This year saw a slew of powerhouse females leading the march toward progress, which is why for The Advocate's Women Issue we decided to spotlight the stories of some of the most prolific LGBTQ women and our allies in the fight.
The boldness these women have displayed in the last year continues to inspire future generations to dream bigger. As the country remains in self-isolation amid the global health crisis, we are emboldened by the growing list of female leaders who will undoubtedly take us forward.
Be sure to check Advocate.com throughout the month of May as we publish their individual stories, but for now, get to know them below:
There is no greater truth teller out there these days than Samantha Irby, the bisexual writer behind the blog, Bitches Gotta Eat. The author of four books, including the newly released Wow, No Thank You, Irby made it to the New York Times bestseller list for We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. Her first memoir, Meaty, is being adapted into a television show by writer Jessi Klein and comedian Abbi Jacobson.
Ninety-three-year-old transgender author, historian, and travel writer Jan Morris has published numerous books in her career. Perhaps she’s best known for the Pax Britannica trilogy, a history of the British Empire that took 10 years to complete. However, the Welsh-born traveler is also famous for being the reporter embedded with mountaineers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay as they became the first to summit Mount Everest.
Before Lily Singh launched her NBC show, A Little Late With Lilly Singh, late last year, network late-night TV wasn’t exactly diverse. Outliers like Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee exist on cable, but Singh, 31, is the only woman, and certainly the only queer person, to break into the networks’ straight white boys’ club with personalities like Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Conan O’Brien.
No reporter this year has covered the breadth of Black trans women’s lives — and very often, deaths — the way this journalist has been since her blog, TransGriot, was launched nearly 15 years ago. Monica Roberts is one of the first people — not just among reporters, but activists as well — on the story when a killing strikes in the trans or gender-expressive communities.
Born in the Bronx, N.Y., to an uneducated single Jewish mom who left Latvia for a better life, Lillian Faderman, now 79, grew up desperate to leave poverty and the sweatshops of her mother’s life behind. On the way to academic stardom, she became a pinup model, actress, and burlesque dancer. Studying at UCLA set her on a path to becoming, by many accounts, the mother of lesbian history whose groundbreaking research into queer women’s lives remains unparalleled.
Katie Sowers hit two birds with one stone at Super Bowl LIV by making history as the first female and the first out member of the LGBTQ community to coach the annual sporting event. Sowers was also the third woman and first out LGBTQ person to have a full-time coaching position in the NFL.
For decades, Nadine Smith has been a force for LGBTQ equality. First, she was an award-winning journalist with the Tampa Tribune, as well as a freelancer for other local and national outlets. Today, she is the executive director of Equality Florida, a position she has served since the organization’s founding in 1997. Her work has never been more critical.
If Victoria’s Secret is suffering because it long insisted on a rigid interpretation of what a woman is and what she should wear under her clothes (or in bed), TomboyX has found success by going in the opposite direction.
The queer, female-owned, gender-neutral underwear company tripled its income after introducing a boxer brief for women. Founders Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez began their Seattle-based company in 2013 knowing little about the fashion industry, but wanted to make clothes that suited them as, well, tomboys.
Lori Lightfoot made history in 2019 by being elected the first out LGBTQ mayor of Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city. Lightfoot is not only the first lesbian to hold the post, but she’s also the first African-American woman to do so. Chicago previously had one female mayor, Jane Byrne, a white woman; and two Black male mayors, Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer.
Lightfoot’s race itself was history-making. After a plethora of candidates vied to succeed Rahm Emanuel, who did not seek reelection, it came down to a runoff between two Black women, Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Lightfoot won in a landslide.
Born Lizette Gutierrez, Los Angeles-based Mexican-American musician San Cha has mastered the art of defying tradition by employing the exact tropes that define it. Her name alone will begin to give you a strong idea of who she is. A play on Spanish words—san means “holy” and sancha means “mistress”—the artist says the irony within the name is intentional.
Born a “sun child” (person with albinism) in the Philippines, journalist Meredith Talusan grew up othered — first raised as a male-identified, Asian child actor in her native country, then in the U.S., a white-passing, gender-bending gay boy at Harvard.
Talusan eventually came to terms with her true identity and transitioned from her life as a queer man to live as an out transgender woman. Her brilliant new memoir, Fairest, offers an exquisitely luminous look at her complex life, navigating that former world but also recognizing that there were many different roads she could have taken to get to her current state of happiness.
Veteran comedian and actress, Fortune Feimster, has appeared on Chelsea Lately, The Mindy Project, and most recently, The L Word: Generation Q. In her stand-up special, Sweet and Salty, Feimster offers a set that includes regaling audiences with tales of her family’s love of Hooters — and proves she has the power to reach people and change lives through her hilarious, heartfelt storytelling.
For so long, the entertainment industry has had a very narrow-minded view of how a celebrity is supposed to look, sound, and behave. But ever since her mainstream breakthrough onto the pop music scene in 2017 with the viral, chart-topping success of her confident hit “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo is helping to redefine what it means to be a real star.
When Hillary Clinton became first lady of the United States in 1993, she was unlike any other. She was a staunch advocate for health care, and her strength and passion could not be sidelined. Her strength intimidated the GOP right from the start, and it continued well into her tenures as U.S. senator from New York, U.S. secretary of State under Barack Obama, and as the first female Democratic nominee for president in history in 2016.
Previously unseen footage from her 2016 campaign is at the forefront of the new Hulu documentary Hillary, which covers her life from childhood to the election. Clinton continues to champion women’s leadership across all industries — especially in politics.
No one should underestimate Arlan Hamilton. She founded Backstage Capital, a venture capital firm, in 2015, when she was homeless. The firm seeks to address funding disparities in the technology industry by investing in companies started by undervalued but high-potential entrepreneurs who are women, people of color, and/or LGBTQ. To date, Backstage Capital has raised more than $10 million and invested in more than 130 startup companies.
Now in its second season, Good Trouble, a spin-off of The Fosters that introduced rarely depicted characters, including a bisexual Latinx man and an Asian-American lesbian, as part of its lead ensemble, continues to boldly portray the lives of LGBTQ identified people and people of color.
What’s more, several women in the core ensemble identify as part of the LGBTQ community — including Zuri Adele and Sherry Cola (pictured above, who are both bisexual), and Emma Hunton (who is pansexual), and Pose’s Hailie Sahar (who is trans) plays Jazmin, a recurring character.
It was about six months shy of a decade after country star Chely Wright fearlessly came out as a lesbian that the “mother church of country music,” as she calls the Grand Ole Opry, finally asked her back to a venue where she’d been a beloved regular — before she publicly announced that she was gay.
Wright, who debuted in 1994 and rose on the country charts in 1997 with her single “Shut Up and Drive,” made history in May 2010 when she became country’s best-known star to come out. But it was no easy road to speaking her truth considering she’d grown up in a Christian household that considered it a sin to be LGBTQ.
There’s never a bad time to watch Rachel Maddow — or to read her. The lesbian MSNBC host is especially essential in an election year. If you watch her ask the candidates incisive questions or deliver insightful commentary on the latest developments, you’ll understand why Maddow’s been called the smartest person on TV.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a woman of the year every year. She has a long history of fighting for the rights of women, LGBTQ people, people of color, and other marginalized groups. As a lawyer, she was arguing against sex discrimination back in the 1970s, when what was then called Women’s Liberation had far from universal support. One of her most significant early cases was Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue Service, which showed that gender equality benefited men as well as women.
It takes only a few minutes into viewing the pilot of HBO’s fever-dream-esque Euphoria to realize that Hunter Schafer is about to be a breakout star. At 21, Schafer, who is transgender, had already made a name for herself modeling for designers including Dior, Miu Miu, and Marc Jacobs.
As a teen, she was a plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit in her home state of North Carolina’s anti-trans “bathroom bill.” But her first acting role as Jules, a best friend and love interest for Zendaya’s lead character Rue, offers Schafer a canvas to display the range of her estimable dramatic skills.
Showtime’s Work in Progress is the first series to center a “45-year-old fat queer dyke,” as creator and star Abby McEnany describes herself. Based on a story in a series that McEnany performed in Chicago in 2016, Julia Sweeney Ruined My Life, the semi-autobiographical half-hour dramedy matter-of-factly and with McEnany’s signature dry humor explores intersections of Abby’s queer identity and bouts with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Meet the “mechanic shop femme” who’s made it her mission in life to educate women and queers on all things auto. “I’m not a mechanic,” states Chaya Milchtein on her website MechanicShopFemme.com. “I’m an automotive writer, educator, and person who’s held the customer facing job with joy.”
At 25, with the Mechanic Shop Femme, Milchtein has created a successful business in which she uses her “automotive knowledge to empower women and queer folks through online classes and consultations.”
Jazz Jennings is only 19, but she is already a lifelong advocate for transgender people and women. At age 6, she appeared on 20/20 with Barbara Walters to educate America about trans youth. Afterward, she successfully lobbied the United States Soccer Federation to change its rules and allow trans students to play for the team corresponding with their gender identity.
Through her hit TLC series I Am Jazz, Jennings has humanized trans people in an era when the community is under attack at the federal level and fearmongering is being used for political advantage
You don’t have to be one of the thousands of women in America who teared up at seeing Elizabeth Warren give her concession speech to know why she’s on this list. A perfect analogy for the dichotomy between many women and men in this country, Warren came to this race with policy plans and mapped out processes for every single ideation that came from her campaign: Here’s what we’ll do and here’s how we’ll do it. Her male competitors for the highest office in this country often did not.
What we do know is that millions of little girls looked up to Warren this year and knew they too could try to be anything they wanted to be. She inspired in the same way Hillary Clinton did in 2016. That’s one step closer to equality.