9. Melissa Etheridge — Musician
When Melissa Etheridge came out in 1993 at one of President Clinton’s inaugural balls, she was taking a career risk that paid off in spades. A few months later, she won a Grammy Award for her song "Ain’t It Heavy" from Never Enough, and her next album, Yes I Am, sold over 25 million copies. She proved, once and for all, that a mainstream recording artist could continue to be successful after coming out of the closet.
And Etheridge has taken that fact to heart. Since she came out, she has been a consistent supporter of gay rights (especially the rights of gay parents) while maintaining a mainstream image. She and her partner Tammy Lynn Michaels allowed their wedding to be televised on ABC’s In Style Celebrity Weddings, and in 2004, when she weathered a battle with breast cancer, she received unprecedented support from her fans and the mainstream media. This past Sunday, Etheridge won an Academy Award for her song "I Need to Wake Up" that she wrote for Vice President Al Gore’s documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth.
Though she hasn’t released a new full-length album since Lucky in 2004, Etheridge still makes a difference through her openness about her life, from her frankness about her battle with cancer to thanking her wife while accepting her Oscar. "Career is such a small part of what we are right now," she told US Weekly last fall after Michaels gave birth to their two twins. "Her career is different from mine. I went from selling less than a million copies ’til I came out then I sold six million â€” [being gay] actually amplified my career."