Out and Proud: Black Gay Trailblazers

Robin Roberts joins an impressive list of celebrities and public figures who have come out.

Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts

D Dipasupil/Getty Images 

By thanking her longtime girlfriend on social media on Sunday, ABC’s Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts joined a list of influential celebrities and public figures who made history by being among the first black Americans in their respective fields to come out as gay. Here is a list of others.

Glenn Burke

Glenn Burke

Glenn Burke


Burke is credited with many things, including having a highly successful Major League Baseball career and inventing the high five, but most notably for being the first MLB player to come out—after he retired in 1980—which was no small feat for someone who played in the 1970s. 

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin

Library of Congress

There would have been no March on Washington in 1963 without Rustin, one of the most influential political organizers of the civil rights movement. Besides his work as an activist, Rustin was also significant for being an LGBT trailblazer.

Sheryl Swoopes

Sheryl Swoopes in September 2000

Doug Pensinger /Getty Images

Swoopes, the first WNBA player to have a Nike shoe named after her, became one of the highest-profile athletes to come out in 2005. At the time she said, "Male athletes of my caliber probably feel like they have a lot more to lose than gain [by coming out]. I don't agree with that. To me, the most important thing is happiness."

Don Lemon

CNN news anchor Don Lemon

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Before Robert’s announcement, Lemon became one of the first high-profile black news personalities to come out as gay with his memoir, Transparent, in 2011.

Jason Collins

Basketball player Jason Collins


By announcing that he was gay in a Sports Illustrated cover story in April of this year, Collins became the first openly gay male athlete playing a major sport to come out in a while.

Wanda Sykes

Actress-comedian Wanda Sykes

Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Sykes, well known for her comedic roles in film and television, became one of the first black female celebrities in Hollywood to acknowledge that she is gay at the height of her success. She used the announcement as an opportunity to lend her support to the fight for same-sex marriage.

Lee Daniels

Director-producer Lee Daniels


Daniels is the first openly gay mainstream black director to achieve commercial and critical success in Hollywood and was recently named Out magazine’s artist of the year.

Frank Ocean

Singer-songwriter Frank Ocean


Iin 2012 Ocean became the first prominent male artist in the hip-hop world to indicate that he did not identify as straight. The support he garnered from other high-profile artists in the hip-hop world was seen as a major step forward for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

E.J. Johnson

EJ Johnson

E.J. Johnson


Johnson’s acknowledgment that he’s gay, followed by his father Magic Johnson’s public support of him, may end up having a profound influence on how other families, particularly in the black community, react to their own relatives’ coming out.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.