Actor and TV host Jonathan Bennett is the first to admit his journey to being out and proud wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“I got into the entertainment industry during a time when I wasn’t encouraged to be proud of who I was — it was actually the opposite,” he said during a recent episode of his new podcast.
After moving to New York City at 19 years old, Bennett landed his first big acting break on the soap opera All My Children. When a publicist for the series pulled him into an office and told him he had to hide his sexuality and stop going to gay clubs if he wanted a career, Bennett’s world was rocked.
Faced with the choice of pursuing his dream of acting or living authentically, Bennett reluctantly went back into the closet. “It was the most awful feeling in the world, and that carried throughout the first ten years of my career.”
Professional success in films like Mean Girls and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 followed, but eventually, the personal sacrifice was too much to bear. In 2017, Bennett came out publicly, also revealing he was in a relationship with former American Race contestant Jaymes Vaughn.
Since then, the couple’s journey has been an inspiring showing of love and dedication — and very much in the public eye. When Vaughn proposed in 2020, the whole, adorable thing was filmed:
And last year, the couple became the first same-sex couple to be featured on the cover of the wedding magazine The Knot:
“From living in misery in the closet for a decade to being on the cover of the biggest wedding magazine in the world living loudly and proudly with my fiancé is something I never would have imagined,” Bennett wrote on Instagram. “I can only think about how younger me would feel, in small-town Ohio, standing in line with his mom at the grocery store and looking over to see two men in love on wedding a magazine. Representation matters.”
They made it official in March, and you can be sure there were some great photos:
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But all that exposure isn’t just for the ‘likes.’
“We don’t take pictures and share these moments of our lives because we like to see ourselves on social media,” Bennett added when we spoke with him. “We do it because we remember when we were young, not having two guys who looked like us that had the love that we wanted to have, publicly.”
That Bennett has come so far in his pride journey — he’s even the host of a new iHeartRadio podcast called Pridecast — and is dedicated to making the world a place where no one has to choose between authenticity and a career, makes us proud to include him among this year’s honorees.
Asked if he had a message for anyone who might be struggling like he did all those years ago, he said:
“To all the LGBTQ+ youth out there that are growing up and feeling like they’re too much or not good enough and not worthy of living their life proudly and loudly and being who they are, it’s very simple: You, in this moment of your life right now and in every single moment of your life no matter what you’re doing, no matter how you’re feeling, you are never too much, and you are always enough.”