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Rufus Wainwright's rise was a sign of changing times in 1998
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Rufus Wainwright's rise was a sign of changing times in 1998

At 25 years old, Rufus Wainwright was a promising new star at the beginning of his career when he appeared on 1998's Out100 list.

At 25 years old, Rufus Wainwright was a promising new star at the beginning of his career when he appeared on 1998's Out100 list. He had just released his self-titled debut album earlier that year, earning him a GLAAD Media Award and a declaration from Rolling Stone that he was that year's Best New Artist.

His profile in Out aptly described him as a "professional doomed hero," noting the "terminal hunger for the spectacle of heartache" that came across in his music — something he would continue to be known for in the years that followed.

The portrait painted there of a carefree young gay man alternating between anecdotes about partying with drag queens and flippantly saying he doesn't "like gay people and a lot of gay stuff, 'cause they don't dress well" almost feels more authentic to times more recent than 1998. At the very least, it clashes with the backdrop of what was happening in the United States at the time.

That was a dark year in LGBTQ+ history. Progress was being made in the treatment of AIDS, although mortality rates within the Black community were still particularly high. Texas sodomy laws were called into play after two men were arrested for having sex in a private home. This would eventually lead to the landmark Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court case that overturned all such laws — but that wouldn't happen for another five years.

1998 was also the year Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in Wyoming, setting the stage for years of political battles to enact hate crime laws across the country. A month later, the murder of Rita Hester ultimately inspired Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Amidst all of this, there were small wins — Tammy Baldwin became the first out gay candidate elected to Congress, Will & Grace premiered, becoming the first U.S. primetime comedy featuring a gay lead from the very beginning, and The Trevor Project was founded in West Hollywood, California.

Wainwright's candidness about his sexuality in that bleak time period was refreshing, although even he admits it may have hurt his career in the long run. Not that it seems to bother him.

"I think I've taken a hit on many occasions. I think my career could have been a lot bigger. I think I would have, you know, had much more opportunity on sort of, in the mainstream, on MTV," Wainwright said in 2010. But, he admitted, "what I gave up for in sort of mass appeal, I made up in longevity."

That self-titled debut album would become the first of 11 studio albums Wainwright has released as of 2024, with no indication he'll be stopping anytime soon. He's also written two operas, been nominated for three Grammys, and married his partner, Jörn Weisbrodt in 2012 — four years after admitting he wasn't "a huge gay-marriage supporter."

"I wasn't a huge gay marriage supporter before I met Jörn because I love the whole old-school promiscuous Oscar Wilde freak show of what 'being gay' once was," he said in 2010. "But since meeting Jörn that all changed."

Despite the time it took him to come around on fighting for same-sex marriage, Wainwright has shed the disaffected attitude Out highlighted back in 1998 and been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights over the years. And he's continued to forge a career of his own making along the way.

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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.