done a heck of a lot while only in her early twenties. Nef has walked runways, written a sex advice column, appeared in a music video for Brooklyn indie band The Drums, and, in 2015, landed her most high-profile screen role to date in the Amazon series Transparent.

Kye Allums

Kye Allums made history in 2010 as the first out trans athlete in NCAA Division I sports. Yep, he drew a lot of attention playing guard for George Washington University’s women’s basketball team. Then, after Allums’ graduation a year later, he became an advocate for trans people and LGBTQ+ youth in general. He may know some of the problems they struggle with, too. In 2014 Allums courageously admitted to The Huffington Post that he had attempted suicide when younger — partly because of someone “who didn’t value [him] as a person.”

Jamie Clayton

In recent years, Jamie Clayton has been a co-host for the VH1 show TRANSform Me, played Michelle Darnell in the web show Dirty Work, and starred as Nomi in the Netflix show Sense8. Phew! Her star has been rising, and she’s helped trans women find even more of a foothold in the media. In 2010 one of her former partners even told the New York Observer that Clayton had “definitely made the world safer for transgender women.” Now that’s an achievement.

Tracey “Africa” Norman

Tracey “Africa” Norman’s modeling career went from strength to strength in the 1970s. At one point, she even landed a gig appearing on the boxes of Clairol home dyes. When her trans identity was revealed in 1980, though, that glittering time in the spotlight swiftly ended. But at least there’s a silver lining to Norman’s story. Today, she is thought of as a trailblazer, with both Janet Mock and Laverne Cox among her avid fans. “I made history,” Norman proudly told New York magazine in 2015.

Ian Harvie

Ian Harvie (far left) is one of the most visible transgender men in America, cracking audiences up across the country with his stand-up sets and making even more of a name for his role as Dale in Transparent. But in contrast to Harvie’s comedy roots, he’s very serious about trans rights. “I believe with increased visibility and deeply good representation, people will see other people who are gender nonconforming… and have more understanding,” he explained to AfterEllen in 2014.

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox became one of the most famous trans people in the world after playing Sophia Burset in Orange Is the New Black. It’s a role for which she earned a Primetime Emmy Awards nomination in 2014, making her the first ever trans person to receive that honor in an acting category. Not only that, but later that year she became a pioneer yet again by being the first openly trans cover star of Time. Next stop: world domination? We wouldn’t put it past her…

Elliot Page

After becoming a household name in Juno, Inception, and The Umbrella Academy, Elliot Page announced to the world that he was trans — and that his character on The Umbrella Academy would also transition, a huge step for trans representation in the media. Page has also dedicated himself to helping others find their truth: "To all the trans people who deal with harassment, self-loathing, abuse, and the threat of violence every day: I see you, I love you, and I will do everything I can to change this world for the better."

Michaela Jaé Rodriguez

Although the cast of Ryan Murphy's groundbreaking Pose was filled with talented trans actors, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez was the true heart and soul of the show. Her character's journey from a struggling teen to a fulfilled, admired leader and mother was astonishing to watch, and it earned her a Golden Globe award — the first one ever given to a trans performer.

Alexandra Billings

Chances are, the name 'Alexandra Billings' rings a bell. That's because the actress has had a prolific acting career, appearing in many TV shows over the last 30 years. She's played trans characters in ER and Grey's Anatomy, and she has the distinction of being the first openly-trans actor to play a trans character on TV in 2005's Romy and Michele: In The Beginning. It's her role in Transparent that really brought Billings into the spotlight, though.

Hunter Schafer

What makes Hunter Schafer's character in the show Euphoria so special is her self-assuredness. Her character, Jules, is content with her gender identity, and so her storylines revolve around more typical teenage issues. "There need to be more roles where trans people aren't just dealing with being trans," she told Variety. Her activism for trans youth even earned her a spot on Teen Vogue's "21 under 21" list in 2017.

Caitlyn Jenner

Whatever your take on Caitlyn Jenner, there’s no denying that she’s done a tremendous amount for trans visibility. After publicly coming out in 2015, she instantly began speaking about transgender issues and caused something of a shift in the way transitioning was perceived in the media and in the wider world. And, admirably, she continued to use her considerable fame to tell her own transitioning story through her E! series I Am Cait. But these transgender babes aren't the only ones breaking down boundaries...

Jodie Foster and Alexandra Hedison

Speculation about Jodie Foster’s sexuality had been mounting for years until it was revealed in 2014 that she’d walked down the aisle with a woman. Alexandra Hedison — the lady in question — had also pursued a career in acting before switching her focus to the world of photography. The private pair have proven that it’s possible to maintain a high-profile LBGTQ+ relationship without the prying eyes of the paparazzi and social media.

Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird

Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird can perhaps claim to be the ultimate gay power couple in the sporting world. The former helped the United States to lift the Women’s World Cup in 2019, while the latter has been a fixture of the Women’s National Basketball Association since the early ’00s. Oh, and they also have an impressive shared collection of five Olympic golds.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Justin Mikita

Jesse Tyler Ferguson — a.k.a. Mitchell in Modern Family — and actor-turned-lawyer Justin Mikita became husbands in 2013 at a ceremony in Manhattan. And both had faced challenging obstacles to get to that point. The former initially struggled to be accepted as a gay man by his father, while the latter had dealt with cancer as he entered his teens.

Kate McKinnon and Jackie Abbott

Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon and her actress girlfriend Jackie Abbott first said the L word to each other while attending one of the most fabulous LGBTQ events you could imagine. The touching declaration was shared at a drag race show presented by the one and only RuPaul. McKinnon has fast become one of the hottest funny women in Hollywood, though she and Abbott prefer to keep their relationship private.

Tom Ford and Richard Buckley

It’s unlikely that any other LGBTQ couple is as stylish as these two. Richard Buckley is a fashion journalist whose resume includes an editor-in-chief stint at Vogue Hommes International. Tom Ford, for his part, served as creative director for both Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci before branching out into film directing. Heartwarmingly, the pair have been together pretty much from the moment they met in an elevator way back in 1986.

Chely Wright and Lauren Blitzer

Chely Wright helped pave the way for LGBTQ country music acts in 2010 after revealing that she was gay. A year later she got hitched to another strong advocate for the community: author Lauren Blitzer. Wright then reflected on her coming out story in a documentary shortly before she and her wife became parents to identical twins.

RuPaul and Georges LeBar

RuPaul and Georges LeBar prove that sometimes opposites really do attract. The former is, of course, widely regarded as the ultimate drag queen who spends much of his career in the bright lights of New York City. His husband, however, prefers a quieter life on his ranch in Wyoming. Yet the pair have remained solid ever since they met at a Big Apple nightclub in the mid-’90s.

Melissa Etheridge and Linda Wallem

Melissa Etheridge discovered in the mid-2010s that her one true love had been staring her in the face the whole time. Yes, after turning to her longtime BFF Linda Wallem during a difficult period, the singer-songwriter realized that her feelings for the Nurse Jackie actress were more than platonic. Thankfully, Wallem also felt this way and in 2014 the friends officially became wives.

Ryan Murphy and David Miller

Ryan Murphy has become a one-man TV empire with the likes of Glee, American Horror Story, and Pose. And he’s been supported all the way by David Miller — his professional photographer husband. The pair got hitched in 2012 and later that same year they became fathers to son Logan Phineas. They have since added to their family unit with another boy, Ford, who thankfully overcame cancer after being diagnosed with it at the age of just two.

Cheyenne Jackson and Jason Landau

Cheyenne Jackson is best known for his various roles in the American Horror Story anthology, and he has been with businessman Jason Landau since 2013. The pair walked down the aisle together a year later and have since become parents to twins Ethan and Willow. Despite admitting he’s constantly tired, Jackson revealed to People magazine in 2017 that domestic life has been “really amazing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Robin Roberts and Amber Laign

Good Morning America host Robin Roberts caused quite the stir when she publicly came out in late 2013. By this point, she’d already been in a relationship with her massage therapist other half, Amber Laign, for eight years. And Roberts received support from none other than Michelle Obama, who tweeted, “I am so happy for you and [Laign]! You continue to make us all proud.”

Ricky Martin and Jwan Yosef

Ricky Martin shot to worldwide fame singing about living the crazy life, but it’s domestic bliss that he’s enjoying these days. In 2018 the Latin pop sensation revealed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that he’d got hitched to artist Jwan Yosef. The pair have since become parents to daughter Lucia and son Renn — with Martin’s two children born via surrogacy in the late 2000s completing their family unit.

Matt Dallas and Blue Hamilton

Matt Dallas launched to fame via superhero teen drama Kyle XY, and he has been in a long-term relationship since his late 20s. The actor began stepping out with the singer-songwriter Blue Hamilton in 2010 and five years later the pair said “I do” to each other. Shortly after, the happy couple revealed that they’d become fathers to an adopted son.

Matt Bomer and Simon Halls

Best known for his roles in White Collar and Magic Mike, Matt Bomer tied the knot with publicist Simon Halls in 2011. Yet their wedding wasn’t exactly a high-profile affair. In fact, they only made their nuptials public three years later. Bomer went on to tell Out magazine, “It was very chill and very small – just our closest and dear ones.”

Denis O’Hare and Hugo Redwood

American Horror Story actor Denis O’Hare is in a fully committed set-up with fellow performer Hugo Redwood – having married the fellow performer back in the summer of 2011. The couple has an adopted son called Declan, too.

Jim Parsons and Todd Spiewak

Jim Parsons – aka The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper – has been together with art director husband Todd Spiewak since the early ‘00s. While accepting an Inspiration Award given to him by an LGBT advocacy organization in 2013, he said, “I’ve never considered my relationship with Todd to be an act of activism. Rather simply, it’s an act of love, coffee in the morning, going to work, washing the clothes, taking the dogs [out], a regular life, boring love.”

Jonathan Bennett and Jaymes Vaughan

Jonathan Bennett found fame playing the boyfriend of Regina George in the classic teen comedy Mean Girls. In real life, his partner is a man who’s also no stranger to the showbiz world. Jaymes Vaughan hosts the entertainment news program Celebrity Page and first caught attention as a contestant on the long-running reality show Amazing Race.

Robbie Rogers and Greg Berlanti

Robbie Rogers made headlines in 2013 when he became one of the first professional soccer players to come out. Later that same year he entered into a relationship with Greg Berlanti – the screenwriting powerhouse whose work includes Riverdale and Love, Simon. The pair became parents via surrogacy to two children and in 2017 walked down the aisle together.

Tuc Watkins and Andrew Rannells

Tuc Watkins and Andrew Rannells certainly aren’t afraid to mix business with pleasure. The pair played lovers in Broadway show Boys in the Band and by the time they reprised their roles for a Netflix adaptation the actors were romantically involved in real life, too. Meanwhile, Rannells and Watkins appeared to make things official when they uploaded several affectionate shots to Instagram in 2019.

Tan and Rob France

Like several of his co-stars on Netflix phenomenon Queer Eye, Briton Tan France is in a committed relationship. The fashion expert began dating his illustrator husband Rob almost a decade before finding fame on the reboot of the lifestyle show. In 2020 the pair were pictured with beaming faces after France officially became a U.S. citizen.

Sean Hayes and Scott Icenogle

Sean Hayes has Ellen DeGeneres to thank for meeting the love of his life. The Will and Grace star was introduced to his future husband when he appeared on the comedienne’s daytime hit show in 2006. Scott Icenogle was working as a DJ on the show at the time and after eight years together the couple said “I do.”

Jane Lynch and Jennifer Cheyne

It proved to be second time lucky for Jane Lynch and Jennifer Cheyne. The pair first dated back at the turn of the century but after breaking up the Glee actress went on to marry the psychologist Lara Embry. However, following her divorce, the star reconnected with Cheyne and the rest is history. In 2019 Lynch told Parade, “We’re very different people now. We don’t have the same insecurities we used to have. We live very peacefully.”

Brad Altman and George Takei

Star Trek hero George Takei out as gay in 2005 and revealed his sexuality after Arnold Schwarzenegger — then Governor of California — banned a same-sex marriage bill. The actor also shared that he’d been together with Brad Altman for nearly two decades. Three years later, then, they became the premier same-sex pairing in West Hollywood to request a marriage license.

Lauren Morelli and Samira Wiley

In 2016 Orange Is the New Black’s Samira Wiley declared her engagement to Lauren Morelli – a writer on the series. Funnily enough, though, it was the same year that her character Poussey Washington was written out of the show. Morelli had previously been married to a man but filed for divorce after falling in love with Wiley.

Wanda and Alex Sykes

Comedienne Wanda Sykes was married to a record producer called Dave Hall before realizing that she was gay. Then, at a Las Vegas rally against Proposition 8 in 2008, she both came out and revealed that she had wed Alex Niedbalski a month previously. The pair now have two children and continue to advocate and raise money for LGBTQ causes.

Gary Janetti and Brad Goreski

Gary Janetti and Brad Goreski are arguably one of the most stylish LGBTQ power couples around. The latter, of course, is the outspoken co-host of E!’s Fashion Police, while Janetti is a writer for Will & Grace and Family Guy. The snazzy duo got engaged in 2014 – 13 years after they first started dating.

Jeremiah Brent and Nate Berkus

When it comes to style in the home, these two can’t be beaten. The host of The Nate Berkus Show and fellow interior stylist Jeremiah Brent began dating in 2012. Then two years later they got married in Manhattan — adding daughter Poppy to their family in 2015.

Cynthia Nixon and Christine Marinoni

Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon made headlines in 2004 when she revealed that she was dating Christine Marinoni. The actress – who has two kids from a heterosexual relationship – later wed the education activist. Nixon then became a vocal advocate of same-sex marriage in her wife’s home state of Washington. And the pair now also have a son, who was born to Marinoni in 2011.

Catherine Shepherd and Brandi Carlile

Marriage equality activist and country music singer Brandi Carlile publicly came out in 2002. Ten years later she then walked down the aisle with Catherine Shepherd in Boston, Massachusetts. The couple subsequently had a daughter called Evangeline Ruth in 2014.

Grant Shaffer and Alan Cumming

Scotsman Alan Cumming rose to fame in the ‘90s thanks to minor but memorable parts in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and the James Bond flick Goldeneye. Meanwhile, in 2007 he married Grant Shaffer — a graphic artist who worked on the storyboards for Beyoncé’s iconic “Single Ladies” promo video.

David Hyde Pierce and Brian Hargrove

One of the most enduring couples on the list, Frasier star David Hyde Pierce and screenwriter Bryan Hargrove began dating way back in the 1980s. And the pair wed in California in 2008 shortly before the law banning same-sex marriages in the state was adopted. Pierce later conveyed his anger over Proposition 8 while guesting on The View.

Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro

After meeting during the filming of the 2013 indie comedy In a World…, comedienne Tig Notaro and actress Stephanie Allynne became one of the coolest LGBTQ couples on the block. They married in 2015 and now have twin boys Max and Finn – conceived through a surrogate utilizing Allynne’s eggs.

Tom Daley and Dustin Lance Black

Team GB diver Tom Daley announced that he was in a relationship with Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black in the most modern of ways — via YouTube — in 2013. The tabloid-friendly pair have an age difference of 20 years, and they formally declared their engagement in the British newspaper The Times two years later.

Sarah Paulson and Holland Taylor

American Horror Story actress Sarah Paulson and Two and a Half Men star Holland Taylor have been together since 2015. Interestingly, Paulson — who was previously set to wed male writer Tracy Letts — is 32 years younger than Taylor. The Emmy-winning People v. O. J. Simpson star has even admitted herself that she sometimes finds the gap shocking.

Lance Bass and Michael Turchin

Former *NSYNC star Lance Bass and painter Michael Turchin achieved a significant first in 2014 when they became the first gay couple to marry on American cable television. Staged at the Los Angeles Park Plaza Hotel, the ceremony was recorded for E! special Lance Loves Michael: The Lance Bass Wedding.

Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi

Despite being the most high-profile lesbian power couple ever, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi wed in front of only 19 guests. DeGeneres revealed her plans to marry her long-term actress girlfriend during an episode of her eponymous talk show. That admission came following California’s Supreme Court’s reversal on the same-sex marriage ban.

David Burtka and Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka may have arguably had the most star-studded LGBTQ wedding to date. The How I Met Your Mother actors were wed by the sitcom’s director Pamela Fryman, while Elton John served as the reception performer. Meanwhile, the 2014 ceremony actually took place eight years after the pair got engaged.

Sir Elton John and David Furnish

Elton John wed in 2014, although given his rather extravagant reputation, the much more intimate affair may have come as a surprise. The legendary singer-songwriter married David Furnish nine years after their civil partnership. The latter explained to The Las Vegas Review-Journal, “We feel it’s really important to take that step and take advantage of that amazing change in legislation.”

Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner

Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner have enjoyed a long-running relationship — both romantically and professionally. The actress and writer have worked together on the likes of the comedy album And That’s The Truth and the documentary An Apology to Elephants. They got married in 2013 — a whopping 42 years after they first got together!

Fiona Shaw and Sonali Deraniyagala

"I'm married to a very unusual person, but maybe it took a very unusual person to be willing to marry me." actress Fiona Shaw said of her wife, Dr. Sonali Deraniyagala, a Sri Lankan memoirist. The two first met after Shaw read Deraniyagala's heartbreaking memoir, Wave, about how she lost her children, husband, and parents in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Close friends of the couple claim they fell in love instantly. They've been married since 2018 and, by all accounts, seem to be happy and thriving in London.