The Photographer: Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz is usually a master of images, but this year even she couldn't get a handle on her own picture. For years, the most famous living photographer was a private genius, the woman behind enduring photos of figures like Demi Moore and John Lennon, but never much for basking in public view. Leibovitz's artistic credibility and personal stability were buoyed by her longtime relationship with writer Susan Sontag, but when Sontag died in 2004, everything seemed to fall apart.
Leibovitz's finances were deteriorating, despite commercial contracts and a seven-figure salary at Vanity Fair. Within months of Sontag's death, Leibovitz's father died and her twins were born (she has three children). By summer 2009 the situation was dire--a lending group sued Leibovitz for $24 million and the artist was in danger of losing the rights to her pictures, which she had put up as collateral. It's widely speculated that the main source of her money woes were hefty estate taxes that Leibovitz was saddled with after Sontag's death.
But Leibovitz was always good at rebounding, and she didn't let this year pass without turning things around. On September 11 the equity group withdrew its lawsuit and extended the terms of her loan. The photographer wasted no time booking work to pay off her debts--she was recently seen trailing President Obama at the White House, snapping away.
The Leader: Johanna Sigurdardottir
There's more reason than ever to love the nation that produced Bjork and Sigur Ros--Iceland now has the world's first openly gay head of state. Johanna Sigurdardottir, Iceland's longest-serving member of parliament and former social affairs minister, was named prime minister on an interim basis in February 2009, after the collapse of the previous government amid an economic downturn, and elected to that position in April. (Norway once had an openly gay interim leader.) In her progressive country, Sigurdardottir's sexual orientation proved a nonissue. The 67-year-old, who is also Iceland's first female prime minister, has been dubbed "Saint Johanna" for her work on behalf of the less fortunate, and while she is a member of the liberal Social Democratic Alliance party, she is well-liked across the spectrum. The BBC has called her "one of Iceland's most popular politicians," and a 2008 poll showed 73% of Icelanders approved of her work as social affairs minister even as other government officials faced angry protests. Named to Forbes magazine's 100 Most Powerful Women list for 2009, she has pledged to lead "a strong government that works with the people" in an effort to bring Iceland out of its economic troubles and into the European Union.
The Populist: Ryan Murphy
After six years overseeing Nip/Tuck, his relentlessly dark plastic surgery series, is it any wonder Ryan Murphy turned 180 degrees with Glee? His edgy, uplifting musical program about a misfit-filled high school show choir isn't just popular, it's part of the zeitgeist.
Fox had such faith in Murphy's vision it premiered the pilot episode directly after American Idol's final round of performances last May, four months earlier than planned. That confidence paid off, with Glee receiving glowing reviews and its songs millions of downloads on iTunes.
The inspiration came from Murphy's own youthful stint in a less flashy show choir. "It was 16 of us in sad-looking tuxedos and acetate dresses singing Christmas songs. But the world has changed since then," Murphy told NPR. "When we started writing this, we would go into YouTube, and...look at...these extravaganzas, and they are literally like Broadway-level shows."
Gay viewers have particularly responded to the unconventional Kurt. "You've seen the gay character that gets kicked out of the house or is beaten up," Murphy told the Los Angeles Times. "You haven't seen the gay character that is teased a little bit but wins and triumphs."
The Emissary: Michael Crawford
In a city that is more than 50% African-American, Michael Crawford has been leading the charge on an issue often used to exploit racial tensions: marriage equality.
Crawford, a former associate field director for HRC, is the founder and cochair of DC for Marriage, which helped engineer the October introduction of a marriage equality bill that garnered 10 cosponsors from the 13-member Council of the District of Columbia. The bill will likely have sailed through the council by the time this magazine hits stands, and the only hurdle left will be the U.S. Congress, which approves all D.C. laws.
Crawford has purposely recruited a large number of African-American leaders to help advance same-sex marriage. Of the 10 leaders involved in DC for Marriage, six are black, and a large number of the district's more than 200 clergy members who support marriage equality are people of color. The composition of his coalition is deliberate, and serves a dual purpose of evangelizing outside and within the African-American population. "What we see is that the mainstream media pretty much ignores that there's a black LGBT community, even in D.C.," he says.
Crawford and Co. has also targeted much of its face-to-face community outreach at predominantly African-American wards in the city. "It's part of a much-needed conversation in the African-American community about gay people and homophobia," Crawford says. "When we win marriage equality here in D.C., this will be the first majority-minority place in the country where [same-sex] marriage has been legalized."
It will also be the first place south of the Mason-Dixon line.
The Firebrand: Larry Kramer
In April, Larry Kramer harangued Yale alumni--at an event to honor him--about the university's handling of a $1 million gift in his name for a gay studies department. In September he implored Dallas Gay Pride attendees to stop being so apathetic, exclaiming, "We are not free!" Indeed, Kramer used 2009 to maintain his reputation as the activist most likely to provoke debate--and action. The ballsy 74-year-old is, after all, the man who on the strength of a single fiery speech at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center in New York City sparked the formation of ACT UP in 1987. And this was after he founded--and then split from--the Gay Men's Health Crisis a few years earlier. As a playwright he penned the AIDS-themed The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me, and his writings span the gamut from 1978's controversial Faggots to 2004's The Tragedy of Today's Gays following George Bush's reelection. His ambitious The American People, on which he has been toiling for the past two decades, is still a work in progress. Those who say the gay rights movement has no singular voice, no cause celebre, may be correct. But we do have our firebrand--Kramer. And he's never too shy to goad us into action and, as a result, usher us ever closer to freedom.