Ilene Chaiken‘s life as a lesbian provided inspiration for her legendary TV show, The L Word.
Chaiken’s “first romance” with a woman ended in heartbreak, but the famed producer says the experience proved to be the perfect storyline for L Word characters Marina and Jenny.
“It was the same story,” Chaiken, 60, says. “After that, I was a lesbian. I knew it. I didn’t use the word. I think it took some time to come to terms with even calling myself gay … I just simply started living as a lesbian. I wasn’t a particularly bold person, but I just didn’t know how to lie.”
In Coming Out Stories, a new video series from PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly, 16 LGBTQ people from all walks of life share how they opened up to friends, family and the world — and how their lives changed.
One inspiration for the series: the new movie Love, Simon (in theaters March 16), a moving comedy-drama about a gay teen (Nick Robinson) struggling with how to come out to his friends and parents (played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel). Love, Simon director Greg Berlanti (the producer behind TV’s Riverdale and Supergirl) tells his own coming out story in the series, as does costar Keiynan Lonsdale.
Others sharing their stories include Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Grey’s Anatomy actress Sara Ramirez, retired NBA player Jason Collins, social media star Tyler Oakley and Brooke Guinan, a New York City firefighter who is transgender.
PEOPLE and EW partnered with GLSEN, a nonprofit that fights to make schools safe for all kids, to create Coming Out Stories. See all the hilarious and heartbreaking tales at people.com/comingoutstories or on PeopleTV (download the app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device).