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12 LGBTQ milestones we’re thankful for this year

From a record number of LGBTQ athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics to the "Old Gays" rise to fame, there's much to be thankful for this year.
Image: Bronze medalist Thomas Daley of Team Great Britain following the medal ceremony for the Men's 10m Platform Final at the Olympic Games in Tokyo on Aug. 7, 2021.
Bronze medalist Thomas Daley of Team Great Britain following the medal ceremony for the Men's 10m Platform Final at the Olympic Games in Tokyo on Aug. 7, 2021.Fred Lee / Getty Images file

As many LGBTQ Americans plan to gather with their families — or "chosen families" — for the holidays, Thanksgiving might look more normal this year. But whether you are celebrating over a Zoom call or laughing with loved ones over “RuPaul’s Drag Race” reruns and turkey, there is always a reason to be thankful.

From a record number of LGBTQ athletes competing in the Olympics to JoJo Siwa’s historic run on ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars,” here are a dozen queer milestones we’re thankful for this year. 

JoJo Siwa on 'Dancing With the Stars' 

ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" - Season 30 - Finale
Jojo Siwa and her dance partner, Jenna Johnson, finished in 2nd place. Eric McCandless / ABC via Getty Images

Reality star and YouTube sensation JoJo Siwa, 18, made history on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" as the first competitor in the the show's 30 seasons to dance with a same-sex partner. Siwa and her dance partner, Jenna Johnson, finished in second place after their groundbreaking run.

Following this season's finale on Monday, Siwa shared an Instagram post  expressing her gratitude for the production crew, the judges, her loved ones and — of course — her dance partner.

“I’m so beyond proud of you and I’m so proud of us!!! We did it. I’m so proud of every dance we did. I’m so proud of the stories that we told. And I am MORE than proud of the message that we spread,” Siwa, who came out as part of the LGBTQ community earlier this year, wrote. “I’m so thankful that kids today have moments in history like this to look to and realize that LOVE IS LOVE and being who you are is beautiful. Celebrate being born the way you are everyday no matter what!”

A record number of LGBTQ Olympians

Canada v Sweden: Gold Medal Match Women's Football - Olympics: Day 14
Canada's Quinn with their gold medal on August 6, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan. Naomi Baker / Getty Images

This year's Tokyo Summer Games was dubbed by some as the "Rainbow Olympics” for its record number of LGBTQ competitors. At least 186 out athletes from around the world were present at this year’s competition, more than triple the number at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, according to LGBTQ sports site Outsports.

Perhaps even more impressive is that these queer Olympians earned earned 32 individual and team medals in Tokyo. Outsports founder Cyd Zeigler noted that these athletes "didn't just show up — they also performed at a very high level."

British diver Tom Daley was among the medalists, earning his first gold medal, along with his synchronized diving partner, Matty Lee. Daley, who is married to American screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, has appeared in four Olympic competitions and has won a total of four medals: one gold and three bronze.

Canadian soccer star Quinn made history at the Tokyo Summer Games as the first out transgender athlete to ever compete in the Olympics. Quinn, a midfielder, helped Canada's women's soccer team defeat Sweden in the final game to win the country's first-ever gold in the event.

These adorable 'Old Gays'

(L-R) Bill Lyons, Jessay Martin, Robert Reeves and Mick Peterson
(L-R) Bill Lyons, Jessay Martin, Robert Reeves and Mick PetersonJon Premosch for TODAY

TikTok stars Robert Reeves, Mick Peterson, Bill Lyons and Jessay Martin — known collectively as the “Old Gays” — achieved fame this year for their viral videos showing everything from their hilarious reactions to Cardi B’s “WAP” music video to sharing their coming-out journeys to a look back on the loves of their lives.

The foursome of gay men, who range in age from the mid-60s to late 70s, have more than 3.2 million followers and 320 million views across their social media platforms.

“I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around that, truly,” Lyons, 77, told NBC’s in June. “I mean, at 77 years old, I never had any idea that this would happen to me. It’s totally surreal. I feel like a dinosaur, but the way that people are reacting to me and to the others, I can’t believe it.”

In November, the quartet signed with Brian Graden Media (BGM) to develop a docuseries about their personal and professional social media lives, all while living together in Cathedral City, California.

Heartwarming stories of queer love

This Valentine’s Day, we turned to the NBC Out community, asking longtime LGBTQ couples to give us guidance on what it means — and what it takes — to thrive together.

Marianne and Vicki Oakes were among the couples that shared their story. Four years after they met, when they were both 19, Marianne came out to Vicki as transgender. 

“I sat down with her and said, ‘This is how it is for me. I’ve got these feelings.’ I didn’t know where it was going to go,” Marianne told NBC News in February. “I was on my own with this. Back then there was no education.”

A year later, they were married and have been together for more than four decades.

Marianne said sharing her love story is part of her mission in the world as a counselor for trans people. 

“There’s a narrative that trans people can’t find love,” Marianne said. “That narrative and that myth keeps us frightened and from being seen. We can find love. Perpetuating the myth must stop.”

Celebrities who came out in 2021

Jojo Siwa, Carl Nassib and Demi Lovato.
JoJo Siwa, Carl Nassib and Demi Lovato.NBC News; Getty Images; Reuters

Actor and singer Demi Lovato came out as nonbinary in May and said they would be changing their pronouns to they/them.

“Not only has my life been a journey for myself, I was also living for those on the other side of the cameras,” Lovato, who got their start on “Barney & Friends” and has had roles on shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Prison Break,” wrote on Twitter.

“Today is a day I’m so happy to share more of my life with you all — I am proud to let you know that I identify as nonbinary & will officially be changing my pronouns to they/them moving forward,” Lovato, 29, told fans at the time.

Other celebrities and public figures to come out this year include NFL player Carl Nassib, Brothers Osborne singer-guitarist TJ Osborne and actor Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson.

First-time gay parents

Chasten and Pete Buttigieg shared this image of their newborn twins Penelope Rose and Joseph August on Sept. 4, 2021.
Chasten and Pete Buttigieg shared this image of their newborns, Penelope Rose and Joseph August, on Sept. 4, 2021.Pete Buttigieg / via Twitter

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced in September that he and his husband, Chasten, officially became parents of two children.

“Chasten and I are beyond thankful for all the kind wishes since first sharing the news that we’re becoming parents,” Buttigieg tweeted alongside a photo of him and his husband holding their newborn son and daughter. “We are delighted to welcome Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg to our family.”

Being a first-time parent is the “most demanding thing I think I’ve ever done,” Buttigieg, a former Navy intelligence officer and 2020 presidential candidate, said in October.

Former boy band star Lance Bass and husband Michael Turchin also welcomed their two newborn babies, via surrogate, in October.

“Haven’t slept much in 5 days and I’m covered in ick but I’ve never been so happy!” he captioned a quartet of photos of daughter Violet Betty and son Alexander James shortly after their birth. “Now there are four of us in this house that wear diapers (hint: it’s not me or @michaelturchinart).”

Newly out queer superheroes

Batman's Urban Legends series featuring Robin.
Batman's Urban Legends series featuring Robin.DC Comics

Queer representation in comic books exploded this year, with comics reinventing character fan favorites — including Robin, Batwoman and the Flash — as part of the LGBTQ community.

Most notably, the internet exploded when DC Comics announced that the next-generation Superman Jonathan Kent, the son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, is bisexual. DC made the announcement on National Coming Out Day in October.

“When I was offered this job, I thought, ‘Well, if we’re going to have a new Superman for the DC Universe, it feels like a missed opportunity to have another straight white savior,’” series writer Tom Taylor told Reuters in an October interview.

When Marvels’ “Eternals” hit theaters earlier this month, superhero fans got to see the first openly queer superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phastos. Played by “Atlanta” star Brian Tyree Henry, Phastos is part of a tribe of alien immortals with fantastic powers and is married to a human husband, played by actor Haaz Sleiman.

A transgender winner on 'RuPaul’s Drag Race'

Kylie Sonique Love during the finale of 'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 6.'
Kylie Sonique Love during the finale of 'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 6.'VH1 / Paramount +

For the first time in the history of the U.S. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” franchise, a transgender contestant was crowned the winner of the hit competition show. 

Kylie Sonique Love snagged the crown of the sixth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” which streamed on Paramount+.

“I couldn’t have done this without thanking the universe every single day, for all my blessings and all the people around me that believed in my dreams,” Love said following her win in September. “I’m so grateful to Paramount+, World of Wonder and RuPaul for taking everything she’s learned in the business and for giving people like me an opportunity. Not just drag queens but trans people, and I’m so grateful to be the first trans representation with the crown.”

Lil Nas X’s cover of Dolly Parton’s 'Jolene'

Image: Lil Nas X performs on Jan. 23, 2020 in Los Angeles.
Lil Nas X performs on Jan. 23, 2020 in Los Angeles.Emma McIntyre / Getty Images for Spotify file

Rapper Lil Nas X released a cover performance of Dolly Parton’s 1974 hit “Jolene” in September, garnering more than 3.8 million views on YouTube.

Parton said in a tweet that she “was so excited” when someone told her that Lil Nas X had covered “Jolene.”

“I had to find it and listen to it immediately … and it’s really good,” she wrote, adding, “I was surprised and I’m honored and flattered.”

The 22-year-old rapper appeared awestruck in his Twitter response to the music legend.

Historic queer cover models

Bretman Rock has become the first gay man to grace the cover of Playboy.
Bretman Rock has become the first gay man to grace the cover of Playboy.Playboy

Sporting the iconic Playboy bunny outfit — heels, black tights, a bow-tie and lingerie topped with bunny ears — makeup guru Bretman Rock made queer cover model history in October, becoming the first gay man to grace the digital cover of Playboy magazine.

“For Playboy to have a male on the cover is a huge deal for the LGBT community, for my brown people community and it’s all so surreal,”  Rock, who is Filipino American, said at the time on Twitter.

Model Ariel Nicholson also made history, as the first transgender person to be featured on the cover of U.S. Vogue.

Nicholson was one of eight models to grace the cover of the fashion magazine’s “Generation America”-themed September issue.

“To have the opportunity to participate in the shifting landscape of fashion is a dream come true,” she wrote in the caption of an Instagram post celebrating the milestone. 

Pulse nightclub designated a national memorial

5th Anniversary of the tragic PULSE Nightclub Massacre
Mourners lay flowers at the Pulse memorial in Orlando, Fla., on June 12, 2021.DeFodi / via Getty Images

In a rare showing of bipartisanship on LGBTQ issues, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation in June designating the site of Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a national memorial.

On June 12, 2016, 49 patrons were killed and dozens more wounded in one of the country’s most gruesome massacres. 

President Joe Biden signed the legislation into law several days after the fifth anniversary of the attack.

“The unanimous consent is such welcome news as we are set to mark the five-year remembrance of the Pulse tragedy,” the Pulse nightclub said in a statement at the time. “This recognition from both the House and Senate means so much to the LGBTQ+ community. #WeWillNotLetHateWin”

Queer Grammy and Emmy nominees

Image: Lil Nas X, 2021 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Lil Nas X performs at the MTV Video Music Awards in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Sept. 12.John Shearer / MTV VMAs 2021 / Getty Images for MTV / ViacomCBS

Rapper Lil Nas X’s hit song about gay sex was nominated for three Grammy Awards, catapulting LGBTQ narratives to the highest echelon of achievement in the music industry.

The provocative song — “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” — is up for song of the year, record of the year and best music video at the 64th annual Grammy Awards, which are being held Jan. 31 in Los Angeles.

Its title is a reference to the gay romance novel and 2017 film “Call Me By Your Name.” But its lyrics are less about love and more about lust, with lines including “romantic talking? You don’t even have to try” and “I’m not fazed, only here to sin.”

Other LGBTQ artists who received Grammy nominations this year include singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, pop star Halsey and singer-songwriter Arlo Parks.

Although she did not end up wining in September, Mj Rodriguez made history in July for becoming the first transgender performer to pick up an Emmy nomination for a major acting category. Rodriguez was nominated in the lead drama actress category for her role as Blanca Rodriguez on FX’s hit show “Pose.”

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