LGBTQ stars share their coming-out stories

This pride month (and the current special issue of EW) is all about the stars and stories belonging to the LGBTQ community. As part of the celebration, EW and PEOPLE asked some of our favorite celebrities to share their coming-out stories with us, and to say, for the the next generation, what they wish they could tell their younger selves.

Coming out as queer and bisexual “has given me a sense of relief,” says Grey’s Anatomy star and activist Sara Ramirez, who feels lucky to have the unfailing support of her family and friends, but also wants to help give a voice to those who lack that support.

In sharing her own unique story, Ramirez hopes to “help empower our youth to own those complex narratives for themselves,” and to a photograph of herself, taken when she was just 9 or 10, the actress wishes she could say, “You’re good enough just the way you are, your voice matters, your feelings matter, and you belong here, and I love you.”

See all of what she had to say in the video above, and read on for four more coming-out stories.

Love, Simon director and TV super-producer Greg Berlanti came out to his parents on the night Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch in 1996. “He had such presence, and really inspired courage,” Berlanti recalls, so after watching Ali light the flame, Berlanti turned off the TV and came out to his parents. “It didn’t go super-well at the time,” he admits, but over the years, their relationship evolved. “They had sort of their coming-out process with it all too, in that not only were they accepting of me being gay, but they wouldn’t have changed it,” he says. “I think because I had the courage to really be myself, declare myself to the world, and figure out who I was, it really was the thing that led to all the other wonderful things in my life.”

The L Word creator Ilene Chaiken wrote her own story of sexual discovery into the first season of the series, as Jenny’s arc. After having her first relationship with a woman, Chaiken says, “I just simply started living as a lesbian. I wasn’t a particularly bold person, but I just didn’t know how to lie.” Making that change in her life and coming out “lifted so many curtains on my life,” she says. “Living honestly as yourself is the most important thing. That was really the biggest change for me.”

Growing up alongside his twin brother, Max, heightened Charlie Carver’s awareness of how different he felt. “At a certain age, I started to see how he and I were different, and I wasn’t able to put my finger on it, because that language wasn’t available to me yet,” the Desperate Housewives actor says. When their father came out to them, around when the boys were in middle school, was “when I started to realize and be able to actually pinpoint why I, too, had felt different for so long.” After coming out to his family, some of whom already knew, “then I was free,” he recalls. “The step after that is realizing that you are an individual no matter how you identify, but if you can identify as one member of a larger community, there’s sort of a call to contribute and look out for everyone else.”

Love, Simon actor Keiynan Lonsdale introduces himself simply as “a human” before telling his coming-out story. “I knew that I wasn’t straight, but I didn’t know if I was gay, I didn’t know if I was bisexual — I didn’t feel comfortable really having that conversation with myself,” he says. But as rumors about his sexuality swirled within his group of friends, “it felt like everyone else was deciding it for me, and they knew better than I did.” Finally he had a long talk with his best friend. “[My friend] said, ‘You don’t have to be gay, you don’t have to be straight, you don’t have to be anything. You can just be Keiynan, that’s it,’” Lonsdale recalls. “And I instantly knew I had this friend and he didn’t see me any differently.” He kept his secret with that friend for a year and a half, but when he finally did come out publicly, at a party, “it was that exact thing that people say — the weight off your shoulders.”

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