This profile is part four of Queerty’s Out For Good series, recognizing public figures who’ve had the courage to come out in the past year in the name of the public good. The series will run through National Coming Out Day October 11.
Name: Jonathan Van Ness, 32
Bio: Van Ness grew up in Quincy, a mid-sized town in downstate Illinois as the son of a newspaper tycoon. Both his parents worked as journalists. Never one to hide, Van Ness has spoken about the constant bullying he endured as a boy who presented differently than his peers. He credits the negativity–some of which came in the form of death threats–with helping him develop a sense of humor and a drive to succeed.
Van Ness became a reality TV celebrity as a key member of the new “Fab Five” on the Netflix revival of Queer Eye, where he plays the role of the grooming expert. Now in its fourth season, the show focuses on Van Ness and his fellow style experts making over people–queer and straight alike–to more than just a new look: self-acceptance and self-confidence are central goals.
Coming Out: Van Ness has always lived his life as an openly gay man, but 2019 saw him come out twice more. In June, during an interview with Out, he clarified that although he prefers male pronouns, he identifies as non-binary. Just a few months later, in September, he came out yet again when he revealed that he’d been living with HIV for seven years. The revelation came as one of many stunning admissions in his memoir Over The Top.
Making a Difference: Van Ness has lived out and proud for his adult life. In some ways, his non-binary and HIV revelations are even more challenging in this day and age of right-wing backlash. “I’ve had nightmares every night for the past three months because I’m scared to be this vulnerable with people,” he told The New York Times. Still, Van Ness needed to live his truth to help others navigate their own unique coming out process. “When ‘Queer Eye’ came out, it was really difficult because I was like, ‘Do I want to talk about my status?” he explained. “And then I was like, ‘The Trump administration has done everything they can do to have the stigmatization of the L.G.B.T. community thrive around me.’ I do feel the need to talk about this.”
Through that dialogue, Van Ness has helped reduce the stigma surrounding non-binary gender and living with HIV and pushed back against the forces that would use prejudice to demonize all LGBTQ people.
With his visibility, and with his work on Queer Eye, Van Ness has become the kind of role model the world needs: One who is totally unafraid.
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Writing this book has been one of the scariest but most rewarding experiences of my life. I shared the most resilient, hilarious, tough, but then again hilarious parts of myself in the most vulnerable way that I can. I hope for anyone who has struggled with surviving abuse, food issues, self acceptance, addiction of any kind, their HIV+ status or anything else to know that we CAN & DO heal. Sometimes the healing isn’t perfect, but we keep trying because honey we must choose love of self, because the relationship we have with ourselves is the most important one. I hope you find all the joy and hope through reading my journey loves. If you want to get a copy the link is in bio, & I do voice the entire audio book as well ?????? #overthetop
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“We have to pass the Equality Act” @speakerpelosi said to me. I said, with Mitch McConnell how?? Speaker Pelosi said, (I’m paraphrasing here) the voters in states with Republican Senators MUST put pressure on their Senators to force McConnell to bring the #equalityact up to vote. The Equality Act is exactly the legislation that would protect LGBTQ people from the discrimination we would face if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Trump Administration and Justice Department petition to be able to allow employers to FIRE LGBTQ people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If you consider yourself an ALLY and live in a state with a Republican Senator I IMPLORE you to call, email, and mail their office and ask them to VOTE on the Equality Act. @humanrightscampaign