Velvetpark’s Official Top 25 Significant Queer Women of 2013

It’s with great honor that we present to you Velvetpark’s Top 25 Queer Women of 2013.

It’s with great honor that we present to you Velvetpark’s Top 25 Queer Women of 2013. As with previous years, this is not a hierarchical list. These 25 represent a collection of women whom we view on equal footing, each contributing to LGBTIQ visibility in the fields of the arts, activism, academia, and/or social equality. They are female-identified or non-gender binary persons who have created a critical work or whose body of work warranted attention this year.

This is the fifth installment of our most-circulated post of the year and, so far, we have not repeated any individual as we endeavor to continually support and celebrate our growing community. So, while many of our former honorees such as Edie Windsor (2012), Pauline Park (2011), Sarah Schulman (2009), Heather Cassils (2010), and so many other — continue to do great work year after year, each year our list remains fresh.

Before we begin, honorable mention goes to Georgia Brooks, an key member of the Lesbian Herstory Archives and Ria Pell, celebrity chef and co-founder of MondoHomo, who died this year. Their passing is a reminder to us how important one individual’s contribution to a whole community can be. Without further ado… our list:

1) “Invincible” – Diana Nyad, extreme sports woman / Olympian / sports commentator

After four failed attempts, swimmer Diana Nyad took to the water once again on August 31 to swim the 110-mile distance between Havana, Cuba, and Key West, Florida — without a shark cage. Some 53 hours later, on the afternoon of September 2, she hauled herself up on the sand while the whole world cheered her victory. In and of itself, the act is a wondrous professional victory for an athlete. But, for Nyad, it was also a great personal triumph, as one of her leading motivations was her anger over the sexual abuse she suffered as a kid. Nyad made headlines again in October when she went toe-to-toe with Oprah Winfrey on atheism, with Nyad explaining, “I can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist, go on down the line, and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity. All the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt and suffered. So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.”

2) “Poetic Justice” – Cheryl Clarke, writer / activist / educator

Poet and scholar Cheryl Clarke, got her start in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Since the late 1960s, Clarke has published four collections of poetry, along with two other studies and countless more writings, and she has been on the Rutgers University staff since 1970. This year, Clarke’s lifetime of contributions to the LGBTQ community was honored by The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies with the prestigious Kessler Award. Past recipients include Urvashi Vaid, Sarah Schulman, Susan Stryker, Adrienne Rich, and Judith Butler, among others. With pieces like “Lesbianism: An Act of Resistance” and “Queer Black Trouble: In Life, Literature, and the Age of Obama,” it’s easy to see that Clarke’s work has, indeed, made an impact.

3) “Magical Realist” – Lorna Williams, Artist

Born in New Orleans, the 26-year-old Lorna Williams received her BFA in Maryland Institute of Art in 2010. Noting that “there’s a freedom in art,” her art expresses the raw message of New Orleans culture and music. Her work has been featured in more than six exhibitions and has been reviewed by The New York Times, Art in America, FLATT, Boston Magazine, Concierge Magazine, and The Boston Globe. Other honors include being selected as the Presidential Scholars Program Semifinalist, ARTS Recognition Finalist, National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts Finalist, and the Annual Black History Art Contest Winner. Lorna’s current work, “appositions: still / birth / shit,” is being featured in Dodge gallery. She now lives and works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

4) “Feminist Inclusion” – Julia Serrano, writer / performer / speaker

Although transgender author and spoken-word performer Julia Serrano is most widely known for 2007’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, her contributions to the cause go much further and deeper. This fall, she published Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive and continued to push back against the myriad misconceptions surrounding femininity and gender. Taking her work off the page and into life, Serrano has also curated the spoken word event, “Girl Talk: A Trans and Cis Woman Dialogue,” since 2009.

5) “The Avant-garde” – Catherine Lord, artist / art historian

This year, Catherine Lord co-authored with Richard Meyer the most comprehensive queer art history book to date, Art and Queer Culture (Phaidon Press). Lord and Meyer have culled through every genre and movement from the late 19th C. to the present, from the neighborhoods of Holbron to Harlem, covering artists from Oscar Wilde to Jasper Johns, from Mickalene Thomas to Wu Tsang. They elucidate how queer lifestyle was/is not only an inspiration but the subject for the artists’ works. This history, as Lord and Meyer, conclude is not an evolution from outsider to assimilation into mainstream society, but a history of the liminal. The book finds queer art and artists existing between the cracks of high and low art, public and private life, between the deviant and the normal. This is work will be one for the college classroom and your bookshelf.

6) “The Philosopher” – Beatriz Preciado, writer / professor

When it comes to the study of gender and sexuality, many eyes now turn to Beatriz Preciado, a Fullbright Fellow, a professor of Political History of the Body, Gender Theory, and History of Performance at Paris VIII, and the author of a seminal piece of queer theory in Manifiesto Contrasexual. Other works by Preciado include Pornotopía: Architecture and Sexuality in Playboy During the Cold War, a finalist for the Anagrama Essay Prize, Anal Terror, and Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era. One of the core themes of Preciado’s Manifesto involves rebelling from our bodies and heterosexual normativity as a form of activism: “What is important is not to be ‘queer,’ but to maintain a critical attitude towards the excluding and normalizing effects of all sexual identity.”

7) “Songbird” – Brandy Clark, singer / songwriter

Country music has long been the bastion of good, old American values — a pickup truck, some cold beer, and a good woman were just about all anyone would ever need or want. Tradition, for tradition’s sake was all there was to it, really. So what does a country-loving, out lesbian have to do to finally crack through the lavender ceiling that k.d. lang and Chely Wright have previously chipped away at? Write a handful of hit songs, it seems. At least that’s what Brandy Clark did. Landing The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” and Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” at the top of the charts landed Clark’s name at the top of many go-to lists. Then, in October, she issued her own debut album as a solo artist with 12 Stories. While the stunning set may not find its way to the top of any charts, it has found its way onto numerous Best of 2013 lists, and rightly so.

8 ) “Out Loud and Proud” – Haneen Maikey, activist / author

As the co-founder of two Palestinian activist groups, Haneen Maikey is on a mission to educate the Middle East about diversity through both alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society and Palestinian Queers for BDS. The author of The History and Contemporary State of Palestinian Sexual Liberation Struggle, Maikey has also been a loud voice in condemnation of Israel: “If you want to do me a favour, then stop bombing my friends, end your occupation, and leave me to rebuild my community. I’m aware that my society has a long way to go in terms of human rights and social issues, but it’s my responsibility, not yours.”

9) “Firebird” – Katy Pyle, performance Artist / choreographer / dancer

Katy Pyle was trained in ballet as a child, then moved toward modern dance while in college. Yet she didn’t stop there, and her creative curiosity lead her into multimedia and performance art. This year, Pyle debuted “The Firebird, a Ballez” at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church in which a lesbian princess meets a tranimal  Firebird  part bird, part prince. “Firebird, Ballez” was inspired by the original 1910 production of “The Firebird” by Michel Fokine with music by Stravinsky. Pyle’s production used an all transgender and lesbian cast, and garnered critical attention by the The New York Times.

10) “Grace Under Pressure” – Joo-Hyun Kang, community organizer / activist / executive director

The controversial program, “Stop and Frisk,” run by New York Police Department has systematically racially profiled people of color for potential criminal activity. The policy had been in effect in the city for over a decade. But, in recent years, community leaders have brought this practice into the public discourse, making it one of the key issues in the City’s choice for a new mayor. Joo-Hyun Kang has been one of the outspoken leaders on this issue as the current Executive Director of the Communities United for Police Reform. CPR just won the Community Safety Act, a landmark piece of legislation to end police discrimination and thus setting a standard for other urban centers dealing with racial discrimination.

11) “The art of Gaman” – Tina Takemoto, visual studies scholar / performance artist

Former Rutgers University graduate student Tina Takemoto has focused her work on issues of race, ethnicity, queer identity, memory, and grief. As a visual studies professor at California College of the Arts, Tina continues to capture that attention in the arts and queer societies through her current works on Japanese American internment campus during WWII and other pieces. In May 2013, Takemoto was featured at San Francisco’s Spirit: A Hundred Years of Queer Asian Activism Performance, where she joined over 23 queer Asian artists and cultural activists  a collaboration that showed the diversity of queer Asian and Asian American perspectives and experience. Her works have been shown both nationally and internationally, receiving grants from multiple resources such as Art Matters, James Irvine Foundation, and San Francisco Arts Commission. Other accolades include winning Best Experimental Film Jury Award at the Austin LGBT International Film Festival (Looking for Jiro) and having articles published in Afterimage, Art Journal, Performance Research, and more. At the moment, Tina serves as the board president of the Queer Cultural Center and co-founder of Queer Conversations on Culture and the Arts.

12) “The Punk Writer” – Imogen Binnie, novelist

This is quite possibly the breakthrough year for transgender novelists. With the launch of Topside Press — dedicated to publishing transgender narratives  the diversity of fresh voices are flooding into queer culture. Topside earned honors this year at the LAMDA Literary Awards in the category of transgender fiction for their anthology, The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard. Included in The Collection is Imogen Binnie who was also Topside’s first novelist published. In her work Nevada, Binnie’s narrative avoids all the tropes that we’ve become used to in the portrayals of transgender folks and instead has brought a full, authentic, raw, humorous voice into the literary world.

13) “The Critical Darling” – Lisa Kron, actress / playwright

Having tackled such topics as Auschwitz, illness, and political turmoil in her first three staged works — 2.5 Minute Ride, Well, and In the Wake, respectively — Lisa Kron used 2013 to adapt Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home from a graphic novel into a musical which debuted to rave reviews at the Public Theater. A sort of thread that ties all of her projects together is the juxtaposition of emotions, whether it’s humor pushing back against horror or poignancy tugging on provocation. Kron said of her work on the beloved Fun Home, “The thing about adaptation is you have to re-originate a thing. You can’t just say, ‘This is a musicalized version of this graphic novel.’ It has to have its own originating impulse, so that you feel like the experience you are having is the primary experience. And at the same time, you don’t feel like you’re watching a different thing, that whatever the effect of the book was, you’ll feel like it’s represented.”

14) “The Troublemaker” – Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, writer / editor / filmmaker / activist

Not many people can claim that Howard Zinn tagged them with the high praise of being “startlingly bold and provocative.” But so it is with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Having previously published So Many Ways to Sleep Badly and Pulling Taffy, Sycamore was back in 2013 with a new book, The End of San Francisco. The memoir has been hailed by Psychology Today as one of the most important reads of the decade — no small feat for an anti-assimilationist steeped in counterculture and radical gender-bending.

15) “Coloring Outside the Lines” – Molly Larkey, artist

This has been a big year for Molly Larkey with exhibitions at LACMA and Commonwealth & Council and a mural at the ONE Institute Gallery for WEHO (an interactive exhibition of installations and performances by LGBTQ-minded artists in Los Angeles). Larkey got her start in New York over 10 years ago, first studying literature, then finding her voice in sculpture and painting. Larkey has since redefined herself in Los Angeles where her studio space is also used to promote the work of other emerging artists. Larkey says, “There is a balance I have to strike between focusing on my own work and focusing on the artistic community and the queer community and the overlap of them. Community is important to me, and it will always be something that I will be related to.” Larkey is the daughter of music legend Carole King… apples don’t fall far from their trees.

16) “Gender Theorist” – Susan Stryker, author / professor / filmmaker / historian

As an openly trans lesbian, Susan Stryker speaks to — and for — a broad spectrum of queer issues through her various works. To her long list of credits, this year she added the founding of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly with Paisley Currah. Duke University Press is set to start publication in 2014 on the journal with a goal of having it be the leading voice for transgender studies by incorporating a wide swath of perspectives and disciplines. Additionally on her docket is an associate professorship of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona, where she also serves as the director of the university’s Institute for LGBT Studies. Due to Stryker’s efforts, the school has also announced plans to hire four tenure-track transgender scholars over the next two years, establish the Center for Critical Studies of the Body, and set up a graduate degree program in transgender studies.

17) “Underdog Victorious” – Sunu P. Chandy, Attorney

A graduate of Northeastern University, Sunu P. Chandy has been licensed to practice law in New York State for almost 15 years. As Senior Trial Attorney at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Sunu spends her professional hours reviewing cases of discrimination in the workplace. Interested in social justice, she engages in litigation against policies that discourage or inhibit workers’ rights or reproduce unequal measures based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, along with other instances of discrimination. Recently, some these cases have included complaints of age discrimination, retaliation, and sexual and racial harassment, and her work has been discussed in the New York Times, NPR, and other media platforms. While upholding federal laws against discrimination, Chandy pushes the boundaries of the glass ceiling by excelling in her field and navigating life as a woman of color. 

18) “More Than an Academic” – Jen Manion, professor / writer / organizer

This year, Jen Manion received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society to support her Crossing Gender in the Long 19th Century project. Though originally envisioned as a deep gaze into the idea of female masculinity, the piece has evolved. Now tentatively titled, American Transgender Histories: from Revolution to Civil War, it aims to take a look at the transgender experience by examining how history has distinguished gender roles and representations in American culture. For her day job, Manion serves as Associate Professor of History and Director of LGBTQ Center at Connecticut College. Further still, Manion’s upcoming book, Liberty’s Prisoners: Gender, Sexuality, and Punishment in Early America, tackles queerness in regard to the penitentiary system’s development and social norms of a young United States.

19) “The Strategist”– Andy Marra, Writer / Korean Reunification Advocate

Andy Marra has spent her lifetime breaking binaries through personal strength, achievement, and activism. As a Korean American adoptee and transwoman, Andy is familiar with potential barriers and measures of inequality. In a blog post for, Andy wrote poignantly, “My identity is a prime reason for why I became an activist. I became an activist so that I could liberate myself from the stereotypes surrounding my identity.” Currently, Andy serves as the Co-Director for Nodutdol for Korean Community Development. Previously, Andy worked as the Senior Media Strategist for (GLAAD), influencing much of GLAAD’s media advocacy work impacting transgender people, communities of color, and international affairs. With this background, it is no wonder that she has held leadership positions on various boards and councils, including the Human Rights Campaign, Chinese for Affirmative Action,the National Center for Transgender Equality, and Asian Pacific Islander Equality, among many others. You can find Andy’s work on HuffPost and GLSEN, along with various press releases and reports on LGBTQ equality.

20) “No Schtick in the Mud” – Anna Margarita Albelo, filmmaker / writer / performer

Anna Margarita Albelo is no new kid on the block. Born into a Cuban-American family in Miami, Albelo set her sights on Gay Paris, where she became a queer nightlife impresario and video producer. She moved on to Hollywood, where she continued writing, producing, and occasionally performing in an over-sized vagina costume. Her latest project, Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolfhit the LGBT and independent film circuit this year garnering praise and awards along the way… made all the more amazing that Albelo sacrificed an entire year of her life living in a friend’s garage (much like her character in the film) to conceive and complete this film. It has certainly paid off.

21) “The Dynamic Duo” – Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid, community organizers

Since its founding in 2010, Everyone Is Gay — the organization founded by Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid — has worked hard to better the lives of LGBTQ youth. Their three-layered cake of helping involves honest, often humorous advice; entertaining and engaging presentations in schools across the country; and reality-based support for parents. The latter element, dubbed The Parents Project, was added in 2013 after the pair raised more than $53,000 via an Indiegogo campaign. No wonder the Bloggie Awards named them best of last year.

22) “Literal Figuration” – Ajuan Mance, professor of literature and art / artist

Ajuan Mance is a much-beloved professor at Mills College teaching African American literature, 19th-century American literature, U.S. popular culture, the oral tradition in U.S. literature, Black feminist thought, and African American art. She is also a life-long artist who actively inspires other women of color to pursue the fine arts. Last year, Mance began a series of portraits entitled 1001 Black Men, in which she illustrates a portait a day. Mance has said, “I am inspired by the faces I sees in Oakland every day, and by my memories of the family, friends, and neighbors I grew up with.” 1001 Black Men was on view at California Institute of Integral Studies this summer.

23) “Raised by Wolves” – Julie Tolentino, performance artist / activist / dancer

Julie Tolentino is one of the most prolific artists in one of the most endurance-driven genres of art, extreme performance. With a career spanning over two decades, things are not slowing down, but only ratcheting up of her. Tolentino began her career in New York City as an ACTUP AIDS activist and founder of the legendary Clit Club. Today, her curriculum vitae includes museum and gallery shows all over the world, with performances that include collaborations with artist such as Meg Stuart, Ron Athey, Madonna, Catherine Opie, David Rousseve, Gran Fury, Rodarte, and many others. This year alone, Tolentino was featured at Performa13and the New Museum in New York, and Commonwealth & Council in Los Angeles (to name only a few.) Tolentino divids her time between L.A. and Joshua Tree, where she has a sustainable living studio and is currently the Provocations editor for The Drama Review/MIT Press.

24) “The Live Wire” – Sini Anderson, filmmaker / performance artist / poet

In 2013, Sister Spit’s Sini Anderson debuted her documentary on riot grrrl, Kathleen Hanna, after three years in the making. The Punk Singer first graced crowds at Austin’s SXSW Festival in March and has since reached wider audiences in New York and Los Angeles, along with a digital release via iTunes. It has earned solid reviews all along the way. The revealing and highly personal work traces the lines of Hanna’s life from her early performance days through her more recent battle with late-stage Lyme disease, a disease Anderson is also battling. Anderson has said of her motivations for the film that “Anyone making progressive motions towards change within art, feminism or interpersonally is gonna be moved by her story. It’s not hard to be drawn to Kathleen Hanna’s story.”

25) “The Scene Stealer” – Laverne Cox, actress / reality TV star / advocate

When Orange Is the New Black debuted earlier in 2013 on Netflix, viewers all gravitated to their own favorite characters choosing between Piper, Alex, Taystee, Crazy Eyes, and others. But pretty much everyone immediately adored Sophia Burset, the transwoman character brought gloriously to life by transwoman actress Laverne Cox. While Cox had previously earned fans and accolades through her appearances on I Want to Work for Diddy, TRANSform Me, Law & Order: SVU, and others, she has gone big with OITNB, bringing not only the visibility of transgenders, but also their accompanying issues, into the mainstream through a beautifully nuanced and truly lovable character.


Our deepest gratitude and respect goes out to you. Keep doing what you do.
– Velvetpark