Changes are clearly ahead in 2016 when LGBT politicos, business execs and activists emerge from campaign headquarters, boardrooms and the front lines to take center stage in the ongoing struggle for acceptance and equality. Just as trans actress Laverne Cox, Supreme Court plaintiff Jim Obergefell and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner entered our world in 2015, here are some key LGBT movers and shakers you’ll know by the end of the year.
Noël Gordon, HIV/AIDS educator
As an undergrad, Noël Gordon realized that “the new and emerging face of HIV is of people who look like me.” In 2013, then 22, he joined the Human Rights Campaign to fight for comprehensive sex education and unfettered access to pre-exposure prophylaxis. “Noël is representative of a new generation of AIDS activists, a voice from and for [the African American] community that is often talked about in this fight, but not listened to,” said Peter Staley, a longtime AIDS activist.
John SalangsangJohn Salangsang/Invision/APLOS ANGELES, CA - Dec, 2015: Jazz Jennings attends 2015 TrevorLIVE LA held at the Hollywood Palladium on Sunday, December 6, 2105, in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP)
Jazz Jennings, activist and transgender teenager, star of “I Am Jazz”
If you don’t already know 15-year-old Jazz Jennings, you will. The much-anticipated second season of “I Am Jazz,” the TLC reality series focused on her life as a trans teenager, will begin later this year. Jennings made her debut at age 6 in a “20/20” interview with Barbara Walters, then co-founded the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, wrote a children’s book and became an activist. “Jazz’s visibility and advocacy for the transgender community have helped build understanding and move acceptance forward,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, chief executive of GLAAD.
Mara Keisling, executive director, National Center for Trans Equality
Before Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, there was Mara Keisling, a leading voice for trans equality since NCTE was founded in 2003. After the 2015 repeal of Houston’s equal rights ordinance — a sharp setback for transgender protection — many anticipate a tsunami of new anti-trans measures in 2016. Keisling said NCTE plans to fight back “in state legislatures, school boards and the media, creating messaging and standing up for all trans people.” No doubt about it, Keisling’s voice will be key in this critical year for trans rights.
Rachel Maddow, MSNBC host, “The Rachel Maddow Show”
Make no mistake, the host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” will be at the center of all things political in 2016. Last fall, Maddow hosted a forum for the Democratic presidential contenders, earning praise for calling out candidates who tried to dodge questions. Last week, she co-hosted MSNBC’s coverage of President Obama’s State of the Union address. “Maddow’s thoughtful discussion about LGBT issues and politics shows the importance of covering these issues fairly and accurately,” said Adam Pawlus, the executive director of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
Matt McTighe, executive director, Freedom for All Americans
In most states, gay people can “marry on Sunday and be fired on Monday” because there’s no federal anti-discrimination law based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Freedom for All Americans, the heir apparent to Freedom to Marry (the advocacy group that spearheaded marriage equality), will use the same tactics and playbook to end all forms of discrimination against LGBT people as its successful predecessor. Executive Director Matt McTighe doesn’t mince words when he says, “Our goal is to ensure that no one in this country can be fired, denied a home, or refused services on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Brian K. Sims, candidate for U.S. Congress
Elected four years ago to Pennsylvania’s state legislature, Brian K. Sims threw his hat into the ring last fall in the Democratic primary for the state’s 2nd Congressional District. A civil rights lawyer and longtime advocate for marriage equality, Sims is still best known as the college football player who came out publicly in the 2000s. Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler, who wrote a story about Sims in 2009, said: “What sets Brian apart from so many other politicians is his willingness to work with people who disagree with him.”
iO Tillett Wright, activist and artist
Gender-defying iO Tillett Wright created the “Self Evident Truths” project, a collection of 10,000 photos of people who don’t identify as “100 percent straight” and delivered a much-viewed TED talk called “Fifty Shades of Gay.” She’ll debut as co-host of a new MTV show this spring and release her much-anticipated memoir, “Darling Days,” in September. Literary giant Tom Robbins said of her book, “It could stagger Charles Dickens, electrify Maxim Gorky and cause Jane Austen to walk around in army boots.” Nice praise from a master.
Thomas Wurster, co-director, Stanford LGBT Executive Leadership Program
Apple’s Tim Cook is believed to be the only openly gay chief executive among the Fortune 500. Thomas Wurster (with co-director Sarah Soule) plans to change that by launching Stanford’s LGBT Executive Leadership Program, which will train a new generation of out top-level business executives. Bob Witeck, a Washington-based LGBT business consultant, said, “Glass ceilings in many American companies today make it hard for promising LGBT candidates to follow the footsteps of Tim Cook.” Witeck called the Stanford program “America’s only ‘boot camp’ for LGBT executives to . . . fill the gaps in many C-suites.” Call that change from the top down.
This is not an exhaustive list — but set your Google alerts for this group of eight, sit back and watch change happen.