7 celebrities who came out in 2016 and why their stories matter

In a year of tragedies like the shooting in June at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, 2016 also held significant milestones for the LGBTQ communities, including numerous public figures coming out. These celebrities discussed their sexuality with their fans and the press, talking about the people they love and why it is important for them to share this news. 

Former child stars, devoutly religious people and blockbuster headliners all spoke openly about their sexuality and romantic lives. 

Colton Haynes 

Colton Haynes at the 32nd annual PaleyFestRichard Shotwell/AP

After starring as Jackson Whittemore on Teen Wolf and as Arsenal on Arrow, Haynes' past was referenced in a Tumblr post about old modeling photos. A fan commented on Haynes' "secret gay past," to which Haynes responded with, "Was it a secret?" 

Following the post, Haynes checked into rehab for anxiety. He later told Entertainment Weekly, "I should have made a comment or a statement [about the post] but I just wasn't ready. I didn't feel like I owed anyone anything. I think, in due time, everyone has to make those decisions when they're ready, and I wasn't yet. But I felt like I was letting people down by not coming forward with the rest of what I should have said." 

He tweeted the article, saying, "I believe in living life to the fullest and taking control of your life story. More to come." 

Haynes' coming out, as well as discussing his history of anxiety, show the dangers of keeping the truth a secret and the freedom that comes with being honest. 

Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart at the 'Elle' Women in Hollywood awardsJordan Strauss/AP

Starring as Bella Swan in the Twilight film franchise, Stewart became a household name overnight and a symbol of romance to many pre-teens and adolescents. When she discusses her sexuality openly and without shame, they listen. 

"I think also right now I'm just really in love with my girlfriend," Stewart told Elle UK. "We've broken up a couple of times and gotten back together, and this time I was like, 'Finally, I can feel again.'" 

Commenting on her decision to make her relationship public, Stewart said, "It changed when I started dating a girl. I was like, 'Actually, to hide this provides the implication that I'm not down with it or I'm ashamed of it, so I had to alter how I approached being in public. It opened my life up and I'm so much happier.'" 

Trey Pearson

Singer Trey Pearson came out in a magazine interview. Megan Leigh Barnard/Photo courtesy of Trey Pearson

The frontman of the Christian rock band Everyday Sunday came out in the magazine 614. Pearson wrote a letter that was published online, alongside accompanying text. 

"I grew up in a very conservative Christian home where I was taught that my sexual orientation was a matter of choice, and had put all my faith into that. I had never before admitted to myself that I was gay, let alone anyone else... I've tried my whole life to be straight. I married a girl, and I even have two beautiful little kids." 

Pearson coming to terms with his sexuality and his Christian faith, which are often interpreted as being incompatible with same-sex relationships, shows people of faith that there are options beyond what they might have been taught and that reconciling is taking place in some religious communities. 

Aubrey Plaza 

Aubrey PlazaCasey Curry/AP

The Parks and Recreation star told the Advocate, "I know I have an androgynous thing going on, and there's something masculine about my energy. Girls are into me — that's no secret. Hey, I'm into them too. I fall in love with girls and guys. I can't help it." She said her family has "always been very open," sharing that she has a gay aunt and gay uncle and that her sister is lesbian. 

Plaza's low-key, matter-of-fact way of discussing her own sexuality, as well as her families, shows her fans that being gay doesn't have to be a painful secret. She has had the acceptance and support of her family along the way.

Ryan Beatty 

Ryan Beatty attends Just Jared Jr.'s Fall Fun Day. Matt Sayles/AP

Alongside an Instagram photo of a balloon that read, "Gay Power," Beatty wrote, "Proud to be a raging homosexual. It's taken 20 years of suffocating in the closet for me to become comfortable enough to say it, but now I can finally breathe. I did it!" 

Beatty came out just three weeks after the Orlando nightclub shootings. While he didn't correlate his coming out with the attack, the timing was impossible to notice. 

Bella Thorne

Bella Thorne at the 22nd annual Critics' Choice AwardsChristopher Polk/Getty Images

Bella Thorne's coming out was short and sweet. When a photo of her kissing Bella Pendergast surfaced online, a fan tweeted to Thorne asking if she was bisexual. Thorne's response? "Yes." 

She didn't offer any other explanation, and she didn't need to. An outpouring of support came immediately.

Elizabeth Gilbert 

Elizabeth Gilbert arrives at the European premiere of 'Eat, Pray Love.'Paul Jeffers/AP

Gilbert, author of the best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love, announced a separation from her husband, describing her "true feelings" for Rayya Elias, a longtime friend. She said she recognized her feelings after Elias was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer.

Gilbert possesses an influential platform, having sold more than 10 million copies of her book, which was adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts. A favorite among book clubs and women's groups, her ownership of her sexuality may inspire other women to change their lives.