This past June, I read an article in The New York Times by Amanda Duarte. Near the end of the article, Duarte wrote, “The young are leading us, and I am not one bit mad about it.” The statement alluded to political topics, but Duarte’s piece wasn’t in the Times’s Politics section. It was a sharp and lively review of the season 10 finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Duarte was talking about Aquaria, the season’s 22-year-old winner. Aquaria is included in this year’s Out100, and Duarte’s quote about youth stuck with me as I curated our portfolio, more than half of which is made up of honorees under age 35. Not only did Duarte’s piece signify how deeply queerness has penetrated the mainstream (thanks in part to this year’s Media Pioneers and Drag Race masterminds Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey), it celebrated the fact that youth, particularly queer youth, are shaping the way we live now.
Young queer people embody the progress no one can stop. They are inflexibly done with systemic ugliness and toxic traditions. Unaccepting of anything that centers around a single, tired narrative, they are forcing change in the way society views normalcy, uses pronouns, embraces intersectionality, and creates media. They are heroes, like our Newsmaker of the Year, Emma González, who, alongside her tragedy-stricken classmates, decided she was sick of waiting for someone else to prevent yet more students from being murdered at school. Also in this Out100, we have Jaboukie Young-White, a gay, black, breakout comedian who fuels his work with the immediacy of his own experience; Hayley Kiyoko, an Asian-American lesbian pop star whose demand to be herself has only amplified her success; Adam Eli, an indefatigable activist who places his Judaism front-and-center with his queerness; and Josie Totah, a 17-year-old trans actress of Palestinian and Lebanese descent who challenges the notion of when’s “too soon” for someone to assume their identity.
And yet, revolutions rarely come without paved roads, and while this new generation is defiantly molding what our future will look like, they and we would be unwise not to celebrate those who made modern queerness possible. This Out100 is also richly populated by more seasoned LGBTQ people — survivors who’ve lived through times when holding your lover’s hand in public was unthinkable, and when holding your lover’s hand for the last time was terribly common. These are folks who can pass on hard-won tools for resilience, like Billy Porter, our recipient of Performance of the Year, a man whose personal past and professional discrimination — against his skin color, sexual orientation, or both — didn’t stop him from crafting some of the most iconic characters in entertainment. In his company is our Hero of the Year, Cynthia Nixon, an actor-turned-politician whose run for New York Governor brought unprecedented queer visibility to a whole new arena; Dr. Renée Richards, an 84-year-old (still practicing) ophthalmologist who underwent gender confirmation surgery in the 1970s before competing in the U.S. Open; Hannah Gadsby, a stunningly candid Tasmanian lesbian who upended all we know about comedy with one earthshaking Netflix special; and Mickalene Thomas, a black female artist whose distinct, astounding body of work has been firmly focused on celebrating the beauty of women of color.
When shaping this portfolio, we encouraged a discourse between generations, asking them what they could learn from each other, as even within our community, teachability is our strongest weapon against ignorance. The responses are profound and enlightening, and they’ve created a through line that snakes its way through these pages and complements the breathtaking photography by Martin Schoeller, an artist with the energy, enthusiasm, and wide-minded curiosity of an untainted child. Schoeller’s sensibilities were essential, as this is also the most diverse Out100 to ever go to press. That is not just an intentional choice; that is a necessary reflection. Because if we look at our current culture, and our current community, we do not see one color, one gender identity, one size, one shape, one sexual orientation, or one age. We see an exhilarating spectrum of all of the above, and it is the responsibility and privilege of Out to rejoice in that.
The key hope of mine, and of my devoted team members like Coco Romack, Alexander Kacala, David Gray, Tirzah Brott, Mikelle Street, Michael Cook, Grant Woolhead, Alex Blynn, and Trey Strange is that no matter who you are or how you identify within our community, you will see some part of yourself and your experience reflected in this portfolio. And if you do, then we have done our job well.
Photography by Martin Schoeller