GO! Presents 100 Women We Love: Class of 2024

THE CULTURAL ROADMAP FOR CITY GIRLS EVERYWHERE

Class of 2016

100 Women We Love: Class of 2016

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Here’s to this year’s class of the women who inspire us, give us hope, make us laugh and make us want to get up and dance. 

Rhea Butcher

This Los Angeles-based standup comic, actor and writer, grew up in the Midwest, where she skateboarded the mean streets of her hometown: Akron, Ohio. Rhea Butcher’s “blue-collar brand of cool” is winning over audiences nationwide. She’s appeared on Comedy Central, NBC’ s “Last Comic Standing,” Buzzfeed and Funny Or Die Presents, and opened for fellow comics like Cameron Esposito, Pete Holmes, Anthony Jeselnik and Maria Bamford. She’s also made podcast appearances on “You Made It Weird,” and “How Did This Get Made?” This year, she’ll debut her first TV series “Take My Wife” for NBCUniversal’s new Seeso platform; appear next season on “Adam Ruins Everything,” (truTV); host the popular web series, “She Said” on Legendary Entertainment/Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls Network; and embark on a tour in support of her debut album “Butcher.” What she finds most gratifying in comedy is “meeting queer/nonbinary/trans people after my standup who tell me that my comedy helped them to come out,” she says. “I think that being out [myself] has been very positive, in that I can speak from a place of honesty and really connect with audiences—gay or straight—because they believe me.” –SLO

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Dominique Buggs (Dom)

Dominique Buggs, known as DOM, is Los Angeles-based recording artist and songwriter. She grew up in Mexico City, where she was born 21 years ago to a Mexican mother and afroamerican father. By age 18, she’d launched a music career and started building a fan base. After being ‘discovered,’ DOM was invited to work with world-renowned producers at F/H Block Music Studios in London, where artists and songwriters such as fellow LGBTQ stars Sam Smith and Angel Haze have made musical magic. DOM continued working on her original music, and her audiences grew so exponentially that when she released her first EP, she became the first Mexican to hit the UK pop charts. She now enjoys a large, loyal, worldwide fan base. “When people can relate to the stories and lyrics in my music, that’s the most rewarding aspect of my work,” she says. Currently, DOM is in the studio working hard with award-winning producers and preparing for the next phase of her career. –SLO

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Emma Donoghue

Critically acclaimed author and literary historian Emma Donoghue was born in Dublin, where she grew up attending Catholic convent schools, “apart from one eye-opening year in New York at the age of ten.” After graduating with hon-ors in English and French from University College Dublin, she moved to England and earned a PhD from the University of Cambridge. Since age 23, she’s supported herself as a writer, and in 1998 she emigrated to Canada to live and work. Today, she’s a resident of London, Ontario, with her partner Chris Roulston and their two children. Donoghue writes in myriad genres, but she’s best known for her fiction, which has been translated into more than forty languages. She adapted her bestselling novel “Room” into a screenplay for a film of the same name that received numerous awards in 2015, including four Oscar nominations. “Room” is about a five-year-old boy with lives in a single room with his mother and has never been outside. Her latest published book is “Frog Music” (2014), “a literary mystery inspired by a never-solved murder of a crossdressing frog catcher in San Francisco in 1876.” In a recent post on the Oberon Books blog, Mad About the Butch, Donoghue discusses her attraction to masculine-presenting women, and how women from history who rocked menswear have imbued her writing. –SLO

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Alma Rosa Silva-Bañuelos

After rumors swirled that Albuquerque’s only club for lesbians was closing, Alma Rosa Silva-Bañuelos knew she had to do something. By founding the women’s event Fire, she helped preserve the local lesbian community. Accomplishment enough, but Fire is only one example of the type of community strengthening she performs. Silva-Bañuelos is also the director of the LGBTQ Resource Center at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico’s board of directors and a lead trainer for the “Caring for the LGBTQ Community” training at the University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center. “We can’t leave anyone behind,” she says. “It’s critical to honor the intersection of identity so our community can become whole again and thrive as our authentic selves. The legacy of the lesbian community is historic, trailblazing, and without fierce lesbians at the forefront, many movements would not be where they are today. I honor my lesbian, queer, two-spirit and transgender elders for the work they did so I can continue to build upon the legacy and be part of an evolving movement that is inclusive of us all.” (Check out YouTube for her inspiring TEDx talk, “Fire: A Queer Womyn’s Journey.”) –GH

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Helena Hantzes

In 2003 (when she was 50 years old) Helena Hantzes started a noncompetitive women’s basketball program at the Pride Center in South Florida. “It was important to have someplace [to go] for women—and some men—who wanted to socialize and exercise,” Hantzes explains. Women of all sizes, ages and skill levels are encouraged to participate. “We have drawn women from really great skill levels to women who have never played at all,” she says. “It is gratifying to provide a space for women with physical and medical challenges to join in, including women with multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, walkers and wheelchairs…We have experienced it all.” There is an emphasis on inclusion; therefore, the players as a group adjust their game to that end. “Some of us have had recent relationship disappointments, family issues, are newcomers to the area, or are looking to increase social networks through exercise and the love of basketball,” Hantzes says. In addition to coaching and organizing the program, she sends out a supportive, informative, weekly e-newsletter to players: The Basketball Enquirer and Gazette. –SLO

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Alix Olson

Alix Olson is a bonafide superstar of the spoken word community. She’s released three albums (“Protagonist,” “Independence Meal” and “Built Like That”); been the editor of a spoken word anthology (“Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution”); written companion poetry books to two of her albums; co-authored another Alix book (“Burning Down the House”); was the subject of a documentary (“Left Lane”); and is working on her PhD dissertation in political theory. She also gives seminars on spoken word at various arts festivals and universities. Power has been an important part of her work, she says. “My poems were where I began to think about power out loud: carving out the raw stakes of unjust power relations and also the power of queer, feminist and anti-racist resistance(s) and solidarities.” Olson, who has toured everywhere from South Africa to NYC, says that as she’s traveled, she’s been “tuning in to the countless ways peo-ple confront injustice, and making poems and community out of that beauty and rage. How could that work not keep the political optimist in me alive, and how could optimism not be the biggest reward for anyone interested in creating a different kind of world?” Powerful words, indeed. –GH

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Danielle Cooper

Dressing masculine doesn’t mean you can’t wear pastels. You can look fly even while you’re working out. Olive, cranberry and blue make a surprisingly beautiful color combina-tion. These are but a few of the fashion lessons awaiting you at Danielle Cooper’s blog, She’s A Gent. Cooper posts stunning pictures of herself in various New York locales—including Sutton Place Park, Coney Island, the Met and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden—look-ing cool, sophisticated and oh-so-handsome in her stylin’ threads. Blog entries are a mix of Cooper’s thoughts about her life and style, plus information on where to actually buy the duds. “Living in Europe is what inspired my transition into menswear,” Cooper says, “simply because I wanted to dress smarter, more elegant and, at the same time, create a signature look. I found that Europe encompassed all of that. So in 2015, I launched She’s A Gent in order to share my love for menswear and style through one outfit at a time. I see myself as a person who has the ability to connect not only those who appreciate fashion and menswear, but also those who understand that it is not limited to one gender.” –GH

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Jackie Biskupski

Jackie Biskupski, named after former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, is the 35th Mayor of Salt Lake City (she took office in January). She’s also SLC’s first openly gay mayor and only its second female mayor. In other words, just after winning the election last November, she made history. Before her triumphant mayoral run, Biskupski served for 12 years as a Democratic member of the Utah House of Representatives from the 30th district. Originally from Hastings, Minn., she grew up in a big Polish-American family and attended Catholic schools. After high school, she enrolled in Arizona State University, where she graduated with a degree in criminal justice. Then she fell in love with Utah’s ski slopes and found it hard to leave. There, she worked in the automotive insurance industry, and later as a private inves-tigator, but switched gears in the mid-1990s and became involved in politics. What prompted the change in career path? Seeing an injustice. The SLC School Board and the Utah State Legislature tried to stamp out a gay/straight student alliance club. Biskupski came out herself as a lesbian in 1989 and is engaged to her partner, Betty Iverson. Together, they’re raising two sons. In mid-June, Biskupski officiated another couple’s same-sex wedding and proudly tweeted: “A reminder that #lovewins…” –SLO

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Angie Chuang

“I went into this industry because of my mom,” says NYC-based designer Angie Chuang. “She dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, and then she passed her passion on to me. A lot of what I do is [about] making people feel like themselves and helping them see who they are.” After graduating from Parsons School of Design with a degree in fashion design, Chuang honed her technical skills at some of the industry’s most renowned fashion houses: Theory, Coach and Kenneth Cole, to name a few. While challenging conventions and blurring gender lines is at the core of Chuang’s aesthetic, the budding designer culls inspiration from all sources. No era or element is left unexamined, as some of the designer’s past collections have explored the visual arts (Russian Constructivism, for example), landscapes (Iceland) and even knotting details found in Japanese fishermen’s garments. Chuang’s storied collections have graced the runways of dapperQ fashion shows, in particular (most recently, “(un)Heeled: A Fashion Show for the Unconventionally Masculine” at the Brooklyn Museum). Aside from questioning convention and exploring new design innovations, the most gratifying aspect of her work is seeing people confident, empowered and in their own wearing her clothes, she says. –SLO

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Ali Clayton

If you haven’t seen standup comedian Ali Clayton—who’s a Southerner, and proud of it—you soon will, especially if you’re in Chicago. Clayton has been performing standup for seven years and performs all around the Windy City, talking about her favorite subjects: her southern family, working with kids and adults with special needs, and her bisexual experiences. “On stage, I generally say, ‘I’m bi, but if you put it on a scale, it would go lots of ladies… whoopsie daisies, a dick. Sometimes I drink too many beers, slip and fall on a dick.” Being out as a comic hasn’t made her more or less successful, she says, “but I do think being out has made me a better writer and performer.” After receiving her bachelor’s degree in theatre performance in 2008, she left her native North Carolina to become a comedian. Her solo show, “I’m Different, Not Dumb” has been featured at the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, Chicago Sketch Comedy Fest, and Chicago Women’s Funny Fest. She has also performed at Cape Fear Comedy Fest, Chicago Comedy Expo and Laugh Your Asheville Off, to name a few. And she’s excited about her new web series, “Swiping,” about the highs and lows of post-Tinder romance. Clayton plays four different female characters swiping their way through both good and bad dating situations. You can catch all the episodes at keepswiping.com. –SLO

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Sara Geffrard

Meet Sara Geffrard, the Haitian-born editor-in-chief of A Dapper Chick—a celebrated menswear, travel and lifestyle blog. Before building her brand into a hub of carefully curated content, style advice and inspiration, Geffrard wore an assortment of hats in the hospitality industry. During that time, she also studied architecture at New York City College of Technology. After a decade of experience in customer service and personal styling, Geffrard has used her passion for art, design, menswear and inspiring women to create an online space that’s evolved into an outlet for women’s empowerment. As a pioneer in the women-in-menswear blogosphere, she aims to forge a path for the younger generation, influencing other women and girls to follow their dreams. Geffrard strives to instill confidence in them and make them feel empowered, one look at a time. “Girls reach out to me from all over the world to express gratitude for bringing visibility to our community,” she says. “I’m touched that I’m able to reach and inspire them.” –SLO

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Beth Mejia

Beth Mejia, a cardiac MRI imaging specialist and co-founder of the Twin Cities chapter of Gay for Good, believes in a simple dream: making the world a better place. “I’ve been a caregiver all of my life,” she tells GO. “I take care of others because it’s what I know.” Gay for Good’s mission is to do good and be good. Through her organization’s efforts, city parks get cleaned; people are fed and celebrated; and a movement she helped create makes a positive impact. Raised by a single mom in Minneapolis, she grew up “a child of trauma,” but was deeply influenced by the love and support of her grandmother. Mejia’s life experiences motivate her to work tirelessly for social justice. “We are just trying to be okay in the world,” she reminds us. She’s been active with Minnesotans United for All Families, Design Industry Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), to name a few. Transformation is her buzzword. Equality is her mission. “Any of us can do better,” she says. “Any of us can contribute to making the lives around us better. Sometimes we just need a place to start. And that is where I come in: helping people find their voices is the greatest gift I can give my community.” –SLO

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Claudette Duff, CSW

Claudette Duff is a clinical social worker who lives in Staten Island, NY and is the founder and director of Integrity Senior Services (ISS), an agency that provides in-home mental health counseling and auxiliary services to seniors, the disabled, caregivers and their families throughout NYC and its outer counties. She founded ISS on the principle that everyone has a right to quality mental health care. A native of Jamaica who was raised in Brooklyn, Duff has worked with older adults in mental health programs, long-term care facilities and in private practice as a counselor, therapist, clinical supervisor, consultant and administrator for decades. She’s been practicing in the mental health field since 1980. After graduating from Brooklyn College, Duff acquired an advanced degree in art therapy from Pratt Institute, and later pursued an MSW at New York University. She’s served on numerous boards and committees related to community health care and aging advocacy, and is also a board member of the Pride Center of Staten Island. Her work promotes a safe and welcoming place for the Staten Island gay and lesbian community. “Be yourself at all times,” she advises LGBTQ people like herself, “and be proud of who you are!” –SLO

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Brooke Sopelsa

“My insatiable curiosity led to my pursuit of journalism as a career,” says Brooke Sopelsa, who boasts over 12 years of experience as a producer, writer and reporter. She received her M.A. in journalism from Columbia, and began her career as a production assistant at Time Warner Cable’s Channel 10 News in New Jersey. At Columbia, she co-produced, shot and edited Queer Streets, a doc about queer homeless youth screened at festivals and on Logo TV. She was also a writer/producer for CNBC.com; producer for MSNBC.com (garnering a GLAAD Media Award nomination for her vogueing story); and producer at HuffPost Live, where she created and produced Mind Your Business; QueerView; and C-SUITE, an interview series with CEOs. Today, she’s a managing editor at NBC OUT, the just-launched queer news site from NBC. “The most rewarding aspects of my work are learning new things practically every day and introducing others to topics or ideas that may have previously been completely off their radar.” In her free time, Sopelsa volunteers for the nonprofit NewFest and sits on their board of directors. Looking to expand her horizons, she’s working toward an MBA from NYU’s  Stern School of Business. –GH

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Camille Barbone

Camille Barbone has worked with many superstars in the music industry. She discovered, managed and launched the music career of Madonna when she was still “like a virgin” in the industry. Barbone believes being open about her sexuality had a positive impact on her own success. “Instead of coping with sexual conquest mentalities, being out allowed me to concentrate on being competitive with men who dominated the industry.” Today, Barbone is the VP of Operations at Choices Women’s Medical Center in New York and is launching a full service transgender health program that has proved to be just as challenging and rewarding as turning talented unknown artists into household names. “Joining Choices, and working for and with activist/feminist Merle Hoffman, has enabled me to continue to empower and educate women and minorities. Everyone deserves to get the facts, to make informed decisions and be the mistresses or masters of their fate,” says Barbone. “In the same way that music continues to act as a messenger of social, political and sexual change and enlightenment, Choices strives to bring much-needed change to health care.” –GO Editors

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Alex Berg

“Growing up, there was a lack of representation of bisexual and feminine queer women in the media,” says HuffPost multimedia journalist Alex Berg. “When bisexual women and femmes were represented, we were often painted in stereotypes—that we were uncertain about our sexuality or inauthentic because of our femininity. I became a journalist to elevate our voices and the voices of others who have traditionally been marginalized in the news.” It is a goal Berg has been tireless about achieving, as she produces and hosts stories about queer issues, feminism, race and social justice. Career highlights include producing a seven-part series on campus sexual assault, talking with Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore (of “The Nightly Show”) about bisexuality, and covering the Bisexual White House Summit, an achievement that garnered her a GLAAD Media Award nomination. “Digital journalism appealed to me as a way to change the conversation by covering stories through an intersectional lens, from sexuality to gender to race to socioeconomic background,” the Columbia University grad says. “I love the phrase ‘nothing about us without us,’ and I try to imbue it into all of my work, whether I’m covering politics or pop culture.” –GH

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Michelle Heyman

Striker for the Matildas and Canberra United, there’s much more to Michelle Heyman’s passion for the game than meets the eye. She’s been playing football (soccer, for us Americans) since she was twelve, and she says her love for the game extends well beyond the playing time and far beyond the field: “It’s life. I play for my friends, I play for my family. I play for myself.” The award-winning professional athlete has been named top goal scorer of the Westfield W-League. She also played a stint in the United States for the Western New York Flash. Dubbed the “Smiling Assassin,” Heyman made her Matildas debut in 2010. Last year, she was honored to be a part of the Women’s World Cup and to be named as one of the first openly gay athletes. “To have that recognized by a mass audi-ence showed the world that no matter our sexuality, we are great role models,” she says. Also last year, her signature clothing brand MH23 Apparel was launched. “I’ve always had a love for fashion—and growing up, I never felt comfortable in typical girls’ clothes and ended up wearing their male counterparts,” she tells GO. “I have always wanted to feel comfortable in my clothes because I am comfortable in my skin.” –SLO

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Karen Williams

Karen Williams—a comic, actor, writer, motivational humorist, lecturer and host—is one of LGBTQ comedy’s hottest stars. She’s known for her quick repartee, insightful commen-tary, audience rapport and sheer likeability. Recently, she performed at NYC’s Town Hall in Levity and Justice for All, a comedy benefit for LPAC. A former host of “In The Life,” Williams honed her comedy skills as a ghostwriter at Columbia Pictures. Her hilarious one-hour solo comedy special, “I Need a Snack” airs regularly on LOGO. She also appeared in “Laughing Matters,” an award-winning comedy documentary containing interviews that highlight her social activism. You may have seen her perform live on Olivia cruises and at Olivia resorts all over the world. Back home in Ohio, she founded the HaHA Institute, where she conducts humor workshops that attract clients to her “healing with humor” philosophy. Williams has successfully branded the Institute as the go-to resource network for educational programs, workshops and seminars focused on the healing power of humor. If there’s a message she’d share with the LGBTQ community, it’s this: “that we must fight all injustice, that we must live with the mantra ‘I am not free until we are all free’ running through our minds and hearts on a daily basis.” –SLO

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Connie Kurtew

“Where I grew up [East Germany], you could not just say what you thought; we all had to find forms to express ourselves in very different ways,” says Connie Kurtew. “I chose mainly photography. I got to hide and to express what I wanted/needed to say. It is a very strong form of expression, and we [photographers] were able to get away with a lot more than other artists that chose a more direct form or way to criticize the Socialist/communist government.” Looking through the images on her website, kurtewphotography.com, it’s clear that Kurtew has a knack for capturing emotions. She says most people hire her after seeing her work and deciding that they want something beyond just run-of-the-mill photography. “Often they don’t like to take pictures, or they tell me they never look good in pictures. I know I can make them look great, and I don’t mean [by using] Photoshop,” she says. “I get them to relax and play, and the outcome is amazing. We take our time. And every single person is beautiful, and I am the lucky one who can show that. I get to meet and spend time with some of the most amazing, kindest people, and I create/build a picture to show everyone else exactly that. That’s the best part of my job.”–GH

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Karen Clark

Raised on a farm, Karen Clark chose a career path that led her into public service. First, she became a nurse. Later, she got a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard. She’s taught at several colleges—currently, the University of St. Catherine in the Graduate School of Holistic Health—and serves as Executive Director of the Women’s Environmental Institute. In 1980 Clark was elected to the Minnesota State Legislature, where she still holds office. She’s now the longest-serving openly LGBTQ elected official in the U.S. Known for her cutting-edge legislative proposals, effective grassroots coalition building and neighborhood priorities, Clark’s motivation comes from “assisting my constituents to gain real access, voice and growing power to speak to some of the powerful forces that impact their/our lives—social and economic at the state government level, and to play a part in their growing expectations for just change and accountability.” She’s successfully authored legislation to advance worker’s rights, women’s rights, environmental justice, immigrant rights, gender anti-violence protections, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights—including basic civil rights protections and marriage equality in Minnesota. –SLO

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Ruby Polanco

“If you don’t see enough of what you want in the world, then it’s up to you to create it!” That’s the lesson to be learned from Ruby Polanco’s rise to entrepreneurial success. Polanco, who now has a multi-million-dollar beauty empire, was motivated to start it because there were too few products for the Latina population. So, in 2005, she developed Ruby Cosmetics, a cosmetics line aimed at Latinas. A year later, she created her first makeup school for those wanting to pursue a career in beauty but not wanting to go to cosmetology school. Ruby Makeup Academy now has four branches in Southern California that graduate more than 1,200 students annually. “Every time new students come to us, they arrive as insecure young girls, but after they gain confidence in the skills they’ve learned, they become elegant and savvy women,” she says. “Watching their amazing transformation is the most fulfilling part of my career.” The out businesswoman, honored in 2014 and 2015 by Inc. Magazine and more recently, in May, by Latina Magazine, says figuring out she was gay “felt like I was home.” –GH

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Michelle Solorzano Daly & Kelly West

The queer women’s community of Austin, Texas has Kelly West (pictured right) and Michelle Solorzano Daly (pictured left) to thank for much of its vibrancy. West (Lesbutante) is an experienced event professional, while Daly (The Boss) is a Purple Heart Army veteran and MBA grad. “As we watched the last of the lesbian bars close in this city, we knew we had to do something,” the couple says. “It wasn’t about the money; it was about the community and securing a space for queer women. We made the decision when we started this business that our monthly events would always be free, ensuring that every-one always has access to them, and as a way to serve our LGBTQ community.” One of the benefits of their profession is being able to observe the effect of all their hard work. “We have an upstairs area at our events that looks out over the dance floor. We always sneak away a couple hours into the event and look at the crowd. We have a sense of awe watching this incredible community of women.” A big project coming up is Plezzure Island (plezzureislandtexas.com), “the only all-female resort takeover in Texas,” happening September 29-October 2. You can check out more about this dynamic duo at lesbutanteandtheboss.com. –GH

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Jodi Savitz

Florida native Jodi Savitz is an independent documentary filmmaker based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She graduated from the prestigious Northwestern University with a degree in theatre and gender studies. Her passion for film and a vision “to create innovative and socially relevant work” propelled her to NYC to pursue a career in film-making. In 2010, while in Buenos Aires, Savitz produced her first film, “Yo Soy Asi,” about the Argentine lesbian community. Her current project, “Girl on Girl,” is nearing completion: a feature-length documentary that follows the personal stories of feminine-identified lesbians who, even after coming out, feel invisible and stigmatized. “’Girl on Girl’ evolved out of my lived experiences and those of the women around me,” Savitz says. “Ever since I came out, my identity has been challenged… I never understood the true scope of society’s skepticism toward my orientation until college. Not only did frat boys discount me, but also my own gender studies peers doubted me for being ‘too heteronormative-looking’ to be a real lesbian. The irony was enormous.” Nevertheless, she remembers having enough support growing up to let herself be open about her identity. She came out at 14, and has been passionate about LGBTQ activism ever since. Now her goal, she says, is to fill a void in LGBTQ programming and to create valuable media resources for our community and beyond. –SLO

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Wilhelmina Perry, Ph.D.

Dr. Wilhelmina Perry is the coolest 81-year-old you’d ever want to meet. The co-founder and administrative coordinator of LGBTQ Faith Leaders of African Descent says her work has allowed her “to lift my voice for those who are marginalized because they are Black, LGBTQS-GL (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or same gender-loving), and people of faith.” Later this year, on September 15, she will receive an award from GRIOT Circle, an organization for older LGBTQ people of color. “I choose to work in this field because I have witnessed the consequences of religious teachings that give permission to parents to abandon and ‘throw away’ their gay children,” she says. “… As a person of faith, I was clear that I had a responsibility to speak to my Black community about the needs of the population of homeless gay youth. …As a Black lesbian, I also understand that I must step up, educate and advocate for the lives of these young people, as well as other LGBTQSGLs who have suffered from religious harm and hurt. As one of the co-founders of LGBTQ Faith Leaders of African Descent, I have taken the pledge to work towards inclusion and acceptance in my Black community.” –GH

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Melanie Hope

Nothing says “lesbian” quite like “women’s softball league,” so the documentary “Grounders” will appeal to many in our community. But Melanie Hope’s film is not just for us, but rather “for anyone who has ever thrown a ball, high-fived a teammate or cheered from the bleachers,” as it says on her film’s website (grounders documentary.com). “The most rewarding aspect of my work, in directing and producing ‘Grounders,’” Hope tells GO, “has been interviewing people and gaining a deeper understanding of who these women are and what motivates them to play softball. I decided to take on the challenge of making a feature-length documentary because it is a compelling story that needs to be captured and shared.” Hope is pursuing other creative interests as well: as a poet, writer and playwright (not to mention her work as an attor-ney and social worker). “I have always been drawn to different forms of creative expression. I believe all of my life experiences, in conjunction with my education and work life, have taken me on a journey marked by twists and turns, leading me to exactly where I need to be today.” –GH

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Meg Ten Eyck

A self-described “fun-loving and feisty LGBTQ advocate and community educator,” Meg Ten Eyck is also a recurring GO contributor with her advice column, Dope Sex, and a successful blogger. Her blog Dopesontheroad.com is among the most popular lesbian travel and culture blogs on the internet. Some of her recent posts include hotel reviews, city Pride guides and helpful hair-styling travel hacks. Connecting with LGBTQ people around the world, she shares her experience and insight with readers on everything from travel destinations/itineraries to fitness, fashion, and even social justice issues. “I never intended to be a blogger,” Ten Eyck says. “I started my blog as a way for me to share my journey with my friends and family when I moved to South Korea. When I started getting emails from people with questions, I realized there was limited information available for lesbians and queers looking to travel outside of western coun-tries. I hope that even in a small way, I’m able to help queer people find the information they need to travel safely and build community in their cities of choice.” –SLO

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Lisa Cannistraci

As co-founder of Henrietta Hudson, Lisa Cannistraci—along with her business partner, Minnie Rivera—has served the LGBTQ com-munity for more than 25 years. “I opened Henrietta Hudson in 1991, at the time of ‘lesbian chic’ and have seen the nightlife scene and the gay rights movement change throughout the decades,” Cannistraci observes. “It has been a wild ride.” An integral part of the marriage equality movement, she served as the vice president of Marriage Equality USA when DOMA was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. She takes activism seriously, having supported numerous LGBTQ organizations for over three decades. During that time, she also fought a personal battle. “As an entrepreneur in nightlife, I found myself drinking and doing a lot of drugs to stay awake and engaged,” she tells GO. “Luckily, I got the ‘gift of desperation’ and managed to get sober a number of years ago. What a beautiful thing it has been… I can now lead with patience in a gentle and productive way—something I was not capable of doing before sobriety, as my life and decisions were ruled by fear. I now live a life beyond my wildest dreams, full of gratitude.” With the insight gained from her journey, she conveys the following message to our community: “Sober is sexy!” –SLO

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Brittany Ashley

Guess where comedy writer Brittany Ashley grew up? How about some hints: 1) Da Bulls; 2) the nasal-sounding accent that goes along with saying that; 3) she can eat a hot dog in under two minutes. You guessed it! Chicago. Ashley received her bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she worked as a staff writer (later, as entertainment editor) for the college newspaper, Chicago Flame. While in college, she studied at Second City and co-wrote the stage revue “Hindsight for Sore Eyes.” Since then, Ashley’s been featured in numerous sketch comedy festivals and made her directorial debut in 2012 with a show she co-wrote, “Courtney Cox’s Bangs.” In 2013 she headed to Los Angeles, where she’s been featured on NBC’s “Last Call with Carson Daly” and FOX’s “Laughs.” Currently, she writes and acts in L.A., often reprising her role as ‘Lesbian Stoner.’ Writing, Ashley says, “[has] always been the way I could express myself best and the way I’ve understood other people best. There’s no fuller feeling than just finishing something and knowing that it will go out into the world exactly the way that I intended it to… Oh, and obviously because writing and drinking are so closely tied together, it fit my lifestyle,” she quips. We’ll drink to that! –SLO

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Emilia Ramboldt

This 27-year-old, Stockholm-born ice hockey defender, whose full name is Emilia Ingrid Maria Andersson Ramboldt, played for Sweden in the 2010 Olympics. From 2008 to 2013, she tended goal in the U.S. for Minnesota State University, where she majored in business (and rocked the Maverick gear.) Before that, she competed in the European Champion Cup three years in a row, helping Sweden achieve three consecutive first-place finishes; and in 2006, her Swedish team took home the bronze medal in the IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championship. These days, she catches pucks for Linkoping Hockey Club. Ramboldt represented her country again this past spring in the 2016 Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship held in Kamloops, Britiish Columbia, Canada, where her team ranked second in penalty killing and fourth overall in goalkeeping. Last December, she was on Sweden’s roster for the 4 Nations Cup—an annual women’s tournament between the United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland. Perhaps the highlight of her year, though, thus far, was her June wedding to blushing bride Anna. (She shoots, she scores!) The couple wore semi-matching, summery, white, sleeveless gowns and looked amazing. –SLO

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Farah Tanis

“We are magnificent, loving, powerful beings,” says Farah Tanis. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, two spirit, intersex, gender non-conforming, questioning, straight, people of African descent… each and all of us.” These are the empowering words of a Haitian immigrant and human rights activist who chairs the U.S. Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and serves as executive director of Black Women’s Blueprint, which she co-founded. Tanis works nationally and at the grassroots level to address sexual violence against women, girls and gender-fluid people in communities of African descent. The recipient of numerous awards, Tanis is a U.S. Human Rights Institute Fellow and a member of the Task Force on the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). What’s most rewarding about her work, she says, is that it’s “about those of us who, by the grace of the universe and beat of our boots, fought to create spaces where we could love, live and lust in full bloom. It is our right to be with, love and do—safely, and with consent and dignity—what we mutually choose in our loving relationships, without the threat of discrimination, violence or torture. That in itself is a revolutionary act.” –SLO

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Winter Mendelson

Winter Mendelson, the founding editor of Posture magazine, “the creative exploration of identity,” became passionate about the arts at a young age. Not surprisingly, a B.A. in art history was in the offing; Mendelson graduated with said degree from the University of Georgia. After years of study, however, they became frustrated by the vast number of voices that are, as they put it, “purposefully written out of history and made invisible by heteronormativity and the patriarchy.” After relocating to NYC, Mendelson sought to create “a media platform focused on artistic practice and fashion specifically for marginalized communities and perspectives” which resulted in the launch of Posture magazine in 2013. Today, Posture is a digital and biannual print publication run by a growing team of talented contributors who are committed to the expression of queer, trans, nonbinary and feminist perspectives. Its third print issue is now underway and slated for release this fall. “Being able to collaborate to make something beautiful that fights binaries and hate is honestly why I’m alive,” Mendelson says. “The team comes through with more intense dedication and love than I could have ever imagined.” There are big things for Posture on the horizon and exciting announcements forthcoming—such as the partnership with Wayward Wild, a new independent publishing studio and content incubator launching in September. –SLO

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Farrah Krenek

The gloriously androgynous Farrah Krenek is an up-and-coming performer who has been on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” and in the films “Sisters,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” the lesbian drama “Freeheld” (with Ellen Page and Julianne Moore) and “The Skeleton Twins.” (Check her out in the scene where Bill Hader’s character, Milo, is at a gay bar hoping to meet a guy, only to find out it’s dyke night.) “I searched for an actress who looked like me and I never found her,” the New York-born-and-raised Krenek says. “So one day I decided I’m not going to look for her anymore. I’m going to become her. I’m going to become the face that represents LGBTQ cinema [and television], and speaks to gay women and all women just by being myself on screen. I want to be the voice and face that I never found when I was growing up. And so… here I am. And now when you see me, you’ll know I’m here for you all, always.” If Netflix knows what’s good for them, they’ll make her a regular on “Orange Is the New Black.” –GH

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Gabby Rivera

A self-described “queer brown loverboi feminist,” Gabby Rivera is a writer, LGBTQ youth advocate and founder of The Speakeasy, Autostraddle’s QTPOC community space. Earlier this year, her young adult novel, “Juliet Takes a Breath,” was published by Riverdale Avenue Books. The novel’s protagonist is a lesbian Latina teen from the Bronx. Rivera created that central character, she explains, “because we need more POC representation everywhere, especially in LGBTQ literature and in mainstream culture at large. No one can tell our stories for us. We must do it ourselves and move forward in our truths.” Her short stories and poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals such as Aster(ix), Portland Queer: Tales from the Rose City (a Lambda Literary Award winner), OMG I’m Gay (a zine for queer youth) and The Best of Panic!En Vivo from the East Village. And she takes working with young people as seriously as her writing, she says, “because it is my duty as a supported, loved and thriving queer adult. We cannot be myopic in our vision for safe spaces and progress. Marriage equality should not be the end of our fight, especially where LGBTQ youth are concerned. We, as queer adults, must actively live and fight and center our work on honoring and protecting our youth.” –SLO

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Imani Rashid

Imani Rashid, a Yoruba priestess, has been a leader and an agent for promoting change for more than four decades. Rashid has worked as a teacher, entrepreneur, writer, motivational speaker, performing artist, event planner and an institution builder. Now a retired NYC Board of Education teacher, she is the founder of the organization Kwanzaa in the LGBTQ Community and the author of “Kwanzaa in the Lesbian and Gay Family.” At 76, she shows no signs of slowing down. Her community work includes The Imani Rashid Retreat Center for Healing in the Hamptons, while her newest initiative, LGBTQ Kwanzaa Storytelling for Children is co-chaired with its board members, Cassandra Grant and the African Folk Heritage Circle. Working with the Kwanzaa Kids of NYC’s LGBTQ Kwanzaa Community is what she finds most rewarding. “They range in ages 5 to 15,” she explains. “They are learning the art of storytelling… Now some of the older children are starting to win writing awards and write their own pieces. We are currently raising funds to take the Kwanzaa Kids to Philadelphia in November [to attend] the National Association of Black Storytellers Festival and Conference. To date, this is my best work, of which I am most proud.” –SLO

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Eileen Myles

Poet, novelist, performer and art journalist Eileen Myles is guided by their approach to the concept of time. “Working in my own time,” Myles says, is the aspect of their work that brings the greatest reward. “Time shapes everything, and I celebrate in my life and my work being weird and on my own timetable. [I] have to be brave in the face of other people’s time too.” Myles seems to have made the utmost use of creative time, having authored nineteen books, including “I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems,” “Snowflake/different streets,” “The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art,” “Inferno (A Poet’s Novel)” and a 2015 reissue of their iconic autobiographical novel, “Chelsea Girls.” Myles has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in non-fiction, an Andy Warhol/Creative Capital Arts Writers grant, four Lambda Literary Book Awards and the Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America. This year, Myles received a Creative Capital grant, as well as the Clark Prize for excellence in art writing. Splitting their time between NYC and Marfa, Texas, Myles currently teaches at NYU and Naropa University. –SLO

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Irene Tu

It’s been a whirlwind year for Irene Tu. The San Francisco-based stand-up comedian, writer and actor (originally from Chicago) was recently named one of the “Bay Area’s 11 Best Stand-Up Comedians” by SFist. She’s been featured in a number of well-known comedy festivals, including SF Sketchfest (The San Francisco Comedy Festival), Limestone Comedy Festival and Crom Comedy Festival. This July, she’s appearing in Tourette’s Without Regrets at the Oakland Metro Operahouse; Millennials Ruin Everything at El Rio in San Francisco; and the Comedy Exposition in Chicago. When she’s not performing, Tu hosts several popular shows in the Bay Area, including Man Haters and Hysteria, both featuring women and queer comedians. She is also a co-producer of The Mission Position. What was it that attracted the talented Tu—a self-described Ellen DeGeneres fan(atic)—to choose comedy as a career path? “I love doing comedy because I get to create my own narrative and share my point of view with other people. You don’t get to hear a lot from queer people of color in mainstream media, and comedy is my way of joining in the conversation.” –SLO

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Angie Craig

Growing up in a trailer park, Angie Craig learned some valuable life lessons. She watched her mother work hard to get her college degree and become a public school teacher—all while raising a family and holding down multiple jobs. “I followed her example and took on two nearly full-time jobs while pursuing my college degree,” says Craig, now a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. She’s spent 20 years in the private sector and learned early on that through hard work and a commitment to education, she could make a better life and create opportunities for her family. (Her family includes wife Cheryl and their four sons.) Craig intends to help those who are struggling to do the same. “College debt has skyrocketed,” she points out. “Minnesota, my state, actually ranks fifth highest in the nation for average level of student debt with a $31,579 price tag for a bachelor’s degree. At least 70 percent of graduates here have some form of loan debt. The most rewarding part of running for Congress has been hearing from people impacted by issues like these—and discussing commonsense steps I’ll take in Congress to help put that path to opportunity back within reach for Minnesota families.” –SLO

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Ari Fitz

“Be and feel unapologetically sexy at all times,” is probably the coolest-sounding advice we’ve ever heard, and it’s a motto that Ari Fitz appears to live by. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, this multi-talented fashion blogger, creative director and YouTube sensation is often cited for her style-focused web series, TOMBOYISH. Through her YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/itsarifitz), thousands of followers watch Fitz as she travels the globe being fashionably tomboyish. They also flock to see her weekly fashion films and documentaries, and follow her carefully curated Instagram accounts. She’s been featured on MTV as well as in NYLON, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, i-D Magazine and many other media outlets, as she inspires other young people like herself in the quest for an inventive, innovative, ambiguous, androgynous or simply unconventional approach to fashion. “Every day I read a new message from someone following TOMBOYISH that explains how I’ve made them feel confident, sexy and okay with who they are,” she says. “If that isn’t the best feeling in the world, I don’t know what is.” –SLO

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Athena Maroulis

A creative with more than a decade of experience, Athena Maroulis hails from Ocean Grove, N.J., where she spent her youth honing her artistic talents (in particular, her drawing skills) and reading encyclopedias. She knew then that creativity was her passion. Maroulis attended Mason Gross School of the Arts, where she majored in fine arts with a concentration in film and video. From there, she started Red Bank Post, a small creative and production house. After moving to NYC nine years ago, her creative horizons grew exponentially. She began shooting and directing videos with influential LGBTQ artists like Cazwell, Sherry Vine and Lady Bunny. In 2014, her documentary “A World of Dreams: Voices from the OUT 100” garnered an Emmy nomination. “Art and filmmaking are in my blood. Telling a story visually is something innate, intrinsic to who I am. If I couldn’t tell stories, I’d be without purpose and meaning. I blame it on too many episodes of ‘Guiding Light’ as a child,” she says. Currently, she works as a design director on new business and communications for a media agency in NYC. In her spare time, she’s developing two documentaries: one on her father—a Greek-American immigrant; the other on our nation’s growing opioid addiction. –SLO

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Jennifer Azzi

Olympic gold medalist Jennifer Azzi, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of San Francisco, is proof that nothing succeeds like success. Among her achievements are seven hall of fame inductions, a Stanford University national championship, the Wade Trophy, the Honda-Broderick National Player of the Year honor, a Naismith Award and a Sport Image Award. She also had a winning four-year career in the WNBA. As head coach at USF, Azzi has led the team (the Dons) to multiple NCAA tournaments and a WCC Championship victory. Last year, she received the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, a crowning achievement for 25 years in collegiate athletics. And since coming out this year, Azzi is now the only publicly out LGBTQ head women’s basketball coach in Division I. “Following my announcement, I have had the most positive outpouring of support,” she says. “What I thought wasn’t a big deal has given others courage, and that inspires me to continue to encourage others to be who they are.” In addition to coaching, Azzi serves as an ambassador for her sport, both locally and internationally. “Seeing young women grow and become confident lead-ers excites me the most about my work,” she says. “On the court, I find fulfillment in seeing our athletes do things they never imagined.” –SLO

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Heidi E. Russel

A self-taught fine art photographer, creative collaborator, curator and publisher, Heidi E. Russell is also the founder of the International Women Artists’ Salon—a global, cross-disciplinary community supporting women in the arts. Through her lens, she focuses on “capturing the intersection of languages and dimensions through full-frame, non-manipulated imagery of cultural environs.” Based in NYC, the Oxford, N.Y. native got her first camera at six years old and has been a photographer ever since. The Cornell University graduate started her career path in advertising, business, human resource management and fundraising; but in 2004, she decided to follow her passions for photography and international cultural exchange. “I feel just as powerful, a natural high, from connecting people around the world as I do capturing photographs of the world,” Russell says, whose work has been exhibited worldwide. She also makes time for volunteer projects. Since 2005, she’s volunteered for Cuchifritos, a community nonprofit gallery on the Lower East Side. In addition, Russell holds curatorial positions with Manhattan Theatre Source and The New York Optimist e-zine. She’s currently expanding her creative outreach by establishing an indie publishing company “with the mission to publish works that utilize art as a bridge for cultural understanding.” –SLO

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Amber Valentine

Since starting out in 2006, DJ Amber Valentine has been all the rage. Based in Brooklyn, she plays everywhere—from gritty dive bars to glamorous nightspots. “I’m committed to creating and maintaining spaces for my queer/trans sisters and brothers to be able to let loose and experience togetherness on the dance floor,” she says. “It’s not curing cancer… but I believe it is valuable. And I believe that we are valuable.” Her weekly queer party, MISSTER at The Woods in Williamsburg, draws beautiful women from all five boroughs. She’s also a regular DJ for the legendary Susanne Bartsch and plays at On Top, a Tuesday party at Le Bain, the Standard Hotel’s rooftop discotheque. Valentine was featured at the 2013 GLAAD Awards, hosted by Madonna and Anderson Cooper. She’s also opened for Boy George, M.I.A. and The Knife. She hosts two recurring events with JD Samson that are popular among LGBTQ party people: Scissor Sunday, an afternoon tea dance at Henrietta Hudson (now in its fourth year); and Pat, a monthly party at Union Pool that attracts “a super fun and positive mixed crowd.” And it goes without saying, you’ll experience good vibes and world class DJ talent. “It’s about the music!” Jam with Valentine right now; check out her mixes on SoundCloud. —GO Editors

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E. Jaguar Beckford

“I’ve always had a passion for fashion,” says E. Jaguar Beckford, an entertainment attorney who ventured into the designer clothing industry as the founder and CEO of Jag & Co. In 2013, Beckford launched the now-celebrated Rainbow Fashion Week—not only to showcase her own menswear-inspired clothing line, but also to highlight other designers, models, stylists and creative people who merited more exposure. Already revolutionary, this year’s event took social responsibility to a whole new level as the first-ever carbon neutral fashion week, celebrating “The Art of Fashion, Film, Art and Technology.” By working closely with strategic partners and industry leaders, this year’s RFW helped educate audiences about new ways to reduce our carbon footprints. When asked about her message to the LGBTQ community, Beckford says, “While we each struggle with our day-to-day life issues: trans, marriage equality, homelessness, HIV/AIDS, etc., we must also pay attention to global issues facing every member of humanity. We have been destroying this planet, one plastic cup and bag at a time. Each of us should do more, because we can do more.” –SLO

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Jenny Owen Youngs

“I love playing shows and making records,” says alternative recording artist and performer Jenny Owen Youngs, “but the most surreal and beautiful part of my job happens when someone tells me that a song I wrote affected their life in some way. It is completely wild to hear from a person that something I made helped them get through a breakup, endure a difficult family situation or come out to their parents.” The singer, songwriter and self-described natural history enthusiast, who self-released her 2005 debut album, “Batten the Hatches,” has seen her career rising. “Slack Tide,” her 2015 EP, is currently sitting pretty in the top 250 on Amazon’s MP3 downloads for alternative rock albums by singer-songwriters. She also made news in 2013 for her coming out statement on Everyone Is Gay, a site and organization co-founded by Kristin Russo, her wife. Asked to share her message for the LGBTQ community, Youngs says, “Hello! It’s me, Jenny. Just wanted to remind you that you matter, that you are worth it, that you are beautiful, that you are loved. You are stronger than you can imagine. The world is lucky to have you.” We here at GO feel the world is lucky to have you, too. –GH

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Josephine Mineo

“A home is an investment and a place where friends and family gather. It’s my wish and hope to help you get there,” says successful Realtor and event producer Josephine Mineo, who, over the last 17 years, has built up an expansive portfolio of LGBTQ Realtor professionals nationwide. When Mineo launched JoZ Events 16 years ago, she “quickly learned it was obvious that women needed a place to be themselves with their partners, kiss, dance and celebrate.” JoZ Events have helped women from NYC, Westchester and Fairfield counties build lasting friendships and life partners. Sadly, she recently lost her own life partner to cancer. “The only way I am surviving today is from the outpouring of love all these wonderful women have shown towards me. If there is one thing I can share about this whole experience in my life it is this: Never be afraid. Be yourself, open up, and enjoy what you have and exactly who you are.” As the niece of Sal Mineo, the gay actor who starred with James Dean in the 1950s classic “Rebel Without a Cause,” she grew up experiencing firsthand how important it is to be out. “Because of him and my partner, I realized it’s worth every risk to be out. I only wish Uncle Sal were here today to see how the world has changed.” –SLO

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Ellen Ensig-Brodsky

After her successful careers in international travel promotion and medical nutrition, the 1970s feminist explosion opened Ellen Ensig-Brodsky to her true self. From that point onward, LGBTQ activism became her life’s work. She co-founded the Unitarian Universalist Gay Concerns Committees on Long Island; became active with the National Gay Task Force, Empire State Pride Agenda and Callen-Lorde Community Health Center; and co-started one of the earliest LGBTQ aging organizations, Pride Senior Network. Representing those groups, Ensig-Brodsky visited legislators in Albany, NY and Washington DC; made presentations at colleges, senior centers and senior service organizations; and became active in New York State’s nursing home community. Eventually, she was elected president of Manhattan Borough-Wide Interagency Council on Aging. These days, she continues her activism and social engagement with SAGE. Reflecting on the value of her work in our community, she says, “The recognition and validation of LGBTQ relationships has enabled society to establish and maintain love and care with families of choice. Along with fluidity of choice, our movement has enriched human love. So it has been for me.” –SLO

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Judge Staci M. Yandle

Staci Michelle Yandle made history in 2014 when she was appointed U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Illinois. This made her the first out gay judge in the Seventh Circuit; the first African-American district judge to be on the federal bench in the Southern District of Illinois; and the first openly lesbian black judicial nominee to be confirmed during Obama’s presidency. (The first to be confirmed at all was Deborah Batts, during Clinton’s administration.) Yandle graduated with a B.S. in political science from the University of Illinois, went on to receive a Juris Doctorate from Vanderbilt University School of Law, was an associate with the law firm of Carr, Korein, Schlichter, Kunin, Montroy, Glass & Bogard for almost 20 years, and until recently, had her own law offices, with a specialty in civil litigation in federal and state courts. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is that I am now able to tap into both my passion for the law and public service,” she says. “In private practice, I represented the interests of my individual clients. As a federal judge, I now serve my entire community and country.” –GH

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Kat Cunning

“Oregon-grown” singer-songwriter/actor Kat Cunning (also known by her birth name, Katrina Cunningham) started out in baroque-burlesque cabarets with Company XIV—a sexy, stylish dance company with a focus on queer themes. She’s been called “an hour-glass chanteuse, with whom an hour is never enough.” Cunning’s current gig is Cirque du Soleil’s “Paramour,” in which she plays Lila, and she co-wrote her character’s score for her own singular voice. “I once sang Daughter’s ‘Youth’ during a burlesque performance in a gown that never came off, and the drunken coos of a testosterone-filled room melted into tears,” she remembers. “I believe this is the function of art.” As an independent artist, she writes original music, evocative of indulgence, theatricality and sexuality. Cunning has sold out venues like Joe’s Pub, leading up to the release of her upcoming debut album; and her band includes drummer Mickey Vershbow, her girlfriend. “I’m often met with disbelief when I declare my sexuality to a new group of people,” she says. “I’m trying to carve out the niche for women who do not look masculine but are just as gay as the rest of us.” –SLO

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Karen Akunowicz

Karen Akunowicz was a ‘cheftestant’ on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” but she’s far from a beginner. She is a two-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef Northeast. Akunowicz has been honing her craft for years—from studying at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, to helping create the Beehive restaurant, to becoming a chef in Italy, and the sous chef at Oleana Restaurant in Cambridge. Her current gig is executive chef/partner at Myers & Chang in Boston. Admirably, Akunowicz uses her position to give back. Her Fresh Roots Culinary Program at UTEC, an agency for at-risk youth, allowed her to teach young people about cooking and assist them in finding jobs, and she was the Culinary Chair for PFLAG’s most recent fundraiser. She sees her time on TV as another way she’s been able to help the younger generation. “It was important to me to be out as a queer femme on this season of ‘Top Chef.’ TV remains such a large, visible platform, and I wanted queer kids and young girls to see a version of themselves in the media.” –GH

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Yetta G. Kurland

“I always knew I would be either an attorney or a therapist; I think I am a little of both,” says Yetta G. Kurland, a well-known NYC-based civil rights attorney and LGBTQ advocate. “When I was a kid, I would always stand up to bullies. That just kind of evolved into what I do now.” Kurland has long been a leader in our community. In the fight for legal recognition, she acted as counsel to Marriage Equality and represented service members who overturned the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. Kurland has built bridges between the LGBTQ community and advocates on range of social justice issues—from community healthcare to housing and beyond. In addition to founding Hello World Language Center, she’s taught for several years as an adjunct professor. Currently, she’s the Senior Partner at The Kurland Group, a public interest private practice law firm that services both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ clients. “I get to work with an incredible team of talented attorneys and legal workers to create social change, represent my community and help empower people,” she says. The firm’s recent successes include settling a suit against the city, allowing recognition of proper gender markers on public records. Kurland lives in Chelsea with her partner, Molly, and their two Italian Greyhounds. –SLO

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Kim Geronimo

At only 24, Kim Geronimo aka The Street Sensei is making a name for herself with her provocative, edgy, artistic, high-end fashion photography. Her work conveys a unique aesthetic philosophy and creative passion. She started out her career on an entrepreneurial track, but began dabbling as a photographer while she studied abroad and traveled in Asia during col-lege. Last fall, she got her foot in the door of New York Fashion Week SS16, which she took her photography to a much higher professional level. (She’s also blowing up on social media. You can follow her on Instagram: @thestreetsensei.) “Photography has been a different journey of finding myself,” she says. “It’s almost as if I’m learning how to love someone.” She hopes that those who encounter her stunning photographs will become inspired to be themselves, and then can express themselves however they want. When asked about the most satisfying aspect of her work, she says, ”I think [it’s] been meeting people that inspire me and push me to do better, and traveling to beautiful places I’ve either always wanted to go to, or never even once thought about going. That’s the beauty of my work; it leads me to discover my limit—and my worth.” –SLO

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Lynare Robbins

Lynare Robbins has been professionally involved with numerous nonprofits in the South Florida area and serves on the Board of Directors as Vice Chair for the Aqua Foundation for Women. Robbins also serves on the Board of Directors for Global Ties Miami, an organization that works with the U.S. State Department to facilitate global cultural exchanges in Miami. As a U.S. Navy veteran, Robbins is motivated by a strong sense of civic responsibility. Not surprisingly, she’s been appointed to serve on the City of Miami Beach LGBTQ Advisory Committee. Her passion for activism is matched by her passion for the arts. Robbins is a freelance journalist and screenwriter. Last year, she was selected by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism as a Journalist Ambassador to attend and document Tel Aviv Gay Pride. “With my work both as a writer and an activist I’m always seeking to learn about the experiences of others, and explore the essence of meaning in our world while working to make positive change… Empathy and a sense of responsibility unite activists, and as a result, I never feel alone… because I know and feel the positive force that is collectively out there working to help others.” –SLO

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Kate Clinton

Kate Clinton—our favorite “faith-based, tax-paying, America-loving political humorist and family entertainer”—has had a successful career in comedy spanning more than three decades. And she’s at the top of her game, aiming sharp-witted sarcasm on “presidential campaigns ad nauseam, LGBTQ movements in transition, religion in extremis and media in rigor mortis.” (She loves Latin. It’s not a dead language. She’s keeping it alive.) She’s also been out and proud all the way. “If success is having a job you love for 35 years, being part of a historic movement for LGBTQ equal rights and making a living making people laugh, then I’d say being an out lesbian was a genius move,” she jokes. Clinton has released more than 10 comedy CDs and DVDs and has authored three books. Her second book, “What the L?” received a Lambda Literary Award nomination. (It didn’t win. She says she’s been bitter ever since.) She was cast in Broadway productions of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “The Vagina Monologues” (“though luckily not at the same time.”) Clinton has also written for The Advocate and other publications, and performed for several organizations, most recently a benefit for the Lesbian Political Action Committee (LPAC): Levity and Justice for All. Her latest project is a one-woman show, “Wake Up Call.” No need to set your alarm! –SLO

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Marina Rice Bader

Late bloomers, take heart: Success can happen at any time. Take Marina Rice Bader, for example. “I have always had a love affair with movies,” the director says, “but it wasn’t until my early 50s that I had enough faith in myself to make the leap to actually creating them.” In 2009, Bader founded Soul Kiss Films, a company devoted to producing movies “by women, for women and about women.” Soul Kiss productions include “Elena Undone” and “A Perfect Ending,” directed by Nicole Conn; “Anatomy of a Love Seen,” directed by Bader herself; and “Raven’s Touch,” co-directed by Bader and Dreya Weber. The company’s films can be found on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Google Play and Vudu. Currently, Bader is in post-production on “Ava’s Impossible Things.” The first to get funding from Vimeo’s “Share the Screen” female filmmaking fund, her latest film will premiere in July at Outfest Los Angeles. “I’m excited to be a filmmaker at this time in history, when women are working to lift each other up and gender disparity is being discussed in a big way,” she says. “The first step in fixing a problem is by shouting it from the rooftops, and I’m extremely proud to be part of the solution.” –GH

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Lisa Halling-Aadland

Lisa Halling-Aadland is a creative dynamo. A musician, songwriter, entrepreneur, traveler, wine connoisseur, producer and blogger, Halling-Aadland splits her time between Stockholm and San Diego. With a bachelor’s degree in business, she never settled into the corporate environment. So she launched a career that utilized her creativity: writing and playing music. Soon she was performing heroriginal songs in Sweden, London, NYC and Los Angeles. Thus far, she’s written and released two EPs, with one single becoming a Top 10 finalist in a Swedish National Radio’s Up & Coming contest. Last year, she and her wife, Lauren Aadland-Halling, started a film/photography/music production company, The Beatnik Group, which now takes them all around the world. If that didn’t keep them busy enough, they recently launched This Colorful World—a couples travel, lifestyle and music platform, catering mainly to the LGBTQ community. If you’re wondering where Halling-Aadland’s energy comes from, the answer is simple: “I do everything I love!” she says. “If I can inspire other women to do the same, that would be absolutely beautiful. Every day is an opportunity to get closer to pursue what you love doing. I remind myself of that every morning. It’s fantastic!” –SLO

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Sasha Mallory

28-year-old dancer/choreographer Sasha Mallory is an evolving artist who just completed her second world tour with Madonna on the Rebel Heart tour. As the second place finalist on Season 8 of the FOX dance competition TV series, “So You Think You Can Dance,” Mallory is an accomplished dancer who’s returning as a mentor for the show’s upcoming season, “So You Think You Can Dance: Next Generation.” Her formal training began in Bakersfield, Calif. (her hometown) at the age of five, and she went to train at the top academies and distinguished schools of dance around the world. Mallory’s first big break was touring with Adam Lambert in 2010. Since then, she’s performed with a number of artists including Rihanna, Wayne Brady and Uh Huh Her. As her schedule allows, she choreographs productions, teaches, and judges on dance conventions and competitions all over the nation. And Mallory’s talent is not limited to the dance floor. She’s also a painter and has donated her work to the LGBTQ Homeless Center in Los Angeles. “I believe that art is one of the most effective ways to reach other human beings,” she says. “It could be through movement, sound, words on paper, sculpture or architecture—it’s endless. I think the influence an artist can make to others is a universal knowledge that is undeniable.” –SLO

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Lisa Kron

Perhaps there’s no better way to say it: Lisa Kron is blowing up. She’s best known for “Fun Home,” her first musical, based on Alison Bechdel’s groundbreaking graphic novel. (Last year, she won both the Tony Award for Best Original Score and the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.) But success is not new to Kron. She’s been involved with the theater, both as an actor and playwright, since the 1980s, receiving critical acclaim along the way. As a theater student in college, she grappled with self-doubt. Faced with blatant sexism and typecasting in those productions, she tried to cope with the repercussions on her future career. “Theater had exploded into my consciousness as the most compelling, powerful thing I could imagine,” she says. “But it was becoming clear to me that this power to affect, to transform, was in someone else’s hands…” Luckily, her mindset changed one night in 1985, when she saw a performance of Split Britches. “I understand now that my life pivoted on that night… The Split Britches Company taught me the most important lesson I ever learned about theater: It is ours. We who make theater may be shut out of institutions, but we work in an art form that gives us total unfettered imaginative power to recreate the world on our own terms.” –SLO

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Lenelle Moïse

Lenelle Moïse—a feminist poet, playwright and performance artist—says she loves “telling a truth on purpose, tempting with exactitude and making the work I need. I love solving the puzzle of a new poem, play or song.” Her critically acclaimed book “Haiti Glass about “around-the-way girlhood, immigration, earthquakes, queer grace, race relations, guts, funk and memory,” garnered Moïse a 2015 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for excellence in literature. The book was also a Lambda Literary Award finalist in Lesbian Poetry. “Poetry is my calling, my truest love, my artistic first language,” she tells GO. “If you read my book, you’re reading pages of my heart—what quickens its beat, what makes it crack, what keeps it going and what connects it to yours.” Moïse also keeps her creative juices flowing as a playwright. In addition to developing “K-I-S-S-I-N-G,” she’s rehearsing her one-woman show, “Where There Are Voices”—a synthesis of original musical compo-sitions, video and the poems of “Haiti Glass.” –SLO

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Fabian Burrell

After working in media and publishing—as a journalist, editor, public relations practitioner, event planner and promotions manager—Burrell founded Aziza Public Relations in 2000. A graduate of Kingsborough Community College, where she received the El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) Award for Scholastic Achievement, she got her bachelor’s degree at the CUNY Baccalaureate Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies, and is now working on a master’s degree in Emergency Management (on the Homeland Security track). Currently, she works as an instructional designer at Adelphi University. She’s also found time to be an active member of NYC’s LGBTQ community. She served for one year as the convener of Maranatha, a ministry of The Riverside Church, helping to promote equity for LGBTQ people. She’s also a member of the LGBTQ Faith Leaders of African Descent and a former board member of Harlem Pride. Her board service continues with Rainbow Fashion Week. Burrell takes community service seriously. “It is up to each and every one of us to protect and stand up for all members of the LGBTQ community,” she says. “We must share and talk about our experiences to enlighten those who have no connection to our community and remain ignorant to the violations of our basic human rights.” –SLO

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Rose and Rosie

British improvisational comedy duo Rose Ellen Dix and Rosie Spaughton are a real-life couple whose romantic relationship—and their tendency to overshare about it—has entranced thousands of avid fans around the world via their YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/RoseEllenDix). And did we mention they’re both incredibly telegenic? That helps! Rose and Rosie firmly believe it is 100 percent “totally OK to unapologetically be yourself” and we could not agree more with that philosophy. Their weekly entertainment videos cover hilarious, relatable topics such as “Spicing Up Our Relationship,” “No One 69s Anymore” and “Our Failings as People.” The most fulfilling aspect of what they do, they say, is simply making people happy. “When we get sent a message from a sub-scriber saying that they’re in a bad place in their lives right now, but watching our videos has cheered them up and made them feel better, that’s the best feeling,” they say. “To think that we haven’t met that person face-to-face, but we have still been able to affect them positively in some way is so incredible.” –SLO

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Lee Bullitt

Lee Bullitt, a Brooklyn-based fine art photographer, creates images with a narrative quality that gives viewers an intimate look at private, emotional moments in time. Bullitt started exploring photography in her teens. Now, she says, “I don’t really look at myself as being in ‘a field.’ I’m an artist. For so long in my youth, I feared calling myself an artist because I felt I couldn’t live up to it. Just like I was afraid to be a lesbian or use the word when I was younger… because I thought that was something far more complex. It was like, ‘OK, here is this title, and it actually feels right, but I don’t know if I am allowed to be this.’ I didn’t think I was allowed to be an artist.” It’s being an artist that gives Bullitt the opportunity to connect with other LGBTQ creatives. “As a QPoC [queer person of color], I am almost fostered into this sisterhood of those who are dedicated to the community and to us being able to live and work and create the way we see fit. And to know that people have the potential to recognize honesty in my photographs, which are representations of the sexuality of women, the emotionality of women, in a way that is bold and unapologetic, I think is wildly rewarding.” –SLO

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Juanita Kirton, Ph.D.

You definitely want Dr. Juanita Kirton to have your back. Kirton is a compliance monitor for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education, and she represents her state on the International Bullying Committee, the Diversity Summit and the Cultural and Linguistic Competence Initiative. While providing awareness of bullying against LGBTQ students and those with disabilities, her other concerns are students of color who are suspended and expelled from schools. And she couldn’t be more qualified. In addition to her B.A. in psychology, advanced degrees in special education and educational administration, and Ph.D. in developmental disabilities, Kirton obtained an M.F.A. in creative writing. An accomplished poet, she facilitates a New Jersey writers group, participates in the Women Reading Aloud workshop series, directs the QuillEssence Writing Collective and is a poetry editor for the Goddard College Clock House Literary Journal. Her other achievements are too numerous to list, but what you need to know next is she does it all on a motorcycle! Riding with the Lehigh Valley Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, she’s the Road Captain. “When I walk into a school building, just my presence makes an impact and statement,” she tells GO. “Here comes Dr. Kirton: a black lesbian mother and motorcycle rider.” –SLO

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Janel McCarville

Janel McCarville, a 6’2” forward for the Minnesota Lynx, was a first overall WNBA draft pick in 2005, and she’s been on fire ever since. Before turning pro, McCarville had a stellar career at the college level. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, where she became the Big Ten Freshman of the Year (2002). She went on to average 14.6 points per game and crushed it in rebounds. She was selected for the 2004 Final Four All-Tournament Team after setting an NCAA Tournament record with 75 rebounds. As a pro, she initially played for Charlotte and was acquired by New York in 2007. Six years later, Minnesota nabbed her in a three-team trade. McCarville helped the Lynx win its second title in three years, scoring 10 points in the third game of the 2013 WNBA Finals. In 2014 she appeared in all five playoff games, averaging 5.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. After a back injury last year, she’s returned to the court in 2016 in fine form, ready to play and enjoy the experience. “Just coming in with my teammates who’ve become my friends through the years, creating magic on the court together, being able to spend time with them and grow as people and as friends together is tremendous,” she says. –SLO

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Ellie Covan

Ellie Covan is the founder and artistic director of Dixon Place, a celebrated arts nonprofit and multidisciplinary performance space. She fell in love with live theater at age four. “My parents worked in community theater and always dragged me along,” she explains. At five, she spent a year on the children’s television series “Romper Room.” Fast-forward to 1986, when Covan founded Dixon Place, an artistic incubator which has become a hub of groundbreaking creativity and an NYC institution. She’s produced a number of acclaimed shows over the years, including Peggy Shaw’s “Menopausal Gentleman.”She directed and co-developed actor/writer Nancy Giles’ “Black Comedy: The Wacky Side of Racism,” “Notes of a Negro Neurotic,” and “The Further Adventures of the Accidental Pundette,” which have been performed at the Public Theater, Naked Angels, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Westbank Café and the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning. In addition to winning two Obie awards, Covan has received a Bessie (New York Dance and Performance Award) and a BAX10 Arts and Artists in Progress Award (from Brooklyn Arts Exchange) for her service to the community. The biggest reward, however, is “seeing it all come together and working with my fabulous staff,” she says. “So long as everyone—staff, artists and audiences—have a good experience, I’m satisfied.” –SLO

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Marcia Alvarado

Marcia Alvarado, though stunning, does not fit the profile of your typical model. The mas-culine-presenting fashion plate is an licensed structural engineer who has mentored high school students in architecture, construction and engineering. She was also a NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) scholarship basketball player for four years—enjoying a trip to NCAA March Madness over the 2000-2001 season—and has been listed in the Top 40 Under 40 by Building Design + Construction, a trade publication and website for the American architecture, engineering and construction industries. “My success in this business [engineering] has been led by the relationships that I have cultivated; essen-tially, the work speaks for itself,” she explains. As a “male model,” Alvarado has gone to New York Fashion Week two years in a row; been featured at many central Florida runway events; and has been a representative for Project Runway All-Stars Fabio Costa and Fade Zu Grau, suits and dresswear company Sharpe Suiting, style site dapperQ, and oth-ers. “I hope to use modeling as a platform to promote understanding that each individual is unique in their own way,” she says. “We all matter, and we are all connected.” –GH

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Mary Tully

Over the past decade, Alabama native Mary Tully has trained animals in facilities across the nation, not only in Southern California—where she currently lives–but also in Orlando, Tampa and Hawaii. With the unique privilege of working with every conceivable animal species, she learned and applied the same general behavioral principles from chickens to dolphins and sought to bring this fresh take on behavior modification to the dog-training world. More than three years after starting her own dog training company in Los Angeles, Tully’s Training has expanded to San Diego and employs four exceptional trainers. She says it’s most rewarding “watching people learn that they can teach their dog to listen to them without using force or fear. When people see the power of clear communication, trust and reinforcement, it changes the way they interact with the world around them. At least it changes the way they interact with their dog, and that’s a start!” –GO Editors

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Mel Huckabee

A volunteer firefighter in her native Houston, Mel Huckabee has led an exciting life. But it’s saving other people’s lives that she finds truly inspiring. “I’ve been there for people on the worst days of their lives, and when I go home, I appreciate everything so much more because of it…Nothing replaces the peace I have in my heart for what I do.” She started out, however, on a somewhat different path. After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design, majoring in sound design, Huckabee moved to Brooklyn. Under the wing of Murray Hill (“my pops”) and The Pontani Sisters, she became a DJ and worked at recording studios. When the 2008 recession hit, Huckabee switched gears, went to EMT school and worked as medic, while DJing on the side. A few years later, she returned to Texas to join the Houston Fire Department. A broken hand derailed that plan, but she got a job with a company that expedites veterans’ medical claims, and in 2013, joined the volunteer fire department. Being gay hasn’t been a obstacle. “Honestly I’ve always been myself,” she says. “I’ve never had issues getting along with people because of my sexuality, and that is all because I’ve stayed true to who I am.” –SLO

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Peggy Shaw

Peggy Shaw—a performer, writer and producer—is a co-founder of the Split Britches Theater Company, which has “transformed the landscape of queer performance with its trademark vaudevillian, satirical, gender-bending works.” Along with Lois Weaver and Deb Margolin, Shaw started the company in 1980; the same year, she co-founded the WOW Cafe Theater—now the oldest collectively run performance space for women and/or trans artists. One of her solo performances, “RUFF,” is about her stroke in 2011 (and subsequent recovery), which also inspired her first-ever PSA advisory film designed for older people, as well as a Green Screening workshop format for stroke survivors. “A Menopausal Gentleman,” a compilation of solo show scripts, was published the University of Michigan Press. She’s won several Obies, grants, awards and other well-deserved accolades. These days, she teaches writing and performance internationally. “I get up every day and try to do the best with what I have, and then I have the privilege of trying to make something. I make something that wasn’t there before. I make a plan. I make a dinner. I make love. I make a show. I’m a lucky fucker.” Collaborating again with Weaver, Shaw is now developing “Unexploded Ordnances,” about “creating methodologies for mining unexplored potential in older people.”–SLO

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Chef Rossi

Culinary superstar Chef Rossi aka Rossi (she needs only one name) has long been a food writer for publications such as The Daily News, The New York Post and Time Out New York. Since 1998, she’s penned BUST Magazine’s Eat Me column. In addition, she hosts a hit radio show, Bite This, now in its twelfth season on Cape Cod’s WOMR and WFMR. Rossi has appeared on The Food Network and NPR, and is a popular blogger for The Huffington Post. As owner and executive chef of a cutting-edge catering company, The Raging Skillet, Rossi has a reputation for breaking the rules. The New York Times dubbed The Raging Skillet “a new breed of rebel anti-caterer.” And every year since 2010, Rossi’s company has been listed among The Knot’s Best Wedding Caterers, an achievement that merits a spot in The Knot’s Hall of Fame. “Over the years, gay couples have come to me traumatized by homophobic wedding vendors, or wedding vendors who are kind but clueless,” she says. “I took them under my wing.” Last fall, Rossi’s memoir, “The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi” was published by The Feminist Press, garnering rave reviews. “I don’t know if it’s so much that being out and gay makes me more successful as much as living an honest, authentic life,” Rossi says. “I choose simply to be me.” –SLO

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Natalie Garcia

Back in 2010, Natalie Garcia was establishing her career as an on-air TV personality in the LGBTQ community. She was the host of “The Real L Word” Live Lounge on Sho.com and interviewed influential people for various LGBTQ media outlets. But that same year, Garcia was in a roll-over car accident that killed her dog and pushed her life in a new direction. Because of her traumatic experience, she started volunteering with animal rescues in Los Angeles and Mexico. Later, she launched her own nonprofit, MaeDay Rescue, an L.A.-based dog rescue that focuses on saving street dogs and those in shelters, while spreading the important message of spaying and neutering. Not surprisingly, Garcia finds her newfound career incredibly worthwhile. “Every time I save an animal, either from a high-kill shelter or from a bad situation from the streets or an irresponsible owner, it is rewarding in itself. But after we’ve had a dog for a week to ten months, and we’ve seen it blossom, learn, trust and eventually get adopted into its perfect forever home, that’s the greatest reward.” To raise money for MaeDay Rescue, she created a book featuring rescue dogs with celebrities, including Jane Lynch. Currently, she’s developing a TV show about rescue dogs, with the hope that it will premiere in the fall of 2017. –SLO

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Michaela Mendelsohn

Michaela Mendelsohn knows how tough the closet can be, but “it wasn’t until suppressing my identity was making me so sick and I couldn’t function that I came out,” Mendelsohn says. Today, the transgender lesbian—who has worked for more than 40 years in the business world—is helping smooth the way for others as a Trevor Project board member and as a founder of the California Transgender Workplace Program. “There are opportunities I have to help transgender people find jobs with me or somewhere else,” she says. “They may have been looking for over a year and been turned down for no other reason than for their gender identity. Some have been in other jobs and forced to use the wrong restroom and were sexually molested. A recent girl I hired was viciously attacked twice by a customer for no apparent reason, and each time received little support from her employer. Having a decent job helps broaden their visions from ‘day-to-day survival’ to one of stability and possibly raising their own families. I believe that the children of LGBTQ families will be in an amazing position to change our world.” –GH

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Molly Adams

“I have always taken photos, but people started paying me one day, so I rolled with it,” says Los Angeles-based photographer, Molly Adams. “But on a deeper note, I enjoy documenting the world as I see it and experience it. I think I would do that no matter what field I went into, so I’m grateful that I can make a living from my hobby.” Adams studied at Emerson College in Boston. Now living on the West Coast, she shoots life wherever she ends up. (You can see her work and follow her on Instagram: @mollyktadams.) She counts Scottish photographer Muir Vidler as one of her influences and gets a deep sense of satisfaction when she takes a photo of someone, “and they go, ‘oh, I actually look good there!’ because I think everyone is photogenic. It’s about relaxing enough to let your true self shine.” Although Adams is an out lesbian, she didn’t really come out, per se. “It was kind of a given,” she tells GO. “I’ve looked the same since I cut my hair off when I was six years old.” It’s no surprise, then, that she believes we should all break more bound-aries and be visible. “Progress is made by taking steps out of our comfort zones into open water,” she says. –SLO

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Merav

“I felt the spirit of singing at a very young age in church and branched out from there, so I was just following the path it led me on,” says Merav. “It came naturally to me, and I couldn’t imagine my life without singing.” We couldn’t imagine life without talented vocalists like Merav, who is slated to perform at NYC PrideFest on June 26. Her voice transforms with ease through interpretations of jazz, rock, blues, gospel, funk, R&B and adult contemporary songs. “Powerful and sultry yet soft as a kitten,” and “Meravelous” are just a sample of the rave reviews from her fanbase. Merav has performed all over the East Coast (The China Club, SAGE’s 25th Anniversary Dance and Provincetown’s Women’s Week, to name but a few) and has shared stages with such classic vocal groups as The Shirelles and The Coasters. She’s also entertained at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village, the famous Maloe Melo in Amsterdam and numerous clubs in Germany. Her preferred audience, though, is us. “The most rewarding [part of] my career has been the opportunity to be true to myself, giving me the freedom to perform for my favorite audience, the gay community,” she says. –SLO

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Nilla Fischer

North American soccer fans caught a glimpse of this talented Swedish footballer (a great defender, who’s occasionally been dubbed Imperator Furiosa on social media) in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015. This year, she’s playing in the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Women’s Champions League for the Wolfsburg club of Germany, having just wrapped up the season. Her team played Lyon in the final on May 26 in Reggio Emilia, Italy. (In a thrilling, nail-biting penalty shoot-out on a 1-1 draw, they lost.) She recently told UEFA.com, the official site of European football, that being a chef is her off-season claim to fame. “An amazing chef!” she boasts. “But seriously, I would say I’m a strong leader and I always give my best for the team.” In December 2013, the out and proud Fischer married her partner Mariah-Michaela, whose popular Instagram profile cheers on her athlete wife: “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” It’s also filled with shots of the tall, sporty Fischer grilling outdoors, looking contented and chill. She really is an amazing chef. –SLO

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Odalys Nanin

Odalys Nanin wears many hats in the entertainment industry: acting, writing (with three published plays), directing and producing. Her many years in the theater world also made her the ideal candidate to found the MACHA Theatre, the first (and only) lesbian- and Latina-owned theater that Nanin resurrected from its former life as The Globe Playhouse. One of her most memorable experiences in that theater happened during her first play, co-written with Marie Barrientos, “Love Struck.” A male audience member complimented her on the universality of her lesbian play, then asked her if she was gay. “It was a direct question made in front of my agent,” she remembers. “Back then, as an actress in Hollywood, being out was a big NO. But in my mind, I thought, ‘I’m the writer, director, producer and actress in this play; how can I deny that I’m gay and be true to myself as a writer/creator?’ I chose to be true to my writing, so I smiled and said, ‘Yes, I’m gay.’ He replied, ‘Too bad. I was going to ask you out to dinner.’ I just laughed.” In November 2017, look for Nanin’s new play “Frida—Stroke of Passion!” –GH

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Nathalie Huerta

When someone calls herself “Chief of Making Shit Happen,” you know she means business. Nathalie Huerta, the founder and CEO of The Queer Gym (formerly known as The Perfect Sidekick)—the nation’s first and only LGBTQ gym, located in Oakland, Calif.—has shaped and evolved the facility for the past six years into the incredible success it is today. A certified “ass-kicking” trainer and sports specialist, Huerta earned a degree in sports medicine from the University of San Francisco and an MBA from Mills College. She’s also a former collegiate basketball player. Based on her own experiences as a lesbian who is into fitness (and seeing the problems LGBTQ people can encounter in a gym), she decided to become to change she wanted to see in the world. “I did not feel comfortable at mainstream corporate gyms—constantly harassed by men in the weight room and encountering women who did not welcome me in the locker room, due to my masculine appearance,” she says. “I just wanted a safe space to work out where I would feel both welcomed and celebrated. When that place did not exist, I created it!” –SLO

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JP Howard

Poet and activist JP Howard aka Juliet P. Howard helps others find their voices as the founder and curator of Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon [WWBPS] (facebook.com/WomenWritersinBloomPoetrySalon). “So much of what I do as nurturer of the Salon is to bring a diverse group of writers, mostly women and many LGBTQ PoC, together in a safe, supportive space to write our way through the world each month,” she says. She describes “the gathering of community in someone’s home or welcoming community space to celebrate our voices” as “a necessary act of self-care.” The salons can go up to four or five hours, include food, wine and interactive workshops, and provide artists with a way to collaborate and express both frustrations and goals. “Hearing uplifting updates and self-affirmations from our Salon members is always rewarding. Women writers who once considered themselves closet poets [who] wrote in secret are now enrolled in MFA programs across the country; others who were once shy now participate in our monthly Salon open mics; many feature at venues across NYC and others have debut books and chapbooks forthcoming and/or are getting published in literary journals. The celebration of each other and our powerful voices is incredibly affirming for all who participate.” –GH

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Aja Aguirre

Aja Aguirre is not only a brand scout for Volition Beauty—a San Francisco-based startup that uses tech to empower consumers to co-create luxury beauty products—she’s also the esteemed Style & Beauty Editor for Autostraddle. None of this would have been possible, however, if she hadn’t launched Fit for a Femme, an acclaimed style blog that she’s run single-handedly for the past eight years. She also likes to take her expertise on the road: from SXSW earlier this year, to local women-run panels and events, and BeautyCon in LA this July. Since starting her blog and establishing partnerships with style and beauty brands, Aguirre has been featured in The Huffington Post and Huffington Post Live, dapperQ, Qwear and many, many more. It may seem like a lot to juggle, but she’s long known how to prioritize and feed the things she’s passionate about. “As a mother—and for a long while, a single mother—I had to really work on finding the balance in supporting my family, while still carving out the time and energy to nurture and prioritize creativity,” she says. That’s something we can all aspire to. –SLO

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Wanda Acosta

A stalwart icon in New York lesbian nightlife, Wanda Acosta is a producer and co-creator of the upcoming documentary, “Sundays at Café Tabac,” a film about a transformative and empowering time in lesbian history during the early 1990s in downtown NYC. (Find out more about the documentary at cafetabacfilm.com.) Acosta created and co-hosted Sundays at Cafe Tabac, and she’s been producing events in NYC for more than 20 years. She’s the former owner of WonderBar, Starlight and Clubhouse in the East Village; she also hosted and curated events at Bar d’O, The Box, Angels and Kings, BLVD, Liquids, NYC and Clit Club, among others. Over the years, Acosta has worked with a diverse range of clients and media, including NewFest, Mix NYC, Tribeca Film Festival, “The L Word” on Showtime and nonprofit organizations such as GLAAD, Astraea Foundation, HMI and The Center. “The LGBTQ community is a loving and resilient group of diverse individuals who have inspired and shaped my world,” she says. “I adore my tribe, and we need to remain strong, vigilant, and empowered. We have made many advances since I first started producing events back in 1993, but we cannot fool ourselves that homophobia and hate do not exist.” –SLO

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Debbie-jean Lemonte

Debbie-jean Lemonte is the owner and photographer of DAG Images, as well as the content creator of The Loc’d Bella, a lifestyle and fashion blog. A graduate of CUNY’s Queens College, her academic career focused on dance, psychology, the fusion of the two studies and how it can help as therapy for those who’ve suffered from trauma. Since then, she’s acquired more than four years of experience as a photographer. Her photography series, We Are Queens, was featured recently on For Harriet (a blog community for women of African descent) where it garnered praise for its inspiration to women of color. Her latest collaboration came about earlier this year, when she served as an event photographer for GQ magazine. She’s also had the distinctive honor of being named one of Autostraddle’s “50 LGBTQ Black Women You Need to Know Because We Are Awesome.” What gives her the greatest fulfillment in her work? “Capturing moments that seem minuscule to some, as well as helping another individual see their beauty in still frame,” Lemonte says. “Sometimes there are moments when the client will see an image of themselves and mutter ‘Oh, wow! I look good!’ and that makes me happy. To me, that’s one of the best rewards ever.” –SLO

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Risa Tanania

When you watch a reality show, do you ever wonder how they find those people? Well, like scripted television, reality shows have to be cast, too. The House That Casting Built does just that—for series like Bravo’s “The Singles Project” and TLC’s “Curvy Brides.” Co-founder Risa Tanania, who runs the company with Anthony Lucente, sees unscripted TV not only as a guilty pleasure, but also as a venue where real stories can be shared. “Ellen’s coming out during college had an enormous impact on me,” she remembers. “Back then, I was a feminist artist with a tiny audience and leftist message. But when I saw the power of simple visibility in main-stream media, I shifted my focus entirely and instead sought out others’ stories and voices that weren’t being heard. Media wasn’t so diverse at the time and this thing called reality TV was just taking hold; there was room to push boundaries and showcase queer personalities, as well as other marginalized communities there, and I wanted to be at the forefront of that.” With her casting business, it’s fair to say that she’s helped secure a place for those falling outside the mainstream. –GH

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Sallyann Polizzi

“I strive to be a person who puts others before myself, and as a police officer, I’m able to make that happen every day,” says Sallyann Polizzi, an officer with the NYPD since 2010. Polizzi is presently assigned to the 5th Precinct, covering Chinatown in lower Manhattan, and she works in the Domestic Violence Unit. She’s also the corresponding secretary of the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL). An active member of GOAL since joining the force, she became a board member this past January. “GOAL has given me the chance to conduct outreach and bridge the NYPD and the LGBT community closer,” she explains. “I aim to achieve a better understanding between the two, not only through my efforts but also with the combined voices of other members.” As a police officer who’s part of our community, she says that the message we should be spreading is love. “To understand the meaning of Pride, we need to love ourselves and others,” she says. “For me, [the feeling of] pride stems from love… With love, comes pride, which brings hope. This hope is my drive and motivation to represent the LGBT community as a police officer.” –SLO

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Ellen DeGeneres

It’s been 13 years since the release of Disney/Pixar’s “Finding Nemo,” so we’d given up the prospect of Ellen DeGeneres ever reprising her role as the voice of Dory, the forgetful tang fish. It’s nice to be wrong. “Finding Dory,” the long-awaited sequel opened in theaters in mid-June. And without adding spoilers here, the reviews are superb! The day after its release, DeGeneres tweeted: “Have you seen #FindingDory yet? Did you see the secret ending? Oops. Never mind. Ignore this tweet.” Meanwhile, the comedian/actor/philanthropist/talk show queen’s winning streak continues. She and Portia de Rossi, her wife, are going strong after 11 years together. Last year, DeGeneres was ranked as the 50th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes and number two on the World Pride Power list. She produced six episodes of the NBC sitcom “One Big Happy,” about a pregnant lesbian—and while the series was cancelled, DeGeneres rebounded with hits, including HGTV’s “Ellen’s Design Challenge” and “Little Big Shots,” a wunderkind talent show (also airing on NBC). Her eponymous Emmy-winning talk show is still high in the ratings, averaging 3.9 million viewers per episode. When she’s not busy with all of the above, DeGeneres does more than her share of philanthropic and humanitarian work. Yep, she’s gay—and yep, we kinda like her. –SLO

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Riese Bernard

“I always wanted to run a magazine, but nobody would hire me to do that, and I didn’t have the patience or the social skills/charisma to work my way up,” says Riese Bernard. “So I started my own magazine.” The 34-year-old Michigan native is the co-founder, CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of the GLAAD-Award-winning Autostraddle.com, the world’s most popular online community and website for LGBTQ women. She launched Autostraddle in 2009 after three successful years as a personal blogger and recapper of Showtime’s “The L Word.” Another of her projects is A-Camp, an annual week-long retreat in Southern California for 300 hundred queer women, non-binary and trans folks. A-Camp usually fills to capacity the day registration opens and has featured talented performers such as Jasika Nicole and Cameron Esposito. An accomplished writer, blogger, fiction author, copywriter and video editor, Bernard has seen her work published in nine books; numerous magazines; and all over the web, including Jezebel, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch and Emily Books. But it’s the sense of creating community that Bernard finds most gratifying. “[It’s rewarding to me when] readers and campers find community, make friends and feel okay about who they are because of Autostraddle and/or A-Camp.” –SLO

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Grace Chu

A cutting-edge New York City photographer who specializes in event photography, Grace Chu (pictured right, next to girlfriend Nicole Hoschuetzky) started out shooting LGBTQ nightlife for AfterEllen.com, and her client list increased exponentially from there. Since that time, she’s shot compelling images for corporate clients such as Alexander Wang and General Motors. Chu has also shot the runway at New York Fashion Week. Meanwhile, her work has appeared in Time Out New York, Vogue, The Huffington Post, Vice, GO Magazine and others. She’s also a successful writer and journalist with an impressive array of clips in many of those publications, in addition to Jezebel and AfterElton.com. Chu has been the official photographer for some of the hottest, most high-profile and avant-garde nightlife parties, fashion shows, celebrity red carpets and other events in NYC, particularly those in the LGBTQ and queer communities. As her website (stop-gracechu.com) jokingly puts it: “Grace Chu is everywhere, and she needs to be stopped.” To the very same community she immortalizes in photographs (us!), Chu sends the following message: “Love yourselves—and live large and in charge!” –SLO

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Natasha Kai

Pro soccer player and Olympic gold medalist Natasha “Tasha” Kai is a forward for Sky Blue FC in the National Women’s Soccer League. A Kahuku native, Kai graduated from the University of Hawaii, where she was named the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year three times, the first ever to receive that honor. She set a number of WAC scoring records. After college, she played on the U.S. women’s national soccer team for seven years. As a pro, she had a previous stint with Sky Blue (2009-2010) and in 2011 played for the Philadelphia Independence. Drafted in 2013 to play soccer for the Washington Spirit, a knee injury kept her sidelined. Now she’s back with Sky Blue, and she’s in phenomenal shape. Although Kai grew up in a strict Mormon family, her parents were accepting when she came out to them. “I’m privileged and blessed to have an open-minded family who loves and supports me unconditionally,” she says. “Because I’m comfortable and confident with who I am, it allows me to express myself on and off the field. It helps me relate with teammates and people who are struggling with their own identity.” –SLO

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Susan Jeremy

You may recognize Susan Jeremy from her stand-up comic days in the early 2000s, when she was headlining Olivia Cruises and performing at Pride and women’s festivals. She also spent many summers entertaining in Provincetown. Since then, Jeremy has written and toured five solo shows—including “PS 69” and “Brazil Nuts.” Her latest show, “Teacher in the House,” is partly about surviving cancer and partly about her other career of teaching home-bound chil-dren. “The most rewarding aspect of my teaching job is engaging children to try, no matter what,” she says. “The most rewarding part of performing is transcending and educating audiences through thought-provoking stories told with laughter, lots of it.” Beyond the hilarity, Jeremy’s solo shows deal with strong female characters who inspire and overcome life’s many obstacles. Her next project? “She Was a Great Dad,” about a female-to-male, cross-dressing jazz musician. She’s currently in the midst of writing the new show and plans to have it finished to tour in 2017. We can’t wait! –SLO

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Shannon Blowtorch

Shannon Blowtorch is a self-taught, award-winning queer DJ, promoter, “professional party thrower,” sound engineer, businessperson and entertainment consultant. “I’m a hardworking DJ that can play any type of gig you can imagine,” she tells visitors to her website (shannonblowtorch.com). Blowtorch DJs for some of the Twin Cities’ most popular events, and she’s received considerable media recognition for her talent. In recent years, she’s been the DJ for a hip hop crew, GRRRL PRTY, featuring Lizzo, Sophia Eris and Manchita. “Not enough women in the game makes me work harder to change that,” she says, “and be ahead of curve by being the best that I can.” She definitely knows how to read the crowd and keep it bumping. “I love seeing people blow-ing off steam through music on the dance floor and feeling that vibe,” she says. “I love the positive energy. The dance floor sort of becomes a community, all on the same jour-ney with the DJ.” –SLO

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Skyy

Touted as the next E. Lynn Harris, Skyy is an author/screenwriter from Memphis, whose first novel “Choices” (2006) swiftly gained popularity within the LGBTQ and urban fic-tion communities. “I wrote Choices because of a broken heart,” she confides. “Dealing with a terrible breakup, the characters came to me in the midst of crying. I decided to write what they were saying. Four days later, I finished the first draft. This is why I always tell people to take your pain and let it fuel your creativity; you never know what might come from it.” She followed up with three more novels, thereby creating one of the most popular urban lesbian book series to date. Blurring the lines between LGBTQ and straight communities, Skyy’s books about the African-American lesbian experience resonate with women of all identities. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is meeting the people who’ve been affected by my books,” she says. “To hear people say they were or are just like a character, or a storyline helped them through a difficult situation in their lives, makes me feel blessed and proud.” Currently, Skyy is focused on bringing African-American lesbian stories to the big and small screen and hopes to turn “Choices” into a feature film. –SLO

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Stephanie Frosch

At just 23, Stephanie Frosch is the brains behind ElloSteph (youtube.com/user/ElloSteph), a YouTube channel with close to 300,000 subscribers. Frosch uses her channel and platform to educate viewers on LGBTQ issues, safe sex, and body positivity. She’s also taken her show on the road, conducting panels on feminism and LGBTQ issues at Comic Con, Vidcon and Playlist Live; and she’s gone to high schools and universities, presenting workshops on gender and sexuality, body image, bullying and much more. “Honestly, I don’t feel like I ever ‘chose’ to do what I do,” she says. “Just like one doesn’t choose to breathe air or choose to laugh if they find something funny; it was almost a natural reflex for me to do. When I was a teenager, I was the only lesbian I knew, and I felt extremely isolated and depressed because of it. I never want a person to feel like I felt when I was a kid, so I try to be that person I know I needed when I was young. No one should ever feel alone, especially through the process of discovering one’s sexual orientation. A simple ‘I’ve been there, and I’m a happy person with a positive outlook on life’ can really make the biggest difference.” –GH

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Rachel Maddow

We always love smart-as-a-whip Rachel Maddow, but in an election year like this, we want and need her more than ever. And what an election year it’s been! Apart from issue-focused, meaningful interviews with Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the MSNBC host and political commentator has also delivered top-notch election night coverage and in-depth analysis throughout the primary season and beyond. We’re counting on Maddow’s level head to get us to November—with our sanity intact. She can also be pretty damned enter-taining. In early May, on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” she performed anti-Trump Republican despair as angst-ridden beat poetry. On a sadder, more serious note, she interviewed a former Islamic extremist, a gay man, for his insight on the Orlando nightclub shooting. Now in its eighth year, the Emmy-winning “TRMS” continues to follow the machinations, drama and (often) outright spectacle of American political life. When not hard at work at 30 Rock, you’ll find Maddow unwinding in the Berkshires in her hot tub, or chilling with longtime partner Susan Mikula. –SLO

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Susan SurfTone

“I was about 10 years old, alone in my backyard in Hudson, New York. I had a rock in my hand, and I was eyeing a rusted coffee can hanging on the top pole step on a telephone pole in the backyard,” remembers Susan SurfTone. “I wanted to take a shot at knocking the can down, but it seemed impossible. …I almost talked myself out of trying, but there was no one around to see if I missed, so I let the rock fly. I watched it as it headed toward the can right on target. Down the can went and I learned the biggest lesson of my life: Nothing is going to happen unless you throw that rock.” Guitarist SurfTone specializes in surf and garage music, genres that were big in the 1960s, and has enjoyed a career span-ning decades, both with band the SurfTones and as a solo act (her latest EP “The Magician” drops July 5). “Through my music, I get to connect with people all over the world. …It’s very rewarding to know in some small way, I’ve touched on something that can be shared and enjoyed among diverse cultures and communities.” –GH

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Celeste Belletti

Celeste Belletti has performed at some of New York’s most iconic nightspots and for some of the most iconic names in the business. This GO Entertainer/Piano Player of the Year (in 2002 and 2006) studied classical piano for a decade before jazz and pop won out. Proving that she can conquer more than one world, she recently participated in the Ms. New York Senior America Pageant, garnering second runner-up and Ms. Congeniality. “This was not just a beauty pageant,” she explains. “The contest represents women 60 and over in the state of New York, who are living active and purposeful lives—women who have lovingly given of themselves throughout their lives to other women, their families and communities. … [It’s] a beauty pageant that really focuses on the beauty of the soul, not the curves of the body or the appearance of one’s face.” Belletti also wrote and illustrated a children’s book, and has entertained at assisted living facilities and rehab centers, as well as for veterans and the mentally challenged. “I feel music has afforded me to opportunity to touch souls and lift spirits,” she says. “And in return, my soul and spirit are lifted.” –GH

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Rebecca Waggoner

An innovative nonprofit leader, Rebecca Waggoner is the executive director of Quorum, the Twin Cities LGBTQA Chamber of Commerce. She also serves as Midwest Regional Chamber Affiliate Chair for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). For over 20 years, she’s worked at every level of program development and management with community-based programs. She’s the former director of the anti-violence program at OutFront Minnesota, working with survivors of hate/bias violence, domestic violence and sexual assault. Currently, Waggoner is active in local community organizing efforts and has served on a number of organizational boards and advisory committees, and is a co-founder of the Lamb Project, an organization that provides handmade quilts and baby blankets to homeless kids. “My adult life has been dedicated to working with survivors of violence and discrimination,” she says. “The reward comes not from what I do but from knowing that somehow, and in some way, I have helped survivors change their own lives.” Originally from Arkansas, Waggoner was raised Southern Baptist, and recalls having a complicated, extended coming out process as a femme lesbian. “My family still thinks it’s a phase,” she jokes. Now she lives happily in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area with her partner, two teenage sons, two “slightly cranky” cats and a rescued greyhound named Atom. –SLO

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Rev. Cynthia Meyer

In January, Rev. Cynthia Meyer came out to her congregation at Edgerton United Methodist Church in Kansas. “I’ve been an ordained United Methodist pastor for 25 years,” she said from the pulpit. “At last, I am choosing to serve in that role with full authenticity, as my genuine self, as a woman who loves and shares my life with another woman.” Unfortunately, UMC does not allow openly gay people to be pastoral leaders. A charge has been filed against Meyer, with a church trial tentatively scheduled. “I join many faithful United Methodist Christians in challenging this discriminatory policy,” she says. “All are created in the image of God as God’s own beloved children and Jesus reached out in welcome, calling all, particularly the judged and outcast, to his table of love.” Regardless of what happens, Meyer stands by her actions. “I am willing to take this risk to help LGBTQI people know that they are beloved by God and by many Jesus followers, that they can connect with the church and serve as clergy and leaders in religious institutions and that we are of sacred worth and are entirely compatible with Christian teaching! It’s time for full inclusion and affirma-tion in the UMC, as well as in the broader society.” –GH

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Kaelyn & Lucy

Kaelyn Petras and Lucy Sutcliffe met six years ago and embarked on a long-distance relationship before finally moving in together in 2014. As a long-distance couple, they took to YouTube (youtube.com/user/kaely-nandlucy) as a vehicle for documenting the limited and precious time they got to spend together. Their montage videos quickly gained traction—capturing the attention of the LGBTQ community, in particular—with viewers from all over the world. To date, their channel has more than 25 million views and over 240,000 subscribers. After they started living together, the couple shifted the focus of their content, creating more advice-based videos designed to help members of our community. When they’re not making videos from their home in Phoenix, Kaelyn and Lucy tour universities, colleges and youth summits, speaking to students and young people who may be struggling with sexual orientation and/or gender identity. “Being able to interact with the LGBTQ community on a worldwide scale is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work,” they say. “When people send us letters or emails telling us that we helped them accept themselves for who they are, or that we helped give them the confidence to come out—it makes it all so worthwhile.” –SLO

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Lauren Turbowitz

An art director working in fashion, Lauren Turbowitz is a “huge music geek” and a scenester in NYC nightlife. She’s also the creative genius behind the ultra-sleek posters, party flyers, web graphics and magazine ads promoting your favorite LGBTQ events hosted by the legendary Henrietta Hudson, Miss Mugshot Events, girlNATIONnyc, Danielle Presents, Stiletto and Hot Rabbit. After college, Turbowitz recognized her true passion for art, television and film. As an associate producer and designer at Zooma Zooma, a bicoastal production company, she worked on commercials, music videos and short films for clients such as GLAAD and the Clinton Global Initiative. She also served as the produc-tion designer for “Ptown Diaries,” a documentary on the history of Provincetown. By day, as an art director, she travels the country directing photo-shoots and designs fashion lookbooks. By night, she’s gone on to start her own company, Turbo Design Studio, where she also serves as creative director. Lauren’s experience of coming out shaped who she is today. “I came out when I was 16,” she confides. “I had never felt more alone. Gradually, I woke up and realized that there was much more to life and that I deserved to live it. I was exactly who I was meant to be.” –SLO

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