Vote now for LGBTQ Nation’s 2023 Celebrity who Made Us Proud

A celebrity
Photo: Shutterstock

There are all kinds of celebrities.

Like a giant casting call for a massive movie, celebrity culture is populated with heroes and villains, sweethearts and ne’er-do-wells, supportive best friends, and fame-adjacent wacky neighbors.

Vote now for LGBTQ Nation’s 2023 Celebrity who Made Us Proud

On the dark side of the ledger are famous people who got that way by tearing others down or exploiting our worst instincts and vulnerabilities.

On the bright side are the ones who stood up and became role models that we could point out to our kids — heroes like these four celebrities who made us proud.

Hayley Kiyoko is the singer/songwriter who brought two local drag queens on stage with her in defiance of Tennessee’s discriminatory drag ban.

Kim Petras and Sam Smith used their platform in the music world to raise awareness of trans and nonbinary identity.

Nonbinary SNL cast member Molly Kearney dropped into Weekend Update (literally) to deliver a moving message defending trans kids.

And celebrity couple Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union defended their own trans child, and by extension, all the kids like her.

“That is our responsibility,” Union said recently, “as people with large platforms, and as people who folks trust.”

Vote now for LGBTQ Nation’s 2023 Celebrity who Made Us Proud

Hayley Kiyoko

Hayley Kiyoko (Shutterstock)

In May this year, Hayley Kiyoko, the 32-year-old multi-hyphenate and out singer/actress/author and director, added activist to her resume when she brought two local drag queens on stage for a show in Nashville, Tennessee, not long after the state banned drag performance anywhere minors might be present.

Kiyoko called herself “shattered” hours before when an undercover cop at her soundcheck warned her legal action could follow if she defied the state ban on drag queens in public.

“I find pride in making sure my concerts are safe places for ALL,” Kiyoko wrote on Instagram. “How can I do that if we aren’t allowed to be ourselves, especially at a predominantly queer concert?”

Ten minutes before showtime, Lady LiberTea and Ivy St. James showed up and Kiyoko shared her concerns.

“I never want to put anyone in a position to be at risk or in danger in any way,” Kiyoko said, but the queens reassured her defiance was called for.

They made a triumphant entrance minutes later.

“They showed no fear,” Kiyoko marveled. “They truly inspire me.”

No arrests were made that night, and weeks later a federal judge struck down the drag ban, ruling it “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”

Kim Petras & Sam Smith

Kim Petras/Sam Smith

The queer pop stars joined forces in 2022 for a one-off collaboration that earned praise from fans and condemnation among the far-right, both frothing over the duo’s huge and heretical hit single “Unholy.”

“Mummy don’t know that daddy’s getting hot, at the body shop, something unholy,” the lyric in the video hums, while a hot dad samples a church’s profane pleasures.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) called the effort “demonic.”

Despite the uproar and maybe because of it, both Smith and Petras made history, becoming the first nonbinary and trans artists to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

“Unholy” — with nods in style and substance to Rihanna and Madonna, and in setting in the video to legendary church-turned-nightclub The Limelight in New York — appeared on Smith’s fourth album Gloria.

The song made history again in February when the pair accepted the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, making Petras and Smith the first trans and nonbinary artists to win that award.

“Sam graciously wanted me to accept this award, because I’m the first transgender woman” to win it, Petras said at the ceremony, earning a standing ovation from Taylor Swift, Queen Latifah, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, among other music luminaries.

“I just want to thank all the transgender legends before me, who kicked these doors open so I could be here tonight.”

Molly Kearney

Molly Kearney
Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC Molly Kearney

Last fall, Molly Kearney became the first out nonbinary cast member on Saturday Night Live, a milestone 48 seasons in the making.

The 31-year-old Clevelander joined the cast after making an impression in two sports-oriented franchises with her back-slapping, Tomboy appeal: Amazon’s series reboot of A League of Their Own, and Disney’s puck-forward follow-up Mighty Ducks: Game Changers.

On SNL in April, Kearney got athletic again when they were lowered via flying harness onto the Weekend Update set to make a plea for trans kids’ rights.

“I’ve been hung up on my genitals for far too long, and I’m starting to feel like a frickin’ Republican lawmaker,” they said through the “groin pain.”

With that, Kearney shared a thoughtful and moving plea to remember trans youth are kids first and foremost.

“What’s happening, kids, is wrong, and you don’t need to be scared,” Kearney said. “It’s kind of like me flying in the SNL sky. There’s a bunch of dudes asking you about your crotch and controlling when and where you’re allowed to pee, but if you just hang on, you’ll look up and realize: You’re flying, kid!”

As pink and blue confetti rained down, Kearney whooped a final “Trans rights!” and floated out.

Dwyane Wade & Gabrielle Union     

Dwyane Wade and wife Gabrielle Union
Shutterstock Dwyane Wade and wife Gabrielle Union


In the Venn diagram that is the marriage of former Miami Heat All-Star Dwayne Wade and Bring It On breakout actress Gabrielle Union, no one could have predicted the overlap would include a trans daughter and a profound dedication to protecting and promoting LGBTQ+ rights.

And yet, here they are.

The couple’s daughter Zaya came out as a girl in 2019 when she asked her parents to call her by her new name. The family has been outspoken, and public, in their support ever since.

The pair defended Zaya from far-right trolls like Candace Owens, who in 2021 called her transition another example of the “perversity” of the LGBTQ+ community.

Zaya got a big assist from her dad in 2022 when he filed court papers to officially change her name.

And this year, the family cut ties with Florida, moving to California full time as the Sunshine State devolves into Governor Ron DeSantis‘s (R) authoritarian, anti-LGBTQ+ fever dream.

“When you have the kind of rhetoric that is being espoused in Florida and adopted into law, that’s not an option if my child isn’t safe there,” Union told Parenting magazine earlier this month.  

“We have family and friends who don’t have the privilege of moving. So we are going to be fighting till we are out of breath to protect all kids who are oppressed.”

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