The most powerful bit of advocacy for LGBT rights is coming out of the closet. Shame, legal obstacles (such as being fired from your job), and fear of violence in inhospitable places still keep many in the closet in 2012, but it was a year where many public figures and ordinary people took that step, helping remove the cloak of invisibility that allows discrimination to breed and continue to fester.

Andy Towle at Towleroad has a must-read feature today, The 50 Most Powerful Coming Outs of 2012.

Yes, a lot has changed in the 15 years since Time magazine ran that cover of Ellen DeGeneres declaring, “Yep, I’m Gay,” and even in the six since Lance Bass told People, “I’m Gay.” Entertainment Weekly published a cover story this summer called “The New Art Of Coming Out,” concluding, “The current vibe for discussing one’s sexuality is almost defiantly mellow.”

Yet most of this positive change has happened in familiar territory.

Former NFL star Wade Davis’ coming out was a first, as was current professional boxer Orlando Cruz’s. And Lee “Uncle Poodle” Thompson from Here Comes Honey Boo Boo helped broaden the overall discussion about LGBT people. But there are a few people on this list who were less valiant, like Republican Sheriff Paul Babeu, and still others who remained quiet about their sexuality to the day they died. The debate over balance between privacy and responsibility is still one worth having, and clearly there are more arenas where LGBT people need space to shine.

Click over for profiles of the 50 who are making a difference by no longer remaining silent about who they are.