From art to activism to academia, LGBTQ Angelenos are transforming the city. Meet the people leading the way.
Ever since he began his career at Fox Broadcasting, Robert Greenblatt has climbed steadily up the Hollywood ladder. At Fox, where he ran primetime programming, Greenblatt oversaw such hits as The X-Files and Melrose Place. Following that gig he served as president of entertainment for Showtime, a producer for the musical version of 9 to 5, and chairman and president of NBC Entertainment—a job that made him the first (and only) openly gay broadcast TV president. In March he was named chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment—one of the most powerful posts in Hollywood, where he oversees HBO, Cinemax, TBS and TNT.
Writer, producer, actor
Ever since winning an Emmy in 2017 for her writing on Netflix’s Master of None (and delivering an indelible acceptance speech about queer empowerment), Lena Waithe, 35, has become a prolific creative hero, especially among the queer black community. Her Showtime series, The Chi, recently began its second season; she serves as producer on Boomerang BET, which also just ordered her comedy series, Twenties; and HBO’s Westworld recently added her to the cast. And her Met Gala look still has people talking.
After playing a loudmouthed New Yorker who accosts passersby with nonsensical trivia questions (“For one dollar, name a woman!”), Eichner, 40, has become a political lightning rod, as beloved by his 2.2 million Twitter followers for his bitter rants about Trump as he is for his brutally funny social commentary. After playing Timon in this summer’s live-action The Lion King remake, he’ll be starring in a gay rom-com produced by Judd Apatow about “two men with commitment problems.”
Last year Janelle Monáe, 33, shed her android persona and came out in the pages of Rolling Stone: a cathartic moment for fans of her afrofuturist aesthetic and genre-bending style of music. She’s also broken fresh ground in bop-worthy hits like “Make Me Feel” and “Pynk”—both instant classics whose videos featured pink-blue “bisexual” lighting and vagina pants, respectively.
Cerebral palsy? Not inherently funny. But in the capable hands of a boundary-pushing scribe like Ryan O’Connell, 32, the condition is a conduit to honesty and self-acceptance—and an excuse for one of the most spot-on depictions of gay sex in TV history. Special, O’Connell’s autobiographical hit Netflix series, premiered in April and is already changing Hollywood’s narrative around disability.
Writer, director, producer
As the director of last year’s Love, Simon, the first major studio film to showcase a gay teen romance, Greg Berlanti, 47, gave hope to countless queer young people, who came in droves to see themselves reflected at the multiplex (the movie grossed an impressive $66 million). The Golden Globe nominated writer, producer, and film director is known for his work on the television series Dawson’s Creek, Brothers & Sisters, Everwood, as well as several projects with DC Comics. In 2018, Berlanti set a record by having an unprecdented 18 different live-action scripted television series planned to air in the 2018–19 television season on various networks and digital platforms,. He recently signed the most expensive producer deal to date with Warner Bros. And last the TV giant and his soccer-star husband, Robbie Rogers, announced the arrival of their second child.
The Cast of Boys in the Band
San Cha, 31, records rancheras that draw from the fantasy and drama of telenovelas, weaving in lyrics that criticize the myth of the American dream. Her songs are distinctly queer and unmistakably L.A.—not altogether surprising given the performer was nurtured by our city’s thriving Latinx music scene.
Last year Tasmanian comic Hannah Gadsby, 41, upended the stand-up world when her bittersweet show Nanette became a Netflix smash. This year she’s bringing back her heartfelt and brutally honest stage style with a new show, Douglas, which hits L.A.’s Theatre at Ace Hotel in July. Her new memoir, Ten Steps to Nanette, will also drop later this year.
You don’t need a fluid view of sexuality to appreciate St. Vincent’s ambitious experimental pop, but it’s a bonus that the 36-year-old star’s persona is one LGBTQ folks can rally behind. Her 2017 album, Masseduction, was such a success it quickly spurred a paired-down redux. As for her erotically charged duet with Dua Lipa at this year’s Grammys? Instantly iconic.
Recently seen at Coachella in self-styled swag, 20-year-old Amandla Stenberg has launched herself into the upper echelon of Hollywood’s chicest ingenues. In addition to her outspoken activism (in 2015 she was named Feminist of the Year by the Ms. Foundation for Women), the newly out actor has tackled sci-fi in The Darkest Minds and police brutality in The Hate U Give.
The 33-year-old Hollywood super producer behind Annapurna Pictures, Megan Ellison has racked up 52 Oscar nominations in only eight years for such prestige films as Foxcatcher, American Hustle, and Zero Dark Thirty. Still to come this year: buzzworthy new projects from Olivia Wilde and Richard Linklater.
The Culture Czars
The Rev. Troy Perry
Religious leader, activist
A decades-long pillar of L.A.’s gay community, the Rev. Troy Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church in 1968, as a safe refuge for his fellow LGBTQ
believers. The 78-year-old performed some of the nation’s first public same-sex unions long before gay marriage was legalized. Under his leadership MCC has grown to more than 200 congregations in 33 countries.
Michelle Rodriguez, 40, hasn’t entirely shed the bad-girl image from her early Hollywood years. The bisexual action star, beloved for playing tough broads in films like Fast and Furious and Widows, still sees herself as an outsider to the industry—one fighting to create opportunities for strong women like herself.
At April’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, host Ron Chernow—a historian, not a comic—acknowledged that “we need [comedians] now more than ever.” That includes people like L.A.-based Cameron Esposito, who, in the same month, joined other queer comedians like Wanda Sykes at the Women in the World Summit to discuss comedy as a means of speaking truth to power. Esposito, 37, gained popularity with her 2016 series, Take My Wife (co-created with her real-life wife, Rhea Butcher), then got especially candid last year with Rape Jokes, her stand-up special that addresses her assault survival and raised awareness for other victims of abuse.
Where isn’t Jaboukie Young-White these days? The 24-year-old comedian has left his imprint on everything from The Daily Show to Crashing, Big Mouth, and American Vandal—all in less than two years. Born into a Jamaican family, the Chicago-born writer is known for effortlessly weaving gay and racial subtext into his routines. Young-White’s comedy is both laser-specific and universally relatable.
Jon Lovett & Ronan Farrow
Screenwriter, podcaster; journalist
Jon Lovett (left), a former Obama speechwriter, co-hosts the hottest political podcast of the year, Pod Save America, drawing an enviable guest list of Democratic leaders from Hillary Clinton to Obama himself. Ronan Farrow—through fearless investigative journalism in The New Yorker—revealed the scope of the Weinstein scandal and helped kickstart a national conversation about abuse of power. Together, they’re the ultimate media power couple after Joe and Mika.
While we all wait patiently—or impatiently—for Frank Ocean’s follow-up to his acclaimed 2016 album, Blonde, we’ve at least had the chance to get to know the secretive 31-year-old artist a bit more. After releasing tease-worthy singles like 2017’s “Slide” (a collaboration with Calvin Harris and Migos) and 2018’s “Moon River” (a cover of Audrey Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s ballad), Ocean disclosed in Issue 10 of Gayletter that he’s been in a relationship for the past three years.
Performer, educator, activist
Buck Angel has cemented himself as a legend in both the queer community and the adult film industry. During his decades on the scene, the 46-year-old has grown far beyond his once-trademark self-exploitation (such as an infamous interview with Howard Stern in which he acquiesced to being depicted as a sideshow joke). In today’s woker world, Angel spends more of his time as a motivational speaker and advocate for other transgender men, giving them advice, for example, on what to ask their gynecologists. And while he retains enough nonchalance to call himself “Tranpa,” he no longer needs to comically appease cisgender people. Instead, he focuses on educating them.
With a dash of sequins, a heaping dose of social satire, and a canny business sense, RuPaul, 58, has elevated an underground art form and ushered in a whole new generation of subversive stars. To see his impact, look no farther than your local library, where drag queens now host story hours, and Dragcon, an annual celebration that attracts tens of thousands to the Los Angeles Convention Center. RuPaul’s Drag Race, meanwhile, averages a million weekly viewers and has won nine Emmys—five of them just last year.
Sheila Kuehl has led many lives: Child Actor. Lawyer. Politician. The latter venture began in 1994, when Kuehl, now 78, was elected to the California Assembly, becoming the first openly gay person to be elected to the state Legislature. Since then she’s been elected to the California Senate and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, where she continues to serve. Her recent focus has been on battling corruption in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, calling for public disclosure of claims made against the police.
Dubbed “the queen of bisexuality” by adoring fans on Twitter, Halsey, 24, is charting her own queer path in pop music. “Strangers”—recorded with fellow trailblazer Lauren Jauregui—is a far cry from past pop songs that treat same-sex desire as a joke, and the singer continues to use her platform to fight for inclusivity—most recently by calling out the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for its lack of LGBTQ representation.
Kelly Bush Novak
Public relations executive, producers
When Kelly Bush Novak, 52, launched her PR agency, ID, in ’93, she had three clients. Today thanks to her grit, ingenuity, and knack for keeping talent happy, ID-PR is Hollywood’s biggest independent PR firm, with over 500 clients ranging from Serena Williams to Seth Rogen. Novak is also a producer at VIE Entertainment, a venture she founded and used to help develop films for Ellen Page, another client.
Born and raised in L.A., Niki Nakayama, 44, worked alongside the city’s best sushi chefs. But it wasn’t until training in Japan that she found purpose in the elaborate cuisine known as kaiseki. Her acclaimed restaurant, n/naka, which she runs with wife and cochef, Carole Iida-Nakayama, is now in its eighth year and remains L.A.’s most coveted reservation. A featured subject on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, Nakayama’s story is one of dedication and creativity in the male-dominated fine-dining world.
The Art Stars
Fashion designer, filmmaker
Tom Ford once remarked that, if he could, he would art direct a word. That alone should paint a picture of the meticulousness of this legendary designer—
a proclivity also highlighted in a recent New York Times interview in which Ford, 57, dissects flower arrangements and bemoans overhead lighting. At this point in the luminary’s stunning career, he can lay claim to 39 fragrances, two feature films, six homes, and a firm perch as the king of merging sex with glamour—something he’s done while revitalizing Gucci and running his eponymous label. On June 1 he’ll assume his new role as chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, succeeding Diane von Furstenberg. It’s one more way Ford will influence the
language of art and style.
Indya Moore, a Bronx native, brought a mixture of warmth, pathos, and vulnerability to their masterful performance as Angel in the FX series Pose. Playing a transgender sex worker who falls for a closeted gay man, Moore, 24, shed light on a marginalized subset of the drag ball scene. This year they became one of the first trans models to star in a major Louis Vuitton campaign.
Billy Porter has long been celebrated for his work in Broadway shows and revivals (from Kinky Boots to Angels in America), but nothing compares to the booming career revival he’s had in the past year. Porter’s electric performance as emcee Pray Tell on FX’s Pose kicked open doors of all kinds for the entertainer, who this year served as the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s sole ambassador for New York Fashion Week Men’s and ruled the Oscars red carpet in his show-stopping androgynous suit-gown. At 49, he’s been reborn as both a queer and pop culture icon, and that’s set to continue with a memoir, a fashion line, a new stage production, and season two of Pose on the way.
Activist, community organizer
Founder of the L.A.-based TransLatin@ Coalition, Bamby Salcedo has been a leading voice in protecting the rights of transgender Latinx immigrants. Last year she joined the L.A. rally for #FamiliesBelongTogether National Day of Action (advocating for detained migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border), and this year she has campaigned to stop the deportation of trans asylum seekers.
After a decade of speculation, ABC News correspondent Karl Schmid, 38, came out as HIV-positive in March 2018 and soon became a crusader against the stigma of living with HIV. The Australian-born journalist received an outpouring of global support, participating in 2018’s first-ever Positive Flame torch procession in Amsterdam and producing a segment outlining the history of HIV in Hollywood at last year’s Academy Awards.
The Club Kids
Writer, producer, director
One of Hollywood’s most prolific hitmakers, Ryan Murphy, 53, pumps out paradigm-shifting TV shows—like Glee, American Horror Story, Feud, and Pose—like it’s child’s play. His queer sensibility brings a level of baroque sophistication to nearly everything he touches. Last year Netflix signed him to a five-year, $300 million deal that’s said to be the largest in TV history.
Unlike some other young pop stars, Troye Sivan, 23, has been open about his identity since his career began (he came out to fans at 18). The fresh-faced former YouTuber has made an art out of peforming in flowy numbers and subverting expectations. In addition to starring in the critical hit Boy Erased, he’s spoken out about HIV myths, internalized homophobia, and being gay in the Trump era.
Ashlee Marie Preston
Activist, community organizer
The 34-year-old media personality and Kentucky native has helped highlight oft-ignored realities in the LGBTQ world—like the somber fact that the average lifespan of a trans woman of color is just 35 years. Formerly homeless, Ashlee Marie Preston was the first trans person to be named editor-in-chief of a publication (Wear Your Voice magazine). Her next project: a documentary about queer life in the South.
Whether she’s repping Chanel or stealing the spotlight in a Rolling Stones video, Kristen Stewart, 29, radiates cool confidence and more than un petit peu of sex appeal. After officially coming out on SNL in 2017, she’s begun playing more overtly queer characters: She starred as Chloe Sevigny’s lover in the 2018 period thriller Lizzie, and her next film is a lesbian romantic comedy about coming out during the holidays.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.