Talent agent, business owner @transgendertalent
In 2015, Ann Thomas founded Transgender Talent — one of the first management and production companies that cater to transgender and nonbinary actors. The service is a two-way street. When Hollywood productions need to find a trans actor for a job or advice on a trans storyline, they consult with Thomas’s company, which is also trans-owned and -operated. Behind the scenes, Transgender Talent helps its clients secure an agent and even provides medical advice.
Thomas says the launch of the company’s consulting division was a major point of pride this year: “This gives a focal point to help writers, directors, and producers navigate…getting transgender performers on-screen in a global market.”
She also sees the company’s relative longevity as evidence of its necessity in an industry that is still fumbling to portray authentic trans lives. “We’ve seen several transgender-focused companies come and go over the years,” Thomas says. “We’re still here after six and a half years!”
It’s been a banner year for Transgender Talent’s actors. They include Zoey Luna, a star of The Craft: Legacy who was also featured in the Dear Evan Hansen film, as well as Good Trouble’s Emmett Preciado. And Thomas knows that every meeting can lead to the next big break. “We have lots of small steps planned — that’s what keeps us going over the years,” she says. — Daniel Reynolds, Photo Bobby Quillard
One of the most influential names in reality TV is Brooke Karzen, who just so happens to be a lesbian. Karzen is head of unscripted programming at Warner Horizon Television, where she oversees the creative direction of hits like ABC’s The Bachelor and NBC’s The Voice. Additionally, she has a passion for projects that support historically marginalized representation; she served as an executive producer of HBO Max’s Equal, a miniseries that chronicled major events and honored the “unsung heroes” of LGBTQ+ history. “My team takes creative ideas from inception through birth and then helps them sustain life beyond premiere,” she says.
Karzen is proud of her work producing two landmark TV reunions: Friends: The Reunion and HBO Max’s A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote. There are also collaborations with Ava DuVernay and DC Comics in the pipeline.
Karzen accomplished these goals in the midst of the pandemic: “Production came to a screeching halt, and we had to find new ways to work together. I decided to focus on what we could do to stay productive and to keep morale up, which meant ramping up development and selling more shows than ever before.”
“I don’t take success for granted — complacency is not afforded to those who fight to be equal,” she adds. However, it is her private triumphs that she values above all. “My wife ... [and I] saw our daughter graduate college — nothing compares to that,” Karzen says. — Daniel Reynolds, Photo Kit Karzen
Actor, writer, director @officialclead
Clea DuVall “aims to tell stories that prominently feature LGBTQ+ stories and characters” and has been doing just that for decades. Early in her career, she starred in the seminal queer film But I’m a Cheerleader, and last year stepped behind the camera to make a queer movie of her own. That movie was Happiest Season, a lesbian romantic comedy set at Christmas that broke viewership records on Hulu.
The movie was widely praised for its authenticity and for being the kind of film that queer people have been wanting to see for a long time. Part of the reason DuVall wanted to make the movie was to overcome “the incorrect belief that LGBTQ+ stories cannot have wide appeal,” she says. “To overcome it, I surrounded myself with a group of talented, inspiring collaborators and told a story rooted in authenticity and compassion.”
DuVall isn’t even close to slowing down. She’s currently working on the second season of HouseBroken, the animated show she co-created for Fox this year, and is writing and directing a show for IMDb TV based on High School, the memoir by lesbian rock stars/twin sisters Tegan and Sara. And if you’ve missed her in front of the camera, she’ll be appearing in the Showtime series The First Lady as Malvina “Tommy” Thompson, a “very close friend” to Eleanor Roosevelt, set to be played by Gillian Anderson. Now, that’s a power couple. — Mey Rude, Photo Art Streiber
Last year’s killing of George Floyd forced individuals and institutions alike to reaffirm their commitment to ending racism and bias in America. Craig Robinson is spearheading this effort at Comcast NBCUniversal, where, as chief diversity officer, he works with CEO Brian Roberts “to drive a culture that embraces all voices,” he says.
In his role, Robinson oversees his company’s three-year, $100 million commitment to advancing social justice and equality, which includes building programs and collaborating with local and national groups that work toward this goal. Internally, Robinson created an education series with employees to spark conversations about diversity and helps to hire executives with inclusion in mind.
“We made a commitment to our employees that we would pay attention to this watershed moment in our society and commit to real change in everything that we do,” Robinson says. “Gaining and sustaining that trust is a job that will never be done, and one that we take very seriously.”
In one of his proudest moments of the past year, the gay executive, who is Black and Asian, helmed changes that made the workplace more LGBTQ-inclusive. “Many years ago, a very wise person told me that in order to drive change you must not only engage people’s minds, but also their hearts,” he says. “That will be a primary focus for me and my team going forward.” — Daniel Reynolds, Photo Dario Acosta
Lana Wachowski is one-half of the writing-directing duo who brought us the original Matrix trilogy of films, sharing honors with sister Lilly. Now she is going solo with the fourth installment of the Matrix franchise, The Matrix Resurrections. And while this won’t be her first turn at the wheel of a Matrix movie, this time, she’ll be making history as the first out transgender director to helm a major blockbuster.
Lana is in a rarified space when it comes to moviemaking. She’s has been called a visionary for her unique cinematic style in the Matrix movies, and was given high praise from the LGBTQ+ community for the allegorical story of the transgender experience woven throughout. But breaking barriers and setting new precedents is nothing new for Lana and Lilly. The pair’s first movie, the 1996 neo-noir lesbian crime thriller Bound, became an instant underground classic in part because of its validation of butch-femme gender identities.
Lana, who announced she is transgender in 2012, had not planned on making another Matrix movie, but the loss of both parents and a close family friend in a short span of time caused her to reflect on the connection she has with the franchise. It’s still unclear what message Lana will tell in Resurrections, but the road she has helped blaze over the years means that she won’t have to use subtext to be heard. — Donald Padgett, Photo Vera Anderson/Getty
A self-taught Brooklyn artist, filmmaker, creative director, and photographer originally from Ohio, LaQuann Dawson is a true multi-hyphenate using his work in photography, film, fashion, performance, discussion, writing, and community organizing to express himself.
“The work is complicated; it is diverse, intellectual, erotic, emotional, fun, and curious. It can be challenging and sometimes heartbreaking, well-intentioned, and full of movement,” says Dawson, who helped produce the 2021 iteration of MOBIfest (an “interactive wellness experience that celebrates Black queer voices in fashion, music, visual arts and media”) as well as his own gay erotic art anthology Our Light Through Darkness. “The work is gay as fuck and Black as hell, too. We are still building this world but it is getting bigger and bigger every day.”
On what’s next for him, Dawson says, “I’d love to find some time and space to deeply and intentionally study my crafts. I’d like to go down a YouTube and MasterClass rabbit hole without feeling guilty or exhausted. I’d like to apply for a fellowship or a residency, work on myself and execute some personal projects. I also want to perform more...take classes and end up on somebody’s TV show or web series, or maybe my own. I’ve always been someone who goes wherever I am called to and where I am needed. Hopefully, they keep needing me in the places I [want] to be needed.” — Raffy Ermac, Photo LaQuann Dawson
Writer, showrunner, director @veryleslyeheadland
Serving as writer, executive producer, and showrunner for history’s first female-centric Star Wars series, The Acolyte for Disney+ — all while being the first queer showrunner to helm a Star Wars franchise — is enough to land Leslye Headland on this list. But the Emmy-nominated writer, producer, and director isn’t resting on her laurels.
“I feel breathtaking pressure,” Headland admits. “The only thing that relieves it is gratitude. I am so grateful to be working on Star Wars, a universe that generates joy for millions.”
Headland also served as writer, director, and showrunner for Netflix’s series Russian Doll, which was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards and nine Creative Arts Emmy Awards, the latter of which it won three. Headland is also currently directing and executive producing the Freeform pilot, Single Drunk Female. She also signed a multi-year, overall deal with Fox 21 Television Studios.
Taking the reins of one of the most iconic franchises as a woman, much less a lesbian, is really one of those “we’ve made it moments,” but it was that Fox development deal that first made her feel that. “It’s such a milestone for a creator and showrunner to achieve that,” she admits.
Headland is trying to pave the way for those from marginalized communities through her production company, Shoot to Midnight. Additionally, Headland is working to change the culture of assistants in Hollywood, where lower-level employees are often used, abused, and excused. “I promote [assistants]. I push them to follow their passion. And I advocate for them in our community when they move on from working for me.”
And the person who pushes her? Actor Rebecca Henderson, her wife of five years, with whom she also collaborates as director. “Rebecca has changed my life, my art, my soul,” Headland says. “She also handles things I do not understand, like where the new heads for our electric toothbrushes come from.” — Diane Anderson-Minshall, Photo Zack DeZon
Before this year, Pierre Phipps had put his name in the history books as a rapper. As one half of the Freaky Boiz duo, he established himself as a pioneer of the gay rap movement. But now, he’s also an Emmy-winning film producer.
Los Angeles-based for the past few years, Phipps has been working as a freelance producer with the likes of NBC, ABC, and CBS. With that work, he’s often “the only Black person in the room, the only Black person on set, or the only Black person on the email thread.” As a result, he’s cultivated a side-business of passion projects where he and his friends create the content and environments they want to see.
In 2020, Phipps and his best friend, Dr. Louis Deon Jones, submitted five projects for the Emmy Awards. As they received updates on the progress of the titles, they felt fairly confident about quite a few, namely Cycles and NoHo: A North Hollywood Story. But instead, it was their dark horse, a short film called The Girl in Apartment 15 that made it onto the nominations list. And then, to the surprise of all involved — given that the work was the first short film for Phipps as producer, Jones as director, and Marquez Williams as writer — the movie won in the category of Outstanding Short Form Daytime Fiction Program.
“My life has changed,” Phipps says. During quarantine, in addition to undergoing surgery, and found himself reaching into his own self. He now feels rejuvenated
“Being a black gay industry professional I always felt like I wasn’t noticed, like I work so hard and my peers do not notice me and this year, with winning this Emmy and so many people giving me my flowers while I’m alive, it just means a lot to me,” he says. “I feel like the pandemic had a lot to do with that.” This fall has also seen the reemergence of Freaky Boiz, which dropped its debut album Freak Show in October. It will see them back on stages, likely through Pride 2022 season.
What’s next? “I’m going after the EGOT,” Phipp laughs. “After obtaining an Emmy I realized that anything is possible."
“I’m no longer afraid to show the world that I’m talented.”
— Mikelle Street, Photo Ruben Glimpse
Television writer, creator, producer @russelltdavies63
It was a project that only a queer person could, or should, make: the sublime miniseries It’s a Sin. Released in the U.K. and the U.S. in early 2021, Russell T Davies’s 1980s-set drama follows a group of London friends caught up in an exploding pandemic; its release coincided with a deadly winter wave of COVID. But it wasn’t just the parallels of misinformation and denialism that made Sin such a critical and commercial triumph. The acting prowess of Olly Alexander and Lydia West paired with Davies’s exquisite writing came together to create a fresh take on a disease now over 40 years old. In fact, Davies — who created the original Queer as Folk — was told a drama about HIV was inherently “boring” by three network bosses. But HBO Max and Britain’s Channel 4 put their faith in the esteemed creator.
Unlike some other depictions of HIV’s scourge, Sin contains as much joy as heartbreak, refusing to disregard the bonds of friendship, love, and, yes, sex that existed alongside the death.
For Davies, the adoration of Sin is nice, but not the biggest takeaway. “I wrote some characters with a catchphrase, ‘La!,’” Davies says of the Sin group’s greeting/goodbye. “A man called Philip Normal — a complete stranger — was watching, liked it, printed a T-shirt the next morning, saying ‘La!’ And eight months later, that T-shirt has raised £500,000 for charity. Half a million quid! Changing lives for the better. Never mind ratings or awards, that’s a result!” — Neal Broverman, Photo Fabio De Paola
Sarah Burgess has made a successful career as a writer and playwright for years, picking up a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for her play Dry Powder in 2018. She’s been widely praised for how quotable, witty, and smart her writing is. This year, she made a wildly successful transition to television, where she served as head writer, showrunner, and executive producer of Impeachment: American Crime Story, the latest installment of the Emmy-winning Ryan Murphy anthology series. Impeachment stars Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp, Clive Owen as Bill Clinton, and Beanie Feldstein as Monica Lewinsky, and gives us one of the best looks ever at the scandal that rocked late ’90s America. It’s sure to be an award-season favorite, and the performances by Feldstein and Paulson, especially, are some of the best of their careers. It’s also giving an entire generation of viewers a chance to get to know the women who had been erased from the narrative for so long. But even in a year when she’s brought life to one of the most important political and social stories of that time, her work in TV isn’t her most rewarding accomplishment. “This year I am proudest of the ways I’ve been able to be there for my family when needed,” she says. “And in reciprocation, for the times they have helped me.” — Mey Rude, Photo Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty
In terms of origin stories, the Marvel Cinematic Universe owes a great deal to Victoria Alonso, the out executive who began as a co-producer on the project that started it all, Iron Man. (She began work at Marvel Studios in 2005 as an executive vice president of visual effects and postproduction.)
Since then, it’s been up, up, and away for Alonso with Hollywood’s most profitable franchise in history. On 2012’s Avengers and every MCU film afterward, Alonso has served as an executive producer. And this year, she made headlines for her promotion to president at Marvel Studios, where she oversees physical, postproduction, visual effects, and animation.
While historically, the MCU has struggled with diversity — LGBTQ+ representation has been nearly nonexistent or excised — there have been signs of progress. Loki was revealed to be queer in his eponymous Disney+ series, and this fall’s Eternals boasts the first gay superhero, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry). In an interview with Variety this year, Alonso hinted there was more queer content to come.
“It takes time, we have so many stories that we can tell,” said Alonso, adding, “There’s a lot that we have coming up that I think will be representative of the world of today. We’re not going to nail it in the first movie or the second movie or third movie, or the first show or second show, but we will do our best to consistently try to represent.”
Off-screen, the Argentine-born creative also married within the MCU; her wife is Agents of Shield actress Imelda Corcoran. The pair have an adopted daughter, Olivia. — Daniel Reynolds, Photo Yuri Hasegawa