Media’s Most Influential LGBT+ Members
With the start of February came LGBT+ History Month. It is a momentous year, marking the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March in the UK in 1972. Gay rights and quality of life has improved substantially for the LGBT+ community since the 1970s. This year’s Pride History month focuses on a continuing and often winding journey towards full equality, which has suffered many setbacks while still moving forwards.
We look at the most influential people in the media industry who continue to shape and influence a culture shift.
1. Ryan Murphy - American Director, Screenwriter & Producer:
Many of you will know Ryan Murphy for his work on the cult phenomenon American Horror Story, other projects have included Ratched, Glee and Eat Pray Love. The theme throughout all of these projects has been to highlight those marginalised in society and bring them to the masses. During Murphy’s illustrious career, he has picked up 6 Primetime Emmys, 36 nominations and has often been cited as “the most powerful man in television”.
However, Murphy’s greatest impact has been his dedication to the LGBT+ and minority communities. In 2016 Murphy launched the Half Initiative, which set out to ensure that at least half of the director positions on his shows were filled by women. Less than one year after launching Half, Ryan Murphy’s director slate hired 60% women directors and 90% met its women, minorities, BIPOC and/or LGBT+ requirements.
2. Ian McKellen - British Actor:
World-renowned thespian McKellen is known around the world for his Shakesperian performances and roles as Magneto (X-Men franchise) and Gandalf (Peter Jackson’s LOTR and Hobbit Epics). However, he has been an advocate for gay rights in the UK and internationally for well over thirty years. McKellen helped campaign and overturn section 28 (a piece of legislation banning the promotion or discussion of homosexuality in the UK until 2003), along with being a founding patron of LGBT+ History Month.
McKellen has gone on to take his campaigning outside of the UK, asking during an interview in Singapore (a country that still has rather draconian laws on homosexuality) – “where is the best gay bar around here?”.
3. Dee Rees - American Screenwriter & Director:
Known for her groundbreaking feature films Pariah, Bessie and Mudbound, Rees has been challenging the film industry since 2011. Rees has focused her writing and directing talent into highlighting the struggles of a homosexual black woman in America, proving there is no substitute for authenticity.
Rees’ third film, Mudbound, generated three academy award nominations, the most impressive being a nod to Rees for Best Screen Play. This was the first time that a Black woman, let alone a Gay Black woman, has been nominated for this award.
4. Laverne Cox - American Actress & LGBT+ Activist:
Cox rose to prominence in Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, playing the role of a transgender prisoner – for this role, Cox became the first transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. Cox followed this up with her groundbreaking documentary Laverne Cox presents: The T-word, winning a Day Time Emmy for producing – the first time a transgender person has ever won the accolade.
Besides her work in the Film & TV industry, Cox has gone on to become an influential LGBT+ activist, regularly advocating for the advancement of LGBT rights. In 2016, Cox was awarded an honorary degree from the New School for her trailblazing work for the transgender community and gender equality.
Most recently, Cox lobbied IMDb to change their birth name policy, a historic moment for the Transgender community.
5. Russell T Davies - Screenwriter & Showrunner:
Davies will forever be known in the UK for reviving the sci-fi phenomenon Doctor Who, along with his groundbreaking work on Torchwood and Queer As Folk. Davies work on Queer As Folk allowed the world to get a better understanding of the gay community, in a time when homophobia was at its height.
Davies continues his work to this day, recently launching the building work for a new LGBT+ centre in Manchester. Davies most recent show featured the struggles and horrors of the AIDS epidemic in the Gay community in the 80s and 90s – for this work, The Times named Davies The Most Influential person in television. The work Davies has done, cannot be understated, normalising what was an ostracised group of society not that long ago.
6. RuPaul - Producer, Reality Show Host & Drag Queen:
Dubbed the world’s most famous Drag Queen, the host of the cult phenomenon is a staple when discussing the most influential LGBT+ members of the media industry. RuPaul rose to prominence in the 90s, being the first openly gay TV host of his show – The RuPaul Show on VH1.
When RuPaul’s Drag Race debuted in 2009, no one could have guessed the cultural impact it would have. In the last decade, RuPaul has single-handedly revolutionised LGBT+ culture in to mainstream society, going on to win a jaw-dropping 12 Day Time Emmy’s since 2016 for hosting Rupaul’s Drag Race.
RuPaul has paved the ‘runway’ for LGBT+ right across the world, advocating for tolerance and education of the community and he has fought for equality over his long career.
7. Lil Nas X - Hip-Hop Artist:
Lil Nas X exploded onto the scene in 2019 with his country rap single Old Town Road. Each song that the rapper has released since has been accompanied by an outfit, action, or social media campaign that stirred either controversy or positive press.
Coming out shortly after rising to fame, Lil Nas X has gone on to challenge the rap world, with backlash from many of his early fans and fellow artists. Despite this Nas X has always defended himself and proudly owned his identity.
Breaking the internet, releasing smash hits and stellar music videos led to Nas X making The Times 100 most influential people list, for breaking stereotypes and encouraging people to embrace their true selves.
8. Munroe Bergdorf - Model & Trans-Activist:
Munroe Bergdorf is a British Trans Activist, known for her strong opinions and refusal to often back down. A staunch activist who consistently champions Black and Trans rights, temporarily joining the Labour party’s LGBT advisory board to help with their approach on diversity and inclusion.
Bergdorf is probably best known for her stand against L’Oréal, calling out and highlighting a white supremacist led to Bergdorf being fired by the cosmetics giant, Bergdorf was then re-hired after public backlash. More recently Bergdorf has been asked to sit on L’Oréal’s diversity and inclusion board as a key advisor.
9. Lena Waithe - Actress, Producer & Screenwriter:
Most well known for her role as Denise in Master of None. However, Waithe not only starred in the hit show, but she also wrote 6 episodes of Master of None, snagging her a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a comedy series. Waithe is an avid supporter of GLAAD and the NAACP. But, is most known for her with the LGBT suicide prevention charity The Trevor Project.
10. Stephen Fry - Actor, Writer & Comedian:
Fry rose to fame for his comedic acting chops in Fry & Laurie, Black Adder and his stand out performance as Oscar Wilde. Initially, Stephen Fry tried to keep his sexuality a secret, but later became an outspoken supporter of gay rights. His services to humanism and gay rights have been recognised and honoured.
The overall aim of LGBT+ History month is to promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public. We have highlighted members of the media industry we see as some of the people who have shaped a more inclusive and diverse media industry and society, but there are so many more and it continues to grow.
We would ask if you can that you donate to this cause. For 20 years, the LGBT+ History Month charity has helped shape and improve diversity and inclusion in the media industry and continues to do so.