GO! Presents 100 Women We Love: Class of 2024

THE CULTURAL ROADMAP FOR CITY GIRLS EVERYWHERE

Class of 2018

100 Women We Love: Class of 2018

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We are thrilled to present this year’s 100 Women We Love — an incredibly diverse group of out famous lesbians, entertainers, athletes, artists, activists, business leaders and elected officials. Each one of these women, in her own unique way, is a role model who exemplifies the best of the LGBTQ community. Their achievements enrich our lives and make our world a better place. Their contributions help to raise awareness, increase our visibility and accelerate our progress toward equality.

There are no rankings or numbers. We salute them all! 

Kiersey Clemons

Kiersey Clemons is only 24 and already taking over the world. Where have you seen her? Where haven’t you seen her? The queer actress, who trained with the iconic Groundlings improvisational and sketch comedy troupe, starred with another one of our favorites, Ellen Page, in the remake of the science fiction/horror film Flatliners; garnered a role in The Only Living Boy in New York along with Jeff Bridges and Kate Beckinsale; played Bianca in Transparent; starred in Lady Gaga’s video “’Til It Happens to You;” and of course, we can’t forget her role as Diggy in Dope, a film about a nerd who gets involved with the wrong crowd. She’s also been called an “actor to watch” by Variety, and pointed, in that article, to fellow actors Page and Zoë Kravitz as inspirations for how to select roles. “It’s funny,” she says. “I was just telling someone else how interesting it was to grow up and be a young woman and figure yourself out on camera and in your personal life at the same time. It sounds a lot more vulnerable, I think, than it is. It’s just really self-reflective, and it feels cool to watch yourself, and it helps you understand yourself. It’s been a blessing for me.” Look for her in the horror film Sweetheart as well as the highly anticipated feature film Hearts Beat Loud and on your playlist when she drops that debut EP she’s been working on. —GH

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Michelle Violy Harper

Michelle Violy Harper, Brand Consultant (MVH Consulting Founder and CEO), is a business, beauty, and fashion maven, and co-founder of a multi-million dollar cosmetic company. Her business ability makes sense, as she grew up with her mother, a woman “raising three children alone, in the ’80s, when there were no women ruling Wall Street,” who then became known as the Queen of Wall Street. A fascination for all things finance and her creative abilities make her the perfect fit for what she does. “I also found it fun to challenge the status quo by being a woman, a gay woman, a very fashion-forward eccentric, in a rigid straight man’s world, making major moves.” As to her lesbian identity, “Having started my own beauty brand as the co-founder left no room for discrimination,” Harper says. As the head of her company, she ensures the hires of open-minded staff members. “The industry has become increasingly accepting of all sexual orientations,” she says, “which is a beautiful thing to see, and more than that, the right thing to see.” —JDG

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Alice Kremelberg

An actor in film, television, and theatre, Alice Kremelberg has worked alongside luminaries such as Tina Fey, Melissa McCarthy, Nathan Lane, Cynthia Nixon, and Debra Messing. Now, she gets to join the incredible team behind Orange is the New Black. Kremelberg will appear in a recurring role as Nicole Eckelcamp in the new season, which premieres later this summer. You can also revel in Kremelberg’s acting prowess in Doomsday as Sorrell, and in Caroline Stucky’s film Us as Helen, to name a couple of her other projects. On stage, she originated the role of Reba in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s play Dry Land. “I find it incredibly rewarding to meet and collaborate with LGBTQIA people, to seek out and tell these stories,” Kremelberg says. “To see and be seen… is everything.” Kremelberg is also taking up directing, writing, and producing, with the documentary series HERassment and the film Jack and Jane. “I feel like one of the most rewarding aspects of this work is that I am constantly learning — about myself and others,” Kremelberg says. “It’s a never-ending game of discovery. I keep meeting myself again and again in the work and in these characters. I think that this can be a place where real empathy and understanding meet, which are vital to thrive as a community.” To the LGBTQ community, her message is to “Know that you are important. Your experience and your voices are necessary.” —SEJ

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Brittany Campbell

Singer-songwriter Brittany Campbell has been playing instruments and singing since childhood, but it was in the gay clubs of New York City — performing alongside drag stars like Acid Betty, Epiphany, and Bob the Drag Queen — where she gained her footing as an artist. “The LGBTQ community is where I found myself — my style, my energy, who I wanted to be,” says Campbell. “The underground club scene… gave me freedom.” That freedom launched her career to new heights. Her debut album, Stay Gold, won critical acclaim. She landed a coveted role as a Schuyler Sister in the Chicago cast of smash-hit musical Hamilton. She’s played roles on Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It and Master of None. And while she credits the gay club scene for her musical success, she’s still navigating where her own identity within the LGBTQ community fits. “I’ve never put a stamp on anything,” Campbell says. “People get confused about bisexuality and/or expect you to lean more towards one gender than the other, when, really, for me, it’s a soul/energy thing. The overall confusion and, often, dismissal, is the hardest part.” Still, she’s very much a part of the community, and has been since those club days. “I owe a lot to my community for instantly embracing me in such a positive way,” she says. “We are a culture of people who tend to nurture each other because so many of us are outsiders in many ways beyond sexuality.” —SEJ

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Poppy Liu

Born in Xi’An, China, the now-Queens-based actor, poet, and doula Poppy Liu (who uses the pronouns “she” and “they”) is actively “decolonizing queer and femme stories about sex, body, love, and healing.” As the lead actor in the drama series Mercy Mistress, Liu tells the story of a queer Chinese-American professional dominatrix living in New York City. Recently, she went on two Bible Belt abortion storytelling tours with Names of Women, a short film based on Liu’s personal abortion story. Liu crowdfunded $20,000 to make the film and accompanying educational toolkits on reproductive justice, which she hopes will launch open conversations about the complexity of abortion — dialogues that include gender non-conforming and transgender voices. Names of Women premiered in New York City the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, and it’s been screening around the country ever since. Liu also founded Collective Sex, a storytelling initiative. “The future is queer, it’s immigrant, it’s hyphenated, and diasporic,” Liu says about the pulse that drives her career. “It is our stories that are going to be the blueprints for our collective liberated future.” —SEJ

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Lisa Berenberg

Model agent Lisa Berenberg has helped protect and nurture the careers of LGBTQ models since the early ‘90s from her powerful posts at New York City’s most prestigious talent agencies. Though the fashion industry is famous for celebrating gay culture, gay male agents far outnumber their lesbian counterparts. “There are very few of us,” Berenberg says. “It is a boys’ club in the truest sense; sexism in this industry is just as widespread as in the mainstream.” She works to keep the glamour alive and shimmering for other gay women in the game, who, like her, have dreamed of working in fashion since they were kids. “I wanted to be in fashion since I was eight years old hanging out at my mother’s clothing store, Wee Barbanel, in the Bronx,” she says. Berenberg is currently the Director of Women’s Board at Major Model Management, a network that enables her to serve as both role model and “gay-gent,” a term she uses with joy. “I have met many amazing women in my career and I feel lucky to be doing what I love,” she says. Lisa lives in Maplewood, N.J. with her wife and two teenage children, and is a strong supporter of their thriving local gay community. —LK

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Stephanie Frosch

Competition is stiff for eyeballs out there on YouTube, so when someone manages to gain a large following, chances are, they’re doing something unique. Stephanie Frosch boasts over 377,000 dedicated subscribers to her channel; her videos get hundreds of thousands of views. Frosch was inspired to start her channel when a fan said they loved her blog but didn’t like reading. She’s covered everything from polyamory to Pride to pumpkin carving. She left YouTube for a bit, frustrated with some aspects of the platform, but soon returned with a promise to create deeper content. (You can hear her story about this in the video “Why I Left YouTube/The Future of My Channel.”) These days, though, she’s focusing on the positive. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is that I get to be the person I wish I had when I was younger — to hundreds of thousands of people who are exactly where I used to be. When I was in middle school, I never imagined that I could be happy and out of the closet, and the fact that I get to support and be a resource for so many in their coming out process is such an honor.” —GH

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Jen Benka

Jen Benka is President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, the largest member-supported organization for poets and poetry, and is the author of poetry collections and books. In the early 1990s, as Jen Benka was “coming into queer consciousness,” she felt like she didn’t have any role models to lead the way. Then, she came across June Jordan’s “Poem About My Rights.” “I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name. / My name is my own my own my own….” Those words, Benka says, “became a necessary, reaffirming mantra.” Poetry collections of Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde, talks by Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein, and performance pieces by Holly Hughes were some of the other guides that helped her piece together her own identity. Since then, she has devoted her career to championing the importance of poets and poetry in our culture, a vocation she views as “a gift.” “I didn’t really choose my current field,” Benka says. “More like I fell into poetry like I fell in love.” From her view as an advocate for poetry, she is seeing more and more LGBTQ people fall in love with it, too. “People turn to poetry for a number of reasons, including insight and inspiration, and comfort in troubled times,” Benka says. “All to say, seemingly more people than ever are reading poems, and LGBTQ poets are helping to lead the way.” —SEJ

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Linda Gottlieb

First she was a bookkeeper. Then the owner of an art gallery for 22 years. Then the owner of a brokerage firm on Wall Street. Linda Gottlieb never balked when it came to making daring career moves. After September 11th, she felt it was time to give back, she says. So Gottlieb initiated another switch, and this time, she made her own community the focus of her career. Gottlieb founded Women’s Pride in the Pines, a dance, silent auction, and dinner that raises money for LGBTQ causes. To date, she has amassed over $650,000 for beneficiaries such as The Center, SAGE, HMI, the Ali Forney Center, and Callen-Lorde. Her most recent event gave to the Family Equality Council in support of LGBTQ families. Why? “The fight is not over,” she says. “We now have gay marriage and we march in the gay parade in New York. Outside of New York, gays are still being beat up and killed and bullied. Children are being thrown out of their homes on the street when they tell their parents they are gay. We must remember this could all be taken away from us in a flash. We must keep fighting for our rights.” —SEJ

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Cameron Esposito

From stage to streaming, stand-up comic Cameron Esposito has been delighting national audiences who are ravenous for her blatantly queer flavor of comedy. It’s not just lesbian issues she focuses on — though her relationship with fellow comic Rhea Butcher is often a part of the act, whether on tour together or on their sitcom, Take My Wife. The stand-up headliner, actor, showrunner, and book author has always mined her personal life to get at larger topics in society. Now, Esposito is adding her voice to the #MeToo movement with her latest set, Rape Jokes, in which she talks about something else that’s deeply personal: her own sexual assault in college. That’s territory on which few other comics have been willing to tread. The Daily Beast calls it “the first great stand-up set of the #MeToo era.” That it’s as rip-roaringly funny as it is important is Esposito’s great achievement as an artist. She views comedy as a pulpit from which she can contribute to social change. “I am lucky enough to have found a field I love that also intersects with social activism,” Esposito says. “That’s really the most rewarding aspect — that the avenue to share my experiences as a queer person and push for change [is] by making people laugh.” —SEJ

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Lourdes Ashley Hunter

“I could not just sit and wait for a world that is designed to erase me off the face of the Earth to do just that,” states Dr. Lourdes Ashley Hunter, Trans Women of Color Collective’s Executive Director. Born out of necessity, TWOCC is a leading grass-roots global initiative led by trans and gender non-conforming people of color that works to uplift their narratives, experiences, and leadership in social justice movements. They build towards collective liberation for all oppressed people, using art as a conduit for healing and restorative justice. Hunter’s dynamic lecturing, research, and academic work has played a transformative role in developing and implementing culturally competent practices at government agencies such as the United Nations, the Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the NYPD, just to name a few. Hunter seeks to create a world where Black trans people thrive, and recounts that it wasn’t until she saw another Black trans woman with a job, with a degree, or leading within their industry that she knew those were real possibilities for herself. “My greatest source of inspiration is Black trans people. Our mere essence, our existence, our capacity to love, to build community, to move mountains, to calm seas, to slay dragons, and to shine bright literally inspires me every single day.” Dr. Hunter’s work creates pathways for Black trans folk to see themselves reflected, affirmed, and celebrated. —JDG

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Chef K

Khristianne Uy (better known as Chef K) is a big name in the cooking world, having spent more than 15 years in the biz while gaining widespread exposure on The Real L World, Millionaire Matchmaker, and the cooking contest show The Taste (ABC), which she won. Oh, yeah, she’s cooked for James Cameron, Simon Fuller, and Charlie Sheen, too. It hasn’t been all fun and games, though. “Back in the year 2000… I remember people would often whisper underneath their breath and find a reason to bitch or complain about my food. Especially straight men. If I shucked the oyster better or grilled the steak better, they didn’t like it. They didn’t like to see a gay female chef excel in the kitchen. It’s much better now, but back then it was hard.” She also had to overcome her father’s feelings. “Coming from a Filipino background and wanting to be a chef — my dad didn’t approve. He told me I would be working behind a stove every day, that I would be ‘the help.’” Although she’s succeeded beyond her father’s wildest dreams, she never rests on her laurels. “Passion is not just a dream or an end goal,” she says. “It’s a process you put all your energy into every day. I say ‘I’m only as good as my last meal,’ because it’s a measure of how far I pushed myself that day, and tomorrow I’ll push harder, and even harder the day after that. By doing this every day, your passion becomes a journey, and that’s when dreams begin to come true.” —GH

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Alexandra Tydings

Xena: Warrior Princess was the backdrop for many a young queer girl’s sexual awakening, and actress Alexandra Tydings, who starred as Aphrodite, hasn’t forgotten the powerful role the show played for fans. “With Xena, I have met people who were really touched by the show, and I feel honored to have been part of that.” If only something like that had existed when Tydings was coming out. Instead, she and her friends would go to the video store and rent anything that sounded even remotely queer. “I know Liquid Sky, Another Country, and The Hunger by heart,” says Tydings, who most recently had a role in the horror film What Death Leaves Behind. “I can imagine we would have really loved to be able to watch Xena every week.” Her own coming-out in the late ‘80s was both glorious and tumultuous. Growing up in D.C., she and her friends would go to a gay club every weekend. But when someone spotted her there with her girlfriend, she was outed to her whole school and to her mother. “Mom, however, was very cool,” Tydings remembers. Her message to the LGBTQ community, including those many Xena fans is: “Thank you for being there for me when I needed you. You are fabulous. You inspire me. And if any of you aren’t yet safe or ready to be out loud and proud, know that I love you and I will always have your back.” Perfect words from the woman who portrayed the goddess of Love — and we love you and have your back, too! —SEJ

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DJ Citizen Jane

Music has the power to unite people, something that DJ Citizen Jane has harnessed to forge a personal and professional mission. As one of the most in-demand DJs for LGBTQ events — especially women’s events — Citizen Jane likes to “break through the subtle music barriers between several diverse groups,” including gay men, and women, and mainstream audiences. Her resume “reads like a circuit party passport that keeps growing every year,” with headlining gigs at The Dinah, Aqua Girl, and Girls in Wonderland, and even the iconic Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras fest that set 45,000 attendees dancing to her beats. She’s played at some of the hottest clubs, venues, and music festivals in the world, from Canada and Europe to Madison Square Garden. She’s a three-time Pink Flamingo Award winner, where the public voted her “Best DJ.” Citizen Jane has managed to keep her appeal versatile thanks to an innate belief that difference can be transcended through music. “Music makes people come together, no matter what race, color, gender, or sexual orientation,” she says. Now, she’s turning her attention to her first love in music: singing. Citizen Jane’s new single, “Rescue Me,” comes out in July. Whether it’s behind the decks or behind a mic, Citizen Jane uses music to “get people out of their heads and let them escape their problems and worries.” —SEJ

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Christine Hallquist

For many, Trump’s election was a soul-crushing moment, but for Democrat Christine Hallquist, it led to something positive: a decision to try to become the first trans governor in America. Her decision to run for office is even more stunning when you consider that, according to Broadly, this former CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative only came out as trans in 2015, and even then feared pushback. (“I was pretty sure I would lose [my job],” she told Broadly. “… But when I transitioned on December 2nd, 2015, Vermont welcomed me with open arms. It was a miracle.”) The fact that Hallquist can run as her authentic self — and that other trans folks have and are as well, including famed Danica Roem, who recently became the first trans state legislator in Virginia — shows that not only have we come a long way as a society, but we can still move forward under our current “unfriendly” administration. If she wins the potentially pivotal race, Hallquist wants to help Vermonters secure job opportunities and healthcare. “In running for governor, I am so grateful that I have met so many good people,” Hallquist tells GO. “There are many people who are down on our democracy. I would tell them to not let the negativism get you down. The majority of the people who I have met on the campaign trail really do want to make things better and are very welcoming and supportive.” The next step for Hallquist is the Democrat primary in August — and we wish her all the luck! —GH

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Alicia Garza

After the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, the Black Lives Matter movement became a lightning rod in the fight against state-sanctioned police violence and the oppression of Black people. Organizer Alicia Garza was instrumental in bringing the movement together, as one of three co-founders of Black Lives Matter. At the time, Garza had already spent nearly 20 years building strategies that support Black people “being powerful and having access to what everyone deserves.” With BLM, her voice on these issues began to be amplified through a national megaphone. And as a queer Black woman, she’s using that megaphone to expand people’s understanding of just who is affected by police and state violence. Martin and Brown were “catalysts” for the movement, she explains, but it is not just cisgender Black men who are in peril. “In order to truly understand how devastating and widespread this type of violence is in Black America, we must view this epidemic through a lens of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” Garza has won numerous awards and accolades for her work from Forbes, Politico, Glamour, BET, and more, and she has been featured in publications such as Time, The Guardian, and The New York Times. Currently, Garza is the Strategy and Partnership Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, where she helps millions of domestic workers fight for dignity and fairness. She’s also the principal of the Black Futures Lab, which works to transform Black communities into powerful constituencies. Her career has had a number of “incredible successes,” she says, “and I really believe that the best is yet to come.” —SEJ

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Sarah Kate Ellis

As the president and CEO of GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis has a mission to ensure the fair and accurate portrayal of the LGBTQ community in the media, and the work goes beyond that. With a successful career as a media executive behind her before she took on her current role in 2014, Ellis has a deep understanding of how media influences acceptance. In addition to providing resources to media on how to better cover the community (such as when Caitlyn Jenner came out), GLAAD also works with prominent media figures to get their opinions heard on issues important to LGBTQ people, such as discriminatory bills in Tennessee and Georgia. For Ellis, the goal isn’t just to see more queer characters on TV shows, though that’s certainly important, too. Instead, she considers and helps propagate the positive role media can have on society as a whole. “When I look at my two children, I want them to be able to grow up in a world where their moms have full acceptance and equality under the law,” she says. “I want my wife and I to be able to freely show affection anywhere without fear of retaliation or violence.” In the current political climate, in which fake news runs rampant — some of it with a decidedly homophobic streak — she says, “This is more important than ever — and I am more resolved than ever to make the world I want to see for my family.” —SEJ

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Rica Takashima

Tokyo native Rica Takashima was a Manga fan growing up. But she was frustrated. “I couldn’t find lesbian Manga that depicted normal everyday relationships or had happy endings.” So, she decided to write her own. She started drawing Rica ‘tte Kanji!? — semi-autobiographical illustrations about a cheerful young woman who moves to Tokyo to attend a women’s college. There, she looks for love. It was a “lively, cute, and fun lesbian story,” Takashima says. Her work was initially published in Anise, Japan’s premier lesbian magazine at the time. Later, her Manga were compiled and released as a graphic novel, which was translated into English in 2003. Takashima always made gender, sexuality, and diversity a part of her work. In the early ‘90s, she operated the first lesbian and gay group art show in Tokyo, and she provided illustrations for the catalog of the first Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. Since moving to New York City in 2008, she has launched interactive participatory public art projects on those themes. —SEJ

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Michelle King

A lifelong music lover who would always share her melodic discoveries with her friends, Michelle King took her passion and channeled it into a career of helping artists reach larger audiences. King is the owner of Austin, Texas-based public relations company Noisy Ghost PR. “Now,” she says, “I get to share new music with the world.” Her company mainly focuses on spreading the word about indie musicians, with many queer artists among her clients. Xiu Xiu, Sick of Sarah, Shirlette Ammons, Kerchief, and Frankie Simone have all been on her client roster. One of the ways she gets queer artists noticed is through her other role, as Public Relations Manager for The Dinah, the massive Palm Springs women’s festival. It was at The Dinah earlier this year that King experienced a career highlight, when rapper Brooke Candy told her she is a “good publicist” during a backstage conversation. Noisy Ghost’s latest work involves partnering with the Contrast Film Festival, a queer- and female-focused film and performance art fest in Austin. “Creating exposure for artists whose work deserves to be appreciated by larger audiences is immensely rewarding,” King says. “I enjoy remaining behind the scenes while still working in a creative field and using my skills as a communicator to put others in the spotlight.” —SEJ

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Yoanne Magris

Since Chef Yoanne Magris helped her grandmother meld French and Mediterranean cuisines in the kitchen as a child, her skill and passion for sharing with others built a career that cruxed on one of the most deeply-felt honors in the industry today: cooking for then-President Barack Obama. She soon after opened her first restaurant, Yo In Yo Out, on the Upper East Side, buffered by experience at top-rated New York eateries like Russian Tea Room and I’Tremerl. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is that feeling of giving back,” she says. “From a cheffing perspective to a restaurateur perspective, we are given the opportunity of bringing joy in people’s lives. I have always truly believed and mentored my staff to appreciate the fact that any customer walking through the doors of my establishment are gifting us with two hours of their life.” Magris, who came out in GO back in 2009, says revealing her authentic self changed her whole life for the better. “Taking confidence in myself and finding the courage to face the consequences was the most important aspect of it all,” she says. “I then started pushing my limits in my cuisine. And became proud to take a stand for who I wanted to be as a chef. I never accepted no for an answer, kept my chin up, hid my tears in this mostly male-dominated industry, dodged a few punches, and got right back up when my world crumbled at times.” — LK

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Guinevere Turner

Guinevere Turner always had something to say, and when she was in her 20s, she finally figured out how to say it: through film. “I thought, ‘A lot of people see movies. If I want to say something, a movie is the smartest vehicle.’” Her debut, Go Fish, became a cult lesbian classic. The 1994 film, which she co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in, focused on a woman whose friends try to help her find a new girlfriend. While many fans are still discovering that groundbreaking lesbian comedy, others know Turner from The L Word, on which she served as a writer and story editor, and had an unforgettable recurring role as Alice’s girlfriend, Gabby. Turner co-wrote the films American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page with director Mary Harron. She can also list American Psycho and Chasing Amy among her acting credits. In her latest venture, Turner is going from being the screenwriter of a cult film, to being the screenwriter of a film about a cult: She penned the screenplay Charlie Says, an upcoming film directed by Harron. It’s about “the women who killed for Charles Manson as they serve out the first few years of their decades-long prison term.” Whether telling the stories of an LA lesbian crew or of a serial killer’s followers, Turner knows how to serve up compelling tales about real(ish) people. “The simple act of representation is powerful,” she says. “And then, of course, there are all the people who are seeing characters they’ve never seen before and learning. It starts conversations. I live for that!” —SEJ

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Abigail Greydanus

The jump from latex fashion to clinical psychology might not seem like an obvious one, but it is to Abigail Greydanus. After becoming fascinated by latex while in fashion school, the designer became known for crafting one-of-a-kind garments made from the material for the likes of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Rihanna. Her designs veer toward Art Deco, with bold lines, vintage styling, unique colors, sexy cutouts, and fun prints in the unconventional medium. And her clients feel amazing in them. Little did she know that the high she’d get from making her customers happy with her custom designs would lead her in a whole new direction: Greydanus is currently studying to become a clinical psychologist at UCLA. She hopes to provide holistic mental health care for the LGBTQ community, and to conduct research that helps advocates secure additional resources for communities that lack access to them. Some of her recent research has involved looking at double consciousness in college students, and she has plans for upcoming studies delving into inclusion, intergroup, and intragroup attitudes, as well as negative stereotypes within the queer community. To hear her tell it, both of her careers are connected. “I love getting to make things for people to express their full selves,” Greydanus says, “and that’s why I hope to focus my psychology work on aiding those in the queer community to fully live their truth and support them every step of the way in doing so.” —SEJ

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Kayla and Jessica Weissbuch

There are some who simply never want summer camp to end. Kayla Weissbuch, left, attended and worked at a summer camp from the ages of eight to 18. Two years later, at 20, she was starting one of her own, along with her wife, Jessica Weissbuch. The pair founded Brave Trails, which provides leadership summer camp experiences for LGBTQ teens and families, and now serves 250 campers each summer. Camp gave Kayla “some of the most formative and impactful experiences,” she says, and she wanted to pass that on to other LGBTQ youth. “I get to witness as shy, awkward, anxious teenagers become powerful young adults in just a matter of years,” says Kayla, who is one of the youngest non-profit executive directors in Los Angeles. “Youth are leading the way on so many local and national fronts. Our team is honored to walk beside them and give them the tools they need to change the world.” Jessica, a marriage and family therapist, has worked with LGBTQ youth for more than a decade, launching her career at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. At Brave Trails, she helps campers build their leadership skills so they can in turn give back to their own communities. “I choose to work with queer youth because of my own experience being a queer youth,” Jessica says. “As I grew up, I always felt like an ‘other’ and I want to make sure that the queer youth of today have a place to go and not feel like an ‘other.’” At Brave Trails, they do. —SEJ

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Rebekah Weatherspoon

Rebekah Weatherspoon is a woman we love who writes about women (and men) who love. Her books include the paranormal romance Soul to Keep, which garnered the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Erotica, and At Her Feet, which won an Erotica award from the lesbian Golden Crown Literary Society in 2014. She also has one of the most colorful resumes in the spectrum, with jobs that have included “library assistant, meter maid, middle school teacher, B-movie production assistant, reality show crew chauffeur, D-movie producer, and her most fulfilling job to date, lube and harness specialist at an erotic boutique in West Hollywood.” These days, the former New Hampshirite spins stories from her home in Southern California, “where she will remain because she hates moving.” The most rewarding part of her work, she says, is “hearing from other women of color, especially young, queer, Black women who have connected to my work. Writing can be a lonely process and it’s easy to forget that someone might really fall in love with your books one day because they feature characters that finally look like them. Knowing that I’ve written something that touches someone who feels that they are left out of media, and romance fiction in particular, really is the best.” —GH

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Nekisia Davis

Colloquially (and in practice), the early bird catches the worm. And no one has harnessed the wisdom embedded in that old adage more adeptly and passionately than foodie maven Nekisia Davis. Back in 2008, Davis was working as a manager at the now-defunct Brooklyn pizzeria Franny’s when she started making her own granola and selling it at local markets like the Brooklyn Flea. And so began the journey of Davis’ Early Bird Foods & Co., which quickly caught on like wildfire with foodie celebs such as Martha Stewart. Ten years later, her olive oil-and-salt-baked granola is now a sweet-and-salty staple in breakfast bowls everywhere. Davis’ recipes have been featured in The New York Times, New York magazine, and Food52. The original recipe, Farmhand’s Choice, is a yummy gluten-free mix of maple, sunflower seeds, pecans, coconut, brown sugar, pumpkin seeds, and oats. But that’s not all Davis’s company is known for — Early Bird has garnered a reputation for the inclusivity and positivity propelled by the culture of its workplace. The home cook and frequent Riis Beach reveler shares this message with the LGBTQ community: “Aren’t we lucky AF to have the superpower of being queer? Fly your freak flags as high as you can — and I’ll see you all at the queer beach this summer!” —SEJ

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Jewelle Gomez

Lesbian feminist author and playwright Jewelle Gomez will never forget the book fair in Florida at which a “young dyke” whose home had been destroyed in a hurricane came up to her. The only thing she’d saved from the storm was her copy of Gomez’s The Gilda Stories, the double Lambda Literary Award-winning vampire novel that recently had its 25th anniversary edition published by City Lights Books. “She was in tears as she told me how the book comforted her and gave her strength while she waited in a shelter for a place to live,” Gomez recalls. “No one can manufacture that emotional connection we shared. It renewed her and me.” The author of seven books and the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature, Gomez strives to “express my emotions and political ideas in ways that don’t feel preachy or sweetsy. Nothing like a vampire to cut the sweet!” Her latest work is Waiting for Giovanni, a play about James Baldwin that will premiere in New York City this summer. In addition to her literary accomplishments, Gomez was on the founding boards of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation, was former President of the San Francisco Public Library Commission, and worked with the New York State Council on the Arts for a decade. She sees her many roles as connected: They are all about community. “I feel so gratified when all kinds of people get the feminist messages I’m writing into my work about our own responsibilities and how important building community is to all of us.” —SEJ

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Stephanie Berman

Turkey basters and syringes took all the fun out of trying to make a baby, so Stephanie Berman came up with something totally novel. She and her wife wanted to conceive at home, without a trip to the doctor’s office. But the reproductive options for women were, well, just not sexy. Plus, they didn’t work for her. Berman, who had previously worked for her family’s business, which specialized in distributing products for women’s reproductive health, had a better idea: the Semenette, an ejaculating strap-on dildo. “The Semenette allows partners to engage in an exponentially more intimate act, through its proprietary inner-tubing and pump system, recreating penetrative sex and the fertilization process in the privacy of their own home,” says Berman, the CEO and founder of the product. The company now produces a more pleasure-focused option that maintains its unique function, but is designed to be more universal and inclusive, specifically addressing the needs of all LGBTQ+ communities. The latest version is called POP Dildo. Not only have the products been helping same-sex couples make babies on their own at home, but they’ve worked for Berman and her wife, too. The pair conceived two children with the help of the Semenette and POP Dildo. Stephanie is deeply invested in her clients’ success. “There is nothing more rewarding than waking up to an email with a picture of a positive pregnancy test sent by a client. The fact that people want to share this exciting news with me and invite me into their world in such a beautiful way is something I’m very grateful for.” —SEJ

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Katherine Linton

Katherine Linton is probably best-known to queer viewers as the former host and series producer of In the Life, a groundbreaking LGBTQ news show that ran for over 20 years on PBS (and the episodes can be viewed online via the UCLA Film & Television Archive). Since then, she’s carved out a highly-respected career as a go-to person for documentaries about a mixed bag of subjects. In 2004, Linton created her own company, the DUMBO-based Linton Media. Its first work was a documentary that had the distinction of also being the first show to ever air on LOGO: The Evolution Will be Televised. Her projects have also included the series Lesbian Sex & Sexuality for Here TV; Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig, on New York’s Harvey Milk High School (for the Sundance Channel); Mississippi: I AM, about the changing nature of queer life in a conservative state, which featured the participation of Lance Bass; and several MTV True Life episodes on issues ranging from pill addiction to homelessness. “I am more interested in helping to broadcast the voices of people who have been marginalized for whatever reasons, or who don’t get heard often enough in our culture,” she says. Recently, she came back to where it all started for her, when she directed the first episode of The Great American Read, a series on literature, which premiered on PBS in May. —GH

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ADAIR

Brooklyn-based DJ and event producer ADAIR makes sure women, people of color, and the queer community are heard — and that they can hear one another. The intentional, consistent safe spaces she creates like Haute Sauce and Rose Gold foster much-needed community within the music scene. And ADAIR echoes whole worlds, too, within her music, with diasporic soundscapes of Brazilian baile, house, disco, funk, dancehall, hip-hop, and the fringes of these genres. Audiences have been taught by her music at the Brooklyn Museum, the Ace Hotel, and the Apollo Theater; they dance hard to it, too. “If there is a gap in your local community, fill it,” ADAIR says, “Don’t spend too much time thinking of how to make the event or function happen. Execute. Do it. Then learn and improve and build on your original idea.” Though programming spaces and building awareness has been a process of learning, ADAIR says it’s so worth it to fill a void. “I started DJing and event producing because I wasn’t seeing the community I was desiring, and I wasn’t hearing the music that I knew our queer community appreciates,” she says. Those who hope to bring this kind of haven to their neighborhoods should take things step by step, ADAIR advises, and watch their own pursuits flourish in feats of karma and connection, too.She recently set sail with Lez Journeys as their official DJ for the 2018 cruise to Cuba. —LK

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Dr. Laura Miranda

Dr. Laura Miranda was “practically born playing sports.” But a devastating knee injury in school led her to her current profession as a physical therapist, personal trainer, and founder of the exclusive training programs Strong Healthy Woman and Pursuit. “My therapists were all badass women who were strong and extremely intelligent,” Miranda says. “They not only helped me understand human performance and strength and conditioning, but they taught me that one’s words, leading by example, and believing in yourself can change the course of one’s entire life. I strive to live that myself and have spent my entire career on a quest to pay it forward to as many people as possible.” Miranda knew instantly that she wanted to make physical therapy and fitness her career — one that has blossomed into major entrepreneurial success. What started as her fitness business in New York City, the Pursuit program recently expanded into a licensed business model for fitness professionals to run their own version worldwide. Powerhouse influencer companies and organizations with global reach — including Whole Foods, the New York Stock Exchange, and Twitter — also call on Miranda for her motivational speaking prowess. Clearly, Miranda has come a very long way from the “self-hate” she lived with prior to coming out at 25. The “masks” she had hidden behind were “stifling,” she says. But with a lot of work toward “radical self-acceptance,” — that is, “the ability to just be exactly who you are in the world, no filters, no masks, and no hiding,” Miranda has found that being out and proud has positively impacted all facets of her life, particularly her career. “[It] helps me show up for my clients in a truly authentic way,” Miranda says. “Living your truth has a way of allowing others around you to do the same.” —SEJ

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Kelly Rakowski

A child of the ‘90s, Kelly Rakowski got on the internet just as it was starting a revolution by reaching into people’s homes for the first time. There, she found “a space to find friends and connections with people.” Later, in her career as an art book designer and photo director, Rakowski loved researching and producing “compelling, informative imagery to share with the world.” Those two interests merged when she came out at the age of 34, and soon after, launched the Instagram account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y. The account presents “herstoric” images: black-and-white portraits and high school yearbook photos of lesbian legends; photos of protest signs, pins, and posters; archival documents and manifestos; and other relics of our collective lesbian past. Rakowski started the account “partly because I love old photographs and learning about lesbian culture,” she says, “and partly to feel a connection with people, even if it’s strangers on the internet.” From there, she spun off another Instagram account, @_personals_, and now, she’s going full retro with PERSONALS, a text-based LGBTQ dating app inspired by old-school newspaper personal ads. It’s all about bringing people together, and it still gets her feeling all mushy inside. “So many stories have come through my DMs or emails about people finding each other via @_personals_ Instagram,” she says. “Heartwarming is an overused but applicable word that comes to mind. So, so, so sweet.” —SEJ

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Tanya DePass

“I was mad about video games at 6am about four years ago,” she remembers. “It was the right time, right place for the diversity discussion to ramp up again and I went with it.” And the video game world is all the better for her efforts. DePass is the Director and Founder of the nonprofit I Need Diverse Games; the Diversity Liaison and Programming Director at the GaymerX Foundation; a board member of Con-or-Bust, a group that helps folks from marginalized communities attend conventions; Anthology Editor of the CRC Press book Game Devs and Others: Tales from the Margins, which tells stories from the front lines of game development; a cast member on Rivals of Waterdeep, a POC/queer Dungeons and Dragons show on twitch.tv/dnd; and a convention speaker when there is a call for an expert on diversity, feminism, race and intersectionality. If all that weren’t enough to keep her busy, she has written for Uncanny Magazine; Polygon; Vice’s gaming vertical, Waypoint; WisCon Chronicles; Paste’s Games section, and others. DePass, who says her coming out process as bisexual “wasn’t showy or flashy,” enjoys it when young queer folks are inspired by her, but also wants our community to do better. “The community needs to be welcoming to all,” she says, “and not play oppression Olympics with others’ axes of marginalization. Recognize things are more difficult for POC who are LGBTQIA, especially trans POC. Let’s not forget our roots of Stonewall and Black trans women in favor of corporate rainbow-washing every June.” —GH

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Ging Cristobal

As the project coordinator for Asia and the Pacific at Outright Action International, the LGBTQ international human rights organization (formerly IGLHRC), Ging Cristobal’s work touches on domestic and family violence, police protocols, and anti-discrimination laws in countries in Asia. A graduate of the University of the Philippines, Ging Cristobal got more than a classroom-based education. There, “it is like a civic responsibility as a student to be involved in social awareness and being involved [in] development and change,” Cristobal says. In the 1990s, however, there were no LGBTQ groups that she knew of. “No printed materials, no positive images [in] media, so the need to be in one group was strong.” One night in 1996, Cristobal gathered with other women to watch and discuss the now-classic lesbian film The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. “After hearing the experiences of lesbians in the room,” she says, “I never looked back.” She has devoted her life’s work to LGBTQ rights activism ever since, because “I believe everyone should be free and be able to reach one’s dreams.” Just being out is the first step in making change. “Laws do not change hearts and minds,” she says. “We, as LGBTQ persons, change hearts and minds through engaging and being part of the different communities in our society.” —SEJ

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Danielle Stanziale

Working in construction by day and LGBTQ nightlife by night, Danielle Stanziale has been served well in both industries by having a “big and outgoing personality” and a “tough backbone.” The construction project executive is better known in the lesbian scene as a promoter who co-launched a legendary girls’ party at Nation in Midtown Manhattan, which brought in 500 revelers every Saturday for three years. After that, Stanziale moved on to the historic Stonewall Inn, and has been hosting events there for a decade. “Every Thursday night, I feel I am part of a movement,” she says. It was at a different bar, this one on Fire Island, that Stanziale had another event idea. She was wondering why there wasn’t a “hot sporting event here on the beach,” and so she co-founded LezVolley eight years ago. The volleyball weekend on the island now has 20 volleyball teams made up of more than 500 women. “And this truly makes my life feel complete,” she says. Stanziale is proud to contribute to the social fabric of the lesbian community, now and into the future. “I am so happy that I was a part of the generation to start a movement in the lesbian nightlife and [to watch] the… next generation have the same fun and smiles for the future generations.” —SEJ

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Emma González

High school should have ended differently for Emma González. As a senior and President of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., her biggest concern was her college plans. That is, until February 14, 2018, when 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at her school. In that moment, González went from student to survivor. Days later, she became a nationally-known activist for her blunt and passionate speeches calling for gun control. “We call B.S.!” became her signature call-and-response cry. “The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us…,” she said at a rally in Florida days after the shooting. “And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call B.S.” Since then, González — who identifies as bisexual — became one of a handful of Parkland students to become the face of the #NeverAgain movement. She’s been called an icon, profiled in numerous publications, and featured with her fellow students on the cover of Time magazine. Together, Parkland students organized the March for Our Lives protests in Washington, D.C., and around the country, in March 2018. González’s speech in front of thousands of protesters once again went viral. There, she took the stage for exactly as long as it took the Parkland shooter to kill his victims. She stood silent for six minutes in what many journalists (and spectators) hailed as one of the most powerful moments of protest in recent history. —SEJ

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Emma Mcilroy

Much in the same way the fashion industry is (finally!) recognizing the need for better plus-size options, it’s also starting to understand that a void exists for clothing that suits (pun intended) all gender expressions. Online retailer Wildfang — which translates to “tomboy” in German — is leading that movement with trousers, vests, Oxfords, tanks, tees, Pride gear, and fun products like Golden Girls pins. CEO Emma Mcilroy started the company with Creative Director Taralyn Thuot and COO Julia Parsley following a frustrating shopping trip. “I ended up starting Wildfang because someone needed to. There were so many people that felt held back, felt restricted from expressing themselves, and that sucks. I wanted to create something that allowed people to break out of the box that they’d been put in,” says Mcilroy, whose non-clothing interests include sports, The Simpsons, Cadbury chocolates, and Irish whiskey. “I like doing what people think I can’t,” she says. “I like proving people wrong. I love walking into a room to raise money from a bunch of old, straight, white guys and coming out with a check. I also love the opportunity it gives me. I am privileged as hell and I get the chance to open the door for all the other queer, immigrant women who come behind me. That’s f*cking rad.” —GH

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Lauren Ashlee Comp

In the game of love, Lauren Ashlee Comp is making sure queer people feel welcome to play. A video game developer, Comp is a junior producer for Lovestruck, an interactive romance novel where the player is at the center of the love story. Comp has led the charge in creating diverse content at Voltage Entertainment USA, the producer of Lovestruck. She has overseen the release of 15 exclusively queer “routes,” or character paths, in settings that range from Greek mythology in modern Astoria; a pleasure cruise gone dangerous; missions in outer space; to the intrigue of the White House. Her hope is that LGBTQ and non-binary players have a chance to see themselves represented — maybe for the first time — and picture themselves as the star of both a game and a love story, showing players that “you can and you will find love, success, and happiness.” It’s something she wished for from a young age. “I’ve loved video games since childhood,” she says, “but always wanted to see me and my diverse group of friends on the screen. As I got older and learned that I would have to be the change I wanted to see, I pursued it intensely.” Comp’s achievements wouldn’t have been possible without opening up at work about her own experience as a queer woman. “Had I not come out at work, none of the 15 exclusively queer routes would have ever been produced or seen the light of day,” Comp says. “I’m proud of that every day.” —SEJ

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Stevie Boebi

It’s been a decade since Stevie Boebi started making queer-centric sex ed and dating videos on YouTube. And she can’t believe she’s one of the only ones doing so. At least she’s valiantly filling the void, one she encountered as a student growing up in Texas. Sex ed there was, “Don’t ever have sex or you’ll get pregnant and herpes and die,” she says. “So then I tried to look for queer sex ed videos and there just aren’t any. They don’t exist.” If no one else was going to make them, she decided she would. Her YouTube channel has grown in popularity, getting shortlisted for a 2018 DIVA award, and landing her a spot in the Washington Post’s “8 Channels We Actually Love.” Despite the accolades, there have been few copycats when it comes to lesbian sex education online. That shocks her. “Somehow,” she says, Boebi is “still the only person teaching lesbians how to have sex? What’s that about?” Her commitment to the topic is partially making amends for her own bad behavior in the past, she says. “Because of that terrible education, I was a piece of f*cking shit, so I wanna teach people how not to be pieces of f*cking shit.” —SEJ

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Toshi Reagon

Standout singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, and self-described “cultural instigator” Toshi Reagon serves up soulful rock, R&B, country, folk, funk, and blues for queer and mainstream audiences around the country. She has been in the music game for almost 30 years now and has enjoyed a number of career highlights — from starting her own well-known band, BIGLovely, in 1996, to opening for Lenny Kravitz to creating Word*Rock* & Sword, a musical festival that’s all about honoring women. She is especially excited about an opera she and her mother (Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, of Sweet Honey in the Rock fame) have created, Parable of the Sower, based on the Octavia E. Butler novel. “This story reminds me of truths my own people have passed down to me through their love, stories, songs, and frontline vision,” she says. For those feeling down about the state of the world, Reagon offers these words to inspire you to do something: “To persist in these times, it will take each of us being active from our strength and widening our circles to include people and issues we maybe didn’t know belonged to us. … All over the world, LGBTQI rights are challenged. The world is in a state of war. Being a musician who is blessed to travel and be in collaboration with so many great people teaches me that simple truth over and over again. We are more the same than different and our differences expand us all.” —GH

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Sharice Davids

Sharice Davids is a Democrat running for Congress from Kansas’ third congressional district, and stand back, because this MMA competitior is ready for battle. “I’ve been put down, pushed aside, knocked out,” she says in a campaign video. “Truth is, I’ve had to fight my whole life because of who I am, who I love, and where I started. But I didn’t let anything get in my way.” Indeed, she is a proud graduate of Cornell Law School and a former White House Fellow. A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation Native American tribe, Davids is passionate about many political issues: She’s against the way the economy favors the wealthy, she believes more children deserve the right to a good public education, she champions equal rights for all, and she thinks the state of healthcare in this country is leading to needless suffering and death. Davids’ victory wouldn’t just mean a change for her constituents; she could make history as the first Native American congresswoman and the first LGBTQ politician in the Kansas delegation. Her advice to others who are dreaming of changing the world? “Live your truth. You have so much to offer the world and we have a responsibility to our communities to use our gifts and talents. Don’t shy away from that — embrace it and take advantage of that opportunity.” Even if she doesn’t snag the congressional seat, she’s already won our hearts. —GH

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Stephanie Sandberg

Not so long ago, Stephanie Sandberg could very well have been out of a job. LGBTQ equality, both legally and socially, was at an all-time high in the United States, and a woman was on the way to the White House — or so she thought. But things didn’t go according to plan. As the new executive director of LPAC, the only political organization that specifically focuses on LGBTQ women’s issues, Sandberg works to make sure the hard-won progress for the LGBTQ community and women in recent decades isn’t reversed under the current administration. LPAC strives to get LGBTQ women and women of color elected to office, and has garnered support from the likes of Billie Jean King, Jane Lynch, and Urvashi Vaid. Sandberg got her start in the business of media — she was publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review and president and publisher of the New Republic. But in recent years, she began applying her expertise in business, organizing, and thought leadership to the issues of LGBTQ diversity and equality. She was the managing director at Out Leadership, a network of LGBTQ leaders working to help businesses strive for inclusion. Sandberg also helped launch and oversee OutWOMEN, which connects and promotes women executives who identify as LGBTQ. And now at the helm of LPAC, she is helping to make sure what happened in November 2016 doesn’t happen again. “I can’t imagine a better or more important time to bring my skills and experience to helping elevate LGBTQ women and women of color to elected office,” Sandberg says. “Not only are they the future of progressive politics, but the time for women’s and LGBTQ equality and social justice is now.” —SEJ

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Katie Sowers

Katie Sowers’ father was a college basketball coach, and, growing up, she knew she wanted to follow in his career footsteps. But football was her love. “One day it clicked,” Sowers says, “and I realized that I did not have to let my gender limit my goals.” So she broke her way into a sport highly identified with not just men, but heterosexual men. In 2016, Sowers became the first openly gay coach in the NFL. She’s now in her third season — first with the Atlanta Falcons and now with the San Francisco 49ers as an Offensive Assistant Coach. She joined the 49ers as a recipient of the Bill Walsh Diversity Fellowship, working with wide receivers. In 2017, she was named the OutSports Female Hero of the Year. A football player herself, Sowers spent eight years in the Women’s Football Alliance, and was a member of the 2013 United States Women’s National Football Team. She hopes that the barriers she has shattered can inspire others to do the same, no matter what field they are interested in. “With my job, I have an opportunity to do what I love while creating an opportunity for young girls and young boys to grow up understanding that our gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, etc., should not stop us from chasing our dreams,” Sowers says. “As much as you possibly can, do not assume that you will be judged, do not assume that you will be mistreated, because what you will find is that there is more support out there than we sometimes perceive.” —SEJ

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Flor Bermudez

Flor Bermudez found her calling soon after she graduated from college. She had landed a job as a labor organizer with United Farm Workers, and was appalled by the plight of 80 employees who were wrongfully fired for participating in a protest on their lunch break. “It was very challenging to find legal representation for all the workers and at that point, I realized how important it is for me to gain the legal skills required to provide much-needed legal representation to the people,” she said. Bermudez pictured above on the right with her daughter Angela and IIona Turner, became a lawyer, and today serves as Legal Director of the Transgender Law Center, where she advocates every day for transgender and gender non-conforming people’s rights. “I identify as queer and the discrimination I have encountered as a queer, immigrant woman in the legal profession and in my life have taught me resilience and that being unapologetic and unafraid is key to stand up for oneself,” Bermudez says. When she is feeling depleted, she looks for inspiration in the Zapatista indigenous women who led and organized autonomous movements for liberation and self-sufficiency. Additionally, she draws inspiration from her nine-year-old daughter. Bermudez advises LGBTQ youth to build their professional lives in tandem with their personal journeys. “All areas [are] connected and require equal amounts of attention and patience. I hope people also have their chosen family and close network for support and to help them get back up when adverse situations arise.” —SEJ

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Lori Lightfoot

Lori Lightfoot, left, pictured here with spouse Amy Eshleman, wants to be the next mayor of Chicago, and she’s certainly qualified for the role. Her resume is rock-solid, boasting time spent as: Senior Partner at the law office of Mayer Brown; Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force; President of the Chicago Police Board; and Assistant U.S. Attorney. The out and proud candidate, who calls the northwest side of Chicago home with wife Amy and their 10-year-old daughter, comes to the race having lived in Chicago for over 30 years. “When I came to Chicago, there was a thriving gay community within law school. At the same time, I was tired of pretending to be someone I wasn’t. But still it took me time to fully embrace who I was,” she says. “I was terrified that my parents would reject me and that I would live my life alone. But I reached a tipping point and it became more important for me to live a true and authentic life, and so I took the leap. To my surprise and great joy, my conservative, church-going parents accepted and loved me for who I was, and I have never looked back since.” Lightfoot wants to nurture that same sense of happiness, security, and freedom in others — and she’s passionate about seeing her city do better to support its various marginalized communities. She wants to make Chicago safer, improve its education, tackle the tragic issue of queer youth homelessness, and make the golden years sweeter for LGBTQ seniors. “I get totally energized by hearing people’s stories. The lived experience of others is so very important and, I believe, must be at the heart of the creation of public policy.” —GH

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Kerri Evelyn Harris

Even when money was its tightest, Kerri Evelyn Harris always made time to make a difference. It was amid the start of the Great Recession when Harris returned to civilian life after almost a decade in the U.S. Air Force, and she was struggling to make ends meet. Harris cut grass, worked on cars, even fried chicken at a gas station. But she also volunteered with the Red Cross and at homeless shelters, and coached her daughter’s soccer team. Today, she’s an advocate and community organizer in Delaware, where, in her many roles, she works with youth to close the educational achievement gap, teaches young people how to fight for social change, works to find solutions to the opioid crisis, and strives to increase engagement throughout the state. Now, she can add U.S. Senate candidate to her list of accomplishments. Harris is running as a Democrat in the state of Delaware “because there is a need for balance in our Congressional body,” she says. “We need representation that reflects America’s diversity… in order for legislation to begin to fully meet the needs of all [residents] of our state and nation. Otherwise, we risk continuing to leave individuals and entire communities in the margins.” She found her calling in organizing and advocacy “because oftentimes people are ready and hungry for change but don’t know the steps to take,” she says. “This work allows me to empower others to fight for themselves and their communities, to turn their words into action, and amplify their voices by uniting with others they may never have thought they would because they connected on an issue.” —SEJ

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Jacqueline Frances, a.k.a. Jacq the Stripper

Coming out as queer is easier than coming out as a sex worker for Jacqueline Frances, a.k.a. Jacq the Stripper. Her profession is “met with a lot more tension” than her sexual orientation. “Either way, I have to come out again and again, every day,” says the Canadian artist and comedian. “I’ve learned that you have to do it quickly and matter-of-factly, otherwise it’s a ‘thing,’ and once it becomes a ‘thing,’ it’s harder to own.” And own it she does. “I didn’t choose the slut life,” says Frances, who is based in Brooklyn. “The slut life chose me.” Along the way, she’s made it her mission to humanize sex work, and comedy has served as the tool. The author and illustrator of The Beaver Show and Striptastic: A Celebration of Dope-Ass Cunts Who Like Money, and creator of the web series Sluts in Slippers Getting Snacks, was stripping for about five years before she delved into comedy. “Stripping has taught me that waiting is bullshit, and that when you’re asked to ‘wait’ it is usually by someone who doesn’t have the respect or conviction to tell you ‘no’ right off the bat,” she tells GO. Before self-publishing her four comedic books, Frances got her writing career started off right here at GO! “I’ve published four titles in the last two years, and it’s inspired me to hustle anything and everything I desire. No one’s gonna do it for you. A literary agent is just a pimp with an office in Midtown.” —SEJ

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Karman Kregloe

“Because so much of my adult working life has been dedicated to queer causes and organizations, I often joke that I am a professional lesbian,” says Karman Kregloe. “I have worked as a buyer for an LGBTQ bookstore (when those were a thing); taught college courses on LGBTQ history and culture; and worked as the Editor-in-Chief of a lesbian/bi entertainment news site (AfterEllen.com, from 2009-2014). If I weren’t a lesbian, I’m not sure I would even have a viable resume!” (GO just wants to go on the record as saying we highly doubt that!) What readers of her journalism may not know is that Karman is also a singer, songwriter, and actor with a debut EP, Hummingbird, scheduled for release this summer, plus a host of the show Happy Wife, Happy Life with her wife Bridget McManus, as well as Cat Davis, and Kristen Smith. (She co-hosted Logo’s Dara and Karman’s Hit List, as well.) “I’ve been out at every job I’ve ever had,” she says, “and I think any success I’ve achieved has been due to the fact that I didn’t feel the need to lie, hide, or be anything but my authentic self when I showed up to work. The same is true now in my work as a performer. I’m grateful to those who have paved the way for people like me to enjoy the privilege of being out in my professional life. I can’t imagine it any other way.” —GH

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Janelle Monáe

She used to “only date androids,” or so she said, but this year, singer and actress Janelle Monáe opened up about her sexuality when she came out in a Rolling Stone article. The Dirty Computer singer had long avoided labeling herself, though she admitted later to dropping hints of bisexuality in her music. (Also, that video for her recent single “PYNK”? Hello!) But in an April cover story, she said, “Being a queer Black woman in America, someone who has been in relationships with both men and women — I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker.” (LGBTQ FAM? Yes, please.) She went on to say she had been reading about the term “pansexual” and realized she identified with it, in addition to the term “bisexual.” After sharing this personal side of herself, Monáe went a step further, saying she wanted be a role model to queer and questioning people. “I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you,” she told Rolling Stone. “This album is for you. Be proud.” —SEJ

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Rachel Charlene Lewis

From Leslie Jones to nipple insecurity, Rachel Charlene Lewis’ repertoire is varied and vast. The North Carolina-based freelance writer and Social Media Editor regularly tackles sexuality, queer identity, race, pop culture, beauty, and sex. Her passion is bringing feminist perspectives to mainstream women’s media, such as Teen Vogue, Glamour, and Refinery29. She often writes about her personal experiences, something for which her identity as a queer person of color has proven to be a double-edged sword, especially when she gets asked to write about being a Black gay person but not to write about skincare or celebrities. “Some days, I feel nothing but powerful as a queer person. I get DMs from young queer women and non-binary folks thanking me for writing a certain piece, or recommending a certain book, or simply posting openly about who I am on the internet,” she says. “But that’s the internet. Often, in real life, I feel tokenized as a QPOC, as if the only value I bring to the table is trauma, or ‘diversity.’ I feel like I have to be queer in a certain way, or else it doesn’t count; or I feel like I can’t be out at all, because the fear of being punched in the face or called a slur is often in the back of my mind. When am I going to become ‘too much?’” While she struggles with not feeling “really known, or seen, in any real way,” Lewis—who currently serves as Social Media Editor for Her Campus — continues to deliver her feminist POV to the masses and “find ways to make it accessible without diluting its message.” —SEJ

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Nancylee Myatt

Nancylee Myatt wanted to be an actor, but it took a friend’s blunt advice to set her on a different path. “Nancylee, you suck as an actress,” the friend told her. “But the shit you write for us is great.” She took those words to heart and instead became an Emmy-winning and GLAAD Award-nominated television writer and producer. At the time, LGBTQ characters were only beginning to emerge on TV. “I was often hired to help write those authentic voices,” Myatt says. “You know, the token lez.” But it was her authentic voice that made those characters memorable. She went on to write the first produced pilot for a major network with a lesbian couple, Nikki & Nora, about a romantic pair who work together on the police force in New Orleans. Myatt wrote the film adaptation for the beloved gay teen novel Annie on My Mind. And she served as showrunner and co-executive producer for the first two seasons of the popular lesbian teen series South of Nowhere. Myatt has seen the impact her work has made on LGBTQ youth first-hand. “I’ve had kids — lesbians, trans boys, girls, gay boys, queer folks — come up to me saying, sometimes tearfully, how something I wrote made them feel safer, more validated, and gave them actual hope.” Now, in the current political climate, Myatt hopes the generation of LGBTQ youth that were inspired by her characters will carry the torch. “Find your cause and turn it into a passion,” she says. “Your elders are counting on you to pick up where we left off.” —SEJ

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Robin Lowey

The passage of the FAIR Education Act in California, which requires California’s public schools to teach LGBTQ history, opened the door for educators to pass on our history to the youth. The only trouble was, there was a shortage of content. Robin Lowey, founder of the online magazine Epochalips: Smart Lesbian Commentary, saw it as an opportunity. She wrote and designed “Game Changers: 20 Lesbians You Should Know About,” a graphic-novel-style resource that introduces students to some of the significant contributors to LGBTQ history over the past three decades. Lowey didn’t just profile the usual suspects with pop-culture clout. Instead, she gave ink to a broad cross-section of activists and artists, like Crystal Jang, who founded Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women & Transgender Community (APIQWTC); Kate Kendell, who headed the National Center for Lesbian Rights for 22 years; and award-winning comedian and playwright Marga Gomez. “They are true American heroes,” Lowey says, “well known in the LGBTQ community but not necessarily in the world at large.” Lowey crowdfunded $20,000 to support the project and to gift a copy to every public high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. Next step: every school in California. If only something like that had been around when she was in school! “Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I didn’t have any positive role models to help guide me through my struggle of coming out,” Lowey says. “Years later, after moving to San Francisco and raising two boys with another woman, I began to realize the importance of what some of the women in my generation had done to create queer culture, and I was inspired to write the book.” —SEJ

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Stella Boonshoft

New York-based writer, actor, and body-positive activist, Stella Boonshoft, describes herself as “unapologetically hot and queer on Instagram (@stellaboonshoft),” says, “I want femmes to know that they are seen. I want to tell young queer people everywhere that being thin, androgynous, and acting like Shane [from The L Word] isn’t the only way to be hot as hell. We need loudmouthed, fat femmes; we need femme trans women; we need old femmes who dye their hair pink; we need Black and Indigenous femmes at the forefront; we need to honor our history and turn our attention to the people in our community we consistently leave in the dust.” Boonshoft has a Bachelor of Music from NYU, has worked in theater and with brands like Bustle and Abercrombie & Fitch, and is writing a book of essays about accepting your body and being femme. “I find that shying away from the fact that I’m queer has only hindered me in my life. Being comfortable in my skin is more alluring than trying to be something I’m not, and it’s kind of an asshole detector. If someone’s not cool with me being queer, I don’t want to work with them, anyway.” —GH

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LaShawn McGhee

LaShawn McGhee doesn’t just curate; she “queerates.” As one of the co-founders of Revry Inc., a digital streaming platform devoted to LGBTQ content, McGhee is dedicated to showcasing the queer experience through media while amplifying the voices of the artists making that content. It was a dearth of representation in mainstream television and media “for girls like me who are masculine-of-center lesbians” that led her to throw her own point of view into the digital media ring. She wanted to see more diverse stories being told and knew she could help get them in front of audiences. “We are a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-gendered group of people with rich and interesting stories to tell, and we need to share our stories with the world,” she says. The platform streams domestic and international works of narrative, documentary, originals, music, podcasts, and more. Some of the original projects that Revry has jumped behind: Room to Grow, a documentary screening at Outfest, and The Drag Roast of Heklina, a feature headed to festivals this summer. In addition to McGhee’s work with Revry, the film editor (and former army nurse) also lends her taste and expertise as head of production for OUT Web Fest, a short-form digital media festival in Los Angeles that focuses on queer stories. McGhee credits the current way audiences consume media with her success. “I get to help filmmakers and content creators reach global audiences in a way that wasn’t possible until the current cord-cutting revolution,” she says. —SEJ

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Laura Du Vé

Whether behind or in front of the camera, Laura Du Vé creates images that depict the strength and vulnerability of feminine people within the queer community. She may have started as a “weird, fashionless, emo dork” in high school, but today, Du Vé is a sought-after photographer, stylist, plus-size fashion consultant, videographer, and make-up artist, as well as model in her own right. (She recently strutted her stuff at Melbourne Fashion Week and posed as a centerfold in Archer magazine.) Du Vé says she found her own strength from connecting with other queer fat people online. “Finding your own intersection can be some of the most invigorating things you can do for yourself,” she says. “By figuring out who you are, what your interests are and what you believe, others won’t be able to stay away from that enamoring strength.” As an artist, she is selective about which brands and people she works with. Being out on the job might have held her back in some mainstream spaces, she says, but those aren’t the spaces in which she chooses to operate anyway. Her message to others in the LGBTQ community is, “Own your difference.” She says, “Us queer people, we’ve always been the most creative, vibrant, and interesting community, and the mainstream is finally starting to notice how incredible our uniqueness is. Don’t let them take that power from you.” —SEJ

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Nicci Take

Nicci Take wanted to fly fast jets for the RAF, but she was kicked out “for not having the right blood,” she says. So, she decided to make enough money to buy her own jet — by starting her own company. For more than 20 years, Take, right, seen her with her business partner Alice Felstead, has been in the business of winning. Her enterprise, m62|vincis, is a pitch consultancy that helps coach businesses into coordinating successful sales pitches that lead to profitable deals. The “complex and unusual” CEO and father of three shares her wisdom as a transgender woman and as a highly sought-after sales coach in more than 100 YouTube videos, three Edinburgh Fringe shows, and two books that cover topics such as women in the workplace, domestic and sexual violence, anti-trans violence, and church-sanctioned transphobia. She also helps charities supporting transgender kids and victims of domestic violence, coaches rugby, teaches makeup skills, and does stand-up comedy. Take’s latest venture, the memoir Prey, tells the story of how she went from “alpha male to yummy mummy,” a story she hopes will invite a “new type of gender debate.” Along with business partner Alice Felstead, Take advises businesses to remain authentic and clear about the vision behind their brands. But just as important to Take as what those companies sell is who their teams are as people. She filters clients based on diversity and inclusion, and her own gender expression has had a “profound” effect on her company’s profitability and success, she says. “If you treat your people badly, if you only promote straight, white men, we don’t want you to win — we want you to be our client’s competition, and we will help them beat you,” she says. “Game on.” —SEJ

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Kate Kendell

When President Trump ordered a ban on transgender people serving in the military last year, Kate Kendell was there. When marriage equality went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, Kendell was there. When California voters were faced with a proposition to ban same-sex marriage in 2008, Kendell was there, too. As the head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Kendell has fought courtroom battles on behalf of the LGBTQ community for more than two decades. Under her leadership, the organization’s budget grew tenfold, increased staffing to 25, and expanded to two offices on both coasts. And her work is far from complete. “I know this is a moment of real peril for so much of what we value as a nation and what we have accomplished as an LGBTQ community,” Kendell says. “But embedded in this moment are the seeds for real change. From young people fighting for sane gun laws, to leaders in communities of color rising up and pushing back against racism and white supremacy, to women stepping into their power and telling the truth about sexism, abuse, and misogyny, it is clear that revolution is coming. Because LGBTQ people are everywhere, all of these fights are our fights, this revolution is our revolution. We can’t do everything about everything, but we can do something about something. Do that every day, every week, and we will have that revolution and take our country back.” Even though she stepped down from her position at the NCLR in March after 22 incredible years, whatever challenges face us ahead, Kendell will be there. —SEJ

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Pamela Stewart

As the Chair of GLAAD’s Board of Directors and Vice President of National Retail Sales for Coca-Cola North America, Pamela Stewart sees her roles in both business and advocacy as going hand-in-hand. “In all areas of my life, I focus on growth and impact, working to create inclusive environments of accelerated equality and acceptance so that everyone has the best possible chance to experience their best life,” she explains. “Creating that space is the most rewarding aspect of all of my work.” Her success in both arenas wouldn’t be possible without being out and open as a lesbian, she says. “[It] has made me more successful because I am always my authentic self. Sharing my truth makes me emotionally accessible, which has allowed me to have relationships that are more honest and authentic.” At GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, Stewart is able to share her own story in order to “help create a culture of acceptance and love for LGBTQ people.” Her many accolades run the gamut, with awards from diverse organizations such as the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to Progressive Grocer. Stewart also serves on Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ LGBTQ Advisory Council and the Coca-Cola Company’s Global Women’s Leadership Council. What’s driving her success? “My mission in life is twofold: To create an environment where people feel more comfortable in their own skin, and to stretch people beyond their own perceived potential,” Stewart says. “Both of these come back to love and inclusion.” —SEJ

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Mickalene Thomas

As one half of the collaborative duo Deux Femmes Noires, Mickalene Thomas works to increase the visibility of artists of color. The New York-based visual artist and curator is known for portraits that “reveal the complexities of identity, gender, and sense-of-self and are informed by the ways women (and ‘feminine’ spaces) are represented,” all while casting a contemporary eye toward female sexuality and beauty. From the Whitney in New York to L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Monaco, Thomas has shown extensively across the globe. Her 2012 film, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, a documentary about her mother, was picked up by HBO. She has two major exhibitions coming up this fall: “I Can’t See You Without Me” at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio; and “Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires” at the Art Gallery Ontario. Now, with Deux Femmes Noires, she is teaming up with her partner, Racquel Chevremont, to continue to ensure artists of color are seen at the forefront of her discipline. With all her success, Thomas doesn’t take anything for granted. “I don’t take the freedom of being a working artist lightly,” she says. “What drives and excites me is that I’m able to use my opportunities to build platforms for other artists of color. It’s important for me to advocate and heighten the visibility and opportunities for artists that look like me.” —SEJ

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Maria Sjödin

More than 70 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, but Maria Sjödin is working to end that discrimination — and change the world. As deputy executive director of OutRight Action International, the organization fighting for LGBTQ human rights around the world, Sjödin leads the fundraising and communications departments. Under her tutelage, OutRight’s Individual Donor Program has doubled its revenue, and the organization has hosted international events that highlight the work of activists. “I get to work with amazing, courageous activists and colleagues who won’t settle, and who stand up for their rights every day, sometimes in extremely hostile environments,” Sjödin says. “The rights we have in the U.S. and in my native Sweden today came about because some people refused to accept the discrimination that they faced and fought to make the world more open and more accepting. This is now happening everywhere in the world and being part of this global movement is incredibly inspiring.” Prior to her work with OutRight, Sjödin served as Executive Director of Sweden’s largest and oldest LGBTQ organization, RFSL, where the budget and staff tripled under her leadership. She has also led human rights and leadership trainings for hundreds of LGBTQ activists worldwide. “Many of us live lives today that would have been impossible just a couple of decades ago,” Sjödin says about what drives her. “We owe a lot to the generations of activists before us that pushed for change. I personally feel it is my job to pay it forward.” —SEJ

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Debbie Greenberg

Debbie Greenberg (a.k.a. Lil Deb) is a bartender who works a second “shift” as a singing Instagrammer, turning popular songs into goofy advertisements for one of our favorite iconic queer girl bars. The self-described “‘Weird Al’ Yankovic of Cubbyhole” has given the Cubbyhole treatment to songs like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and The Carol Burnett Show’s theme song. And though she enjoys being funny, she has a serious — and timely — message for GO readers this Pride. “The message I would like to share with the community is to be kind to each other. There is so much discrimination in this world; let’s not let it come and take over our community. Who cares if someone identifies as bi, lesbian, gay, trans, non-binary, queer? Call yourself whatever you want, but just because someone doesn’t identify the same as you, that doesn’t make you any better than the next person. We are all human beings. I promise a little kindness does go a long way.” With the world we’re living in now, Greenberg says, “Let’s kill each other with kindness and show the world that we are a prideful, kind community, and not just on one day of the year. Rainbows, unicorns, and glitter.” —GH

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Missy B

When New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo garnered a lot of press for our community’s victory — and unmentioned behind the scenes, many activists worked tirelessly to ensure that historic moment happened. DJ Missy B was one of them, as a member of the now-defunct Empire State Pride Agenda, the group that worked to advance LGBTQ rights in New York for a quarter of a century. As a DJ, Missy B has been supporting the queer community by proffering music at Pride. She’s actually been a DJ for 40 years, which she attributes to knowing her craft and word-of-mouth. She started at age 11 out of her basement, then worked at all of her friends’ birthday parties. (Oh, and she also has a secondary gig as a finance consultant.) If you’ve been partying for any period of time in New York, you’ve likely seen her around: She’s worked at LoverGirl, The Octagon, The Warehouse, and Nanny’s. Beyond New York, she’s spun in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, the Bahamas, and Bermuda, racking up a variety of awards throughout the years. (A highlight of her career was meeting the ultimate club music diva, Grace Jones!) DJ Missy B, who believes “music is food for the soul,” prides herself on her ability to play at any type of gathering, for any age, and in any genre, which — along with her experience — separates her from many other DJs in the game. In these stressful times, we need to party and purge our worries more than ever, so we’re thrilled to have Missy B playing our soundtrack. —GH

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Wazina Zondon

Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love, the manifesto Wazina Zondon co-wrote, asserts the reconciliation of her religion and her sexuality. It’s the kind of healing she encourages in her students as a sexuality educator and trainer for almost 15 years. An Afghan raised in New York City, Zondon utilizes performance to communicate her experience, which she reminds readers is unique amid so many stories. “Remember that there is no singular LGBTQ narrative: if or when we choose to come out, how we express our gender, why we hold space for those in our lives who are on their journey to loving us in the best ways they know how,” she says. Living honestly and presently can be tough in a world that seems to so often work against those convictions, but strife is only a motivator for Zondon. “I am often overwhelmed by the onslaught of Islamophobic, xenophobic, sexist, and homophobic comments from within my communities and from non-Muslims, non-LGBTQI people. Their hate is also my fuel to continue to interrupt the narrative that being queer and Muslim are irreconcilable. To be able to affirm the existence, living, breathing, striving, and resilience of queer and non-queer Muslims is truly a gift.” —LK

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Wazina Zondon

Pushcart Prize-winning poet Joshua Jennifer Espinoza is “deeply interested in human connection,” and yet has a hard time expressing herself socially. “With poetry,” however, “I have a chance to reach out and communicate with other gay, queer, and trans people. Nothing in the entire world is more rewarding than having someone message me or come up to me after a reading to tell me that my writing has helped them feel more understood and valid. On the hardest days this is enough motivation to keep me going,” she says. Espinoza’s work has been featured in the American Poetry Review, Hyperallergic, Lambda Literary, and them. She is the author of of two collections of poetry, with another forthcoming this fall. She also recently toured with queer-feminist spoken-word collective Sister Spit. Following her own coming-out as a trans woman, Espinoza says she “lost 90 percent of my family, and that was tough, but there was relief, too.” On top of that, she hasn’t always been able to find her place in the lesbian community. “It’s complicated because as a trans woman it is not always easy to claim a lesbian identity,” she says. “There can be a lot of pushback from people, and weird assumptions are made about my body and what my experience with gender was like before I transitioned. There are lots of supportive lesbians out there doing their part to combat transphobia, but being a trans woman and a lesbian often remains an uncomfortable position to be in.” She urges people to come out “on their own terms, in their own time. This world does not make it safe for us to loudly be ourselves, so no one should be pressured to come out in a way that they are not comfortable with.” —SEJ

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Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

Pushcart Prize-winning poet Joshua Jennifer Espinoza is “deeply interested in human connection,” and yet has a hard time expressing herself socially. “With poetry,” however, “I have a chance to reach out and communicate with other gay, queer, and trans people. Nothing in the entire world is more rewarding than having someone message me or come up to me after a reading to tell me that my writing has helped them feel more understood and valid. On the hardest days this is enough motivation to keep me going,” she says. Espinoza’s work has been featured in the American Poetry Review, Hyperallergic, Lambda Literary, and them. She is the author of of two collections of poetry, with another forthcoming this fall. She also recently toured with queer-feminist spoken-word collective Sister Spit. Following her own coming-out as a trans woman, Espinoza says she “lost 90 percent of my family, and that was tough, but there was relief, too.” On top of that, she hasn’t always been able to find her place in the lesbian community. “It’s complicated because as a trans woman it is not always easy to claim a lesbian identity,” she says. “There can be a lot of pushback from people, and weird assumptions are made about my body and what my experience with gender was like before I transitioned. There are lots of supportive lesbians out there doing their part to combat transphobia, but being a trans woman and a lesbian often remains an uncomfortable position to be in.” She urges people to come out “on their own terms, in their own time. This world does not make it safe for us to loudly be ourselves, so no one should be pressured to come out in a way that they are not comfortable with.” —SEJ

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Elsa Waithe

Comedian Elsa Waithe learned early on that breaking into the mainstream wasn’t for her. Rather, LGBTQ audiences have given her a comedic home. “Being a QTPOC performer, not everywhere will be welcoming to what I am bringing to the table,” says Waithe, a Virginia native, who hosts GOLD Comedy Live at the Williamsburg Hotel and her own show, Affirmative Laughter, at the Bureau of General Services, Queer Division. Rather than “exhaust myself” trying to please mainstream audiences and “eat at that table, I will just make my own,” she says. “And then I’ll invite all the queerdos to eat with me.” Waithe delves into the nuances of sexuality and race in her comedy, and isn’t afraid to lay onto both topics with a critical eye. “But mainly,” she says, she just talks about herself — “and weed.” Offstage, Waithe gives back by coaching teen girls in the art of standup, as the founding teacher of GOLD Comedy School for Girls. “Humor is a powerful tool that isn’t often encouraged in girls,” Waithe says. “I love to work with them to help them process the world around them and turn it into something funny.” —SEJ

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Kasia Reterska

Kasia Reterska came to the United States as a refugee from Poland, a country that was in deep political turmoil and social unrest at the time. She was an undocumented immigrant, and her experience of “living in the shadows” set the tone for her future commitments to social issues. “In one way or another, my work has always involved dealing with challenges of the oppressed or unheard — children, migrants, minorities, victims of violence and conflict, the sick and suffering.” As Managing Partner of McPherson Strategies, Reterska works with corporations and organizations around the world to find creative ways to make change and address today’s challenges. She led a team to help Kate Spade New York build a women-owned, for-profit enterprise in Rwanda; worked with a Hollywood studio to develop social change movements, including around the recent release of RBG; and guided a gender identity organization to promote conversations about gender in corporate boardrooms. “I work at the intersection of social impact and enterprise, where I get to bring together those with needs on one side with those who have both the resources and desire to channel them in effective and impactful ways,” Reterska says. She gives back on an individual basis, as well. Reterska is a mentor for the Cherie Blair Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Program, which coaches women entrepreneurs around the globe. “I always wanted to be a storyteller,” Reterska says, “to be able to give voice to the voiceless and to shine a light on those issues that don’t make it into mainstream conversation or collective consciousness.” —SEJ

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Laura Heller

She was on the front lines of the battle for LGBTQ equal rights since her teenage years, but by the age of 29, Laura Heller “traded those front lines for those of a more literal type.” She joined the U.S. Army. As an active duty soldier during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” years, she found herself having to go back into the closet in order to pursue her “lofty goals” of being a “progressive advocate for the rule of law” as an Army lawyer. Heller’s specialization in Operational Law and Detainee Operations took her to Guantanamo, Baghdad, and Bagram. All the while, she had to walk a fine line between being herself and protecting her job. “More often than not, I worked harder than I had to, to ensure that I never gave any commander, supervising attorney, or client a reason to question my credibility or counsel,” she says. “It was likely apparent to all of them that I was a lesbian, but they trusted and respected me.” Heller has since transitioned into the civilian world, first as an administrative law attorney at the U.S. Military Academy West Point, and later as a teacher and mentor to students of International Relations and Global Studies. When students ask her how she served in the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” “I explain that personal sacrifice of all types is demanded in many professions, especially those that aim for aspirational ideals.” Heller is proud that she never changed her appearance or the way she acted in order to fit in. She was taking her own advice, which she gives students to this day: “Know yourself and be yourself.” —SEJ

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broox

At only 22 years old, New York City-based modern experimental singer-songwriter and producer broox knows that she owes a lot to her elders in the LGBTQ community. Her first EP, Out/Through, is inspired by “those before me who have paved the way for my generation to live beautifully and openly,” she says. And for her, living beautifully and openly means making beautiful music. At once emotional and rhythmic, with sultry vocals and metaphorical messages, broox’s tunes are both emotive and intimate, similar to the likes of Sylvan Esso, Lapsley, and Lorde. Her second EP is set to release this summer. Coming out was a difficult process, she says. “The hardest part was feeling alone, trapped in my thoughts and the fear that I would be judged for something that I could not change about myself,” broox says. “Coming out itself was like rediscovering this part of myself that I was vaguely familiar with but didn’t actually know. I was given a new pair of eyes to see the world with. I’m constantly seeking to understand and make sense of my surroundings and what it means to fully embrace the colorful and not-so-colorful parts about myself.” Despite her previous difficulties, she believes being out has made a hugely positive impact on her artistry. “Being out as a lesbian and immersing myself within the LGBTQ community has not only allowed me to establish this incredible network of people, but has also created a support system that has influenced my music tremendously in a way that has encouraged me to fall in love with myself, cultivating an appreciation for being free to live my life authentically and unapologetically.” —SEJ

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Isabella Giancarlo

Makeup isn’t just for straight, cis women or queer femmes. It’s for anyone who believes it will make them feel beautiful and authentic. Fluide, the makeup collection that Brooklyn-based Isabella Giancarlo co-founded and is the Creative Director of, gives queer folks a more thought-out option than that stale makeup counter at the mall. “Fluide came together around the idea that makeup can be a tool of transformation and a powerful means of self-actualization,” she says. “I believe it is important to showcase and celebrate the self-expression of people of all gender expressions and identities — and, as Creative Director, my goal is to continue to represent an inclusive and expansive definition of beauty.” Fluide’s love of queer people also translates to some of their nail polish names (House of Yes, Riis Beach, Cherry Grove); their blog (Future Fluide) that highlights creative queer folks doing big things; and to whom they give back: Callen-Lorde and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. “It’s inspiring to see the infinite ways that people use fashion and style as a means of self-expression — to be glamorous, irreverent, defiant, political, otherworldly. It feels so good to support and be a platform for showcasing that radical, forward-thinking style.” Giancarlo is also queen of the side hustle. Her other work includes being an artist, an art director, creating the popular Instagram project Eat Your Heart Out (partially inspired by the times she’s had her own heart broken), and working on various aspects of Relish, the brunch she co-founded. —GH

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Florencia Manovil

Filmmaker Florencia Manóvil’s critically-acclaimed Oakland web series, Dyke Central, defines her commitment to representing LGBTQ identities in a nuanced way. With an intersectional feminist approach and an eye toward social justice and environmentalism, Manóvil’s queer gaze is multifaceted; she brings the perspective of a Buenos Aires-raised transplant to the historically gay and proud Bay Area — and it’s responding to her work with grateful recognition. (East Bay Express readers voted her Best Filmmaker of the East Bay, a testament to the web series’ resonance.) The Emerson Film Studies graduate is also a mother. She’s cast her daughter, Kayen, in her second feature, Bridges, which centers queer women who rely on esoteric practices to survive and thrive in a patriarchal world. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is when someone comes up to me after a screening, or at a party, or sends a heartfelt message through the internet, letting me know how much they relate to the content I made, or that it made them think about something in a new way, or even asking me questions about the characters like they’re real people that they care deeply about,” she says. “Those are really affirming moments. In those moments it all makes sense — the sacrifices, the stress, the total solitude and madness of living inside of a screenplay for months on end and then having to cajole the world into giving you the resources to bring that to life.” —LK

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Tomi Afolabi

Growing up, Tomi Afolabi loved music so much it would move her to tears. So it was natural for her to forge a career path in the industry. “It’s important for me to be a part of creating that feeling for others, whether it’s by sharing a mix I just finished making or watching a crowd get lost during a performance I booked.” She got her start in talent relations while in college, booking weekly coffeehouse performances on campus. Now, she works as a music assistant at MTV. Her coming out process hasn’t been as smooth a transition as her career, she says. She calls it “a little uncomfortable,” because people tend to “grasp on to” the ambiguity of terms like “queer” or “bisexual.” “If they don’t hear the word ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ then it doesn’t really count to them,” Afolabi says. “I literally find myself having to remind people of who I am sometimes. I’m like, okay, cool. You either get it or you don’t.” Even within the community, she hopes diversity will soon be better recognized and celebrated. “As much as we are all the same, we are all so different,” Afolabi says. “Understanding and advocating for the marginalized within the already marginalized LGBTQ community will do us so much good.” She has taken comfort in the beauty she has encountered in LGBTQ folks. “Not just in appearance, but in nature,” she says. “Being able to love openly and freely is a gift that we should continue to so effortlessly do.” —SEJ

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Kiran Gandhi

Not many successful musicians can list a Harvard MBA on their resumé. Kiran Gandhi can. The Los Angeles-based drummer has been able to seamlessly combine her passion for music with her expertise in business and mathematics to land roles as an advisor to several music companies, such as Spotify and Bonnaroo, and as the first digital analyst studying consumption behavior at Interscope Records. All the while, Gandhi — who performs as Madame Gandhi — was developing her own musical career, touring as a drummer for M.I.A. (while in business school!), DJing, and producing her own music. Her “electrofeminist” solo EP, Voices, was critically acclaimed, and her song “The Future is Female” charted on Spotify after the 2017 Women’s March. She is currently working on a full-length album. But Gandhi’s work doesn’t stop there. An activist combatting menstruation stigma, she ran the London Marathon in 2015 while free-bleeding. She travels the world to speak about gender equality. Being queer has impacted her career, she says, in that “my queerness is my source of personal liberation. It is my way of saying I can dress how I want, think how I want, speak how I want, be with whom I want, and live freely.” And that liberation carries over into other aspects of her life, including her work, she says. “It allows me to run faster when I’m training, surf longer, box harder. It allows me to hit notes when I’m singing that I didn’t think I’d be able to get since I didn’t grow up as a singer. When we get out of our own way mentally, we allow ourselves to step into our own personal power.” —SEJ

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Renee Periat

Growing up in a California town of less than 500 people in the pre-internet days and with no television, Renée Periat “had no clue there were options outside the gender binary.” Instead, she felt awkward, not fitting in with the boys or girls in school. After high school, she moved away to San Luis Obispo, and “discovered there was a world of endless identity options waiting for me on the other side.” When she became aware of androgyny and gender neutrality, “I had a huge inner awakening,” Periat says. “Finally, everything clicked into place and for the first time in my life, I could clearly see who I was.” With her newfound self-awareness, clothes shopping became a hurdle. Periat was drawn to outfits that confused people about her gender. But there wasn’t much out there. “After too many failed shopping trips in the men’s and boys’ department, I decided to take the lack of gender-neutral clothing options into my own hands.” In 2015, Periat launched Androgynous Fox, a clothing brand making classic tees, tanks, button-ups, and accessories. It definitely struck home for many in the LGBTQ community. Since then, the company has quadrupled in size, and is about to release an underwear set, shorts, and a “much-needed androgynous bathing suit.” Periat’s been getting tons of positive feedback, and it’s been rewarding “knowing that I’m helping people feel comfortable in their own skin.” —SEJ

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Kris Dresen

In her 30-year career as a comic story artist, Kris Dresen is still amazed every time readers tell her what an impact her work has made on them. “From day one, I have heard from all aspects of gender and orientation how my comics and drawings helped in the process of being okay with who they are,” says the writer/illustrator of comic strip Max & Lily, which tells the story of gay best friends. Dresen’s other works include Eisner Award-nominated Manya (with fellow Woman We Love, Academy of American Poets Executive Director Jen Benka); Grace, a webcomic about a woman who finds herself attracted to a female artist model; she said, a story of a relationship, told in sound bites; and Gone, a visual poem. Her comics have been included in Lambda Literary Award-winning anthology No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics, among others. Dresen is currently at work drawing the illustrated novel Punk Like Me, and is preparing to release in 2019 a collection of her comics called Her Curve. Being out for her entire career and using her artistic skills to tell LGBTQ stories has proven its importance time and again, she says. “I sit in my studio and spit out these drawings and stories that I think nobody will read, only to learn that they are seen and that they have an impact,” Dresen says. “It’s humbling and I try not to think about it. I simply create stories I want to read and be as honest about myself as I can. That it resonates with even one person is a generous compensation for work I more often than not distribute for free.” —SEJ

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Kehlani

R&B singer/songwriter Kehlani, who rose to fame as a little girl singing with Stevie Wonder on America’s Got Talent, gave Twitter a much-needed lesson in sexual orientation this past April when she spoke about being both queer and poly. She defined queerness (for her) as “not bi, not straight,” and “pansexual.” She said she was into a wide variety of people, such a girls, guys, queer men, nonbinary folks, those who are intersex, and trans peeps. She explained she was the “LEAST attracted to straight men,” and commented that “bisexual men really are little gifts from [G]od.” The declaration should have come as little surprise to anyone following her career. She did, after all, write that song “Honey,” on which she sang, “I like my girls just like I like my honey: sweet.” And she kissed Demi Lovato on stage while on tour with her. (And if you weren’t queer before kissing Demi, you probably do become queer soon after.) In late May, Hayley Kiyoko dropped the extremely queer music video she and Kehlani worked on together, “What I Need,” and in early June, Kehlani showed support to her LGBTQ fans by performing at LA Pride. And, yes, she keeps on making those bold statements about sexual orientation, no matter what you think about it: “There’s always this need to fill that binary outline out,” she recently told Paper. “That’s what stops a lot of people from stepping out and exploring their queerness — especially women — because they get nervous about what role they’ll be ‘taking on.’ Once they get through that, the world just opens up.” —GH

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Laura Wise

A few years ago, Laura Wise was sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table with her “very liberal” family, discussing feminism. “And nearly everyone agreed there was ‘no need for it,’— it was ‘outdated’ and women could work now,” Wise recalls. “I was like, wait, so that’s it? It ends there? I don’t ever want to sound like that to the next generation.” Wise is doing her part to keep equality moving forward. She is the founding producer of Mothership, a four-year-running women’s festival that launched in Los Angeles, grew into a camping weekend in the desert, and returns to LA this September as part of the first-ever Los Angeles Women’s Week. Yoga, DJs, workshops, tarot readings, all-girl musical acts, and even an appearance by Tegan and Sara were some of the highlights of past events, which each benefited a non-profit. Wise has chosen to only feature women and non-binary people on her stage. She cut her teeth in activism and community organizing — rallying against Proposition 8 for a marriage equality organization, serving on the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board for the city of West Hollywood, and planning events for AIDS/LifeCycle. By creating Mothership, she has been able to focus on bringing together the “cutting edge, artsy, radical world online” with “what was happening IRL.” She will keep moving things forward. “I think we as lesbians and LGBT individuals need to remember to not become stagnant,” Wise says. “Even if it feels like we’ve come a really, really long way. Support the next generation in doing their thing. New ideas invigorate the cause.” —SEJ

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Holly Winebarger, Danielle Jablonski and Ashley Arnold

After a (predictably) disappointing 2016 media season filled with the “bury your gays” trope, and the death of yet another queer female character — this time Lexa from The CW’s The 100, played by Alycia Debnam Carey — the outrage created a tipping point. And thus what began as a small idea for a fan gathering, shared by the dynamic team of (from left) Holly Winebarger, Danielle Jablonski, and Ashley Arnold, became the first and largest multi-fandom event specifically for LGBTQ women and their allies: ClexaCon (named after the relationship between Lexa and The 100’s leading lady, Clarke). Within a year, it grew into an internationally-recognized media convention. Jablonski is a Yale graduate with an impressive background in graphic design, overseeing the convention’s graphics and branding; Winebarger brings a decade of marketing experience to the table and manages the day-to-day logistics; while Arnold’s background is in public relations: She manages ClexaCon’s guest relations and sponsorships, as well as their ever-growing social media strategy. The dynamic team has garnered epic success. Last year, ClexaCon attracted over 22,000 people from 43 countries and 40 U.S. states. It’s a convention that “brings together fans, actresses, content creators, academics, and artists for panels, workshops, meet and greets… social, and charity events in order to celebrate LGBTQ characters and stories in TV, film, and print media… to discuss how we can be better represented within the media.” We’ll cosplay to that! —JDG

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Erica Tremblay

“Growing up as a queer Indigenous woman, I always felt drawn to telling stories about two-spirit and Indigenous people. Filmmaking gives me that avenue,” says Erica Tremblay, a 2018 Sundance Native Lab Fellow, Clio Award winner, and Atlanta Film Festival winner whose films have been seen on PBS and the Independent Film Channel. Recent collaborators include the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, the Alaska Native Women’s Coalition, and the Monument Quilt Project. Erica is also an executive in the media industry, having worked at publishing companies including Hearst and Bustle. Her work includes Heartland: A Portrait of Survival, a documentary about a deadly tornado, and In the Turn, a documentary about a 10-year-old trans girl who who discovers roller derby through a queer collective. Unlike her subject in that film, though, Tremblay was not out at such a young age. “Coming out was a long process for me. I had always known I was queer but had never seen that lifestyle represented. As soon as I moved from the Midwest to California, the whole world opened up for me and I felt more comfortable being myself. I wasn’t fully out until my late twenties. It definitely took me awhile, but now I never look back.” —GH

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Lena Waithe

Actor and screenwriter Lena Waithe made history last year as the first Black woman to win an Emmy for writing in a comedy series. That she won it for an episode of Master of None that centered on her character Denise’s coming out to her family was icing on the cake. Her co-writer, Aziz Ansari, deferred to Waithe to accept the award for the renowned “Thanksgiving” episode, which Waithe said was inspired by her own coming out to her mother. Waithe singled out her LGBTQ family in her speech. “I see each and every one of you,” she said. “The things that make us different — those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is without us in it.” Waithe’s star just keeps on rising. In a win for Black queer visibility, she was featured on the March 2018 cover of Vanity Fair, in a striking portrait by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz. In her VF interview, Waithe discusses how the Emmy win has changed things for her — and how she’s using her new power in Hollywood to pay it forward. “How has the Emmy changed me? It got me all these meetings that I go in and say I’m too busy to work with you — you should have hollered at me. You can take my call when I call you about this Black queer writer over here who’s got a dope pilot, or this person over here who’s got really cool ideas, or this actress who’s really amazing but nobody’s seen her.” —SEJ

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DJ Tikka Masala

Tikka Masala’s DJ career has taken her everywhere from Henrietta Hudson, where she has a regular Thursday night party (Homotown), to a Lambda Literary Awards after-party where Chelsea Manning was present, to the White House (under Obama, not Trump) for a Diwali celebration. She’s also been composing music for LAVA, the Obie- and Bessie-winning feminist acrobatic dance company, since 2011. Masala, a Gemini who was born in Kolkata, India, has also been named “one of the 41 hottest singles of 2017” by Elle. She is all about intersectionality, preserving the lesbian bar scene, and queering up spaces that need to be queered. “I want to remind our communities that we’re part of a continuity of people that has been pushing for self-determination for decades, and that as we move forward against new challenges that arise, it’s critical to keep the movement’s ancestors in mind, especially trans folks, femme folks, people of color, immigrants, economically oppressed folks, elders, folks who are differently abled, and folks who deal with challenges we’re not used to honoring or being aware of. As we celebrate our freedom, it’s imperative that we intentionally protect the ones who have and continue to work tirelessly, putting their time and talents on the front lines for us, often at great personal risk.” —GH

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Jane Greenwood

While forging her own stellar career as an award-winning architect and leader in preservation and adaptive re-use in urban environments, Jane Greenwood fought to make sure other underrepresented architects — particularly women and the LGBTQ community — could find visibility in her profession. In the 1990s, she co-founded the Organization of Lesbian and Gay Architects and Designers (OGLAD), the first national design advocacy and networking organization for the LGBTQ community. Jane’s efforts led to the first documentation of LGBTQ historic sites in New York City, which influenced the formation of the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project. Though Greenwood says she never experienced discrimination in the workplace for being out, she witnessed it first-hand among colleagues. “I was raised to speak up and be heard, which became a great confidence-builder as I began my career in architecture, which at the time was a very male-centric profession,” Greenwood says. “Being out, proud, and confident gave me a boost as I honed my professional skills and set my sights on a leadership position in architecture.” While her work as a Principal with Kostow Greenwood Architects has won her accolades from BUILD Magazine, the Women Builders Council, and the New York Business Journal, it is her commitment to mentorship and advocacy that has been most rewarding for her. “Earlier in my career… I joined others to fight hard to break down barriers to employment, healthcare, and outright discrimination for the LGBT community. I am still proud of these accomplishments today.” —SEJ

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Darra Gordon

As the Chief Operating Officer of Hetrick-Martin Institute, the nation’s oldest and largest LGBTQ youth organization, Darra Gordon has helped expand the agency’s reach nationwide. That’s become ever more important for HMI, which is also the home of the Center for Advocacy and Capacity Building, and Harvey Milk High School for LGBTQ youth in New York City. “These past two years feels like we have taken a huge step back, but if we continue to resist together, we will continue to make progress,” Gordon says. “But we must work together.” Gordon oversees the agency’s day-to-day operations, and prior to that led the fundraising and development of the organization, during which time the agency’s operating budget grew from $4 million to $9 million. Her work has won her accolades, including the BMW Woman of Xcellence award, the Stonewall Honors for leadership in the LGBT community, and the Outstanding Alumni award at her alma mater, Lycoming College. She was always drawn to nonprofit work, having previously supported development efforts at the Pearl Theatre Company and Literacy Inc. Her interaction with youth at HMI has been the most rewarding part of her work, she says. “When I talk with a young person, learn about what’s going on in their lives and talk with them about their future,” she says, she discovers what HMI has given them: “A future with friends, education, a career, a future with hope, love and support.” Stay tuned for some very big news regarding Darra’s career! —SEJ

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Fran Dunaway & Naomi Gonzalez

Irreverent, unapologetic, and raw…underwear? Married at heart and in vision, Fran Dunaway, left, and Naomi Gonzalez are the couple that supply the brains, the power, and the inclusively positive vision of TomboyX. The word “tomboy” ended up opening the door to a conversation about being oneself. “If I wasn’t a queer lesbian, I wouldn’t see or experience the world through the lens I’ve had. We are a gender-neutral brand because our community matters to us,” says Gonzalez, a first-generation Cuban-American who grew up in New York City. The first design the entrepreneurial duo created sold out in two weeks, and they’ve been thriving ever since, with a product whose models are shot from a stance of empowerment. Members of the LGBTQ community must “Be true to yourself. Be passionate about serving. And never give up. Never. Ever. Give. Up,” says Gonzalez. What TomboyX and its founders are doing is working and resonating. But most importantly, Dunaway says, “We need to work together to help one another achieve success, particularly financial success. Because the truth is, no one else cares as much about our community as we do.” The care — and the pride — shows. —JDG

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Mary Washington

Maryland State Delegate Mary Washington is on the path to possibly being the first out lesbian elected to the Maryland State Senate. For more than two decades, she has worked as a legislator, public policy student, and advocate for Maryland’s 43rd District. She served two terms as a representative for Baltimore City in the House of Delegates, and eight years ago, was the first out African-American elected official in Maryland. She has worked to get folks access to water and the right to marry, and has fought for homeless youth. Washington, who earned a PhD in Sociology from Johns Hopkins University, is also on the teaching staff in the Department of Humanistic Studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art. “I ran for political office because, after working in government and nonprofits, I knew that my skill set in bringing people together to solve problems could be most effectively utilized in the state legislature. It’s been rewarding to make positive changes for people’s lives in Baltimore and in Maryland, and to do the work I am most passionate about, whether it’s getting housing and wraparound services for our homeless youth, or helping folks save their homes from foreclosures and tax sales over unpaid water bills, or shepherding advances for equality and equity. Being an out lesbian and working with other legislators and advocacy organizations on these critical issues was incredibly important, both because members of our community are also affected, and because the coalitions I built well-positioned me to utilize these relationships in the fight for LGBT equality.” —GH

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Ji Strangeway

Whether through her films or writing, Ji Strangeway’s art shares a common coming-of-age thread from an LGBTQ perspective. Her short film Nune features a 15-year-old social outcast who has her first love affair with a cheerleader. Strangeway’s young adult graphic novel set in the 1980s, Red as Blue, tells the story of two youths who find themselves in a forbidden love. Her stories come from “the margins of gender, orientation, and circumstance,” riding “the shoulders of a misunderstood anti-hero, exploring the crash zones between society and self, the physical and existential.” Being an out lesbian is empowering, she says, and at the same time has contributed to her success as an artist. “It is more about expressing my authentic self than being lesbian. The power of owning one’s individuality is what leads to self-acceptance and success. Success is waiting for all of us to meet it at a place where we feel utmost happiness. This is usually when we are being who we truly are.” Audiences notice how Strangeway channels her individuality into her work. “When the stories I create make a person feel loved or redeemed in some way,” she says, “I have done my highest work as an artist.” —SEJ

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Doreen Pierre

Dapper, confident, and queer. These are the qualities that fuel 26-year-old Doreen Pierre’s drive to celebrate clothes her way — not in the section of the store in which they’re found, nor even for their price, but for this: how they make you feel. Otherwise known on the internet and through the queer fashion blogosphere as DapperPenniless, Doreen Pierre’s been featured on BuzzfeedLGBT, Auto-straddle, Kirrin Finch, and DapperQ, and nurtures culture as a fashion blogger and as a QTPOC by being a Digital Content Producer for visibility company SafeWordSociety and collective Rose Gold BKLYN. After not seeing herself represented for so long, especially within the Brooklyn fashion vernacular, this style consultant — who helps others find their look and their confidence — says, “The most rewarding part about the work I do is the reception I’ve gotten from the community, in terms of the work [and the events] I’ve produced.” And what about all that visibility? “I strive to be responsible, visible, and accessible in everything that I do, as I believe our community has a lot of love… to offer ourselves.” —JDG

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Jody Wilson

Writer, director and producer Jody Wilson stands out as one of many dedicated folks working behind the scenes to make the industry run. If you’ve seen Uh Huh Her’s “Human Nature” video, or the short films Indigo or Takumi’s Dream, you’ve seen her work. Wilson, who describes herself as “equal parts city and country girl,” spends half her time in Los Angeles and the other part in Alberta, Canada. She enjoys her two dogs, Roux and Francis; flying; writing sci-fi and fantasy, bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Rolling Stones, and activism. “All the stories I tell expose some sort of issue that needs addressing, that needs a voice. I love the challenge of having to create characters that provide that voice within storylines that are palatable for all types of audiences,” she explains. “It all roots back to activism for me — a lot of my personal driving force each day, even, is to kick ass and take no shit so I can help continue to pave the way for other females in my industry.” At the same time, though, she acknowledges those who came before. “I think my biggest role models are ‘regular’ queer women in history, who even through potentially dangerous persecution and cultural pressure loved who they loved anyway. There is nothing more admirable to me than someone who follows their heart with conviction. Love isn’t always convenient, and these women remind me of just how precious that kind of love is — and it’s worth protecting.” Something to think about this and every Pride. —GH

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Stephanie Beatriz

Playing the crush-worthy detective Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Stephanie Beatriz has found herself in the unique position to serve as a bisexual role model both on- and off-screen. The actress came out in 2016 via Twitter, and this year, her character came out, too. When the Brooklyn Nine-Nine showrunner approached her about developing a coming-out storyline, she “[w]as like, ‘Absolutely. Yes. I’m so excited! Yes! Yes! Yes!’ It was like, tens, tens, tens across the board,” Beatriz told Vulture. The writers mined Beatriz’s own coming-out process for the episode, with an emphasis on the many phrases people use to belittle the bisexual experience. You know, like, “You’ll grow out of it.” In real life, too, “Coming out was uncomfortable, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful, but always as authentic as I could be in the moment,” Beatriz says. “At times I wished there was someone to hold my hand through it.” Though she faced rejection from family and friends, and views coming out as an ongoing process, she chose then and chooses now to live openly. “That means a calm and constant explanation of myself,” she says. “I truly don’t mind. I like sharing. And if my sharing helps someone else understand the bi community and in turn the LGBTQIA community a bit more, then I’m all for being an open book.” She’s been rewarded for that openness: Her storyline was such a hit that her character was given a love interest in the season finale, played by Gina Rodriguez. The pair, however, don’t kiss. Thankfully, the show was picked up by Hulu for another season. “I am going to hard-core push for” a same-sex kiss, Beatriz told Vulture. “Even if it’s not Gina, we need to see Rosa kiss a girl.” —GH

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E. Jaguar Beckford (Jag)

“I am so over my sexuality and what people think,” says E. Jaguar Beckford, who is genderfluid. “At first I tried to fit in, wearing dresses and all to court appearances. So not me. Then I started making dope-ass suits, and my male counterparts would compliment me.” (You see? Authenticity pays off!) Beckford is the Founder and Executive Producer of Rainbow Fashion Week, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year and offers exposure to companies that center queer style and opportunities to models who might not have them otherwise. According to Beckford, the event has put a spotlight on problems like bullying, domestic violence, trans and immigration justice, the environment, and breast cancer, such as when it showcased two survivors after their double mastectomies. “Fashion has always been my passion and, as a designer, I used that talent to support myself throughout law school,” Beckford says. This fashion superstar’s philosophy? “Stop letting people tell you the rules of how to get things done and just start!” Beckford, who also has over 15 years’ experience in litigation, says, “Make mistakes, learn, fall down, get back up, join support groups, realize that most people want you to fail, and just don’t give two hoots what anyone thinks.” —GH

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Leanne Pittsford

Not many can say they’ve actually gotten to name a scholarship for a personal hero, but Leanne Pittsford, founder of Lesbians Who Tech + Allies, can. It’s known as “The Edie Windsor Coding Scholarship,” because Edie Windsor was not only a trailblazer in court, she was also a software programmer. “She’s one of the reasons I founded Lesbians Who Tech + Allies,” Pittsford says. “It seemed fitting to honor Edie so that her name and her legacy could inspire other women as she inspired me.” Pittsford’s been taking that inspiration far, from being valedictorian of her high school to founding multiple organizations including: Lesbians Who Tech + Allies, Tech Jobs Tour, include.io, and co-founding Lean Impact. She’s definitely an activist for change in STEM industries, where only one in 15 jobs go to women. LWT has 40 chapters worldwide, working to raise the visibility of LGBTQ people in the field. Through her work with them, Pittsford dedicated herself to uplifting and providing opportunities for queer women in computer science all over the globe. “I want to live in a world with a Black, lesbian President of the United States… and she’d better not earn 80 percent of what male presidents earn.” Today with women like her spearheading the fight for equality in the tech industry, tomorrow, it will be The White House! —JDG

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Liz Alpern

Forget drink specials — the hottest thing being dished up at one Brooklyn-based queer party is soup! Eaters have Liz Alpern to thank. The chef and cookbook author mined the recipe cards of Eastern European bubbes and their descendants to resurrect the glory of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking: as co-author of The Gefilte Manifesto, and co-founder of The Gefilteria, an artisanal producer of that oft-maligned Passover classic, gefilte fish. Alpern also created Queer Soup Night, the party where local chefs contribute, of all things, soup. Alpern sees each of her ventures as having one common goal: community. “My passion for food is motivated by my passion for bringing people together,” she says. “I love being surrounded by friends and family, and what better way to make that happen than by feeding everyone?” That alone would be a noble goal, but Alpern doesn’t stop there. Instead, she uses her ventures to give back to her own community. Every installment of Queer Soup Night benefits a charity; most recently, the proceeds went to the Audre Lorde Project. “Community is the key word here,” Alpern says. “Because we have become more accepted in mainstream society, it’s easy to take our new acceptance for granted. I think we should be investing in our community now more than ever. Whether that means supporting queer-owned businesses, showing up to queer-led events, or mentoring a young person, I truly believe that our blossoming is contingent on our own strength and interconnectivity as a community.” —SEJ

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Meghan Dziuma

The kind of leader who rolls up her sleeves, Meghan Dziuma has dabbled in tech, live production, and television, from MTV to the History Channel. As Head of Content and Creative for Brand Experience at Samsung, she relies on collaboration and relationships to fill out her big-picture vision. “Value your community. Make real connections with everyone. Ask them how they are, cultivate real friendships,” she says. “Identify what you’re good at and pull that skill through everything you do, whether it’s connecting with your community or creating your dream career.” Dziuma’s found hers, which requires thinking toward physical design, virtual reality, tech experiences, creative campaigns, and music performances, all the while striking a balance that allows her to thrive personally. Her family has been supportive of her lifestyle since she came out— a fact Dziuma does not take for granted. Not everyone is so lucky, she acknowledges. “I was raised by my father and all he wants is for us to be happy,” she says. “We have our share of issues, but luckily, being true to who you are is not one of them.” This creative extends an attitude of acceptance to others. It’s the thread through her many projects. “You know that famous quote ‘people won’t remember what you say but they’ll remember how you made them feel?’” she says. “For brands that’s what’s truly important; making the consumer feel, creating an experience for them to connect.” —LK

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Amy Borsetti

Amy Borsetti is a leader: Part of the reason LinkedIn has become a household name over the past few years, she now heads the Enterprise Sales team for LinkedIn’s Learning Solutions business in North America. And as a leader, Borsetti tells us that being open about her sexuality and the family she’s lovingly cultivated has empowered her to be a more effective one. “My beautiful wife and two little girls are my greatest source of inspiration. Seeing the world through the eyes of my girls inspires me to be the change I want for them and helps me be a much better leader.” It’s also helped those around her bring their authentic selves to work by creating a safe and welcoming work environment. Hyper-focused on creating a consciously inclusive work environment at LinkedIn, Borsetti encourages her coworkers and teams to have the courage and vulnerability to bring their whole selves to the job. She advises that we bring our, “authentic selves to work each day. To openly talk about their journey, their struggles, their wins. To have the courage to be vulnerable and to model for young people around them so the workplace continues to be one where everyone can thrive.” —JDG

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Katie Hultquist

Katie Hultquist sees everyone as connected, and in her role as West Coast Director for OutRight Action International — the international LGBTQ human rights organization — she works to ensure no members of our community are left behind. Hultquist has devoted her career to social justice, working in local, national, and international organizations that variously support vulnerable children, train young leaders, build courage and leadership in girls, and fight for marriage equality and reproductive choice. The activists around the world who fight for LGBTQ human rights, putting their lives on the line, inspire her work in fundraising and nonprofit management, she says. “I’m in awe of their determination to be true to themselves and to demand respect, freedom, and basic equality,” says Hultquist, who lives in Seattle with her wife and three children. “It is a privilege to amplify their voices and stand in solidarity with them.” She has been involved in the nonprofit world for 20 years, unwavering in her belief that “we are one global community,” and that “we can’t truly enjoy the freedoms and rights we have if others are being persecuted or suffering,” she says. “Everyone deserves to have basic safety, freedom, equality and dignity — it’s as simple as that.” —SEJ

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Jessica Ransom

At 3 years old, Jessica Ransom would walk around with a box over her head, saying she wanted to be “in TV.” She wasted no time making her dream come true, interning at 14 at the local cable access station in her hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., ditching her liberal arts college to go to film school, and moving to New York City in her 20s, then promptly getting a job at MTV. Now a writer, producer, and director of reality TV, commercials, music videos, documentaries, and more, Ransom continues to tap into that primal desire for her voice as a queer person of color to be heard. “I find it rewarding to see people like me on screen,” Ransom says. Her first short film, #Roommates, featured a Black lesbian lead character. Since then, she’s produced a multitude of diverse content for Budweiser, New York Life, Panera, MLB, Telemundo, etc.; written a pilot about a Black lesbian and a bisexual Latina falling in love; worked with various LGBTQ publications; and produced YouTube’s “#ProudToBe” Pride campaign video last year. “My goal in life has always been to create diverse content that features all aspects of the queer community,” Ransom says. And that goal has become especially important since Ransom came out, first as a lesbian, and later as queer after encountering issues with racism among lesbians. “I did not feel a true sense of belonging within the lesbian community,” she says. “I want to be able to freely love a woman AND love my Blackness at the same time.” She sees her relationship to her community and to her career as parallels. “As a producer, I love the fact that people can escape in my films, shows, or commercials, while getting a glimpse of my life as a single, Black, feminine, queer woman.” —SEJ

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Sinn Sage

Working in adult entertainment for the last 15 years, Sinn Sage has seen her industry evolve for the better. Sage exclusively performs in sex scenes with other women, something she expected might have held back her career. It didn’t. In 2013, she and Dani Daniels won an Adult Video News Award for Best Girl/Girl Sex Scene, and in 2015, Sage was named All Girl Performer of the Year. Finding acceptance in her industry, she went on to make her own productions, and now creates custom videos for audiences under Sinn Sage Productions, while advocating for equality for the LGBTQ community and for sex workers. Plus, she does it all while traveling the country in a converted van. So how did she get here? “I honestly just followed my dreams,” she says. Sage knew she wanted to perform, either as a singer or actress, but found making a living difficult. “So it just made sense to me that I would blend my passion for sexuality with my love of performance. I have literally never regretted it for one moment.” Just as her industry evolved over the past couple decades, so, too, has societal acceptance toward the LGBTQ community, says Sage, who identifies as queer and pan. Still, when she was starting out, it never occurred to her to hide her identity. “In the long run, I just realized I always want to be my true self. I never want to hide who I am from anyone, and if people don’t accept me for who I am, then I don’t need those people in my life anyway.” —SEJ

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Eliza Byard

“I was brought up to believe that our job on Earth is to do as much good as we can while we’re here. And part of our work is figuring out the right way to do that — what do we love to do? What are we good at? What is the most useful contribution we can make to some greater good? It took some exploration to get to the place where I am today, as a non-profit leader in a social justice movement,” says Dr. Eliza Byard, the Executive Director for GLSEN, which works to make schools a positive place for queer youth. Byard’s mother was a founding GLSEN chapter volunteer, and it was through her that Byard met GLSEN Founder Kevin Jennings, who eventually asked her to join the staff. Under Byard’s direction, GLSEN has received recognition from President Obama as a “Champion of Change” and was called a Top National Nonprofit by GuideStar. Byard, who lives in New York with her wife and children, says the students, educators, and chapter leaders keep her going. “In my work at GLSEN, I see students and teachers all across the country who stand up in the face of serious bias and even violence, and who remain committed to making things better. I also work with incredible GLSEN chapter leaders who are making things happen in their local communities — reaching out to schools, speaking at school board meetings, and running GLSEN programs. Our job here is to be there for them, to be their partners in creating change by providing top-notch materials, training, and programs; by establishing powerful partnerships throughout the education world; by building the reputation that will make the name ‘GLSEN’ a powerful asset for them. They are so brave and committed, and I never want to let them down.” —GH

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