11 celebrities who came out in 2014

Everyone who comes out makes a difference, but those who live their lives in the public eye have the unique opportunity to influence the national conversation on LGBT acceptance. This year saw many famous faces coming out, including several in unexpected areas like sports and country music.

Below, in alphabetical order, are 11 celebrities who did just that. Welcome and congratulations!

In July, fashion model Andreja Pejic came out publicly as a transgender woman and announced that she would only be modeling women's fashion going forward. "To all trans youth out there, I would like to say respect yourself and be proud of who you are. All human beings deserve equal treatment no matter their gender identity or sexuality. To be perceived as what you say you are is a basic human right," she said.

In April, Mean Girls star Daniel Franzese came out in a viral letter to the iconic openly gay character he played in the film ahead of its 10-year anniversary. "When I was cast in the role of 'Damian' in Mean Girls, I was TERRIFIED to play this part.  But this was a natural and true representation of a gay teenager - a character we laughed with instead of at," he wrote. "Now in 2014 - ten years later - looking back, it took YOU to teach me how to be proud of myself again." Franzese has since had several viral video hits and he can be seen on the new season of HBO's Looking beginning in January.

Derrick Gordon, a guard at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, came out to ESPN in April and became the first openly gay male National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I basketball player. ""I am telling my story so that athletes never feel like they have to hide. You can be true to yourself and play the sport that you love," he said. Gordon was one of several LGBT athletes honored on stage at the 25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York.

Actress Ellen Page came out on stage at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Time to Thrive Conference on Valentine's Day. "I'm here today because I am gay. And because maybe I can make a difference. To help others have an easier and more hopeful time," she said. Page appeared at the 25th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles in April to present the Stephen F. Kolzak Award to Laverne Cox who Page named as one of her inspirations to come out. Page is currently shooting the feature film Freeheld alongside Julianne Moore about of the story of Lieutenant Laurel Hester, a 23-year veteran of the Ocean County, NJ police force who asked that her pension benefits be extended to her partner Stacie Andree after learning she was terminally ill.

Game of Thrones star Kristian Nairn (Hodor) came on in an interview with fan site Winter Is Coming in March, saying "Well, in all honesty, when you talk about 'the gay community,' you are talking about MY community, haha. I’ve never hidden my sexuality from anyone, my whole life in fact, and I’ve been waiting for someone to ask about it in an interview, cos it’s not something you just blurt out. I’ve tried to lead the questions a few times, to no avail!"

Michael Sam made history when he came out in February and in May became the first openly gay player drafted to the National Football League (NFL) when the St. Louis Rams signed him. Sam was cut from the Rams at the end of training camp and the Dallas Cowboys then signed him to their practice squad. He was ultimately waived and currently is not signed to any NFL team. OWN will premiere the documentary Michael Sam on December 27 which will include the NFL draft, the famous on-screen kiss with his partner Vito when Sam was drafted and his work with the Rams. Immediately after, there will be a special edition of Oprah Prime with Sam's first interview since being cut from the NFL.

Musician Sam Smith broke onto the scene in a big way this year, garnering six GRAMMY nominations including the big four: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist. In May he came out publicly in an interview with The Fader. "[My album] In the Lonely Hour is about a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn’t love me back. I think I’m over it now, but I was in a very dark place," he said. "I am comfortable with myself, and my life is amazing in that respect. […] I just wanted to talk about him and have it out there. It’s about a guy and that’s what I wanted people to know—I want to be clear that that’s what it’s about."

Orange is the New Black actress Samira Wiley was one of four cover models for this year's 20th Annual OUT 100 edition of OUT Magazine. Wiley is currently dating Lauren Morelli, a writer for Orange is the New Black who came out in a personal essay this year after attending the GLAAD Media Awards. "I feel like oftentimes in the church people get caught up in literal translations of the Bible. But that’s not the home I grew up in,” Wiley said in her OUT story. “I was just taught that love is the most powerful thing. And being able to see that and see my parents on the forefront of that made such a big impact on my life.”

Country music star Ty Herndon came out last month in an exclusive interview with People Magazine. "I know there's a lot of those kids still out there. Telling my story is an opportunity to help just one of them. They can be loved by God, they can be married one day, they can have a family, they can give their parents grandkids," Herndon said. "And they're not broken, they're not sinners and they're perfectly beautiful." The same day, country singer Billy Gillman, whose 2000 album One Voice went two-time platinum, posted a YouTube coming out video and thanked Herndon for making it easier for him to come out himself.

Tyler Glenn, lead singer of Utah New Wave pop band Neon Trees, came out in an interview with Rolling Stone in March and spoke about reconciling his sexuality with being Mormon. "For me it's about finding the purist of peace. The absolute settling of my soul. The clearest vision of the road I want to take," Glenn said. "I am a happy and healthy Mormon gay pop star. I don't know what it all means, but I'm ok with it."

British Christian rock star Vicky Beeching came out in an August article in The Independent and spoke about her struggle to accept herself in a hostile environment. "What Jesus taught was a radical message of welcome and inclusion and love. I feel certain God loves me just the way I am, and I have a huge sense of calling to communicate that to young people…rather than abandon it and say it’s broken, I want to be part of the change," she said.

Congratulations to all! Check back over the next week for more year-end posts highlighting some of 2014's biggest LGBT moments.