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1996 Out100
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1996 saw RuPaul's rise to stardom, 'Rent' & Ellen making TV history

We couldn't pick just one Out100 cover star in '96, so we featured 6!

1996 opened with one of the first gay weddings on network television; Roseanne had beat Friends to the punch just weeks before "The One with the Lesbian Wedding" aired on NBC in mid-January. There was some controversy, but reportedly not anywhere near the amount of backlash that was expected. It's a fascinating comparison, then, to how the year ended — with President Bill Clinton signing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in to law, giving states the green light to refuse to recognize legal same-sex marriages, and prohibiting recognition on a federal level altogether.

That dichotomy was reflected in how society responded to the push for visibility and rights throughout the year. The Out100 list bluntly called the 1996 Congressional races "generally bad," as out candidates lost again and again. Meanwhile, Americans seemed to be responding to the appearance of out and proud celebrities with less rancor.

Lesbian mountain biking champion Missy Giove, for example, was becoming a favorite in the sports world for her audaciously unapologetic persona (and her killer racing skills). Fellow cover star RuPaul was already well on the way to mainstream success, hosting The RuPaul Show on VH1 in full drag. "America has embraced him not as a novelty but as a genuine homo star," read his Out100 profile at the time.

Rent had just debuted on Broadway that spring and would go on to win numerous accolades, becoming an enduring favorite among musical theater lovers (despite the controversies). Anthony Rapp was already out and had been steadily building his career by that point, but Rent solidified his staying power. Elsewhere in New York City, Giorgio Armani had opened two new flagship boutiques, with a star-studded celebration and concert to mark the occasion, one of which remains open on the Upper East Side to this day.

The December 1996/January 1997 issue of Out also included a divisive figure on the cover — political writer Andrew Sullivan. A conservative who had already been pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage for years, Sullivan denounced DOMA and came out publicly as HIV-positive that April. It was just two years after he had platformed claims that race and IQ are genetically linked in his role as editor for The New Republic.

That decision, while controversial at the time, has come under even more scrutiny as Sullivan's career has continued. A 2020 profile in The New York Times acknowledged his influence but noted that he "can't ever quite escape that 1994 magazine cover."

Out's final cover star that year was Ellen Morgan, the fictional character played by Ellen DeGeneres on Ellen. The show had repeatedly encouraged speculation that the character might come out of the closet, with painfully obvious jokes that dragged on long enough to leave people wondering if that's the furthest things would ever get. Of course, we all know how that went. By April 1997, Morgan — and DeGeneres — had made history.

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Step into the Out100 Vault & celebrate 30 years of history-making LGBTQ+ folks!
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Step into the Out100 Vault & celebrate 30 years of history-making LGBTQ+ folks!

It's been 30 years since the annual Out100 list started highlighting the best and brightest of the community. To honor that milestone, let's take a look back at the many LGBTQ+ people who have changed the world.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Out100, Out’s storied annual list of LGBTQ+ people who have changed culture — and the world.

In celebration of this milestone, we are so proud to launch the official Out100 Vault, which highlights the Out100 covers from our archive as well as fresh essays and insights from past honorees.

The preservation of the LGBTQ+ past has never been more important, as the recent right-wing attempts at queer book bans and censorship demonstrate. For over three decades, Out has fought against mainstream erasure, telling the stories of the artists, warriors, and changemakers who made our history and our movement. Looking to the future, we hope you find inspiration from them in the ongoing fight for visibility and equality.

And if you, or someone you know, deserve to be on this list, please let us know through the Reader’s Choice submission page. Your stories and accomplishments need to be heard, and Out as always is here to tell them.

Sincerely,


Daniel Reynolds

Editor in chief, Out Magazine

Raffy Ermac

Editor in chief, Out.com

See All 2023's Most Impactful and Influential LGBTQ+ People
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Rachel Kiley

Rachel Kiley is presumably a writer and definitely not a terminator. She can usually be found crying over queerbaiting in the Pitch Perfect franchise or on Twitter, if not both.

Rachel Kiley is presumably a writer and definitely not a terminator. She can usually be found crying over queerbaiting in the Pitch Perfect franchise or on Twitter, if not both.