In celebration of Pride Month, ET is recognizing those who had an impact in the entertainment industry and helped shape pop culture over the past year. More importantly, these 15 entertainers proved why being authentic matters, whether it’s Dan Levy and Lena Waithe creating genuine, heartfelt shows that capture their own experiences on TV or Lil Nas X showing that being gay doesn’t hold you back from topping the charts.
There’s no denying that LGBTQ visibility matters -- and now, more than ever, it's important to make sure the community and other marginalized groups have a voice that is just as loud and true as others. As Waithe tells ET, “Now feels like the beginning of something.” Something that shows no sign of slowing down if these entertainers and the community as a whole keep pushing forward until all the barriers are broken.
Andrew Scott already had a devoted following for his portrayal of Benedict Cumberbatch's diabolical nemesis, Moriarty, on Sherlock, but once he donned the robes to play the character thirstily known as "Hot Priest" on the second season of Fleabag, critics and fans alike were singing his praises. "The response to the show is genuinely extraordinary," he told ET, adding that the reaction to his character -- and his heartbreaking, open-ended farewell with Phoebe Waller-Bridge's titular character in the finale -- felt inescapable. "The internet has done what they will with it." After other notable appearances in 1917, Black Mirror and Modern Love, his next role may prove to be even more iconic: He's set to play the titular role in Ripley, a new Showtime series adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, a true legend of queer canon. --Meredith Kile
After making her acting debut in the Emmy-nominated short-form series Her Story, Angelica Ross soon found herself stealing scenes as one of Ryan Murphy’s repertoire of actors on the FX ballroom series Pose and American Horror Story: 1984, the ninth installment of the long-running anthology series. While joining the latter meant leaving the former, her journey on Pose didn’t end without an opportunity to shine a much-needed light on ongoing violence against transgender women of color. “When I read it, it hit so close to home in such a way that I think it’s going to hit close to anybody,” Ross told ET about reading the script for Candy’s final and emotionally raw episode, which saw her celebrated by her friends and family after being unexpectedly murdered. While her death is a tragic representation of real-life horrors happening all around the country, “I felt like it was a beautiful send-off for us both,” Ross said of her Candy finally getting 10s across the board. --Stacy Lambe
Actor, The Politician
After breaking out with his Tony Award-winning performance in Dear Evan Hansen, Ben Platt’s stardom only continued to grow thanks to landing the titular role on Ryan Murphy’s first Netflix original, The Politician, about an ambitious student determined to one day become the President of the United States. “It was a very fascinating character to get to play after playing someone so sort of mild-mannered as Evan,” said Platt, who found himself opening up like never before with his debut album, Sing to Me Instead. “I really didn't want to edit any part of the experience. So that applied to not shying away from talking about mortality, or my family, and also applied to not pretending that I'm not a queer person… I just tried to be as true to life as possible and let that inform and enhance the work as opposed to define it.” --S.L.
Emmy Winner, Pose
After Pose proved to be a critical and fan favorite, earning a 2019 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series and a win for Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Billy Porter’s portrayal of emcee Pray Tell, no one’s had a bigger or flashier year. The 50-year-old actor has made the most of his spotlight, storming the red carpet of every major event with gender-bending fashions while speaking out for the need for more authentic storytelling onscreen. “It's about honoring people’s humanity even when you don't get it or understand it,” Porter explained to ET. “You know, I don't need acceptance. I don't need tolerance. But, what we demand is your respect for our humanity. The End.” --S.L.
Bob, Eureka and Shangela
Hosts, We’re Here
From RuPaul's Drag Race to HBO: The trio of queens continued drag's boob tube takeover with We're Here, a gig which saw them traversing small-town America to help get folks all up in drag for the first time. Each episode culminates in a one-night-only but forever life-changing drag show. "In doing this show, I get to be a part of unearthing these [queer] communities in places that you would never think that there was a community of support," Shangela told ET. "What better to bring people together than drag?" And more is on the way: HBO renewed the series for a second season. --John Boone
Actor and Creator, Schitt’s Creek
What started out as America's best-kept secret turned into an Emmy-nominated, pop culture phenomenon. Star Dan Levy, who plays David, one of the first openly pansexual characters on TV, co-created Schitt's Creek with his father, Eugene. While many were slow to catch up, everyone who watched were quick to fall in love with David and his family, who went from everything to nothing only to rediscover their love for each other. Sadly, as soon as it became a permanent part of the zeitgeist and queer canon, it ended after six short seasons. Working to bring the quirky world to life, however, was an experience Levy will "fondly" remember. "It's quite amazing to work with your family for such a formative chapter in your life and have that documented," he told ET. "It's something we'll always have and something I'll cherish forever." --Philiana Ng
Oscar Winner, Rocketman
There’s not a more tireless performer than Elton John, who, at the age of 72, spent 2019 jet-setting across the world to promote the musical biopic Rocketman, with Taron Egerton playing him onscreen, and embarking on the second year of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. In October, he released his first autobiography, Me. A few months before his 73rd birthday, he capped it all with back-to-back Golden Globe and Oscar wins for the original song “(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again,” which marked the first time he and longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin ever won an award together. “I’m so proud of my relationship with him. I love him more now than when I met him, which says a lot,” John told ET. --S.L.
A breakout like the one Hunter Schafer had only comes so often. The 20-year-old booked her first-ever acting role on Euphoria, HBO's much-lauded, must-see new series, playing new girl Jules, who promptly became BFF -- and then maybe more -- to Zendaya's Rue. Both Jules and Schafer are also transgender during a time when transgender visibility in pop culture is as crucial as ever. "I found it exciting to play a transfeminine person and be able to bring a lot of my experiences to Jules and fill out her experience," Schafer told ET. --J.B.
Director, Producer and Writer, Hollywood, Pose
No one else has had a bigger impact on visibility in front of and behind the camera or on the expanse of more authentic storytelling on TV over the past year than Janet Mock, who directed and wrote episodes for the original series Hollywood, The Politician and Pose. The latter made history by making her, along with Our Lay J and Silas Howard, the first openly transgender people ever nominated for Outstanding Drama Series in 2019. “I hope the spotlight of this nomination burns bright on our industry's urgent need for more inclusive storytelling, where those who lived it are empowered to tell their own stories,” Mock told ET, adding that she’s grateful to have a seat at the table and to be able to use that to shape what audiences get to see. --S.L.
Singer, Turn Off the Light
While she's only 27, Kim Petras had already been making music for over a decade before releasing her full-length debut album, Clarity, last June and the follow-up, Turn Off the Light, a few months later. The German singer, whose rise shows no sign of slowing down, told ET she downplayed her identity as a transgender woman early on in her career, wanting her music to be judged on its own merits and avoid it becoming "the only thing people wanna talk about." But now, she's ready to vocally embrace all parts of her identity in order to lead the way for others. "I want to be a voice for transgender people, that's really close to my heart," she said. "And I feel like I've done the part where I underplay it and make it all about the music... I wanna be taken seriously as an artist and being a trans girl at the same time." --M.E.
Lena Waithe hasn't taken her foot off the gas following her groundbreaking 2017 Emmy win for Master of None. The multi-hyphenate wrote and produced 2019's Queen & Slim, a provocative and powerful film about a young, black couple on the run from the police. In 2020, Waithe joined the cast of HBO's critically acclaimed Westworld, and celebrated the debut of Twenties. The semi-autobiographical series, following a queer black woman and her two straight best friends, was a labor of love for Waithe. "I'm just so honored to finally reach that finish line, but it's weird, the finish line now feels like the beginning of something," she told ET. "It had to wait for society to be ready for a show like that, so I'm just honored we got to bring it to people." --Jennifer Drysdale
Lil Nas X
GRAMMY Winner, 7
The old town road led Lil Nas X straight to the top. The 21-year-old rapper, who publicly came out last year, has been nothing but himself throughout his rise to fame, and has been rewarded with both critical and cultural acclaim. The rapper's debut EP, 7, earned six nominations at the 2020 GRAMMYs, including Album of the Year; he ended up winning two gramophones for "Old Town Road." When reflecting on his recent success, he told ET, "The blessings are literally knocking me out... I just feel like last year and even the beginning of this year has just been so much growth beyond just the fame and fortune. Like, mentally, spiritually, I've grown so much." --J.D.
Despite an unceremonious exit following Batwoman's first season, Ruby Rose's portrayal of out lesbian Kate Kane and her alter ego, Lady Crusader, was history-making representation as the first LBGTQ superhero lead on TV. And the fan response for the show -- both before and after Rose's exit was announced -- proved that comic fans were more than ready to see more of themselves in their heroes. "She's a very strong woman," Rose told ET, explaining why she's so relatable to fans. "She's got a lot of nuances, she's got a lot of things about her that I think people will identify with." --M.K.
With Vida, creator and showrunner Tanya Saracho hopes Starz's groundbreaking Latinx series -- which revolves around Mexican American sisters Emma and Lyn in East L.A. following their mother's death -- opened people's eyes to the complexities of the LGBTQ community. "When we get to tell our messy, raw, not ideal story, it complicates our image, which humanizes us more," Saracho told ET. "I want people to take the fullness of these characters and the realness of who they were in this time and place. Hopefully they will be like, 'Oh, that's what it was to be a brown queer in Boyle Heights.'" While the series ended after three celebrated seasons earlier this year, Saracho is continuing to work with Starz, developing a new series called Brujas, which will continue to expand Latinx visibility on TV. --P.N.
Producer, Visible: Out on Television
Wilson Cruz is no stranger to breaking barriers on TV: He first struck a chord with audiences as Rickie Vasquez on My So-Called Life and 25 years later, he became one of the first gay characters in the Star Trek universe, appearing on the CBS All Access original Discovery. In 2020, he teamed up with filmmakers Ryan White and Jessica Hargrave and executive producer Wanda Sykes to examine the evolution of LGBTQ portrayals onscreen with the docuseries Visible: Out on Television. “It’s easy to turn on your television now and go, ‘Almost every show has an LGBTQ character,’ and just assume that that’s a natural thing,” Cruz told ET about this very necessary look back on history. “But, you know, that didn’t just happen. It happened because a lot of people risked a lot in order to tell those stories.” --S.L.