Public service figures prominently in Crystal Hudson’s life, and it will continue to do so as she becomes one of the first queer Black women elected to office in New York City. After winning the Democratic primary in June and facing no major opposition in November, Hudson will join the New York City Council in January. She’ll represent District 35 in Brooklyn.
“I am a public servant who has committed my life to making government more accessible for more people,” says Hudson, who’s worked in the New York City Public Advocate’s office and founded a nonprofit organization, Greater Prospect Heights Mutual Aid. “I know firsthand how hard government is to navigate — I was the only child caring for my single mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. My mom cared for New Yorkers as a nurse for over 40 years in our city’s hospital systems. But when she needed care herself, it felt as though there was none, and we were fighting battle after battle just to keep my mother safe at home and meet her basic needs.”
“My new role,” she adds, “will allow me to ensure that those with the greatest needs are at the center of our city’s social safety net — from new immigrants seeking fair employment to elders who are fighting to stay in their homes and age in place to young people fighting for access to a quality education and meaningful change in their communities.”
Hudson, who is Caribbean-American, Afro-Latinx, and masculine-of-center, is proud of her diverse district and the fact that her campaign reflected that diversity. “I am most proud of building — and winning — a transformational, change-oriented campaign that welcomed everyone to our table,” she says. “I am honored to represent an incredibly diverse district in Brooklyn — the cultural hub of Brooklyn, countless Black-owned businesses, safe spaces for LGBTQ+ communities, a rich Orthodox Jewish community, longtime Black residents who have fought for justice and opportunity for my existence to quite literally be possible, and so much more.… My job starting in January is to deliver for my community.” — Trudy Ring, Photo Katrina Hajagos
Before the pandemic, Rosalynne Montoya was a full-time makeup artist at a cosmetics counter. After being laid off, she turned her Instagram into a full-time job.
“The average American learns about the trans community through media representations,” notes the Hispanic, bisexual, nonbinary trans woman who friends call Rose. “Social media allows trans people to represent ourselves on our own terms. Seeing queer and trans people be visible online saved my life.”
Montoya says she grew up “not knowing an LGBTQPIA+ person.” It wasn’t until YouTube and Orange Is the New Black that she learned she wasn’t alone.
Montoya acts and models — she recently worked with lesbian-owned TomboyX, a gender-neutral fashion label. Still, it’s her job as an educational content creator that fuels her. After this year’s record-breaking amount of anti-trans legislation, Montoya has “had hundreds of trans people, especially youth, reach out to me about their grievances. My mental health has suffered every time. Trans people deserve basic human rights.”
This past year, “I also had the privilege of leaning into my gender euphoria,” she says. “Since September of 2020, I’ve had three gender-affirming surgeries. For a long time, I thought having surgery meant that I didn’t love my body enough. This last year I learned that having surgery is an act of self-love.” — Diane Anderson-Minshall, Photo Jacob Ritts
Designer, entrepreneur @mrlukechristian
Luke Christian wants to be the role model he never had growing up. The deaf, gay entrepreneur created his own fashion brand, Deaf Identity, from scratch. And despite not seeing himself represented before in the business world, he hopes that his work lets people know that they are not alone.
“I always felt as though there was nobody in the public eye who was deaf that I could look up to,” he says. “I wanted to create a brand that broke down stigmas and barriers surrounding the deaf community and, having faced many adversities growing up, I want to show the world that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of being deaf”
“I have had quite a few accomplishments that I have been proud of this year, but one personal one was becoming the first deaf-owned business to have its own pop-up week in the iconic department store John Lewis. To have achieved this within less than two years was mind-blowing, but to have the pop-up week take place during Deaf Awareness Week U.K. was the icing on the cake!”
Christian still faces people not taking him seriously as a business owner because of his sexuality and disability. “I often get underestimated and at times don’t feel as though I’m being heard,” he says. “It’s a rewarding feeling when I prove them wrong.” — Raffy Ermac, Photo Sophia Carey
Chi Ossé, 23, is poised to become one of the youngest people ever elected to the New York City Council, but his campaign is about something bigger than him, he says. “I’m proud of creating a political revolution within my community that engaged young folks in local politics,” Ossé says. “Through registering and inspiring thousands of young people, my team and I were able to win against a 40+ year Democratic machine to govern in a district of over 200,000 people. I now have the opportunity to fight for progressive values such as a Green New Deal and affordable and low-income housing for all in the city of New York.”
Ossé, a gay man of Haitian and Chinese descent who has worked as a nightlife promoter in the city, founded an activist group, Warriors in the Garden, last year in response to the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. This year he ran for City Council from the 36th District, centered on Brooklyn’s Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods. He won the primary in June and was unopposed in the November general election.
“The largest obstacle I faced was people telling me that I was too young, too inexperienced, and too queer to win my seat in the City Council,” he says. “I overcame these obstacles by doing the work and providing for my community. We got hundreds of our seniors vaccinated, helped many of our neighbors with rental assistance, and hosted food distributions at some of my community’s public housing developments.” He’ll continue that work on the council, he says.
“I’m going to continue to fight for all of my neighbors, whether they’re Black folks, seniors, children, the homeless, trans and/or queer — I will put my blood, sweat, and tears into uplifting all of these communities,” he promises. — T.R., Photo Ryan McGinley
Kayden Coleman is the go-to source for trans folks — and health care providers —seeking guidance on pregnancy.
The educator provides lessons on transmasculine fertility and birth to doctors, individuals, and organizations alike. His expertise is sorely needed in the medical field, where too many professionals are still ignorant about the needs of trans patients. “I also use my platform to educate people on different topics such as sexuality and anti-Blackness as it pertains to the transmasculine community,” adds Coleman, who in addition to consultations offers sensitivity training.
And it’s been a banner year for Coleman, himself a father of two. Laverne Cox featured him on her Instagram, which boasts over 5 million followers. And the R&B singer Ari Lennox contacted him “to tell me how amazing she thinks I am…. I am still not completely certain that I am not in an extremely long and drawn out dream,” he marvels.
While Coleman has been a target of anti-trans conservatives in the past, he pointed to his own self-doubt as the hardest obstacle he faced this year. “I have a tendency to downplay and underestimate myself and in doing so, I hold myself back from a lot of things,” he shares. “I overcame that by speaking love and life into myself. I forced myself to see the accomplishments I have achieved and actually be proud of myself for once.”
What’s next for Coleman? “I am going to continue to work towards encouraging education and visibility for the transmasculine community — while simultaneously holding space for and uplifting the transfeminine community — in an attempt to gain inclusivity and equity for us all. I have some amazing projects I am working on with some equally as amazing people and I am excited to see it all come into fruition.” — Daniel Reynolds, Photo courtesy
Yoga instructor, wellness advocate @mynameisjessamyn
Jessamyn Stanley is a leading force in the world of wellness — and is also someone who’s struggled with feeling ostracized from it. But that’s at the source of her inspirational power. As a plus-size yoga teacher, author of Every Body Yoga, and podcast host of Dear Jessamyn, she preaches the gospel of self-love and body-positivity, and lays bare the inequities that face marginalized people within this sphere. Markedly, in her new book, Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance, Stanley takes the yoga industry to task for racism and bias through a series of autobiographical essays. Its June release was a pivotal moment for the yogi.
“The release of Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance made my soul sing,” Stanley shares. “It made me proud to see the cover broadcast on the jumbotron outside Good Morning America’s NYC studios.”
Yoke is also a treatise on the strength of intersectionality, and Stanley embraces her many identities — among them, queer femme, Black, fat, and a practitioner of the Bahá’í faith. But occasionally, she still contends with feelings of self-doubt. In the past year, “the largest obstacle I’ve faced is believing I’m worthy of my success and power,” she says. “Overcoming it is a daily journey, but it has been incredibly empowering to acknowledge the ways in which I undermine my own goals by not believing in myself.”
Her future plans include “continuing to evolve my companies and myself in tune with universal grace and divine timing.” — D.R., Photo Bobby Quillard
Basket maker, educator @niskapisuwin
Geo Soctomah Neptune is a queer, nonbinary, Two-Spirit artist and educator from the Passamaquoddy tribe of Motahkomikuk, or Indian Township, in Maine. Geo is their English name; their traditional name is Niskapisuwin, which roughly translates as “two medicine spirits stand as one person.”
A master basket maker, Neptune learned their art from their grandmother. Neptune was named a 2021 United States Artists Fellow, which comes with a $50,000 reward.
Neptune believes in passing on knowledge to the next generation — and has also made history in the process. In 2020, they were elected to the school board in Indian Township, thereby becoming the first out trans elected official in Maine.
“I am an artist and educator with a public health organization that serves Indigenous communities in Maine,” they say. “I create my own art while teaching traditional techniques and methods to Passamaquoddy children, and guide them through the process of applying for markers and promoting their art online.”
Neptune looks to their elders to help reclaim Two-Spirit traditions. “Future generations of Wabanaki Two-Spirits are going to experience a world that is much more accepting than the one I have become accustomed to,” they say. — D.R., Photo Sipsis Peciptaq Elamoqessik
For over 15 years, Dr. Van Bailey has worked in higher education, establishing himself as an advocate for equity on college campuses. His résumé boasts many firsts. He was the inaugural director of the LGBTQ Student Center at the University of Miami as well as the first director of BGLTQ Student Life at Harvard College, where he launched a resource center for LGBTQ+ students. His expertise makes him a coveted speaker in areas like intersectionality. He is also part of bklyn boihood, a collective that celebrates the creativity and beauty of queer and transmasculine people of color.
“I am an innovator and a creative. I am a builder and a lover of community. I believe it is important to center the most vulnerable people no matter what work we are engaged in,” he says, adding, “For me, this work is about making sure no Black or brown LGBTQ+ person has to suffer in silence on college campuses.”
Bailey cities the launch of Harvard’s LGBTQ+ center as one of his most challenging and rewarding projects. “For me, it was about making sure I had community and people around who believed in me,” says Bailey, noting his own experiences with anxiety and depression. “I made sure to get a therapist who understood how racial trauma shows up in queer and trans communities. It was important to have a network established of people I trusted. Radical care is community work!”
At present, Bailey is pursuing a master’s in social work. “Also, being a parent to an amazing human is pretty remarkable. Seeing them grow really is phenomenal.” — D.R., Photo Courtney Ramsey
In 2013, David Johns was appointed the first executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, an appointment by then-President Obama. It was the culmination of distinguished work on Capitol Hill that included time as a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Fellow as well his former role as a New York City teacher.
“Every Black man in my family has served our country, and this opportunity allowed me to serve in ways that leveraged the best parts of my skills, passion, and experiences,” he shares.
Johns left the post at the end of the Obama administration in January 2017. He went through a crisis of confidence. “I wanted to continue to serve my country and my community — but my confidence in myself was shaken,” he says.
But then National Black Justice Coalition CEO Sharon Lettman-Hicks offered Johns the job of executive director of the NBJC, a group that advances the rights of Black LGBTQ+ people. He started in September 2017, confident once more. This year alone, Johns is proud of three initiatives he helmed as NBJC’s leader. One is the Lavender Book, an app that helps Black LGBTQ+ people find supportive spaces. Next is the Good Trouble Network, the first formal network of Black LGBTQ+ elected leaders. Third is the launch of the Wisdom Awards and James Baldwin Legacy Awards, which honor elders. “I stand in a long line of racial justice warriors who work to ensure that all Black people can be free.” — D.R., Photo Kea Taylor
Dr. Demetre Daskalakis joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late 2020 as the director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, but he soon found his duties encompassed another epidemic.
“My biggest challenge was getting pulled into the COVID-19 response three months after I started with CDC,” he says. “This experience confirmed for me that it is possible to overcome any barrier if you promote science, listen to the community, and try different approaches if problems arise — especially if it is the right thing to do for public health.”
Daskalakis helped increase the COVID vaccination rate in the U.S. and assure that vaccines were delivered equitably. He also hopes to use the lessons of the COVID response in fighting HIV, just as the lessons of the HIV epidemic informed the efforts against COVID.
Daskalakis came to the CDC after several years with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and has become known for his sometimes unorthodox style — for instance, dressing in drag to deliver meningitis vaccines.
As the CDC endeavors to end the HIV epidemic, “my goal is to pivot our strategy to focus on a ‘status neutral’ approach to HIV prevention and care,” Daskalakis says. “This approach means that regardless of HIV status, people receive the services that they need to stay healthy and stop HIV. This strategy will help to dismantle stigma and discrimination — some of the biggest barriers to ending the HIV epidemic.” — T.R., Photo Courtesy CDC
Washington warriors @christinacarr @pilitobar87
Pili Tobar and Christina Carr are a D.C. power couple for 2021. Tobar is deputy White House communications director, part of an all-woman senior communications team and Carr is press secretary at the Small Business Administration.
Both express enthusiasm and pride about their work. Tobar (pictured below) says she is “proud of the work we’re doing to make life better for the American people and working families — through historic legislation we’ve passed like the American Rescue Plan, impactful policies like the child tax credit to reduce poverty, our efforts to combat COVID, and furthering President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure deal.”
Carr (above) notes of her job, “American small businesses and their leaders come from every zip code, every background, and have so many things to share and to learn from. It’s fascinating to talk to business owners across the country.” SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman often calls small businesses “the giants of our economy,” Carr points out, adding, “It’s true — they’re leading the way to economic recovery. I love helping the SBA and Administrator Guzman to formulate a message to convey the work the Biden-Harris administration is doing to help small businesses grow and thrive.” — T.R., Photos Andrea De Leon; courtesy Tobar
Jordan Budd is a family man. The executive director of COLAGE, the organization that offers support to people with one or more LGBTQ+ parents, has dedicated himself to helping to connect people, often kids, with mentors and peers. And Budd, who refers to himself as “second-gen queer spawn,” knows something about queer caregivers.
An organizer and strategist, Budd served as Florida’s Youth and LGBT Vote Director in 2012 for President Obama’s reelection campaign “where he solidified his commitment to elevating the voices of young people and people of color.”
While Budd, who is Black and queer, has focused a great deal of his advocacy on LGBTQ+ issues, he’s also worked as international representative for the Office and Professional Employees International Union. In that position, he advised, organized, and represented union members with “contract negotiations and pro-labor workplace demonstrations and campaigns.”
Budd, who lives in Rhode Island with his partner, describes COLAGE as “the only national organization expressly dedicated to supporting people with one or more LGBTQ+ parents or caregivers, uniting them with a network of peers and supporting them as they nurture and empower each other to be skilled, self-confident, and just leaders in their communities.”
Part of the 30-year-old organization’s ongoing work has been to grow with ever-expanding LGBTQ+ families. And Budd’s mission is to continue that trajectory.
“My plan is to continue to grow COLAGE’s footprint across the United States with more opportunities for POC-led LGBTQ+ families to participate in our programming,” he says.
Although COLAGE has three decades of infrastructure, the past 18 months have presented challenges. The pandemic threw up roadblocks to how to move forward for so many, and Budd navigated those obstacles personally and with COLAGE. “My biggest accomplishment this year has definitely been the successful and safe return of Family Week, the largest gathering of LGBTQ+ families in the world,” Budd says. — Tracy E. Gilchrist, Photo Cedric Wilson
Artist, designer @mars.wright
In a media landscape where trans representation is largely confined to political scapegoating and horrific violence, the art and clothing of Mars Wright is a welcome antidote.
The queer trans mixed-media artist has built a thriving business of LGBTQ-themed works for your wall and back. With face masks that declare preferred pronouns, and shirts, shorts, and hoodies that carry messages like, “trans is beautiful,” Wright’s designs celebrate the community.
The L.A.-based designer first realized they could make a living selling their mantra-infused clothing after producing a small batch of T-shirts. The tees sold out within a day. After emblazoning postage stickers with messages of resiliency and sticking them around his neighborhood, Wright began drawing the messages online and found willing buyers. This modest success led to a full clothing line and website. The sales are great, but the response is better.
“I’m most proud of the impact my art has had on the trans community,” says Wright, who awards a portion of proceeds to the Black trans community via the Unique Women’s Coalition. At a Pride event, customers “told me how much it meant for them to see a trans person out in the world, being successful and happy.”
“So often our lives are filled with a lot of fear, pain, and trauma,” says Wright, who hopes to one day open a brick-and-mortar shop. “I want a space for us to enjoy art and community in a place where we often don’t take up space.” —Neal Broverman, Photo courtesy
A Two-Spirit citizen of the Coeur d’Alene tribe, Paulette Jordan is a former Idaho state representative, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee Native American Caucus, cofounder of the DNC Council on Environment & Climate Crisis, and secretary of the National Indian Gaming Association. She considers herself “a daughter and hereditary leader of the Pacific Northwest” whose work involves “carrying on the legacy of leadership that comes with being Indigenous to this land.” She is “a voice and a representative for balance and peace, for all people, and for the land and water that gives us life,” she says.
In 2020, Jordan became the first Native American woman to win a major party nomination for U.S. Senate when she ran as a Democrat in Idaho. “What makes me proud is knowing that we’ve made significant progress in bringing to the forefront the voices of women, people of color, Indigenous people, LGBTQ+, young people, and other underrepresented communities,” she says. She’s a devoted mother and a nationally elected leader among the tribal nations. She’s also extremely passionate about restoring balance to our relationship with nature, and started an organization, Save the American Salmon.
“Staying connected to your purpose — what you came to this world to do — will always help you overcome,” she says. — M.R.
Community organizer @queenvictoriaortega
Queen Victoria Ortega wears many crowns. The Angeleno activist is the national president of FLUX, a network of transgender leaders that seeks to uplift trans and nonbinary people. She is also queen of the Royal Court, a community group that uses events like drag shows to raise funds for LGBTQ+ causes. This found family is near and dear to her. “Losing my father Prince Adrian Ortega was quite difficult,” Ortega shares. “He was my sounding board and a steady force of unconditional love. With help from the Royal Court members, I have been able to deal.”
Ortega has shared her own love and wisdom as an advisor to a host of entities, including the Los Angeles County Prevention Planning Council, the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV Health Services, and the Transgender Service Provider Network. Her mission is “to show that trans people are capable and powerful, not victims but instead victorious!”
One of those victories includes the Connie Norman Transgender Empowerment Center, which was launched by members of FLUX. Named after the late transgender AIDS activist, the West Hollywood facility will provide employment and legal services to the trans community. — D.R., Photo Paolo Jara Riveros
Making history is nothing new for adventurous mountaineer, explorer, entrepreneur, author, and activist Silvia Vásquez-Lavado. After just over a decade in the sport of mountain-climbing, Vásquez-Lavado became the first Peruvian woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2016. Two years later, she completed climbing the Seven Summits (the tallest mountain on each continent), becoming the first out woman to do so.
In her activism and humanitarian work, Vásquez-Lavado is an outspoken advocate for sexual abuse survivors. In 2015, she created the nonprofit Courageous Girls, dedicated to helping survivors of sexual abuse and trafficking “with opportunities to find their strength and cultivate their voice by demonstrating their physical strength.”
Vásquez-Lavado opens up about her own trauma in her recent memoir, In the Shadow of the Mountain, which is being adapted into a feature film starring Selena Gomez. She says the book “is my most personal journey to unmasking the deepest pain and shame inflicted by sexual abuse, and how it created self-destructive behaviors.”
She is a member of the prestigious Explorers Club and is a sought-out public speaker. Vásquez-Lavado is gearing up for skiing the South Pole in Antarctica and the North Pole in 2022, and climbing the Seven Summits for a second time. — Desirée Guerrero, Photo Emily Assiran
Educator, agitator @phaggot.planet
Regan de Loggans is not afraid to be arrested for a cause. This past year, the Two-Spirit advocate was detained three times for protesting an extension of Line 3, an oil sands pipeline, which would stretch from Canada to Wisconsin and, in the process, endanger Anishinaabe and Dakota communities. The fallout from these arrests has been the year’s greatest obstacle for de Loggans — but the reality is, the struggle is a long game.
“I seek to be in harmony with land, waters, and community,” de Loggans says of their mission. “That has manifested as an educator, historian, curator, agitator, and, through the state’s eyes, a criminal. I want my work to be described as an unwavering commitment to Indigenous sovereignty, by any and all means necessary.”
The Mississippi Choctaw activist has also participated in “teach-in” protests at institutions like the American Museum of Natural History, the Whitney Biennial, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art “in response to continued settler colonialism and institutionalized racism and violence.”
De Loggans is based in “so-called Brooklyn,” which they note is rightfully Canarsee land. In NYC, they are part of the Indigenous Kinship Collective, a community of Indigenous women, femme, and gender-nonconforming artists, activists, and educators. Wherever the fight may be, de Loggans will be there “in solidarity with Indigenous struggles for sovereignty and liberation.” — D.R., Photo courtesy