One of the most successful television showrunners of all time, Ryan Murphy has created some of the best onscreen narratives to influence the zeitgeist. The man behind Glee and the anthologies American Horror Story and American Crime Story, Murphy has pulled off the rare feat of launching commercial and award-winning hits on both broadcast and cable. With an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Peabody on his mantel, he is constantly challenging the status quo with his irreverent, colorful, and queer works of pop culture camp and critique. With this year’s American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, he pulled a blood-spattered veil off of a generation of American homophobia. And his latest creation, the FX series Pose, shines a spotlight on ballroom and trans culture in the 1980s, and features the largest cast of LGBTQ actors ever. Any money Murphy profits from the series, renewed for a second season, will be donated to LGBTQ charities. He also recently signed an overall deal with Netflix that will yield up to $300 million and reaffirm his clout with the streaming
giant as his new platform for impactful storytelling.
Though Donald Trump’s war on CNN and other “fake news” media outlets wages on, Anderson Cooper continues to deliver rightful criticism of our current administration with unwavering candor. The opinionated gay anchor was critical of Trump’s behavior during his July meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president.” Over the summer, the eye-rolling newscaster began hosting Anderson Cooper Full Circle, a new CNN-produced weekly news program on Facebook Watch, which dampens the stuffiness associated with a traditional newsroom and opts for a more conversational tone fit for its platform. Even with the White House against him, the silver-fox journalist perseveres.
There was a moment this year when MSNBC host Rachel Maddow lost her composure as she read a report detailing the immigrant children who were being forcibly separated from their parents and sent to “tender age shelters.” Maddow struggled to read the words aloud and ended her segment early, ostensibly to go have a private cry. During what many describe as the emergence of one of America’s worst humanitarian crises, Maddow’s on-air breakdown was a weathervane for an entire society’s dismay. She may have let her emotions get the best of her that night—if only for 30 seconds—but she remains one of the strongest voices in media, fighting for queer visibility with a keen knack for dissecting facts amid Trump fakery. Two years into this presidency, Maddow’s contributions have never been more important.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show turned 15 this year. That’s a major milestone for any entertainer, but for a lesbian who’s been in the business for more than 30 years, it’s bigger than that—a long-running and vast accomplishment of visibility for queer people, and one that’s seen and embraced in homes across the entire country. Now 60, with no hint of slowing down, the former sitcom star and music-loving icon is in the midst of creating a new Netflix stand-up comedy special, while continuing the spread and growth of her beloved online platform, EllenTube.
In 2017, Lena Waithe, a co-writer of Master of None, became the first black woman to receive a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. Waithe won the award specifically for the episode “Thanksgiving,” which echoed her own experience as a queer black woman coming out to herself and her family. Not long after, she graced the cover of Vanity Fair, marking another historical first, as Waithe was the first queer woman of color to be front and center on the magazine. This year, her new Showtime series The Chi impressed the company’s execs so much, they’ve given her a first-look deal. “We fell in love with Lena’s voice when we ordered her pilot for The Chi three years ago,” Showtime’s president of programming Gary Levine said in a statement, “and we have watched in awe at her powerful impact on our industry and our culture.” Waithe’s influence has grown to the point that even cutting her hair—or, more specifically, shaving her head—makes headlines. “I felt like I was holding onto a piece of femininity that would make the world feel comfortable with who I am,” Waithe said this fall. “Now, if people call me a ‘butch’ or call me ‘sir,’ so what? So be it. I’m here with a suit on, not a stitch of makeup, and a haircut.” Preach.
Under the tutelage of Romero, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) continues the ardent push for civil rights for all Americans. As the organization’s executive director since 2001, Romero has aligned the ACLU—whose membership has more than quadrupled since the 2016 election—with a growing number of concerning social issues stemming from the Trump administration. Undaunted by his admission that the Supreme Court failed the American public by allowing the president’s travel ban to be ratified, Romero keeps fighting for immigrant rights, and protecting hard-won battles like the ruling that earned us marriage equality.
In 2013, this junior United States senator from Wisconsin became the first openly gay U.S. senator in history, as well as one of the most liberal. Baldwin’s time in the Senate has proven her commitment to working across party lines and fighting for the middle class, veterans, universal health care, and curbing gun violence and student debt. She’s fought for the rights of undocumented immigrants. This November, she will run for reelection against state senator Leah Vukmir, an opponent with a history of voting against LGBTQ rights.
The golden age of RuPaul continues to dominate the queer entertainment world. After its 10th season, RuPaul’s Drag Race nabbed 12 Emmy nominations, including one for best reality competition series and another for RuPaul as host, marking the most nods in network history for VH1. RuPaul’s new book, GuRu, is out this fall, and promises to be chock-full of self-help tips and inspirational bites of wisdom from the mother of all queens. And Ru is taking her prowess beyond network television, with two new shows in the works for streaming services Netflix and Hulu. And then there’s the daytime talk show in development, produced by the same people behind The Ellen DeGeneres Show. C’mon, daytime beat!
At this year’s winter Olympics, Adam Rippon used his platform to speak truth to power. The gifted ice skater wasn’t afraid to hold back his opinions on the current administration, and his words spread so wide that Mike Pence, a key target of Rippon’s criticism, actually responded. Soon the flamboyant star was America’s Sweetheart, taking his bronze win at the Olympics and parlaying it into more. Turning down TV correspondence gigs, he soon found a place on the roster of the latest season of Dancing with the Stars, where he glided his way to winning the whole thing. He’s now all set to be a judge on the junior iteration of the show, where he’ll hopefully inspire the same relentless authenticity in our youth.
Whether you’re a Mac devotee or a stalwart Microsoft stan, you can't deny Apple’s overwhelming influence over our culture and daily lives, from the way we wake up in the morning to the way we do our banking—following face recognition, of course. As head of what is very nearly the world’s first trillion-dollar company, Tim Cook, himself the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company, is tasked with maintaining Apple’s relevance in the fast-evolving tech industry. And he hasn’t lost his soul to big business: In 2018, the exec gifted upwards of $5 million in Apple shares to charity.
By the time you read this, Cynthia Nixon will have won or lost the battle she began when she decided to run against incumbent New York governor Andrew Cuomo. A Miranda against a Goliath, Nixon certainly has her naysayers, who have deemed her decision to run foolish, if not crazy. And the fact that many organizations and politicos opted to endorse her opponent can’t help her odds. But regardless of its outcome, Nixon’s campaign to become the first LGBTQ governor of New York is monumental, and it’s landed her a spot on this list for the first time. Her dedication to progressive ideals is making promising waves in the political community, and however this one election shakes down, the woman who once solidified a fabulous, iconic New York foursome is primed to be a force to be reckoned with in a whole new arena.
This year, when the Supreme Court ruled against labor unions being allowed to collect fees from non-members, it added yet another obstacle for Mary Kay Henry, the Service Employees International Union president, to overcome amid her fight for a livable minimum wage. Presiding over nearly 2 million members, Henry said in a tweet, “No court case will stop working families from coming together and building a better future.”
Saturday Night Live’s first openly lesbian cast member is also one of its most recognizable faces. Kate McKinnon won over movie audiences in this year’s The Spy Who Dumped Me, but she was already driving ticket sales in earlier films like Ghostbusters and Rough Night. Her finest roles remain her avatars on SNL–brazenly truth-telling impersonations of Kellyanne Conway and, as of February, Elizabeth Warren. Her spot-on skewering of political figures made her a household name during the 2016 election, with her impersonation of Hillary Clinton (and other figures) not only winning her an Emmy, but landing her a nod in Clinton’s memoir What Happened. Of McKinnon’s memorable performance of “Hallelujah” following the election results, Clinton wrote, “As she sang, it seemed like she was fighting back tears. Listening, so was I.”
This legendary film and theater producer has earned an astounding 14 Tonys in his career and is among the few people (and only producer) with an EGOT to his name. Last year, he brought Bette Midler to Broadway in the role of a lifetime, as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! He also produced Greta Gerwig’s debut film Lady Bird, which went on to snag some big nods at the Golden Globes and the Oscars (including Best Picture). In 2018, he brought both Boys in the Band and Carousel back to Broadway, each netting vast acclaim and box office success.
Trans activist, journalist, and writer Janet Mock has cemented herself as a staggeringly articulate and outspoken voice for her community. This year, working on FX’s Pose, she became the first trans woman of color ever to write or direct a TV series. She’s also a producer on Ryan Murphy’s essential hit show celebrating the ’80s ball culture of N.Y.C., along with the trans, HIV-positive, and people of color who populated it. It features the largest trans cast in television history. “I hope that this show, beyond educating people and entertaining them with a little glam and shade, also ensures that the industry takes notice that there is so much to unpack and unbind,” Mock says.
A pioneering trans actor and activist, Laverne Cox remains one of the clearest and most consistent voices in the fight for trans rights. In 2018, she added to her already lengthy list of firsts, becoming the first trans person to appear on a Cosmopolitan cover and releasing her first single, “Beat for the Gods.” She appeared in a new season of Orange Is the New Black, and joined other trans actors in a highly publicized Variety round table about modern representation in the industry.
A year ago, Emma González was just another high school junior. Then, tragedy struck her school in Parkland, Fla., and she was thrust into the national spotlight as an unlikely spokesperson against NRA negligence. Reacting with defiance that echoed across the U.S., she became the face of a new movement of youth fighting for stricter gun control. With 1.65 million Twitter followers, she's leveraging her influence to enact promising change.
After winning the Colorado primary in June, Polis stands to become the first openly gay elected governor in the United States. Pulling out all the stops, the U.S. representative has invested $3 million in a television advertising blitz. A November victory for the HRC-endorsed Polis would be a powerful statement in the Trump era that not all Americans share the White House’s views on LGBTQ civil rights issues.
Last year, Greg Berlanti set a record for having 10 different live-action scripted television series planned to air on various networks and digital platforms. He’s about to break that record for the 2018-2019 TV season with 14 series. Berlanti was also responsible for bringing Love, Simon to the big screen, marking the first major Hollywood studio release to focus on a gay teenage romance. His philanthropic efforts are another illustration of his clout, and for them, he and husband Robbie Rogers were honored this year by the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
At 23, Troye Sivan is becoming the gay golden boy of pop. His sophomore album, Bloom, is a groundbreaking—and rabidly downloaded—compilation that puts gay sex in the mainstream. Since his YouTube roots, he’s achieved mass appeal without compromising his identity. “I never wanted anyone to be able to tell me to stay in the closet for any reason, especially for work,” Sivan says. And he's parlayed his success into fashion and film. Earlier this year, he became the face of Valentino’s spring campaign, and this fall, he stars alongside Nicole Kidman in the gay conversion therapy drama Boy Erased.
In an op-ed for The New York Times this year, legendary community leader Larry Kramer asked a controversial question: “Millions of women and straight people are marching on Washington,” he wrote. “Where are the millions of gay people being angry and vocal and visibly fighting back?” Numerous LGBTQ activists pushed back hard on this, while others echoed his statement in agreement. Kramer’s role in our culture and community has always been that of a necessary disruptor—a fiercely impassioned and uncompromising provocateur who refuses to settle for anything less than the queer ideal of vocal and visible equality. No matter his age, he refuses to stop sparking necessary conversation.
Widely described as Russia’s leading LGBTQ rights activist, this highly decorated National Book Award winner and New Yorker staff writer has become an essential voice for our times. Last year, she published her 10th book, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, and she continues to spread her wisdom to younger generations as a visiting professor at Amherst College.
Have we ever needed Will & Grace more? The groundbreaking series flourished during the Bush years, riffing on the rampant conservative policies of the day. But as our current administration makes the Bush era look almost progressive, it feels only natural that the show’s co-creator, Max Mutchnick, would reunite us with Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen for new seasons of laughter. “What’s going on? What’s happening? Who won the election?” Karen quips during the rebooted series’ premiere episode. Not who we would’ve liked, Karen, but it’s thanks to Mutchnick that we have some of our best TV friends alongside us through another grim political era.
Few global companies are helmed by out and proud CEOs. So it was highly encouraging news when, earlier this year, Dow Chemical (which boasts a more than 340-year history) elected its first openly gay chief executive, Jim Fitterling. In 2018, the 56-year-old—who’s been an outspoken critic of the president’s policy of trade tariffs on Chinese and European imports—is poised to lead his company and its thousands of employees into a brighter, more inclusive future.
During Raf Simons’ first year as creative director of Calvin Klein (which Simons rebranded as CALVIN KLEIN 205W39NYC), the legendary New York City label has seen an impressive upswing in revenue and media attention, largely due to Simons’ own star power as a designer, and his pop-savvy creative partnerships. In regard to the storied and ever-magical “Raf Effect,” PVH chairman and CEO Manny Chirico, who oversees Calvin Klein, recently told Business of Fashion, “We haven’t even scratched the surface.”
The idea of a slow year is foreign to Roxane Gay. In 2018, the writer and professor won the Lambda Literary Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Literature, as well as the Lambda award for Bisexual Nonfiction for her memoir Hunger, which was released in paperback this year. Drawing from her personal life experiences, Gay remains a leading voice on race, gender, and sexuality.
Ford Foundation president Darren Walker continues to lead the multi-billion dollar philanthropy outfit into a firmly progressive future. Under Walker’s direction, the foundation has championed countless civil rights and social justice issues, most recently becoming the major sponsor of the National Organization on Disability, the National Center on Disability Journalism, and RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program.
This dynamic black, lesbian anchorwoman continues to be one of the most trusted people Americans look to for their morning news. Since coming out in 2013, Robin Roberts hasn’t been afraid to reference her sexual orientation when it pertains to the stories she’s covering. But her professionalism and dedication to that storytelling are what make her such a valuable source. This year, in addition to co-anchoring the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Roberts received the Radio Television Digital News Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. And her work is still far from finished.
Justin Tranter, one of pop music’s most successful songwriters, has contributed to some of the best bangers of the past few years. With everything from Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” to Selena Gomez’s “Hands to Myself,” he’s already left an indelible mark on the industry. This year, he wrote the lead single “Make Me Feel” from Janelle Monáe’s latest album, and the track became Monáe’s second single as a lead artist to chart on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Justin also worked on Imagine Dragons' “Natural” (currently at #14 on the Hot 100) and BeBe Rexha's "I’m A Mess," which recently charted in the top 10 on radio airplay. Tranter is also a board member at GLAAD, helping the media advocacy group fight for LGBTQ visibility in the music business.
As the writer, producer, and director of the acclaimed 2014 dramedy Dear White People—which focused on racial tensions in the microcosm of a fictitious Ivy League university—Justin Simien proved that with one brilliant debut feature, a queer black man can influence the national conversation. Now, as Dear White People the series prepares for its third season on Netflix (it was renewed in June), Simien, amid a rapidly changing culture, is still using his daring brand to address race in America with biting satirical wit.
In November of last year, when Danica Roem won her race to secure a seat on the Virginia State Legislature, she became the first openly trans candidate to do so anywhere in the United States. Roem’s win proved that other LGBTQ people also have the opportunity not only to run for office, but to win. This year, a record number of queer folks are vying for political positions in the U.S. The Victory Fund has identified more than 400 LGBTQ candidates stepping into the ring this election cycle, with 43 transgender candidates running for political office at all levels across the nation. A true leader among us, Roem made a firm decision to fight, and carried through with tenacity, thus helping to transform the political landscape and ensure better representation.
This Academy Award-winning playwright may not be a household name, but you surely know his work. He’s the wordsmith behind Moonlight, and he recently landed his first TV show, David Makes Man, set to star Phylicia Rashad and premiere on the OWN network. And there’s another debut in motion. With his new play, Choir Boy, McCraney will be bringing his powerful storytelling about marginalized communities to the Great White Way next year. It may soon be time for him to make room for a Tony next to that Oscar.
The longtime host of the New York Times’s news podcast and radio show The Daily, Michael Barbaro has been referred to by Vanity Fair as the Ira Glass of the Times, and he continues to be a vocal soldier when it comes to bringing a cornerstone of print media into the digital age. The reportedly bisexual journalist (who, according to a July story from Page Six, split with a husband and began dating his female colleague) racks up a rough total of 5 million listeners per month and has made sold-out public appearances around New York and on late-night talk shows.
Known as one of the kings of American fashion, Michael Kors has been a heavyweight in the industry for more than 30 years. As the former creative director of Céline, he catapulted into mainstream success with his own popular label (and off-shoot diffusion lines) and secured his position with TV notoriety (he’s still the wittiest judge to ever sit front row on Project Runway). While the Michael Kors brand has surely felt the recent effects of the dwindling retail world, the purchase of Jimmy Choo in 2017 could give the style titan just the boost he needs.
Don Lemon has been one of the brashest percipients against Donald Trump. The venerated journalist’s perspective on the current administration is especially discerning in our fraught age of identity politics, as he brings his experience and insight to the table—and into America’s living rooms—as an LGBTQ person and a person of color. Lemon is a rarity and an asset in yet another white-dominated field, and in addition to being one more newsperson labeled “dumb” by the commander-in-chief, he has also been subject to racist attacks. But Lemon isn’t afraid to clap back and hold power to account. In an instantly immortalized moment at the start of this year, the broadcaster opened his show with, “This is CNN Tonight. I’m Don Lemon. The president of the United States is racist.”
The U.S. Representative for Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights and equality since he first stepped into that office back in 2011. This year, David Cicilline was a co-sponsor of the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act. According to the bill, this act would “prohibit defense lawyers from using a victim’s LGBTQ identity as justification for a crime, or to argue for lesser sentences on the premise that there were extenuating circumstances that motivated their clients to lash out violently.” That’s necessarily thorough political jargon for “doing what’s right.”
Omnipresent YouTube and podcast favorite Tyler Oakley continues to shape LGBTQ rights into a personal brand. His 2018 appearance on season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race (for the makeover challenge) further solidified his position as one of the most noteworthy gay men on social media, and this was after riding high on two big honors in 2017: a spot on Forbes’s coveted list of 30 Under 30, and a People’s Choice Award for Favorite YouTube Star. In August, it was announced that Oakley and podcast co-host Korey Kuhl would be bringing back their popular audio series Psychobabble.
Having revolutionized the representation of gender non-binary people on television with their role as Taylor Mason on Showtime’s Billions, Asia Kate Dillon has become a powerful voice in the fight for equality in today’s America. Aligning the struggle of the non-binary community with other marginalized groups and the organizations that represent them (like Black Lives Matter), Dillon is wielding their visibility as a weapon of change.
Lydia Polgreen was already creating impactful and powerful journalism as the editorial director of the Global section at the New York Times. Then, in 2016, after Arianna Huffington stepped down as editor-in-chief of her namesake HuffPost, Polgreen was given the reins. She’s now leading the charge at the digital behemoth, combating the kindred phenomena of fake news and clickbait content. Among Polgreen’s refurbs was doing away with unpaid contributions to the site, instead adding new opinion and personal sections that would include paid contributors who work with HuffPost editors. Today, she is one of the most influential people in journalism, and she continues to redefine the news game in an era of elusive truths.
Geffen, a 75-year-old billionaire and the the indelible music mogul behind Geffen Records, immortalized himself by launching the careers of everyone from Joni Mitchell to Donna Summer, and he’s considered the richest man in Hollywood by Forbes. That’s a powerful statement in itself for an LGBTQ person, and as he continues to let his label flourish, Geffen has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to funding arts education.
The Tom Ford name is essentially synonymous with sex and luxury, and the man behind it endures as a mainstay on this list. He has unequivocally solidified his fashion legacy, designing a range of beloved looks via his work at Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, and his flourishing namesake label (a sought-after, must-see attraction at New York Fashion Week). Off the runway, Ford continues to channel his creative juices into other mediums, such as film, where he has earned vast acclaim (and Oscar cred) for writing, directing, and producing stylish dramas like A Single Man ( 2009 ) and Nocturnal Animals ( 2016 ).
She may have lost her bid to become a United States senator in June, but Manning made the statement she was aiming for. “Win or lose, our campaign is part of a growing political insurrection,” the former Army intelligence analyst said in a post-election statement, still emboldened long after her first government jab in 2010, when she spilled secrets to Wikileaks. “The political establishment ignores our voices at their own peril.”
This Tasmanian comedian worked the festival circuit for years, making a name for herself thanks to her self-deprecating brand of humor, before breaking the internet with her Netflix comedy special Nanette. The show, meant to be her goodbye to stand up, blurred the lines between insightful comedy and an exploration of trauma. Nanette was as popular as it was polarizing, leaving Hannah Gadsby reluctant to follow through on her plans to quit comedy—and the thousands across the globe who have connected with her fiercely funny exploration of contemporary queer womanhood are hoping an encore or two are in the cards.
An internationally recognized civil rights activist and community organizer, DeRay Mckesson has been a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement since its birth. A former school administrator, Mckesson first rose to national prominence in 2014 when he used social media to document the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. His influence is felt on a myriad of digital platforms. His popular weekly podcast Pod Save the People empowers listeners (many of them aspiring activists) by supplying them with the tools and ideas to organize and resist. In September, Mckesson released his first book, On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope, which offers readers “an intimate and powerful portrait of the Black Lives Matter movement from the front lines—part deeply personal memoir and part timely meditation on politics, justice, and freedom.” Most importantly, it’s brimming with hope.
Another perennial Power 50 honoree, Tim Gill is the former programmer and tech mogul who created Quark, and he’s currently on track to spend $1 billion in the name of LGBTQ equality through the Gill Foundation. In addition to being thoroughly profiled by Rolling Stone last year in an article dubbed “The Quiet Crusader: How Tim Gill turned a $500 million fortune into the nation’s most powerful force for LGBTQ rights,” Gill is developing a voice-controlled home automation system called Josh.ai.
Founder of Annapurna Pictures, Megan Ellison has written checks for some of the most talked-about Hollywood blockbusters of the past decade, like Zero Dark Thirty, Phantom Thread, Her, and American Hustle, all of which earned her Oscar nominations. Her most recent productions include the new adaptation of the James Baldwin novel If Beale Street Could Talk, directed by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins, and The Sisters Brothers, a dark-comedy/Wild-West hybrid dropping September 21 that stars Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly.
“Lesbian Jesus,” as she’s been dubbed by her fans, is not a moniker taken lightly by Hayley Kiyoko (see page 60). The singer had a huge 2018, releasing her debut studio album, Expectations; landing a nomination for Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs); winning the VMA for Best Push Artist; touring alongside Panic! At the Disco; and helping popularize the LGBTQ hashtag of the moment, #20GAYTEEN.
The restaurateur behind beloved New York City restaurant Prune, Hamilton is also a contributor to the NYT magazine column “Eat,” and she’s writing her second memoir (her first, Blood, Bones, & Butter was a much-praised, monster hit). In May, she was nominated for the second year in a row for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. She’s also stepped up to help take over and revamp New York’s famed foodie hotspot the Spotted Pig, with her wife and fellow chef Ashley Merriman.
Smith is an award-winning entrepreneur, engineer, and tech evangelist who served as the third (and first female) U.S. chief technology officer under President Obama. She helped the president and federal teams harness the power of technology, data, and innovation to advance the future of the nation and the world. Prior to that, she spent 11 years as a vice president at Google, leading new business development. Today, she’s busy working as the CEO and founder of shift7, where she continues her efforts to help people understand that technology is key to the future and tries to attract young people to take up careers in tech and engineering.
New Yorker theater critic, Columbia professor, New York Times best-selling author, and newly-minted Pulitzer Prize winner Hilton Als has always approached his analysis and prose by keeping an ever-watchful eye on our evolving senses of race, gender expression, and sexuality. This year, he was bestowed an honorary doctorate by The New School in Manhattan, adding to his already expansive and well-deserved list of accolades.