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2021 Out100: LGBTQ+ Performers of the Year
Out100 2021: Performers of the Year
Be it writing dance hits or singing the house down, these out musicians, dancers, and performers are changing (and queering) the world through their art. Take a look at this year's Out100 honorees below.
Sean Bankhead is the mastermind behind your favorite performances. The 32-year-old professional dancer has been in the industry for well over a decade, having worked with legends like Britney Spears and Missy Elliot; he was also one of two men who ever performed "Single Ladies" on stage with Beyonce. You certainly know his recent work. The out choreographer's resume includes Normani's "Motivation" and "Wild Side" music videos, Cardi B's "Up," and Lil Nas X's controversial number-one single, "Industry Baby." Bankhead's also responsible for the choreography of Nas's iconic BET Awards performance of "(Montero) Call Me By Your Name" in which Nas, surrounded by his scantily clad dancers swathed in durags, pays homage to Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" and concludes with an explosive kiss that broke the internet.
"It's been completely liberating to be able to create so many moments over this past year with [artists] who aren't afraid to completely embrace their queerness and fly free," Bankhead says. "Making art should never feel restrictive, yet...queer creators -- who are literally behind most of the moments in pop culture -- still haven't been able to see themselves in the artist they work with. But that time is over."
Bankhead clearly isn't afraid to push the boundaries of dance or pop culture, and his vision feels more important now than ever. "Working with artists like Lil Nas X has opened the door for visibility on such huge stages, and [he] isn't afraid at all to shatter that ceiling, especially as a successful Black and gay rapper. It's been the most fun I've had creating since I started my career when I was 16." -- T.H., Photo Jerritt Clark/Getty Images
Orville Peck is queering up the music world, and for the better. The South African-born country western star known for his dreamy voice -- and the fact that he wears a signature fringe mask in public everywhere he performs -- is one of the genre's still-too-few out gay male artists. And though it has (thankfully) become more and more accepted to be out and proud in the music industry, there's still a lot that needs to be done for equity and representation. Even behind a mask, Peck is proving his visibility matters to listeners the world over. And it's getting him all the praise and attention he deserves.
In the past year alone, Peck has collaborated with gay music icons like Lady Gaga for the 10th anniversary of her Born This Way album as well as Beyonce for the rodeo-themed collection of her athleisure brand Ivy Park. After releasing his debut album Pony in 2019, and the follow-up EP Show Pony in 2020, Peck is ready to continue blessing the world with more new music. -- R.E., Photo Adam Alexander
Musician, multi-hyphenate @loganlynnofficial
Logan Lynn is booked and busy. This past year alone, the musician, filmmaker, producer, and activist helped launch a nonprofit foundation with the Grammy-winning band Portugal. The Man and helped bring the .gay web domain platform to customers all over the world. Lynn was also signed by iconic indie music label Kill Rock Stars and released the singles "Rich and Beautiful" and "Eat&Drink&Smoke&Shop&Fuck"; a full album arrives next year.
"This year we all had the opportunity to give up or move forward, and most of us probably did at least a little of both," he says. "I have been surviving the pandemic through music, fashion, art, rescue doggos, and just showing up for the communities I care about and belong to. I'm grateful to still be here and feel very clear about who and how I am trying to be in this new world."
"Everything I create now is rooted in this unwavering belief that we will all come back together someday, to dance and hug and kiss and fuck and eat at restaurants and go to shows and see our families and shop in stores and travel and get the mail without worrying about dying and just have fun, like we used to," he says. "I just absolutely refuse the darkness now." -- R.E., Photo Kill Rock Stars
Are you ready for Kweeng Doll? The self-described "gender-bending rapper with an androgynous look and fast hard spitting bars" works "to advocate and be uniquely me, to hopefully inspire others to be their true selves and break barriers." The nonbinary musician became the first queer person and rapper to be named WBUR's favorite Massachusetts entry of the NPR Tiny Desk Contest, and she's still fighting to claim her space in rap. "It is such a cis male dominated field. Female MCs are just starting to get their shine. It's about time us queer rappers break through stereotypes and I have been doing that since I started and will continue to make way for other [artists] like myself," she says. This November, Doll is dropping her second project, I'm That Gwurl. "I am excited to get new music and content to my fans that have been waiting, and to create after such a crazy time," she says. -- T.H., Photo Lijah Pannell
"Creating hope and change both artistically and socially is the driving force behind my work," iRAWniQ says. "I want people to understand they can unapologetically exist while rewriting the narrative that has been laid before us."
The nonbinary rapper has been releasing music for over a decade, but their work ranges from "acting and composition to activism and writing," all of it "raw, unapologetic, innovative and genuine." Their talents extend to multiple mediums. Earlier this year, iRAWniQ, the parent of a 13-year-old, released a children's book about a genderfluid fifth-grader titled Charlie's Best Work Yet. It sends a "message of love, expression, and fluidity" that "is something very important for children and adults alike," they say. They are currently working on another book "for my fellow top surgery folx."
They're also preparing for a "recurring role on a network show. Music is coming...art...but honestly, I am most excited about growing and flowing, living and loving out loud."
Look out for iRAWniQ's voice acting work in The Crown With a Shadow, a mixed-media short film about a transgender fish that also stars Pee Wee Herman, Tatum O'Neal, and Geri Halliwell. -- T.H., Photo John Allen Phillips
Singer, TV host @ddlovato
This year, Demi Lovato finally let the world know the real Demi. While they had been in the spotlight since age 10, it was only this past May, when they came out as nonbinary, that they felt the world really saw them. "I feel so relieved and happy that the world is getting to see my truth," Lovato says, adding that "learning how to tell the world my truth about being nonbinary" was the year's biggest obstacle. They thank their friends, family, and fans for inspiring them to do it. Now, thanks to how they've opened up, others will have an easier time doing the same.
Apart from coming out, Lovato has had one of the busiest years of their career. Not only do they have their own podcast, 4D With Demi Lovato, and a Roku original talk show, The Demi Lovato Show, but the multitalented performer also had a four-part Peacock docuseries exploring UFOs and the possibility of extraterrestrial life called Unidentified With Demi Lovato. Additionally, they're returning to the studio to work on their first new music since coming out as nonbinary and also developing a show for NBC called Hungry, about a group of friends in a food issues support group. This was a great year for Lovato, and next year is sure to be even better. -- M.R., Photo courtesy
Sean Snyder and Adrian Stevens
Dancers @seanqsnyder, @ad.matthias
For an LGBTQ+ Native American, powwows can be a confounding place. On one hand, it's a joyous occasion that includes embracing friends and family, celebrating ancestors, dancing, and food. But in many places, outside the country's few Two-Spirit powwows, they are spaces where gender diversity and queerness are invisible. That's why the emergence of Sean Snyder -- a nonbinary Two-Spirit Navajo and Ute dancer -- and his partner of eight years, Adrian Stevens, on the powwow circuit has been so thrilling.
Stevens, who is gay and of Ute, Apache, and Shoshone-Bannock ancestry, says his aunties recognized he was Two-Spirit long before he did. Then he and Snyder met at a powwow in Utah nearly a decade ago, fell in love, and have been dancing and traveling the circuit together ever since. They were featured in the PBS doc, Sweetheart Dancers, and thrill audiences with their moves and matching regalia (a rarity since most couples have opposite-gendered outfits). More and more powwows are making way for couples like Snyder and Stevens.
"Every Native community has a different understanding of what Two-Spirit means to their nation," Snyder says. "We encourage our Native Nations to protect our queer family and encourage them into our powwow circle."
Stevens agrees. "We see that momentum gaining and allies speaking out in support. To be a voice and give our communities recognition is so humbling and powerful." -- D.A.M., Photo Ceylon Grey
Band members Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson @whereismuna
MUNA already has a gay anthem under its belt. In 2017, the electric pop band -- all three members are queer -- released "I Know a Place," a synthy celebration of every LGBTQ+ safe haven from your local gay bar to your childhood bedroom. Its runaway success was surpising to the band. "I still am kind of dumbfounded by the way that that song has been lifted up by other members of our community," frontwoman Katie Gavin says. Alongside Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson, the group has released two dancey-yet-vulnerable albums that have rocked us with brutal honesty and catchy hooks.
The trio has turned a more playful page with their latest single, "Silk Chiffon," a "sweet love song" for sapphic fans, featuring Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers. Expect new music soon. "There will be other pop bangers," says McPherson. "There will be some classic MUNA dark pop slaps, and then there will be some folkier stuff." At the end of the day, "it's all just sort of us doing what we like to do," which is uplifting the LGBTQ+ community with songs that describe its highest highs and lowest lows. We're all just human after all. -- Taylor Henderson, Photo Frank
Niki DeMar (born Nicola Teresa DeMartino) is probably best known as a bisexual influencer, one half of twin duo Niki and Gabi. But that's not where her focus is any more. Now she's turning her attention to her music, hoping to be seen as more of an artist than an influencer. "I've honestly wanted to release my own music for so long, but I never thought I would come around to actually doing it -- because failure is terrifying," she says. "For the longest time I thought that no one cared about me or what I had to say, unless it was tied to the Niki and Gabi brand or channel, which stunted myself from following my dreams. The fact that I'm now actually doing it actively, releasing singles, my first EP, having live shows, hitting milestones on streams, growing my monthly listeners, and even now being interviewed for this, it's all so surreal."
She had her first live show ever at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City in November, and she wants to book a tour for her debut EP, Nights Alone. She is, of course, always writing new songs. "There are so many layers of me that I never showed to the internet until I began releasing music," she says. "I'm hoping that I'm not blended in with the category of 'YouTubers who are making more music because they can,' because I know that is the farthest from what I'm doing. I'm an independent artist putting in the money and time behind all projects by myself.... The only reason anyone would take this path is for passion, period." -- M.R., Photo Devin Kasparian
Choreographer, dancer, writer, educator, and activist Sean Dorsey continues to break boundaries in the world of dance. The San Francisco-based artist is considered to be the first out trans modern dance choreographer to rise to national acclaim.
Dorsey has been awarded numerous honors over the years, including the Doris Duke Artist Award, five Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, and the Goldie Award for Performance. He also made history as the first out trans person on the cover of Dance Magazine.
Of his own long-running company, Sean Dorsey Dance, he says, "It's a fusion of full-throttle dance, luscious queer partnering, intimate storytelling, and theater. My work centers trans and queer bodies and experience onstage and off-stage."
Dorsey is also is the founding artistic director for the trans arts nonprofit, Fresh Meat Productions.
"I am incredibly proud to be celebrating the 20th anniversary season of the trans arts nonprofit I founded in 2002," he says. "Twenty years ago, nobody was supporting trans arts or artists -- and I'm proud that Fresh Meat Productions and Sean Dorsey Dance have been central to changing that."
As a "social practice artist," Dorsey says he takes time and care in creating his groundbreaking works. His latest project, The Lost Art of Dreaming, "a new full-evening dance-theater work," is set to premiere in 2022 and will be followed by a national tour. -- Desiree Guerrero, Photo Lydia Daniller
Chris Corsini, a.k.a. MDL CHLD
Artist, astrologer @chriscorsini
Chris Corsini wears many hats. He's an artist, tarot card reader, energy healer, and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter who fights for the inclusion of deaf, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC folks in the spheres of the arts and astrology. Corsini's regular horoscopes and meditation workshops have garnered thousands of views on Instagram and YouTube, as has his work as an artist.
In addition to ASL interpreting live performances of music stars like Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Shawn Mendes, and the Jonas Brothers, Corsini has released tracks under his artist name MDL CHLD like "Funk (About You)," which feature queer, deaf, and BIPOC folks from around the world in front of and behind the camera (Corsini is gay but not deaf). He created this extraordinary production in the midst of a global pandemic with the help of green screens, video conferencing, and ASL interpreters in real time. Despite all the hurdles, the former competitive dancer describes this work as "absolutely necessary."
"We strive to normalize accessibility in everything we do by working with deaf community members [specifically from the LGBTQ+/BIPOC communities] to create accessible music, art, and online content; representation is always a priority in our music videos," he says. "The work we do is not only deeply nourishing to the mind, body, and soul, it's also fun, inspiring, and thought-provoking."
Corsini will be bringing this inclusive spirit to his next music video shoot in Lisbon, Portugal, which will interpret the song's lyrics into sign language woven into dance and choreography. This year, he also received the Well+Good Changemakers Award for his contributions to wellness and relaunched his website (inwardboutique.com), which offers access to workshops, classes, and products. -- D.R., Photo Daniella Falsitta
Pride House LA
Content creators Mollee Gray, Jeka Jane, Garrett Clayton, and Kent Boyd
@pridehousela, @molleegray, @jekajane, @garrettclayton1, @kent_boyd
In 2021, content is king, and all-LGBTQ+ social media collective Pride House LA knows exactly the kind of content that resonates with young queer kids. Most popular on TikTok, where they have over 300,000 followers and millions and millions of likes, Pride House LA -- a foursome consisting of members Kent Boyd, Garrett Clayton, Jeka Jane, and Mollee Gray -- helped fellow Out100 honoree JoJo Siwa during her public coming out this year. Considering all of the entertaining videos they produce, it's easy to see why they are so beloved.
"The main mission of Pride House LA is to be the representation we wish we had when we were younger," the group says in a statement to Out.
"I'm most proud of consistently practicing self-love in a space with Mollee, Jeka, and Garrett!" Boyd says. "The synergy we create is pretty awesome. Family vibes all day!"
"I'm proud of the love and opportunity that's come along with Pride House LA," Clayton adds. "I am so proud of all these things and many more that further prove that queer people deserve success and joy in this world."
"I am beyond proud to be in the process of changing my legal name and gender marker," Jane, who is married to his Pride House member Gray, says. "It's a monumental moment that seemed so far away, but is finally happening!"
With the world slowly but surely getting more and more back to normal, Pride House LA hopes to continue spreading positivity to their fans and supporters from all over. And with a successful merch line already under their belt and the release of their self-titled Pride House LA podcast, they're on track to keep doing that.
"Visibility and representation in our community matters. We are proud to be loud and confident with our queerness, in hopes it can help at least one beautiful soul feel confident in being who they are!" -- R.E., Photo Casie Wendel
Your favorite songs were penned by Justin Tranter. The queer, gender-nonconforming songwriter has worked with the biggest names in the music industry, among them Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Kesha, Kelly Clarkson, and Demi Lovato. Fans of Semi Precious Weapons will also know them as the lead singer of that band too. Additionally, Tranter runs their own record label, where they promote other LGBTQ+ artists like Jake Wesley Rogers and Shea Diamond, a transgender singer whose work includes the opening theme of HBO's We're Here, "I Am America."
Moreover, Tranter executive produces music-centric projects like the upcoming Grease prequel, Rise of the Pink Ladies, and there's even a musical starring Idina Menzel cowritten with V (formerly Eve Ensler) in the works. "The musical theater teen queen in me is on Cloud 9," they attest. Tranter also executive produced and cowrote the soundtrack to the new queer holiday classic Happiest Season, an experience that they describe as "beyond magical." Beyond the music biz, Tranter sits on the board of GLAAD, which promotes LGBTQ+ acceptance in media.
"Emotionally, what I do is help amazing people tell their stories while wearing very chic clothing," Tranter says of his work. And they have no complaints about the past year. "I'm a very privileged person who was comfortably able to stop working at the beginning of the pandemic and then work very safely a little while into it. I have no obstacles worthy of mentioning compared to the rest of the world." -- D.R., Photo Josef Jasso