Velvetpark’s Official Top 25 Significant Queer Women of 2010

Velvetpark’s year end round up of the most significant queer women of 2010 had our editors researching and wracking our brains for the last month.

Velvetpark’s year end round up of the most significant queer women of 2010 had our editors researching and wracking our brains for the last month. In selecting the Official Top 25 we decided to hone our criteria down to women who made a significant contribution to lesbian/dyke/trans/queer visibility in the areas of arts, culture and activism, or who made a critical impact on our social equality—this year. We also decided not to include any celebrities, even though we owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have used their visibility to advance our equal rights. Instead we chose to honor the unsung heroes or individuals who came out of nowhere and gained national attention in the name of queer causes. As with last year’s list, our numbering is not meant to suggest a ranking system; each of the contributions made by our honorees has enriched our lives and our community.

1. Braveheart – Kasha Jacqueline, Ugandan Lesbian Activist, Founder of FARUG

Kasha Jacqueline is a self-proclaimed feminist, lesbian and Ugandan, words that could get her life imprisonment or even killed in her own country. In the face of Uganda’s Kill The Gays Bill (supported and inspired by right-wing United States Congressmen), now pending in the Ugandan Parliament, Kasha Jacqueline founded “Freedom and Roam Uganda” (FARUG), the only local organization fully dedicated to LBTI rights. FARUG strives for the attainment of full equal rights and the eradication of all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation. This year Jacqueline was invited to speak at the 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum. The OFF brings together world leaders, heads of state, and Nobel Peace Prize recipients.

Jacqueline has begun telling her stories as an out lesbian in Uganda and finding like minded Ugandans who have organized to fight anti-queer violence, including pro-equality ministers and churches. Jacqueline faces an arduous struggle but remains one of the very few voices at the core of this humanitarian crisis in Uganda being heard by the international community.

2. Public Advocate, First-Class – Katie Miller, DADT Activist

Blogging anonymously for Velvetpark under the name “Private Second Class Citizen,” Katie Miller wrote: “After months of careful reevaluation and ceaseless retrospection, I am ready to take the next step. I plan on publicly disclosing my sexual orientation while still a member of the United States Corps of Cadets.” Cut to appearances on The Rachel Maddow Show, a profile in The New York Times and even escorting Lady Gaga at the MTV Video Music Awards. In the wake of Miller’s public resignation from West Point Military Academy over DADT, Rachel Maddow called Katie “[one of] the reasons why [DADT] is being repealed.” This year, Katie’s bravery inspired us all. In a public panel following the final Senate vote to repeal DADT, she said she was “elated” and “exceedingly proud that our Congresspeople could do what was right.” We couldn’t be more proud to call Katie Miller one of Velvetpark’s own.

3. The Furies – Tobi Hill-Meyer, Fay Onyx, and Ronan Joy, Media Makers

It’s not news that mainstream and queer media alike are sorely lacking in positive images of trans women. Taking matters into their own, capable hands, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Fay Onyx, and Ronan Joy created Handbasket Productions, a print and video production company that creates and distributes oppression-aware and sex-positive media. The trio’s first full-length video, Doing it Ourselves: The Trans Women Porn Project, is truly a game changer. The first of its kind, this body-positive porn features trans women owning their sexuality, enjoying their bodies and representing themselves the way they want to be seen. First-time director Hill-Meyer won a Feminist Porn award for the production, and we’re betting she’s just getting warmed up. Handbasket Productions also publishes thought-provoking print media exploring complicated identity issues, sex work, racism, and other topics.

4. Prison Yard Hunk – Heather Cassils, Performance Artist


Performance artist and body builder Heather Cassils made history this year when she inflamed the pop culture landscape (and many of us at Velvetpark) with queer masculine desire. Famous now for playing a prison yard leather daddy and making out with Lady Gaga in the music video for “Telephone,” Cassils’s performance art installations continued to queer the boundaries of the art world in 2010 with pieces like Tiresias and Hard Times, which explored the physicality, spirituality and iconography of the transgendered body. Cassils’s critique of queer and mainstream cultures, and the places where the two collide is especially timely at this juncture in queer history: “To be queer is to be on the outside and to be on the outside is to be a force of resistance,” she says. “I think of my body as that, and I think of it as armature… It’s not about just being accepted—it’s about opening up people’s brains a bit.”

5. Dyketacular – Barbara Hammer, Filmmaker

For fifty years Barbara Hammer has been at the helm of experimental film. As one of the first to radically depict lesbian sexuality on screen, Hammer produced a visionary body of work characterized by smart politics and revolutionary style. This year her avant-garde work was honored with a month-long retrospective at MoMA, and Hammer toured the country giving talks in promotion of her charming historical memoir, Hammer! Making Movies Out of Sex and Life (Feminist Press). In its depiction of inspired international travel, leather-clad motorcycle road trips, and a lifetime of lesbian bed-hopping, Hammer! offers a poignantly profound view of lesbian life across the decades and showcases one of the most cherished voices of our community in all of its spunk, intelligence, and sex appeal.

6. Calendar Bois – Ryann and Genesis, Founders, bklyn boihood

We got to know bklyn boihood this fall at the Butch Voices conference in New York. “Finally, a broader, browner perspective on masculine identity within our community!” exclaimed our editor-in-chief, and the rest of the team wholeheartedly agreed. Ryann and Genesis conceived bklyn boihood as a community entity with the mission to “provide visibility and promote empowerment for lesbian, queer, or trans identified studs, doms, butches, ag’s, and bois of color with gender presentation on a masculine spectrum,” which they do through video, blogging, photo galleries, online presence, and community organizing. Their latest project, the artful bklyn boihood calendar, was inspired by Brooklyn settings and the desire to celebrate a spectrum of identities. Calendar proceeds are shared with Brooklyn LBGTQ POC organizations, which makes it as good for our hearts as it is for our eyes.

7. The Perfect Storm – Storme DeLarverie, Drag King/Queer Legend

Storme DeLarverie, who turned 90 this December, is an undeniable legend. Storme was the sole person in masculine drag as part of the Jewel Box Revue, a collective otherwise made up entirely of female impersonators. Not only that, but he was doing it in the 1950s. She was also a beloved doorman at Henrietta Hudson’s, and served as Vice-President of the Stonewall Veterans Association. Most famously, DeLarverie was one of the key people fighting at the Stonewall Riots. Manny Fernandez of the New York Times writes that he may have even been “the cross-dressing lesbian whose clubbing by police was the catalyst for the riots.” Always an air of mythology surrounding her, Storme ultimately ended up living in the Hotel Chelsea along with so many other great queer New Yorkers. Now living in CABS nursing home in Brooklyn, we are proud to honor one of the greats in our rich history.

8. Grassroots vs. Goliath – Natasha Dillon, Co-Founder, Queer Rising

Late in the fall of 2009, Natasha Dillon saw a sign. Literally. Hanging on a wall at her LGBT Center, this sign had a mandate: form an LGBT civil rights group to take to the streets for social change. Dillon answered the call, and a year later leads Queer Rising, one of the emergent anti-establishment agitators for change. In 2010 alone, Queer Rising members—along with those of its rebel sister, GetEQUAL—chained themselves to the White House fence for DADT reform, crashed parties of elected officials for gay marriage and led a “die-in” at Grand Central to protest the rash of LGBT youth suicides this fall. Almost always at the forefront stood Dillon, bullhorn in hand. “There is a mindset some have that I think is best explained by MLK when he said ‘Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed’—and I believe that LGBT people are oppressed,” Dillon says. “It is just the hand we all have been dealt, and we must do our part to fight against these injustices and demand equality now.”

9. Resident Scandal – Holly Hughes, Performance Artist/Professor

New York theatre impresario Holly Hughes has paid some serious lesbian dues in her life. Between penning her wonderfully outrageous first full-length play, The Well of Horniness (a la Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian classic, The Well of Loneliness), enrolling as one of the first students at the New York Feminist Art Institute, and acting at the WOW Cafe, Hughes’s controversial work landed her a gig as one of the notorious NEA Four—artists whose National Endowment for the Arts funding was retracted by the Supreme Court in a catastrophic conservative misfire. Tagged “a garbage artist” by the late Jesse Helms, this year’s HIDE/SEEK disaster brings added poignancy to Hughes’s lengthy career and continued fight against censorship. A professor at University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design, Hughes opened two shows in 2010: Let Them Eat Cake, a meditation on the gay marriage debate, and The Dog and Pony Show (Bring Your Own Pony), a solo show about aging, animals, and lesbian lives. This year after receiving a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship, Hughes stated, “Twenty years ago I was vilified in the national press, attacked in the US Senate as a degenerate artist for doing lesbian work.  To receive this prestigious award for work that engages with LGBT issues is a tremendous honor and a validation. I’m deeply humbled.”

10. Easy Rider – Katrina Del Mar, Filmmaker

This year saw the highly anticipated release of photographer/filmmaker Katrina del Mar’s film, Hell on Wheels, Gang Girls Forever, rounding out her Gang Girls trilogy (which includes Gang Girls 2000 and Surf Girls). In Time Out New York, she described the plot of Hell on Wheels: “It’s the tongue-in-cheek tale of a girl from a gang, the Brooklyn Breaknecks—mean vegans who kick the girl out after a guinea-pig lab rescue gets her shot and leaves her wheelchair-bound, which inspires her to join an outcast gang of dyslexic bikers.” This cult-classic aesthetic is why she’s been called “the lesbian Russ Meyer.” The Lower East Side lesbian luminary and her badass crew took the world by storm: from sold-out shows at the NYC premiere and San-Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival to screenings in London and Berlin. Katrina’s keeping DIY/queer/feminist art where it belongs, i.e. everywhere.

11. Loving, Daring, and Dedication – Sarah East Johnson, Choreographer/Founder of LAVA

This year marked the ten-year anniversary of Sarah East Johnson’s dance company, LAVA. Years ago, following her rigorous modern dance training and a crash course in acrobatics with the San Francisco Circus Center (and later, Circus Amok), Johnson arrived in New York with the artistic impulse to create a dance company that would fuse acrobatics and athleticism with elements of modern dance. Equally unique is Johnson’s vision of creating a troupe based on feminist principles of collaboration and community-building. Johnson has also brought in the lesbian music scene, working with artists such as Toshi Regan, Sini Andersen and Bitch, who have created soundtracks for her productions. LAVA has become an award-winning company, with headquarters in Brooklyn that hosts daily classes in tumbling, trapeze and handstand for kids and adults. Not only has Johnson built a team of highly motivated, skilled women, but a warm community of friends and families who frequent the LAVA studio. This year, in celebration of LAVA’s tenth anniversary, Johnson launched Loving & Daring, a retrospective show that packed the house at Dixon Place (NYC) for its three-week run.

12. A Star is Reborn – Deborah Kass, Artist

This year Deborah Kass followed up her 2007 come-back solo show, Feel Good Paintings For Feel Bad Times with More Feel Good Paintings For Feel Bad Times. Kass is no newcomer to the art world; she emerged from obscurity in the early 80s with her tongue-in-cheek meditations on Andy Warhol. Somehow in the ensuing decade she was largely ignored by the New York art world establishment until the 2007 solo show at Paul Kasmin. That it was well-received is an understatement—the paintings sold out. Kass seamlessly mediates politics, pop culture, pop-art and personal narrative in deceptively light-hearted ways. This year’s More Feel Good Paintings continues Kass’s winning streak and was among the critic’s picks for the best shows of 2010 by the Huffington Post as well as New York Magazine. In addition to her solo show this year she was included in Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism at The Jewish Museum, New York and the highly controversial and historic HIDE/SEEK at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington D.C.

13. Myth Buster – Laura Flanders, Political Commentator/Host, Grit TV

She may not be quite as ubiquitous as her former Air America comrade-at-arms, Rachel Maddow, but give Laura Flanders some time—and a few more book deals. This year, the British-born journalist and host of the web-based current events show GRITtv heartily capitalized on the midterm elections to tell her version of the “narrative that’s missing” in American media. Making a splash among the wonks in 2007 with “Blue Grit,” a survey of the Democrats’ effort to take back the party, Flanders covered the emerging Tea Party movement this past year with the anthology At the Tea Party, a tome on the fledgling, madcap movement and the reasons Americans must not dismiss it. Despite her wonky tilt and appeal to politics junkies, Flanders remains most dedicated to fighting what she calls the “all-about-the-money media” and preserving true storytelling. “For me,” she says, “media has always been an activist job.” Amen, sister.

14. RabbleTRousers – Jeanne Cordova and Lynn H. Ballen, Organizers of BVLA

Partners in life and in gender rabblerousing, butch-femme couple Jeanne Cordova and Lynn H. Ballen found themselves at the forefront of a new movement in 2010: one in which, as Cordova says, “the ‘B’ in LGBT stands for ‘Butch.’” As the chair and “’unofficial’ co-chair” of October’s Butch Voices regional conference in Los Angeles, Cordova and Ballen led a dedicated group of organizers to put on the three-day “gathering of the butch tribes” and their allies. The conference featured community-building panels, seminars, and workshops, as well as cultural showcases like a fashion show and a “Butch Revival” night of music and entertainment. We’re proud to recognize Ballen and Cordova’s efforts to build community, as well as to empower and bring cutting edge queer culture to the under-represented (and heretofore woefully under-organized) Southern California community of queer female and trans masculinities.

15. The Gold Standard – Catherine Opie, Artist


Catherine Opie, Bo from “Being and Having”, 1991. C print, 17″ x 22″. Image courtesy Regen Projects, LA.

It is not possible to acknowledge Catherine Opie’s contributions as an artist without mentioning the monumental impact she’s had on lesbian visibility. Opie put “dyke” into the visual lexicon of contemporary culture when her photographs began to appear in the international art world. Opie broke onto the scene in the early 90’s with her series of portraits “Being and Having” in which she shot a studio-style series of butch boys, a group of pals she ran with as a young art queer in Los Angeles. Opie’s portraits have since become the gold standard idolized by young lesbian photographers coming out of art school. In 2008 the Guggenheim Museum honored her with a mid-career retrospective, one of the greatest honors an artist can receive. Since her early dyke work, Opie has pursued themes of cityscapes, landscapes, and images of Americana. This year she returned to dyke portraiture with her solo show Girlfriends at Barbara Gladstone (New York). In addition to a body of sensuous, regal photos the show could have been a historical survey, a Who’s Who of lesbian culture-makers including Diana DiMassa, JD Samson, Kate Moennig, and Jenny Shimizu (an early subject of Opie’s), just to name a few.

16. Freedom Writer – Kiana Firouz, Iranian Actress/Documentary Filmmaker/Activist

When the trailer for the gay film Cul-de-Sac was posted on YouTube, it garnered thousands of hits in just a few days—such is the thirst for stories about gays in the Middle East, especially in Iran and Iraq, where gays routinely face lashing, torture, and execution for being found out. But when the film’s out Iranian star Kiana Firouz was rejected for asylum in England and faced deportation (and certain death upon her return), the internets erupted in anger, petitions were signed, and eventually Firouz was granted five-year refugee asylum. The 28-year-old Firouz tells Vp she is safe and sound, working on various new projects within the quiet of her asylum. We are grateful for her bravery and fearlessness—and for the visibility her case brought not only to the devastating conditions for queers in Iran but the disappointing and hypocritical asylum programs that exist throughout the “enlightened” West.

17. Mädchen in Uniform – Autumn Sandeen, Activist/blogger

It was Autumn Sandeen’s tireless coverage of the Angie Zapata hate crime murder trial that first landed her on our radar. Tweeting from inside the courtroom, Sandeen brought much-needed visibility to the horrific murder of a trans woman which the mainstream media mostly ignored. This spring, donning her Navy dress blues, the tireless activist, blogger, and military vet chained herself to the White House fence during GetEQUAL’s DADT protest. Sandeen’s dedication to the repeal of DADT stands out because the unjust law addressed only the military service of lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers, and as a trans woman, Ms. Sandeen is not included. Her rejection of the secular, self-serving politics that often colors LGBT issues makes her a role model for the rest of us.

18. Deep Lez – A.K. Burns A.L. Steiner, Interdisciplinary Artists

In September of this year, A.L. Steiner and A.K. Burns showed their 69-minute socio-sexual art movie, Community Action Center, at Taxter and Spengemann in New York. Steiner and Burns are artists who work individually but have collaborated on film/video projects over the years. Community Action Center is their first feature length production. The movie, not to be mistaken for porn, is a womyn-centric, trans-queer, intimate, hedonistic, humorous exploration of lesbian sexuality. Working in the vein of a Warholian factory-esque environment, the artists use friends and peers, as well as themselves to portray the “community action.” Shot on a number of locations from the urban to the rural (including the ending sequence in a friend of Vp’s backyard in the Catskills), the film also defines “queer space.” Taking their inspiration from gay-porn-liberation films of the 70s, Steiner and Burns have successfully brought a contemporary queer voice into the canon of art history.

19. Queer Couturière – Parisa Parnian, Fashion Designer

Best known for glamming up queer fashion with her Rigged OUT/fitters clothing line and ubiquitious, iconic photo shoots of pouty, doe-eyed bois and grrrls, Parisa Parnian’s “queer and dirty” vision left a lasting impression on our collective aesthetic—in fact, we say a silent prayer of thanks each time a handsome butch trades in her trucker cap for a fedora. Originally from New York, Parnian moved to the Bay Area to teach design at the prestigious California College of Art. Her queer-themed course, Alternative Bodies, was such a hit, CCA made it a permanent part of the curriculum. This year the subculture style maven went mainstream when sexed-up denim originator GUESS plucked her out of academia to become a Senior Designer for their menswear line.

20. Your Cool Queer Uncle – Lynn Breedlove, Performer/Queer Icon

Lynn Breedlove’s status as a queer vanguard has been set since his days as intrepid frontman of the queercore band Tribe 8, and this year saw the hilarious ladies’ man win a Lambda Award for the book version of his widely acclaimed solo theater piece, One Freak Show. A skilled storyteller, Breedlove’s first book, the autobiographical novel Godspeed, was lauded by critics, eventually inspiring a solo show and short film. After years of nearly continuous touring with One Freak Show, Confessions of a Poseur, and other solo pieces, Breedlove hunkered back down in the Bay Area and launched Homobiles, a 24/7 volunteer-run queer car service that safely transports LGBT folks home at the end of their late night adventures.

21. Multi-Culti Anarchy – Gaye Chan, Interdisciplinary Artist/Professor

Gaye Chan has been making art for decades, weaving together cultural identity, social policy and politics in a multitude of media. Chan’s early works were photographic explorations of lesbian bodies. Since then her work has evolved into web-based and print publications that deal with post-colonialism and, most recently, participatory, on-location installations, experiments in the distribution of goods sans organizational infrastructure. Chan has had several shows this year with works appearing in New York, Minneapolis, and Honolulu. Originally from Hong Kong, Chan got her BFA at the University of Hawaii, an MFA from the San Fransisco Institute of Art, and now holds the position of Chair in the Department of Art & Art History at the University of Hawaii. Chan is one of the most prolific artists of her generation, with numerous shows yearly, and on-going installation and web-based projects. She has also become an in-demand speaker, appearing this year at Philadelphia’s Basekamp artist collective and New York’s Creative Time Summit.

22. The Champion – Dawn The Self-Esteem Queen, Community Activist/Co-founder of ImGayNowWhat.com

In a year with so many devastating and high profile LGBT teen suicides highlighted in the news, teen prostitution and runaway advocate Dawn The Self-Esteem Queen (TM), known as “the Harriet Tubman of the Teenage Prostitution World,” teamed up with Studology101 to start up ImGayNowWhat, an online safe haven for LGBT youth. Building on the Studology101 fanbase and the ‘We All We Got’ movement, ImGayNowWhat became an instant success. Dawn has empowered gay youth at this crucial moment in our history by providing them with a safe space to connect and talk about the various issues they face. Her words of wisdom and sense of humor make it easy to understand why she has developed a small cult following on Twitter, but it’s her ability to see the good that comes out of every situation that has us believing in the Self Esteem Queen.

23. The Eye Candy Doctor Is In – Courtney Trouble, Filmmaker

One of the major divisions in the world of feminism is the split between the sex positive camp (i.e. On Our Backs; celebrating radical queer sexuality) and the protectionist camp (i.e. Andrea Dworkin & Catherine MacKinnon, who believe porn hurts women). You can guess which one we’re in. Courtney Trouble is just the kind of radical queer pornographer we go gooey for. Not only did she create Nofauxxx.com, the longest-running indie queer porn site, but her most recent film, Speakeasy, won a Feminist Porn Award in 2010 for Most Tantalizing Trans Film. In November 2010, Trouble launched a new project, QueerPorn.tv, a hardcore queer porn site that promises the same sex-positive, indie queer porn we love, only “a little brighter, a little rougher, a little louder.” Thank you, ma’am, may we have another?

24. Literary Lesbutante – Barb Johnson, Author

Mid-City native Barb Johnson has been racking up literary awards since before she posted her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of New Orleans. Her first win was a grant from the Astraea Foundation as an undergraduate. Then she was a finalist for a Tennessee Williams short story award, and eventually she won the $50,000 Gift of Freedom from the A Room of One’s Own Foundation. Late last year her MFA thesis, a short story collection titled More of This World or Maybe Another, was published by Harper Perennial. It’s a coming-of-age story slash portrait of a tight-knit community in the Gulf Coast/New Orleans that features a lesbian couple at its center; no doubt, it represents some of the most beautiful storytelling and finely-crafted writing seen in recent years. Johnson worked most of her adult life as a carpenter in her beloved New Orleans and wrote many of the stories in this amazing collection in the post-Katrina turmoil—on balconies and in tents wearing a miner’s head lamp. She is currently at work on her first novel.

25. Footloose – Constance McMillian, LGBT Youth Activist

Constance McMillian just wanted to attend prom like any other teenager. But when she asked her high school for permission to take her girlfriend, Mississippi’s Itawamba High barred her. McMillan and her father brought in the ACLU and, under threat of a lawsuit, the school canceled prom, only to plan an alternate “private party” in its place. Itawamba school district parents sent Constance, her girlfriend and five other classmates to a decoy prom, while the rest of her class attended the private prom. Her lawsuit ultimately netted both a financial settlement for Constance and new school policies protecting LGBT youth in the Itawamba County School District. In addition, her story garnered national attention in both the MSM and the gay media. McMillan was awarded $30,000 by Ellen DeGerenes for her college education, became the Grand Marshal of New York City’s Pride Parade, and received a formal invitation to the LGBT reception at the White House with the President. Constance reminded us that fighting for our rights is about personal dignity in the most basic way—and that, like Emma Goldman, we still demand a “revolution we can dance to!”