WHAT? Gay people in the theater? Who knew? Here's a few:
Before Ellen, there was Lea. In 1993, four years before Ellen came out, DeLaria did her stand-up act on "The Arsenio Hall Show" as an out, lesbian comic. In 1998, she became the first out lesbian (that we know of) to star in a Broadway musical.
Her performance as the loud, brassy Hildy in the revival of the 1940s musical "On The Town” (the 1949 film version with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly is a Turner Classic Movies staple) was hailed as a showstopper and a star-making turn. DeLaria later donned male drag for her roles as Eddie and Dr. Scott in the Broadway revival of the gender bending "The Rocky Horror Show".
DeLaria's varied career has included comedy albums with titles like "Bulldyke in a China Shop" and recordings of jazz/pop standards. She's had many film roles, often playing lesbians in major Hollywood releases. Out, loud, proud and sometimes foul-mouthed, DeLaria's sexuality appears to have helped her career. She currently has a recurring role on the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black" and was also a recurring player on the soap opera "One Life to Live.”
One might be able to argue who came out first, Lea DeLaria or Cherry Jones. Both made their mark on Broadway as out, proud lesbians, though their careers have been decidedly different.
Jones is an intense dramatic actress with many awards on her mantle. Before Meryl Streep starred in the 2008 film "Doubt,” Jones had won a Tony Award for her 2005 performance in the play. It was her second Tony. She also won an Emmy for her long running role on the TV series "24.” She's been seen in many major films including "Erin Brockovich,” "The Perfect Storm" and the Lifetime movie "What Makes a Family" in which she and Brooke Shields play a lesbian couple who have a child. Shields must fight for custody after Jones' character dies.
Always open about her sexuality, Jones, even as a Tony nominee walked the red carpet with her then-partner.
When asked by a reporter whether or not he was gay, Nathan Lane famously replied, "I'm forty, I'm single and I work a lot in musical theater. You do the math."
The winner of two Tony Awards, he has more than a dozen Broadway credits to his name including his role in the musical version of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” which he later reprised in the film version of the same name.
His other Broadway roles include the groundbreaking AIDS drama "Love! Valor! Compassion!" the 1990s revival of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"and the 2005 revival of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple."
Lane has appeared in many films, most notably opposite Robin Williams in "The Birdcage" (1996), the screamingly funny Hollywood remake of the French drag farce "La Cage Aux Folles.” He also appeared in the 1996 AIDS themed film "Jeffrey.”
Lane has received numerous Emmy nominations for his guest starring roles on a variety of TV shows.
Lane lives in New York with his partner, where he remains one of Broadway's brightest stars.
Neil Patrick Harris
Harris rose to prominence as the child star of the TV series "Doogie Howser MD.” He made an easy transition into adult roles and now moves effortlessly between Broadway and TV, with an occasional film role thrown in for good measure.
Harris has an extensive resume in musical theater, which includes touring the country in the counter-culture AIDS musical "Rent.” He appeared on Broadway as the Master of Ceremonies in the musical masterpiece "Cabaret,” a dark look at Germany as the Nazis began their ascent into power. First produced in 1966 and made into an Oscar winning 1972 film, "Cabaret" daringly featured a gay character and a bisexual one.
Harris currently stars on Broadway in the trans-themed rock musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” He's also one of the most popular hosts of the Tony Awards in history.
Harris recently completed a nine-year run on the popular sitcom "How I Met Your Mother" in which he played a womanizing heterosexual. Even his 2006 coming out didn’t diminish his TV character's popularity.
Harris lives with his fiancé, David Burtka. The couple has two children.
Garber first came to prominence as Jesus in the musical "Godspell" repeating his stage role on film. Though he's best known to mass audiences as ship builder Thomas Andrews in James Cameron's "Titanic" (1997), Garber has spent a good deal of his career on Broadway. He also starred in the TV series "Alias" and has had numerous other film and TV roles.
Garber has been nominated for four Tony Awards and has a total of fifteen Broadway credits.
He prefers not to talk about his private life, but is honest about being gay when the subject comes up. He's been with his current partner for more than ten years.
While it's arguable which lesbian made it to Broadway first, Cherry Jones or Lea DaLaria, there's no denying that Harvey Fierstein was Broadway's first out gay man. His groundbreaking play "Torch Song Trilogy" won a number of Tony Awards in the 1970s. A touching drama about a drag queen's search for love and acceptance, Fierstein, who wrote and starred in the play, admitted that much of it was based on his own life.
Over the ensuing decades, Fierstein has appeared in many Broadway shows and in films. He’s written other boundary-breaking works, including the riveting AIDS drama "Tidy Endings" in which he and his dead partner's ex-wife make peace with each other at their former lover’s gravesite. He's also written for musical theater, and, to show his versatility, starred as Tevye in a revival of "Fiddler on the Roof.”
Out, loud and proud every step of the way, Fierstein has been a champion of gay rights, though his deep, gravelly voice might become what he's best remembered for.