Aubrey Plaza has been a favorite of comedy and indie film nerds for years, and broke out on the popular NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. Even though she told The Advocate five years ago that she falls in love with both guys and girls, Plaza became a true queer icon when she starred as the sexy and single doctor Riley in Clea DuVall’s gay holiday rom-com Happiest Season opposite Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis. Plaza was a lot of viewers’ favorite part of the film, and many fans thought her chemistry with Stewart’s character was the hottest thing in the movie. While she didn’t end up with Stewart’s character, Riley ended the film with romantic entreaties from every sapphic person who watched. And she’s not content to be left standing by the wall the next time around. “I’m honored to be on this list, and I’m so proud of being a part of Happiest Season and almost getting the girl,” she says. “Next time, she’s mine.”
Plaza isn’t done with her Christmas content yet. Next up, she has a children’s book, The Legend of the Christmas Witch, written with her creative partner Dan Murphy; it comes out in November. The book reveals the tale of Santa Claus’s twin sister, the much-misunderstood Christmas Witch. It follows the release of Plaza’s film Black Bear, a drama about the entertainment industry in which she received rave reviews for her performance. Then, in the new year, she’ll be starring in Guy Ritchie’s next action blockbuster, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, about an MI6 agent (Jason Statham) and his team who recruit a Hollywood star to help them on an undercover mission. If Plaza wasn’t your Christmas crush last year, it’s not too late to make her yours this holiday season. — Mey Rude, Photo Emily Assiran/Getty Images
Actor, writer, producer, comedian
Some may have written off Billy Eichner as a one-trick pony when he was hustling through Manhattan, asking rapid-fire questions to pedestrians for his show Billy on the Street. Over the course of the next decade, the Queens native proved his versatility, co-starring on Hulu’s scripted Difficult People for three seasons, segueing into the Ryan Murphy universe with roles on American Horror Story, and voicing Timon in 2019’s live-action remake of The Lion King. And just this year, Eichner took on the role of Walt Whitman on Apple TV+’s Dickinson and sentient SEO machine Matt Drudge for Murphy’s American Crime Story: Impeachment.
Upcoming is Eichner’s Netflix special and a forthcoming movie called Ex-Husbands. The queer world is already quaking for Eichner’s other upcoming film, Bros, an LGBTQ+ rom com he co-wrote, and is also producing and starring in. Only this amiable gay celeb could bring together out legends like Guillermo Díaz, Ts Madison, and Amanda Bearse for the first gay romantic comedy from a major studio. “My biggest professional obstacle over the years has been navigating mediocre, heteronormative gatekeepers who operate out of fear and underestimate their audience,” he says. —Neal Broverman, Photo Getty Images
To call Dalila Ali Rajah a purveyor of Black queer joy is true on a few counts. First, she literally founded the Instagram account @BlackQueerJoy, which highlights happy couples and thriving individuals.
“I am a vessel with the intention of illuminating and expanding our capacity for compassion, love, and unapologetic acceptance of our authentic selves,” Rajah says. “I’m committed to telling stories with some sparkle and some fun whether it be in front of the camera, as a writer or producer, or curating experiences of joy and healing with the Black Queer Joy movement.”
A creator and star of the late-aughts lesbian series Cherry Bomb, Rajah also recently appeared in the series 9-1-1 and Noah’s Arc: The ’Rona Chronicles. As a mom, she has also just done the work of “processing my son coming out as trans/nonbinary.”
“The journey I needed to take to truly surrender to unconditional love while doing my best to keep him safe required that I reach into a part of myself I didn’t know I never touched,” Rajah says.
Next up for Rajah is the gay-themed series Boy Culture, and a pilot she and her son are writing together about their journey. — Tracy E. Gilchrist, Photo Cornelia Connie Kurtew
Mohawk actor Devery Jacobs broke out on FX’s hit Reservation Dogs this year. The show made headlines not only for its wit and unique perspective but for having all Indigenous writers and directors and an almost entirely Indigenous cast and production team. “I’ve always dreamed of a leading role — let alone a leading role in a groundbreaking show for Indigenous creators,” she says. “Playing Elora Danan was an experience I’ll forever cherish. I had a chance to explore all sides and surprise myself with a character I connect with so deeply.”
Jacobs is also a writer, director, and producer who wants to tell stories from queer and Indigenous communities. And she says it’s about time someone like her got a chance to be a star. “It feels overdue, and like a huge sense of responsibility — one that I’m happy to embrace,” she says. “As excited as I am that we’re finally beginning to see our stories on-screen, as [a] queer Mohawk woman, I’ve still yet to see myself resembled. I want to see Two-Spirit rom-coms, powwow comedies, Native horror films, Indigenous crime dramas. Being Indigenous doesn’t look one way — there are over 500 different nations and tribes across North America — and until we have as many Native stories out there as we have storytellers, I will keep fighting to forge our place through the industry.” The next step in her fight involves starring in Ark: The Animated Series, which features fellow Indigenous actors Zahn McClarnon, Tatanka Means, and Madeleine Madden alongside Vin Diesel and Michelle Yeoh. — M.R., Photo Mauricio J. Calero
When Emma Corrin first appeared on screen as Princess Diana in Netflix’s drama The Crown, a star was born. The 25-year-old actor took the world by storm, exuding a mysterious charisma not unlike that of the famous royal. Then, she started sharing more of their self with the world. After coming out in April by self-labeling as “ur fave queer bride” in a photoshoot of her in a wedding dress, Corrin also came out as using both she and they pronouns in July, something she says was “liberating” and “terrifying in equal measure.” At the same time, they revealed that, sometimes, they like to wear a binder, a compression garment often worn by trans and nonbinary people to alleviate chest dysphoria.
Whether it’s coming out, winning a Golden Globe, getting nominated for an Emmy, or finishing their first screenplay, Corrin doesn’t give up easily. Corrin says they face obstacles every day, but when they need support, they turn to “the great people around me” along with reading, “mining other people’s experiences for insight,” and “a ginger shot is always a good idea.” For their next roles, they star opposite Harry Styles in the upcoming bisexual drama My Policeman, and is set to star in Netflix’s adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s infamous novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Both movies are expected to draw awards attention. The only question remaining is: How many awards can Corrin be nominated for in one year? — Mey Rude, Photo David-Simon Dayan
Actor, designer, and artisan Jasika Nicole spent 2021 like a lot of us, holed up with her partner (who is trans and nonbinary). The resulting challenge was “releasing the idea that my value rests solely in the work I do,” she admits. “Once the world shifted and productions ground to a halt, many of us actors had to navigate a life without yes’s, affirmations, and hype from others.”
Nicole, who plays pathologist Dr. Carly Lever on ABC’s hit series The Good Doctor, came to fame as Astrid, the lab assistant turned field agent on Fox’s cult fave, Fringe. She’s showed up in other notable film and TV roles, including Scandal and the remakes of Punky Brewster and She’s Out of My League, bringing Black queer energy to characters and the world.
Nicole’s end goal is “the kinds of characters in TV and film that I so desperately wished to see when I was a little girl,” she says. In addition to narrating the horror podcast Alice Isn’t Dead and running her own DIY fashion blog, Try Curious, Nicole spends most of her time making art. This “has turned into an empowering act for me.”
This year, she’s most proud of an article she wrote for Entertainment Weekly about her own privilege as a “cis, queer, light-skinned Black actor” and why she’s no longer appearing on cop shows.
“I want to keep learning how to stand up for what I believe in without fear of making others uncomfortable,” she says. — Diane Anderson-Minshall, Photo Jess Nurse
Dancer, singer, actor
The future for upcoming generations of LGBTQ+ kids is bright, and that’s thanks to people like JoJo Siwa. A true entertainment industry multi-hyphenate, the 18-year-old dancer, singer, actress, and social media star (whose big break came after appearing on Lifetime’s hit reality series Dance Moms back in 2015) has been hitting the ground running ever since publicly coming out at the start of 2021, doing everything from starring in a Paramount+ movie, JoJo Siwa: My World, to producing her own reality series where she searches for the next big pop girl group, to slaying the competition on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars with dance partner Jenna Johnson; the two made history as the show’s first same-sex dance couple to compete in the ballroom.
Though she has received the typical conservative hate that visible, out-and-proud queer folks get when they are simply trying to live their most authentic lives, Siwa has fought that hate with love and openness and has been unapologetic in her special brand of positivity and happiness. So much so, she has become exactly the kind of role model Gen Z needs in a world still filled with so much negativity and hostility towards LGBTQ+ people. — Raffy Ermac, Photo Maarten de Boer ABC
Ever since publicly coming out as queer in 2020, Justice Smith has been solidifying his status as one of young Hollywood’s best and brightest voices. At 26, he’s already starred in big Hollywood productions like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. And through his craft, he has been helping to increase visibility on the small screen as well.
This was most evident when he took on the lead role of Chester in HBO Max’s mostly queer teen drama series Genera+ion, in which he portrayed a supremely confident and out gay student navigating the blossoming social scene in a typical Southern California high school. Though Smith is used to playing more laidback, low-key roles (he also starred alongside Euphoria star Sydney Sweeney in this year’s erotic thriller The Voyeurs on Amazon Prime Video), Chester embodied a youthful and unapologetic queerness that the older generations of the show’s viewers wish they had growing up, and that younger generations could try and emulate in their lives.
Though Genera+ion is over, the impact of a character like Chester, made alive by Smith’s performance of him, is surely going to be felt in the decades to come, especially as LGBTQ+ representation becomes more and more a prerequisite in the media fans consume. — R.E., Photo Pietro S. D’Aprano/Getty
Nonbinary actor Mason Alexander Park, who made headlines this past year after being cast in the role of Gren in Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the beloved anime series Cowboy Bebop, knows how important representation is, especially for marginalized people.
“I would describe my work as an artist as something at the intersection of education and entertainment. It’s impossible to separate my identity as a nonbinary person of color from my work as an actor or writer,” Park says. “For a lot of audiences, I’m generally one of the first like me that they are encountering, and with that comes a learning curve and responsibility.”
After the difficulty of the past year and a half, Park doesn’t take their work for granted. “In a time where so many of us artists had been unemployed, this year made me feel incredibly lucky to be able to work on multiple dream roles, including Desire in Netflix’s The Sandman,” they say. “I was lucky enough to do my first in-person auditions and director sessions for a role that I’ve been chasing for quite some time. It ended with a chemistry read with a remarkable actor I adore...and as a trans/nonbinary actor it was the very first time that I have been in the position of playing the love interest in a queer relationship.” — R.E., Photo Naje Lataillade
Actor, TV host
After coming out when she announced her marriage to singer Jessica Betts, Niecy Nash has been living her best life. “Actually, I’m living my Betts life,” she laughs. “For the first time in my life I feel fully seen.” From there, she can’t stop gushing about her spouse. ‘‘We just celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary,” she says. “I’ve been down the aisle twice before, and even though those relationships ended, the call on my life did not. I’m meant to be a wife and I’m proud of my resilience to answer the call in spite of my experiences.” It wasn’t just finding the right partner that got her to this point. She also recommends therapy, as it helped her overcome years of childhood trauma.
Nash is thriving. She played civil rights activist Florynce Kennedy in the Hulu miniseries Mrs. America, took over as a temporary host on The Masked Singer, and is set to host both a revival of Fox’s game show Don’t Forget the Lyrics! and her own syndicated daytime talker for CBS. — M.R., Photo Karl Furgerson Jr.
It’s been a standout year for Nik Dodani. The gay Indian-American actor completed his run as the lovable, foul-mouthed Zahid on Netflix’s Atypical, a pioneering show about autism, which ended after four seasons. And he brought his talents to the movie adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen, in which he queered the storyline — his character, Jared, was gay in the new production — and provided much-needed comic relief to a film flooded with sadness. It won’t be the last musical move for Dodani, who this fall made his Broadway debut as Ogie in Waitress, Sara Bareilles’s beloved Broadway musical.
Dodani, who also appeared in Alex Strangelove, Escape Room, and the Murphy Brown revival, is a true multi-hyphenate. “I’m an actor, comedian, writer,” he shares. “I mostly make people laugh, but would honestly love the opportunity to make people cry.” His comedy is often tied to a cause. He campaigned for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the 2020 presidential campaign and previously worked with MoveOn for a political humor event, Laughter Trumps Hate. At present, he is developing Blue Boy, a feature film he penned based on the novel by Rakesh Satyal.
Beyond the Beltway, Dodani also wants to make Hollywood better. “The biggest obstacle I’ve faced in the past year has been systemic racism in the industry. I have yet to overcome it, but girl, I’m trying,” Dodani says. To this aim, he cofounded the Salon, a nonprofit supporting South Asian artists and executives in the entertainment industry. This year, the group launched a mentorship program for 23 budding writers, directors, actors, producers, and more, who were given guidance by luminaries like Kal Penn, Mindy Kaling, and Hasan Minhaj. — D.R., Photo Simrah Farrukh
Earlier this year, when American audiences tore through the first two seasons of Netflix’s Mexican mystery thriller Who Killed Sara? — making it, as of April 2021, the most watched non-English language show the streaming giant ever aired — they joined people in countries like Guatemala, Columbia, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil, where the series became the most popular streamer as well. The thriller, about a man wrongfully convicted of his sister’s death, gave viewers murder, sex trafficking, gay love, and dozens of delicious red herrings — and introduced U.S. audiences to one of Mexico’s few out gay actors: Polo Morin.
The 31-year-old, born in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico, has been steadily acting in films and TV in his home country, beginning in 2010 in La rosa de Guadalupe (for which he won a Bravo Award). He was featured in MTV Mexico’s Último año and Gossip Girl: Acapulco. And then he was outed in December 2016, when a hacker posted pictures of him and his boyfriend at the time — but he emphasized he wasn’t closeted, just private.
Morin’s turn as a gay man in Who Killed Sara? changed that. It was “a huge challenge.... I kind of refused to do gay characters for a while, because…usually in Latin America, they don’t represent the community the way I think it should be represented.”
He says gay roles are often played for laughs and mockery in Latin America, but he read this script and loved it. “[T]he part that got me the most is how Alex reacts to [Morin’s character of ] Chema coming out to him…and it doesn’t change anything.”
What resonated with audiences, especially gay audiences, was how universal the experience of Chema, was. “That’s literally my story...I was very confused. And I was really scared to come out and…of people’s reactions.”
Being outed, he says, was ultimately for the best. Morin explains that even though his career up until that point was successful, “I never felt accepted.”
While his managers told him to deny being gay, Morin spoke with his family and realized, “I hadn’t been happy for a long time. And I had been stressing out about something that I shouldn’t. I decided to come out and start talking about myself, not hiding myself.... So I decided that for my little Polo, and for all the kids…I was going to come out. And I did in television, and it was pretty harsh. I did lose many, many fans.”
Yet, it was a surprising relief, too, admits Morin. “Then I started gaining followers back.… It’s about the quality of the followers and the quality of the fans that I have now. — D.A.M. Photo Luis De La Luz
Through her brand of unapologetic, honest, and relatable comedy, Sam Jay, the stand-up comic and Saturday Night Live writer, has garnered all sorts of fans and become a much-needed and refreshing voice in a field that is slowly but surely becoming queerer and less male-dominated — and she has a lot fun with her craft as well.
“I am a writer, producer, stand-up…really just stepping into this role of being a multi-hyphenate,” Jay says, describing her work. “I feel the work I do is as important as it is unimportant — sophisticated ignorance mixed with humor and a sprinkle of a message. There are layers to it if you want to unravel it but, if you don’t, it’s fun too.”
And Jay’s star is still on the rise. In early 2022, she’s set to star in the upcoming comedy series Bust Down with Chris Redd, Langston Kerman, and Jak Knight on Peacock and is in the process of filming a Kenya Barris movie with Eddie Murphy, Jonah Hill, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Netflix. And of course, she’s also working on a second season of her critically acclaimed HBO variety series Pause with Sam Jay. — R.E., Photo Erica Gray
One of the year’s breakout queer hits was Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Amazon Prime Video’s musical film about a teen who dreams about becoming a drag queen. At the heart of the production is Max Harwood, a young British actor who brought sass and soul to the titular role. “The project really helped me personally to step into myself — with courage! I hope Jamie’s story can give people around the world that same courage, to be unashamed of the things that make them truly unique,” he says.
Harwood says he still “cannot quite believe” he carried a movie that has been streamed in over 200 countries. Through production of the film — based on the acclaimed West End play — he, like Jamie, fought to find his voice as an artist.
“An obstacle for me had been struggling with self-confidence,” he says. “I was fearful of not being able to deliver what was expected of me when the time came. I’ve learnt to listen and trust those around me. The more experience I gain, the more I can see my confidence growing.”
Harwood is looking forward to making more movies and even his own music in the near future. “My biggest personal accomplishment this year has to be moving into my own place,” he adds. “I have always wanted my own space to be creative, decorate, and call my own.” — D.R., Photo Joseph Sinclair
Actors Hannah Einbinder, Carl Clemons-Hopkins (photographed by Qurissy Lopez), Poppy Liu, Johnny Sibilly, Megan Stalter,
and Mark Indelicato
@hannaheinbinder, @carlclemonshopkins, @poppyrepublic, @johnnysibilly, @megsstalter. @markindelicato
One of the brightest spots of the year’s TV landscape was Hacks, the HBO dramedy centered on a legendary comedienne, Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), looking to reinvigorate her career in Las Vegas. Created by Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky, the show has received acclaim and accolades; Smart won an Emmy for her delicious portrayal of the Joan Rivers-ian diva. But Out also took note of the plethora of trope-defying LGBTQ+ talent onscreen, which made Hacks a significant contribution to queer culture.
Hollywood has also taken notice. In addition to Smart, Hannah Einbinder and Carl Clemons-Hopkins were Emmy-nominated for their roles, which are both LGBTQ+. Einbinder, who is bisexual, plays Ava (also bi), a comedy writer looking to restart her career after cultural cancellation. Nonbinary actor Clemons-Hopkins portrays Vance’s queer CEO, Marcus. Rounding out the out ensemble are Johnny Sibilly as Wilson, a water inspector and Marcus’s love interest; Megan Stalter as Kayla, the hysterical-but-unreliable assistant to Ava’s agent; Poppy Liu as Kiki, Vance’s favorite blackjack dealer; and Mark Indelicato as Damien, Vance’s personal assistant.
Together, the LGBTQ+ Hacks cast reads as a Who’s Who of young queer Hollywood. Indelicato was already famous from his groundbreaking role as Justin Suarez, a gay youth on Ugly Betty. Stalter routinely goes viral for her zany characters on social media; her spoof of a fumbling small-business rep shamelessly gay-baiting almost broke the internet this year. Liu made The Advocate’s Champions of Pride list in 2019 for her work bringing visibility to queer Asian stories; she’ll soon be starring in an Amazon Prime Video series called Dead Ringers alongside Rachel Weisz.
Moreover, in addition to starring in Candyman this year, Clemons-Hopkins stole the red carpet at the Emmy Awards in a Christian Siriano-designed outfit printed with the colors of the nonbinary flag. Einbinder, in the vein of Vance, has long been acclaimed on the standup comedy circuit. And Sibilly is preparing to continue queer TV domination as a cast member on the Queer as Folk reboot.
Hacks’s LGBTQ+ visibility means a great deal to each of these actors. “I can’t even count how many times I’ve Googled ‘gay movies’ or ‘gay girl bi TV’ desperate to find something I can relate to in that way,” shares Stalter, who is bi. This representation “means the world” to Clemons-Hopkins. “It means more connectivity, more healing, and more confirmation of our glory,” they affirm. Einbinder adds that this contribution is “incredible, especially getting to play a bi character. She feels so real to me and is someone I personally have yearned to see on TV for so long. Love Ava so much.”
Sibilly notes that the success of Hacks is a milestone for out entertainers everywhere. “It’s incredibly important especially in an industry that often used to tell our LGBTQ+ family to hide and stifle who they were,” he says. “This moment is for them as well as those future baby queers.”
That these characters are not defined by their identities is especially important to Liu in an industry still plagued with stereotypes. “I love queer people just getting to be regular [people], nothing extraordinary, not unpacking our trauma, not coming out over and over again — just doing regular stuff like checking neighborhood water levels or being mediocre at our office job or being annoyed at our boss or complaining about our kid,” Liu says.
“It’s always a dream to work alongside those that you can relate to,” Indelicato concludes. “I can’t stress enough how inspiring it has been to be a part of a queer ensemble like that of Hacks, but also to be a part of a show that cherishes and champions queer artists and artistry. I would hope that the impact of such representation is yet another reminder that the notion of the ‘queer body’ is not a monolith. We, as the queer cast members of Hacks, have such varied lived experiences and relationships to our queerness. Being given the opportunity to be in a space where we can share those stories with one another and with the world is truly a gift.” — D.R.