In a year of immense change, so many powerhouse women led the march toward progress, which is why for our Women of the Year issue we decided to spotlight the stories of some of the most pivotal LGBTQ+ women in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality and gender freedom and expression.
The courage, selflessness, talent, and visibility of these women over the past year (and long before) will effect change and inspire folks for generations to come.
From artists to politicians, activists, sports stars, writers, and so many more, here are our Women of the Year.
Annie Segarra, who uses the online moniker of Annie Elainey (@annieelainey), is an artist, YouTuber, and activist for LGBTQ+ and disability rights. Segarra, who describes herself as “a chronically ill, disabled, queer, Latinx, woman of color,” advocates for accessibility, body positivity, racial equality, and media representation for marginalized communities.
Segarra, who uses she/her and they/them pronouns, says, “I’m genderfluid, also identifying as a nonbinary woman, and feel a strong connection to womanhood for a variety of reasons, such as how I was socialized and how I am generally perceived and treated as a woman in our patriarchal society. As someone with a fluid gender identity who feels connected to womanhood and is attracted to women as well, I feel emotionally overwhelmed and in awe of women — the complexities and power, diversity, and authenticity navigating how we move through this world. It is incredibly powerful to me.”
Though Segarra is excited that some progress is being made for disabled folks, they add, “Disabled narratives are horrendously erased in the conversations regarding diversity, with abled people constantly at the front attempting to speak for us instead of handing over the microphone and sitting down to listen.” —Desirée Guerrero
Argentinian-born bisexual actress, producer, and activist Stephanie Beatriz (In the Heights) continues to support queer, feminist, and Latinx causes, the Black Lives Matter movement, and voting rights. The actress is currently using her platform to support Black Women Lead, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit (@black_womenlead). “From gifting Christmas dinners and organizing rallies and fundraisers…to partnering with brands like Alice + Olivia to raise funds from the sales of a very chic and sexy pair of sweats called the Miami — I love mine — the work they do gives so much to so many in fantastically diverse ways.”
Beatriz was the recipient of a Gracie Award in the fall of 2020, an honor that recognizes exemplary programming created by women, for women, and about women in media and entertainment. “I’m absolutely thrilled to be honored for portraying Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” she posted on Instagram at the time.
“I hope that our storytellers, artists, [and] musicians continue to expand the idea and sense of what it means to be a woman, to be female,” Beatriz says. “I hope that the word someday feels more like the thing I feel sometimes — ever-shifting, always evolving, magical, wonderful.” She adds, “The change in who is allowed to be the center of the story has shifted greatly in the last 10 years. Stories in film and television with women at the center are easier to find, filled with women protagonists and antagonists that are lovable, foul, sinister, confused, searching, funny, and very, very fallible. What a surprise — women are dope as fuck.” —DG
“Every year of my adult life has brought some new nuance to my relationship with my gender, often from reading the work of queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming thinkers, writers, and journalists,” says award-winning author Carmen Maria Machado on what being a woman means to her. “As a result, it’s often easier to talk about what I have and what I want rather than what I am…. I suppose what I can say…is that I’m a woman, and the relationship between me and that word is constantly evolving and changing.”
Reflecting on the social justice movement, the bisexual novelist who wrote the brilliantly frightening supernatural graphic novel The Low, Low Woods says, “It’s been thrilling to see trans rights and racial justice being elevated in people’s consciousness, but any person with a history of activism will tell you that we’ve been talking about things like racism and transphobia in feminist and queer spaces for as long as they’ve existed — and we will have to continue to do so until white and/or cis people relinquish the need to be centered in every conversation. I also think we are, among other things, deeply overdue for a conversation about fatphobia.” —DG
Charmaine McGuffey made history last November when she won the race for sheriff of Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati. In her victory, she became the first woman and first member of the LGBTQ+ community to hold the post. McGuffey, a lesbian, is also one of a handful of out people ever elected to a county sheriff’s position in the nation.
Her win represented poetic justice for McGuffey. Last April, she bested her former boss, Sheriff Jim Neil, in the Democratic primary before going on to beat Republican Bruce Hoffbauer in the general election. Neil had fired her in 2017. In a lawsuit, McGuffey, who joined the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office in 1983 and rose through the ranks, claimed she was terminated because she was a whistleblower and that some in the department did not like that she was a lesbian. The lawsuit was settled last December when the county awarded her over $200,000 in lost wages and benefits.
“With a 33-year career in law enforcement, I had the experience to be sheriff, but it is also the brave LGBTQ women and men who paved the way in leadership roles before me who helped in my success,” she says. “I hope my efforts to lead reform in our criminal justice system will inspire other LGBTQ persons to realize they can, they do, and they will have a seat at future leadership tables where their voices will be heard.” —Daniel Reynolds
JoJo Siwa sparked national headlines and a flood of support from fans in January when she tweeted a photograph of herself wearing a T-shirt that was gifted from her cousin. The text read “Best. Gay. Cousin. Ever.”
In an accompanying video on Instagram Live, the Dance Moms alum, YouTuber, and singer, known for “Boomerang” and “Kid in a Candy Store,” clarified that she was not ready to label her sexuality quite yet, but she did not see gender as a barrier to dating.
“I always believed that my person was going to be my person, and if that person happened to be a boy, great, and if that person happened to be a girl, great!” she said.
In fact, in a follow-up interview with Jimmy Fallon, the 17-year-old Nebraska native revealed that she already had “the most amazing, wonderful, perfect, most beautiful girlfriend in the whole world,” who had helped her fi nd the courage to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. A recent dance collaboration with the LGBTQ+ TikTok collective Pride House also inspired her to share her truth. “If I lost everything that I’ve created because of being myself and because of loving who I want to love, I don’t want it,” she told Fallon.
The dancer was ranked by Time as one of the most influential people in the world in 2020 due to her massive reach on social media, with over 12 million followers on YouTube alone. Her bravery will inspire countless others to be loud and proud as well. —DR
Lindsay Hecox is a sophomore at Boise State University fighting for her right to try out for her school’s cross-country team. She is a lead plaintiff in a groundbreaking lawsuit, Hecox v. Little, which aims to strike down an Idaho law barring transgender girls and women from participating in school sports with their cisgender female peers.
In December, hundreds of figures and organizations from the worlds of sports, business, and medicine submitted friend-of-the-court briefs to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Hecox. Jane Doe, a senior at Boise High School, is cisgender but also a plaintiff in the case. Doe fears the law’s “sex verification” testing could be weaponized against any student athlete. Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe, and Katie Sowers are among the LGBTQ+ sports stars who joined Athlete Ally and the Women’s Sports Foundation in signing the brief filed by Lambda Legal. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Idaho, Legal Voice, and Cooley LLP filed the lawsuit.
“My greatest hope for the future is that athletes like me will peacefully coexist with the teammates we were once attempted to be othered from,” Hecox says. “Part of what I enjoy about my sport is building relationships with a team, and this connotation of the meaning of sports is exactly how I believe my fight for equality will win in the end. It means a lot to me that so many people are on my side and supporting me; it truly feels like the direction we’re heading towards is one where athletes wouldn’t bat an eye once knowing a fellow teammate happens to be trans.” —DR
Artist, best-selling author (When They Call You a Terrorist), social justice leader, and cofounder of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 and has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
Having headed multiple Los Angeles-based organizations like Dignity and Power Now, JusticeLA, and Reform L.A. Jails, Cullors continues to be a leading voice in the fight to reform America’s criminal justice system and end systemic racism. This February, in support of the abolitionist movement she has been a part of for over 20 years, Cullors tweeted, “Police and prisons are the primary source of my trauma and my family’s trauma. They never kept us safe. They always sought to destroy and humiliate…. Now I am an #abolitionistevangelist.” —DG
A Secret Love, about the 70-plus-year romance between Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel (which played out under wraps for much of their relationship), is a love story for the ages. Donahue, a player with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (fictionalized in the 1992 film A League of Their Own), died in 2019 of Parkinson’s disease. But at age 91 when the film was released, Henschel made clear the couple’s love was as alive as ever, speaking openly about their seven decades together with inspirational words about eternal love and just being happy.
The women weren’t always out. Indeed, they’d been together for 65 years when they came out to their families. Three years later, Donahue’s great-nephew Chris Bolan picked up a camera to tell their story. “We’d been together by ourselves for all those years, but now I think it might be time to go ahead and share it with the rest of the world and our families and our friends,” Henschel says. “That’s the reason why we came out. It just was very, very easy for us.”
The documentary juxtaposes archival photos of the women from the time in the 1940s when Donahue was a catcher for the Peoria Redwings with a time between 2013 and 2018 when they experienced pivotal moments in their lives. During the latter period, they made the difficult decision to leave their beloved home in Chicago and their group of friends to live in an assisted living facility close to Donahue’s relatives in Canada. They also got married, something they never thought could happen.
“I think that it lasted as long as it did, and it was happy the way it was because we really were in love,” Henschel says of their relationship. —Tracy E. Gilchrist
No one knows the importance of trans representation better than Alexandra Billings. “When I first saw a trans person on TV, it was on a talk show, and I’m sitting on the edge of my bed with a handful of pills getting ready to kill myself,” she says. “I saw a trans person on The Phil Donahue Show and that literally saved my life.”
For nearly 20 years, the actress has been that person for others. Starting in 2003, Billings has played trans characters on shows including Karen Sisco, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and Eli Stone. She’s starred as Davina on Transparent, and has had guest spots on How to Get Away With Murder. This year, she was on The Conners, where she played Robin, Darlene’s tough-as-nails boss.
Billings says that early on, she and Candis Cayne would joke about how every audition for a trans role went to one of the two of them. “And then there was a whole new generation that started to come into Hollywood that got braver,” Billings says. “Laverne [Cox] came, and Trace Lysette came, and Brian Michael [Smith] came, Scott Schofield came, Our Lady J came, and they were like ‘I want to write my own stuff,’ or they would say, ‘I think we need to shift this conversation [to be] about trans people.’”
Billings started getting louder too, refusing roles that only included trans characters who were sick and dying (and thus not going to be on a show long). “I finally turned to my manager, I was like, ‘Look, I’m not putting on any more white gowns, I’m done.… No more hospitals, period. None.’” And then Billings didn’t work for three years. But now she feels like she and other trans actors and professionals in Hollywood are finally being heard. “The journey of the human experience is unable to be told truthfully unless the people who live it tell it,” she believes.
When she recently played Madame Morrible in Wicked, becoming the first out trans actor to play a major role in the Broadway play, Billings started receiving messages from trans children and their parents from around the world. From kids as young as 9 and 10, she hears, “‘Oh, my God, I can be in Wicked now!’ or ‘I want to be Elphaba’ or ‘I want to be the Wizard,’” Billings says. Their parents thank her for showing their kids an option they never knew they had. They say, “‘Thank you so much for taking pictures of the stage or for your Insta story when you’re in your dressing room…because my trans child watches your Instagram and they are so excited about being an actor,’” she notes. —Mey Rude
Stephanie Byers is a double history-maker. Having won a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives last year, she is the state’s first transgender elected official and the first Indigenous trans person elected to any state legislature, as she’s a member of the Chickasaw Nation.
The Wichita Democrat, a retired teacher, is already a voice to be reckoned with in the legislature. “Kansas is one of the states that currently doesn’t have any explicit antidiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community,” she says. Along with her other priorities — expanding Medicaid and protecting state funding for public schools — she wants “to expand the Kansas Act Against Discrimination so that it also protects against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation,” she says. “The need for these protections has become even more focused this session as bills have been introduced that would make it a felony to provide lifesaving medical care to transgender youth and that would ban trans girls from playing sports as their authentic selves in high school or college.” Also, she and other Indigenous legislators and allies are backing a bill to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. “Representation truly matters,” she says. —Trudy Ring
Darcie Little Badger, a queer member of the Lipan Apache Indigenous nation, wrote her first book at the age of 7. Her father helped submit the manuscript to a publisher, who predictably but politely declined, but he was beaming with pride nonetheless. Little Badger has advice for young writers — the same she received from her father (once the head of the writing department at Western Connecticut State University) when she was younger: “Persistence.”
Little Badger has taken that advice to heart. Her persistence led to a BA in geosciences from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in oceanography from Texas A&M University. As an author, her body of work reflects her scientific studies, culture, heritage, queer identity, and love of writing. Last year, her first book, Elatsoe, was published and promptly hailed by Time magazine as one of the best 100 fantasy novels of all time. The novel is a queer intersectional oasis for fans of science fiction, mystery, horror, and fantasy — centering Apache themes and tradition, and featuring a young Apache protagonist. Her second book, A Snake Falls to Earth, is due for release later this year. —Donald Padgett
Radclyffe is the nom de plume of celebrated author, editor, and publisher Len Barot, MD. As Radclyffe, she has written more than 50 novels and edited more than 20 anthologies of lesbian literature spanning the erotica, romance, paranormal, and mystery genres. As Barot, she is president of queer publisher Bold Strokes Books. The former physician and plastic surgeon left medicine in 2005 to devote her attention fulltime to writing and publishing, in part because she realized the importance of literature written by queer authors for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Queer literature has always been a powerful force in uniting our community,” she says. “And as long as we write our truths, share our dreams, and remain a reflection of and voice for all queer peoples everywhere, our literature will remain one of the cornerstones of queer identity.”
As president of Bold Strokes Books, Barot has made it a priority to give voice to new writers from traditionally marginalized communities. Most recently, she began an initiative soliciting submissions from BIPOC writers, and Bold Strokes Books is publishing a new anthology of BIPOC authors titled In Our Words this summer.
Radclyffe is a three-time winner and seven-time Lambda Literary Award finalist. In 2006 she won both the award for best lesbian romance and best lesbian erotica. —DP
From her roots in the New York City house and ball culture to her role as an outspoken voice for trans folks, Trace Lysette knows that there’s strength in finding people like you. “That’s always my go-to, is my good group of trans girlfriends that lift me up when I feel like the rest of the world could never possibly understand what our day-to-day is like,” Lysette says.
Apart from acting in shows like Pose and David Makes Man, and releasing a hot-as-hell single, “SMB,” this year, Lysette dipped her toe into producing, saying, “I was deeply inspired by my sister Laverne [Cox] who kind of wears so many different hats.” Lysette says that when she first heard about Trans in Trumpland, a new four-part docuseries directed by Tony Zosherafatain about trans people living in red states during Donald Trump’s presidency, she knew it was the perfect fit for her, and she signed on as a producer. “I was really impressed with the stories and the subjects, the cast that they had assembled, and the footage was beautiful,” she says. She hopes that when trans people see these stories, they realize they’re not alone. “Even if you have to find that community through the internet…I always tell them to try and find community…wherever they can.”—MR
Sarah McBride, the first openly transgender person to be elected a state senator anywhere in the U.S., speaks from a position of authority on the subject of diversity.
“Diversity in government isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity,” says McBride, a Democrat elected to the Delaware Senate last year. “We cannot craft executive solutions to the challenges we face as a country if the full diversity of our country is not represented at the table. As a state senator, I’m proud to bring my whole self to my work on behalf of the First District. With a global public health crisis and severe economic challenges, this is our moment to ensure that every Delawarean can get the health care they need, that no one has to choose between the job and their family, that every kid can access early childhood education, and that we reimagine our justice system so that it truly protects the dignity of every person. It’s going to take all of our voices to make it happen.”
McBride was previously national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, and in that capacity she addressed the 2016 Democratic National Convention, making her the first out trans person to speak at a major party’s national gathering. With a résumé that includes a White House internship during President Barack Obama’s tenure, she is also the author of the memoir Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality, about her relationship with her late husband, Andrew Cray, a trans man who died of cancer in 2014. —TR
Christy Holstege knows representation matters. The 34-year-old is the first woman mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., and the first and only out bisexual mayor in the U.S. (a fact she found shocking). The mayoral position rotates among members of the Palm Springs City Council, and it’s Holstege’s turn to hold it for a one-year term. Holstege encountered biphobia and bi erasure when running for public office, with some people questioning if she’s truly bisexual because she’s married to a man, real estate broker Adam Gilbert. But the majority of bi people have opposite-sex partners, Holstege points out.
Inclusivity matters, she says. Palm Springs is heavily queer, and for a time the council was all LGBTQ+. Now, with the last election, there’s one straight ally on the council, Grace Garner, and she brings another type of diversity to the body as its first Latina member, Holstege notes. Holstege advises those who run to bring their full selves to the table, “Just run for office as you are.”
An advocate for affordable housing and addressing homelessness, Holstege’s other priorities include preserving open spaces and continuing Palm Springs’s leadership on civil rights. But the biggest challenge is the COVID-19 pandemic. “First and foremost, I’m focused on making sure we have enough testing and vaccines,” Holstege says. She notes that Palm Springs has a large population of people aged 65 and older, people with HIV, and people with disabilities, all meriting special attention at this time.
Holstege, a civil rights lawyer, says she loves city service and the scope of the work, but she doesn’t rule out seeking higher office. “I’m 34, so I feel like I’m just getting started,” she says. “I’m happy to serve wherever people want me to go.” —TR
Josie Totah has been acting for years, but after she came out as trans in 2018, she really started soaring. This year, the 19-year-old actress voiced a young trans girl named Natalie on the massively popular animated show Big Mouth and played a star-turning role as Lexi, a popular mean-girl cheerleader at Bayside High in Peacock’s new Saved by the Bell reboot.
Although she’s not even old enough to drink, Totah’s already changing transgender representation in huge ways. Her character on Big Mouth got to talk about transness in a way that we’d never seen before on an animated show. Instead of making vague references to her gender or, much worse, mocking it, Natalie gets to make her own jokes and be just as bad as all the other kids on this gross-out humor show. On Saved by the Bell, Totah is a walking, talking, quipping possibility model for young people everywhere. “To have the opportunity to serve as a symbol for progression and make even just one person feel less alone is one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received,” she says. —MR
It was an indelible moment in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police. Andrea Jenkins — the vice president of the Minneapolis City Council and the first out Black trans woman elected to any public office in the United States — sang “Amazing Grace” at a press conference. She also pledged to fight injustice as an elected official. And soon afterward, Jenkins brought forth a resolution declaring racism a public health emergency. It was far from her only act to help the marginalized.
“My colleagues and I are doing the essential work of reimagining public safety and looking to create a public safety continuum that includes a nonpolice mental health response and that re-funds community-based solutions that keep us all safe,” Jenkins says. “During my tenure, I have worked with advocacy groups to ban conversion therapy in the city of Minneapolis, and we are now working to end the trans panic defense at the state legislature. I hope that my service in the public sphere inspires others to get involved in their respective communities and run for public office.”
After working for over a decade as a policy aide to the City Council, Jenkins won her seat in 2017. Her other hats? A poet, prose author, performance artist, and historian with the University of Minnesota’s Transgender Oral History Project. —DR
Zackary Drucker is at the forefront of transgender representation in Hollywood. As a consultant and producer on Amazon’s Transparent, Drucker was a pioneer in bringing television centered on trans lives to a mainstream audience. She holds degrees from the California Institute of the Arts and the School of Visual Arts. But she also worked in front of the camera on E!’s I Am Cait, joining Caitlyn Jenner and other trans women in that breakthrough reality TV series.
Drucker continues to bring transgender stories to light in The Lady and the Dale, an HBO miniseries that she co-directs alongside Nick Cammilleri. The documentary recounts the extraordinary story of Geraldine Elizabeth “Liz” Carmichael, founder of the Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation, whose planned fuel-efficient, three-wheeled car, the Dale, was a media sensation in the 1970s before Carmichael was charged with fraud and corporate security violations — and outed as a transgender woman. The story of this flawed but important figure resonates strongly in 2021. For Drucker, Carmichael has taught her to question “the respectability politics of being trans, which have never sat easily with me.”
“Life is a survival game. Nobody makes it out alive,” Drucker says. “But the trick is to stay alive for as long as you can. And you can, in the words of Kate Bornstein, ‘do anything to maintain your survival so long as you’re not mean.’” —DR
Lili Reinhart wanted to come out as casually as possible, hence the short post to her Instagram Story last summer. “I guess coming out is not a nonchalant thing,” she said. “It just didn’t seem like a big deal to me. And also, the way I look at the world right now, I’m like, ‘Isn’t everyone bisexual?’” she asked playfully.
Coming out means something different to this younger generation. For those who are fortunate, like the 24-year-old star of Riverdale on the CW, coming out is remarkably unremarkable. Some things that haven’t changed, however, are the enduring myths and stigmas surrounding bisexuality. Even Reinhart hasn’t been immune. She was afraid people would think she was only coming out for attention or doing it to be “part of a fad.” But now that she’s out, she says that declaring herself as part of the LGBTQ+ community has freed her. “Yeah, I’m here,” she says. “I’ve been here the whole time.”
The actor and writer — Reinhart released her debut collection of poetry last year, Swimming Lessons — has never shied away from sharing her struggles with mental health and her body image. Fans love the comfort with which she speaks about the most vulnerable parts of herself. She has a tattoo of a rose on her arm to remind herself that she is “a warrior for love.” She explains, “I always choose love every time. I have the power of unconditional love. I am able to love people unconditionally, and I’m very proud of that.” —Jeffrey Masters
Last year the world found out the Trump family isn’t all bad. Mary L. Trump, Donald’s only niece and a clinical psychologist, published an incisive and scathing analysis of the then-president in Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. Does Mary, a lesbian and a Democrat, think her book contributed to her uncle’s defeat last November? “There’s no way to know, but I hope so,” she says.
Mary knows that the new administration has a lot of challenges ahead, especially with the pandemic and the economy, but she praises President Joe Biden’s spate of executive orders and the fact that he and Vice President Kamala Harris are modeling pro-LGBTQ+ behavior and policies, restoring the nation’s standing in the world, and changing the tone of the conversation on immigration. “Words matter,” she says. “Leadership matters.”
She recognizes that the nation is going through posttraumatic stress in the wake of her uncle’s tenure, along with coming to terms with racism and other shameful aspects of our country’s history. How we can collectively deal with those issues is the subject of her next book, The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal, due out in July. The country’s been through a mental health crisis, she says, and we can no longer afford to consider mental health a luxury.
Having exposed her nightmarish uncle, she’s happy to see the new administration repairing some of the damage he did, and she hopes The Reckoning will help with this as well. Once the repairs are made, she says, “We need to safeguard these things going forward.” —TR
While famous for being at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 on the night of the uprising, it’s the work she’s dedicated her life to in the 50 years since that has cemented Miss Major Griffin-Gracy’s place in LGBTQ+ history. At the heart of the celebrated trans elder’s advocacy has been the ongoing fight for incarcerated trans folks, particularly trans women of color too often housed in men’s prisons. In 2005, she joined the Transgender Gender-Variant and Intersex Justice Project as a staff organizer and a few years later became the group’s first executive director, a role she held until she retired in 2015.
Something that stands out when watching her documentary, Major!, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is the number of people who call her “mom.” By her estimate, she’s mothered close to 100 people, and she takes this role very seriously. “It’s important to acknowledge and be there for people when they need you,” she says. “And the best way to do that is to call and see how they’re doing.”
When it came to her own parents, she was not as lucky. “My mother died waiting for me to change,” she says. “There’s nothing I can do about that, but I can do better when someone comes to me.” In January 2021, Griffin-Gracy, now 80, became mom in a whole new way when she and her partner, Beck Witt, announced the birth of their first child, Asiah Wittenstein Major.
Griffin-Gracy is one of the executive producers of the new series Trans in Trumpland, and she wants to make sure that her life is an example to other trans women, “to let them know that they can get here too.... There aren’t that many Black [trans] girls from my time that are still alive.” —JM
Elisa Crespo sought to make history in the March 23 special election to succeed Ritchie Torres (now a congressman) on the New York City Council, representing a Bronx district. That would have made her the first transgender person elected to the council. She didn't win, but she broke new ground for trans visibility and laid out a progressive vision.
Crespo grew up in various New York boroughs, with her single mother facing job and housing insecurity after escaping from an abusive relationship. During her campaign, Crespo faced an opponent and media outlets that disparaged her by dredging up a 2012 arrest for sex work in a Florida sting operation. She responded to the reports by embracing her past as a means to connect with marginalized constituents in similar situations. “My lived experience connects me to the struggles my district’s most vulnerable are forced to endure, and that’s one of the reasons I feel as though I have the best ability to represent them,” she says.
Crespo knows how government can ease the lives of those impacted by disastrous policies and the global pandemic. She proposed an intersectional alliance between government, the private sector, and organized labor to provide jobs and training to the unemployed. It’s this type of bold vision that she believed set her apart from the other candidates. “I’m here to fight for the bold and transformative policies that Bronxites need to thrive,” she says.
“Our campaign ran a strong effort and I am so proud of my team and the work we did,” she adds. “We stayed true to our message to improve upon the material needs of our community. Our campaign made others work harder, and we’ve led the conversation on policy by boldly fighting for great jobs, affordable housing, and quality education; the social contract that our city owes us to lead a dignified life.” —DP
Ianne Fields Stewart, who is Black, queer, lesbian, and nonbinary transfeminine, founded the Okra Project in 2018 to combat food insecurity in the Black transgender community, working with chefs to deliver home-cooked meals in the greater New York area. But the events of 2020 have expanded the Okra Project’s mission. Amid last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, the organization established health recovery funds named after slain trans folks Nina Pop and Tony McDade to connect Black transgender and nonbinary people with mental health services. The funds have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, leading to Nina Pop and Tony McDade Free Therapy: Care Lanes, an emergency aid program that expands the mission to get marginalized people the care they need from qualified Black therapists. —DR
Kristen Kish, a Korean-American, grew up watching cooking shows. Eventually, she couldn’t help but notice the lack of women or people of color employed as chefs. At the time of her victory on Top Chef in 2013, she was working as chef de cuisine for the James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Barbara Lynch at Menton in Boston. While she enjoyed the work, Kish realized that the stress and long hours typical of the male-dominated industry and position were too taxing. Rather than live life by the terms of those who sought to marginalize her contributions because of her gender or identity, Kish, who came out as a lesbian in 2014, left Menton to explore other possibilities that were more impactful and personally fulfilling.
“Sharing my life with a vulnerability and openness has become therapy for me, and also how I can bring [about] change,” Kish says. Since her departure from Menton, Kish has written a cookbook and hosted a series on the Travel Channel. She opened her own restaurant, Arlo Grey, in 2018, with an emphasis on being a majority women-run establishment. Kish also stars on the cooking show Fast Foodies, which premiered this year on TruTV. —DP
Joy Oladokun calls herself the “Trap Tracy Chapman,” and the comparison is apt. With her acoustic guitar and booming voice, she’s following in the tradition of Chapman and Joan Armatrading. Oladokun recently made her TV debut on The Tonight Show, where she sang her song “Breathe Again,” a powerful ballad that was featured in an episode of This Is Us and has drawn comparisons to Adele and Lauren Daigle. Unlike those artists (but like Chapman), Oladokun represents a voice that rarely gets center stage: that of a queer Black woman.
“I feel like queer women are so strong,” she says. “In the workplace, in their communities, queer women are often these beacons of warmth and wisdom.” She seeks “to be a safe harbor for all,” although she knows the world often isn’t a safe space for people like her. “I think a lot of Black queer kids need hope,” Oladokun says. “They need something to look at and think, I can do this, I can be this, I can play this instrument.” When they see her, Oladokun wants the next generation to know that they can be singers, they can be songwriters, they can be something else entirely. —MR
Alice Wu’s long-awaited second feature, The Half of It, dropped on Netflix in March 2020. The sweet film about friendship with a queer love proves Wu — whose debut feature, Saving Face, a love story in which a Chinese-American woman comes out to her family, has been a favorite among queer women since it was released in 2005— remains a force in the filmmaking world.
A modern queer take on the playwright Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, in The Half of It, high school student Ellie Chu is renowned for her prowess with the pen—at least in terms of writing her classmates’ papers for them. But when nice-guy football jock Paul asks her to craft a letter to his crush, Aster, Ellie soon discovers how deep her attraction to the object of his a ection goes.
There was a 15-year gap between Saving Face and The Half of It. But Wu’s glorious reentry into the film world not only included visibility on the massive platform of Netflix, but it quickly became a beloved hit. “I’m not a massive message-movie maker,” Wu says, adding of the film set in a rural town in New Hampshire that she was “hoping that someone, maybe in a red state, watches [The Half of It] and feels there’s a way they’re sort of reflected [in it].” —TEG
The story of how Billie Jean King and the rest of the Original 9 tennis players fought for equal footing and prize money for women in tennis has been told a few times, like in the 2017 film Battle of the Sexes. But with the Original 9 becoming the first group nominated for the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the organization’s history (the group did not end up being inducted, at least this year), it was the perfect moment for King to tell their story in her words.
In the Audible Original The Dollar Rebellion she shares the inspiration behind that historic 1970 photo of nine women’s tennis players each holding up a $1 bill, the amount of the contracts they signed to strike out on their own as they were paid a fraction of what the men made. In the piece, the tennis champion and LGBTQ+ icon takes the listener on a journey through the tennis world while peppering her story with inspirational bon mots along the way.
“I have this saying that pressure’s a privilege, and champions adjust,” King says about how she and her wife, Ilana Kloss, are faring during the pandemic. “I remember saying to Ilana, ‘If champions ever was important, this is the moment.’ Champions in life. I don’t mean champion athletes or anything.”
Released in 2020, The Dollar Rebellion begins with King’s childhood growing up in Long Beach, Calif., and her eventual entrée into the sport she loved but she soon realized was not created equal for all people. That epiphany came early when she looked around and realized all she saw were white people in tennis. “Where’s everybody else?” she asked herself. Thus began a life of activism.
In 1970, King was awarded $600 for winning the Italian Open while her male counterpart made nearly six times as much — $3,500. That year, with the help of World Tennis publisher Gladys Heldman and backing from Philip Morris CEO Joe Cullman, they kicked off the Virginia Slims Tour. King, Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Tegart Dalton, and Kerry Melville Reid were the Original 9 who strove for pay commensurate with the men after the sport went pro in 1968.
“When you see Black Lives Matter, when you see our LGBTQI [community], I hope this story can help somebody else, whatever they’re interested in, whoever they are, it will help them have the courage to do what they want, believe in themselves, and maybe they’ll start another movement in something else,” King says of why she wanted to tell the story now. —TEG