Jessica Savitch. One of the first women to anchor an evening network news broadcast alone, back when the country had three networks. I didn't know at the time that she was bisexual, but it makes sense to me. Before I came out, I dreamed only of being Savitch or Helen Gurley Brown (who Jane Pratt once reportedly said had a "wonderful bisexual vibe," but was certainly never out).
Diane Salvatore. Now the top editor of Consumer Reports, when I was coming out she was proof you could go both ways: have a mainstream career and write lesbian novels on the side. She's been at the helm of many mags since, including Redbook, Marie Claire, and Prevention.
Frances Stevens, the founder of Curve magazine. A former boxer, Stevens used gambling money to launch the first lesbian glossy. When I became her competitor and later employee, she pushed me to compete as aggressively as I needed, but also to remember I could be a nice person while doing it. The best boss I ever had, and she changed my life fundamentally.
Michelangelo Signorile, now a talk show host on Sirius Radio XM and editor at large at HuffPo's Gay Voices, he was at one time contributing editor at The Advocate. To me, hands down the greatest gay journalist in the country, and his groundbreaking 1993 book, Queer in America: Sex, The Media, and the Closets of Power, investigating the deep consequences of the closet, forever changed the debate among journalists about "outing." (The work that Signorile and Out cofounder Sarah Pettit did in OutWeek magazine inspired me to ditch mainstream publishing for LGBT media.)
Donna Minkowitz, the Pulitzer-nominated writer for The Adovcate and The Village Voice, among others. In 1995, Minkowitz went undercover as a "Christian evangelical boy" researching the men's rights group Promise Keepers and later Focus on the Family. A lesbian feminist, she surprised many by finding common ground with evangelicals and gay bashers, illuminating their deep fear of queer and trans folks.
Donna Red Wing, now director of the Eychaner Foundation and prior to that executive director of One Iowa. She's held leadership positions at our top LGBT organizations and in 2004, the Christian Coalition called her "the most dangerous woman in America." I concur.
And a bevy of authors, including:
Dorothy Allison, the best Southern working poor writer ever, is still wonderful to listen to today. Sure, everyone loved Bastard Out of Carolina, but I've read Trash at least a dozen times and enjoy the brilliance of it and her lesser-known works even more.
Chrystos, a lesbian Native American poet whose work always speaks to both my queer and indigenous roots.
Jewelle Gomez, the woman who got vampires right decades before Twilight with her groundbreaking book TheGilda Stories (originally published by Firebrand, and this year, a 25th anniversary edition was published by City Lights Publishers). Long before that Gomez was amazing on the original staff of Say Brother, one of the country's first weekly black TV shows, and The Electric Company. (She was later a founding board member of both Astraea and GLAAD.)
Joan Nestle, the working-class Jewish lesbian writer, taught me taught me you could have power and wear a skirt. Her anthology Sister and Brother: Lesbians and Gay Men Write About Their Lives Together was a cultural lifesaver in a time when gay/bi men and lesbian/bi women were just coming together as community, while The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader reminded us all about the beauty of butch-femme relationships. She later cofounded of the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City.
Jaye Maiman, a pen name for a writer I'd love to track down but who is lost to me. Her lesbian mysteries based in San Francisco inspired my own a decade later.