Back when AfterEllen.com was founded in 2002, our slogan was “Because Visibility Matters.” Indeed, the idea that lesbian and bisexual women need to be visible, both to ourselves and to the wider culture, is one of the principle reasons AfterEllen.com (as well as our sibling site, AfterElton.com) exists at all. Only by being visible to family, friends and the world do we overcome the stereotypes and bigotry used to justify discrimination against the GLBT community.
In the realm of popular culture, the importance of including complex lesbian and bisexual characters in films and television shows as a means of promoting lesbian visibility cannot be overstated. The passion fans feel about LGBT storylines on shows like Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, Skins, Coronation Street and films like Black Swan and The Kids Are All Right speaks volumes about our investment in how we’re represented, and how much it matters to see see images of ourselves reflected back to us in pop culture. And if the stories of lesbian and bi characters in film and television are so important to us, then how crucial must the presence of actual out public figures be?
In the years since 1997, when comic/actress Ellen DeGeneres came out in both her real life and on her scripted television show, the number of celebrities who’ve joined the “out” club has grown remarkably. AfterEllen.com founder Sarah Warn once wrote, “In the early days of AfterEllen.com, I couldn’t find any established actors willing to talk about being gay, even when everyone knew they were.” Luckily, a lot has changed since then. In fact, just last year compiled a list of the women who came out over the course of the last decade and we’re pleased to find it so long.
That lengthy (and growing!) list and what it means to lesbian and bi women everywhere is the inspiration behind this poll. We asked you to tell us who your favorite openly lesbian/bi women and you responded with a rich sampling of familiar names from pop culture, women who you’ve come to admire because of their accomplishments as professional athletes, authors, actors, comics and musicians. While the list is not very racially diverse (highlighting an ongoing problem: limited GLBT visibility in minority communities), it contains women who have been out for decades as well as those who have only recently decided to be open about their sexuality.
While you may be on a first name basis with some of the women on this list, you may not have heard of others. For your reference, we’ll provided just a little background on all of them, and have just a bit more to say about your Top 10.
For a list of the top out men there are now check out the results at our sibling site, AfterElton.com. And If you don’t see the names of some of your favorite out women below this time, be sure to come back and vote for them again in May when we launch our annual Hot 100 poll!
Now let’s check out the results, starting at number 50 and working our way to number 1!
50. Sheryl Swoopes
Born March 25, 1971, the Olympic gold medalist and one of women’s basketball’s biggest stars became the second openly gay player in the WNBA when she came out in 2005.
Born June 9, 1956, Cornwell is an international best-selling author whose books have been translated into 36 languages across more than 50 countries. In the planned film adaptation of her popular crime novel series, Angelina Jolie is set to play Cornwell’s heroine, Kay Scarpetta.