GO! Presents 100 Women We Love: Class of 2024

THE CULTURAL ROADMAP FOR CITY GIRLS EVERYWHERE

Class of 2020

100 Women We Love: Class Of 2020

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Happy Pride! We are thrilled to present this year’s 100 Women We Love — a diverse group of out activists, healthcare workers, authors, entrepreneurs, and elected officials. Filled with women of intersecting identities, this round-up exemplifies the best of the LGBTQ+ community who are striving to create change and improve the world for us all. Some of these women are household names and some of them you’ve never heard of, but their achievements and contributions continue to enrich our lives. Their work inspires us all to move forward in what has been an extraordinarily challenging time for the LGBTQ+ community. We salute them all and thank them for allowing us to share their stories.

There are no rankings or numbers; these illustrious women are organized alphabetically by last name. We salute them all!

Stephanie Andrea Allen

Writer and academic Stephanie Andrea Allen is an interdisciplinary studies scholar with a focus on representations of race, gender, sexuality, and culture in America. A Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Gender Studies at IU-Bloomington, she’s currently working on “‘Marginal and Forbidden:’ Black Lesbians, Contemporary American Culture, and the Politics of Representation,” a look at how Black lesbian literature and film responds to heteropatriarchal systems that contribute to their invisibility in popular and literary culture. Allen is also the founder of a number of organizations, including BLF Press, a small, independent, Black feminist publishing house where she serves as the publisher and editor-in-chief, and The Black Lesbian Literary Collective, a not-for-profit collaborative focused on creating a nurturing and sustainable environment for Black lesbian and queer women of color writers. “As a publisher, I’ve had the honor of working with several extremely talented Black lesbian and queer women of color writers,” Allen tells GO. “Black LGBTQ folx are often told that our work is ‘too Black or too queer,’ and I started BLF Press to ensure that our stories were centered, not marginalized or erased. One of the reviewers of our latest collection mentioned that it was the ‘embodiment of creating your own table.’ I’m extremely proud of that.” Aside from her own publications, Allen’s writing can be seen in numerous other outlets, such as Black From the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing and Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction, as well as “A Failure to Communicate,” her debut creative writing collection. —IL

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Robbi Katherine Anthony

Being out is rarely easy, but for Robbi Katherine Anthony, “being out has put up more obstacles in my path than anything else in my life.” As a transgender woman and activist, she tells GO how she has seen the T in the LGBTQ+ community “often neglected and looked down on. This makes everything I do fundamentally harder to move forward.” So Anthony decided to do something about it. Combining her activism with her technological background, and know-how of start-up companies, she launched Solace, a free gender transition app to help users mark their transition progress and goals. Solace, which is a nonprofit enterprise, launched officially in December of last year. It offers features that allow users to explore the different medical, legal, and lifestyle avenues available to them depending on their transition needs — from “purchasing your first bra” to “changing [your] driver’s license gender marker.” Anthony describes Solace as the app she’d wished she’d had while transitioning and hopes that it will harness the powers of technology in a way that makes for better social progress. And it has to, as the challenges facing the transgender community are often staggering, she says, noting the 41% rate of suicide attempts. “I knew I had to do something,” she tells GO. “I don’t want people like me to die, and if there was anything I could do to prevent that, I knew I needed to do it.” —RK

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Lupita Aquino

Lupita Aquino — better known as Lupita Reads — is not only a feverous reader; she’s also the co-founder and moderator for LIT on H St Book Club as well as the owner of an Instagram book blog that keeps her heavily active in the local and online book communities. Aquino also writes about her passion for pages as a columnist for the Washington Independent Review of Books and a contributor for the “Reading Women” podcast. While she loves every part of getting to write about books, Aquino says the most rewarding part of what she does is the ability to connect readers with works that make them feel seen or deeply understood in some way. “Growing up, I only read what was available to me through school,” Aquino tells GO. I didn’t have anyone that was a resource for helping me discover Queer books. The most rewarding aspect has been to become one of the many resources now available to the Queer community that helps us feel less alone.” Hoping to help others feel less alone is a common theme for Aquino, who herself felt welcomed into the LGBTQ+ community by those who supported her when she came out. And whether it’s books or friends, Aquino says it’s the people in her life that keep her going and make all the hard work worth it. “Finding a community,” she says, “either online or through certain family members or close friends that are willing to support you is vital for me.” —IL

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Claire Avitabile

When Claire Avitabile first arrived in Minneapolis, she was invigorated by its prominent theatre community, but disappointed when she learned of the realities. “For one, it was really difficult for any emerging or early-career artist to get work, even though there are so many companies here,” she tells GO. “Also — though less surprising at the time — there was a complete lack of queer theater and very few opportunities for women. And finally, unless you were working for one of the huge theaters, it was nearly impossible to get paid for any theater job.” To change that, Avitabile founded the 20% Theatre Company, which employs women and transgender/non-binary people, in 2006. The company works to exclusively promote the work of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists by producing high quality, professional theater that inspires social change. They employ and mentor queer and allied artists and always compensate artists for their work. “I specifically wanted to center 20% Theatre’s work on the voices and stories of women, queer, and trans artists, because they weren’t being seen or heard otherwise — and that was appalling,” says Avitabile. “When we really started producing plays by and about trans folks, we had audience members drive in from other states just to see the shows, just to see thoughtful and respectful representations of themselves on stage. … Seeing yourself represented, hearing a version of your own story being told — a story that you never thought could be shared, or that you thought no one would ever want to hear — there is nothing like it.” —GP

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Micky B

As National Organizer for the Transgender Law Center, Micky B coordinates a Black, Indigenous, and Migrant Trans-led coalition to build the Trans Agenda For Liberation, a community-led guide for creating a future where we all both thrive and survive. B actively uses Black Trans Circles, a project founded by Raquel Willis, to train Black Trans Femmes in the South and Midwest in healing justice practices and community defense. “Black Trans Femmes and Black Trans Women should be trusted to lead solutions to the violence against us,” says B. “Once we are free from criminalization, everyone is free to experience joy & justice.” B also co-founded Southern Fried Queer Pride, an Atlanta-based nonprofit empowering Black, queer, and QTPOC-centered communities in the South through the arts, in 2014. No matter what project B’s leading, their mission is always to support the healing of Black, Migrant, and Indigenous transgender people, including past generations and those to come. Currently, B’s film about Frances Thompson, a Black trans activist who fought in the 1860s Memphis race riots, is in pre-production. —IL

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Andrea Barrica

Andrea Barrica is on a mission: to create the world’s most trusted sexual wellness brand to help people increase their sexual health, power, and confidence. As the CEO and founder of O.school, a judgment-free educational platform focused on sexuality and pleasure, Barrica wants to change the way people learn about sexuality. Growing up in a religious, conservative Filipino family taught her that abstinence and fear-based sex education was the be-all-end-all, and Barrica was unable to find reliable resources herself to fill in gaps in her schooling. In an effort to ensure no one else would have to struggle, she developed her own platform in 2017 to help provide those resources she couldn’t find as a child. “I chose to go into sexual wellness because I knew there was a huge opportunity to help people globally, and in a way, build the thing I needed when I was younger,” Barrica says. For her, the most rewarding aspect of the work she does isn’t necessarily getting to solve a problem that’s heavily impacted her, though. Instead, it’s the freedom of entrepreneurship that drives Barrica’s passion. It’s the same trait that saw her previously co-founding inDinero.com, a leading financial solution for startup growth that employs over 150 people globally, and working as a venture partner at 500 Startups, a global venture fund for small but growing companies. —IL

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Zara Barrie

“As a writer, you will face endless rejection, ruthless criticism, and brutal bouts of bullying,” says author and writer Zara Barrie. “It’s a wildly competitive field that requires you to let go of your need for instant gratification and focus on the long game (which isn’t easy in this quick-fix culture!).” Barrie doesn’t let the obstacles get to her, though. A widely-published essayist, her work can be found at a variety of print and digital international publications including Huffington Post, Bustle, Cosmo, and GO Magazine itself, where Barrie serves as “Most Esteemed Senior Writer.” Her highly-anticipated self-help book “Girl, Stop Passing Out In Your Makeup: The Bad Girl’s Guide To Getting Your Sh*t Together” recently debuted as well. And despite the difficult process, Barrie continues to share her stories as a means to connect with others who relate to her words. “Publishing my words, telling my story, and connecting with others has been the greatest honor of my haphazard, little life,” she tells GO. “If I can help a few people on this planet cleanse themselves of poison, I’ve done my job.” Proudly out throughout her career, Barrie has learned to protect her sparkle by doing what she’s passionate about — and she wants to encourage those in the LGBTQ+ community to do the same. “People like us, we were not meant for a life merely biding our time, sitting on the sidelines of life!” she says. “Get in that game and be your fabulous, expressive, wild, creative, authentic self.” Barrie identifies as a mascara lesbian and lives beyond her means in New York. —IL

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Marita Begley

At her first NYC Pride March in 1982, Marita Begley was poised to march with the Lesbian Feminist Liberation (LFL) when she suddenly heard “four whistles and the start of a cadence” — AKA the familiar sound of a marching band. Within weeks, she cut short her tenure with the LFL and instead joined the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps, where she’s been ever since. Begley rose through the ranks to her current position as marching director, which she has held for the past 16 years concurrently with drum major. Her leadership has brought about a growth for both the band and for its budget; she’s helped increase corporate sponsorship and the donor base, and quadrupled the size of the band from a more modest ensemble of 30-40 to the current 138-musician, 21-color guard corps. Begley, who boasts of having neither a musical degree nor professional training, was also the artistic director for the Lesbian and Gay Band Association (LBGA), which marched in both of Obama’s inaugural parades. Never one to shy away from her dreams, Begley has led herself and the marching corps to new heights. “I cannot say strongly enough how important it is to believe in what you want to accomplish,” she tells GO. “My mother used to say that I could do anything I put my mind to. Not knowing any different, I believed her.” Her next goal: to get the marching corps into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They’re still waiting. “I’m not worried,” Begley says. “My mom was always right about everything.” —RK

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Sara Benincasa

“I was raised Catholic, but my dad worked in the birth control industry, and that was verboten at church,” says author, comedian, and actress Sara Benincasa. “There were a lot of mixed messages!” The confusion that Benincasa felt as a child is what led her to come out as bisexual slowly in her mid-to-late-20s. Growing up in a “somewhat isolated and culturally homogenous area” in New Jersey, she loved being able to run around and explore — but Benincasa loves where she’s going just as much. She’s the host of the mental health podcast “Well, This Isn’t Normal” and speaks at universities and corporations about mental health awareness. Benincasa is also the author of five books — her latest being “Real Artists Have Day Jobs” — and spends a lot of time meeting people and listening to their stories. It’s those experiences that make Benincasa’s constant traveling and meetings worth it, and she admits that she shares her own story “as the entry fee in order to hopefully earn access to others’.” “Online or in real life, I get to go out into the wider world and listen to people,” says Benincasa. “What an honor and a pleasure to get to do this work.” —IL

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Becca Bernstein

“One message I’d love to share with the LGBTQ+ community is to have the courage to queer not just your sexuality, but your life,” says Becca Bernstein, Community Director of The Dinner Party. “Queer people throughout history have had to look society in the face and say, ‘You know what, I might do things a little differently than how you’ve trained me to think about doing things.’” It’s that ability to look from a different perspective that led to the development of The Dinner Party, an organization that provides peer support to people in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s in over 100 cities worldwide who have experienced the loss of a parent, sibling, partner, friend, or other important loved one. Bernstein discovered The Dinner Party in her late 20s after her mother died of Frontotemporal Dementia and ALS. Finding that community in an extremely isolating period of time helped Becca in insurmountable ways, but she’s extremely proud of all the work that’s gone into making the organization what it is today. She has recently taken a leave of absence at The Dinner Party as a result of the highly uncertain and draining time COVID-19 has presented, but she’s certain that the community she’s built will keep her strong. “It has been really disorienting!” she says of the leave of absence. “But coming out — and losing a parent at a young age — have given me the courage to trust my inner voice, to explore beyond a cookie-cutter life, and to do what I have to do to live a life of health, heart, and meaning.” —GP

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Oni Blackstock

“It is critical to understand the role of intersecting systems of oppression such as racism, homophobia, and transphobia, as the LGBTQ+ community cannot achieve liberation until all LGBTQ+ people are able to live their lives to their fullest potential,” says Dr. Oni Blackstock, Assistant Commissioner for the New York City Health Department’s Bureau of HIV. For Blackstock, creating equity within the LGBTQ+ community means making sure that everyone is included — especially more marginalized groups. That’s one of the reasons she works now for the New York City Health Department’s Bureau of HIV: to ensure people with HIV and those most at increased risk of catching HIV are thought about and cared for. Blackstock does this by overseeing the city’s response to the HIV epidemic in a variety of ways, including supporting hospitals, community organizations, and grassroots organizations; providing HIV testing, prevention, and treatment services; and advocating for positive public policy changes to increase access to those services. Blackstock has worked hard to embed a commitment to racial equity and social justice in all programming and services, which is critical to ending the HIV epidemic among all New Yorkers, and she’s also passionate about racial equity and social justice. As a Black queer woman, Blackstock is honored to be in a visible position for younger folks “who are queer, Black or Brown, and/or self-identified women” and is proud that her identity has opened doors and made connections — only making her career more fulfilling. —IL

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Ginny Brady

Working at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA is unpredictable but typically business as usual for pulmonary and critical care doctor Ginny Brady. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital’s level 1 trauma center is functioning more as a central point in Boston’s healthcare crisis, treating almost every patient in the ICU who needs life-saving care or support and trying hard to keep the virus at bay. Brady in particular has been tasked with taking care of whoever or whatever needs care — typically mechanical ventilation and other forms of life-saving support. “While folks outside the hospital have been working hard to flatten the curve by staying home, I’m really proud of the work we’ve done up here to stay ahead of the curve,” Brady tells GO. In addition to her usual and critical roles, Brady works as the director of critical care education and a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, which has also been greatly affected by the pandemic. As classes are being forced online, Brady has developed educational materials and zoom lectures to train non-critical care doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners on the management of COVID-19 patients and general critical care. Her hope is that, on top of having the skills necessary, that students will pick up on her philosophy of practicing medicine as a means to help others — no matter what they may be going through. “The most rewarding part of my work is being able to take care of humans on the worst days of their lives,” she says. “When a family comes to the ICU, they are in crisis. I have the privilege of joining them on this treacherous and intense journey.” —GP

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Brandynicole Brooks

As a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) with over 15 years of experience, Dr. Brandynicole Brooks is deeply knowledgeable about and focused on providing comprehensive family assessments, crisis intervention, and family counseling in a child welfare setting. Since 2015, she’s served as the current director of learning and development with the DC Child and Family Services Agency’s Child Welfare Training Academy, where she focuses on the development of child welfare leaders. Along with issues of child welfare, Brooks is passionate about working with women of color who face oppression through community service and various board memberships. Her book, “Black Single Mothers and the Child Welfare System: A Guide for Social Workers on Addressing Oppression” was published in 2015 by Routledge Publishers. As a young lesbian, Brooks struggled with coming out, but she says seeing other successful queer women willing to share their stories showed her how important it was for her to be out and someone for other young queer women — out or not — to look up to. Now a proudly out lesbian, Brooks lives by a mantra that encourages love not only for herself but for the entire community — a strong force built on love that never gives up. “We, the LGBT Community, are more than what they say we are. We are educated. We are hard-working. We are leaders,” reads Brooks’ mantra. “We are more than just our sexuality, our identity, our gender. We have been faced with hard times and have overcome. We are resilient. We are graceful. We are powerful.” —GP

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Virginia Buckworth

Virginia Buckworth is the founder of Gayle, the first independently-owned LGBTQ+ beer and cider company in Australia — and the world! Buckworth started the company in her home country in 2017 after the nation legalized gay marriage and was brimming with proud anticipation — a moment that Buckworth referred to as “a perfect time for us all to raise a glass and celebrate unity and the LGBTQ+ community with friends and family.” At LA Pride, Gayle (a play on words for “Gay Ale”) launched worldwide and continues to be a brand focused on the celebration of acceptance, diversity, and love. But Gayle isn’t Virginia’s first time in the world of entrepreneurship; she also ran a Sydney-based, women-only nightclub called “The Playground” in the ‘80s. Her entrepreneurial spirit comes from her love of building and supporting communities and is truly at the heart of everything she does. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is to be able to, in a small way, sponsor a range of LGBTQ+ events throughout Australia, SE Asia, and The UK,” Buckworth says, “and support the communities by donating a percentage of profits back.” —GP

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Dani Campbell

Dani Campbell may be a familiar face to those of us who love to binge-watch reality shows. As a contestant on “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” and a guest star on “Kourtney and Kim Take Miami,” Campbell leaped out of our TVs and into our hearts — so much so that she was dubbed “the first lesbian girl next door.” But while you may know Campbell for standing in the spotlight, her real passion lies in professional firefighting. Currently holding the rank of captain in the Broward Sheriff’s Fire Department, she’s worked as a firefighter/paramedic for over 15 years and plans on taking the Chief’s test in the future. And while being a firefighter is no easy feat, Campbell says having her coworkers by her side is one of the most rewarding aspects of her career. Because they’re responding to nightmare scenarios and are tasked with knowing what to do in times of chaos, having others to debrief and bond with after battles not only makes the job easier but more people-driven as well. “As firefighters, we show up and get the job done with the skills we have learned and polished with time on the job,” Campbell tells GO. “Never forgetting that people’s lives are at stake, we work with a high level of urgency whilst trying to remain calm and collected. While not all of our calls end with a life saved, knowing we did everything we could possibly do is a reward in itself.” —IL

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Nancy Cañas

Washington, D.C.-based cosmetologist and hairstylist Nancy Cañas may spend days trimming and blow-drying hair, but she views each session as more than a transaction; not only does she love her job, but she also loves making others feel their best. For Cañas, hair styling is a way to transform her clients’ confidence at the same time as their hair. “Each person that sits in my chair represents a story,” she tells GO. “In the span of 30 to 60 minutes, I learn about their lives, their struggles, and their joys. Affirming who they are is truly the best moment of my day.” And creating space for others — specifically Latinx womxn and LGBTQ+ families — is Cañas’ mission outside of the salon as well. She became the President of Latinx History Project, a nonprofit that aims to preserve Latinx LGBTQ+ history and promote acceptance within the wider community, in 2018 after volunteering with the organization for seven years. As a former Executive Board Member of the DC Gurly Show (DCGS), Cañas worked to highlight the voices of Latinx and diverse communities in the longest-running queer burlesque troupe in the country. She also founded Create Your History — a service for LGBTQ+ youth offering mentoring, hair services, and job readiness training — in late 2018 to combine her passion for both cosmetology and performance. —GP

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Leilani Cannon

“Innovation is often sparked through diverse thinking, and being different is something that should be celebrated and not shunned,” says Leilani Cannon, Co-Founder of The Vital Plant LLC, which offers clinically-based natural solutions and alternatives to chronic illness. This isn’t Cannon’s first venture into natural medicine; she is also a founding partner of a medically-focused cannabidiol start-up. Regardless of what project Cannon helms, what’s important to her is changing the way people consider treating illness and the gaps that may currently exist in the standard procedures. “The whole premise of our work is to develop organic solutions to chronic illnesses where traditional pharmaceutical drugs are not an ideal option,” she says. “Some medications can be too costly or come with unwanted side effects, or conversely pharmaceuticals might be the only option until a natural alternative is created. There are still many gaps in conventional treatments and being able to fill them naturally is our mission.” And while she’s enjoyed the work she’s been able to do, Cannon often hid her sexuality early in her career in an effort to not draw attention to herself. Once she became less concerned about fitting in, she was able to truly flourish as a person and as a professional. “What I realized was that if you only color within comfortable lines, you will never truly actualize your creative potential,” Cannon says. “Being able to overcome the fear of rejection for being different (whether legitimate or imagined) provided me the courage to express new ideas and innovations openly.” —GP

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Liz Carmouche

Liz Carmouche made history when she fought in the first-ever women’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) match against Ronda Rousey in 2013. The headline event marked the beginning of women’s competition in the UFC, but it was historic for another reason as well: Carmouche became the first openly gay fighter to appear in an MMA event. “Being out has cost me sponsorship opportunities, fights, and speaking opportunities,” she tells GO. Still, she continues to make history as one of MMA’s top-ranked female fighters. The former Marine, who goes by the nickname “Girlrilla,” has a career record of 13 wins and 6 knockouts and ranks fifth in the UFC women’s flyweight division. She challenged twice for the UFC title: the first time against Rousey in 2013 and again in 2019 when she faced reigning flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko. Despite her professional success, Carmouche says the most rewarding part of her work “has been inspiring people that I’ve never met. I never anticipated that I could have an impact on so many lives.” Carmouche recently signed with Bellator MMA, a UFC competitor. —RK

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Cecilia Chung

“When I transitioned, there was no protection for transgender people against discrimination, and living with HIV meant that barriers to a good quality of life were amplified,” Cecilia Chung tells GO. “So when I began to advocate for transgender rights and inclusion, it’s not because I was interested in public policy. I was literally fighting for my life and my rights to exist.” Fighting for the rights of transgender persons and those living openly with HIV is one Chung has been at for nearly thirty years. In 2008, she was elected president of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, becoming the first transgender woman living openly with HIV to hold the position. Under her watch as Health Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, she spearheaded the city’s initiative to become the first to cover gender-affirming surgeries for the uninsured. In addition to serving as Health Commissioner, Chung is also Senior Director of Strategic Projects and Evaluation at the Transgender Law Center, previously serving as the Center’s first deputy director in 2005. As one charged with speaking on behalf of so many, Chung says that her own openness and visibility are a job requirement — a way to let others know they aren’t alone. “I survived the hate and the violence. I stepped out of isolation and reconciled with my family, and I want to make sure others can hold on to that bit of hope I shared until they see their own silver lining.” —RK

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Staceyann Chin

Staceyann Chin is a one-woman show — literally. An activist, author, poet, playwright, and actress, Chin prides herself on the many identities she holds within herself. It’s no wonder then, as a Black and Asian lesbian, that Chin constantly works to urge the LGBTQ+ community to consider everyone in the movement — not just the privileged. “We have to widen our platform for progress to include groups that are more vulnerable,” she tells GO. “None of us is free until all of us is free.” A powerhouse in her field and community, Chin has won numerous awards for her work, including the 2013 American Heritage Award from American Immigration Council, the 2016 Planned Parenthood Excellence in Media award, and the 2017 LGBTQ Humanist Award. She is the creator and host of “Living Room Protest,” a YouTube series in which she and her daughter speak on their lives and current events. Chin also has extensive theater experience, having debuted four self-written one-woman shows — “Hands Afire,” “Unspeakable Things,” “Border/Clash,” and “Motherstruck” — at the Culture Project as well as co-writing and starring in the Tony Award-winning Broadway show, “Def Poetry Jam.” “The best part of being a loudmouth activist lesbian,” she says, “is connecting to all the other activists who are still reaching me to take my voice back from all those oppressive powers who would rather me be silent.” Chin’s most recent book, “Crossfire: A Litany for Survival” was released by Haymarket Books in October 2019. —GP

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Nicole Conger

Regardless of your faith — whether you practice Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, spirituality, or self-belief — Nicole Conger urges you to embrace it. “In times that chaos may seem unending,” the civil rights lawyer says, “wear what makes you feel bright, release any added layers that you are wearing for others, and simply lean into your faith.” The owner of her own law practice in Austin, Conger brings this warmth and positivity to her work representing clients who have experienced discrimination, harassment, work-place troubles pertaining to sexual orientation and medical leave — essentially anyone seeking legal protection as well as a little sunshine. Conger, who graduated Magna Cum Lauda from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 2011, opened her own practice almost three years ago and has since devoted herself to helping those in need. The most satisfying part of her job, she tells GO, is having the chance to know that she is involved in her community, helping to promote equal rights and diversity. “My passion for helping those in need and nonprofits over the nation is my drive,” she says, “as I know that we can all do our part in giving back.” Conger has been recognized as one of the Top 50 Women in Law by the Diversity Council; she has also been elected a Fellow in the highly selective Texas Bar Foundation. —RK

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Patrisse Cullors

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is at the center of the world’s stage right now, leading the movement for systemic change sparked by the killing of George Floyd and countless more Black lives at the hands of police brutality. Organizers like Patrisse Cullors, one of the Co-Founders of BLM, are at the forefront of change. Cullors is the New York Times bestselling author of “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir” who writes and appears in the Freeform TV series, “Good Trouble.” She also created and currently heads the MFA program in Social and Environmental Arts at Arizona Prescott College. Criminal justice reform has been a constant part of Cullors’ career. She founded and chaired Reform LA Jails and led the organization’s “Yes on R” campaign — which passed by a 71% landslide victory in March. She also founded the grassroots, Los Angeles-based organization Dignity and Power Now and acts as a Senior Advisor for The Justice Collaborative. The fight for Black queer lives is vital to the movement and more essential than ever, and Cullors insists that that intersectionality deserves to be honored and celebrated. “The world teaches us these cisheteropatriarchal concepts of who we should be and how we should love,” she tells GO. “I am queer — in every sense of the word. And it is this queering of my identity, my romantic relationships, how I build community, and how I view the world that has also been my saving grace. At 15 [when I came out], I felt like the world, as I knew it, had ended. It did. And I am grateful that my queerness opened up new worlds where I could rebuild.” —GP

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Thirza Cuthand

Filmmaker Thirza Cuthand is paving the way for queer Indigenous artists and filmmakers. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada and raised in Saskatoon, she is of Plains Cree and Scots descent and a member of Little Pine First Nation who currently lives in Toronto. Since 1995, she has crafted experimental films that highlight topics such as sexuality, race, and mental health. Her work has been screened at international festivals such as Berlinale in Berlin, the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, Mix Brasil Festival of Sexual Diversity in São Paulo, and Outfest in LA. Her art also appears in museums and galleries like the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Remai in Saskatoon, and The National Gallery in Ottawa. Cuthand even dabbles in video game development and created the 2-D game “A Bipolar Journey” based on her own experience with Bipolar Disorder. While she works toward her own creative expression, Cuthand sees her own role as a representative voice in the queer Indigenous community. “I think becoming a filmmaker was inextricably tied with being queer, since I wasn’t seeing representations of myself in the media and created work addressing these gaps,” Cuthand tells GO. “I think the continuing theme of my work is to create representations of my communities as a 2 Spirit/ Indigiqueer person, an Indigenous person, and a Lesbian.” —GP

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Alysse Dalessandro Santiago

“There is no dollar amount that could ever compare to the joy of hearing from someone that they felt seen or valued because they saw me wearing something they thought they couldn’t or doing something they were told they couldn’t do,” says Alysse Dalessandro Santiago. “When I am having down days, I re-read those messages and remind myself that the work I do makes a difference and helps to foster self-love and acceptance.” As the creator and blogger behind fashion, lifestyle, and travel brand Ready to Stare, Dalessandro Santiago prides herself on being able to create visibility for those who share her identities, like plus-size queer femmes. When coming out in 2017, Dalessandro Santiago wasn’t sure how it would affect her brand, but there seemed to be no negatives; she says it actually allowed her to grow closer to her audience. Of course, while Dalessandro Santiago creates content for those who look like her or share her experiences, she says it’s important to also use your privilege to help center marginalized voices in the community. “Take the time to honor, understand, and uplift everyone in our community, not just those whose experience mirrors your own,” she says. “Our community contains folks with intersecting marginalized identities that we may not personally understand, and it’s our job to take the time to listen to how they are treated so that we can use the privilege that we may have to be their champions.” —IL

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Hadassah Damien

Hadassah Damien is many things: economic researcher, finance educator, open-source technologist, entrepreneur, and artist — just to name a few. “I work at the intersection of money, social impact, and people’s deepest hopes and dreams for their lives and our world,” Damien tells GO. “My work is simultaneously incredibly deep, intensely practical, and creative.” With her financial consultation platform, Ride Free Fearless Money, Damien offers services like consultation, coaching, and workshops to individuals, community organizations, small businesses, and nonprofits looking to start-up or better manage their money. Her purpose is to help progressive groups develop transparent, inclusive, equitable, and sustainable models of business. The world of finance might seem daunting — especially for people and organizations without a background of economic knowledge or power — but Damien aims to change this. “Seeing people create meaningful workplaces, support social change, and gain control in their lives is truly beautiful because it reminds me we are not just at the mercy of the systems,” she says. “We can build better things together.” In addition to financial education and consultation, she’s also a maker of immersive theater games and a Lambda award-winning writer, for her anthology “Glitter and Grit.” —RK

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Chloë Davies

As Head of PR & Partnerships for myGwork, Chloë Davies spends a lot of time campaigning for inclusion and equality in social spaces, corporate organizations, and the wider community. Her company myGwork operates as the global recruitment and networking hub for LGBT+ students, graduates, professionals, and organizations who believe in true workplace equality, and Davies oversees necessary conversations about LGBTQ+ inclusion and training as well as providing consultation on more effective workplace community engagement. Although she’s been living openly as a bisexual woman since the age of 15, Davies didn’t originally intend to go into this line of work; instead, she was getting started in retail and management when a friend asked her to reconsider everything. “I fell into this work through volunteer roles whilst I was pregnant with my eldest son Miles,” says Davies. “As I viewed the world that my son would be born into and thought about the barriers and hurdles that I have faced in my life, it became infinitely more important to do this work.” That viewpoint fuels Davies work, as she aims to further connect to the community while educating allies to continue pushing for increased visibility and understanding of the identities she works with. As the volunteer Strategic Officer with UK Black Pride, Davies works closely with the Executive Director and the Board of Directors to help shape the future of the event. She is also the Community Lead for the London Queer Fashion Show, an annual runway showcase of identity, fashion, and expression. —IL

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Tanya DePass

I Need Diverse Games founder and overall badass, Tanya DePass, works to promote diversity and inclusion in gaming and support marginalized developers in the ever-changing world of video games. She strives for inclusivity in all realms of her life; as a bisexual woman, she knows that her sexuality is not always taken seriously by not only straight people but the gay community as well. “Bisexuality is real, valid, and not to be scoffed at as a phase,” DePass tells GO. “The B is in LGBTQIA+ for a reason.” Tanya is committed to helping underrepresented developers and creators in the gaming community rise to the forefront. She’s the programming & diversity coordinator for OrcaCon and GaymerX and often speaks on issues surrounding diversity, feminism, and intersectionality. She also runs the Dungeons & Dragons gaming show “Rivals of Waterdeep,” which seeks to highlight diverse voices in D&D. Published in gaming publications Green Ronin, Paizo, and Monte Cook Games — as well as Uncanny Magazine, Vice Gaming, and Paste Games — DePass is a driving force in the fight to create better games for all to enjoy. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is meeting people who feel like they belong in game,” she adds, “because of the visibility I’ve gained — or after seeing the D&D show I’m on with an all POC cast and knowing they have a place in the industry.” —GP

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Nikita Dragun

The past year has been good for Nikita Dragun. The influential makeup artist and model — who boasts over 2.6 million YouTube followers she lovingly calls Draguns — won Beauty Creator of the year at the 2019 Streamy Awards, launched her makeup line Dragun Beauty, and premiered the Snapchat docu-series “Nikita Unfiltered.” But, she tells GO, “the most rewarding aspect of my career is the Dragun family I’m creating. Hopefully, my journey and story will pave the way for other future artists to achieve their dreams.” Her message of being out and proud shines through in her YouTube videos, where she’ll strip out of her colorful and sultry makeup and wigs to reveal how she gets rid of unwanted facial hair or to draw awareness to trans visibility. She’s candid about her own transgender journey — documenting her experiences with breast augmentation and facial surgery — and has “outed” herself to strangers as part of Trans Awareness Month (this year it happened virtually in the spirit of social distancing). “Being out has created my success because being visible, loud, and proud is what makes Nikita who she is,” Dragun tells GO. “Nikita wouldn’t exist without my trans journey, and I’m proud of what I’ve gone through to get to where I am.” —RK

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Chinyere Ezie

Chinyere Ezie embodies the words of her hero Audre Lorde: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” The civil rights lawyer, now at the Center for Constitutional Rights, has been fighting for LGBTQ+ equality her entire career. At the Southern Poverty Law Center, Ezie was lead attorney on Diamond v. Owens, a case that challenged the Georgia Department of Corrections for refusing to grant transition-related medicare for transgender inmate Ashley Diamond. In 2016, Ezie became a trial attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she defended the rights of workers subjected to religious indoctrination by the United Health Programs of America and its parent company. For her clients, Ezie secured a $5.1 million verdict and an injunction against the company to prevent future violations. In 2018, she launched #BoycottPrada after the luxury brand featured racist figurines on display in one of its New York stores. “I feel like being black and queer is my superpower,” she tells GO. “It sharpens my analysis, fuels my advocacy, and gives me empathy to spare.” For her work, she was named one of the country’s “Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40” by the National LGBT Bar Association in 2016. —RK

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Michele Fitzsimmons

Michele Fitzsimmons was originally planning to be a social worker for people living with HIV and AIDS, but she started getting burned out after seven years on the job. Knowing she wanted her next job to be something physical without “office hours,” she reconsidered her childhood dream of becoming a firefighter. Though she had been discouraged from the profession by her grandfather — a retired FDNY Battalion Chief himself — for being a woman, Fitzsimmons decided to follow her heart and was sworn into the department in 2001. Recently promoted to the rank of Battalion Chief, Fitzsimmons is now only the second woman in the 155-year history of the New York Fire Department to attain the distinction. It’s a long time coming for Fitzsimmons, who has been a member of the FDNY for almost two decades and has worked in areas all around the city, from Chelsea, to Washington Heights, to Corona. During 9/11, Fitzsimmons bravely served at Ground Zero just months after graduating the fire academy. “The most rewarding aspect of my job is serving the people of NYC,” she tells GO. “I love being able to help people in a time of crisis. We respond to all sorts of emergencies, big and small. … We show up and fix the problem. In my new role, I’ll be supervising multiple units, and I see this as an opportunity to expand the reach of service.” —IL

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Naomi Fontanos

Filipina LGBTQ+ activist Naomi Fontanos pushes towards systemic change every day in the Philippines — a country currently led by authoritarian president Rodrigo Duterte. And while she’s looking to create major systemic change, Fontanos’ work proves that she knows it can’t and won’t be successful if it’s not an inclusive movement. “As they promote and endorse sexism, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, ableism, religious fundamentalism, militarism, capitalism, classism, [and] elitism and work to roll back hard-won human rights, we are called to harness the power of collective struggle and resist,” says Fontanos. “Our resistance must be informed by a feminism that is decolonized, intersectional, and trans inclusive in order to effectively challenge and dismantle patriarchy and heteronormativity.” As co-founder and current Executive Director of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, a “transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and queer (TLGBIQ)” human rights organization, Fontanos focuses on the issues and needs of the Philippines’ transgender community. In 2015, Fontanos joined the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) of the United States State Department on Preventing and Responding to Bias-Motivated Violence Against the LGBT Community, making her the first trans Filipina to be a fellow in the program. Previously, Fontanos was also named the first trans co-coordinator of Task Pride Force (TFP) Philippines, the official group behind the annual Metro Manila Pride March, in 2008. For Fontanos, though, it’s not about setting records or being the “first;” it’s about advocating for the queer community and influencing policy that makes their lives better, not worse. And even now, with the “rise of strongmen all around the world” who pedal a “rhetoric of hatred and fear,” Fontanos knows progress still needs to be made — and she’s happy to lead the charge. —GP

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Melody Forrester

With over 25 years of experience in the management and representation of recording artists, musicians, poets, screenwriters, actors, and professional athletes, Melody Forrester found her calling in getting to highlight the voices of those often overlooked. “Even as a kid, I was always drawn to the law and the idea of standing up and speaking for people,” she says. “I’ve been blessed to get to do a lot of the things I dreamed of, and there’s so much more for me to do — particularly in the areas of social justice advocacy and using the arts to help people heal from the trauma of trying to navigate through these challenging times.” A graduate of Columbia Law School, Forrester followed her passion by founding Artists First, Inc., a Philadelphia based artist management and media consulting company, as a way to reach the community and protect artists from exploitation by elevating their voices. In 2016, she furthered that vision by starting Artists First Records, an independent record label and affiliate of Ropeadope Record. Forrester is a long-time advisor to the Board of IDEA Performing Arts Center in Camden, NJ and currently sits on the Board of Directors of Jr. Music Executive, a program that provides training to young people interested in careers in the music industry. “I love working with artists and creatives; there’s an energy around them that’s transformative and contagious,” she says. “They keep me hopeful because I watch them literally save lives with their art.” —IL

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Sue Fulton

A 1980 graduate of West Point, Sue Fulton was part of the first class at the United States Military Academy to admit women. While commissioned in the Army, Fulton served as a platoon leader and company commander in Germany and was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain. “Being a lesbian was potentially devastating to my career as a young lieutenant right out of West Point,” Fulton tells GO. “In 1981, there wasn’t a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy — there was a gay ban. … I remember the feeling after I’d been relieved of duty pending a Criminal Investigation Division investigation into my sexuality – the feeling that everything I’d worked for at West Point and beyond was over.” After leaving the service, Fulton co-founded Knights Out, an organization of LGBTQ+ West Point alumni and allies, and helped found OutServe, an association for actively-serving LGBTQ+ military members. She also played a major role in lifting the military’s ban on transgender service in 2013 as President of SPART*A, a group for transgender people who currently serve or have served in the military. President Obama even recognized Fulton’s work, appointing her the first openly gay member of the West Point Board of Visitors in 2011. Fulton followed up the naming by becoming the first female USMA graduate to chair the Board in 2015. Most recently, Fulton worked with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy to facilitate the adoption of licensing drivers regardless of immigration status. “Ultimately, being an out West Point grad gave me remarkable credibility in the battle for LGBT rights in the military — a battle we won, then partially lost, and are now re-engaged in,” says Fulton. —IL

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Cecilia Gentili

“As much as I think it is wonderful to create a narrative that highlights the LGBT community as ‘beautiful’ and ‘thriving,’ it is a big group of us who live in extreme poverty,” transgender activist Cecilia Gentili tells GO. “Some of us still go to jail for using our bodies to survive.” It’s a reality Gentili knows firsthand. During the ten years she’d spent as an undocumented immigrant after coming to the United States from Argentina, she turned to sex work as one of the few economic opportunities available for her. For Gentili, this path led her to drug use, frequent run-ins with the police, immigration detention, and eventually, asylum and recovery. From her experience came a determination to stand up for others like her who’d found themselves on society’s margins. Gentili served as the Trans Health Coordinator with Apicha Community Health Center and the Managing Director of Policy with GHMC and is currently on the steering committee for Decrim New York, a grassroots organization to decriminalize sex work in the state. She’s now gearing up to embark on a new venture with independent agency Trans Equity Consulting, which she founded in 2019 to improve services and accessibility to LGBTQ+ persons in the workplace and beyond. “We all have an obligation to look at those in the community who are suffering and do something about it,” she says. “We can all donate our time, our money, our expertise to do something to make the ones in our community better because the community doesn’t end with the beauty of it. It goes beyond it and reaches the ones who are disenfranchised and marginalized.” —RK

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Zil Goldstein

“My work is very personal to me,” says Zil Goldstein, Associate Medical Director for Transgender Health at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. As a member of the transgender/non-binary community for two decades, Goldstein has witnessed first-hand the struggles that the community goes through, from seeing friends be denied healthcare to losing friends to suicide. “I always quote the statistic [that] ‘40 percent of transgender people attempted suicide’ from the US Trans Survey in 2015, but in real life, this means I’ve lost a lot of friends and loved ones,” she says. But Goldstein is doing what she can to reverse this trend. While working in the Mount Sinai Health System, she helped establish the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, the first of its kind in the New York healthcare world. Now with Callen-Lorde, she’s responsible for ensuring accessible health care for over 4,500 transgender persons. While Goldstein knows that there improving the quality of life for transgender persons isn’t straightforward, she’s dedicated herself specifically to the improvement of health care and gender-affirming treatment, because she believes these are the areas that can have the most impact. “Access to these treatments improves everything — from depression and anxiety outcomes to treatment adherence for chronic diseases — and is so important for TGNB people everywhere,” she tells GO. Recently, she has furthered her goals for improved treatment by obtaining funding to start a free clinic for survivors of sex trafficking, which works both with those forced into sex work as well as voluntary, consensual sex workers. —RK

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Khaliah O. Guillory

For anyone who’s ever felt sleep-deprived, Khaliah O. Guillory’s reasons for shifting careers from executive to entrepreneur are probably familiar. “I was a C-Level executive at a Fortune 500 company working 80 plus hours a week and traveling 75 percent of the time,” she tells GO. “Your girl was beyond sleep deprived!” Rather than slow her down, this exhaustion inspired Guillory to found Nap Bar, a Houston-based rest and relaxation experience for those who can’t budget seven to eight hours of sleep — or, as Guillory describes it: “an intentional curated sanctuary for the sleepy, health-conscious professionals, entrepreneurs, stay-at-home parents, and travelers to rest, recharge, and rejuvenate.” Nap Bar has landed her on Houston Business Journal’s coveted “40 Under 40” list of area entrepreneurs and was nominated for the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce’s Start-up of the Year Award in 2019. Nap Bar isn’t Guiillory’s only entrepreneurial venture, though. She is also the Chief Motivation Officer of KOG & Company, a platform that provides diversity and inclusivity training for businesses. As for her success, she tells GO that “being ‘out’ has affected my success in an enormous way. It left a positive impact on my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I believe we, as dope humans, reach the intersection where contribution meets satisfaction when we truly live boldly, courageously, and authentically.” In honor of her accomplishments, October 29 has been declared Khaliah O. Guillory Day in Houston. —RK

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Arlan Hamilton

In 2015, Arlan Hamilton was homeless. But at the same time, she was building Backstage Capital, a fund that invests in start-up founders who identify as people of color, women, and/or LGBTQ+. It all started when Hamilton became deeply interested in start-ups and entrepreneurship and dove deep into the world of venture capital. What she found fueled a need to create major change in the industry. “I found out that only 0.2 percent of venture capital funding was allocated to Black women founders, and that most of the time, venture capitalists had a ‘type’ they invested in,” she tells GO. “I wanted to show that people like me: people of colour, women, and those in the LGBTQ community, were just as smart, inventive, and worthy of investment as the straight white men of the world.” Since its founding, the fund has raised more than $10 million and has invested in 130 companies that are often overlooked and underestimated. Hamilton expanded her mission In 2018 when she started Backstage Studio, which launched a number of accelerator programs for underestimated founders in Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and London. The same year, she became the first Black woman non-celebrity featured on the cover of Fast Company magazine. And whether she’s speaking in a boardroom or posing for a photoshoot, Hamilton doesn’t try to be anyone but herself. “You are a unique person,” she says, “and only you can provide your point of view, so speak up, let yourself be heard, and let yourself be seen!” Hamilton’s book, “It’s About Damn Time,” about her life and the transition from “food-stamp recipient to venture capitalist,” is out now. —GP

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Cora Harrington

Being open about her sexuality has led Cora Harrington’s career along two different trajectories. “In terms of my industry — intimate apparel — which is often very conservative, being out has resulted in increased isolation and more alienation, as my vocal queerness and calls for inclusion frequently make companies uncomfortable,” the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Lingerie Addict tells GO. “However, with regards to my work — my book, my website, my social media presence — being out helps, because people know I am part of the community. I’m not ‘dabbling’ into it. I don’t speak about LGBTQ+ issues because it’s ‘trendy’ or Pride Month.” The Lingerie Addict, the world’s largest digital lingerie magazine, reshapes the presentation of lingerie to be more body positive and inclusive, embracing models of all shapes, identities, and abilities. Its success has made Harrington a leading authority on intimate apparel and is breathing new life into the conservative industry. Harrington is also the author of “In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie,” which was published by Ten Speed Press in 2018. Her career, she tells GO, gives her the opportunity not only to share her love of intimate apparel but also to get others to see it from a new — and transformative — perspective. “Lingerie is powerful because it allows you to express who you truly are — to fully embrace your identity — even if you can’t do so publicly yet,” she says. “Particularly for the LGBTQ+ community, we often feel left out of discussions about lingerie, of lingerie advertising, of the products available. I hope, through my work, that I’m able to connect people with the options that allow them to fully realize who they are.” —RK

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Phyllis Harris

Phyllis Harris is the Greater Cleveland LGBT Community Center’s first black lesbian director in its 45-year history, but, she says, she tells people her identity is not why she works with the center. “I work there because I’m a nonprofit practitioner, and I happen to proudly identify as a lesbian,” she tells GO. “I believe in servant leadership. I believe in the power of charity work. I value being able to bring my intersectional, lived experience to the work that I do, and the LGBT Community Center’s mission allows for me to do it with a goal to thrive as a leader.” As the current director, she oversaw the Center’s transition to its new home in Gordon Square on Cleveland’s west side in June 2019 and has increased the Center’s budget and staff in the process. Harris — who has previous experience working with the Rape Crisis Center, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland, and Planned Parenthood of Northeast Ohio — understands the impact that nonprofit work and advocacy have on those who’ve been forgotten or marginalized. “Let us remember that our goal is not conformity to the status quo,” she says. “That leaves too many of us out of life, love, and liberty. We are part of a movement for the rights and respect of all Queers. Support of leadership development in our movement to advocate for better quality of life options for LGBTQ+ people is worthwhile. We dare not leave anyone behind.” —RK

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Cassie Haynes

“I remember feeling a sense of infinite freedom and with that came joy, while at the same time, the deepest grief, guilt, and shame I’ve ever felt because I was also ending a marriage,” Cassie Haynes tells GO about her coming out experience. And while that moment was both “the most amazing and most horrendous experience,” it helped the Philadelphia community organizer and self-proclaimed “non-journalist” be fully out in every aspect of her life. However, Haynes’ work is driven not just by her own identity; her background in community organizing, public policy, and strategic planning and execution plays a part as well. It’s this combination that’s gotten Haynes to her role as the Co-Executive Director of Resolve Philly, an organization that works to develop and advance journalism built on equity, collaboration, and the elevation of community voices and solutions. “For us, equity is 90% of our contracts being held by Black, POC, Queer, Trans, Woman, and/or Disabled-owned and led businesses,” she tells GO. “That’s one way we practice what we preach. And we — the leadership of the organization that Jean [Friedman-Rudovsky] and I have built together — get to prioritize that. We get to say, ‘It’s okay if this contract is a little more expensive, we’re buying Black.’” Haynes’ work is so important to the community, in fact, that not even a pandemic can stop it; Resolve Philly was recently awarded a $1 million grant to create a COVID-19 crisis response and recovery plan that provided better access to information for Philadelphians most affected by Coronavirus’ impact. Before Resolve Philly, Haynes served as the Deputy Executive Director of the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, where she directed the policy and programmatic initiatives impacting city residents experiencing deep economic hardship. —GP

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Leslie Herod

Since being elected to the Colorado General Assembly in 2016, Representative Leslie Herod has strived for major reform for all in her district— but especially marginalized communities. A Black queer woman, Herod notes that being out at work is nothing short of an advantage; it gives her an intersectional approach, allows her to be her authentic self, and helps forge a stronger connection to her constituents. “The more I speak honestly about my story, the more people are willing to share theirs with me,” says Herod. “It is in that extremely personal space that I learned how many of us are struggling and how little elected officials like me are doing to help.” Now in her second term, Herod has passed over 68 bills addressing criminal justice reform, mental health, addiction, youth homelessness, and civil rights protections. In addition to her role in the State Legislature, Herod also championed Caring for Denver, a ballot initiative that raises $35 million annually for mental health and substance abuse treatment and services. Although she was told “it was never going to work,” Herod pushed ahead to create the largest mental health foundation in the state in an effort to her community. “After hearing from so many people struggling, I knew that I had no choice but to try,” she tells GO. “We are tackling these systemic issues head-on, addressing barriers, and ensuring those who really need the support get it.” Herod strives every day to represent her constituents — particularly those who have not traditionally been invited to the table — through her governmental work. “I am extremely honored to be able to represent my hometown,” says Herod. “I pride myself in being able to pass legislation that makes a real difference in the lives of real people.” —GP

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Amber Hikes

“I can’t talk about being out without talking about being out as a Black Queer Woman,” says Amber Hikes, the ACLU’s first Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer. “My unapologetic blackness, womaness, and queerness — and my existence at their intersections — are not just primary parts of my success; they are the foundation for it.” As a social justice advocate and community organizer, Hikes provides vision, leadership, and direction for the ACLU’s nationwide strategy to support equity, diversity, and inclusion. Before her work at the ACLU, Hikes has served as the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. She is also known around the world for introducing the More Color More Pride flag that adds black and brown stripes to the traditional rainbow Pride flag to visually represent people of color in the LGBTQ+ community. Regardless of where Hikes is working or what project she’s leading, she looks at the world heavily through the lens of intersectionality and allows it to unwaveringly guide her work. “Being out means bringing all of my identities to my work — to every table I’m sitting at — and committing to creating space there for others with marginalized identities to join me,” Hikes tells GO. “Centering those identities for me, for others like me — it’s not just all of the success I’ve had, it’s the only success I want.” —GP

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Tiffany Hudson

“As I got older and started to understand what it meant to be a Black gay woman in this country, along with the experiences I’d had in corporate America prior to starting the business, it was very clear that this was the field I needed to be in,” says Tiffany Hudson, co-founder of the Nova Collective, a women and Black-owned business that helps other companies build inclusive cultures. Developing an interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion work as a child thanks to her parents — who were both involved with the programs at their respective companies — Hudson kept her passion alive into adulthood and through a corporate job. However, she quit that successful career to help create The Nova Collective, which delivers a number of different identity and learning programs, trainings, products, and consulting with an explicit focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through her work, Hudson makes it her mission to challenge corporate workplace norms and “business as usual” as a means to create cultural evolutions and center the experiences of folks who have often been marginalized. Ultimately, Hudson hopes to help companies and organizations create a more equitable workplace and environment by dismantling the systems of oppression that exist within many workplaces today. “To know that we are doing what we can to not only educate workforces around DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] topics and issues, but also create behavioral change within workspaces, is what keeps me going every day,” says Hudson. “I want those folks who are experiencing pain, whether emotional or physical, to wake up one day and be happy about going to work.” —GP

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Andrea Jenkins

Writer, performance artist, poet, and transgender activist Andrea Jenkins became the first Black openly trans woman to be elected to office in the United States after joining the Minneapolis City Council in 2018. She first fell in love with the state after moving to attend the University of Minnesota in 1979, where she was hired by the Hennepin County government for 10 years. Transitioning to the Minneapolis City Council, Jenkins spent 12 years as a staff member, working to strengthen support for transgender issues, earning a fellowship, and helping to establish the Transgender Issues Work Group in 2014. The same year, she organized a City Council summit with the intent to highlight the equity issues trans people in Minnesota face. For Jenkins, being proud has given her the chance to draw upon her own identities and experiences in the fight for others. “Being an open and out Black Trans woman has given me the freedom to speak up on behalf of my community with authenticity,” Jenkins tells GO. “I recognize the intersections of sexism and racism on a deeper level than some, and it gives me insights into supporting other marginalized communities.” After over a decade as a staff member in City Council, Jenkins transitioned into the role of curator of the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies. A nationally and internationally recognized writer and artist, Jenkins was granted the 2011 Bush Fellow to advance the work of transgender inclusion as well as numerous other awards and fellowships. In 2018, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard University. —IL

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Kendra R. Johnson

“Me being out and visible means that some black queer kid somewhere in the South sees someone that looks like them talking about issues that affect them,” Kendra R. Johnson, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, tells GO. “Working in a mainstream equality organization but talking about Black and Brown unity, incarcerated folks, resource-poor people, sex workers, trans and GNC liberation, and undocumented people means changing the narrative that the only thing that matters is marriage equality and bathrooms.” It’s this commitment to creating a more equitable South through diversity, safe schools, inclusive institutions, and welcoming communities that fuels Johnson’s passion, and it’s what has always made her a social changemaker, from her college days at Spelman — where she started their first lesbian and bisexual support group in the ‘90s — to volunteering communications services for Brazil’s first historically Black college. Johnson’s drive lies with creating equality regardless of identity, she says, because her own life has been so defined and judged by others. “The choices society presented me were filtered through the lens of race and gender and later sexual orientation,” she says. “It took a long time to find my voice and discover the impact I’d had and have on people.” But now, Johnson says she has the ability to help others feel powerful and inspired — unlike when she was growing up — and her favorite part of the work she does is knowing she’s making a difference. On top of working for Equality North Carolina, Johnson is also a former chair for Southerners on New Ground (SONG) and currently sits on the House of GG’s, created by trans activist and legend Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. —GP

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Kristen Kaza

Think state-wide shutdowns would stop event-planner Kristen Kaza’s mission to foster social connections? Think again. Kaza, who is the principal and creative director behind No Small Plans Productions, has transferred her popular dance party series, “Slo ‘Mo: Slow Jams for Queer Fam” online, rebranding it as “Slo ‘Mo From Homo.” The new incarnation, which features DJ sets and dance lessons, got over 5,000 views for its inaugural event. “Slo ‘Mo” is just one of many such “parties with a purpose” that Kaza’s No Small Plans Productions organizes. “I chose to pursue cultural production because I believe in the power of community connection and building cultures of belonging,” she tells GO. “I wanted to use parties as a platform to showcase the talents and experiences of underrepresented communities, especially LGBTQ+ folks. Seeing ourselves reflected in culture, but in particular in a physical space like at an event, is such an important affirmation.” Her parties, which focus on drawing LGBTQ+ and POC artists, have been featured all over Chicago in the past decade and include collaborations with such institutions as the Museum of Contemporary Art and Navy Pier. She’s also the co-founding force behind Reunion Chicago, which provides space for community events for LGBTQ+ and POC artists and creators. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is witnessing the joy and confidence of my community when they can be in a space that supports them,” she says. “Queer spaces and programs are so important for us to see ourselves reflected, and it’s an immense honor to provide opportunities to cultivate connection and affirmation.” —RK

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Nina Kennedy

“Being in the closet eats up so much energy and causes stress and anxiety,” says Nina Kennedy. “There’s strength in numbers, and people won’t know how many of us there are unless we come out.” Coming out has been nothing but good to Kennedy, a classical pianist, orchestral conductor, award-winning filmmaker, TV personality, and author. Holding a master’s degree from Juilliard, the multihyphenate presented her first complete piano recital at age nine and appeared as a soloist with the Nashville Symphony at age 13. She currently hosts “The Noshing with Nina Show,” an award-winning monthly talk show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN). Aside from her current success, being an out lesbian allowed Kennedy to relate to and understand her audience, making her projects — like writing lesbian erotica, producing short films, and doing spoken-word — more relatable and popular. Kennedy just released “Practicing for Love,” her first book in a series of memoirs about her early life as a child piano prodigy, her young adulthood, and her “budding sexuality.” The music video for “Blue White and Red,” a trap/classical single, dropped on Juneteenth. —IL

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Rosemary Ketchum

“I believe that the work of an elected official is to reflect the values of your community in the actions of your leadership,” Rosemary Ketchum tells GO. “I decided to run for office because I knew the changes we needed to see could only be achieved through serious community organizing and unapologetic compassion.” And thanks to that decision, Ketchum is now the first openly transgender elected official in West Virginia after winning her race for a City Council seat in her city of Wheeling. With a background in mental health work and advocacy, Ketchum typically travels across the state to speak to audiences about civil rights and social justice with a focus on LGBTQ+ issues. She also formerly served on the Wheeling Human Rights Commission and the board of the ACLU of West Virginia, constantly striving for changes that will make life better for marginalized communities in her district and beyond. Currently, she is a member of the board of directors of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the YWCA of Wheeling. Ketchum has been awarded for her work, winning West Virginia Living Magazines’ “Wonder Woman Award” in 2019 and their Outstanding Young West Virginian Award earlier this year. Regardless of whether she’s speaking on mental health rights at a lecture or fighting for her constituents in the boardroom, Ketchum is proud to be an out trans woman — not only for herself but for her constituents. “I think being an out trans person has only elevated the necessary conversations my community needed to have,” she says. “These conversations are sometimes awkward, more often easy, but always important.” —IL

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Caitlin Kinnunen

Best known for her performance in the Broadway musical “The Prom,” Tony-nominated actress Caitlin Kinnunen strives to work on projects that portray people with raw honesty and truth. “It’s so wonderful getting to see how everyone responds to that and really opens up to me because of it,” she tells GO. In “The Prom,” Kinnunen played a Midwestern lesbian teen named Emma, whose prom is canceled because she wanted to bring her girlfriend. Kinnunen’s Broadway credits don’t stop there, though. She has also starred as Thea in “Spring Awakening” and Carolyn in “The Bridges Of Madison County,” as well as Natalie in the national tour of “Next to Normal,” a rock opera focusing on mental health and family ties. As an advocate for real and relatable stories, Kinnunen is also looking for ways to amplify and highlight voices that deserve to have the spotlight. And while she’s working to call attention to queer voices in theater, Kinnunen tells GO the best way to do it in everyday life is just to be visible. “Show up each day and be unapologetically you!” she says. “It’s so important to be true to who you are. It will empower you to be better each day and show others it’s ok to be yourself.” —GP

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Victoria Kirby York

Victoria Kirby York has been organizing in a variety of capacities for over 20 years at the federal, state, and local levels, but it wasn’t until two deaths in 2014 that her entire career trajectory changed. After getting involved with her local Black Lives Matter group following the police murder of Mike Brown and the suicide of transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, she realized her intersectional and faith-focused advocacy approach was necessary in order to heal the wounds left by white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ+ churches, as they have assisted in the untrue narrative that Black and LGBTQ+ lives aren’t as important to God. “Change is coming to push our nation to live into the promise of liberty and justice for all, and I am determined to help make it happen,” she tells GO. Currently, Kirby York is the Advocacy and Action Deputy Department Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, the nation’s oldest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization. In her role, she supports a staff of organizers, lawyers, and ministers who are fighting for queer inclusion in faith spaces, progressive equitable policies, and our democracy. “I approach organizing from a hopeful place … because I have seen time and time again people choose love over fear and each other’s humanity over prejudice,” she says. Before taking on this role, Kirby York served as the Florida Director for Organizing for Action (OFA), the nonprofit formed from President Obama’s electoral campaigns meant to support his legislative agenda. Kirby York also served as a member of the Human Rights Campaign’s National Diversity and Inclusion Council, the National Black Justice Coalition’s Leadership Advisory Council, and as a board member for the Center for Black Equity and the Next Generation Leadership Foundation. She also served as the first openly gay member of the Howard University Board of Trustees. —IL

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Alex Koones

Chef Alex Koones left working in Michelin starred restaurant behind to start her own pop-up supper club for queer women, trans, and nonbinary people: Babetown. Built around the experience of dinner parties and social gatherings as safe, comfortable, and fun spaces for queer folk, Babetown thrived as a major event planner for the community with often sold-out get-togethers. But the company did a full 180-degree change when Coronavirus struck and hit New York City hard. Koones decided she would use her resources to keep bringing the party to those that were most affected by the pandemic through a meal delivery service called Babe Deliveries. It started out as a way to help a close friend stay fed through the pandemic, though Babe Deliveries blossomed into a major service that sells out quickly and takes up Koones’ entire day. “I am a person in a pandemic with the resources and ability to bring affordable meals to my people, and many of the people I deliver to are really in situations where they can’t leave the house,” she tells GO. “I think Babe Delivery, being able to do this now and bring food that is playful and whimsical and seasonal and colorful to queers in quarantine, that’s the most rewarding aspect of my career. I’ve made a lot of dumb decisions in my life and I’ve done so much wrong, but no matter what, if I make it to old and gray, Babe Delivery will be the thing I know I did right.” —GP

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Roz Lee

For Roz Lee, helping the community through philanthropy, organizing, legislative advocacy, and popular education is just another day. As current Vice President of Strategy and Programs at the Ms. Foundation for Women, Lee leads the effort to invest in and strengthen the ability of women-led movements — specifically those created by women of color — to develop meaningful social, political, and economic change in the lives of all. Previously, Lee worked as the Director of Social Justice Initiatives at the Arcus Foundation, where she designed and implemented global and domestic philanthropic strategies at the intersection of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. A native New Yorker living in Harlem, she was also a founding co-chair of the five-year Out in the South Initiative, which aimed to leverage $60 million in support of queer communities in the southern United States. Lee also serves on the steering committee of Grantmakers for Southern Progress, a network of southern-based and national philanthropists dedicated to advancing structural change and equitable outcomes in their region. Lee has proudly focused all her time on using philanthropic efforts to help those who have had the least access to them leverage funding and build mutually beneficial relationships, and her entire career has been dedicated to advancing justice at all its intersections — especially now during the Black Lives Matter revolution. “LGBTQ justice is racial justice,” Lee tells GO. “It’s especially important to remember during this passageway in our society and movements.” —IL

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Gabrielle Lenart

“I’m all about challenging traditional and patriarchal mindsets,” says Gabrielle Lenart, founder and CEO of the New York-based queer food collective This Queer Kitchen (soon to be The Queer Food Foundation). “If we can confront these issues within our current broken food system, then we can build a better foundation that supports and uplifts minorities such as LGBTQIA+ and QTBIPOC individuals working in food.” With This Queer Kitchen, Lenart and her team use food as a centerpiece for community-building events that cater to the LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups; events include charity dinners, PRIDE potlucks, and networking opportunities for womxn chefs and business owners. Lenart, who graduated with an M.A. in Food Studies from New York University and who also worked freelance for the James Beard Foundation, tells GO that she wishes to be the kind of role model she’d wanted as a child. “I knew whatever I decided to do in my life, I would do it with the intentions of being unapologetic, authentic, and purposeful,” she says. “Growing up, I never found a queer role model, let alone one who dealt with important issues around food.” When COVID-19 struck, she provided food resources for those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and for those who are looking to help the afflicted and to support queer-owned eateries. Her current intention with This Queer Kitchen is to shift it into the nonprofit sector in order to promote, create, fund, and support queer food spaces. The most rewarding part of her job, she says, is “being part of something bigger and more important than myself. The queer food era is now, even during the pandemic, and it’s not going anywhere.” —RK

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Aryah Lester

“The greatest reward within my work and advocacy is the ability to create opportunities and ‘stepping stones’ for other women with history similar to my own,” says Aryah Lester, Deputy Director of the Transgender Strategy Center. “With each new success I attain, I look to uplift another Black woman of trans experience to rise in her own path.” That mission is why Lester founded Trans-Miami, Miami’s first transgender organization while continuing to run the National Alliance of Transgender Advocates and Leaders (NATAL), her networking organization. The nationally-awarded author, speaker, and educator is also a current member of a number of advisory boards, including that of the Florida Chapter of STARR, the nation’s first transgender organization, founded by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, and the Unity Coalition (UC|CU), an organization that advances equality and fairness for the LatinX/Hispanic and Indigenous LGBTQ+ community through education, leadership, and awareness. As someone striving every day to make a change in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond, Lester sees firsthand what needs to be done to create not only an equal but an equitable queer community. And as someone with all that knowledge, her best advice is to consider how the past can affect the future and to make sure all voices are being uplifted. “I believe our LGBT communities would benefit from surveying the general success we’ve had in the past decade,” Lester tells GO. “and looking at the disparities still faced by black and brown women of trans experience, sex workers, and incarcerated populations.” —IL

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Amazin LêThi

“I understand what it feels like to be marginalized — and what many LGBTQ youth are going through — because I have experienced it myself,” says Amazin LêThi, Vietnamese LGBTQ+ sports and human rights advocate. “I don’t want anyone else to go through [it].” Suffering a great amount of discrimination and bullying as a child and teenager, LêThi has faced homelessness, poverty, and deep depression. But rather than succumb to the difficulty, she decided to work to help others avoid falling into similar positions. She created the Amazin LêThi Foundation to support homeless LGBTQ+ youth through leadership, development, and sports as a platform for change, and in 2019, she launched the first-ever Asian LGBTQ Southern Voice event in Georgia. LêThi’s work extends outside of the US, too. She was the first international activist working in Vietnam to give scholarships to transgender youth, and she piloted the Leadership Sports and Education Program in Vietnam, which fast-tracks homeless LGBTQ+ youth into career development and is set to launch in the US in 2021. Being an author, athlete ally, Stonewall sports champion ambassador, and advocate has allowed LêThi to share her personal story, live freely as an openly out Asian woman, and connect to audiences on a deeper level with shared experiences — something she hopes to pass on through her work. “Sharing my story and living authentically and unapologetically gives me the freedom to realize that my emotions are real, that how I feel inside matters, and that I’m worthy of owning the space that I’m in,” she says. —IL

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Rachel Levine

While people enter the medical field for any number of complex reasons, Dr. Rachel Levine’s was pretty simple: to help people. As the current Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, she works to follow the department’s mission of a healthy Pennsylvania in an effort to make a difference in the lives of all the individuals she serves. “At the Pennsylvania Department of Health, we are committed to health equity — no matter one’s race, ethnicity, religion, or gender identity and sexual orientation,” Levine tells GO. “As an openly transgender person, this is very important to me, and also with what is occurring across the United States. Our mission statement is to promote healthy behaviors, prevent injury and disease, and to assure the safe delivery of quality health care for all people in Pennsylvania.” Before taking on her current position, Levine served as the Physician General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 2015-2017 and as the Acting Secretary of Health in 2017. Levine is also Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine; the President-Elect of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO); and a Fellow for a number of organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, and the Academy for Eating Disorders. —IL

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Kristin Lieb

One might be forgiven for overlooking the subversive potential of a Ben & Jerry’s marketing campaign, but for author and professor Kristin Lieb, subverting pop culture is all part of a semester’s work. Lieb, a professor at Boston’s Emerson College and author of “Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars,” recognizes the power of representation in shaping — or re-shaping — our cultural perspectives. After working as a high-level executive in the music industry, Lieb switched gears, joining the academic world “because I knew it would allow me to live an interesting and unconventional life and spend my time thinking, writing, and teaching about things that genuinely interest me and influence our culture.” In her classes, she tells GO, this might mean having students meld issues like prison reform awareness into a new campaign for a popular ice cream brand or recreate music videos to challenge stereotypes about gender, sexuality, and race. In her writing, both academic and mainstream, she addresses how gender, sex, and sexuality influence the treatment, branding, and marketing of female artists. Lieb’s work has appeared in such outlets as “Buzzfeed”, “Billboard”, “Rolling Stone,” and numerous academic anthologies. When not actively engaged in subverting pop culture, the self-professed “middle-aged, alt-rock nerd” can be found “listening to music, traveling to climb a mountain, or hanging out with her cat or somebody else’s dog.” —RK

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Elizabeth Lindsey

Elizabeth Lindsey is changing the world of tech through nonprofit community work. As CEO of Byte Back, an inclusive tech nonprofit offering education and career services that lead to living-wage careers, Lindsey has committed herself to provide tech-based career paths for low-income Washington, D.C. and Baltimore residents. And her passion is her work, as she notes the most rewarding aspect of her position is that she gets to connect people to technology that is so essential to ourselves and our culture. “In the queer community, chat rooms and apps and social media have been instrumental for us in creating safe virtual communities,” Lindsey tells GO. “That connection to community is so vital, and we’re seeing now more than ever the fact that access to broadband and the skills to use technology are absolutely necessary for people to fully participate in the economy as well.” Lindsey also serves on the Mayor’s Innovation and Technology Inclusion Council and the Verizon Consumer Advisory Board. She’s also a board member of the Goodwill Excel Center, The Engine Room, and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and was named one of The Root’s 100 most influential African Americans of 2019. And being proudly out has only contributed to her success, says Lindsey, because she’s been able to bring her full and true self to every aspect of her career. “There’s something so liberating about being able to walk into a room and not think twice about talking about my family, or sharing stories from my life, or connecting with another queer person,” she says. “It’s one less thing for me to worry about, and being out is an important source of pride and community for me. —GP

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Katherine Linton

Katherine Linton is an award-winning producer, director, and showrunner who has been working on documentaries and series for stations like LOGO, Bravo, PBS, A&E, MTV, and HBO for more than 25 years. The content she creates is heavily LGBTQ+-focused, and Linton even brought queer issues to the national television screen as early as 1993 with “In the Life,” an LGBTQ+ newsmagazine. Her work is heavily-awarded, too. Linton wrote and produced “AIDS: A Pop Culture History” for VH1, which won her a Cable Poz Award for Best History Documentary and was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding TV Journalism, and “Black Las Vegas: In Through the Backdoor,” which was given the International Television Competition World Medal and a Bronze Telly. But it’s not the awards that keep Linton going; it’s the people she meets and the stories she gets to hear. “I get to go to people’s homes and see where they live and learn what it’s like locally and in their families directly,” she says. “And in doing research for any project, I speak to even more people than I meet. I get the pulse from the source.” To fuel her connection-based documentaries, Linton launched her own production company, Linton Media, in 2004 with “The Evolution Will Be Televised,” a 90-minute special that launched the LOGO TV network. In 2019, she created, co-directed, and wrote “Rebellion! Stonewall,” and MSNBC special about the gay rights movement and the Stonewall Uprising. Linton’s latest project was a one-hour broadcast special and digital series called “Prideland” about queer people living with immense obstacles in the deep South. —IL

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Charlene Liu

As the founder of ShanghaiPRIDE, Charlene Liu is a force in the world of Chinese social change. She co-founded the annual festival in 2009 and has grown it into the longest-running Pride in mainland China — put on entirely by LGBTQ+ and ally volunteers. In 2014, Time Out Shanghai awarded Liu and the ShanghaiPRIDE team the Shanghai Hero award, and four years later, they won Best Event Organizer in East China by Huodongxing. Although she’s been awarded for her work, Liu never thought that queer advocacy would be her career path. “Advocating for LGBTQ and gender diversity was something I stumbled upon when I moved to China; it was supposed to be a hobby and temporary,” Liu tells GO. “However, every time someone comes up to me or my team to thank us for changing their minds, helping them to accept themselves, and helping them change their lives, the sense of success and fulfillment is far beyond what I imagined it to be.” Her experience in organizing goes beyond Pride; in fact, Liu has over 14 years of experience in community leadership and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) advocacy experience. In 2014, she formed event management company Q-Events. She is also the co-founder of Ladies Who Tech, a social impact community for women in STEM, which launched in 2016. Although Liu’s got her hands full, she continues to organize events and manage the planning, finances, and sponsorships of all her companies. —GP

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Syd London

For photojournalist Syd London, being out and visibly queer is a way in with the LGBTQ+ people she documents in her photographs. “People can feel that my goal is to honor their story rather than exploit, and this has a profound impact on a person’s willingness to honestly share their experiences,” she tells GO. And it’s a good thing she’s welcomed, as gaining trust is essential for the intersectional and often marginalized communities whose stories London’s photographs tell. “Ground Surge: Communities Rising” — her first solo show that ran at the Kean Institute for Human Rights in 2016 — chronicled the impact of racial, age-based, and economic discrimination affecting various communities, including people of color, gender non-conforming individuals, low-income households, and aging LGBTQ+. Her documentation was a ten-year labor of love and captured evolving landscapes of accessibility and organization within these communities. “At a time when too few of our stories were being told, I wanted to contribute to increasing the visibility of queer lives,” she says. “Storytelling is one of our oldest forms of learning and validation. When we don’t see ourselves reflected in the world’s media and we don’t have a family who accepts us at home, it’s easy to feel very alone.” London continues to explore the underrepresented in her work, turning her lens on healthcare and eldercare access in the Catskills, her new hometown. —RK

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Mahdia Lynn

Mahdia Lynn is the co-founder and executive director of Masjid al-Rabia, an inclusive, Chicago-based Muslim community center devoted to serving women and the LGBTQIA+. A prison abolition activist as well as a disabled Shi’a Muslim and transgender woman, Lynn approaches social justice through a spiritual lens. “It is high time to recognize that the religious lives of queer and trans people is a public health issue,” Lynn tells GO. “It’s not a claim of one faith practice being right or more authentic than another; a person’s faith is an integral part of how they understand their self and their role in the world. Only by using the language of spirituality can you heal the spiritually wounded. When queer and trans people face an epidemic of suicide, addiction, and violence, true healing, true growth needs to be won on a spiritual and faith-informed basis.” The religious center — which in 2018 became the first women-centered mosque in the Americas to open an independent location — is an active force in engendering social justice for the marginalized. It’s currently helping to distribute aid to Muslims in need alongside Queer Crescent Healing through the recently-launched Radical Muslim Mutual Aid: Covid-19 Redistribution fund. In addition to her work with Masjid al-Rabia, Lynn is also a leader with Believers Bail Out, a grassroots organization that provides bail relief for Muslims incarcerated or held in ICE detention. This work, Lynn says, is not a choice so much a calling. “I believe that we’re all called to something, and I believe that if you find work worth doing and commit to show up and do your best every day, eventually you will wind up exactly where you’re supposed to be. It’s a comfortable certainty knowing that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be: in service to my community.” —RK

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Clare Madrigal

An emergency room nurse for 13 years, Clare Madrigal currently serves both on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic and as the LGBTQ+ Resource Nurse for two Johns Hopkins Medicine hospitals, where she trains hospital staff on LGBTQ+ health, acts as a patient and employee advocate, and organizes community outreach. She’s also the owner of REACH: Rainbow Education And Consulting for Health, LLC, where she assists organizations in creating affirming and inclusive practices. Her passion for the position only grows, and Madrigal’s goal is to make everyone feel welcome and listened to in medical facilities. “Over the years, as I’ve educated myself on LGBTQ health, my passion for providing this important education has grown,” she says. “LGBTQ patients often feel more comfortable sharing more personal details of their health history with someone that they know is LGBTQ or an ally.” As an emergency nurse at Frederick Health Hospital, Madrigal has implemented queer health education and encourages inclusive practices within the organization. She says that while being an out queer woman was not celebrated when she first started working as a nurse almost 14 years ago, it’s now an important part of her career. Both staff and patients alike look to Madrigal for knowledge and support, and she knows that being visible in her role is one step toward helping those she’s treating and working with feel proud of who they are. “I wear rainbow accessories, a pronoun pin, [and] a queer haircut to be visual to patients and co-workers,” says Madrigal. “Sharing my personal experiences as a queer person, and as a fellow healthcare provider, helps form a connection.” Madrigal was recently awarded the Johns Hopkins Achievers Award, meant to “recognize and highlight underrepresented minorities who exemplify excellence and models of the Johns Hopkins Medicine core values.” —GP

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Arienne Mandi

As a kid, Arienne Mandi always questioned why she didn’t have a “more ‘normal’ name, something easy to pronounce” and why her parents were “from different countries, spoke different languages and ate different foods.” But as she grew, Mandi realized that all the traits, quirks, and preferences that set her apart were what she loved most about herself. “Finding my voice and feeling comfortable in my own skin was one of the most beautiful and pivotal points in my life,” says Mandi. “I think we all go through a process of self-discovery that is different for everyone.” During that self-evolution, Mandi found a love for acting through her participation in various elementary and high school small stage productions. She got her first role on-screen in the independent film “Baja” before launching into a number of television roles, including “Hawaii Five-0,” “NCIS,” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.” You probably know her most, though, from Showtime’s “The L Word: Generation Q,” where she plays public relations rep Dani Nuñez. Being on a show that provides crucial representation for the LGBTQ+ community is the most rewarding aspect of Mandi’s work, and she’s honored to have the ability to celebrate and honor their stories. “It makes my heart so full to know that through storytelling and entertainment, I’ve helped others to accept and love themselves through their struggles and differences,” Mandi says. —IL

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Roya Marsh

As a nationally recognized writer, poet, activist, and educator, Roya Marsh always seems to have the right words to say. From Poetry Magazine to the Huffington Post, Marsh’s work can be seen in multiple publications, and “dayliGht,” her debut collection of poems, was published in March 2020. While she writes to express herself, Marsh has also found that her visibility as a queer Black writer — and its consequences — are what make her work worthwhile. “The most rewarding aspect of my work has been the response from youth of the LGBT+ community,” she tells GO. “My hope has always been to inform and inspire, and knowing that there are young people looking to me as a role model further encourages me to keep writing and continue fighting.” The combination of her visibility and passion for intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community and dismantling systems of oppression fuels Marsh in the projects she takes on, like working “to shift the cultures of schools in some of the most troubled communities” and to bring more attention to the need for stronger arts education. And while being visible and proud makes the work worth it, Marsh is an educator at her core, and she knows the knowledge gained is the most important thing. “Representation isn’t the only perk,” says Marsh. “There’s also this moment when young people see someone that has done away with respectability politics and debunks preconceived notions to stand before them and tell them they deserve to be heard — to encourage their creativity and allow them to talk freely about how the world affects them.” —GP

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Katie Martell

“I am grateful to be gay,” Katie Martell tells GO. “That’s a phrase I would have never said out loud when I came out in 2004. But hindsight being 20/20, coming out gave me an opportunity to question the realities of life as they were given to me and the chance to figure out for myself who I was and what I wanted.” She brings this “challenger mindset” to “Pandermonium,” a book and documentary that examines how marketing strategies have targeted social movements for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights. Martell, a writer and marketing consultant, notes that while such marketing strategies are signs of changing times, they can also be dangerous in providing the false comfort that our world is better — and that the companies who practice “rainbow-pandering” have no further responsibilities for their LGBTQ+ consumers and employees. “Let’s expect more from the brands we buy from and work for,” she says. “Our community needs real support and policy, not just a rainbow color treatment during the month of June.” Her outspokenness has earned her the reputation of being an “unapologetic marketing truth-teller,” and a spot on TopRank Marketing’s 50 Business-2-Business Marketing Influences and Experts to Follow in 2018. She’s also been named a Top Voice in Marketing on LinkedIn’s list in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Martell is also a frequent speaker at marketing conferences and the host of “Exceptional Truths,” a live interview series. But her most important accomplishment? Batting cleanup for her fastpitch team: the Girl Scouts. —RK

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Greta McLachlan

General Surgical Trainee Greta McLachlan was so tired of seeing all-male panels at healthcare conferences that she founded, along with four other doctors, Women’s Speakers in Healthcare (WSH). Since its creation in 2019, McLachlan’s company has become the world’s largest database of women speakers and male allies for healthcare events. “The response to [WSH’s] creation, and the support we have received from both women and men, has shown us just how much this initiative is needed. Whilst our name is about women, we are about diversity of all kinds,” McLachlan tells GO. “The hope is that by promoting all types of diversity at events, speakers can be role models for the future leaders in healthcare and increase diversity and representation — because it’s hard to be what you can not see.” Most recently, McLachlan has been working in the NHS England and Improvement’s Strategic Planning and Development Cell in response to COVID-19. While the role includes working on national strategy, national guidance, and response coordination, McLachlan had to step away from the role for a bit after herself falling ill with what was likely Coronavirus. Prior to her current work, she also acted as an Anatomy Demonstrator at King’s College London and President of the Alcock Society, which organizes an annual national conference for surgical trainees and anatomists. No matter what role she’s taking on, though, McLachlan is conscious to some extent that others look to her — for healthcare guidance, leadership advice, and how to live their lives out and unapologetically. “I consciously try and make references to my wife in talks, conversations, or stories,” McLachlan says. “I’m not sure I can change the world, but I am going to keep on trying, and hopefully bring a few friends.” —IL

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Abby McEnany

Self-identified “fat, queer dyke” Abby McEnany may face depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in her everyday life, but she’s changing the game by channeling her struggles into art. In her new show “Work In Progress,” which premiered on Showtime last year, McEnany plays a fictionalized version of herself — but that doesn’t mean she censors her experiences to make the audience comfortable. “The thing about our show is it’s not all palatable queers,” McEnany tells IndieWire. “For middle America or whatever America, I’m not a palatable queer. Right? I’m this fat, loud, gray-haired, masculine, queer dyke who’s a mess. But the goal of this show is, hopefully — for folks out there that feel isolated — to show that there’s a life out there without shame.” The series focuses on Abby (played by McEnany) as her plans to commit suicide are interrupted by an unexpected romance with a much younger trans man (played by Theo Germaine). As the relationship develops, so too does Abby as she is forced to open up about her sexual hang-ups, self-loathing, suicidal ideation, and other mental health issues. Don’t worry, though; “Work In Progress” is a side-splitting comedy thanks to McEnany’s experience with the Chicago comedy scene. From being a member of Second City’s touring company to leading an ensemble at the Chicago Playground Theater, expression through laughter has always been a major part of McEnany’s life. “It might sound hyperbolic, … but humour has saved my life,” she tells The Guardian. “Humour has gotten me through some really hard times.” —IL

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Jillian Mercado

Model and actress Jillian Mercado has always been immersed in fashion. With a mother and father who worked in an embroidery factory and shoe store respectively, Mercado knew almost everything about clothing before she could even put together her own outfits. With years of playing with her mother’s sewing machines under her belt, Mercado pursued a degree in merchandising management from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Although she didn’t seriously consider modeling after graduation, Mercado ended up submitting herself to an open call for the clothing company Diesel. Two weeks later, she received the call that she was chosen for the brand’s campaign. Since then, Mercado has starred in campaigns for major companies — like Olay, Calvin Klein, Target, and Tommy Hilfiger — and a number of editorial pieces. In 2018, Mercado was even featured on Teen Vogue’s first digital cover. “I will forever be grateful for that privilege [that gave] me the opportunity to not only choose exactly the career that I want but to diversify an industry that has not been able to fully cater to my communities,” she tells GO. It’s the ability to be visible as a queer, disabled, Latinx woman that drives Mercado in tandem with her passion. Off-camera, she devotes her time to working as a disability advocate, speaking at summits such as Business of Fashion’s 500 Symposium and Adweek’s Women Trailblazer Summit. And with her role as immigration attorney Maribel Suarez on “The L Word: Generation Q,” Mercado is bringing awareness and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community to the forefront as well. “I feel that in my heart representation matters a lot, and it can assure that our stories are being heard through people who live it on a daily basis,” she says. —IL

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Chaya Milchtein

As an automotive educator, Chaya Milchtein finds the most rewarding aspect of her work to be helping women and queer folks take charge of their four-wheel vehicles. “When I teach the complicated subject of cars to people and they feel empowered because of it, I feel like all the hard work is worth it,” she tells GO. It’s all part of the mission of her company Mechanic Shop Femme, an online empowerment and education platform that offers automotive classes as well as coaching and consulting on all things car-related, from quick-fixes to mechanic intervention. She offers her services on a sliding scale to accommodate all budgets while also earning a fair wage. “I’m a strong believer in community support and mutual aid,” Milchtein says. “There are no wealth tests or anything like that; the sliding scale is based on people self-designating. I strongly believe that all people are inherently good and honest.” Milchtein further shakes up notions of the typical automotive expert by proudly bringing the “femme” into Mechanic Shop Femme — her website includes articles and resources on lifestyle and plus-size fashion in addition to automotive expertise. But it’s really cars that take center stage — or rather, the power that cars afford — which Milchtein wants to give more people access to. “Without a quality, properly running car, job options in most cities are limited,” she says. “Working requires more time and energy to get to if you don’t have a car [and] limits the hours you can work and the amount of jobs you can work at the same time.” —RK

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Vivienne Ming

Vivienne Ming is a theoretical neuroscience, entrepreneur, author, mother, and wife. She co-founded Socos Labs — her fifth company — with her wife, Dr. Norma Ming, as a “mad science incubator” dedicated to providing solutions for some of the world’s modern and pressing issues. While it may not be easy work, Ming says that exploring how everyone from educators to policymakers can change the outcomes of the lives they touch is rewarding. “These are messy, complex human problems: inclusion, health, inequality,” Ming says. “It’s immensely rewarding to both discover a new understanding that might change a life and then share stories of our adventures in mad science to change so many more.” Ming’s career extends outside of Socos Lab and encompasses a variety of scientific fields, from cybernetics to neurodiversity. Independently, she uses AI systems to research and create solutions for health issues like diabetes and to predict manic episodes in those with bipolar disorder — research that allows her to use her knowledge for the greater good. “I have learned one single truth: If you want to lead an amazing life, give it to someone else,” she says. “Across all of these domains, my only interest is, ‘Are we better people in the end?’ Understanding how our lives, brains, and biology interact to make us different should be a celebration rather than a diagnosis.” —GP

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Melanie Morgan

“When we are constantly considering other people and checking our own privilege, that is when we are building others up,” says nurse Melanie Morgan. “We have made great strides, but let’s keep it going by applying it to all aspects of our lives and remembering all the different races, genders, abilities, ages, religion, legal statuses, body types, and more that make up this community.” As a Registered Nurse in both Employee Health and a Gastrointestinal Surgical Stepdown for a major New York health system, Morgan is working to provide patient-centered care that listens to and uplifts everyone’s voice, regardless of background. She’s currently operating as a frontline worker during the Coronavirus pandemic — a “unique experience,” as she calls it — and revels in the situation’s silver lining: that she gets to use creative and critical thinking to engage with the different people she works with, both as patients and as coworkers. “Capitalism may limit my time and resources, but I still take great pride in being able to bring my passion for social justice to my work,” she says. “Advocating for my patients and ensuring they have the best possible experience based on their needs is my favorite part of being a nurse.” When not working the typical 9-5 p.m. shift or overnight overtime, Morgan kicks butt as a member of Gotham Girls Roller Derby, where she skates with her team Bronx Gridlock. —IL

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Jasika Nicole

How has being out affected Jasika Nicole’s career? “I truly don’t know,” she tells GO. “It’s the same as asking me how being black has affected my work — it’s hard to tell because I haven’t ever been anything else, so I haven’t experienced anything else.” As an actress, she recognizes that more roles go to cisgender, straight white women, but Nicole also understands how her identity as a biracial queer woman has afforded her privileges others don’t get, considering she is cisgender, light-skinned, and able-bodied. “Yes, I have been discriminated against because of my race and my sexuality, but I have no right to complain about these things if I can’t also recognize the advantages I have had which have allowed me to forge a successful career in film and TV,” she tells GO. And Nicole has found success, landing roles in high-profile TV shows like “Fringe” and “The Good Doctor.” She’s also voiced the protagonist Keisha in the hit podcast “Alice Isn’t Dead”, which chronicles a truck driver’s surrealist search for her missing wife. The most rewarding aspect of her career, Nicole says, is that she is always learning and being challenged. “As an actor, I can only portray a character through the lens of my own history and experience, and since our lives and world are ever-evolving, it means that my perspective is, too. I could play the same character at various moments in my life and the performance would be different every single time.” —RK

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Phyll Opoku-Gyimah

In 2016, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah was offered an MBE from Queen Elizabeth – she turned the English royal down. She did it in protest of the United Kingdom’s imperialist legacy across the world, and in that moment, she became widely known as Lady Phyll. A leader in LGBTQ+ activism in the UK, Lady Phyll is the executive director and co-founder of UK Black Pride, Europe’s largest celebration for LGBTQ+ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American, and Middle Eastern descent. “Across the world, our LGBTQ siblings face unbelievable violence and persecution for wanting to live as themselves,” she says. “It is our responsibility to ensure we are fighting alongside our siblings, speaking truth to power, and ensuring that our movements are intersectional, radical, and rooted in feminist practise.” Appointed the Executive Director of Kaleidoscope Trust in 2019, Opoku-Gyimah is also the first Black woman to lead a UK-based international LGBTQ+ charity. “As a Black African lesbian, mother, warrior woman, lover and friend, I feel compelled to do the work I do,” Opoku-Gyimah tells GO. “My lived experience, that of my daughter’s, mother’s and grandmother’s means I understand intimately what we’re fighting against. I also understand the radical potential of our lives because I have experienced first hand the power of Black women coming together and fighting for the world we deserve to live in.” —GP

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Chloe Orkin

World-renowned HIV researcher Chloe Orkin chose her career path after losing her friend Steven to the virus in medical school. Orkin has since committed herself to help others with HIV have a different experience. She is currently a professor of HIV medicine at Barts Health NHS Trust in London and previously served as the Chair of the British HIV Association, where she provided medical evidence to challenge discriminatory laws against people living with HIV. She was also the lead researcher on a trial of the first-ever monthly injectable HIV drug and fronted the “Going Viral” HIV testing campaign. Currently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Orkin has switched her focus to coordinating the research of the pandemic-causing illness at the five hospitals of Barts Health NHS Trust. Aside from her work with viruses, Orkin is vice president of the Medical Women’s Federation, where she fights to achieve gender equality in medicine — something she’s seen a major lack of in the industry. “Language [in medicine] is important, and it is often heteronormative and used to entrench the patriarchy,” Orkin tells GO. “We can change that by using different words that empower women and by being visible. I have short blue hair and believe that a doctor can look like anything — not limited to a man in a suit.” —IL

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Julie Peri

Diversity may not be a word that springs to mind when one thinks of construction work, but while the industry is still dominated by cisgender males, builder Julie Peri is working to change that. In 2018, Peri founded Dykes With Drills, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower people with the tools and skills to build. The San Francisco-based organization, which recently opened a location in Chicago, offers introductory and skill-building workshops, including classes in woodworking, welding, and auto mechanics. “The favorite part of my job is when someone goes home from a workshop and builds a project they have been waiting for years to complete,” says Peri, a former construction supervisor with Habitat for Humanity. The process Peri facilitates is collaborative, positive, creative, and takes place in an environment where making mistakes is something to learn from rather than be shamed by. “The most important thing for us to do is to go out into our community and make ourselves, and what we have to contribute, known,” she says. “There are still people who hide who they really are, and it’s our job to create a world where no one has to hide.” —RK

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Nancy Petty

While many in the LGBTQ+ community have felt isolated or rejected by organized religion, Reverend Dr. Nancy Petty of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church is certain that God’s love is unconditional. “I am passionate about the message to the LGBTQIA+ community that God loves us just as we are with no need to be any different,” she tells GO. “God created us and the world with great diversity, and we honor God most when we fully live into being the person God created us to be.” It’s a message of inclusion that Reverend Petty brings to her ministry at Pullen in North Carolina, where she has served since 1992 — the same year that Pullen was expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention for the acceptance of LGBTQ+ Christians. In addition to speaking out for gay rights and inclusion, Reverend Petty is also an advocate for interfaith dialogue with Raleigh’s Muslim Community and has been an active voice in North Carolina’s “Moral Mondays,” AKA progressive protests against the state’s increasingly conservative legislation. She received the Minister of the Year Award from the North Carolina NAACP in 2014 and was named one of nine ministers to watch by the Center for American Progress in September 2019. The foundations for her success, she tells GO, are due to the trust, honesty, and authenticity she brings to any relationship. “We are successful in life when we live our most authentic life,” she says. “Being an out pastor has opened up opportunities for me that I could have never dreamed of. As I have shared my story, I have met some of the most incredible and courageous people in the world. It has not always been easy, but every step of the journey has been a blessing — even the hard parts.” —RK

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Sarah Prager

Author Sarah Prager made a splash with her first book, “Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed The World.” Aimed at teens and young readers, her debut — which chronicles influential LGBTQ+ persons throughout history — became a critics’ darling and favorite of readers and library associations. Her next book, “Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ People Who Made History” continues the story of LGBTQ history-makers and was released by HarperCollins on May 26. Not only a queer history writer, she is also the creator of Quist, a free mobile app that offers content relating to LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS history. “It’s hard to imagine something more rewarding than helping to open the minds of young people, both queer and non-queer, to the rich and diverse heritage of our community,” she tells GO. “Youth are often brimming with excitement to find role models they connect with from history, and it can completely change their life path once they discover what’s possible for them.” She’s a frequent speaker on queer history to audiences across the globe and has presented at Harvard Business School, Twitter Headquarters in San Francisco, and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City — among other venues. As a writer and advocate for queer history, being out is a necessary part of Pager’s career. “I’ve created a job for myself where being out is almost required, and I know I’m very privileged to have that,” she says. “Discovering my own identify and how that fits into a community of queer ancestors is what led me to this career, and being out in my career goes hand in hand with that.” —RK

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Austin Quinn-Davidson

Anchorage Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson decided to go to law school when she realized that lawmakers have the “power to lift up those who are disadvantaged (or not) and power to shape the future of our communities.” Quinn-Davidson grew up in a small, rural town in a low-income family, but in law school, she realized most of her fellow students were from wealthy backgrounds — which shaped their experiences and priorities. She came to understand that if members of affluent backgrounds are responsible for creating laws that impact everyone, the outcome is not likely to reflect the reality of the broader community. “We need diverse representation in elected office so that all of our backgrounds and experiences are honored,” she says. “I’m proud to serve as an elected official, and especially proud to bring another perspective to the table.” Now, in her position with the Anchorage assembly, Quinn-Davidson strives to better serve vulnerable local communities. Since taking office in 2018, the assemblywoman has supported Native partners in their work to better identify murdered, missing indigenous women (MMIW) as well as Anchorage’s Climate Action Plan — the strongest climate change plan in Alaska. When an earthquake struck, Quinn-Davidson worked with Alaska’s federal delegation to change FEMA guidelines, making more homeowners eligible for disaster relief. She is committed to drug and alcohol reforms to better support her community, co-sponsoring a city-wide alcohol sales tax that will generate revenue to fund social programs related to public safety, homelessness, and Pre-K programs for Title 1 schools. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is the ability to make positive change that affects my community in a tangible way,” Quinn-Davidson says. “I love that I get to incorporate a vision for the future into what I do every day.” —IL

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Cathy Renna

A veteran in the communications industry, Cathy Renna is no stranger to shaping major issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. During her time working with GLAAD as the National News Media Director, Renna executed crisis and strategic communications for momentous events like the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the beating death of Matthew Shepard. She co-founded Renna Communications, a queer public relations firm, and founded Target Cue, an LGBTQ+-focused full-service communications and public relations firm where she currently works as Senior Vice President and Managing Partner. Before working at GLAAD, Renna volunteered for the organization, and she credits that experience with showing her that she could find a comfortable niche doing public relations about media and culture as an out lesbian. Never did Renna think that the intersections of her identity and interest would become a job, let alone that she would start her own company. “I have been fortunate to find myself at the center of many historic LGBTQ+ community issues and events — from Ellen coming out to last year’s WorldPride | Stonewall 50 events — and I feel grateful and humbled at the same time to play a role in making the world a better place for the queer community,” she tells GO. Renna most recently worked with NYC Pride to coordinate coverage for WorldPride | Stonewall 50, and she serves as Interim Communications Director for the National LGBTQ Task Force. While she loves the work she does, Renna finds the most rewarding aspect of her position is getting to work with amazing, diverse LGBTQ+ people and help share their stories. “Knowing those stories make a difference, change hearts and minds, and help educate the public about the reality of LGBTQ+ lives is gratifying and humbling,” she says. —IL

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Jazzmyne Robbins

Model, Instagram star, and Libra Jazzmyne Robbins picked her career wisely. “I wanted to be a representation for fat Black lesbians who love to switch up their style!” she tells GO. When she began her internship at BuzzFeed, “There were no personalities that I really saw myself represented by, so I took advantage of that. I made sure that whenever I was on screen, I was in a different lipstick, or a dress this time and street style the next time! I wanted to show diversity in what being a lesbian was.” Now, whether crushing the runway at New York Fashion Week or rocking lingerie from Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty line on social media, Robbins is showing the world just how much style she has. Her vibrant, colorful, and fun fashion — along with her celebration of body positivity — have made her one of Instagram’s brightest stars, not to mention a pop-cultural activist and inspiration to all those who see themselves as “different.” Although she knows how easy it is to compare ourselves to others, she’s embraced the philosophy that having confidence in and loving oneself isn’t about competing. “The most important part of understanding your self-love journey is not to compare but to remember to support each other,” she says. “We all have different struggles, but supporting each other through them is what will let each and every one of us learn and grow. By doing this, we can all be on the path to self-love!” —RK

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Lo Roberts

Lo Roberts first became involved with Pride Houston after an ex of hers forced her to volunteer, which led to her discovering a knack for organizing. After falling in love with the position, Roberts committed herself to work with the organization in an attempt to learn about the inner-workings and fill in any gaps in representation. She also made it her mission to support and serve in a number of capacities, including Parade Committee co-chair, Volunteer Committee chair, and special events director. Now, as the President of Pride Houston — and the first woman of color to hold that title — Roberts hopes to emphasize Houston’s diversity and blend of cultures in the Pride celebration and in general support for the community. “When I first became involved with the organization, there were not too many people that looked like me,” Roberts tells GO. “Prides and queer organizations as a whole in the south were run mainly by presenting cis white gay men.” Inspired and driven by the quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Roberts fights daily for both local change through policy and reform and international impact through her positions on the board of Pride’s International and National organizations (Interpride and United States Association of Prides). And during a time when the Black queer and trans community has been so visibly losing members to phobia and police violence, Roberts knows now is the time to mobilize and uplift. “I am a strong believer that the time is now and that our LGBTQIA brothers, sisters, and siblings must all rise to the occasion,” Roberts tells GO. “If we could do it once and enlist drastic change, we can definitely do it again!” —IL

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Mj Rodriguez

“When I was little all I could think about was just being on some kind of stage, whether it be on a live stage, whether it be on a set stage,” actress Mj Rodriguez tells Variety. “It didn’t matter. I just wanted to try to see if I could make myself the person that I always wanted to be, to be truly comfortable in the skin that I was in.” Growing up, Rodriguez found that space in the ballroom community, joining her found family and ballroom house at 14. In this space, she was able to feel comfortable in her body and not afraid of being judged. Now, Rodriguez has once again found that community on FX’s “Pose,” which follows the ballroom scene during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in late-1980s/early-1990s New York City. As Blanca, the mother of House of Evangelista, Rodriguez is the caregiver and supporter of a number of LGBTQ+ teenagers and young adults who — although they’re fictional — are following in many of the actress’ real footsteps. As a trans woman of color, Rodriguez told the Times that she’s always lived “by simply existing” and that nothing’s changed now that she’s representing these communities on TV. “‘Pose’” has put a lot of trans women of color on the map, and shown that we have much more to our lives than just the stigma,” Rodriguez says in an interview with the New York Times. “It shows that we have chapters to our lives. We’ve always known this about ourselves, but a lot of people haven’t.” —IL

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Cloe Shasha

Cloe Shasha is one of a small handful of curators behind all of your favorite TED Talks. As the Speaker Development Curator, she works to research, curate, and host speakers for the influential lecture-giving and story-telling platform. In essence, Shasha says, her role has her taking deep dives into speakers’ research to help them craft an 18-minute-or-less talk that gets across information with impact. “I get to learn about people’s ideas and philosophies and help them share their message with millions of people around the world through our global platform,” says Shasha. And while she works with a lot of people and crafts many talks, she says the most rewarding aspect of her job is “having the opportunity to leverage queer and other marginalized voices when we invite them to speak at TED.” As a queer woman herself, Shasha says being out is a privilege that allows her to be her full and authentic self in the workplace every day. “So much of my job involves communicating with other humans in a way that brings out their most authentic selves for the stage,” Shasha tells GO. “If I can be fully who I am as a queer femme Arab Jewish New Yorker, I am better at what I do.” Shasha currently lives in New York with her partner and enjoys “writing, dancing, music, neuroscience, the outdoors, hot sauce, throwing dinner parties, and building queer community.” —GP

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Melissa Sklarz

For Melissa Sklarz, becoming the first transgender person elected to office in New York State marked the beginning of a long and prosperous career as a political activist. Her success as an Elected Judicial Delegate in the 66th Assembly District is even more remarkable considering that she’d entered the political arena not that long after coming out as trans at the end of a long and rocky journey. “Until that point, I was tortured trying to maintain a life that had no meaning,” Sklarz tells GO about her transition. “I had no relationships and no esteem as a person. Transitioning was terrifying, but I’d already lost everything due to substance abuse. Learning to be authentic opened pathways to unimagined journeys of encouragement and joy.” Those journeys have taken her further into community organization and political activism. Since her election in 1999, she has served on numerous Democratic and LGBTQ+-related committees, including the Trans United Fund Political Action Committee and the Stonewall Democrats of New York City. She’s been a member of the Trans United for Obama (2012) and Hillary (2016); has served as the North East Regional Chair for the National Democratic Committee LGBT Advisory Committee; and, in 2016, was an Electoral College Member and Delegate for Hillary Clinton. Sklarz now works as a staff member at SAGE, as an advocate for LGBTQ+ elders. Her work, she says, “is to add visibility and support for LGBT elders. If we are lucky, we will get older, and if so, then I hope SAGE will be there for all of us.” —RK

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Megan Stalter

New York-based actress, writer, and comedian Megan Stalter came out to her mom as bisexual at 25 years old in a text. “I was so nervous because she comes from a pretty religious background,” she says. But Stalter’s mom was incredibly supportive of her sexuality, and it has since become a part of the comedy she does on-stage, in-ear, and on-screen. She currently hosts “Confronting Demons,” a twice-weekly podcast that looks at the host’s inner-monsters as well as guests’, and voices multiple characters in “Tooning Out The News,” Stephen Colbert’s animated series about current events. Last year, she was a writer and performer for National Lampoon’s “Radio Hour.” Regardless of what comedy project she’s taking on, though, Stalter is so happy to be able to create something that inspires community and creates the opportunity for interaction with fans. “I think the most rewarding aspect of doing comedy is feeling connected to so many people,” Stalter says. “It feels like the same people keep coming back, so it sort of feels like a secret club that everyone is invited too — and I love that.” Stalter has been named one of this year’s up-and-coming comic to watch by Vulture and was recently featured in The New York Times. —IL

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Kiara St. James

Kiara St. James recognizes that being out — although liberating — isn’t easy. “It hasn’t always been a pleasant journey for me, because for years it made me a target,” she tells GO. “[However,] being thrown into the flames and coming out on the other end has made me realize my purpose, and that is to pour knowledge and love into all the communities I am part of.” She’s living her purpose as the founder and current executive director of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG), a trans-led nonprofit organization that advocates rights and opportunities for transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming individuals. Her efforts, along with those of her fellow advocates, led to the New York State conversion therapy ban and the 2019 passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act — both were legislation Kiara had promoted for nearly 20 years. Although her aim is to create a positive, safe, and inclusive space for transgender and non-conforming people, she knows more needs to be done thanks to her own struggle with gender identity. “Even today, I have to decide when and where it is safe to come out as a Trans black woman,” she tells GO. But still, she persists, to help us imagine a better world for all persons, regardless of their identity. “We have a duty to dismantle [the system] and create it in our own image.” Presently, as the world faces its greatest medical crisis in over a century, Kiara is hard at work on a Covid-19 relief fund for transgender and non-conforming individuals. —RK

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Meredith Talusan

“It’s unclear to me to what extent I would be more or less successful in the eyes of the world if I weren’t out, having been discriminated against because of my openness but also offered opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” award-winning journalist Meredith Talusan tells GO. “But in my own mind, I would never consider myself successful if I weren’t out, because I would be disappointed in myself.” By both personal and professional measures, Talusan is a success. Her latest publication is “Fairest,” is a memoir that chronicles her experience as a Filipino-American trans woman with albinism. Talusan’s writing can also be seen in some of the industry’s biggest names, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, VICE, and The Guardian. She is the founding executive editor, and current contributing editor, of Condé Nast’s LGBTQ+ platform them. She served as lead investigator for the 2017 report, “Unerased: Counting Transgender Lives,” which received a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism and the Al Neuharth Award for Innovation in Investigative Journalism from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. And she did it all while being true to herself. “For me, coming out has been an ongoing and evolving process, one whose dimensions keep shifting as different aspects of my gender and sexuality have shifted,” she says. “But one thing I know for sure is that having inhabited the world in such a range of identities — gay, trans, non-binary, bisexual — has given me experiences and perspectives that imbue my life with unique purpose, and for that I’m thankful.”—RK

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Anjali Taneja

These days, with soaring medical costs and a lack of accessible treatment to many segments of the population, the bridge between “healthcare” and “healing” may seem infinitely wide, though, not for Dr. Anjali Taneja, the Executive and Medical Director of Casa de Salud, a nonprofit care facility that combines primary care models with holistic treatments. “I see my work as bridgework between healers and healthcare providers, and in building creative, independent models of community care and healing,” she tells GO. “I am passionate about the right to health and about the potential for healthcare to build power with communities.” The Albuquerque-based Casa de Salud is one such community, offering a diverse range of treatments including care for transgender persons, opioid addiction, and counseling along with services like acupuncture, reiki massage, and indigenous healing circles. But Taneja’s work goes beyond Casa de Salud, which she joined in 2015; she also works as an emergency room physician in a rural hospital in the Navajo Nation, providing services to indigenous communities. In her line of work, where progress can be difficult to come by, being open about who she is has been invaluable. “Being out has added an additional layer of resilience and resolve to the work that I do, building innovative health care systems in a traditionally more conservative (and white) landscape of health leaders,” she says. “It has also been a connecting point for patients I treat at Casa de Salud. Seeing their physician is ‘out’ has strengthened their trust in the clinic.” Among her distinctions, she is a Clinical Scholar with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a leadership program focused on health equity and community development. —RK

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Jamie Thrower

“The most rewarding part of my work is being able to share and celebrate the love stories of my community,” Jamie Thrower tells GO. “To me, it feels like I’m not only recording personal family history for couples and families and even individuals, but our community’s history as well.” When Thrower opened Studio XIII, now located in Portland, Oregon, she did so with the queer community in mind. The studio caters exclusively to the LGBTQ+ community, creating visibility and space in traditionally heteronormative territory like the wedding industry. The website is a montage of queer weddings, family portraits, and expressions of love both celebratory and intimate — and Thrower wouldn’t have it any other way. “When someone comes back to me and really feels like they are reflected in my work and they are seen and affirmed by my photos, it’s the biggest compliment I can receive,” she says. “I feel honored every day that I get to work with my own community and serve them in this way.” Her work, which has been featured in such diverse publications as Buzzfeed, Brides Magazine, HuffPost, and Martha Stewart Weddings, is bringing LGBTQ+ life and love to the mainstream. For someone who describes her own coming out process as “slow and timid and scary,” visibility is an important step toward self-realization. “To be visible and vulnerable and share my own story within my business and create a business dedicated to my community feels so empowering to me,” she tells GO. “I hope that through sharing my own experience as a Queer femme, I give folks the encouragement to be out and share their own stories — and that if I’m lucky enough to photograph them, that they will feel truly seen by another member of their community.” —RK

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Rachel Timoner

Rabbi Rachel Timoner’s decision to become a rabbi was inspired by her commitment to social justice. While working with LGBTQ+ youth in San Francisco, she got her “foundational ideas about our limitless potential to contribute our gifts to the world and to transform our societies to be characterized by justice, hope, freedom, and equality,” she tells GO. “I believe in us. And in the process of coming to believe in us, I started to believe in G-d, too. I started to tap into my spirituality and realize that spiritual practice in the context of community — in other words, religion — is necessary for my well-being.” Timoner is currently the Senior Rabbi at the Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where she carries out her commitment to effecting positive social change. She has initiated weekly classes, rabbinic conversations, and study series on issues such as antisemitism, systemic racism, and the refugee experience. She launched a Dismantling Racism Team as part of successful state-wide campaigns for criminal justice reform, including raising the age of criminal responsibility. She is also co-founder, along with City Councilmember Brad Lander, of #GetOrganizedBK, a grassroots coalition of groups that fight for positive social change around issues such as racial justice, climate change, and voter outreach. Reaching out speaks to what Timoner loves most about her job. “The most rewarding aspect of my work as a rabbi is that it gives me endless opportunities to love people,” she says. “I get to comfort and guide people through difficult times. I get to inspire people and help them believe in their ability to change the world. All of these are ways of loving people.” —RK

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Jacqueline Toboni

Jacqueline Toboni is starting queer drama across LA and making real-life women swoon as Finley, Alice’s assistant on Showtime’s “The L Word: Generation Q.” But while she’s happy to play a queer leading lady now, being out in the entertainment industry wasn’t always the plan. Concerned about losing job opportunities due to her sexuality, Toboni tentatively came out anyway due to the queer visibility she brings — and found that it opened more doors than it closed. “Initially, I came out because I felt it was important for LGBTQ+ folks to see themselves represented on and off-screen,” she says. “What I didn’t realize is how many opportunities would come from it. I feel very fortunate to have met writers and creators that champion LGBTQ+ storylines.” In real life, the actress is doing more than fetching coffee for a talk show host. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Toboni also studied at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, The Movement Theatre in New York, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London, and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT). Toboni has also appeared on-screen in the anthology series “Easy,” NBC’s “Grimm,” and Marja-Lewis Ryan’s “Liked,” among a number of other productions. On-stage, Toboni acted in “Three Sisters” and “Bugaboo And The Silent One.” On “Generation Q,” though, Toboni has found more than just a new role; she’s found a team that constantly works to represent voices that are often forgotten during every step of the television process. “I am constantly learning from my the writers, my fellow castmates, and the entire crew,” Toboni says. “I have never felt more support in my career, and I’m incredibly grateful.” —IL

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Dani Tomko

Healthcare provider and LGBTQ+ leader in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) space Dani Tomko graduated from Penn State with a degree in biology before receiving her doctorate in Pharmacy with an expertise in Oncology and Medical Aesthetics from Temple University. With years of experience under her belt, Tomko is now the Oncology Senior Medical Science Liaison at AbbVie, a research-driven biopharmaceutical company that develops new approaches to today’s health issues. Tomko is also the company’s current LGBTQ ERG Leader, working to keep a robust and inclusive environment for patients and employees alike. Being out is a relatively new reality for Tomko. Noticing that many co-workers struggle to be out at work because they believe conformity is critical to their career advancement, Tomko worried that her delay in coming out may have contributed to that belief. She knew the only way forward was to be out — and proudly. “At some juncture, the only ethical option was to move forward in finding practical ways to weaponize my privilege and pave the way for those who are more marginalized,” she says. Now, Tomko challenges herself — both in her professional role and as an individual — to seize these visible opportunities to claim and use her voice. It’s not an easy process, and she often deals with embracing her own identity despite internal fears and phobias, but Tomko is committed to creating space for everyone. “While striving to find a cure for cancer is central to my job as an oncology expert, removing my mask; diagnosing the malignity in our culture; and working with my team to cultivate a more equal, diverse, and inclusive environment is central to my work,” she says. “I’d even deem it essential.” —IL

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Lisa Turner

Since becoming the national political director of LPAC, the country’s leading organization supporting women LGBTQ+ political candidates, Lisa Turner’s initiatives have helped elect powerhouses like Tammy Baldwin, Kyrsten Sinema, and Lori Lightfoot to office. For Turner, accomplishments like these are why she got into politics. “I learned at an early age that civic and political activism can have a lasting impact in helping improve people’s lives,” she tells GO. “My work over the years in electing good people to office to working on women’s LGBTQ+ and social justice issues has been extremely personal and very meaningful for me. I work every day to live up to the examples my family set and to give back where I can to those most in need.” Turner, who came to the directorship in 2018, has spent most of her career in politics. She served as an advisor and strategist for Adam Ebbin, the first openly LGBTQ+ Virginia legislator; was the first political director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC); and was an Obama appointee to the USDA and the FDA. Although she entered politics thirty years ago, she tells GO that she’s been out her entire career — and with positive results. “As my career took off, I found that my presence as an out woman opened doors for me that may not have otherwise been available,” she says. “I am a passionate and visionary leader known for my innovative work in achieving LGBTQ+ equality in the political arena. Luckily for me, my success and achievements have been directly proportional to the opportunities offered to me by other out-LGBTQ women pioneers over the years.” Now at LPAC, she can help other LGBTQ+ women do the same. —RK

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Candida Valentina

“Multifaceted” is how you might describe Candida Valentina, thanks to the skills and talents she has acquired over her career. Valentina is an actress, model, and burlesque dancer, but she’s also the founder-producer of Queerly Beloved Revue, a bicoastal artist collective. As an artist herself, she prides herself most in community-building through performance. “When I first started to perform, it was just to have a creative outlet for myself,” Valentina tells GO. “That led me to producing shows to shed light on our local queer entertainers, [and] that quickly grew to working hand in hand with local venues to create more safe spaces within our community.” And being heavily involved in the LGBTQ+ community is especially important to Valentina, as she uses her platform to help push unity, diversity, and acceptance for queer individuals everywhere — even within the community itself. “I think that our community as a whole should continue to love with open minds, hearts, and arms,” says Valentina. “We all experience enough bullshit from outside of our community, we shouldn’t have to experience it in our community.” Queerly Beloved Revue hosts a wide range of performances across the country including (but not limited to) Drag, Burlesque, and Spoken Word, and Valentina leads her troupe with a motto about a few things we could use a little more of these days: “I.D.E.E.A.S: Inclusivity, Diversity, Entertainment, Education, and Slaying.” —GP

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Tillie Walden

Tillie Walden is a queer cartoonist and illustrator of award-winning graphic novels, including “Are You Listening?,” her most recent story about two women who meet and share intimate, emotional stories, as well as the greater idea of human connection. Typically consisting of intricate linework exploding with color, Walden’s art is delicate and vibrant at once, and her work can be found on projects other than novels, such as “The Cosmic Spirit Tarot Deck,” her original and hand-painted tarot deck available in October. As an LGBTQ+ artist, she says her work is inherently queer because of her own identity and that anything she creates is an important queer narrative — regardless if it’s a comic about cats or one about her own coming out. “I don’t believe my stories have to always be full of queer content,” she says. “They’re all being told in my gay voice, so they are all meaningful.” What draws Walden to an opportunity isn’t necessarily something comfortable, though; to her, being able to expand and grow her abilities to tackle new projects is what’s most exciting in her career. “The most rewarding aspect of my work is simply proving to myself again and again that I am capable,” she says. “There are always bumps in the road and always moments where I simply want to give up or don’t feel good enough, but I have always found my way out.” —GP

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Alice Wu

Currently receiving critical acclaim for her new Netflix film, “The Half of It,” Alice Wu is bringing queer Asian stories to light. Wu wrote, directed, and produced this coming-of-age story about an intelligent and introverted student, Ellie Chu, who is hired by a student football player to write love letters and texts to his crush. The only problem? Ellie is secretly in love with the same girl. Comedy, tragedy, and confusion ensue in this modern-day take on the classic story of “Cyrano,” and it dives into not just queerness, but love and friendship as well. The script was a 2018 selection for the Black List, an annual survey of Hollywood executives’ favorite unproduced screenplays. Wu first garnered attention and praise from her debut film “Saving Face,” which won multiple festival accolades and was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award and earned the director a Gotham Independent Film Award nomination. “I make these very personal films, so it’s always surprising and gratifying to find out how many other people relate — folks who might otherwise seem nothing like me! — on such a personal level,” she tells GO. “[It] makes me feel a little less lonely. Turns out, everyone has a little Asian lesbian nerd within them! But seriously, nothing is better than when someone comes up to me to tell me about their lives and how one of my films might have opened something up for them — nothing.” —GP

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Gretchen Wylder

As the creator, writer, and star of the award-winning queer web series, “These Thems,” Gretchen Wylder knows the key to success is laughter. “Laughter is universal, and it allows people to let their guards down and intake new information in a safe and hopeful way,” she tells GO. “I hope that, by spreading awareness of our community through a comedy, people tune in for the jokes and leave learning something they otherwise wouldn’t have known.” That is the secret ingredient to what makes the series — and Gretchen — so special. She is a trained theater actor who has performed in numerous Off-Broadway, regional, and international productions; but it was her very own project, “These Thems,” that skyrocketed her career and impact. Featured in Outfest LA, Inside Out Toronto, and NewFest NYC, the show has won critical acclaim and a dedicated fanbase. But the most rewarding part of her work, she says, is seeing the positive change “These Thems” brings. “Fans have come out as nonbinary after seeing positive examples of coming out on the show,” says Wylder. “Trans youth have messaged me saying that the show gave them hope during dark times. Lesbians have reached out saying ‘I’m Gretchen! I came out when I was in my 30s!’ Even cis/het allies have messaged, grateful for the show and its lens of visibility and educational elements. I feel honored that I was able to bring this show into existence.” —GP

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