2022 was a lavender ceiling-shattering year for LGBTQ+ politicians, athletes, artists, and actors.
Queer pop stars topped the charts. LGBTQ+ candidates won their midterms races in record numbers. And historically large swaths of trans and nonbinary people graced the covers of magazines, dominated game shows and reality TV competitions, and won prestigious acting awards, increasing queer visibility and representation across many industries.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are historically underrepresented in spaces like government and sports and still face marginalization despite momentous gains made in 2022. Prior to the midterm elections, just 11 out of the 535 members of Congress—two senators and nine House members—were openly LGBTQ+. In both professional and recreational sports settings, LGBTQ+ people, particularly genderqueer and gender-nonconforming athletes, are regularly targeted and excluded as issues ranging from stigma to anti-trans legislation continue to pervade the country.
As laws seeking to curtail LGBTQ+ rights continue to crop up in states across the U.S. at record-high numbers, it can be easy to forget the progress made by queer community members and advocates. To commemorate the historic wins of the past year, from the “rainbow wave” sweeping federal and local offices to the red carpet, Stacker scoured news and other sources to compile a list of LGBTQ+ people who made history in 2022.
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The Washington Post // Getty Images
Vermont elected Becca Balint, the state’s first openly LGBTQ+ and first woman Congressional representative, during the 2022 midterm elections. Balint defeated Republican candidate and Iraq War veteran Liam Madden in a landslide on a platform centered on reproductive rights, universal health care, and LGBTQ+ inclusion. Before entering politics, she was a middle school teacher. Balint’s victory ended Vermont’s status as the last state to have not elected a woman to Congress.
Iowa General Assembly // Wikimedia Commons
In June, Liz Bennett became the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to Iowa’s State Senate. Bennett, who formerly served in the State House, has a strong record of fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and co-authored a bill outlawing the use of the trans and “gay panic defense” in courtrooms, among other important legislation.
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Anthony Bowens is the first openly gay wrestling champion in All Elite Wrestling, the second-largest pro wrestling league after the WWE. Bowens competes as a part of the wrestling duo The Acclaimed, but he used to be a serious baseball player. Apart from wrestling, he’s also been in a couple of films and is a YouTuber with his longtime partner, Michael Pavano.
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During the 2022 midterms, Patricia Contreras became one of the first out lesbian Latinas to be voted into the Arizona House of Representatives. Contreras, who came from a career in public service, advocates for public education, mitigating the effects of climate change, and improving resources for seniors.
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Emma Corrin became the first nonbinary person to grace the cover of Vogue in July. Corrin is an actor whose most recent roles include playing Diana on “The Crown” and starring in the Netflix film “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and the Harry Styles-led “My Policeman.” In their interview with Vogue, they shared their thoughts about the fluidity of gender and sexuality and posed for a playful photoshoot.
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Kristen Crowley made history in several ways when she was appointed as Fire Chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department, becoming the first woman, out LGBTQ+ person, and paramedic to hold the position. Crowley has spoken of her dedication to promoting a culture of inclusivity and nondiscrimination within the LAFD, a unit of over 3,400 employees. Her predecessor, Ralph Terrazas, was publicly called upon to resign by a group of women firefighters who accused him of perpetuating a racist and sexist culture within the department.
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For her performance as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” Ariana DeBose became the first queer woman of color to win an acting Oscar. She was the second actor to win an Oscar for the same role after Rita Moreno, who won in 1962. Besides her film role, DeBose has been in such Broadway productions as “Hamilton” and “Pippin” and was nominated for a Tony for her role in “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.”
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Robert Garcia became the first out gay immigrant to be elected to Congress during the 2022 midterms. Raised in California, Garcia is currently the mayor of Long Beach, California, where he spearheaded the city’s strong COVID-19 response, including making it the first city in the state to vaccinate teachers.
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Olympic gold medal-winning rugby player Ellia Green became the first Olympian to come out as a transgender man in August. After becoming an Australian rugby champion at the 2016 Olympics, he retired from the sport and began thinking seriously about transitioning. Green shares a daughter with their partner, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts.
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Maura Healey became one of the first out lesbian governors in U.S. history when she was elected to lead the state of Massachusetts in November. Healey’s platform is centered around protecting abortion rights and increasing the accessibility of child care. Her former tenure as U.S. attorney general was marked by going after corporations like ExxonMobil and OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma for bad behavior.
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Karine Jean-Pierre was appointed White House press secretary by the Biden administration in May, making her the first out LGBTQ+ person and Black woman to hold the position. Born in Martinique, Jean-Pierre grew up in Queens, New York, and served as Kamala Harris’ chief of staff before her appointment to press secretary. She lives with her partner, CNN journalist Suzanne Malveaux, and their daughter in Washington D.C.
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In September, comedian and actor Molly Kearney became the first nonbinary cast member of “Saturday Night Live.” Their casting came after several longtime cast members announced their departures from the show, including Kate McKinnon, one of the show’s first out LGBTQ+ comedians. Kearney previously starred on the Amazon series “A League of Their Own” and “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers.”
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Alongside Maura Healey, Tina Kotek became the other first out lesbian governor in the U.S. Before her election as governor of Oregon, Kotek was the state’s longest-serving state House speaker. She will replace current Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who also made history back in 2016 as the first out LGBTQ+ person and openly bisexual person to be elected governor. Kotek’s campaign was focused on increasing affordable housing and fighting climate change in the state.
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In March, Ty Penserga became the first LGBTQ+ mayor of Boynton Beach, Florida, and the first LGBTQ+ mayor-elect of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage in Florida history. Philippine-born Penserga formerly served as city commissioner, easily defeating anti-vaccine candidate Cindy Falco DiCorrado and Bernard Wright, who leveled homophobic and racist rhetoric at Penserga during his campaign. He currently balances his mayoral duties with teaching chemistry at a Palm Beach public high school.
Douglas W. Reynolds // Wikimedia Commons
Byron Perkins came out as gay in October, making him the first out gay Division 1 football player at a historically Black college or university. Perkins, who attends Hampton University, a historically Black private university in Virginia, came out publicly in a vulnerable Instagram post. He said that he hopes to make other closeted LGBTQ+ athletes at HBCUs feel less alone and to end stigma.
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Kim Petras and Sam Smith
In October, pop singers Kim Petras and Sam Smith’s collaborative earworm “Unholy” climbed to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making them the first out trans and nonbinary artists, respectively, to have a song claim the top spot. Smith’s 2014 record “Stay With Me” previously peaked at #2 on the chart, while “Unholy” became Petras’ first chart-topper.
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The season 14 victor of the award-winning reality television show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was Willow Pill, the first transgender and first disabled or chronically ill contestant to take home the title. They came out as transfemme on the show, alongside several other of the season’s contestants, making it the most trans-representative season in the show’s history. Pill, who lives with cystinosis, a rare chronic genetic disease that impacts the kidneys and other parts of the body, has been outspoken about her experience with chronic illness, medical PTSD, and the fluidity of gender identity.
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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez
“Pose” star Michaela Jaé Rodriguez made history in January as the first transgender winner of a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a drama series. Formerly known as MJ, Rodriguez’s award-winning performance as Blanca had previously been nominated for an Emmy, which made her the first trans nominee in a major acting category in the award’s history. She has also appeared in “Luke Cage,” “The Carrie Diaries,” and “Nurse Jackie.”
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The already historic 2022 midterms saw another LGBTQ+ candidate win election to office: James Roesener, the first out trans man to be elected to a state legislature. Roesener, who won his race in New Hampshire, is an outspoken advocate for reproductive rights and gender-affirming health care. He defeated his opponent, Dennis Soucy, who actively supported “Don’t Say Gay” bills and denied police brutality as an issue in New Hampshire.
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Travis Shumake became the first openly gay driver to compete in a National Hot Rod Association national racing event. Shumake’s father was also a prominent racer in the NHRA in the 1970s and ’80s, winning two Funny Car finals before his tragic death in a hit-and-run. Shumake, whose participation in the league has been protested by the Westboro Baptist Church, is now sponsored by Grindr, the gay dating app.
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Swimmer Lia Thomas became the first out transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship in March. After swimming for the University of Pennsylvania’s men’s team for several seasons, she embarked on her transition and competed for the women’s team. Her victory has not been without transphobic harassment, however; her participation in women’s sports has been co-opted by legislators trying to stop trans athletes from joining teams that match their gender identity.
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In January, Amy Schneider made history as her 40-victory run on the game show “Jeopardy!” came to an end. She is the most successful woman and trans contestant in the show’s history, ending her tenure on the show with the second-most consecutive wins ever after the legendary Ken Jennings, the show’s then-guest host. She also became the first transgender contestant on the show’s elite “Tournament of Champions.” Schneider is an engineering manager and lives with her wife in Oakland, California.
This story was written by Stacker and has been re-published pursuant to a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.