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See the Full 2020 Out100 List Here
This is the 26th Annual Out100
The Out100 list remains the largest annual portfolio recognizing members of the LGBTQ+ community for their groundbreaking, ripple-inducing, and culture-shifting impact around the world.
This year's honorees make up one of the most diverse lists in Out magazine's history, spanning several generations and a multitude of intersections from rising stars in the music scene and a former WWII U.S. Navy fighter pilot to groundbreaking queer journalists, headlining comedians, trailblazing activists, writers, designers, athletes, CEOs, and thought leaders. See the full list here.
On Saturday, these honorees will be honored with the first-ever Out100 Virtual Honoree Induction Ceremony at 8 p.m. Wilson Cruz, Cheyenne Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Patrick Starrr, and Brigette Lundy-Paine are all set to make appearances. You can watch live on the Out100 Live landing page.
Wilson Cruz Saves the World
Read the full cover story here.
Photography by The Riker Brothers.
Janelle Monáe Shows Us The Way
Read the full cover story here.
Photography by Danielle Levitt.
Joe Mantello Comes to Hollywood
Read the full cover story here.
Photography by Luke Fontana.
Janaya Khan is Building Bridges
Read the full cover story here.
Photography by Nabil.
Thomas Beattie, Athlete & Entrepreneur
"Since coming out I have had the opportunity to speak publicly on the importance of LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion in professional football and sports at-large," says Thomas Beattie, who made history earlier this year when he became the second professional soccer player from the United Kingdom to come out. Since an injury forced him to retire, the brawny athlete has been living in Singapore, where he's created companies that span sectors from health to mobile technology, real estate development to e-commerce. "This year has been one of the most significant of my life so far," he says. "If we are ever going to tackle the issue of the closet in [soccer], we must address the institutional and systemic issues head on. I'm committed to being at the table and part of those conversations to help create change so no LGBTQ+ [soccer player] is forced to live their life in silence." (@iamthomasbeattie)
Billy Bean, Retired MLB Professional
Billy Bean has been hitting homeruns all his life. The only living out gay person to have played Major League Baseball retired in 1995 before returning to the game in 2014, when he was selected as the league's inaugural ambassador for inclusion. He's now vice president and special assistant to the Baseball Commissioner, working to make the league more welcoming for queer athletes. "I'm proud of MLB's unwavering commitment to supporting and promoting LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance," Bean says. "It's our mission to foster an equitable and fair workplace, free of discrimination and prejudice for every player, coach, umpire, employee, fan, and stakeholder. I appreciate the opportunity to impact our players through education, and it is inspiring to see them embrace their platform as influencers during this unprecedented year." (Twitter: @billybeanball)
Erin Parisi, Explorer and Highpointer
Erin Parisi is on a quest to be the first transgender woman to climb the Seven Summits, the name given to the highest peak on each continent. Summiting all seven is a brutal feat, first accomplished in 1985. Before she transitioned, Parisi bagged Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro. Now she's reconquering the mountain once again. Next up is the dangerous Himalayan peak of Mt. Everest. She'll be climbing not just to reach the top but also to inspire others within the trans community to conquer their own personal summits. "We empower ourselves to live and write our best stories when we find the courage to stop running from and fearing ourselves," Parisi says to other trans people with big dreams. "Stand high and be proud of your voice." (transending7.org)
Quinn, Soccer Player
Quinn is the type of player you want on your team. Tough. Smart. Unyielding in pursuit of victory. So rather than accept the lack of trans visibility in their sport of soccer, they came out this year "to increase representation of trans athletes in sports and to further engage in trans advocacy." They also saw the need to provide identifiable role models for young trans athletes. "Growing up," they say, "I didn't see someone who identified as I did in the career that I wanted to pursue and so I hope through my representation young folks can feel a little more hopeful about pursuing the sports that they love" despite the many barriers that still exist. The International Olympic Organizing Committee has yet to make a ruling on the inclusion of trans athletes in the Olympics, so Quinn is in limbo for the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics. They played in the 2016 Olympics and helped the Canadian National Team qualify for the Tokyo games. Regardless of the IOCC's decision, Quinn is a champion. (@thequinny5)
Richard Gray — Senior VP, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion for Greater Fort Lauderdale
Richard Gray's biggest accomplishment this year was supposed to be pulling off the first-ever Pride of the Americas, a five-day celebration expected to bring 300,000 visitors from two continents and 53 nations to Greater Fort Lauderdale, Fla.'s beaches -- before it had to be postponed in the face of a global pandemic.
"It is such a pivotal time for travel," Gray acknowledges. But in that he sees "a great opportunity to satisfy this pent-up demand for wanderlust." When travelers are ready to return, he's determined his city will be ready and able to welcome "everyone under the sun."
Gray, who identifies as gay, leads the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau's Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion department. "Inclusion means that all individuals are respected, accepted, and valued," he explains. "Diversity means recognizing and respecting everyone's unique qualities and attributes. Diversity in the business environment is about more than gender, race, and ethnicity. It has evolved, and it now includes employees with diverse religious and political beliefs, different socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, culture, people of size, and people with disabilities."
In helping the bureau launch the world's first global marketing and mainstream advertising campaign featuring transgender models (in 2016), Gray established himself as a visionary in the travel industry. And the bureau continues to innovate, unveiling ads earlier this year featuring disabled, plus-size, and older models.
The agency's latest campaign, "Celebrate You," is another global first. "It is our best campaign to date and underscores Greater Fort Lauderdale's diverse community and welcoming vibe," he says. "In this campaign, we include trans, drag, lesbian, gay, nonbinary, disabled, straight, and minorities in a very nonresort way. These are locals that live here, and they are not models. It is truly a historic, inclusive, and diverse global campaign."
As part of this campaign, the bureau added hues representing people of color to its Pride colors "to show our commitment to and belief in Black and brown people." It is the first destination marketing organization to add these colors to the flag. "The icing on the cake for me has been to see the impact my work has had on the global LGBT+ community," Gray says. "You can't be invisible. Visibility creates awareness and awareness leads to acceptance and acceptance ends discrimination. It's essential for all of us to use our own personal platforms to speak out. We are not free until we are all free."
Kim Culmone — Senior VP & Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls, Mattel
Kim Culmone oversees all aspects of product design for some of the world's most iconic toys. "I loved Barbie growing up, and little did I know that I would one day be head of design for a doll that was so important and influential in my life," Culmone says. "She was and is a source of endless inspiration to me, as she is for many in the fashion and design community. Barbie is literally a tool for imagination that transports you, dreaming of who to be and how you want to live your best life. Or at least she was for this only child from New Orleans."
For Culmone, it's important that diversity is found on the doll aisle, and over the past five years, she has helped the line evolve to be more reflective of the world by introducing more than 170 new looks, including expansive skin tones, new hair colors and textures, various eye colors, body diversity, and dolls reflecting permanent disabilities.
Outside of the Barbie world, Culmone serves on the board of directors for the Wright Institute Los Angeles, a mental health nonprofit organization, and Chickenshed NYC, a nonprofit inclusive children's theater company. (@kculmone)
Brandon D. Anderson, Activist and Tech Developer
After Brandon D. Anderson's partner was killed by a police officer during a routine traffic stop, Anderson discovered that the officer had a history of physical abuse, particularly during traffic stops -- abuse that was never reported. Each of the 18,000 police departments in the U.S. has its own unique, often complicated process of reporting misconduct, and as a result, fewer than 5 percent of people report police violence when it occurs. "This leads to a lack of transparency about officer behavior and, more importantly, dangerously shortsighted policies governing our safety, as it is hard to write comprehensive policies meant to fix experiences that are never documented," Anderson says.
So Anderson created Raheem, a tech company working to hold officers and their departments accountable by making it easier to report police violence. Raheem helps people file complaints, find a free lawyer, and publicize their stories. Raheem's research is already being used in cities across the country, and Anderson points out that things are changing.
"This year, at least 13 cities are defunding their police departments, including New York City, Austin, Los Angeles, and Baltimore, mostly due to the defund the police movement, which has sparked the largest protest in world history," he says. Reports can currently be submitted on Raheem.org. A mobile app, the first for reporting and livestreaming police violence, is on the way. (@raheem_org)
Chiun-Kai Shih, Creative Director at CKS Creative Management Inc.
After 20-plus years as a photographer and editor at Conde Nast, Chiun-Kai Shih was ready for a new challenge. "While working with rising stars behind the camera, I discovered I was even better suited to create opportunities for them," he says. "That was my inspiration for launching my company, CKS Creative Management Inc., in 2014."
CKS connects celebrities, talent, fashion designers, and more with Asian clients in their field, creating "business ventures, joint collaborations, and intellectual property development" for an often overlooked group. "This company has allowed me to help individuals attain their dreams by utilizing my expertise in branding and international marketing," Shih says.
Despite the pandemic, Shih maintains an optimistic worldview and continues "to see the demand for business collaboration as the Asian and Western entertainment continues to have broader crossover appeal."
Throughout his own work and personal life, Shih knows the value of gratitude, community, and giving back. He's currently working with Rainbow Railroad, an organization that helps LGBTQ+ people escape state-sponsored violence. "They focus on providing solutions and resources for LGBTQI people who need immediate assistance, facing a serious threat to their lives and safety because of their sexuality," he says. "Getting involved with Rainbow Railroad's critical mission has been so rewarding." (@mrchunkyexpress)
Michaela Mendelsohn, CEO of Pollo West Corp.
Back in 1986, Michaela Mendelsohn founded Pollo West Corp., which now operates six fast-casual chicken restaurants in the Los Angeles area. Admittedly, 2020 has been a tough year, but "a focus on drive-through, takeout, and delivery helped us make a comeback," she says. "We have also added patio dining to all of our stores, so customers have a safe way to dine out."
Mendelsohn, who was the first transgender board member for the Trevor Project, says her nonprofit work hasn't seen the same kind of bounce. After recognizing an opportunity as a business owner to hire other trans people, she founded Trans Can Work to develop opportunities for prospective gender-diverse workers. But she acknowledges that now a "considerable amount of our time is spent helping our job-seeker clients through the emotional and physical difficulties they are experiencing during the pandemic. We continue to help our clients become job-ready and are now placing them in industries that are still hiring. Competition for jobs is fiercer now, however. Funding is also a challenge for us during a time when so many people are struggling."
Through a new partnership with the Human Rights Campaign, Trans Can Work is helping to increase diverse hiring nationwide with a series of regional job fairs -- the next happening in Dallas in early 2021. The organization is also partnering with the city of West Hollywood this year to create an anti-transphobia campaign aimed at breaking down the numerous barriers trans people face when seeking employment. Plus, "going virtual has helped us reach more people nationwide," she says. "Our gender-diverse community is an intersection of all colors and ethnicities. We hope this new spotlight will increase and create real and lasting change." (@MichaelaSpeaks)
Valerie Berlin, Cofounder and Principal of BerlinRosen
Having founded BerlinRosen, a strategic communications firm, with Jonathan Rosen 15 years ago, Valerie Berlin has elevated marginalized voices through targeted campaigns, initiatives, and elections across many intersections, including racial and criminal justice, women's health, and immigration reform. This year, BerlinRosen played an integral role in supporting Democratic candidates like Pete Buttigieg, helping recruit 500,000 new poll workers ahead of the election through its work with the nonpartisan initiative Power the Polls, shaping the national communication strategy for the multiyear Flint water crisis litigation, and much more.
"I've learned a ton in this moment about resilience, creativity, and humor," she says. "First, people are incredibly resilient -- in spite of everything, our team shows up, gives their all, and supports each other, and the outpouring of compassion in the face of evil is sustaining. Secondly, crises force us to be creative. If someone told me a year ago that we couldn't leave our homes and will need to do our work from 200 separate locations, I would have said it couldn't be done. But here we are, doing it, and finding new ways for clients to reach their audiences, tell their stories, and move their issues forward, all while being there for one another in this isolating environment."
As for what lies ahead in the communications industry overall, she says it's never been more important to meet people where they are. "Communicators need to be versatile, well-rounded pros who know how to tell stories across every platform -- from The New York Times to an individual journalist's Substack account to a niche podcast to an Instagram Live with a celebrity in another field," she says. "We need to look everywhere to tell stories and tell them well." Of course, one should always make time for a laugh. "Without finding something to laugh about amidst all the pain, I don't know how we would survive. Thank the lord for Sarah Cooper videos!" (@ValerieBerlin)
Mark Pasnik, Architect and Activist
When asked to describe himself, Mark Pasnik is humble. "I like to think of myself as having several interconnected roles -- as an architect, educator, and advocate who champions the voices and legacy of other eras."
In truth, Pasnik, who is gay, is also an expert and published author on brutalism, the "legacy of concrete modernist buildings," as he defines the term. He cites Boston's City Hall as "one of the most widely recognized" examples of the type of now-vilified structures "once celebrated for their bravado." In his role as chair of the Boston Art Commission, Pasnik has been reminded of the "value of meaningful public discourse in communicating across divides."
Earlier this year, the commission unanimously voted to remove the Emancipation Memorial in Park Square that depicted a freed American Black slave kneeling before Abraham Lincoln. He and others have implemented such discourse to address larger issues facing an increasingly polarized society suffering the effects of systemic oppression, which are often represented in historic statues that are out of step with today's ethos. "I have been learning from many voices in Boston's communities about symbolism and racial justice in public art," he says.
Despite the current cultural divide, Pasnik remains hopeful for the future and the positive impact architecture can have in effecting change. "Architecture is a particularly fascinating art form because it records ideas from one era and transmits them across decades. Advocating for works of architecture means understanding those messages and sharing their lessons with new generations." (overunder.co)
Tim Cook, CEO at Apple
Despite its stress and strife, 2020 was the year when people turned to their devices for connection. It turned out to be a good year for Apple CEO Tim Cook. In June, the leading tech company hit a historic high when its market value reached $1.5 trillion only two years after first hitting the trillion-dollar mark. A couple of months later, Apple's market value surpassed the $2 trillion mark. Talk about progress. Cook, the first chief executive of a Fortune 500 company to publicly come out as gay, has doubled the company's revenue and profit and increased its market value from $348 billion to $1.9 trillion since taking the reins in 2011. In the process, he became a billionaire and one of the richest gay men on the planet. (@tim_cook)
Diego Montoya, Designer and Visionary
A testament to how much the mainstream is embracing queer artistry, Diego Montoya's opulent and ornate looks were all over our TVs this year. Thanks to RuPaul's Drag Race taking the art form to the world stage, the Peruvian-born, New York City-based designer has made a name for himself as a go-to for many of the biggest names to come out of the show.
For many, Montoya first landed on the collective radar when he created the unforgettable white dress that Sasha Velour wore during her winning final lip-synch to Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Okay" against Peppermint in season 9 of Drag Race. Last year, he made history when Shangela became the first drag queen to walk the Oscars red carpet in drag wearing his lavender and gold design. "I love that people are paying drag queens, finally, because this has been a very underpaid thing even though it's a very expensive thing to do," he says. "Now the girls are being able to have big costumes made and plan big shows, and there's a market for that because they've been seen by the world."
As a costume designer on the HBO's We're Here, starring Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen, and Eureka O'Hara, Montoya helped spread the gospel of drag to residents in small town America who received drag makeovers -- making us ugly cry in the process.
Although the finale of season 5 of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars saw Shea Coulee walk away with the crown, it was also a winning moment for Montoya. Contestants Jujubee, Miz Cracker, and Blair St. Clair each took to the final runway wearing his designs in looks that were among the most exciting to ever appear on the long-running show.
It's no surprise that when Lady Gaga needed a mask for her performance at this year's MTV Video Music Awards, her team sought out Montoya. For the socially distanced telecast held amid the ongoing global pandemic, the pop star wore a variety of masks to make her stance clear: Wear a mask. With Gaga committing to covering her face even during her performance, Montoya was tasked with making a mask that was just as functional for singing live as it was beautiful.
"I'm proud of that collaboration because it was fast and it was demanding, but it looked great onstage," Montoya says. "The message that she was trying to convey with that performance really worked and was spot on."
"If I look back, I can't believe I get to just make costumes all day long. And there's enough of a demand for these costumes that are unusual and opportunities to work on just that all the time." (@diegomontoyastudio)
André Leon Talley — Fashion Editor, Author, and Visionary
With a career that spans more than 50 years, Andre Leon Talley is one of the most influential forces in fashion. Period. 2020 was an eventful year for the industry icon, who's never one to be boring. The former editor at large and creative director of Vogue released a second memoir (and third book), The Chiffon Trenches, which focuses on his experiences and insights from five decades immersed in the worlds of art and fashion. He also writes candidly of his relationship with longtime Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour.
Talley, who has been vocal about racism within the industry and has historically advocated for Black women in fashion, recently defended Wintour when a New YorkTimes article criticized her for being complicit in systemic racism: "Anna made history by making me the first African American male EVER to be named as creative director of Vogue, in 1988. She crashed the glass ceiling," he wrote on Instagram.
Talley's unique expertise and points of view continue to inspire writers, creators, and connoisseurs at all intersections of art. "You must always share your knowledge with people, especially the future generations," he says. (@officialALT)
Rachel Maddow, Journalist
When you get right down to it, the year 2020 made no sense -- absolutely no sense -- because there was never any time to stop and think about it. You couldn't keep your balance between all of the earthquakes of news, each with their own aftershocks: impeachment, COVID-19, lockdowns, unemployment, retail bankruptcies, George Floyd, racial unrest, nightly protests, COVID-19, hurricanes, record fires, climate change, Trump's taxes, Trump's lies, Trump's minions, Trump's COVID-19, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Amy Coney Barrett (just to name a few). Oh, and as icing on this moldy cake of a year, there was a presidential election.
In a world gone mad, in a surreal environment of utter chaos, confusion, and conflict, if you turned your TV on to MSNBC at 9 Eastern each night, there was someone on your screen who could make sense out of all the bewildering news. Although she's had her own show in this time slot for 12 years now, Rachel Maddow was needed more than ever in 2020.
You didn't have to be queer to appreciate this lesbian's calm, collected, careful manner and the way she prosecuted her case each night, with steely deliberation, point-by-point clarifications backed up by painstaking research, and a laser focus on telling the truth. From 9 p.m. to 9:20 p.m., her opening monologue, well, opening statement in this case, cut through all the insanity, the instability, and the incompetence. Each night during this turbulent year, she provided a road map of clarity to America.
And she did it with what appeared to be natural conversations with her viewers. But that's not what happened. There was surely exhaustive effort on her part. She lived and breathed her show, and threw herself headfirst into the subjects and her script each night. How did she get it right all the time? Always zeroing in on her target and hitting a bull's-eye every time. (Did she ever sleep?) We all need a rest and a slow news year in 2021. And no one needs that more than Rachel Maddow. (@maddow)
Andrew Gelwicks, Stylist and Author
It was little surprise when Andrew Gelwicks, a gay former Conde Nast editor, became a celebrity stylist. "Working in the fashion department at GQ and doing celebrity booking at Teen Vogue laid the foundation for me to venture into celebrity styling," he says. "The exposure was vast, and I was fortunate to learn from some of the most brilliant, accomplished editors. However, I had long been enamored by iconic editorials and red carpet moments that live on in perpetuity. I moved on to be a part of that." Today, the 26-year-old counts Catherine O'Hara and Lisa Rinna among his clients, and on top of his many accomplishments in publishing and fashion, his first book, The Queer Advantage: Conversations With LGBTQ+ Leaders on the Power of Identity, hit shelves in October. The Queer Advantage is a collection of firsthand stories of renowned LGBTQ+ trailblazers (including Dan Levy, George Takei, Billie Jean King, Margaret Cho, Lee Daniels, Adam Rippon, Boy George, Troye Sivan, and more). It explores how their queer identities have positively impacted their lives and careers, offering an intimate celebration of queerness still too rare today.
"I connected most with the creatives and artists I interviewed in The Queer Advantage," Gelwicks admits. "At the same time, I felt an innate bond with all 51 leaders. While each of their experiences were so gloriously unique, the shared understanding of being able to use what society defines as a weakness as your superpower resonated with me deeply. There is something for everybody, regardless of how you identify, within the pages. It has been a thrill working with innovative queer leaders from around the globe and helping to amplify their powerful stories."
From fashion to writing to public speaking, Gelwicks has blended his professional passions together, and the turbulent year we've had has given him "an opportunity to reflect on my goals, what makes me most happy, and the change I wish to see in the world." The book, which could change how young people and their families see LGBTQ+ people, changed Gelwicks even more. "For many years I actively tried to suppress memories of my own struggles related to understanding my identity," he says. "In writing this book, I was compelled to not only confront the past, but also to dissect, analyze, and ultimately embrace those moments. I would not give up that process for the world." (@andrewgelwicks)
Jenni Olson, Filmmaker and Queer Historian
One of the world's leading experts on queer cinema history, Jenni Olson is an independent filmmaker and former co-director of the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival. This year her extensive collection was acquired by the Harvard Film Archive, preserving hundreds of queer moving images from feature films, TV commercials, educational films, home movies, trailers, and more -- and making them available to a wider audience.
Olson offers this summary of her work as a filmmaker: "I am completely engaged in themes of memory and nostalgia and history but with the goal of helping the viewer (and myself) to arrive in the present moment. I am very sincere in this aim...to create a cinematic experience that approximates stopping time -- I mean this in a very spiritual way. I really just want my viewers to pause and be in the moment."
The cofounder of the Bressan Project, Olson describes its restoration and re-release of works by pioneering gay filmmaker Arthur J. Bressan Jr. -- including Buddies (1985, the first feature film about AIDS) and the 1977 documentary Gay USA -- as "one of the most rewarding undertakings of my career."
Her new essay on her 30-year career is forthcoming in 2021 in The Oxford Handbook of Queer Cinema, is forthcoming in 2021, and she is in development on her third feature-length essay film, The Quiet World, and a memoir of the same name in which she reflects on growing up queer, butch, and gender-nonconforming in Minnesota. She says Quiet will "grapple with a diverse array of topics ranging from Prince to George Floyd to the brutal French colonial history of the state."
Reflecting on 2020, Olson muses, "Like a showdown in a classic Western, the pandemic cleared the main street of our proverbial frontier town for an encounter between the good guys and the bad guys (though often it has seemed the sheriff is the villain and the outlaw is our hero). The police murder of George Floyd brought on a level of collective societal consciousness-raising around systemic racism which I believe can never be erased despite the violent backlash from fearful conservatives and extremist white nationalists."
"To cite a line I wrote in The Quiet World, riffing on one of my favorite cis-het-white poets [T.S. Eliot]: 'May human voices wake us, lest we drown.'" (@jenniolsonsf)
Sharon-Franklin Brown, President of the Board of Christopher Street West/LA Pride
In September, Sharon-Franklin Brown made history when she became the first Black transgender woman elected president of the board of Christopher Street West/LA Pride, the 50-year-old organization that oversees one of the nation's largest Pride celebrations. And Brown doesn't take the role lightly.
"The job allows me the opportunity to give back to the community, which then echoes into dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller LGBTQ+ organizations and communities across the country," she says. Brown and her team are committed to establishing "safe spaces that are not only diverse, equitable, and inclusive but also create a sense of belonging for everyone," she adds.
Brown is also chief human resources officer at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, where she oversees 800 employees in areas including organizational development and personnel policies. While the pandemic has changed how Pride and the workplace operate, she's observed a tangible shift toward inclusion in both.
"The time for change is now, and I am a part of that change," she says. "I've also been reminded [of] how resilient we are as a community. We are all trying to find creative ways to deal with the coronavirus pandemic as well as the attacks on LGBTQ+ civil liberties under the Trump administration. We will prevail." (@lapride)
Paris Barclay, Director and Producer
In 2013, Paris Barclay became the first Black and the first gay president of the Directors Guild of America. Though he stepped down in 2017, his work toward creating a safer work environment and growing opportunities for artists of color has only expanded. Alongside director Steven Soderbergh, Barclay cochaired the "Return to Work" negotiations, in which major unions and producers determined a way to reopen film and TV production under new safety guidelines amid the pandemic. In short, he helped get Hollywood back to work.
"I have two families: the one I have at home with my husband and sons, and the one I have at work with the cast and crew of Station 19," he says of the Grey's Anatomy spin-off that showcases two leading LGBTQ+ characters. "Both have needed my focus to shift to making their safety a priority in the midst of this raging pandemic. I've learned that caring for them both is truly difficult, but a real source of joy."
The respected producer and director of nearly 200 episodes of television is also an ardent musical theater creator. Barclay has written 17 musical plays that have been produced around the country. He's hoping to bring one of them, One Red Flower, based on soldiers' letters written during the Vietnam War, to the small screen soon.
While Barclay says the days of "40 million people watching ER" are over, today's television offers a new opportunity to "tell particular stories, that highlight characters who don't get their chance to shine -- transgender women and men, bisexual men, lesbian and gay Black people. We can tell their stories now, with depth and reality, in this increasingly fragmented landscape." (@harparbar)
Punkie Johnson, Comedian and Writer
Saturday Night Live just got a hell of a lot funnier earlier this year when Punkie Johnson became the NBC staple's first Black lesbian cast member. The New Orleans native describes herself as a "brutally honest Southern lesbian." She joins other current LGBTQ+ cast members Bowen Yang and Kate McKinnon. She's been happily married to her wife for over 17 years and has used their relationship as part of her comedy sets, like at Just for Laughs when she made a relatable joke about how role-play saved her marriage. (@punkiejohnson)
Damien Navarro, Executive Director at Outfest
Damien Navarro is the first gay Latino executive director of Outfest, a 40-year-old nonprofit that produces two annual world-class queer film festivals and several educational programs. Navarro's ability to excel on the creative and business side of movie making is probably why Outfest is thriving despite the global pandemic, hosting a festival and a drive-in series of screenings in Malibu, Calif.
"Our mission is to create visibility to diverse LGBTQIA+ stories and empower storytellers," he says. Building empathy to drive meaningful social change is more meaning now than ever." The flexibility Navarro has brought to the prominent organization had its genesis in his belief that Outfest's events should not be confined to a movie theater but can be shared across platforms and found spaces. Just as crucial was the creative space his leadership brought to normally marginalized voices, with more than 70 percent of the Outfest's slate directed by female, trans and POC filmmakers. (@damiennavarro)
Ilona Verley, Drag Race’s Two-Spirit Queen
When Ilona Verley became the first Indigenous and two-spirit contestant to ever compete in the now-global Drag Race franchise as a part of Canada'sDrag Race, she knew it was an opportunity. "It's really important to have that visibility because I went through years of thinking that I had to be white-passing to fit in and to make it in media, and that's not true," she says. Her exploration of gender continues to evolve. "I'm experiencing this very crazy fluidity right now," Verley says. "I don't want to put my foot down too much with any label. Because who knows, in a few months from now, when I'm in a better mind-set or a better situation, how I'm going to feel."
Verley, in her "head-to-toe monochromatic, pastel perfection," is one of the most exciting queens working today. Queens everywhere should be worried. "I do have my American citizenship, so look out bitches. As soon as that border is open, I'm coming. I'm taking all your gigs." (@ilonaverley)
Shevrin Jones, Florida Legislator
Shevrin Jones, a preacher's son, won election to Florida's House of Representatives in 2012. Eight years later, he became the first out gay member of the state Senate -- and the chamber's first queer person of color. Looking back, making history proved easier than he realized. "I kept getting in my own way," says Jones, who represents a Democratic district populated by socially conservative Bahamian immigrants, including his own family. Now, one of 40 Senate desks in Florida's capital city of Tallahassee bears his nameplate. "People could care less about what you are doing in the bedroom," he says. "They're more concerned about what you are going to do for them." (@shevrinjones)
Charlie Martin, Auto Racer
Auto racing is not a sport for the faint of heart. For Charlie Martin, a transgender woman breaking barriers on and off the track, the race to inclusion in the sport has had its hairpin turns. So far, she has raced in the Ginetta GT5 Challenge, the Michelin Le Mans Cup, and the German VLN Championship, where she raced in the 2020 24 Hours of Nurburgring. She is the first out trans person to take on that challenge. Her ultimate racing goal, though, is to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the gold standard for endurance motor racing. "I'm using my platform in sport to educate people, increase acceptance and empathy for the trans community, and inspire positive change in the world," she says. (@gocharliem)
Kierra Johnson, Executive Director at National LGBTQ+ Task Force
In September, Kierra Johnson was named the National LGBTQ Task Force's first Black executive director after it was announced that in 2021 Rea Carey would exit her long-held position. Johnson is one of just a few queer-identified women of color leading a national LGBTQ+ organization. "I am excited about our work to better articulate the impact of issues that people rarely think of as LGBTQ issues on people of our community," she says. "There is much work to be done to get the needed data and to tell the stories that are all too common and largely unheard of -- nonbinary and trans people who are not being hired, queer young people living on the streets, and LGBTQ+ people of color [who] are targeted by the police. We are dying from diseases and ailments because our full humanity is often unrecognized, and it is entirely legal to refuse us quality, culturally competent care. This is the work I was born to do. This is the future of the Task Force." (@kierradc)
Ritchie Torres, U.S. Representative-Elect
Ritchie Torres is no stranger to breaking new ground. In 2013, at age 25, he won a seat in the New York City Council, making him the youngest elected official in the city and the first member of the LGBTQ+ community elected from the Bronx. Now Torres, who is gay, is poised to become the first Afro-Latinx person from the LGBTQ+ population to serve in Congress.
Torres is running for the U.S. House in New York's 15th Congressional District, and was practically assured a win in the most heavily Democratic district in the nation. But in the Democratic primary in June, he was one of a dozen candidates including homophobe and fellow City Council member Ruben Diaz Sr. Torres led the field with 32 percent of the vote. Torres, who grew up in public housing in the Bronx, is committed to fighting poverty, expanding health care, and reforming the criminal justice system. He believes he can do more in Congress because "that's where the future of the country is largely determined." (@ritchietorres)
Mondaire Jones, U.S. Representative-Elect
"For me, policy is personal," says Mondaire Jones, who is set to become one of the first two Black gay men in Congress. He grew up poor in Spring Valley, N.Y., a suburb of New York City. "Now I get to run to represent the same people whose houses my grandmother cleaned," Jones says.
Jones won the June primary for U.S. House of Representatives in New York's 17th Congressional District, over seven candidates. In a largely Democratic district, he's likely to win the November election. He and Ritchie Torres, from a neighboring district, will be the first members of Congress from the Black LGBTQ+ population.
Jones is committed to making a difference for low-income Americans. He supports universal health care, a program to assure that all Americans have housing, a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free public college, cancellation of student debt, sweeping criminal justice reform, and combating climate change. "I will fight tooth and nail for those things Democrats say they believe in," he says. (@mondairejones)
Tiffany Cabán, Activist and Politician
Tiffany Caban -- a public defender, politician, and political organizer -- ran for New York's Queens County district attorney last year, only to lose by a handful of votes. A victory would have made Caban the first Latina and first queer person to hold the position. In September, Caban announced her candidacy to represent the 22nd District on the New York City Council in the 2021 election. She's also been working as a national organizer with the Working Families Party.
"I started this work after my 2019 campaign for Queens district attorney, where I ran on a radically decarceral platform calling for less policing and incarceration, and more investment in the true source of safety -- our communities," says Caban. "We are fighting to shrink the reach of our carceral systems that brutalize Black, brown, queer, immigrant, and poor communities. More broadly, this work is about paradigm shifting as we redefine public safety. Changing the narrative around who and what keeps us safe." (@cabanforqueens)
Malcolm Kenyatta, Pennsylvania State Representative
Malcolm Kenyatta has had a landmark year, being one of the first LGBTQ+ speakers to give a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. At one point he was joined by his fiance, University of Pennsylvania professor Matthew Miller. Later he got a shout-out for his hairstyle from former President Barack Obama. He also ran unopposed for reelection to the Pennsylvania House. Initially elected in 2018, he's the first out LGBTQ+ person of color in the legislature. Kenyatta hopes his visibility will provide a "look what I can do" moment for young LGBTQ+ people, inspiring them to pursue their own dreams. "It's so difficult to be what you can't see," he says. Of being out, he notes, "Bringing our full selves to the work that we do is not a 'nice to have it,' it's critical." (@malcolmkenyatta)
Mary Trump, Psychologist and Author
Too Much and Never Enough aptly describes Donald Trump, and is a perfect title for the best-selling book written about him by his lesbian niece Mary Trump. The psychologist wanted people to understand, particularly during an election year, her uncle's character and psychopathologies. Plus, she says, "it is my honor to do everything in my power to get Joe Biden and Kamala Harris elected."
"I've learned that the American people and people around the world were starving for information that could help them understand not just Donald but his supporters," she says. "I think that's been one of the most demoralizing aspects of this fiasco -- the extent to which elected Republicans were so eager to support a man who is clearly unfit and working Americans were willing to ignore his racism, misogyny, fiscal irresponsibility, and willingness to lie to them about everything."
The book, which has been on The New York Times' and Amazon's best seller lists and remains the best-selling nonfiction book of 2020, benefits from Mary Trump's training as a clinical psychologist. Addressing mental health issues is the next challenge ahead for Americans, the author says.
"This country is headed towards one of the greatest, if not the greatest, mental health crisis in our history, in part because of the seemingly endless stream of crises we've been subjected to over the last four years as well as the severity of the health and economic crises we're currently living through," she says.
The rise of extremism and creeping authoritarianism, the increase in income inequality, the destruction of norms, and the betrayal of our institutions, all traceable to her uncle's actions, have had a massive impact on the American psyche, she adds. "Helping the American people recover from the trauma of COVID and the attendant economic hardships it has exposed the American people to will require a re-imagining of a system that has too often failed us." (@maryltrump)
Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health
As Pennsylvania's secretary of health, Dr. Rachel Levine leads a coordinated effort between the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf and other agencies against COVID-19. She does so in the face of conservative opposition as well as transphobic attacks from critics. Her mantra: "Stay calm, stay home, and stay safe."
But Levine's work isn't confined to the Keystone State. As president of the Association for State and Territorial Health Officials, she helps coordinate pandemic responses among all the states, helping to save lives across the country. This big-picture, cooperative approach to public health is needed now more than ever, she says, as is addressing America's health disparities. "Our vulnerable populations have been hit particularly hard by this virus. This includes seniors and... minority populations such as [Black], Latinx, and LGTBQ+ individuals. The social determinants of health, such as one's income, their living situation, their education, where they live, also are critical elements of health equity." Protecting the vulnerable will require a community effort from all Americans "We have learned that we must be united in order to stop the spread of this virus." (@secretarylevine)
Mark S. King, HIV Activist and Blogger
It took a minute, but Maryland-based blogger Mark S. King is now the hottest thing in journalism, being named NLGJA's LGBTQ Journalist of the Year and garnering the 2020 GLAAD Award for Outstanding Blog. King -- the man behind My Fabulous Disease -- is finally getting some long deserved recognition.
"I am an aging gay white man living with HIV, and proud of it," says the long-term survivor ("I will be 60 this December. If my calculations are correct and I became HIV-positive in 1980, that's 40 of my 60 years."). "I'm a guy with HIV and a keyboard. Both of those things are a source of power. It takes a certain shamelessness to write so much about, well, me. But our stories as older LGBTQ people and as long-term HIV survivors are fascinating and funny and sexy and complicated. I don't diminish that anymore, but yeah, winning a GLAAD Award doesn't hurt. I'm still the gay kid looking for validation."
As COVID-19 took away resources previously spent on HIV in 2020, King came away with a lesson for us all. "It isn't always about us. We all have our shit, every group and every generation. I survived AIDS, and there are plenty of people reading this who survived a lot worse. Let's take our skills and our trauma and our gratitude...and go help other people, for God's sake. Otherwise, what was it all for?"
"I realized something awful this year," says the long-time advocate. "All these years of activism, and I always thought, at least subconsciously, I'll do the gay thing and the HIV thing. Someone else will do the race thing. My God, the privilege of that mindset! I have to call out the shit I see other white people say and do. And I've learned that we're dangerously stubborn, we liberals, because we get offended at the very idea that we benefit from white supremacy and systemic racism. We need to shut up and find humility and examine ourselves. The call is coming from inside the house, y'all." (@myfabdisease)
Wanda Sykes & Page Hurwitz, Comedian and Producer
This was a year of queer women and women of color pushing boundaries in Hollywood -- like how lesbian writer, actress, and comedian Wanda Sykes (left) and lesbian Jewish veteran producer Page Hurwitz have done with Push It Productions. The production company received Emmy nominations for two separate Tiffany Haddish vehicles -- her stand-up special Black Mitzvah and Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready, which highlights trans and cis female comedians in a white/male-dominated industry. Push It is also behind Fortune Feimster's latest hilarious (and wonderfully queer) stand-up special, Sweet & Salty.
The Emmy nods, confirm "that our approach to stand-up specials, which is different from how most producers tackle them, is on point," says Hurwitz. "We are very hands on...because these specials are now calling cards for comedians; they are incredibly important for their careers. The opportunity to stand on stage and say anything to a worldwide audience is too important these days to treat casually. The best comedy is powerful in its ability to unite, change minds, and elevate the audience."
Sykes adds that she's also proud of Push It's other productions that got less recognition, including "our hilarious series Talk Show The Game Show...hosted by out gay comedian Guy Branum and was based on his live show of the same name.... We're also extremely proud of our Epix show Unprotected Sets.... The cast is so diverse and talented. Each comedian delivers a killer performance and a compelling interview. Scout Durwood, Paris Sashay, and Daniel Webb -- all out LGBTQ comedians -- were among the 12 comedians handpicked for the first season." (@iamwandaskykes) (@pagehurwitz)
Jo Mama & Lucy Stoole, Drag Activists
Qween Jean, Activist and Costume Designer
If you marched for Black trans lives or watched footage of a protest this year, you may have seen Qween Jean dressed to kill with a megaphone in hand. The queer designer made sure her message was heard loud and clear: "We have been excluded, and we are demanding equal rights, equal representation, and equal support across the board."
Jean says she was working toward "dismantling the systems and work models that did not include and honor everyone's contributions." prior to the shutdowns. "Before the pandemic, our success was always adjacent to whiteness. Ain't nobody got time for that!" Jean explains. She is hopeful that in the coming years we'll see more "authentically diverse representation on stage and behind the scenes" that will connect with audiences not bound to a white and patriarchal past. "We have such young, talented BIPOC artists who need that opportunity to display their strengths and magical gifts. The change I'm envisioning for the industry will be permanent. The age of appeasement is over!" (@qween_jean)
Raquel Willis, Activist and Organizer
Raquel Willis is a Black trans woman, and "a writer, activist, and cultural organizer dedicated to uplifting the dignity, power, and work of people on the margins, particularly Black transgender people." She's worked at the Transgender Law Center, served as executive editor at Out, and now works as director of communications for the Ms. Foundation. This year she was one of the organizers of the largest action in history for Black trans lives, a rally and march where over 15,000 people took to the streets of New York City, something that earned her, along with the other organizers, the Stonewall Foundation's 2020 Vision Award.
Willis says she's learned that "people on the margins have even more resilience inside of us than we could ever imagine," and that "our community will never truly be free until the most marginalized of us have full control of our narratives and livelihoods." Willis has started writing her memoir, which will feature "some of the lessons I've learned being involved in various social justice movements for several years." (@raquel_willis)
West Dakota, Drag Activist
When West Dakota, a prominent Brooklyn, N.Y., drag performer and social activist, first got the idea to organize a march to draw attention to the disproportionate rates of violence against Black trans women, they had no idea it would be one of the biggest demonstrations ever for the cause. What became the Brooklyn Liberation March drew 15,000 participants dressed in white marched through the streets of the borough in June. She says "witnessing the strength and interconnectedness of my community" was a highlight of 2020.
"Being out to me means being honest with myself, acknowledging and working through the layers of shame and honoring my truth," says Dakota. "Living honestly with myself and sharing that with others means deeper, more fulfilling connections. It means allowing myself to feel cute, to feel strong, to feel sexy and safe and tender." (@iamwestdakota)
Walela Nehanda, Cancer Activist and Organizer
This year, Walela Nehanda helped get needed supplies to 200 immune-compromised people during the shortages caused by the pandemic. The 26-year-old Black queer disabled trans nonbinary femme organizer and creative with advanced leukemia has also gotten 6,430 people registered with the lifesaving bone marrow donor list through Be the Match (text "ItsWalela" to 61474 to register and send in a swab kit to see if you're a match). They've also dealt with the disappointment of finding a bone marrow transplant match for themselves only to see it fall through at the last minute. And yet Nehanda says their biggest accomplishment this year has simply been staying indoors.
"I've been in isolation with my partner, Akili, since March because I'm immune-compromised," Nehanda says. "It may be small, but it's a feat to me because it truly has tested me in so many ways." While in lockdown they have also been able to initiate some long-awaited projects "and now I'm starting to bring them to reality. It's very exciting to see them begin to materialize -- my younger self would be proud too." We certainly are. (@itswalela)
Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change
Color of Change was created in response to the lack of federal aid to Black communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Since becoming its president in 2011, civil rights leader Rashad Robinson has helped grow the nonprofit into the largest racial justice organization in the U.S. During his tenure, the organization has added 7 million members and four new offices.
"At Color of Change, we're working to create consequences, accountability, and a new set of rules for decision makers when it comes to issues that affect Black people's lives," says Robinson. "In all, we are creating a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America. And when Black people win...all oppressed people win."
This year, especially, "proved once again that the fight for racial justice can motivate and mobilize people like few other fights can," he says. "In early May, people were saying that protest was over -- there could be no protest in the age of COVID-19. And then look what happened when racial justice became the issue.... The uprisings we saw this year were the culmination of the last decade of a new approach to organizing for racial justice, and the next step is converting that energy and the new consciousness into real power. That's what I call moving from presence to power." (@rashadrobinson)
Scott Wiener, State Senator
California State Sen. Scott Wiener fought hard this year, having played a huge role in passing a law requiring health care providers to start collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data for all communicable diseases. He also learned firsthand the dangers of disinformation campaigns and agitated conspiracy theorists when he sought to close a loophole in state law that treated queer people differently from straight ones convicted of the same crimes. "I got over 1,000 death threats and tens of thousands of comments slandering me," he says. "It was a terrifying glimpse into the future." Never one to back down from the good fight, Wiener sees an opportunity to bring disinfecting transparency to the deeper, underlying problem of far-right radicalism and online misinformation. "As progressive elected officials, we need to be prepared to fight back against misinformation by encouraging media literacy, holding social media companies accountable, and making sure correct information is out there and available," he says. (@Scott_Wiener)
Shannon Minter, Legal Director at NCLR
In fighting the Trump administration, Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, sees Trump's attack on transgender service members as particularly "vicious and shocking." Minter argues, "If they can get away with banning transgender people from the military, the same arguments will be used to justify discrimination against trans people in civilian [spaces]."
NCLR has responded aggressively to this threat, and its efforts are working. "Before the ban, most people had no idea that transgender people were serving in the military," Minter explains. "Now they do and the great majority...support transgender people's right to serve on equal terms."
This year Minter also continued fighting for federal legislation to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination and building bridges with conservative religious Americans. But what Minter says he's most proud of in his 25-year career is his work to stop conversion therapy, an issue he credits with first drawing him to NCLR as a law student back in 1992. NCLR's Born Perfect campaign to end conversion therapy is now "by far, the most successful legislative campaign" in the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, he says. In just eight years NCLR has helped pass 20 state and nearly 80 local laws banning use of the devastating practice on minors. (@shannonminter5)
Pattie Gonia, Sustainable Drag Queen
"My work, at the end of the day, is advocacy," says sustainable drag persona Pattie Gonia. "Figuring out how to take action and encourage others to do the same is just about the most important thing... Time and time again, though, a question that's helped me find where to start is 'What is the work that's available to me and only to me?' and then chasing the hell out of the answer to that question."
"Reduce, reuse recycle, bitch!" Gonia says of their environmentalist approach to fashion and drag. "Sustainable drag means applying the ethics behind sustainability and applying it to my art form of drag. What it looks like is normalizing outfit repeating, buying less, reusing more, upcycling pieces from old looks and making it work with what I've got instead of thinking the solution is buying something new." Looking past this year, Gonia says "I am excited to fall down many different rabbit holes; I am excited to get lost. Let's see what we can find, shall we?" (@pattiegonia)
Keith Parris, Activist
Keith Parris, a 21-year-old amputee, influencer, activist, and author, shows that "body positivity is a necessary movement now," and encourages folks to "love the body that they're in and show off their amazing shape, size, and curves." The gay Gen Z activist overcame an eating disorder and self-harm (he's been in recovery for five years) and used this adversity to build a platform for himself. His Amputee Story, earned thousands of views on Wattpad, and readers were moved by Parris's transparency. (Not just anyone can make charging your artificial leg like your iPhone sound as commonplace as Parris does.) Next on his list is acting and modeling, as he continues to "advocate for my LGBTQ+ community and amputee community." While he's dreaming of diving into the "reality world next year so I can show more of my life," never discount this guy's abilities. "I was told I would never make it in this industry and never be in a magazine -- but look at me now!" (@keithteboy_)
Cody Renard Richard, Stage Manager and Educator
A successful Broadway stage manager who has worked on Cirque du Soleil productions and with folks like Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, Cody Renard Richard is also an educator and advocate. In addition to being named one of Variety's 10 Broadway Players to Watch in 2020 (the first stage manager to receive this honor), Richard received the Young Alumni Award from Webster University, delivered the keynote speech at the National Collaborators Conference, and worked on MTV's Video Music Awards. He recently founded the Cody Renard Richard Scholarship Program, which helps support BIPOC theater students. "I have been really focusing on initiatives and programs that will move the needle forward for the next generation of Black and brown folx," he says of this year. "We must love on each other and show up for each other in any way that we can." (@codyrenard)
Elle Hearns, Executive Director at The Marsha P. Johnson Institute
Elle Hearns might be best known as a co-founding member of Black Lives Matter, but her work and activism goes well beyond that. She is also the executive director of The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which works to end to violence against all trans people. The organization is credited for arranging the first ever National Day of Action for Black Trans Women in response to the murders of Amber Monroe, Kandis Capri, and Elisha Walker. Hearns has been honored with the Young Women's Achievement Award for Advocacy and Organizing by the Women's Information Network, the Black Feminist Human Rights Defender award by Black Women's Blueprint, and was named a Woke 100 honoree by Essence magazine. Hearns' operates politically from the perspectives of Black nationalism, humanist theory, and black trans theory and practice. ""My greatest lesson this year has been to trust the standards that I've been creating for myself over a lifetime," she says. "And to trust that despite the darkest moments of this time and this life that life's greatest moments are still in store and on the way for me." (@soulfreedreams)
Ceyenne Doroshow, Founder and Executive Director, G.L.I.T.S.
GQ describes Ceyenne Doroshow as a "one-woman Swiss Army knife for those who've needed help of virtually any kind," and it's an apt characterization. The founder and executive director of Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society (G.L.I.T.S.), Doroshow is aiding and empowering trans sex workers by offering harm-reduction strategies and respecting their rights and dignity. "It's about bringing real answers to real problems," she says of her work. "We are a resilient people." The organization acquired a 12-unit building in Queens, N.Y., to provide stable, safe housing for Black trans people. "We've never had something specific to us," she says. "It is a landmark moment in history." The location will also offer case management services to residents with specific needs, such as those who've been incarcerated and are building a new life on the outside. While remodeling the building, Doroshow's added interior decorating to her list of skills, which already included writing, performing, and culinary arts (she's also the coauthor of the Caribbean cookbook Cooking in Heels). (@doroshow)
Robina Asti, Trans Activist and WWII U.S. Navy Fighter Pilot
Ninety-nine-year-old Robina Asti, a transgender woman, flew combat missions over Midway Island and elsewhere in the Pacific theater during World War II long before she transitioned. She returned home and married at age 40, helping create a family with two children. After the accidental death of her 9-year-old son, Asti was forced to reevaluate her life, and realized, "I wanted to transition...[so] that I could live my life as an authentic woman."
Asti transitioned in the 1970s and remained relatively under the gender spectrum radar until the passing of her husband in 2012. When the federal government denied her standard Social Security survivor's benefits (claiming she was not legally a woman at the time of their marriage), she fought back -- and (eventually) won. She now operates the Cloud Dancers Foundation, an LGBTQ+ wish-fulfillment charity seeking to inspire and empower one wish at a time. (CloudDancers.org)
Karine Jean-Pierre, Senior Advisor to the Biden-Harris Campaign and Chief of Staff to Vice Presidential Elect, Senator Kamala Harris.
This political activist and author is helping to move the nation forward -- and she's making history in the process. Karine Jean-Pierre played a key role as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris ran for the White House, holding the titles of senior advisor to the Campaign and chief of staff to the VP Elect, Senator Kamala Harris. making her the first Black person and first lesbian to hold that position for a vice-presidential nominee.
Jean-Pierre knows that America has a long way to go toward becoming an inclusive nation that works for everyone. But she and other women of color are pushing it in the right direction. More women ran for office in 2020 than ever before, and more than a third of them were women of color.
"America is progressing towards a stronger, more inclusive future -- and I know women of color are a driving force in that evolution," she says. "Soon, I believe our politics will start to show it a bit more too."
The author of the appropriately titled 2019 book Moving Forward wants to help others make their voices heard. The book is both a memoir and a guide to political involvement. "I wanted to demystify the political process and make it accessible to everyone who wants to get involved," she says. "Helping open the door for other people will always be something I'm proud of." (@k_jeanpierre)
Reggie Greer, LGBTQ+ Engagement Director at the Biden-Harris Campaign
Before becoming the first Black disabled gay man in history to lead LGBTQ+ outreach for a presidential campaign, Reggie Greer already had an impressive resume as deputy director of public engagement at the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Obama administration. These days he's basking in gratitude after spending nearly all of 2020 speaking directly to queer voters about their concerns and hopes for the future.
"The LGBTQ+ community is extremely diverse -- spanning the complete spectrum of America's social, racial, and cultural landscape," he says. "It was important to me that our campaign lifted up every segment of our community, reflecting Vice President Biden's desire that every American be seen, heard, and included."
Through the Out for Biden initiative, which is made up of an incredibly thoughtful and diverse crew of people, Greer helped build partnerships and launched queer coalitions that included several first-ever events for a presidential campaign, celebrating LGBTQ+ Arab-Americans, Two-Spirit people, Black people, Latinx, AAPIs, and people of faith. Out for Biden also worked to include and center trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer voices in campaign-wide programming. "There is no substitute for real, genuine human connection and that extending grace to people, including oneself, is extremely important." (@rwgreer)
Jamal Brown, National Press Secretary for the Biden-Harris Campaign
Wrapping up perhaps one of the most monumental campaigns in recent history, Jamal Brown's role was equal parts spokesperson, messaging strategist, policy wonk, and avid researcher for the Biden-Harris campaign. But most importantly, as national press secretary, it was his responsibility to ensure the American people knew they had a fighter and champion for them in Joe Biden.
"When I was younger and my mother and I were on welfare for a period, I learned during that time to turn your grief into purpose," Brown says. "I was reminded of that lesson this year as the epidemic of racism and racial injustice came to the forefront of the American consciousness. It wasn't anything new for Black and brown people, but it exposed the everyday trauma we live, cope with, and overcome."
Still, the fight is never over -- especially for Brown. "As a country we are ever evolving. We've never fully lived up to our founding ideals, but we've never stopped reaching for them either. Over the next four years, I see our country continuing the march towards our promise of equality, equity, and justice, no matter how arduous the journey may be." (@JTOBrown)
Jen Richards, Actress and Writer
Self-described "cottage lesbian" Jen Richards has been making the most of the isolation of quarantine. In addition to getting engaged, the writer and actor seen in Netflix's Disclosure and the indie film Gossamer Folds says she's "learned the profound satisfaction of installing your own ceiling fan" and "that homemade pickles are one of life's easily earned, but great, rewards." She's also spent the months "actively reorienting" herself to tackling the systemic racism that was laid bare in the protests calling out violence against people of color. Despite the darkness of the times, though, Richards sees a silver lining to the lockdown."As writing rooms become remote, the industry is going to open itself to more writers than the handful who can afford to live in Los Angeles," she says, identifying the potential for more "diverse perspectives" which make for better more representative stories. "My hope is that it creates a positive feedback loop where more audiences feel represented and therefore engage more, leading to higher demand for new kinds of stories and incentives to provide them." (@smartassjen)
Brigette Lundy-Paine, Actor
In November 2019, Atypical star Brigette Lundy-Paine made headlines when they came out as nonbinary on Instagram. In their life and career, Lundy-Paine has been a guiding light to LGBTQ+ young people. Their Atypical character, Casey, is a queer teen navigating coming out and young love. Thousands have lauded the positive impact of Casey's relationship with classmate Izzie (Fivel Stewart) in the #CazzieNation hashtag.
On the big screen, Lundy-Paine continues to break the mold in films like Bombshell, about sexual harassment at Fox News, and Bill & Ted Face the Music, the surprise hit of the socially distanced summer. As Billie, the daughter of Ted (Keanu Reeves), Lundy-Paine brought a "genderlessness" to the part that defied tropes while literally representing the next generation of Hollywood. This representation is essential when, as GLAAD reports, no film from a major studio featured trans or nonbinary characters in 2019. Off-screen, Lundy-Paine finds other ways of being creative. "I've been painting lately," they share. "Currently working on a nude of my upstairs neighbor inspired by Botticelli's Primavera." Lundy-Paine is also a cofounder of Waif, an alternative art magazine for "waifs," described as "whores," "prudes," "nudes," and "dudes." The magazine recently held a fundraiser hosted by artist Sina al-Qamar for the top surgery of one of its community members, Mia. In a year marked by much fear and division, Lundy-Paine stands by the Golden Rule. "This year I've learned how important being gentle is, both to yourself and to beings around you." (@briiiiiiiiiig)
P. David Ebersole & Todd Hughes, Documentarians
Partners in life and in business, P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes have developed their own niche of documentaries profiling creative pioneers who break rules, forge new ground, and change the way we live.
Over the past decade, the husbands have done six feature films, including Alaska Is a Drag and Mansfield 66/67. Their most recent, House of Cardin, follows iconic designer Pierre Cardin at age 98 for nearly a year and includes interviews with Jean-Paul Gaultier, Naomi Campbell, Sharon Stone, Dionne Warwick, and others. The art of cinema, they argue, has never been more critical. And it's the filmmaker's role to challenge the status quo.
"In times like these, the art of film should be willing to be controversial, sometimes confrontational, and whenever possible, at its finest," Ebersole tells Out. "That doesn't necessarily mean it needs to be loud; it just needs to be good and culturally observant. Entertainment is quietly becoming a monopoly again after a long struggle to break it up. That should be a call to all artists to create and define our truth through our work and to find new ways to get it out there to the public in an increasingly corporate environment. Otherwise, Netflix, Apple, and Amazon are going to do it for you."
Outside of their cinematic ventures, Ebersole and Hughes are also award-winning tablescapers, which for the layperson, is the art of creating a thematic dinner table. Together they've won the grand prize ribbon at the Los Angeles County Fair three times. Clearly, a couple who tablescapes together stays together. (@EbersoleHughes)
Steven Clay Hunter, Animator
For 30 years, Steven Clay Hunter has worked as an animator, helping to bring others' tales to life in productions like Finding Nemo, Toy Story 2, and The Incredibles. But with Out --his groundbreaking 2020 short that is the first Pixar film to feature a gay lead -- Hunter finally got to tell his own story. Like his protagonist, the queer animator came out to his parents as an adult, albeit without the magical help of the film's fairy god-pets.
"I've been surprised at what an emotional journey it's been," Hunter says. "I'm especially moved by all the folks who were there along the way who helped me tell it."
Although LGBTQ+ representation has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years, animated productions have lagged behind -- particularly those under the Disney umbrella. However, Hunter sees his short as the wave of the future.
Making Out "is just part of a continuum of storytelling that came before me and will continue afterwards," he says. "Queer stories have been on the fringes for a long time, but we're becoming more mainstream every year. And as we become more mainstream, I sure hope that it doesn't mean we lose the fighting spirit that got us here. We need to keep pushing for all of our stories to be told."
"Don't assume that it's somebody else's problem that you can put off or ignore," he adds. "Know that you're a part of something bigger than you and you can't hide from the world."
When not animating, Hunter enjoys sitting in his rocking chair "with a good book. And a cup of tea. And my baggy sweater. Does that make me old?" His holiday wish this year would be "hugs from people I haven't hugged in a long, long time, and the warmth of their company." (@thunderbubble)
Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, Writers and Filmmakers
Dashaun Wesley, King of Vogue
It's been a legendary year for Dashaun Wesley. After portraying Shadow Wintour on Pose, the "King of Vogue" burst onto the reality television runway as the master of ceremonies on HBO Max's Legendary, a competition between eight voguing houses. Wesley is no stranger to this scene; he has danced and commentated in the New York City ballroom arena since he was a teenager. He's since showed off his moves on America's Best Dance Crew, BET's Hit the Floor, and Magic Mike XXL. Wesley describes his job as being "one of the best pilots in the flyer's seat for the style of voguing" who helps "guide passengers on the path of success with performances, education, and knowledge of the underground ballroom scene." His most recent productions have brought the world of ballroom to living rooms around the world, garnering a new generation of fans and practitioners. Wesley predicts ballroom culture will continue to grow over the next few years, "not only in numbers but in visibility." He expects changes to the competitive format as well. "I see more of a fixed and structured playing field for the newcomers and spectators. The rule system to be adjusted to give a better understanding to the lingo, categories, and titles given to the hard-working participants," he says. He also hopes to see the creation of a "marked historical location for the scene like a museum or building that we store our history and archive our legacy." (@dashaunwesley)
Jamal Sims, Choreographer
Jamal Sims first danced onto the scene in the late '90s, choreographing hit hip-hop videos for artists like Usher and Dru Hill. Since then, he has become one of the hottest choreographers in Hollywood, parlaying his talents into the world of film and television.
Sims, who says being out "means freedom," has remained dedicated to creating LGBTQ+-inclusive content throughout his 20-plus-year career. He's dabbled in producing and acting -- and became an award-winning director with 2018's documentary When the Beat Drops. His dazzling choreography in last year's Aladdin live action reboot starring Will Smith blew audiences (and critics) away.
These days, Sims is probably most recognized as a longtime resident choreographer (along with Todrick Hall) across several of the RuPaul's Drag Race franchises. Though 2020 has been a challenging year, he says there were some wonderful highlights, like "reintroducing me to myself, spending quality time with my family, and falling in love." Sims says his hope for 2021 "is that we all can heal from 2020." (@jamizzi)
Cheyenne Jackson, Actor and Singer
A bona fide Broadway star, Cheyenne Jackson made a transition to the small screen, eventually becaming a part of Ryan Murphy's world, appearing in Glee and American Horror Story.
This summer Jackson played a charmingly pernicious apparition in the teen-oriented Netflix series Julie and the Phantoms, which featured a sweet gay storyline in addition to its general queer sensibility.
Regarding the series' subplot about teen boys in love, Jackson, who is gay, told our sibling publication The Advocate, "I'm 45. I came out when I was 19. It was a different world."
"As a 15-year-old queer kid in Idaho, to be able to turn on the TV and see a representation of just two cute boys liking each other -- [and] that's it? Like, no pain, no angst? It would have been really powerful."
In October, Jackson played pioneering gay liberation activist Dale Jennings in HBO Max's docuseries (with reenactments) Equal, about the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Also, his version of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," which he dedicated to "my man" on The Seth Concert Series in August, is a marvel.
In a year marked by so much change, the married dad of twins says he found solace in the work of another pop star: "I didn't know how much I needed Miley Cyrus singing 'Heart of Glass.'"
As for what life will be like moving forward Jackson says, "It's going to be a meditation in innovation and simply being malleable." (@mrcheyennejackson)
Lili Reinhart, Actress and Producer
Lili Reinhart has always been transparent, sharing her struggles with anxiety, depression, and body dysmorphia; but there was one subject she hadn't shared until this year when the Riverdale actress came out to her 25 million followers on Instagram as "a proud bisexual woman."
"I was afraid of coming out," she later explained on our sibling podcast, LGBTQ&A. "I didn't want people to tell me that I was lying to get attention or something. I think that's why I didn't come out as bisexual until I was not in a relationship anymore. Because it's easy for people to question, 'Oh, but you're with a man -- that's straight.'"
Although Reinhart has been lauded for her openness, she isn't sure such praise is warranted. As she writes in her new collection of poetry, Swimming Lessons, "I've only told the world/ what I feel,/ not how to overcome./ It feels fraudulent to be given/ a pat on the back/ for simply telling the truth."
When asked what accomplishment she is willing to accept praise for, Reinhart tells Out, "I'm very proud of the film Chemical Hearts, where I served as a first-time executive producer for Amazon. It was such a creatively fulfilling experience and I hold the movie so close to my heart." (@lilireinhart)
Amrit Kapai, Lawyer and Reality Star
Though 32-year-old Amrit Kapai had already achieved success practicing law in Chicago, he "found another incredibly meaningful calling -- serving as a voice for the South Asian LGBTQ community" through his role on Family Karma. The Bravo reality show follows a tightknit group of immigrants from India, and the inevitable culture-clashes that ensue now that they live in the United States.
"Family Karma embodies my opportunity to shine the spotlight on the challenges and distinct issues Indian LGBTQs face," Kapai says. "My unique role as the only gay cast member highlights my own struggles and the example I am striving to set, all the while promoting the central message to live our most authentic lives."
"The COVID-19 pandemic hammers home the importance of personal sacrifice for the greater good of humanity," Kapai adds. "The pandemic has also tempered my view of my own success by showing me that I am simply one of many...the Black Lives Matter movement continues to teach me empathy... [and] has forced me to face the truth about oppression, discrimination, and unequal civil liberties in our country. Looking the other way simply is not an option." (@amritkapai)
Brandon Kyle Goodman, Actor and Writer
Brandon Kyle Goodman has made the most of the global quarantine, using the visibility they've gained as an actor and writer to advocate for the Black Lives Matters protests, shining a disinfecting light on the violence suffered at the hands of police by people of color. Their viral video messages and activism netted over 80,000 followers in just a few days on social media, and brought much needed awareness and hard dollars to groups like The Innocence Project, The Bail Project, and NAACP. Goodman identifies as nonbinary. While they find their gender status doesn't necessarily make life harder in Hollywood at present, "being Black and queer definitely does. Always fighting to be seen as human, as more than just the 'gay assistant', the' sassy best friend', but instead someone with a full life, that is complicated, nuanced, flawed, joyful, painful, messy, and aspirational. Black people, and especially Black queer people are often positioned as a punch line, and if you're not willing to participate in that, it cuts you off at the knees since those are mostly the parts available." Goodman is penning the punchlines now after joining the writing room for seasons 4 and 5 of the irreverently hilarious Netflix animated series Big Mouth. They're writing for laughs for a more strategic purpose."I hope that TV and film will recognize and honor the fact that Black people, queer people, POC, and women are beyond capable of telling our own stories and that audiences are hungry for it." Next up for Goodman is Human Resources, a spin-off of Big Mouth. He'll be voicing Walter, a queer Black voice he wishes he'd seen on the shows of his youth."I'm excited for the world to meet him," he gushes. (@brandonkgood)
François Arnaud, Actor
The Borgias actor who also appeared in Schitt's Creek, Francois Arnaud, came out as bisexual this year in an Instagram story in advance of Bi Visibility Day. The 35-year-old French Canadian posted that he was sharing his story to help combat "assumptions of straightness." Musing about why he'd previously kept silent about his sexuality, he wrote, "Probably because 'masculinity' is a most fragile currency, ready to nose-dive at the first sign of vulnerability or difference. And because it's really fucking scary to give up your privilege. Without a doubt, because stigmas of indecisiveness, infidelity, deception, and trendiness are still clinging to bisexuality."
Arnaud is fresh off filming the indie romantic thriller The Winter House, with Lili Taylor. Earlier this year, his anticipated return to theater after almost ten years fell through in the face of the pandemic. "I can't wait for the day we're able to be in a room full of strangers experiencing something together again. Hearing someone in the audience laugh at the wrong time," Arnaud says. He calls that kind of in-person experience, "so awkward," and yet so important.
Aside from the arts, Arnaud admits, "the only thing I'm actually genuinely passionately interested in is food. And wine. I'll eat anything and everything. I'm only ever thinking or talking about my next meal." (@francoisarnaud)
Jo Ellen Pellman, Actress
Jo Ellen Pellman was the only unknown cast in Ryan Murphy's film adaptation of the Tony-nominated musical, The Prom. She stars alongside heavy-hitters like Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Andrew Rannells. "Working with this phenomenal cast and creative team to share this story with the world has been the greatest joy," says the queer-identified Pellman.
Pellman describes The Prom as "a love letter to Broadway, a queer coming of age story, and a celebration of many worldviews coming together to make something magical happen." She says it was the perfect film for 2020 because, "It offers a kind of hope that's rooted in reality, an optimism that persists in the face of inequality. The Prom embraces the idea that if we meet people where they are and have those tough conversations in search of a better, more just world, we all have the possibility of a happy ending." (@jellpell)
Jonathan Bennett, Actor and Host
Jonathan Bennett is a veteran of film and television, from the soap opera All My Children to movies like Mean Girls and Cheaper by the Dozen 2, but his latest role in Hallmark Channel's The Christmas House might be his most important. It's the first openly gay character in the network's fare of original holiday movies.
"I'm incredibly proud to be a part of this moment in history," Bennett say, noting that a "family film at the holidays with a love story that includes two men in a healthy loving relationship about to adopt their first child...is progress." The former host of Cake Wars is glad the LGBTQ+ community finally has affirming storylines in traditional holiday programming. "For years we just wanted a seat at the table. And this year, thanks to the progress and support of Hallmark, we have that seat when it comes to feel good Christmas stories." (@jonathandbennett)
Melissa King, Top Chef
Top Chef: Boston finalist Melissa King not only won 2020's Top Chef All-Stars: Los Angeles, in the process, she racked up more challenge wins than any other competitor in the history of the Bravo cooking competition. But as the show aired, the pandemic raged, leaving the restaurant industry devastated. "My revenue streams disappeared overnight," King recalls. But she was up to this challenge too. "The pandemic has inspired new beginnings," she explains. She's broadened her business model to include an apparel line, a small batch sauce line (which sold out online in 3 minutes), and virtual cooking classes.
"When the pandemic first started, I found many people struggling to cook for themselves and their families," King says. "These virtual classes have been a way for me to offer my skills and bring flavorful, yet approachable dishes into the comfort of your home."
Activism is a central consideration for King, who donated her entire $10,000 Top Chef Fan Favorite prize to Black Visions Collective, Asian Americans for Equality, The Trevor Project, and Asian Youth Center in Los Angeles. She donates money from each cooking class to similar causes.
"I stand proud representing my communities and showing that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can accomplish amazing things," says the Chinese-American, queer, gender-fluid chef. (@chefmelissaking)
Jameela Jamil, Actress, Podcaster, and Activist
The Good Place star, Jameela Jamil has paid a price for being a mouthy woman of color. When she speaks people react. This year alone, the British-South Asian activist and artist has held her own at political rallies, shared conversations on stage with feminist icons like Gloria Steinem, spoken about her disabilities, and navigated controversy about being a judge on the vogue-ball series, Legendary that led her to come out as queer -- something she hadn't disclosed publicly previously.
The "feminist in progress" says now, "It's easy to just be silent and pretty and mysterious and inoffensive. But who do you help? What do you learn? What does anyone learn from you? What's the fucking point?"
Instead, Jamil says she "would rather be scrappy and authentic and grow in public and be an example to others that it's never too late to work on yourself. I'm someone who refuses to feel embarrassed about having a lot more to learn. I feel as though if we felt less shame around needing to be educated, we as a collective, would know more by now."
On The Good Place, her relentlessly optimistic and seemingly perfect character Tahini learns that lesson too, and over the four seasons of the show, she becomes a better person.
As the show ended in January, Jamil moved on to a slew of projects including TBS's The Misery Index. Fellow queers Sam Smith and Lizzo have appeared on Jamil's anti-shame platform and podcast, I Weigh, talking about body image and more. "I find freedom and safety in being honest with myself and with others," Jamil says.
Jamil is using I Weigh to "ask people much smarter and better than me, to take my place on my platform and teach all of us. I am not doing them a favor. They are doing all of us the favor." (@jameelajamil)
Harvey Guillén, Actor and Musician
Harvey Guillen is everybody's favorite human familiar on FX's What We Do in the Shadows, and recently signed to show off his musical talents in the second season of NBC's Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist. There he's set for a multi-episode arc as George, a new programmer in search of approval from the titular character. He just wrapped production on the upcoming film Werewolves Within, based on the popular multiplayer Ubisoft game. The out queer 30-year-old Latinx star from Orange County, Calif., used to watch television as a child and lament the lack of characters and storylines that paralleled his own. Guillen is now that role model for a new generation of Latinx youth seeking affirmation of their identity and ethnicity in a media environment usually dominated by white faces and stories. (@harveyguillen)
Sam Feder, Director
Sam Feder's Disclosure is the documentary that everyone in media was talking about this year. From its hugely successful world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, to streaming on Netflix, to making Indiewire's "Academy Awards Contenders" list, Disclosure (about trans representation in film and TV), was everywhere. The film's success, and the rest of 2020, came as a shock to Feder, a self-described introvert who "can spend days repotting my plants." As the trans director of the biggest trans documentary of the year, Feder is hoping their film doesn't just resonate with viewers, but can usher in real change. "I hope we see power given to and taken by more trans people in telling trans stories," they say. Feder required cisgender members of their documentary crew agree to train a trans person who is trying to break into Hollywood. In doing so, Feder created new opportunities and connections for trans storytellers. And now, whenever someone argues that there's nothing wrong with transphobic jokes or tropes on TV and it's okay to have cisgender folks writing and playing trans roles, we have Disclosure as a clear and concise clap back. (@samfeder_1)
Bex Taylor-Klaus, Actor
Not surprisingly, Bex Taylor-Klaus says their recent wedding to The Fosters' Alicia Sixtos was the highlight of 2020. A Jewish kid from the South, the actor (Arrow, The Killing, Scream) describes their gender "as an elusive forest gecko with hidden genitalia and asexual reproduction. I love the term nonbinary because it feels like a good umbrella for a gender that constantly feels fluid and evolving."
That made playing the nonbinary character Brianna Bishop on Deputy an "extraordinary" experience for Taylor-Klaus. "Growing up, there was never an explicitly trans or nonbinary character in any media I consumed," the actor says. "I craved representation of something I didn't even know I was. When I got the opportunity to help create an actual nonbinary character whom I would have obsessed over as a lost child trying to find myself, I cried."
Up next for the actor is a medical drama Triage, in the meantime, we can fly with them (as Keo Venzee) in the Star Wars: Squadrons video game. (@bex_tk)
Shakina Nayfack, Actress
The character Shakina Nayfack plays in Connecting... wasn't originally trans. But Nayfack still booked the part -- making her the first out trans person to have a starring role in a network comedy -- which was then re-written for her. Anyone who's seen Nayfack in the Transparent musical finale, in Difficult People, or onstage in her one-woman show, Manifest Pussy, can understand why: she's a star.
"We're seeing trans characters move beyond stereotypes and our stories move beyond tropes, but fundamentally, when you consider who the producers and execs are, who's literally behind the camera and in the cutting room, most trans stories are still being told by cis people," Nayfack says. "There are a lot of seats that need to be filled by trans folks before we are truly in charge of how our stories get told."
Connecting... solidifies Nayfack's place in television history, but it's also been a monumental year in her personal life because she had a revision to her gender confirmation surgery. "We need to normalize GCS revisions for trans women," Nayfack argues. "It's a major operation and it often takes more than one step to get right. If you're reading this and you're a post-op trans woman with pussy problems, your experience is valid and I support you going in for that second round." (@shakeenz)
Theo Germaine, Actor
After breakout roles in Netflix's The Politician and Showtime's Work in Progress, Theo Germaine's career may stand as proof of what is now possible for a nonbinary actor in Hollywood. While trans and nonbinary representation has dramatically increased in the past two to three years, Germaine says, "I'm discouraged by how we sometimes pat ourselves on the back during the times we've done the bare minimum in regards to inclusion in the industry. A lot of people are being kept out." For example, they say, "I'm not seeing enough trans people being hired in other aspects of the industry yet. And those of us who are hired -- many of us are thin and able bodied. That needs to change now." Germaine uses their platform to ensure that when we turn on our TVs, we don't just see the select few trans people that Hollywood has deemed "palatable."
With the success of their two shows, both of which were picked up for multiple seasons, Germaine's life has changed with a fierceness and intensity they're still adjusting to. Experiencing housing and financial instability prior to being cast on The Politician, they struggled to get their basic needs met through periodic theater gigs, food service, burlesque performances, office temping, pet care, occasional escorting, selling art, "and basically just taking any gig I could to pay all my bills and try to keep working towards the goal I had for acting." (@theogermaine)
Keke Palmer, Actress and Singer
Since actress, singer, and TV personality Lauren Keyana "Keke" Palmer made her debut in 2005's Barbershop 2: Back in Business, she's become one of the hardest working women in Hollywood. Palmer has been featured in countless films and television shows while also balancing a successful career as a recording artist.
Palmer continued to push boundaries with her riveting performance in 2018's Pimp, in which she played a queer pimp struggling to free herself and her girlfriend from the dangerous ties that bound them. In 2019, she starred in the wildly popular Hustlers with Jennifer Lopez. These days you won't want to miss Palmer flex her comedic chops in the new streaming series Turnt up with Taylors, in which she single-handedly portrays multiple members of a dysfunctional reality TV family.
The multi-talented star has won numerous awards for her contributions to both the arts and the Black community. This year she has also hosted major virtual events, like the 2020 Video Music Awards on MTV-- and (more importantly), the Nickelodeon special, Kids Pick the President. (@kekepalmer)
Gina Yashere, Comedian
British-Nigerian lesbian stand-up comedian Gina Yashere came to the U.S. as a finalist on NBC's Last Comic Standing in 2007 and never left. As adept on stage on a Olivia cruise as she is on a Hollywood backlot, Yashere was tapped by Chuck Lorre (creator of Mom, Big Bang Theory, et al) to co-create, produce, write, and act in the CBS comedy series, Bob Hearts Abishola. The first series to feature a Nigerian family, its second season debuts in November.
"Stand-up is, and will always be my first love, as the freedom of live comedy can't be beaten, but I also love bringing my characters to life," Yashere says about her Abishola character Kemi.
The 46-year-old has two Netflix specials (Skinny B*tch and Laughing to America), is a commentator on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, and has a memoir (Cack-Handed) out next year.
For now, Yashere admits she's stopped watching or listening to the news. "Never thought I'd look back at Bush as the good old days of Republican racism," she jokes. But she's hopeful that 2020 will actually be a turning point for racial equality. "This year has been a perfect storm -- the whole world at home watching George Floyd being murdered, and this time being unable to turn a blind eye, coupled with the worldwide protests. It just feels different. People are finally listening to us. I don't know how long it will last, but I'm going to get as many through that open door as possible." (@ginayashere)
Jeremy Pope, Actor
Actor Jeremy Pope burst onto the scene in Ryan Murphy's hit Netflix series Hollywood, playing gay Black screenwriter Archie Coleman. The series pulled back the curtain on Tinsel Town's historical queer subtext and his performance earned him an Emmy nomination, to pair with the two Tony Award nominations he earned last year for Choir Boys and Ain't Too Proud, winning the latter. Pope is representative of a new, more diverse class of artists coming to the fore. He describes his work as "telling stories I always longed to hear growing up" and "making people feel seen and heard through the characters that I choose to embody."
The rising star sees the industry evolving in the next few years, "making space for the voices and stories this industry and the country have historically silenced. Black and brown voices, queer stories, women's stories. Stories that shed light on what this society has repeatedly deemed unworthy." When he's not giving voice to the unheard through his work, Pope has been centering himself with the family he was born into and the one he chose. "Love while you can," advises Pope. (@jeremypope)
Scout Productions — David Collins, Michael Williams, And Rob Eric
If part of your self-care routine during this rocky year has been binging episodes of Queer Eye on Netflix or discovering HBO Max's reality series about drag houses, Legendary, then you have Scout Productions co-founders David Collins, Michael Williams, and chief creative officer Rob Eric to thank. The team behind the juggernaut reboot of the queer makeover series isn't stopping there. This September, Scout Productions launched a documentary unit after the company received orders for the four-part docuseries Equal (HBO Max), about the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, and Get Real for Quibi, about the rise of reality TV.
"I'm a producer in title on many scripted, unscripted, and doc projects, but first and foremost I'm a storyteller," Collins says of his work. "I'm especially interested in people who are unable or haven't had the opportunity to share - whether it's the marginalized communities in Legendary, the unsung LGBTQ activists in Equal, or the individual heroes of each Queer Eye episode."
"Whether it's the story of five gay men helping out a straight man and realizing their differences mean less than their similarities or celebrating the unique LGBTQIA+ family structures of ballroom culture, each story we tell at Scout should push a social dialogue forward," Eric adds.
It's been a year of evolution for Scout Productions, Williams says. "Our company has been blessed with many opportunities in the past few months, so we're thankfully hard at work. I'm coming away from this year feeling more grateful than ever."
The men behind our favorite escapes have their own ways to unwind. Williams loves to cook while Eric became obsessed with The Great Pottery Throwdown.
But, Eric stresses, it's not all about checking out, saying, "A divided country, rampant racism, escalated violence towards our brothers and sisters in our community, a global pandemic, essentially every nightmare scenario come to life. 2020 should have taught all of us that we need to work harder and be far more diligent in creating a better future for ourselves and for our children." (@scoutprod)
Gia Woods, Pop Singer
Back in 2015, Gia Woods made a huge splash by coming out in her music video for the catchy bedroom pop song "Only a Girl." Since then, she's amassed over 300,000 viewers for a Twitch performance, appeared in Calvin Klein's Pride campaign, become a Savage x Fenty ambassador, and released her debut EP Cut Season. Woods describes her music as "honest, sensual, moody, alt dark pop" that reflects who she was growing up as a shy and closeted teen, and who she is now.
"I want my music to be understood and relatable to anyone," she says. But she also knows who her biggest fans are. "I feel that with my words and even sound, it makes it diverse enough to not even feel like a 'lesbian' song to some. Although, my music definitely may hit harder for another lesbian."
Cut Season has cemented Woods as one of the most exciting young singers today. The EP is both pop and personal and sends a clear message to anyone listening. "I have finally learned to cut ties," she says. "What doesn't help you grow isn't important to hold onto, from people to habits. I didn't call my EP Cut Season for no reason, duh!" (@giawoods)
Alex the Astronaut, Singer-Songwriter
"I make songs about the things I see around me. It's strange to me that it's my work now, it was something I did when I was little to understand those things happening around me." A rising Australian singer-songwriter, Alex the Astronaut's music doesn't fit into a specific genre as much as it creates vivid worlds for the listener to live in. "Music and story-telling is such a powerful way of connecting everyone and I'm really proud to be able to do it every day."
Their first album, The Theory of Absolutely Nothing, which debuted earlier this year, captures growing pains in song, as an angsty yet jubilant exploration of identity and self. But while they were celebrating the release, much of the world was thrust into chaos. "I've learned more about racism and the white supremacy I hold than I have in all the years before and I wish I had started doing more work earlier," they say. "I hope to see more people of color in decision making positions in the music industry. It's long overdue and it'll make our industry a better place to work." (@alex.the.astronaut)
Hamed Sinno, Singer and Advocate
Hamed Sinno -- frontman of Mashrou Leila, one of the most influential queer-led bands in the Middle East -- is no stranger to speaking out about societal atrocities that affect marginalized people. He's been vocal about the ongoing civil wars in his homeland, and this year he was especially poignant speaking about the death of Egyptian queer activist Sarah Hegazi, who died by suicide this June after suffering three years of systematic torture since being arrested for flying the LGBTQ+ Pride flag during a Mashrou Leila concert in Cairo. Sinno was deeply affected by her death and performed a moving musical tribute to the late activist on social media. Sinno now says, "We are who we mourn. F**k the police. We are a lot stronger than we think we are -- and shouldn't have to be. Gratitude is everything. Friendship is survival." (@hamed.sinno)
S.G. Goodman, Musician
Emerging from the small Mississippi River town of Hickman, Ky., S.G. Goodman is a refreshingly original voice that pays homage to her Appalachian roots while stepping away from its bigoted past. The young queer singer's songs speak to those often overlooked in her socially conservative state and she hopes to see "a lot more diversity and representation across genres....The music industry needs to read the room and realize that we need to see more women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks rising on the charts." (@s.g.goodman)
When you listen to queer indie rocker Nyssa's music, you immediately start seeing colors and landscapes. Her sound conjures images of vast sunsets, long roads, and adventures with close friends. If you ask Nyssa herself, she'll say it sounds like "the soundtrack to a queer road movie. Monster meets Desert Hearts." With her soaring rock vocals and plenty of reverb, this is definitely a movie you'll want to see.
Nyssa released her debut album Girls Like Me earlier this year, and has been defying definition and expectations since. Her songs "Hey Jackie" and "The Swans" contain bits of Springsteen, parts of the Pretenders, and hints of early 2000's era indie rock greats like The Strokes and Bloc Party, but all of it is decidedly queer. "Starting a song from a queer foundation presents me with the opportunity to imagine a utopian alternate reality," she says. "Or to explore the no-so friendly past with a fine-tuned and specifically freaky viewfinder." It's this unique viewpoint that makes her music stand out. Nyssa is presenting us not with rock as it is, but rock as it could be, how she wants it to be. Nyssa's excited for the future of queer rock, and when she looks at it, all she sees is a "total takeover" and we hope she's right. (@thisisnyssa)
Pablo Alborán, Spanish Singer
In June, for Pride month, 31-year-old Spanish singer-songwriter Pablo Alboran came out as a proud gay man in a video message posted to his Instagram account. "Today, I want my voice to be louder and for it to have more value and weight. I'm here to tell you that I am homosexual and it's okay," he told his millions of followers. "Life goes on, everything will remain the same, but I'm going to be a little happier than I already am." This year, the Grammy-nominated artist, who broke through with his 2010 hit "Solamente Tu," also released his fifth studio album Vertigo, and received an outpouring of support from fans and his peers, including Ricky Martin. "You don't know how many men and women you have helped with this video," the superstar wrote in his comments section. With his coming out, Alboran says he hopes to help other LGBTQ+ people who are struggling to share their truth. "That's why today, without fear, I hope I can make somebody's journey easier with this message," he said. "But above all, I do this for me." (@pabloalboran)
It'd be easy to call on the usual tropes of the badass Black woman when talking about Lizzo -- her embodiment of her own sexuality not despite her size but because of it -- could call for it. But the 32-year-old flute playing, pop-rap goddess should be celebrated just as much for her music as her persona, forcing a music industry that tends to celebrate women only within strict confines to adapt just so it could embrace her, in all of her brash and busty glory, inclduging her vocalness about sexuality andr mental health struggles.
The music industry has long thrived on perpetuating the kind of glass closets that allow music execs to package LGBTQ+ artists for mainstream America's consumption without ever acknowledging that part of what makes them so fabulous is their queerness.That's PR101 and artists often comply.
Even queer folks tend to call Lizzo an "ally," even when she's wearing a rainbow dress, standing in the Stonewall Inn, singing her ass off about acceptance.
People did the same with Lady Gaga in her early years, but that's dismissive of an important part of the LGBTQ+ umbrella that Lizzo and Gaga both fall under, whether they call it biseuxal, queer, pan, or no-labels. Lizzo's made it clear that while she may not like labels, she's anything but straight -- and in 2020, she's been one of the most powerful icons for LGBTQ+ folks everywhere.
"When it comes to sexuality or gender, I personally don't ascribe to just one thing," she told Teen Vogue in 2019. "I cannot sit here right now and tell you I'm just one thing. That's why the colors for LGBTQ+ are a rainbow! Because there's a spectrum and right now we try to keep it black and white. That's just not working for me."
At the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, Lizzo got eight nominations, the most of any artist, and she took home awards for Best Urban Contemporary Album, Best Pop Solo Performance for "Truth Hurts," and Best Traditional R&B Performance for "Jerome." She's won a Billboard Music Award, a BET Award and two Soul Train Music Awards. Time magazine named her "Entertainer of the Year" in 2019, a year she also made the leap to the big screen (Hustlers, UglyDolls).
Who knew that a band nerd from junior high could grow up to be the hottest queer musician on the planet and suddenly make the flute hot again, sparking a woodwind renaissance that hasn't been seen since the saxophone enjoyed a revival in the 1990s. (@lizzobeeating)
Leo Rocha, Journalist
Leo Rocha, a reporter at KOMU TV in Columbia, Mo., gives voice to the voiceless, especially those whose experiences tend to be ignored, like queer BIPOC and those with HIV. Currently working on a documentary about the late MTV star and activist Pedro Zamora, the gay Colombian-American journalist has worked in local news, digital media, and print. "No matter where I go, it's my personal goal to make sure marginalized people are properly represented both in newsrooms and in the content we produce," he says, arguing that Gen Z journalists should break outdated traditions in the newsroom. "We don't believe in the traditional notion of 'objectivity,' which inherently punishes journalists who belong to marginalized groups for speaking up against racism or homophobia. Every day, I wake up as a visible Latino man. That's how the world sees me. Every interaction I have is rooted in my identity. It's not something I can turn off. So instead of focusing on a journalist being 'objective,' it's really the work itself that should be objective. And you do that by using facts and outlining the process of how you got them, which good journalists should be doing anyway." (@leonardodrocha)
Jamie Margolin, Climate Activist and Film Student
At just 18 years old, Jamie Margolin has cofounded the international youth climate justice movement Zero Hour and written a guide to becoming a young organizer for any cause, Youth to Power. A New York University film student, she says she has a "determination to make Hollywood a place where LGBTQ+ people of all backgrounds can see our stories represented on-screen." Her life motto nods to an Ayesha Erotica song: "I do it for the girls and the gays -- that's it," she says. "I am fiercely protective and caring for my LGBTQ+ community, and I am devoting my life to making sure movies and TV shows actually fairly and accurately tell our stories and represent us."
Margolin says "she wants to see the film world become a place where people or all backgrounds, genders, races, religions, sexualities, ethnicities, and abilities can tell their stories without being seen as automatically 'pushing an agenda.' I want to stop seeing the same old destructive tropes over and over again. I want to see lesbian Disney princesses, queer superheroes and supervillains, and a world where the norm isn't the straight white male perspective. I want to see the industry change so that it's no longer the norm and people come to expect diverse stories told by the members for their communities." (@jamie_s_margolin)
Singer-songwriter mxmtoon rose to fame with her debut EP, Plum Blossom, which she recorded on her laptop in her parents' guest bedroom. It's been streamed over 100 million times, proving the power of social media." So much of the industry used to be kept behind glass doors and feel unreachable to most people," she says. "But now, I think it's become something where anyone can venture in." The bisexual 20-year-old sees it as her responsibility to "stand up for issues I believe in and for the people who take the time to support me." Still, she knows change can be slow. "Life happens at its own pace, and while it can feel like a race to have all of the solutions to problems out of our control, you're one individual. Not everything can be controlled by you, and while that can be terrifying, it's OK to let go and allow things to just happen." (@mxmtoon)
Flynn Sant (a.k.a. Flowerkid), Musician
Hearing Flowerkid, the musical project of 19-year-old Flynn Sant, grapple with emotions born from childhood trauma offering a through line to his life as a young trans man, it's hard not to be rattled. How many young trans teens have struggled with the same issues, only without the propellant drums and distorted synths forcing us to face those same raw emotions? Sydney-based Flowerkid's single "Miss Andry," which he wrote and produced, was born out of a hatred and distrust for men, feelings that became more complex when Flynn came out as trans man.
"I will always feel this inadequacy with any cisgender man," he admits, "but when I made this song, I needed to regroup and basically take responsibility. I'd say, you know, 'It isn't healthy to be thinking these things. I feel this way because of the events that happened in my life and childhood trauma I've experienced. But it's not an excuse to hate all men.'"
"When I made the song, I was terrified because it was so truthful. It was so raw. It was like ripping myself open for everyone to see. There's this whole new level of anger to it that I don't necessarily like to show. But I think being honest about it will help me resolve those feelings."
The song is evocative of something we've heard from other trans men, especially survivors of sexual assault. "I think that feeling of hatred and inadequacy is a universal feeling felt by not just trans men but also trans women too," says Sant. "I wanted to explain that feeling -- and give us all an anthem to cry to."
Songs like "Boy With the Winfields and the Wild Heart," uses the same type of raw and brutal lyrics to speak about mental health, depression, grief, and "the weight of the world on your shoulders."
As a child, Sant sang first into the voice memo app on his iPod. Soon he was in his bedroom making real, gut-punch music like "Late Night Therapy," his first single. Now that he's inked deals with Warner Music Australia, Atlantic, and the U.K.'s Parlophone, Sant is set to blow up. He's got a new single out in December and an EP early next year. (@flowerkidmusic)
Kidd Kenn, Musician
This year, the 17-year-old gay rapper Kidd Kenn lit up the first online MOBIfest (alongside artists like Mila Jam and Saucy Santana) and was named to the GLAAD and Teen Vogue 20 Under 20 list. His recent mixtape, Child's Play, proved the unapologetically queer artist has something to say, opening doors for queers in hip-hop. He's the next big thing, simply for being himself. "In my music, my young age helps because I'm still experiencing so many new things, so it gives me more content to rap about," says Kenn, one of the few out queer Black rappers. "I don't think my young age hinders my music. I do what I do. My fans can relate to my music. And even with me being young, I'm so mature."
Kenn's new EP, Problem Child, features tracks with Asian Doll, Dai Burger, and Delli Boe. Creating the album was thrilling, Kenn says. "I enjoy it so much that it really doesn't feel like work most of the times," he says. "My music is feel-good music. It's empowering and uplifting." He promises more in 2021 and maybe his most emotional unreleased song "I've always wanted to make a personal song about getting yourself together and focusing on your goals before trying to pursue a relationship." (@kiddkenn)
Kadeem Alphanso Fyffe, Muxe New York Founder
Jamaican-American Kadeem Alphanso Fyffe was just 19 when he signed with the elite modeling agency Wilhelmina. He's since appeared in TV, film, and theatrical productions but is best known as the founder and creative director of Muxe New York, a gender-free label that started with streetwear but is expanding into ready-to-wear next year.
The brand's "Equality" T-shirt was everywhere in 2020, which Fyffe attributes to the fact that "now more than ever, people understand the need for equality. The shirt is political, fashion-forward, and a perfect conversation starter, because it champions a universal message. So often inclusive clothing can be co-opted by large Pride campaigns or well-intentioned brands. This year, and especially on the heels of the intense corporatization of WorldPride, I think that people are looking to send a clear message of equality and acceptance that feels a little more authentic."
Fyffe defines himself as "an artist first, fashion designer second, and a fierce advocate for my community, always." He says his work "fuses social commentary, fashion, and gender fluidity to help push our culture towards a world that is free of so many of the shackles that we all are subject to on a daily basis. Part of my mission is to ensure that young people growing up today feel freer to be themselves and express who they are."
Fyffe serves as a committee member for Live Out Loud, a New York-based LGBTQ+ youth organization, and donates a portion of Muxe sales to support queer minority youth.
He says he started Muxe "to disrupt traditional streetwear -- by centering social justice and LGBTQ+ issues and bodies within the context of fashion and streetwear. I want the people who wear my clothes to feel like one of the 'cool kids' no matter their race, sexuality, body size, gender identity, or expression. I purposely show my designs on a widely diverse group of models including Black, nonbinary, trans [people] to represent my own intersectional identity as a Black queer gender-fluid individual, with the hope of inspiring others to live their lives authentically and to pursue their dreams fiercely."
"This year has been strange, to say the least," Fyffe reflects. "But it has reminded me who I am, why I do what I do, and the significance of my work within the LGBTQ+ community." He says he hopes the outpouring of support for his and other Black-owned businesses will continue, but more importantly, "it is critical that we all continue to make it clear that just because everyone's social media feeds might not be full of #BLM content anymore, Black lives still matter and the fight isn't over. Real change takes sustained advocacy that isn't a fad. Keep buying from Black-owned brands. Keep featuring Black creatives. Keep centering and celebrating Black narratives. Keep marching. Keep protesting." (@k_alphanso)
Patrick Church, Designer and Artist
Nancy Mahon, SVP, Global Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability at The Estée Lauder Companies
As senior vice president of corporate citizenship and sustainability at the Estee Lauder Companies, Nancy Mahon has helped the beauty and fragrance leader launch industry-first initiatives: building on-site solar arrays, developing biodiversity action plans, switching to more sustainable packaging by 2025, supporting low-income women in global supply chains, doubling the amount spent with Black-owned businesses, and dedicating $10 million to support racial and social justice initiatives in the next three years.
"The COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating impact it has had on communities least resourced to combat the virus has underscored and deepened so many of the inequities across the world," Mahon reflects. "It has also underscored the inextricable link between climate justice and the many social equity issues we face -- particularly racial and gender justice."
The 56-year-old lesbian, who has been married for 25 years and has two children, says she's proud to work at a company "that understands that having leaders with diverse experiences and perspectives builds a more successful and humane business. As a person from a minority community...I believe we now have a historic opportunity and responsibility to together build a more equitable, resilient, and just world. Let's make the most of this moment." (@esteelaudercompanies)
Ivan Bart, President of IMG Models & Fashion
As president of IMG Models & Fashion, Ivan Bart is helping to revolutionize the fashion industry by treating the models he represents as people instead of assets and more reflective of the broader public.
"We want the most inclusive, diverse roster," Bart says, explaining it's a "huge bonus to us to...see their potential and to elevate the kinds of work that they do."
Bart says his "big aha moment" was the conscious decision to start signing nonbinary talent. "That has been a huge shift for us, and an exciting one."
As much as Bart is looking to the future, he also remains very aware of the past. "1969 was very much like 2020," Bart says, noting the similarities in the "feelings and emotions" of the current times and those of the Stonewall era, and how historically marginalized people in both periods finally tired of oppression and made a stand.
"All those feelings are going on until finally 'enough is enough,'" he says. The response that night was to fight back, and that marked the beginning of the modern struggle for LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance. As Bart sees it, Stonewall was the LGBTQ+ Battle of Lexington and Concord, except the colonial rebels were replaced by drag queens and a bunch of fed-up queers.
"It's like our Independence Day," he says. "It's the closest I can come to it. It was the start of it." (@ivanmbart)
Simon Porte Jacquemus, Fashion Designer
One of the most ubiquitous and coveted labels of the past two years, Jacquemus has had a meteoric rise to internet stardom and tastemaker popularity from a synergy of branding: chic, tiny bags that have gone viral on the internet, an arsenal of A-list celebrity muses including Bella Hadid and Barbie Ferreira, and a tailored twist on the 1980s Cote d'Azur aesthetic that is as blissfully nostalgic as it is strikingly modern. To say that Simon Porte Jacquemus -- the man behind the phenomenon -- is taking the fashion industry by storm would be an understatement.
By making a high-end fashion brand feel like the most needed dose of escapism and authenticity in 2020, Jacquemus has been able to bridge the gap between gay sensibility and camp, something that is extremely rare. And he's done it for years. From bringing back dramatic oversize straw hats with nude models to using the Jacquemus Instagram page as a lush travel and design diary, Jacquemus has made fashion feel fun again. His designs and savoir-faire remind us that fashion used to be shamelessly queer, tongue-in-cheek, and innovative.
And it doesn't stop there: Jacquemus has made strides toward sustainability by combining menswear and womenswear shows going forward and by showcasing his latest collection, L'Anee 97, with a diverse range of models, raising the bar for what a true lifestyle and fantasy brand should be. (@jacquemus)
Bretman Rock, Fashion & Beauty Entrepreneur
Bretman Rock is the digital superstar of the new generation. His outlandish and unabashedly queer personality displayed in the fashionista's entertaining beauty videos have quickly made Rock into an internet sensation. But his multiple talents have pushed him beyond just online fame. Born in the Philippines and raised in Hawaii, the 22-year-old has found huge success in the beauty industry, already having collaborated with brands like Morphe and ColourPop.
This year, Rock partnered with Wet n Wild to create his Jungle Rock collection, which sold out online within minutes after its release. The young beauty guru landed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, but he's not letting it go to his head. Rock is passionate about many environmental and children's causes, and he regularly helps raise funds for nonprofits like the Ocean Conservancy and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. (@bretmanrock)
Patrick Starrr, ONE/SIZE Founder
When beauty content pioneer Patrick Starrr launched his new line of beauty care products ONE/SIZE, the larger-than-life gay Filipino-American sought to "redefine beauty by elevating voices of the unheard and creating space for everyone to belong in our movement for radical expression." Starrr is the queer community's plus-size everyman, and ONE/SIZE reflects his "personal mantra that makeup is a one-size-fits-all" proposition. Starrr seeks to "manifest beauty" through his work and claim space for those marginalized by the industry.
"Ever since I was young, I've been told I was a Renaissance man," says Starrr, but he's not stuck in the past. He prefers to remain focused on the future. His wish list for 2021? "Freedom of expression, freedom to love, freedom to be seen and heard. I think freedom is the theme for 2021." (@patrickstarrr)
Willie Norris, Founder of WILLIENORRISWORKSHOP
A self-described "queer fashion designer with a thing for words," Willie Norris, founder of WILLIENORRISWORKSHOP, has mastered the art of the fashion statement -- literally. This year, the Brooklyn-based designer relaunched his web store, with his coveted tees with bold slogans like "Promote Homosexuality" and "What Exactly Is Heterosexuality and What Causes It?" Spreading the word of queerness further, his collaboration with Helmut Lang, brilliantly called Helmut Language, included pieces emblazoned with the phrases "The Words Are Right in Front of You" and "Confess Conceal."
"What I'm doing is looking at business and apparel in a different way than how most people are, and I'm also uplifting queer people through my work," Norris says.
For the Brooklyn Liberation rally and march, Norris and a team of volunteers screen-printed and handed out about 600 "Black Trans Lives Matter" T-shirts for free.
Answering the call of his close friend and lead organizer West Dakota (a fellow Out100 honoree this year), he and a team of organizers and volunteers put out an open call for hundreds of T-shirts, which they would have one week to print. "The whole genesis behind it was a really queer way to look at how to make clothes for a crowd," he says. "There was nothing new sourced; it was us using resources that we have as a community now to make our project a reality."
"That event showed the power that what you put on your body can contribute to an overall movement," Norris notes. "Such a huge part of the impact and the virality of that moment was the aerial pictures of seeing everyone in white."
Norris says he declined many requests to sell the T-shirt after the historic day, because the tees were beside the point. "It was a symbolic placeholder that you came out, you showed up, and you're doing the work on your own," he says. "Find a Black trans woman yourself, befriend someone, befriend an artist group of Black trans women and support them on your own accord." (@willienorrisworkshop)
Jonny Cota, 'Making the Cut' Winner
Though he has over a decade of fashion retail experience with his first label, Skingraft, Jonny Cota became a household name this year when he won the first season of Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum's new fashion competition series, Making the Cut. And to Cota, the future of fashion is nonbinary.
"A philosophy that has always governed my fashion is to be gender-inclusive," he says. "I've sent down countless male-identified models in dresses without even thinking about it. To be honest, I never want to brand my aesthetic as being gender-free or unisex. That's just a given."
Cota has spent much of the year speaking out against industry racism and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement as well as preparing to open a storefront in downtown Los Angeles.
"It's an interesting challenge to keep your business running -- to continue to be able to pay your team, you need to make sales but to not sound tone-deaf while you are announcing new promotions with your brand," says Cota. "So for us, we teamed up with Tom of Finland. We did this big mask promotion.... Of every mask sold, we donated one to the L.A. LGBT Center. So it's like, OK, you can continue to be a small business. You can continue to promote to your customers. But you better be talking about what's happening right now, and you better be finding a way to help." (@jonnycota)
Viktor & Rolf, Fashion Duo
The amazing creations by fashion duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, branded simply as Viktor & Rolf, have always been otherworldly -- but this year the fashion designers brought new meaning to the term "going viral" with their latest collection directly addressing the global pandemic.
They've also adapted to the changing times by putting on virtual fashion shows and including a very artistic video introduction of the new collection on their official site. "We all deserve to be loved, regardless of age, color, gender, race, religion, or sexuality," says a voice-over in the video.
The collection includes three mini wardrobes made up of a negligee, dressing gown, and coat that are "meant to represent pandemic-related emotional states." Large spikes on oversize coats represent social distancing, while a halo of hearts on another design represents our unity in this time -- and the collection overall evokes the emotional roller coaster we've all experienced this year. (@viktorandrolf)