Justin LeBlanc says that although being a gay man has had the bigger impact on his career, his deafness has been the source of the harder lifelong struggle. Two years after being a contestant on Project Runway, LeBlanc is still designing and fighting for deaf visibility. He speaks regularly at conferences and charity events that benefit the deaf and other groups faced with unique challenges. "Today, the LGBT community is more mainstream than the deaf community, so we feel more aligned to each another," he said. "There is still a lot of discrimination against the deaf with respect to equal access to education and job opportunities, even though the deaf are as capable as the hearing. It is a matter of educating and providing equal access." (Read the complete profile)
Open about her bisexuality from the earliest moments of her music career, Halsey exudes a confidence both onstage and off that lends itself to activism in areas besides queerness, including feminism, and more recently in raising awareness of mental illness, since she came out this year publicly as a person with bipolar disorder. Ultimately, she wants young people to be free to discover themselves. (Read the complete profile)
Even while in prison, Chelsea Manning has tried to become a voice for those who are vulnerable. These days she is speaking out against overly broad government surveillance programs, which she says put the least powerful at the most risk of losing their privacy or having their civil liberties trampled. Designed to end intelligence agencies' abuse of power in spying on U.S. citizens, FISA has defined how the United States conducts espionage for 40 years. But FISA, according to Manning and others, has created its own set of problems, such as a system of courts that operate largely in secret. And she's written a 139-page bill that would dismantle it. (Read the complete profile)
Saeed Jones, the executive editor of culture at BuzzFeed, is also author of the game-changing article highlighting how racial disparities in the publishing industry — which Publisher’s Weekly reports is 89 percent white — limit opportunities for writers of color. Jones, a black gay writer and Pushcart Prize-winning poet, feared his livelihood could be at stake. “I was terrified to publish it,” Jones said. “I felt often when writers speak up — you certainly see this happen to women [and] LGBT people — you become known as the whiny, angry person. And slowly but surely, the opportunities go away, because people go, ‘There’s that writer, that black writer who’s just angry about race all the time.’ I’ve seen that happen. I was very nervous.” (Read the complete profile)
Brian Sims, Pennsylvania's first openly gay state legislator and current candidate for Congress, doesn't understand why all gay and bi men aren't advocating for reproductive rights and pay equity. “I find it very difficult to see how someone could support LGBT civil rights — the idea that we get to be in charge of ourselves, our lives, who we love, how we love, and not the government — and not support women's and reproductive rights,” he says. “Not only do LGBT rights and women's rights go hand in hand, I feel similarly about racial and ethnic justice issues. This is about equality in a larger sense, but it's also about to what degree do you believe the government should have control of your life.” (Read the complete profile)
We don't live in a two-dimensional world, says Alicia Garza, the 34-year-old who cofounded Black Lives Matter with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. As a black queer woman (whose partner is trans) and a longtime advocate for economic justice and fair working conditions, Garza understands these intersections better than most. "Just like we don't live in a two-dimensional world, we don't live two-dimensional lives," Garza says. "Our lives are multidimensional, and because of the systems that we live under, there are particular punishments and sanctions for different aspects of who we are." (Read the complete profile)
Patrisse Cullors bristles at the mention of separate "communities" when discussing her work cofounding the Black Lives Matter movement and fighting to abolish America's prison-industrial complex. "The queer community is the black community, and the black community is the queer community, because we exist in both communities," she explains. "There's no way they could be separate communities, because I'm black and queer. I don't live in two different places — I live in both places. I live in the queer community, I live in the black community, and I believe they are one in the same." (Read the complete profile)
Sometimes what unites us is a common adversary. Take Donald Trump, for example. The Republican front-runner has so far disparaged women, Muslims, Hispanics, and members of the media, and the list seems to grow with every news cycle. If you ask Angelo Carusone — the gay man who in 2012 started fighting back with a "Dump Trump" campaign aimed at Macy's — the billionaire is the classic bully. The bully is always "the loudest voice in the room" and relies on "the most high-balanced, visceral kinds of emotions from the people around them." In other words, they're bullying oftentimes not just for themselves, but for others to watch. (Read the complete profile)
Miley Cyrus may sleep in mansions, but the pansexual, gender-fluid singer and actress refuses to turn a blind eye to the millions shivering in the streets. Though she's passionate about animal rights and queer equality, Cyrus has made addressing homelessness her main altruistic endeavor. She officially launched the Happy Hippie Foundation in May, a nonprofit that provides clothes, meals, and gathering spaces for young people living on the streets. Cyrus spoke eloquently about looking beyond her privilege at the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Vanguard Awards last month. Quoting fellow Vanguard honoree Jane Fonda, Cyrus said, "To be a revolutionary, you have to be a human being. You have to care about people who have no power." (Read the complete profile)
HIV-positive rapper Mykki Blanco, who vacillates between masculine and feminine identities in his private and public life, has been unafraid to challenge gender norms, homophobia, and transphobia in the music industry and beyond. Now Blanco is fighting stigma of the 35 million people who live with HIV. “Thirty-five million people? I hate to say it, but that’s enough to have it almost be normal,” Blanco said. “I think 35 million people deserve to be treated with a sense of normalcy. I think 35 million people deserve to live in a world where they’re not fearmongered. I think 35 million people deserve to live in a country — to live in a world — where HIV-negative people don’t think they can turn their fucking nose up at us because we’re positive.” (Read the complete profile)
The fight against Islamophobia is part of a quest for the "movable middle" that LGBT people have long sought, argues activist Omar Sharif Jr. "We only have to look back at the discrimination we've faced in our own struggle, and not put that on other minority groups," he says, adding that while terrorism and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s aren’t similar, the backlash experienced by the LGBT community then and Muslim Americans now have striking similarities. Indeed, Sharif sees an opportunity for LGBT people to not only relate to Muslim Americans' struggle, but also to be allies. "We faced a huge backlash of demonization in the 1980s when HIV/AIDS was coming to light," says Sharif. "Even though HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease, we and the disease were stereotyped. Now we need to not stereotype [Muslims and terrorism] in the same way." (Read the complete profile)
Jose Antonio Vargas
Following a successful writing career — including a 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his part in The Washington Post's coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting — Vargas decided it was time to come out of the shadows about his immigration status. Now he's founder of his own nonprofit and making films that focus on the intersections of race, immigration, and identity — and he doesn't care who he makes uncomfortable in the process. "We do not live single-issue lives, but that is how the 'mainstream' media operates," Vargas explains excitedly. "[Mainstream media separates pieces by determining] that's a Latino story, that's a black story, that's a gay story, that's an immigration story. No, they're not." (Read the complete profile)
Eric Paul Leue
Eric Paul Leue, the director for sexual health and advocacy at Kink.com, is a kinky leatherman from Germany, ready to (consensually) beat the internalized shame out of America. "Public education is going to wipe out stigma," Leue says confidently. “It is the antidote to latent homophobia and HIV stigma all over the country. When people are presented with information, they will learn." (Read the complete profile)
Subhi Nahas fled antigay persecution in Syria to become an advocate for refugees everywhere. He points out that those seeking refuge may have been persecuted for various reasons — because they’re women, because they’re members of religious or ethnic minorities, or because they’re gay or transgender — but ultimately, they are all in the fight together. “If we think we are one, we support each other,” says Nahas, who is trying to create change through his work at the Organization for Refuge, Asylum, and Migration, which advocates for LGBT and intersex refugees fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. (Read the complete profile)
Jasmin Singer and her wife, Mariann Sullivan, run Our Hen House, a multimedia project seeking “to effectively mainstream the movement to end the exploitation of animals,” as its website states. Singer and Sullivan bonded over realizing the interconnection of issues and identities, and Singer will explore some other connections in the memoirAlways Too Much and Never Enough, about how a significant weight loss made her confront society’s ill-treatment of people who aren’t thin. It will be out in February.
D'Arcee Charington Neal
Black, gay, and in a wheelchair, D'Arcee Charington Neal wants everyone like him to not be shortchanged on experiences. "I honestly believed that as an LGBT person with a disability, nobody was ever going to love me, and nobody was ever going to appreciate me," he says. Just having someone who understood the experience would have been life-changing, he says. So he spent three years working at United Cerebral Palsy and before that served as a youth advocate for the Alliance of Disability Advocates' Center for Independent Living. And that's just the beginning. (Read the complete profile)
While DeRay Mckesson has certainly organized his fair share of large demonstrations, and more than once joined fellow activists and frustrated citizens in marching through the streets shouting "No Justice, No Peace," he knows that not all progress is made with a bullhorn. "There are so many people who are not hiding, but not loud, who want to be in this work," Mckesson says, "who believe in a just and equitable society, and are looking for a way to be in the work. And we need to figure out how to do that." (Read the complete profile)
New York rapper Le1f pulls off an amazing feat on his new album, Riot Boy: He preaches against intolerance and stupidity without being preachy. Single “Rage” describes both the catharsis of a night on the town and the fury felt by the oppressed, especially double minorities like the artist. “It’s a song where I wanted to play with that whole idea of the angry black man and present it in this punk situation that maybe people can relate to more easily,” he told Noisey. “I think that my voice and the beats are just the same; it’s just that I’m talking about politics.” (Read the complete profile)
Bria and Chrissy
The wildly popular YouTube couple Bria Kam and Chrissy Chambers use their vast social media influence for good. Now they're fighting for victims of revenge pornography. "It's important for queer women to stand up — otherwise they'll continue to be silenced by the mainstream," says Chambers, who is a victim herself. "It feel like sometimes we're on an island, screaming, and there is no one else that can hear us. That's how I know some LGBTQ creators or a lot of women feel like, but if you are not part of that initial group ... you just have to accept the fact that you're going to be up really intense odds, but you are changing the future." (Read the complete profile)
Blogger turned TV writer Ryan O’Connell is preparing to turn his story of growing up gay and disabled into a sitcom. Being honest about his cerebral palsy let O’Connell relinquish the last thing he said that held him back from living as his true, authentic self. “I hate when people don’t talk about things,” he says. “I hate when people just sweep things under the rug. I’m, like, the anti-rug sweeper." (Read the complete profile)
Ruby Rose has had a very good year. Even though she already had quite a fan following, after the Australian model and former MTV VJ was cast in the third season of the groundbreaking Netflix series Orange Is the New Black earlier this year, she became a household name in the United States. But besides her new status as one of Hollywood’s newest and most intriguing rising stars, the out, gender-fluid actress (who also happens to DJ and design clothes) is also a vocal activist, always finding a way to fight for what she believes in. She’s acted as a spokesperson for Headspace, an Australian youth mental health foundation, and has been a longtime advocate for animal rights organizations like PETA. Rose best summed up her beliefs on fighting for animal rights when she penned a 2011 column on News.com.au, chronicling the decision she made to lend her good looks to a PETA ad that appeared in Maxim magazine: “I’ve long said that I'd rather stand naked and shivering in front of a crowd of gawking strangers than wear a mink coat."
By bringing unconventional LGBT heroes to the forefront, Steve Orlando is changing the landscape of comic books for a new generation. “Having characters portrayed as real people with real problems and real passion, that’s what’s pushing acceptance forward because it’s harder to have biases once you’re able to put a human face to it,” he says. (Read the complete profile)
Julio Salgado, a queer undocumented immigrant of Mexican origin, uses his art to make points about issues affecting immigrants, people of color, and LGBT people. He’s cofounder of DreamersAdrift.com, a website that uses video and text to shine a light on undocumented LGBT life in the United States, and his art often depicts DREAMers, young immigrants who were brought here as children. He’s also a cisgender ally to transgender people. One of his art projects is a series of covers for the fictional Trans People of Color magazine; while it’s important to address the oppression of trans people, it’s also crucial to celebrate their “brilliance and resiliency,” he says.
Mya Taylor and her Tangerine costar Kitana Kiki Rodriguez are speaking frankly about their past experiences as sex workers in order to help move the needle. And they’re not afraid to address those who criticize their film for its portrayal of trans women employed in the world’s oldest profession. Taylor has made it a point to speak out against the stigma that society imposes on sex work. She faced employment discrimination in her search to find a job that wasn't criminalized, and she points out the hypocrisy of those who place judgment on anyone who is doing work they need to do in order to survive. “It’s not their business,” she says. “Let’s say if you were transgender or gay or bisexual or Muslim or whatever you want to be, it’s not my business to come and judge you. Because, first of all, what you’re doing isn’t paying any of my bills.” (Read the complete profile)
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez
Tangerine is real life for many trans women, says actress Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. “I would say it's realistic,” Rodriguez told The Hollywood Reporter. “And if you don't like it, then when you see it you're going to want to change it.” (Read the complete profile)
Best known for her single "All I Want to Be Is Your Girl," Holly Miranda is a lesbian singer-songwriter who has lent her voice and proceeds from sales of her music to Lizz Winstead's feminist nonprofit organization, Lady Parts Justice. LPJ uses "humor and outrage to remove bodily autonomy-hating local politicians." Miranda is out but prefers to avoid wearing any label other than musician. "I have no problem being out, but I don’t think it has anything to do with my music," Miranda told AfterEllen. "I like who I like. I don’t want people to not listen to my music because of that and I don’t want people to listen to my music because of that."
Who Is Fancy?
Although out 24-year-old singer-songwriter Jake Hagood — better known by his stage name, Who Is Fancy — only has two singles under his belt so far, he is already starting to make a big name for himself in music.
Not just because of his admittedly catchy songs. Not just because of his sultry, soulful voice. Not just because he’s already collaborated with superstars like Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor. But because in the short time that he’s had in the spotlight, he’s already shed light on topics too many mainstream singers ignore. Like LGBT inclusion, visibility for people of color, and especially body positivity.
“Those music videos are straight from the things I go through. Weight has always been an issue for me; sexuality has always been a topic around me. Because I grew up in the South, where I’m from, being gay isn’t condoned, and also it’s not talked about. It’s not a conversation,” Fancy said in an interview with The Advocate earlier this year, recalling how different versions of the music video for his first single “Goodbye” featured people from all different walks of life.
“I wanted these videos and this whole Fancy movement to be the start of a conversation,” he continued. “I wanted people to know that, regardless of size, gender, color ... I want to be able to help people, young people especially, start those dialogues and have those conversations.”
It’s been said over and over by many publications before, but we’ll be glad to say it again: Chromat is the future of fashion. With its predominantly monochromatic aesthetic that incorporates plenty of geometric shapes, it’s easy to see why the brand is often seen at the forefront of style.
The mastermind behind it all? None other than young out lesbian designer Becca McCharen, who (using her background in architectural design) has been creating stylish garments that not only look incredibly modern and futuristic, but actually incorporate tech in ways that adapt to whoever is wearing them.
But her innovative work doesn’t stop at the clothes. McCharen’s Chromat, which was nominated this year as a Fashion Fund finalist by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Vogue magazine, is one of the the industry’s most body-positive and racially diverse labels yet. McCharen attributes that inclusive stance to wanting to portray the reality of what people are.
“I’m so against all-white, straight, skinny girl runways,” McCharen told Fashionista in an interview published in 2014, since the brand always features queer and trans women, women of size, and women of color on its runway shows. “That just doesn’t reflect my reality and who I am and who the Chromat woman is.”
Political consultant and media adviser Jasmyne Cannick has a complicated relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department. Through Facebook, Twitter, and her website, Cannick reports on accounts of police misconduct in Los Angeles — where she's based — and beyond. Her watchdog reports may have irked some in the department; during a 2014 L.A. protest sparked by a grand jury's refusal to indict Ferguson, Mo,. police officer Darren Wilson in the death of unarmed black youth Michael Brown, Cannick was arrested on three counts of resisting a police officer.
Cannick, reporting for a radio station during the protest, long contended she did nothing wrong and refused to cop a plea or deal. The out 38-year-old was finally vindicated this November when California v. Cannick was dismissed. Cannick's experience this year strengthened her already steely resolve to keep the police honest, especially when it comes to dealing with folks of color.
"The next time someone tells me that the police lied on them I will no longer give them the side eye and not believe them," Cannick wrote on her website. "As the song goes ... until it happens to you."
Monica Raye Simpson is executive director of SisterSong, the National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. The North Carolina native has organized extensively against human rights violations, reproductive oppression, racism, white supremacy and intolerance, the prison-industrial complex, and what she calls “the systematic physical and emotional violence inflicted upon the minds, bodies, and spirits of African-Americans, with an emphasis on African-American women and the African-American LBGTQ community.” Looking ahead to the 2016 election, and beyond, Simpson wrote on Reality Check that now is the time for “politicians to stand with us or move out of our way.” She organized black women from a variety of organizations, regions, and religious backgrounds to form the Trust Black Women Partnership. "Now more than ever Black women need to come together to speak out against attacks on our autonomy. We cannot allow another lawmaker to spout off about who we are or another community leader to talk about our families." Simpson also is the founder and artistic director of Artists United for Reproductive Justice. In 2015 she released her first full album, Revolutionary Love.
Maricón Collective never set out to make a political statement. The group of four queer Los Angeles Chicano DJs and artists — Carlos Morales, Rudy Bleu, Michael Rodriguez, and Manuel Paul — formed last year to host parties, create art, and promote other queer Latino artists.
But after they created a Pride mural in San Francisco this summer that depicted LGBT Chicanos, the collective received homophobic threats of violence and saw the mural defacedthree times. The mural depicted a gay couple in an embrace, a female pair with one woman holding the other’s face, and a trans man with scars from top surgery.
The group originally formed as a party night at a gay club, but a year later, it has come to represent an identity for young queer Latinos in Los Angeles. As what the group stood for evolved, so did its intentions. Paul, a mural artist, saw an opportunity to display queer pride through Maricón Collective: “To create a brown space for the people that don't really have it.” Paul wants to show people that you can be Chicano and gay and for young kids who haven’t come out yet or who are having a hard time in their families, to show them “we exist.”
Marisa Franco has always lived at the intersections. A queer Chicana who grew up in an Arizona border town, the 37-year-old now directs the Not1More campaign, which seeks an immediate end to the deportation of LGBT immigrants and undocumented families.
The campaign launched in 2013, in the wake of anti-immigrant policies that spread across the nation, best characterized by Arizona's infamous SB 1070, which allowed law enforcement officials to demand proof of legal residence from anyone they suspected might be undocumented. The messaging targets President Obama, as activists argue that he has the executive power to immediately suspend deportations for those immigrants who have no criminal history.
That year, Not1More activists staged more than a dozen civil disobedience actions intended to stave off the tide of deportations. Advocates chained themselves to the entrances of immigration detention centers, effectively postponing the deportation hearings scheduled for that day. In Washington, D.C., demonstrators were arrested for blocking the street and a bus full of immigrants slated for deportation.
The demonstrations have continued this year, as Not1More lent its support to immigrants who have been staging a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention. Not1More has also demanded an end to the detention of transgender immigrants, who are often fleeing violent persecution in their homeland. The group is especially concerned about the safety of trans women, who are usually housed with men and report a staggeringly high incident of rape and sexual assault while detained.
Michelle Garcia had a helluva year. She started out as this publication’s managing editor, moved from Los Angeles to New York to take on the position of identities editor at the politically minded, youth-oriented Mic, and finally segued to senior editor at Vox, writing and editing stories about race and identities. The career trajectory of Garcia, 31, runs perfectly parallel with the Queens, N.Y., native’s expansive interests. She has written award-winning stories about the controversy over pre-exposure prophylaxis for The Advocate and overseen coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement for Mic. At Vox, Garcia just wrote a fascinating piece about whether a hip-hop song was a threat or simply a form of protest, a question that will soon be answered by the Supreme Court. Garcia’s understanding of intersectionality and minority struggles is intrinsic, of course. But this bisexual journalist’s own identity goes beyond her racial and sexual makeup; as she describes herself on Twitter, she’s “Black. Latina. Bi. Scrapbooker.”
As the director of video and a contributing editor for ThinkProgress, Igor Volsky proudly pushes a liberal agenda by pointing out the hypocrisies of right-wing politicians and advocating for causes like health care and environmental protections. The gay journalist’s latest crusade is for gun control, where he’s written and edited numerous posts highlighting the need for change.
One piece in October called out presidential candidate John Kasich for touting his National Rifle Association rating just seconds after hearing about an Oregon school shooting. After the San Bernardino, Calif., massacre in November, Volsky highlighted the NRA dollars received from politicians who offered “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of gun violence. Volsky has also explored how terrorist sympathizers take advantage of America’s lax laws on guns, and looked at the effort to stop potential mass shooters from firing a gun.
Following a mass shooting, most news sources do one or two obligatory gun stories; Volsky, on the other hand, refuses to let complicit politicians get away with their actions.
A lot of gay people have a deep connection with animals, but Nathan Runkle’s commitment goes further than most — the 31-year-old is the president of Mercy for Animals, an Los Angeles-based nonprofit animal advocacy organization.
Growing up on a farm in Ohio, Runkle was exposed to animal abuse that prompted him to become a vegetarian at 11 and a vegan at 15. He would then launch Mercy for Animals, specifically to aid “food animals” like chickens, pigs, and cows. The group has chalked up numerous wins recently, including commitments from large grocers and food industry giants for improved animal conditions.
It’s not hard for Runkle to see why LGBT people like himself have such an interest in the welfare of other species.
“Our community understands … being treated different because people perceive us as different from them,” Runkle said in an interview with Vegan.com. “Animals are oftentimes subject to oppression and exploitation because people consider them different from us, even though in very important ways they are very much like us. … Equality and fairness and kindness and compassion are what all rights movements are based on.”
Carlos Padilla is the national coordinator for the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Protect, a program of United We Dream. QUIP works at the intersections of queerness and citizenship, fighting to empower LGBT immigrants and allies to dismantle the social and systemic barriers that keep them oppressed.
At age 23, Padilla has already been integral in launching several successful activism campaigns, including the overarching phrase "UndocuQueer," which urges undocumented LGBT people to not only come out of the closet, but also to come out of the shadows about their immigration status. He has written for The Advocate and other publications about the "double closet" undocumented LGBT people must overcome and cofounded the Washington Dream Coalition, which helps undocumented students seeking higher education in the U.S. obtain financial aid.
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Padilla moved to the U.S. when he was 2 years old. He came out of the shadows about being undocumented at age 15 and came out as queer three years later. In a February piece for The Advocate, Padilla reflected on the personal importance of another campaign he helped launch, #OperationButterfly, which allowed him to hug his mother — through a border fence — for the first time in five years.
"I cannot tell you what moment felt like, to hold my mother after all that time," Padilla wrote. "What I can tell you is that it made me that much more determined to fight for freedom."