In his first full year out of college, playwright Jordan E. Cooper world premiered and starred in his own play at The Public Theater, Ain't No Mo', and created his first television show for Hulu, The Ms. Pat Show — both of which have received Lee Daniels’ stamp of approval. Along the way, he’s found healing in his work through authentic storytelling about the communities to which he belongs. “I always tell people that my work isn’t to teach anybody a lesson, that it’s usually because I need that word and I’m hungry,” he says. “I’m not Jesus with two fish and five loaves of bread; I wanna eat, too. And I think with each performance of my work, the dinner table just gets bigger and bigger as other hungry folks grab a plate, too.”
When Ryan O’Connell went to studios to pitch his show Special, the writer knew a series based on his life as a gay man with cerebral palsy was “unconventional packaging,” he says. He also knew that “if you take off the wrapping paper, it’s like a Mariah Carey song, very relatable and very universal.” No studio believed in the concept — except for Netflix, which helped him produce the show after a long four years of rejection. Now O’Connell, who also stars in the show, has license to be petty toward everyone who said “no,” as his debut was both a critical favorite and the recipient of four Emmy nominations. “I have not been far enough in therapy to not hold on to pettiness,” he laughs.
When Steven Universe became the first animated series to receive a GLAAD award last spring, show creator Rebecca Sugar, who’s bisexual, nonbinary, and “obsessed with animation history,” found it to be “an unbelievable honor.” They then set out to turn the Cartoon Network series — about a young boy’s coming-of-age in community with magical, humanoid aliens of varying gender identities and sexual orientations — into a full-length movie musical with 16 original songs. Fans thought it would be the series’ end, but with the recently announced Steven Universe: Future, a season six is on the way, further proving that LGBTQ+ content can be children-friendly.
Renowned top Remy Duran started out the first sexually fluid season of the MTV dating competition show Are You the One? as its resident promiscuous party boy. But Duran proved himself to be endearingly vulnerable, solidifying himself in pop culture as, in his words, “America’s bisexual sweetheart.” It’s no surprise, then, that Duran is a Taurus, and “according to the gays,” he says, his chart positions him as “a hard-headed crybaby with no regard for the ramifications of how I choose to communicate!” So essentially, he’s the perfect reality TV star. His newfound viral infamy has “lit a fire under [his] ass” and the New Yorker is not wasting any momentum as he gets back into his first passion, writing comics and designing. And, of course, “being an obnoxiously charming voice for the bisexual community.”
Michael R. Jackson
Michael R. Jackson never thought his musical, A Strange Loop, would be produced. “I thought people would think it was too confrontational, Black, queer, and just too much,” he says. But when Playwrights Horizons said they wanted to produce it, his far-flung dream became a reality. And to his surprise, audiences and critics alike have enjoyed it. “I wrote this story because I felt like I never saw myself reflected,” he says. “I never quite saw something that was an examination of what it was like to be a self, in general, and to be a Black queer self in particular. It feels nice to know that people from all different backgrounds...find cause to reflect themselves and to reflect on a Black queer protagonist at the center of it.”
On a show about Satan-worshipping witches, Lachlan Watson keeps Chilling Adventures of Sabrina grounded as Theo, whose onscreen transition in the show’s second season was refreshingly honest. Offscreen, Watson is “finding the spaces where [they] can be [themself], queer or not.” They don’t consider themself a “queer actor,” instead trying to find the space between being an actor who is queer. “I’m currently trying to show the world that those things don’t really affect each other.” To reach that mindset, Watson had to learn to “stop giving an eff. I stopped letting other people shove me through my own life, and I started listening to my heart.” Hopefully that heart doesn’t get torn out on the next installment of Sabrina — literally.
Joel Kim Booster
Being part of two high-profile TV shows — writing on Netflix’s Big Mouth and starring in NBC’s Sunnyside — comes with a certain degree of scrutiny, as does being labeled a “gay comedian.” “It’s a double-edged sword,” Joel Kim Booster admits. “I’m either a symbol of representation or proof that gay guys aren’t funny. I talk about sex a lot and people love to point at that and say, ‘See, just another gay guy who’s obsessed with sex,’” something he considers hypocritical since most comedians are, well, obsessed with sex. “There’s definitely a resistance to some of my material because I don’t think people are willing to engage with some of my experiences as relatable or universal, but gay people have had to dig into straight people’s narratives for centuries to find something to relate to. I don’t see why straight people shouldn’t have to do the same when they hear a joke about anal.”
Whether she’s writing about the perils of puberty for Netflix’s Big Mouth, delivering devastating barbs as a terrifying receptionist on Hulu’s Shrill, or showcasing her disturbingly erotic drawings and love for Owl City over Instagram Stories, comedian Patti Harrison is endlessly fascinating and hilarious. Harrison stole every scene she was in this year, and also flirted with vulnerability, shooting her first dramatic film role in a still-unannounced project, an experience she describes as “bone-chilling.” While Harrison isn’t “into” astrology, she says she’s a typical Scorpio: “Sad, angry, vengeful, wildly horny. Yes, that feels true to me and my essence.”
With two breakout roles on Netflix, you can think of Charlie Barnett as your binge-watch bae. He died countless deaths alongside Natasha Lyonne on the Emmy-nominated Russian Doll and starred in the revival of iconic queer series Tales of the City. Barnett is endlessly “appreciative that I get to live within all of these worlds as an actor...that’s what excites me about this industry.” Plus as a queer Black man, he was “really excited to see Tales speak for a part of the community that hadn’t been heard,” referring to the show’s diverse cast and viral dinner scene highlighting the intergenerational divide in the gay community. “It was an incredible project.”
Kid Fury + Crissle West
From the outside, it may look like podcasters Kid Fury and Crissle West have it all together. Not only do they have The Read, a popular podcast that was recently turned into a late night talk show on Fuse, but Fury is also developing scripted TV projects, and West is speaking on college campuses and hosting VIP screenings. But for these digital legends, more visibility means more responsibility and more people in your business. “Jenifer Lewis told us several years ago to get used to interacting with strangers or change careers now,” West said, recounting the best career advice she’s received. Fury added: “A friend of mine told me that on down days when I feel horrible, it’s OK to throw yourself a pity party as long as you don’t overstay your welcome.”
Jason Bolden + Adair Curtis
When husbands and co-founders of JSN Studios, Jason Bolden and Adair Curtis, think back to the Black gay men that they once looked up to, Curtis honors one of his first mentors he had as an intern at VH1. For Bolden, it’s James Baldwin who made him feel seen and understood. Now, the fashion-styling and interior-designing couple at the center of the Netflix docuseries Styling Hollywood are possibility models themselves for generations of Black men who love other Black men, a thought that never crossed their minds. But just being “gay, unapologetic about and [celebrating] our Blackness, and fortunate to be living and loving out loud,” Curtis says, has opened up a world of support, “showing us just how much Black gay representation in this way matters — and we proudly accept the responsibility that comes with it.”
Sure, we’re still pissed that Angelica Ross’ fan-favorite Pose character, Candy, was killed off, but we’ve never seen a bounce-back like the one the actress is experiencing. In addition to being the first trans person to host a presidential forum, she also made history as the first trans actor to secure two series regular roles when she landed on American Horror Story: 1984. “I’m just trying to stay focused and not get caught up in the wins or losses,” she says. But through it all, “the most important thing to me is that my community sees that I’m a real person, that the newfound fame doesn’t change my commitment to my community. So, I show up and stand up for us as often as I can.”
As creator of the seminal FX drama Pose, Steven Canals has much to be thankful for; the show’s first season landed six Emmy nominations, and a win for lead actor Billy Porter. But Canals’ biggest achievement of 2019 was writing and directing episode eight of season two, titled “Revelations.” In it, he gave “the world a gay sex scene between two Black, queer, HIV+ men on cable TV,” he says. It was a lot, and all before the opening credits, but it was the type of content that Canals has always strived to create: raw, real, and reflective. “I spent a lot of time early in my career defending my desire to tell queer narratives,” he says. “On the heels of the success of Pose, it’s what everyone wants. I don’t have to explain or defend the projects I’m interested in anymore. The industry knows what to expect from me now.”
As the co-creator and star of Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek, Out Fashion issue cover star Dan Levy tries “not to dwell on the idea of success, having it or building on it,” he says. Even after the show landed four Emmy nominations for its fifth season earlier this year and he signed an overall deal with ABC Studios, the actor and writer wants to stay true to form and continue producing. “I think it’s more helpful to just work hard at what you love, because at the end of the day, the integrity of the work you’re doing is the real success.”
Barbie Ferreira + Hunter Schafer
Few people have had a glow-up as blinding as Barbie Ferreira this year. As one of the stars of HBO’s scintillating teen drama Euphoria, the model-turned-actress became an overnight style icon, sex symbol, champion for body positivity, and a queer hero for the show’s young fans after publicly coming out to Out. “It’s been a learning experience, especially since my identity is public in a way that it hasn’t been before,” she says. “It’s also been incredibly liberating and cool to be able to express myself freely in this very honest manner.” The same can be said for her co-star Hunter Schafer, whose portrayal of Jules marks her acting debut after a career as a standout model. “I feel really humbled and thankful that I was given a role that gave me room to explore, build, and be messy within my first time,” she says.
Actress and model Leyna Bloom knows what it’s like to be the first. She was the first trans woman to appear in Vogue India and this year, she became the first trans woman of color to lead a film, Port Authority, that premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. “I feel honored and humbled by this entire experience,” she says. “To reap the benefits of the positivity that comes with it is extremely life-changing.” But for her, it’s all about leaving “a historical moment for the next people in line, who can look and say a door has been opened.”
2019 paid major dividends to actress Trace Lysette. Not only did she return to the set of Transparent, reimagined as a movie musical, she also landed a role in Hustlers opposite Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. Looking to 2020, Lysette has one goal in mind: to keep working. “That’s all that I have,” she says. “To throw myself into my work, but also not let this world drive me mad.”
Actress Beanie Feldstein has been in the background for quite some time. But following a stellar performance opposite Kaitlyn Dever in Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart, she’s proven her leading lady abilities. “Being a part of bringing that film to life made me even more open about sharing my own queer identity freely,” she says. “Truly, I just want to be a part of telling stories that I want or need to see and hear myself.”
Though he was certainly on our radar from his work in adult films (or from his OnlyFans and JustForFans pages), Mitchell was thrust into the pop culture zeitgeist when he starred in a gay porn skit on Saturday Night Live, opposite one Emma Stone. And while that brought an outpouring of love from the community of porn performers, it’s his reputation as “the intellectual one” that has gone the furthest in distinguishing Mitchell from his contemporaries. But unsurprisingly, the performer isn’t the biggest fan of that sort of elitism. “I want people to know that sex workers can also be intellectuals, but I also want to push back on this idea that smart sex workers are more worthy of autonomy, safety, and respect than others,” he says. This year alone, he wrote for The New Inquiry and started his Probottom Book Club newsletter of short essays. “I want to live in a world that’s safe for the stupidest whore.”
“Hustle” is a word that gets thrown around often. But Ts Madison, the adult-performer-turned-cult-icon worthy of imitation for a RuPaul’s Drag Race “Snatch Game,” is its very embodiment. Though Madison may have traded in her past to host her own hilarious show on social media, The Queens Supreme Court, where she runs down a “docket” of celebrity news and gossip, plus inks deals with the likes of Showtime, World of Wonder, she would never distance herself from what came before the fame. “It is very important for me to embrace my past and be extremely transparent about it because it’s just that: my past!” Madison says. “There are a lot of people who are disappointed in the way their past bruised or scarred them and don’t want anyone to truly know how dark it was. However, for me, the darkness is where I grew. Like a seed planted deep in dark places, I still grew. I still flourished.”
Between working with Mark Ronson and releasing her album Cheap Queen (which included an “anthem for bottoms everywhere”), King Princess has been taking her music to the next level, which she says is due to her uniquely queer sensibilities. Being “gay and picky about what I want has helped me locate and work with incredible people who respect the person I am,” she says. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” She hopes to inspire queer kids to “know that being gay is a gift when it comes to art” and looks forward to “an endless stream of gay pop running the music business.” We would like to see it!
Lil Nas X
If there was a soundtrack for 2019, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” would be the first song on the album—and the rest would be the various “Old Town Road” remixes. No single track had as large of an impact on pop culture the way the rapper’s breakout did, and his bold choice to come out as gay at the peak of his fame disproves the old industry myth that queer folks must stay closeted to become successful. After becoming the first LGBTQ+ artist to win Song of the Year at the MTV VMAs, appearing on the cover of Time, and having his “Panini” music video break 100 million views on YouTube, it’s clear Lil Nas X is anything but a one-hit wonder.
Brandi Carlile started the year on a roll as the most nominated woman at the Grammys, and she hasn’t slowed down since. She took home three Grammys for her album, By the Way, I Forgive You, and has continued to shape the sound of Americana, founding country supergroup The Highwomen and dueting with Dolly Parton at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island (which she also curated). In October, Carlile pulled out of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit over the inclusion of former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, confirming that power and integrity can go hand in hand. As she told Out, the most effective way to change the world “is by changing hearts instead of minds and rules.”
Christine and the Queens
“My music would not exist without me realizing that I was deeply queer,” confesses French singer Héloise Letissier, of Christine and the Queens. Besides dueting with Charli XCX on “Gone,” arguably the most inventive and ferocious pop banger of the year, Chris has relished the chance to take her music on tour, finding it “truly empowering and moving to defend those songs every night, to talk about hunger and desire every night.” Chris hopes her music helps LGBTQ+ folks access wild, strange, unrestricted queer joy. “Queer is fun! Queer is upside down! Diving into the unknown! Giving names to it, then forgetting those names, then forging some new ones!”
“We’re aware that there are kids coming [to our shows] whose parents are sweetly referring to us as ‘the lesbian band,’” jokes Katie Gavin, the lead singer of MUNA, which also consists of guitarists Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson. As a queer band touring smaller cities, Gavin says MUNA tries to always “stay really cognizant of the fact that we might be somebody’s only [queer] experience thus far in their lives, the first time they’re in a room with predominantly queer people. That motivates us.” This year, the trio completed and released their second studio album, Saves the World, which covers everything from lost love (“Stayaway”) to the heady obsession of contemporary stan culture (“Number One Fan”).
2019 was the year Brazilian drag sensation Pabllo Vittar went international, touring Pride celebrations across the U.S. and Europe. “It was my first time on stage outside my country,” Vittar says. “It was incredible to experience how music [doesn’t] have barriers and can connect people in so many different ways.” After releasing the ultimate ’90s club jam “Flash Pose” with Charli XCX, next year Vittar plans to debut her first trilingual album, singing in Portuguese, English, and Spanish. She also appeared on “Shake It,” a track off XCX’s album Charli with an iconic “fag mob” including Brooke Candy, Cupcakke, and Big Freedia—a solid contender for the most important musical crossover of the year. Though constantly touring has taken its toll — Vittar misses her family when she’s on the road — she is continually grateful for the chance to inspire her young queer fans “to live without being afraid of who you are.”
If you don’t know who Kevin Abstract is, you haven’t been on the internet recently. The rapper, who founded the group BROCKHAMPTON, is most proud of “completing two albums without losing [his] mind” in 2019. In April, he dropped a solo project, ARIZONA BABY, and months later, his group released Ginger, heralded as their best album to date. Abstract finds his queerness makes “it easier for [him] to say what’s on [his] heart.” Part of that process, he hopes, is creating music “from a place of excitement rather than [being] hypercritical of everything. Less of that will make my life easier and lead me to the type of success I’m after.”
Sir John is shaping how women want to be seen, one immaculately painted face at a time. L’Oréal Paris’s Consulting Celebrity Makeup Artist has gotten Beyoncé ready for the Super Bowl, Coachella, and Lemonade — a trifecta of artistry that has impacted our world in immeasurable ways. “When you do something like that, you see how that moves the needle of culture. And you happen to have a small part of that, and you know how that affects the community. When I go to a nightclub or a bar, the kids go up for me because of what I’ve contributed to them being proud of their skin.” Sir John, who partnered this year with Disney to release a collection inspired by The Lion King, believes that “lipstick changes the world,” because when a woman feels confident, it “changes the vibration.”
After shaping the pop culture landscape as chief creative officer of Paper Magazine, Drew Elliott is starting a new adventure as the global creative director at MAC Cosmetics. Growing up in Indiana, MAC was one of the first places Elliott “saw queer culture come to life,” and he’s excited to continue that legacy, which consists of nonprofit HIV/AIDS work through its Viva Glam campaign. He’s committed to “giving all people the tools and colors to take on the world with confidence.” Elliott’s role is part of a growing shift that centers queer creators and entrepeneurs, ensuring they are “recognized for their talents and points of view.” While Drew is just getting started in his new digs, we feel we can only be destined for great things. After all, how many times has he already broken the internet?
Look no further than the cover of Out to see the impact of Drag Race favorite Miss Fame. In 2018, she launched Miss Fame Beauty, complete with a social media campaign and jaw-dropping video tutorials. She then co-starred alongside major names in fellow makeup mogul Charlotte Tilbury’s advertising campaign. She also attended the couture shows in Paris this summer and Fashion Month across Europe this fall, dazzling in the front row alongside supermodels and celebrities — but don’t call her work “cute.” “It’s a bit undermining of the time and dedication I’ve spent trying to create my ultimate self, beauty, and expression,” she says. “What I’m doing is not cute. It’s intricate, it’s detailed, it’s organized, and it’s sophisticated. It’s a form of artistic expression, through my feminine self.”
“Being [a] butch Muslim gay woman is unheard of in the venture and investment world,” says Moj Mahdara, the CEO and founder of Beautycon, the world’s premier beauty festival. “It’s made my journey more difficult, but nothing deters me from my goals.” That’s certainly true, considering that, as of 2019, Beautycon has now launched in Los Angeles, New York City, and Tokyo. Mahdara hopes young queer folks can learn from her success, leading “with an entrepreneurial spirit, forging new ground, and being unafraid to try new things in new ways.” Beautycon’s success is proof that redefining “cultural norms of beauty, diversity, and inclusivity” isn’t just powerful, it can be profitable — and the more queer women of color we have in business positions, the better.
When Cardi B’s explosive career culminated in a Grammy Award win for Best Rap Album in February, her hairstylist Tokyo Stylez was there to share in the success. “There wasn’t a dry eye backstage...and her hair was on point, thanks to me!” she says. As the rapper’s success has grown, so has Tokyo’s — over 1.2 million people follow her every post on Instagram, where she’s slowly but surely managed to unveil a new side of herself beyond awards shows and checks. “Transitioning while maintaining my career has been the most challenging part of the year,” she admits. “I’m finding out a lot about myself through this process.” And that knowledge is something she’s planning to pay forward. “I would like to see more help for trans youth, and I’m going to do my best to further that agenda.”
Paul Mpagi Sepuya
Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s photography — a style of portraiture that reveals dynamics of power, sexuality, and cultural norms — has become a favorite both in and outside of the art world. Case in point: His work appeared on the cover of Artforum earlier this year and then, on the cover of VogueUkraine. His signature, which usually involves deconstructed elements of sets and his own (often naked) body, may leave viewers wondering: Which person in this image took the photo? What is their body language trying to tell us? And, perhaps more obviously: Is it OK that I’m aroused by this?
These arresting photos make Sepuya one of the most interesting artists of our time, but it was in this year’s Whitney Biennial that his genius further unfolded. The photographs, “a collaborative and co-authored group project,” each featured his friends and inspirations, who shared attribution. Sometimes you would only catch glimpses of Sepuya (an arm, or just his hands).
“So much has grown in terms of my work and its audience in the past few years,” he says. “I couldn’t be doing this without the longevity of friendships and collaboration, because every project requires the foundation of what came before it.”
If there is one to watch in the art world, rest assured it’s Diedrick Brackens. The weaver — who makes “large-scale wall and floor works” — recently celebrated his first institutional solo exhibition in New York at the New Museum. There, in the museum’s expansive lobby, guests experienced his colorful tapestries, which typically depict scenes from his life growing up as a queer Black man in the South.
“The weavings I make often ask questions about violence and seek to answer my own questions about what tenderness looks like,” Brackens says. But, while many art critics and reviewers have noted the personal or biographical nature of his work, Brackens intends for his art to stretch beyond the self. “I hope [it] is read in multiple ways, and speaks to folks who identify in a multitude of ways. Ultimately, I see the world through this Black queer lens, and that is the space from which I create and the set of experiences I hope to amplify.”
While Brackens gears up for what’s sure to be an even bigger set of accomplishments next year — he tells us he’s hoping to make a “return to [the Out100]” — he also has some simpler goals: “Buy real estate, learn more about the history of fashion, work out...and meet the man of my dreams.”
Raúl De Nieves
It’s hard not to marvel at the fantastic, often glittering works of art created by Raúl de Nieves, a darling of the art world who’s clocked all the right accomplishments to indicate his destiny for greatness, including his features in the Whitney Biennial, MoMA PS1, Documenta and Performa, and beyond. But this year, de Nieves celebrated his first-ever solo museum exhibition, called Fina, at the Cleveland Museum of Art at the Transformer Station. This particular exhibit was “characterized by the artist’s ongoing interest in transforming humble materials into spectacular objects that alter the spaces around them.”
Hailing from México, de Nieves has a distinctly queer knack for turning the ordinary into something extraordinary, a talent that was on display during his Company Gallery show, “As Far As UUU Take Me.” There, sculptures, masks, and stained glass windows created a fantasy that seemed otherworldly, but also, familiar — safe, even.
“I feel like my art has been an inspiration for many people, specially because of my race and background,” de Nieves says. “And also, the fact that I didn’t attend school allows others to see that motivation and drive are key elements to self-realization.”
As for what’s next for the artist, he wants to continue his growth, but he’s also focusing a bit more on the personal. “I want to be able to be closer to people, and form stronger bonds with those I love.”
This year, the award-winning filmmaker and visual artist Wu Tsang celebrated the opening of her largest solo exhibition yet at the Berlin-based Gropius Bau museum. This was a major accomplishment for Tsang, whose work focuses on creating art that challenges the definitions of binaries by showcasing what she refers to as “in-betweenness.”
But while her art is meant to be received, viewed, and maybe even analyzed, Tsang resists the urge to fall into the trap of traditional representation. “I think it’s not about being seen,” she told Artnews. “I’m thinking of image-making as a kind of ritual practice that will reflect something back.”
It’s partly this much-needed analysis of “visibility” that makes Tsang such an interesting artist, particularly as she’s had immense appeal and admiration beyond the art world. In November, she debuted ALL IT TOOK, a documentary starring the musician Kelela. According to the New Museum, the film “spans five years” and explores “the singer’s adaptability and fluidity within a system largely built on market constraints and notions of a (racialized) fixed image.”
“I see fashion photography as journalism, and art as a way to attack history,” says the photographer Collier Schorr. “I work inside, but that doesn’t mean I’m an insider.”
And therein lies the secret to Schorr’s formula of success: She is one of the most in-demand photographers in the game, precisely because it’s places like the fashion industry that need her lens, her talent, her eye to show them something they’ve never seen before. This year’s credentials include everything from photographing representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez for the cover of Time and appearing naked on the cover of art-world staple frieze magazine, to capturing supermodels her own age for Vogue Italia.But, after years of being at the top of her game, it’s easy to wonder: What keeps Schorr so motivated?
“My community,” she says, “gives me ammunition to express myself, gives me an agenda to push, and makes me feel like I’m not alone. It’s been a horrific year in many ways, but a huge step forward for visibility. If we lose sight of that, we’ll lose grasp on our collective power.”
For an athlete who was already one of the most dominant soccer players in history, this was a game-changing year for Megan Rapinoe. The U.S. Women’s National Team won its second consecutive World Cup and fourth overall title since 1991, and FIFA awarded Rapinoe, the team’s captain, its prestigious Golden Ball and Golden Boot, a pair of honors given to the league’s most valuable player and top scorer, respectively. She was also named the league’s World Player of the Year. Rapinoe was a fixture in the headlines in 2019 not merely for her commanding gameplay, but also her vocal advocacy. She used her international profile to call out Donald Trump’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies after refusing a visit to the White House, and rallied to fight for wage equality (reports indicate that men’s championship teams earn about 17 times more than their female counterparts). As the U.S. Women’s National Team defeated the Netherlands 2-0, fans chanted “equal pay.”Now, the women’s players are using that momentum to file a lawsuit against FIFA to be paid the same amount as male athletes. Rapinoe says her big year is just the beginning. “I do think things are changing — of course, not at the pace I would like — but there is change happening,” she says. “There are important actions being taken. The general public is expressing their support for equal pay, a number of sponsors have actively been involved in working to level the playing field, and calling on leagues and federations alike to address pay inequality, demanding for them to do better.” If this year is any indication, Rapinoe’s impact can already be felt all over.
When Patricio Manuel defeated super-featherweight Hugo Aguilar in December 2018, the victory had been a long time coming. Manuel, a five-time national amateur boxing champion in the women’s league, competed for the U.S. Olympic team in the 2012 trials prior to transitioning. He fought his last match against a woman, a loss to Tiara Brown, the same year. After beginning hormone therapy in 2013, Manuel waited three long years to have a shot in the ring again — and two more before his first pro match. Manuel’s patience paid off. Beating Aguilar in a unanimous decision made him not only the first transgender boxer to compete at the pro level, but the first to win a match. He followed up the groundbreaking achievement with another in 2019, becoming the first transgender man to be featured in an advertising campaign for the popular fitness equipment brand Everlast. “So many people thought it was impossible for a transgender man to beat a [cisgender] man in the ring, and I proved them wrong,” he says. Even as Manuel makes history, the 34-year-old says he continues to face challenges as one of the few visibly trans men in pro sports. After transitioning, he lost his coach and his gym, and claims that persistent biases against transgender athletes “make it difficult to find willing opponents” to face off against in the ring. “I had to jump through extra red tape to get my boxing license, and I have to deal with people misgendering me in the media and dismissing me online,” he said. “Many people say I’m too weak to fight male-assigned at birth people. Some even say I will likely be killed in the ring because I’m a transgender man, even though cisgender men face the same dangers I do.” But after years of battling for a place for himself in his sport, Manuel says he will keep fighting. “I’m ready to get back in the ring and win again,” he says.
Brittney Griner’s WNBA coming out should have changed the game. The center for the Phoenix Mercury opened up about her lesbian identity after she was the number one pick in the 2013 draft out of Baylor University, a Christian school in Waco, Texas, that discourages students from engaging in same-sex relationships. “I knew once I went pro that I was going to talk about it,” she says. “Because my journey, it had ups and downs. I went through self-harm for a little bit, and I didn’t want anybody that was going through what I went through to feel alone. I just wanted to stand on top of a building and yell out, ‘I’m gay!’” Griner’s coming out happened just months after Jason Collins became the NBA’s first gay player. But while he nabbed a Sports Illustrated cover, the collective reaction to Griner’s admission was a shrug. Still, Griner went on to be a six-time WNBA All-Star and the first out LGBTQ+ player to receive an endorsement deal from Nike, but she says female athletes are still battling the perception that they “shouldn’t be there.” “Change is coming, but we have to demand it,” she says. “We can’t sit back and wait. We have to go out and take it.”
Coming out was just the beginning for Kerron Clement. The two-time Olympic gold medalist opened up about his sexuality for the first time in October, which will make the 33-year-old hurdler the only track and field athlete to compete as an out gay man in the U.S. Olympics in 2020. After winning the 400 meter hurdles at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Clement hopes to hold onto his title at next year’s games in Tokyo. But according to Clement, coming out wasn’t about being the “first” at anything. “It’s about being transparent and inspiring young athletes to work hard in spite of their struggles,” he says. “I went through all the struggles as well, but I worked hard and made a name for myself.” Today, Clement is at the top of his game. As LGBTQ+ competitors push athletics to be more inclusive through their existence and persistence, Clement hopes to show others it is possible to beat the odds. “I hope no one has to be afraid anymore,” he says. “It’s not fair to live in the shadows. Of course everyone’s experiences are different, but I hope I can give one person the courage to live their lives fully. You have to live for yourself and not for others. Don’t stifle yourself anymore.”
In August, the 27-year-old defensive end Ryan Russell came out as bisexual in a letter published by ESPN. “Today, I have two goals: returning to the NFL, and living my life openly,” he wrote. “I want to live my dream of playing the game I’ve worked my whole life to play, and being open about the person I’ve always been.” But after becoming one of the only NFL players to ever come out as queer — a shortlist that includes Michael Sam and Ryan O’Callaghan — he wants to set himself apart by being the first to get playing time. No out player has ever taken a down in the league, and Russell, a free agent since parting ways with the Buffalo Bills in 2018, says he’s “more physically prepared than ever” to be that person. “If you’re using any of your mental capacity on something other than sports, it’s hard to succeed,” he says. Although players and coaches often believe drafting a queer player will be a “distraction,” Russell believes prospective teams would only benefit from having him bring all of himself to the game. “To know that your teammates know you fully and support you is a strength that can only lead to success,” he says.
EIC of New York Media and Senior Vice President of Vox Media
Haskell has had a smooth transition to EIC this year. New York has retained its “classy and punkish” spirit (a recent impeachment cover broke the internet) while opening its arms to queer culture (its multiple drag queen covers caused a social media uproar). And next, he says you can expect “a handful of big, expensive pieces of journalism that have no guarantee of success.”
Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, CEO, and CFO of Autostraddle
With a successful fundraising campaign, Autostraddle, Bernard’s website, resulted in senior staff raises and increased freelance editorial rates, as well as continued longevity within a decline of queer media. “We have a unique and specific relationship with our community...They trust us,” Bernard says. That’s a business strategy we all need to get behind.
This year, Cannick went into double duty—as special assistant to the president of the Los Angeles City Council by day, and by night, covering and tracking the movement of Ed Buck and his many (Black, gay male) victims. When he was finally arrested, Cannick felt a sense of relief and gratification. “This little Black girl with no major backing or support of any kind has been able to create change,” she says.
A Song For You: My Life with Whitney Houston (Dutton)
There’s been one person conveniently erased from Whitney Houston’s legacy—and, ironically, she may have been her “Greatest Love of All.” Years after Houston’s tragic passing, Robyn Crawford confidently steps out of the shadows (a place she’d allegedly been cast by the Houston clan), proudly revealing the relationship she shared with her best friend and lover. Rather than tarnishing her legacy in sensationalism, Crawford, with love, manages to honor it in a way nobody else ever could.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press)
Written by poet, fiction writer, and (as of this year) the recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant,” this tragically beautiful piece of literature is framed in part as a love letter from Vuong to his mother, a Vietnamese immigrant who never learned to read. Chapter after chapter, Vuong (somewhat ironically) proves it’s not the written or spoken word that matters most; sometimes it’s the language in between. And yet, despite baring his soul in the book—Vuong reveals that, after it was published, he felt “released from the novel’s world”—much of the fanfare has resulted in his “being misread and misunderstood.” “So much of the work of a queer writer of color is teaching others how to read you the way you want to be read,” he says. “It’s labor, yes. But I don’t find it laborious.”
Build Yourself a Boat (Haymarket)
“Poetry can be especially elusive,” says Felix, a celebrated lyricist. “So I try my best not to sacrifice clarity for the sake of flourish.” Enter her debut book of poems, a collection that recently landed her a spot on the 2019 National Book Awards Longlist. “Our political climate asks us to make bold claims about who we are and what we want the future to look like,” Felix says. For her, that future lies in an unapologetic embrace and celebration of being a Black woman, as she succinctly uses prose to build, well, a boat that navigates the routes between her identity and the politics ravaging our world. But Felix’s work doesn’t just stop with her writing: She is hard at work as the director of surrogates and strategic communications for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign.
Pet (Make me a World)
Just a year ago, Emezi’s debut novel, FRESHWATER, took the literary world by storm, captivating readers with its depictions of Nigerian spirits and gender expansiveness. Now, Emezi has inked a development deal with FX and is celebrating the publishing of their first young adult novel, which just debuted with five-star reviews and was long-listed for a National Book Award. That would sound like more than enough to pile onto one plate, yet Emezi seems undaunted. But don’t mistake their focus for mere work ethic or ambition—for them, it’s a lot more than that. “My work is urgent across time…I want to build a future for Black trans kids that’s more than death statistics, something brighter than what we have now. If it can live in a story, it can breathe in real life, too.”
This past September, Prabal Gurung celebrated 10 years in business—a major (and, sadly, increasingly rare) accomplishment for a designer who’s made New York his home. Unfortunately, his plans for his anniversary show were about to be completely upended in the eleventh hour.
The show was originally intended to take place at The Vessel, a public art installation located at Hudson Yards. But just weeks out from his place on the schedule, Gurung read the headlines: Stephen Ross, the billionaire behind Hudson Yards, was hosting a multimillion-dollar fundraiser for Donald Trump. So, he pulled his show almost immediately.
At his new venue, the models took their finale walk, each wearing sashes emblazoned with the words, “Who Gets to Be American?”—a boldly political statement not normally seen on the runways.
“I hope that my brand continues to be a leading force in starting important dialogues around social responsibility, diversity, and inclusivity,” he says, adding that his mission is to create “clothing that empowers its wearer and serves a deeper purpose.” But, unlike many of the other brands out there with similar, lofty claims, Gurung appears to walk the walk: Over 70% of his employees consist of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, and over 80% of his collection is manufactured locally in New York.
“Apathy is the only concern that I have in our industry,” he says. “In today’s dangerous political climate, we must be a voice for the communities we’re benefiting from, and fight to support them.”
One of the most exciting new labels in recent memory is—go figure—designed by a man who has years of experience at some of the most important houses in the world (among them, Miu Miu, Yves Saint Laurent, and Zegna). Stefano Pilati debuted his concept and brand, Random Identities, on the e-commerce site ssense.com in an effort to bring “head-turning provocation” to menswear. With Random Identities, Pilati introduced a “Worker Boot” with a three-and-a-half inch heel for men that’s now become something of a staple among queer kids in the know. Other design highlights include rompers, a button-down shirt with a bra screen-printed across the chest, and, of course, a pleated skirt. For Pilati, this idea of experimentation is what makes his work gratifying. “Seeing the impact my clothes can have on people finally learning to break free from a norm imposed by patriarchal structures—someone putting on a skirt and feeling fabulous with some of the weight lifted off their shoulders—is the chance I see for fashion to still be poetic in 2019,” he says. But ultimately, it’s not just the customer who has had the opportunity to feel a bit liberated by Random Identities. “I’m expressing my knowledge and years of experience while taking the liberty of being true to myself and following my vision, rather than trying to work towards the market’s expectations,” Pilati says. And in an increasingly hostile marketplace for creatives, what could be more freeing than that?
Christopher John Rogers
When the final model took her walk at Christopher John Rogers’s first full-fledged fashion show this past New York Fashion Week, the audience rose to its feet, delivering a standing ovation. Among the crowd, there was an outpouring of support for the designer, who at just 25 years old, has already established himself as both the man of the moment and, well, the future of the industry. But what many may not have realized, especially after witnessing what Vogue called his “sumptuous Italian silks, upholstered linens...airy Swarovski crystal-adorned silk button-down shirts, and emerald green slips” was that Rogers is pretty much doing this all by himself. “The other three members of my team work full-time jobs during the day,” he says humbly. “So running the business is truly a hustle.” Currently, he works from home (with no interns or assistant, he points out) and manages everything from production and development to dressing requests on his own. That can be pretty hard to believe, considering that this year alone, Rogers has designed a custom ensemble for former First Lady Michelle Obama, and also nabbed the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize. Now, the designer has nabbed his first retail accounts, and is intent on creating his “own universe and inviting people with adjacent feelings to come in for a tour.” While “increased financial support and business mentoring for young designers” are among his hopes for the future, he has ambitious plans for his label, which include a “lifestyle brand inclusive of leather goods, jewelry, home, fragrance, and beauty,” all while continuing to offer “inclusive product” that “allows for many different people to feel at ease in the clothes, regardless of body type, age, or how they personally identify.”
“One of the reasons that I started [reporting on our] trans siblings being murdered was because I was tired of the poor reporting on it,” says Monica Roberts, who founded TransGriot in 2006. This award-winning blog is often the first outlet to respect a trans victim’s identity and chosen name correctly. She dedicates hours behind a computer screen, cross-referencing police reports with the testimonies of people who actually knew the true identities of the victims.
Over the years, Roberts has maintained a consistent track record of independent reporting, which means she’s often the first news source for larger mainstream outlets on the epidemic. Support her work at transgriot.blogspot.com.
The Anti-Violence Project sets a powerful example by elevating the voices of victims and the people in their lives. For Director of Communications Eliel Cruz, a key player in mobilizing the community around Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, utilizing digital platforms and mainstream media to clarify the context of violence for trans women of color is paramount. Much of the framing of the stories and information about victims is shaped by the work that he leads.
“I approach my work with communications through an organizing lens. I understand the power that storytelling has in shifting spaces and creating change, especially when coupled with data and used in policy changes,” he says. “With my role at AVP, I work hard to create spaces for survivors of violence to share their stories.”
Alongside this work, AVP’s community organizing and public advocacy arm only enhances the organization’s impact in ending the epidemic. From bystander intervention training to organizing rallies like those held for Cubilette-Polanco’s family, AVP covers the epidemic of violence from all sides.
Fed up with an ongoing trend of ignoring and erasing the contributions of trans folks to our larger historical movement, Aria Sa’id, Honey Mahogany, and Janetta Johnson cofounded Compton’s Transgender Cultural District in San Francisco—the first of its kind to honor the trans community. Legally recognized in 2017 in an effort to “support historic and present-day TLGB communities in the Tenderloin neighborhood,” the district fully emerged this year when Sa’id was named its first executive director, and the larger team developed a strategic plan focused on community development, economic advancement, and cultural equity. The world should’ve known they meant business when they moved the “T” to the front of the acronym.
Solutions Not Punishments Collaborative (SNaPCo) is a Black trans- and queer-led organization based in Atlanta, Georgia that focuses on leadership and campaign development with an emphasis on divestment from the prison-industrial complex.
Since 2015, Executive Director Toni-Michelle Williams has trained other Black trans people to develop solutions for the ever-present threats of violence plaguing the community. She founded the initiative’s Atlanta Trans Leadership internship, a 16-week course steeped in political education on mass criminalization and transformative organizing.
There’s one thing you should probably know about Darnell L. Moore: He’s been doing the work.
For the past two decades, Moore has best been known as one of our foremost intellectuals and thought leaders when it comes to matters of intersectionality, social justice, and the Movement for Black Lives.
Last year, Moore unleashed the full extent of what his mind and heart had to offer with a memoir titled No Ashes in the Fire, allowing readers a glimpse into the man behind the brain. In the book, Moore recounts his upbringing in Camden, New Jersey, and later, his devotion to fixing the systemic issues that harmed the people he loved most. So it’s no wonder that his name and talent would soon appeal to the streaming giant Netflix. In October, Moore joined their team in Los Angeles as the director of inclusion strategy. He describes himself as part of a “brain trust” under the leadership of the formidable Vernā Myers, the company’s vice president of inclusion strategy. It’s their job to “think about how inclusion, as both a lens and a practice, can be utilized to ensure that all aspects of the organization’s work is reflective of our commitment to hire a representation of traditionally underrepresented folk.”
“A lot of what I did early on in my career was more localized work,” Moore says. “But I actually see cultural production and content creation as a vehicle for which social change can happen. Moving into this position was a logical step.” But don’t worry: Darnell Moore, the author, isn’t going anywhere soon. In April, the manuscript for his next book is due — this time, a nonfiction tome about modern masculinity.
In the face of Vladimir Putin’s growing reign of terror, Igor Kochetkov runs the Russian LGBT Network, Russia’s first national LGBTQ+ organization, providing legal and psychological support where it’s needed most — notably in Chechnya. “More people in Russia understand...a society in which everybody is not free cannot be free,” he says. “LGBTI people in Russia fought back. They organized. And they’ve come out in growing numbers with defiant self-confidence.”
Since Hamed Sinno and friends founded Mashrou’ Leila in Lebanon in 2008, he has earned a reputation for being unapologetically Muslim, Arab, and gay, which has garnered the ire of some Middle Eastern authorities — and occasionally American audiences. “I’m extremely proud of knowing that...there are kids around the Arab world that know you can grow up to be happy and successful, in spite of and sometimes because of your differences,” he says.
After the murder of politician Marielle Franco, Erica Malunguinho felt a calling to enter politics, and became the first trans person elected to Brazil’s state congress in 2018. Since then, she has focused on forming alliances to resist the agenda of Brazil’s queerphobic President Jair Bolsonaro. “By strengthening networks of affection, solidarity, and economics,” she says, “we can stop this deadly machine that is visualized in this man who was elected.”
Monica Tabengwa has worked tirelessly to reform laws that unfairly target women and LGBTQ+ people in sub-Saharan Africa. But when the High Court of Botswana decriminalized homosexuality in June, Tabengwa says, “It was the proudest I have been. All the years of sweat and sacrifice had finally paid off.” Now, she is more determined than ever, working with Hivos SA in Botswana, to challenge extremists who claim authority over tradition, family values, and religion.
By the age of seven, Amazin Lêthị was a regular at the gym. “I was bullied continually as a child,” she says. “Sport became a haven for me where I could find a sense of community.” These days, she’s changing the scene for others as the founder of Vietnam’s first LGBTQ+ youth sports program and an ambassador for nonprofits Athlete Ally and Stonewall UK. Lêthị is also doing impactful work for the United Nations on the Global LGBTI Standards of Conduct.