2021 has been another rollercoaster year for LGBTQ+ people around the world, and in this article, we will highlight the role models and activists who have made headlines, generated conversations and ultimately made a difference for the LGBT+ community.
Some of the low points of 2021 have been Hungary’s “dangerous” anti-LGBT law which bans the depiction or promotion of homosexuality and gender change among under-18s. Poland declaring it had “LGBT-free zones” across the country. The murder of 24-year-old Spanish nurse Samuel Luiz which sparked protests across Spain in July. In the US alone 47 trans Americans - the majority being Black - have been killed so far this year. And in Britain this year, the BBC published an article entitled 'We're being pressured into sex by some trans women' that was widely seen as transphobic and biased.
But with the sad news comes some positivity. Thanks to the brave stories, inspirational words and groundbreaking actions of several LGBT+ celebrities, activists and politicians, a step forward after being pushed back is being fought. Here are eight influential LGBTQ+ people in 2021 who have made an impact around the world in one way or another through entertainment, politics, literature or simply everyday life.
One story to spark conversation amongst the sports world was the coming out of Josh Cavallo in October. The Australian professional footballer became the only openly gay male footballer currently playing top-flight professional football.
Football has long been associated with homophobia amongst players and fans. Footballers who have come out after retiring - including Robbie Rogers and Thomas Beattie - had spoken of their fear of doing so when they were playing.
Cavallo joins a small but slowly growing list of openly gay male footballers, both past and present, though the ‘coming outs’ are few and far between. Upon releasing his public statement, the vast majority of comments have been positive and supportive. In his statement, he said:
"I hope that in sharing who I am, I can show others who identify as LGBTQ+ that they are welcome in the football community."
Hopefully, this will be a source of comfort or inspiration to others contemplating doing the same thing.
Russell T Davies
It's A Sin broke records at the beginning of the year when its first episode became Channel 4's biggest drama launch, and after just a few short weeks, it was the most binge-watched show on All 4, having been viewed 6.5 million times.
Queer as Folk creator Russell T Davies is the man who brought the heart-wrenching drama based on the HIV/AIDS crisis during the 1980s and 1990s in the UK to the screen. It received rave reviews from critics and older generations of LGBTQ+ people who were around during the crisis. They spoke of the emotions they relived watching it and thanked the show for bringing the reality of what happened to the masses. Meanwhile, younger generations turned to read more about the topic after watching the show, and sexual health clinics saw a dramatic increase in the number of people getting tested.
The show may not return for a second series, but Davies' creation will have a lasting impact.
Elliot Page officially came out as a transgender man in December 2020 after several years of identifying as a lesbian. In an interview with Time magazine, Page said his decision to speak out about his gender identity was inspired by anti-transgender rhetoric and partially prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Page also featured on the magazine's cover in the March/April issue along with his interview, making him the first openly trans man to do so.
After the Time issue release, Page said in a statement:
"With deep respect for those who came before me, gratitude for those who have supported me and great concern for the generation of trans youth we must all protect, please join me and decry anti-trans legislation, hate and discrimination in all its forms."
Page's cover image was shot by photographer Wynne Neilly, a trans man, at Page's request for another transgender person to shoot it.
Time magazine released its annual TIME100 list of 2021's most influential people, featuring a handful of deserving LGBTQ+ people. Hungarian activist Dorottya Rédai was one of them. A researcher at the CEU Democracy Institute in Budapest and an activist with the Labrisz Lesbian Association, Rédai's efforts to fight for LGBTQ+ rights in Hungary have not gone unnoticed. Her inclusion on the list comes from her spearheading a children's book, Meseország mindenkié, which translates as "A Fairy Tale for Everyone". She coordinated and recruited the 17 authors who contributed stories that incorporate LGBTQ+ characters, Roma people, and members of other minority groups. Rédai said it was "an honour" to be included on the list and hopes "it encourages LGBT people who are not necessarily activists, to say, 'You are not alone, the whole world is watching you, so you should hold on.'"
"I hope it gives encouragement to LGBT people who are not necessarily activists, to say, 'You are not alone, the whole world is watching you, so you should hold on'."
This book sparked further debate regarding anti-LGBT law in Hungary, and despite negative criticism, was met with support and applause. Terry Reintke, a German member of the European Parliament who wrote about Rédai for her induction to the TIME 100 list, said, "with people like Dorottya Redai and her colleagues at the forefront of the struggle for equality, we can continue to believe in a happy ending."
Drag Queen Victoria Scone became the first cisgender female to appear on any RuPaul's Drag Race series when she competed in the third series of the UK version. Although she was forced to withdraw after episode three due to an injury, her name has been one of the most mentioned among RuPaul's Drag Race fans since the drag queens of the third season were announced. Her appearance sparked more debate about what drag is and what it means to different people; these debates were first publicly sparked when RuPaul made controversial comments in 2018 about trans women drag queens competing on the show.
Victoria Scone - who identifies as a lesbian, has insisted she believes "drag is for everyone." She is quoted as saying:
"To gate-keep who performs drag seems so backwards to me. As queer people, we are oppressed and marginalised, so why would we continue to do that within our own community? People often don't even consider the fact that I - as a woman in drag - could be a queer woman."
There have been a number of trans drag queens across the franchise in the past; however, Scone is the first cisgender woman to compete. Scone hopes that her visibility can encourage venues to book more diverse line-ups and inspire other drag performers to push the boundaries.
Petra Wenham made headlines in the summer when she became the first transgender woman to grace the cover of WI Life magazine. At the age of 68, after years of being unsure of herself and after a month in hospital to recuperate from an illness contemplating her life, Petra Wenham decided it was time to accept herself as trans.
Petra now delivers talks to WI groups and other organisations and has joined Pride marches. Although Petra says she doesn't feel like an activist, she's "sort of fallen into that role".
"What I'm doing is trying to educate. I want to help people to get a better understanding of the transgender condition.”
John Whaite and Johannes Radebe
As the winner of The Great British Bake Off in 2012, John Whaite found himself amid a high-profile debate when it was announced he would be competing in Strictly Come Dancing this year with a male dance partner. He and professional dancer Johannes Radebe are the first male dance partners, of whom both identify as gay, to compete on the show.
Throughout their time on the show, their performances have been well received by the media, the judges and the public. Since appearing on the show, Whaite and Radebe have spoken about how it feels to be part of the show's new direction and have opened up about their own lives growing up gay.
Whaite has said:
"I knew that it was an important thing to do, that it was hopefully going to change the way TV is, change the way that children feel when they watch TV – it's massive."
Radebe had felt the backlash of same-sex dance partnerships before after a routine he did in 2019 with Graziano di Prima received more than 200 Ofcom complaints. He says he's always wanted to be a part of this movement but didn't want that again. "Then I remember thinking, what if it's successful? I realised that there's people who want to see it, that would love to see it more than what I'm feeling," he added.
Lil Nas X
It's safe to say Lil Nas X has had people talking since his entrance on the music scene in 2018 with his debut single Old Town Road. Rumours about his sexuality were already rife, but it wasn't until June 2019 that he officially came out to the public.
Since his coming out, Lil Nas X has consistently challenged the stigma of homosexuality in both the hip hop and country music communities while being at the forefront of the pop music world. His songs, music videos and live performances have pushed boundaries in lyrics, visuals and actions, unashamedly expressing his true self through artistry. Due to his boldness, he features on TIME100's list.
Despite Lil Nas X's disappointment at not feeling respected, accepted or embraced by the hip hop community because of his sexuality, he still hopes this can change. On speaking about his decision to come out, he cited a responsibility to his fans, the LGBTQ+ community and himself.
"I honestly felt like it was kind of my duty. Especially if I wanted to move forward. And what I was doing, because authenticity is very real, and I feel like people can see right through that. And that's a part of me."
For more information and resources on the LGBT+ community, check out our dedicated LGBT+ Rights and Issues section.
Edited by Christophe Locatelli.