It's been a hard year for LGBTQ+ nightlife, as well as the DJs, promoters, performers, and bartenders who keep its wheels turning. But as business begins resuming, it is these folks who are leading the way in bringing joy and revelry back to the queer community.
Below, see a list of some of the top movers and shakers who are bringing the nightlife back to life.
Aquaria, Drag Performer, New York, NY
Aquaria shot from Instagram popularity to drag superstardom when she won season 10 of RuPaul's Drag Race. Since then, she's done everything from modeling to releasing a makeup palette with NYX Cosmetics to performing at Rihanna's Savage X Fenty Beauty Fashion Show. During the pandemic, Aquaria took part in Drive N' Drag, a traveling drive-in drag showcase that featured other drag talent from RPDR. She was also ranked among New York magazine's "most powerful drag queens in America" in 2019.
Briden Schueren is a trans artist with an eye for color and a penchant for exploring ideas of gender and masculinity through his work. A close friend of Columbus's West Family, Schueren can often be found supporting the local LGBTQ+ scene. He also serves as a board member for Stonewall Columbus, which coordinates the city's Pride celebration. His drawing workshop, Redrawing Masculinity, is an inclusive course for people of all identities hoping to feel comfortable building their artistic skills and learning to express themselves.
DiDa Ritz, Drag Performer, Detroit, MI/Chicago, IL
Dida Ritz was a contestant on season 4 of RuPaul's Drag Race who quickly became known for her electrifying lip-sync performances. Since being on the show, she's taken those performances across the country, ultimately winding up in Chicago. There, she has continued to host events for the LGBTQ+ community and serve up bold looks for her dedicated following.
Fanny Chu served as head bartender at Donna in Williamsburg before the bar shut down permanently in December. She spent years working her way up the ladder at queer-friendly Donna's, ultimately making her mark with upscale tiki-inspired cocktails. During the past year, Chu has continued sharing recipes on her Instagram and working as a drink stylist, and plans to keep pushing forward in innovating world of craft cocktails.
Gia Love, Ballroom Performer and Model, New York, NY
Gia Love is a trans model and ballroom performer who starred in Kiki, a documentary about LGBTQ+ youth of color participating in New York's drag and ballroom scenes. In addition to performing, Gia has been involved in activism, helping at-risk LGBTQ+ youth and her local community, including working with Trans Equity Consulting. Most recently, she made an appearance in the series finale of Ryan Murphy's Pose.
Gottmik is the drag persona of Kade Gottlieb, who became the first trans man to compete on RuPaul's Drag Race in season 13 (the performer uses she/her pronouns while in drag). She ultimately placed in the top three. Prior to going on RPDR, Gottlieb worked as a makeup artist to the stars, creating Lil Nas X's iconic Nicki Minaj look. As Gottmik, she has pushed the boundaries of playing with gender. A leading force among L.A.'s trendsetters, she also has plans to join the Werq the World tour in 2022.
Internet Friends, DJs and Event Producers, Miami, FL
Led by Marceline Steel, Gami, Summer, and Keanu Orange, Internet Friends is a collective of trans-femme DJs devoted to ensuring a lively rave scene for Miami's LGBTQ+ community. They've moved from partying in DIY spaces to filling up popular music venues, and are now coming up with more creative ways to get queer parties going in a barely post-vaccinated world. They've hosted parties at Miami Art Week, released mixtapes featuring underground acts from Florida and beyond, and were recently featured in i-D.
Jake DuPree, Boylesque Performer and Fitness Instructor, Los Angeles, CA
Jake DuPree initially made his splash as a fitness instructor and dancer in Los Angeles, but it wasn't long before he went viral as Cosmopolitan's "Glitter Fantasy" unicorn. From there, he's built up a reputation for his "boylesque" performances -- drag that incorporates elements of burlesque into the costumes and routines. He even had the honor of taking on Dita Von Teese's iconic martini glass act during her "Von Follies" show in 2018.
John deBary is leading the way when it comes to non-alcoholic cocktails. The New York mixologist launched his own brand of zero proof spirits, Proteau, and continues innovating in the space. In 2020, he published a book -- Drink What You Want -- to help the average person learn how to make "objectively delicious cocktails." Additionally, he is often credited with bringing tiki drinks back to upscale restaurants and bars in NYC. John previously served as the bar director at Momofuku.
Jujubee has appeared in multiple seasons of the RuPaul's Drag Race franchise, and ultimately made it to the top three on three separate occasions. Her influence in the entertainment industry has expanded to include appearances in AJ and the Queen, as well as several music videos. Most recently, Jujubee has been starring in TLC's Dragnificent, a wedding-centric reality series. Her drag performances often incorporate her Laotian culture and she is a trailblazer for the Asian-American drag community.
Lisa Cannistraci, Owner of Henrietta Hudson, New York, NY
Lisa Cannistraci (right) opened Henrietta Hudson, the original location of Cubbyhole, with her business partner back in 1991, making it the oldest lesbian bar in New York City. She's made it her business to keep the bar up-to-date and evolving alongside the queer community, with plans to expand it into an inclusive cafe and bistro. Cannistraci has also been a fierce activist for equal rights, even previously serving as the vice president of Marriage Equality USA. Her deep ties to the community helped Henrietta Hudson raise enough money to stay afloat during the pandemic, and now she hopes to return to hosting events for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community and continuing to do so for years to come.
Lucy Stoole is an outspoken activist who sees herself as a "motherly figure" in Chicago's drag scene. Known for her fabulous beard and fearless looks, Stoole cut her teeth bending the confines of the gender binary before coming to realize that she herself is nonbinary. Lucy helped organize last summer's Drag March for Change, which pushed for accountability within Chicago's police force and equality for Black performers within the drag scene. She was previously named the 2016 winner of Best Drag Entertainer at the Chicago Nightlife Awards and is a member of Molasses, a collective supporting Black trans and gender-nonconforming performers in Chicago.
Marcia Riley owns one of the last lesbian bars in the United States, a Columbus favorite called Slammers. Riley opened Slammers nearly 30 years ago, and although she had planned to sell it before the pandemic hit, she instead managed to keep it open through it all with a little help from the local community. Now, the bar remains a safe haven for people of all walks of life.
Gay culture has long thrived in Los Angeles, but Mario Diaz brought a wildness to modern queer clubs throughout the city. His events quickly gained a reputation for being both humorous and gritty, if not downright nasty, and one event (B.F.D. at Fubar) claims to be the longest running weekly queer party in the country. Before coming to L.A., Diaz conquered New York, keeping hedonism alive and well in the city by opening a sex-positive club called the Cock. Mario even had a documentary made about him several years ago -- Club King.
Micah Marquez is the entrepreneur and organizer behind Deviant Events, a company dedicated to bringing circuit parties for brown and Black LGBTQ+ people to Atlanta's nightlife scene. During the pandemic, this pivoted to DeviantTV, a podcast aimed at the same demographic that promotes both body and sex positivity. Marquez's background in sociology lends itself to the activism supporting BIPOC, the LGBTQ community, and women that he also promotes through these venues.
Sam Benedict and Taylor Shubert, Event Producers, New York, NY
Sam Benedict and Taylor Shubert are among those bringing their experience hosting some of Fire Island's wildest parties back to New York City. Post-pandemic, they will be opening Red Eye in Hell's Kitchen, which aims to transform from a coffee shop during the day to a debaucherous and unpredictable night club after dark. The space will also feature a TV studio dedicated to creating LGBTQ+ content for people in NYC and beyond.
Sasha Cassadine, Drag Performer and Show Director, Minneapolis, MN
Sasha Cassadine has spent 15 years working her way up through the Minneapolis drag scene. Now, she serves as show director for Flip Phone Events and hosts drag brunches, an event that's been more difficult during the pandemic. But Sasha has made the best of things despite the hardships, all while continuing to try to bring awareness to the inequalities faced among BIPOC performers.
Shannon Mustipher, Mixologist and Author, New York, NY
Shannon Mustipher became one of a small number of African-American bartenders to publish a book about cocktails when she came out with Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails in 2018. When she's not teaching others about mixology on the page, she's working as the beverage director at Brooklyn's Gladys Caribbean or working with her professional organization, Women Leading Rum. Mustipher was given the 2020 Pioneer Award from the Tales of the Cocktail Dame Hall of Fame.
As Shawty West, this talented king lights up the Columbus drag scene with comedic performances. As Mariah, she lends her talents to the nightlife scene as a bartender at District West, home to Columbus's West Family. "Shawty's Place" events have seen him take the stage alongside some of the best drag talent in the state, and Shawty's Instagram always sees him serving up fierce looks, on and off stage.
Terence Edgerson started out in fashion PR, but he soon made the transition to becoming one of New York City's most trusted nightlife entrepreneurs. Promoting and producing his own events has led to Edgerson being featured in Bond Official after first making a splash in The New York Times years ago as a skilled party crasher who could talk his way into just about any place. Now, Terence is the one connecting NYC's top talent and hosting the parties.
Tiffanie Barriere, Mixologist and Spirits Historian, Atlanta, GA
Tiffanie Barriere is an award-winning bartender who lends her skills and creativity to pop-up bars and events around the country. But rather than keep her secrets close to the vest, Barriere has spent time garnering a reputation as "The Drinking Coach," educating others on mixology and its history through sharing her recipes and her craft. In 2020, she was inducted into the Tales of the Cocktail Dame Hall of Fame.
Trixie Mattel, Drag Performer and Bar Co-Owner, Milwaukee, WI
Trixie Mattel was a staple of the Milwaukee drag scene before sashaying her way onto RuPaul's Drag Race in 2014. She later won season three of All Stars. While performing for the world on TV, Trixie also launched a music career, a comedy tour, and a makeup line. She also co-hosts a web series dedicated to reacting to Netflix content and starred in a 2019 documentary about her life touring after RPDR. In 2020, Trixie became the co-owner of This Is It!, Wisconsin's oldest gay bar, first established in 1968.
Ty Sunderland, DJ, Event Producer, and Entrepreneur, New York, NY
Ty Sunderland's move from DJ to event producer was a natural progression, but that doesn't mean he's stopped spinning. His themed parties are a favorite among LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, sometimes featuring drag and often blasting pop music. Inclusivity is important to Sunderland, who puts effort into making sure his parties attract and feel welcoming towards a diverse group of people. His first party, Heaven on Earth, started as a one-off Britney Spears tribute but turned into a multi-year monthly celebration of various pop icons.
Alison Burgos, Amy Alonso, and Yesenia Leon, Event Producers, Miami, FL
These three women are the masterminds behind Pandora Events, a company that throws massive parties aimed at queer women across Florida. Together, they have contributed to Sobe Pride and put together the Women's White Party and Girls in Wonderland events each year. They have also made a point of "partying with a purpose," using their popular events to raise money for LGBTQ+ charities.