Visibility Matters: Women Who Came Out in the ’00s

 
 

Visibility Matters is a monthly-ish column by AfterEllen.com Founder Sarah Warn about larger trends affecting lesbian/bi women in entertainment and the media.

Because the AfterEllen.com writers and staff have done such a great job wrapping up the year with the Visibility Awards, the Naughty or Nice list, and the Year in Review articles, I thought I’d do something a little different for this edition of my column and present the high-profile women in entertainment who publicly came out in the last decade — and use photos, instead of words.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, consider this a 50,000-word essay on how visibility of queer women in entertainment is improving (at least in real life — fictional lesbian/bi visibility is a different and much more depressing story).

As you browse the photos (listed in chronological order by year), you’ll notice a few themes: Most of the women are white, most are over 30, and the number of high-profile women coming out each year increased dramatically towards the end of the decade.

While the lack of diversity is disappointing if not unsurprising given how much more difficult it is for women of color to succeed in entertainment in general (even without adding the burden of coming out), the overall growth in the number of women publicly acknowledging their lesbian or bisexual orientation through words or deeds is definitely encouraging.

A FEW CAVEATS

Compiling a timeline like this is trickier than you might think. "High-profile” is a subjective determination; what defines “coming out" these days has changed to included non-verbal ways that are more open to interpretation; and it’s debatable whether to include women who’ve made off-hand statements indicating they’re bisexual, but have never dated women and appear to have no interest in doing so. Ultimately, I just used my best judgment, knowing you all would not be shy about offering your own suggestions in the comments.

The list does not include the growing number of women who’ve been publicly out since the beginning of their career, like Rachel Maddow, Jasika Nicole, Tegan and Sara, and Australia’s Ruby Rose. There are so many women now achieving success in their respective entertainment fields who have been out all along that I’d need to create a separate list just for them (a great problem to have, but outside the scope of this particular timeline).

You probably won’t recognize everyone on the timeline, because some of these women are high-profile in other countries, or in fields you may not be as familiar with (e.g. sports, modeling, etc.); if you’re not familiar with someone on the list, click on the her name or photo to read more about her. I tried to use photos of the women taken around the time they came out, although that wasn’t possible in every case.

Now sit back and enjoy this visual tour of many (not all) of the most visible women in entertainment who came out in the last decade!

2000

Angelina Jolie

Saffron Burrows (England)

Lily Tomlin

2001

Tammy Lynn Michaels

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