Lena Waithe’s new BET comedy Twenties is the network’s first show to center a Black lesbian, a historic moment star Jojo T. Gibbs says is extremely significant. “Sexuality is not something that is easily malleable in the Black community,” she says, explaining that she grew up watching BET and is excited to finally see someone like her reflected on the network. “What I really love about the show even more is that when people watch it, I think that regardless of your sexuality or identity, you can identify with what all the characters are experiencing on the same level and same ground.”
Isaac Cole Powell is far more than just that hot guy you follow on Instagram — he’s the rising star who was in the critically acclaimed revival of Once on This Island. Now, Powell is playing one of the most famous romantic leads again in musical theater canon: Tony in Ivo Van Hove’s production of West Side Story. “In my last big project, I was held back by fear and waiting for someone to give me permission to be fearless in my work. It wasn’t until I finished that job that I realized the permission has to come from within,” Powell says. “Out of that realization came an agreement with myself that when I started West Side Story, I would embrace risk and put my ego aside in service of the story. Because of that, I’ve grown a lot and I’m having more fun in this show than I ever have on stage.”
“I feel like most of my work, if not all of it, has centered queerness,” says Leo Sheng, one of the stars of The L Word: Generation Q. “It’s such a big part of my life, and I’ve worked really hard to make sure it’s reflected in the work I’m putting out there. Representation can literally save lives, and not just from television or movies, but in so many fields and careers. I feel like I have a responsibility to press for representation in whatever field I’m in.” Being part of a show with a legacy like The L Word has only made Sheng want to push queer representation further. “We know that these stories exist, so I would love to see networks and production companies fund more stories like the projects that are more reflective of our world today.”
In 2020, rising queer rapper Chika will release her debut project, the EP Industry Games. While her identity has been centered in most coverage of her work, she’s hoping it’s something the industry can move past it. “I’d like to see more queer artists shine not because they’re queer, but because they’re dope. There’s so many of us,” she insists. “Representation shouldn’t come in the form of labeling oneself and only existing within that world. We are far more than that. So I’d like to see people being themselves and making whatever art they want.”
Riverdale spin-off Katy Keane follows a group of twenty-somethings trying to make it in the big city, and like its sister show, it’s unabashedly queer, especially when it comes to drag queen Ginger (and her alter ego Jorge), played by Johnny Beauchamp. “I think that I was kind of born to play [this role]. This was mine ... I really feel called to this. And that’s what’s really lucky. And that’s that once in a lifetime thing for an actor where someone puts pen to paper and it’s just perfect for you.”
Trans soul and R&B artist Shea Diamond is taking the music industry by storm with her powerful vocals, not that it’s been an easy road. “It’s been a beautiful growing experience and anything worth having requires hard work and diligence! My journey has had its share of uncomfortable conversations in a lot of stuffy rooms filled with a lot of closed-minded people to get to where I am today, and I pray that the universe will take me further,” Diamond says. This year, Diamond will collaborate with Justin Tranter on a song for the highly anticipated Mama Gloria documentary.