Published on
01 February 2019

It’s LGBT History Month – that time of year when it’s customary to remind people how much LGBTQ rights have progressed, and then immediately follow this up with a cautionary tale of just how far we’ve yet to go.

Two young people outside being affectionate

Since both points are still true, it’s in this spirit we’re taking a look at how things have changed in terms of visible (read: famous) role models for our LGBTQ young people. Just who are the LGBTQ role models for millennials and Generation Z, and what’s their significance when it comes to supporting them to be themselves – and be proud of it?

The importance of seeing other people like you

Having role models is an important part of adolescent development. It’s important for our LGBTQ young people to see other people like them in society so that they feel represented, inspired and motivated to be their best selves. 

Role models and allies in schools and other sections of society are important – as a charity, we work with young people, parents / carers, schools and local authorities to ensure kids feel safe and empowered to be their full selves. 

We do this directly. Our Positive Identities service delivered 411 sessions in 162 schools over the last 21 months. These sessions give schools the knowledge, confidence and resources to support LGBTQ pupils, staff and families to ensure the environment and curriculum is inclusive of a diverse range of identities.

Colourful illustration of young people with celebrate messaging

This sort of approach in schools is so important – particularly for tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying – but also in relation to LGBTQ young people feeling like they're not alone, and potentially have role models in their immediate environment.

But famous role models can also play a part in inspiring young people, particularly in terms of success and the attainability of that success. Think back to your own childhood. When you look up to your favourite pop star or sportsperson, it inevitably has an effect on how you see the world and your place in it. 

How LGBTQ role models have changed

A combination of social barriers and the stigma attached to coming out has meant that in the past, young people were not used to seeing people like them represented in society and the media.

Thankfully, our LGBTQ young people today are growing up in a world where this is changing. It’s certainly heading in the right direction, to the point where our young people’s role models aren’t necessarily 'the first openly gay rugby player' or 'the first trans person on TV'.

Obviously the law’s changed and society's changed, but I think the important thing that's changed is the role models that are out there, because when I was growing up there was Larry Grayson and Danny La Rue.

Mike Pierce

From Stonewall’s Voices.* 

Nothing wrong with Larry Grayson and Danny La Rue of course. But times have changed, and those who were born this side of the nineties have a wider choice of role models to look up to. 

From actress Ellen Page and model / activist Munroe Bergdorf (currently going strong with 49.5k followers on Twitter and 110k on Instagram), to Olympic diver Tom Daley and Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson – visible role models for our LGBTQ youth to look up to are on the increase. And that can only be a good thing.

So this LGBT History Month, let us not forget how far we still need to go to create a truly inclusive society for our LGBTQ young people to grow up in. 

But let’s also remember just how far we’ve come.

Find out more about our work with LGBTQ young people.