Velvetpark’s Official Top 25 Significant Queer Women of 2014

It is with great honor that Velvetpark announces our Top 25 Queer Women of 2014.

It is with great honor that Velvetpark announces our Top 25 Queer Women of 2014. Each year we ask for nominations from within our community for queer identified women and/or non-gender-binary persons who have contributed something noteworthy in the categories of the arts, academia, and activism. This is our sixth annual list, and as with past years, we have not yet repeated any honorees from previous yearseven though many of those individuals continue to contribute significantly within their fields year after year.

This year was a tipping point for LGBTQ activists, who took their bodies and voices into the streets in service of our larger civil-rights issues. Since the shooting deaths and strangulation of unarmed men of color, it has become abundantly clear that our LGBTQ issues are no longer strictly contingent on our particular status as queers. Our social justice lies at the intersection of all people who continue to be oppressed and marginalized, both at home and abroad.

In light of this point, an honorable mention goes to Leslie Feinberg, who passed away last month from complications due to Lyme disease. Feinberg was a pioneer and remains an icon to our community. Hir novel “Stone Butch Blues” sits at the cornerstone of queer literature and gender studies. Feinberg was an author and a social justice activist throughout hir life. One of hir last acts of protest this year to fight fiercely for the release of CeCe McDonald, a woman who was incarcerated for manslaughter after surviving a racist and transphobic attack.

Without further ado, here is Velvetpark‘s Top 25 of 2014:

1) “BlackLivesMatter” – Alicia Garza, Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac, and Opal Tometi, Activists / Community Organizers

(pictured left to right, Garza, Cullors, and Tometi)

When three powerhouse community activists got together, after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, to form a grass roots organization to combat racial profiling and police brutality, they had no idea how their expertise under the banner of one hashtag would become the rallying cry of our current civil-rights movement. #BlackLivesMatter was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac, and Opal Tometi, each a distinguished community leader in her own right. Based in San Fransisco, Alicia Garza is the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and has been the recipient of numerous awards for her organizing in both Black and Latino communities. Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac, based in Los Angeles, is the Executive Director and founder of Dignity and Power Now, working to protect inmates and their families through projects like the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence, Freedom Harvest artist collective, the Dandelion Rising Leadership Institute, and Building Resilience.  Opal Tometi is the Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, based in New York City.

2) “When Art Meets Activism” – Reina Gossett, Activist / Writer / Artist

Reina Gossett is one of those hyphenates whose work flows seamlessly through both her art and activism. As for the former, Gossett collaborated with Sasha Wortzel to write, direct, and produce “Star People Are Beautiful People,” a film about the lives of Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. Gossett had previously researched and written about those activists for outlets such as Captive Genders and The Scholar and The Feminist Online. As an activist herself, Gossett serves as Membership Director at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and has been named the 2014-2015 Activist-In-Residence at Barnard College’s Center for Research on Women. Gossett has also worked with Queers for Economic Justice and Critical Resistance, and was awarded the George Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowship by the Open Society Foundation to support LGBT people navigating criminalization. Her efforts in the field of prison abolition helped halt New York City’s Department of Corrections from building of a $375 million jail in the Bronx.

3) “The Pioneer”– Minnie Bruce Pratt, writer / educator / community leader

(pictured, Minni Bruce [right] and Leslie Feinberg)

Born in Selma, Alabama, writer and activist Minnie Bruce Pratt has long been a stalwart champion for those marginalized due to issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. An esteemed poet and essayist, whose work has been widely praised in venues such as The New York Times Review of Books and Publisher’s Weekly, she is the author of several books, the most well-known of which chronicled losing custody of her two sons after coming out as a lesbian in North Carolina in the ‘70s, at a time when homosexuality was still criminalized in that state. Today, a professor of Writing and Women Studies at Syracuse University in New York, Pratt was recently invited to help develop the university’s first LBGT Studies program. Recently widowed, Bruce lost her partner of over 20 years, transgender activist and warrior Leslie Feinberg in November.

4) “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Jibz Cameron (aka Dynasty Handbag), performance artist

Dynasty Handbag emerged from the shadows of the downtown scene, gaining notoriety at nightlife proving grounds such as Murray Hill’s Miss Lez Pageant. Over the years, Cameron, as Dynasty Handbag, continued to perform seemingly on the periphery of the art world while steadily gaining in renown to those in the know. This year she broke through with her acclaimed show, “Soggy Glasses, A Homo’s Odyssey,” originally commissioned by Franklin Furnace for the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 2014 Next Wave Festival. Cameron had won support for her work through residencies at Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony, as well as other prestigious awards. Its not possible to fully capture Dynasty Handbag in words, but it’s safe to say you will laugh, cry, recoil, be mystified, mortified and walk away knowing you’ve seen a genius in action. “Soggy Glasses” will get another run in 2015; you would be remiss to miss it.

5) “Mighty Millennials” – Alexis Templeton and Brittany Ferrell, activists

(Templeton and Ferrel on the steps of City Hall in St Louis., MO)

As two of the four founders of Millennial Activists United (along with Ashley Yates and Larry Fellows III), Alexis Templeton and Brittany Ferrell have been among the leaders of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri this year following the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer. The four would-be activists found each other on Twitter and teamed up. Together as MAU, they marched each night in the streets of Ferguson, prepared meals for other protesters, and aided targets of police tear gas. They were also instrumental in the “Ferguson October” movement. Although Templeton grew up in Ferguson, Ferrell lived just up the road in St. Louis, and both attended high school in Ferguson, it took Brown’s death and their fierce commitment to justice to bring them together through MAU. As evidence that everything happens for a reason, last week Templeton and Ferrell got married.

6) “Belle of the Ball” – Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, filmmaker

The director of several well-received short films, this year Filipina filmmaker Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s first feature film has been sweeping up awards along the international festival circuit. Dubbed as “the boldest Filipino film of the year” by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, “Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita (Anita’s Last Cha-Cha)” explores the awkward complexities of young love as an adolescent girl falls for a much older woman. Notably, the film took the awards for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Ensemble at the Cinefilipino Film Festival in the Philippines, and recently won the Volunteer’s Choice Award at the Frameline San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

7) “Queer Gestures” – Juana María Rodríguez, author / academic

Cuban queer Latina and scholar Juana María Rodríguez studies and writes about sexuality, queer activism in a transnational American context, critical race theory, technology and media arts, and both Latin and Caribbean studies. A professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley, she also serves on the President’s Advisory Council on LGBT Students, Faculty and Staff for the University of California and is a founding member of the Haas Institute’s Center for a Fair and Inclusive Society’s LGBTQ Citizen Cluster. The author of two books, notably the acclaimed “Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures and Other Latina Longings” (NYU 2014), Rodríguez is currently working on a third book that “considers the quandaries of representing racially gendered violence, pleasure, and trauma in visual culture.”

8 / “Unbearable Lightness of Being” – Taisha Paggett, choreographer / dancer / artist / educator

Paggett splits her time between Los Angeles and Chicago where she works as a choreographer, dancer, and artist. Her work straddles the visual and performing arts. This year she was awarded a week-long residency at the 2014 Whitney Biennial where she premiered, “Underwaters (we is ready, we is ready).” The performance, which took place in the lobby of the museum, was comprised of interviews with a number of female and transgender dancers and visual artists, including Niv Acosta, Callie Lyons, April Matthis, Kenya Robinson, and Regina Rocke, as well as many others, who were asked how they understood the term “Black performance.” The interviews were then transmitted to the gallery by telephone, electronically processed, then amplified creating an audio ambiance in the gallery. Paggett accompanied the soundscape through experimental physical movements. This year Paggett was appointed to be a full-time dance faculty member at the Universtiy of California, Riverside.

9) “The Producer” – Yoruba Richen, writer / producer / director

A documentary filmmaker who has worked on projects in the U.S., Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia, Yoruba Richen premiered “The New Black” at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2013. The film hit the festival circuit, winning the Audience Award at AFI Docs, Frameline LGBT Film Festival, and Philly Q Fest, along with a special jury mention at Frameline and Best Documentary at Urbanworld Film Festival. In February, “The New Black” will open at New York’s Film Forum and, next June, will air as part of PBS’s Independent Lens series. Awards and grants seem to follow Richen and her various projects. Her previous efforts include “Promised Land,” “Sisters of the Good Death,” and “Take it From Me,” all of which address issues such as race, class, and gender. A Guggenheim Fellow, Richen also teaches documentary film at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and honed her investigative chops by working with ABC News and Democracy Now!

10) “Afterimage” – Amy Adler, artist / filmmaker / educator

Adler is an artist and a well-respected professor of Visual Art at the University of California San Diego. According to her colleagues, Adler “touches many lives as an educator and mentor.” Adler’s works have been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, as well as in galleries worldwide. Her work is included in several permanent collections, including The Broad Foundation, The UCLA Hammer Museum, and MoCA. Adler’s drawings in pastel explore ideas in originality and authenticity through the lens of still and moving images. Last year Adler produced and directed a critically acclaimed film, “Mein Schloss,” documenting her family roots in Germany, and she closed 2014 with her first solo show in many years, “Location,” at the ACME gallery in Los Angeles.

11) “Native Daughter” – Coya White Hat-Artichoker, activist

Born and raised on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, Coya is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and a founding member of the First Nations Two Spirit Collective and has worked as an activist since she was 15 years old. In some Native American cultures, Two Spirit is the label given to gender-variant members of the tribe. The Collective seeks to bolster the political space Two Spirit people inhabit within their communities. Coya also works with the Host Home Program as it endeavors to find safe housing for homeless queer youth and Sister Song, a reproductive justice organization representing the voices of Indigenous women and women of color. Whether in her work as an activist, poet, or speaker, Coya focuses on issues surrounding race, equity, identity, and sovereignty. Her writing has appeared in The Advocate, the Huffington Post, and the Bilerico Project.

12) “A Room of Her Own” – Grace Dunham, poet / actress / activist

As the younger sister of Lena, Grace Dunham is enveloped in a pretty vast shadow. Despite—or, perhaps, because of—that, she has managed to find a voice of her own. Dunham graduated from Brown University this year, where she contributed to The College Hill Independent student newspaper. In high school, her poem “Twin Oaks” earned her the Poetry Society of America’s Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Poetry Award. A couple months back, when a storm erupted over a passage in Lena’s book, “Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned,” that was tagged as constituting “sexual abuse” of Grace by Lena, the younger shut it all down with three Tweets: “heteronormativity deems certain behaviors harmful, and others ‘normal’; the state and media are always invested in maintaining that” / “As a queer person: I’m committed to people narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful” / “2day, like every other day, is a good day to think about how we police the sexualities of young women, queer, and trans people” / Any questions?

13) “Running Point” – Kate Fagan, sports writer / author

As a player on a nationally ranked college basketball team with a predominantly evangelical Christian sports culture, Kate Fagan made waves when she came out as a lesbian. Now a sports writer, Fagan spent three years covering the 76ers for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and is currently a columnist and features writer for several of ESPN’s media outlets. This past year, she also became an author with her memoir, “The Reappearing Act”, which follows her journey of self-acceptance through the collision of competitive sports, Christian fundamentalism, and queer identity. “The issues facing [gay] female athletes are different than the ones for male athletes,” Fagan told a Chicago reporter earlier this year. “Female athletes are reinforcing a stereotype, and male athletes are shattering one, and those two events have very different struggles and challenges.”

14) “Raq n’ Roll,”– Raquel  Gutiérrez, writer / performer / community organizer

A relatively new transplant to San Francisco from LA, writer, speaker, performer, and badass Raquel  Gutiérrez, also known as Raquefella, is an arts curator and manager for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. This innovative playwright, community organizer, and arts administrator writes about art, culture, music, film, performance, and community. A co-founding member of the now retired performance ensemble, Butchlalis de Panochtitlan (BdP),  Gutiérrez performs both solo and ensemble performance compositions. Her written work can be seen in Los Angeles Weekly, Artbound, The Portland Review, Ambientes: New Queer Latino Writing, and Huizache, and her most recent chapbook, “Breaking Up with LA,” was released in 2014.

15) “Feminist Killjoy” – Sara Ahmed, writer / scholar

English-Australian scholar Sara Ahmed is a professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, Associate Editor of the International Journal of Cultural Studies, and is also on the editorial boards of 16 other academic journals and book series, including New Formations, European Journal of Women’s Studies, GLQ, and Sexualities. With work that mines the intersection of feminist theory, queer theory, critical race theory, and postcolonialism, Ahmed is perhaps best known for her brilliant Feminist Killjoys blog, which was born out of the success of a popular essay of the same name. In the same vein, her 2014 book “Willful Subjects” explores the idea of will as a necessary force to overcome obstacles, and the imposition of the notion of “excessive will” by those outside of any particular struggle upon those within it.

16) “Hypergloss” – Stacy Syzmazek, poet / ringmaster

A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, poet Stacy Syzmazek is the author of numerous chapbooks and two book-length collections. Known for her ability to move seamlessly between different voices, personas, and queer identities in her work, this past year, her book of poems, “Journal of Ugly Sites and Other Journals”, won the prestigious 2015 Ottoline prize. “Journal of Ugly Sites and Other Journals” will be published in 2015, along with another of her books, “Hart Island”, forthcoming from Nightboat Books in May of 2015. ​​A regular teacher for Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program, as well as a Salon Guest for LMCC’s Workspace program, Syzmazek is the Artistic Director of The Poetry Project ​​at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village of Manhattan.

17) “Street Smart” – Andrea Ritchie, attorney / community organizer

Andrea Ritchie is an attorney and organizer in New York City, focusing primarily on the issue of police misconduct. As a writer, speaker, attorney, and advocate, Ritchie seeks to end the profiling, policing, and violence perpetrated by law enforcement against women and LGBT people. Currently, she is a board member for the Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP), a member of the Safe Outside the System Collective of the Audre Lorde Project, and co-counsel in Tikkun v. City of New York, et al., a case involving the unconstitutional and invasive searches of transgender people by the New York City Police Department. As part of the Streetwise & Safe team, Ritchie works on leadership development projects within the framework of sex work and trafficking. Indeed, Ritchie has dedicated her entire career to issues such as these, previously serving as Director of the Sex Workers Project and a member of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, as well as authoring numerous reports on the subject of police violence against the LGBT community. Her book, “Everyday Violence: Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Women and Transgender People of Color,” will be published next year.

18) “The Upraised Voice” – Kai Davis, poet / performer

Among our millennial honorees this year, 20-year-old poet and performer Kai Davis is still an undergraduate at Temple University, where she is double-majoring in English and African American Studies with a Creative Writing concentration. Already an international slam poetry champion, Davis’s work explores race relations, womanhood, and queer identity, and has been featured at the San Francisco Opera House, The Kimmel Center, and at various colleges and universities. Davis volunteers as a junior mentor for a non-profit organization called Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement, of which she is an alumna, and serves as the Artistic Director for Babel, a poetry collective in North Philadelphia. She is currently working on a new book of poetry.

19) “The Art of War” – Yul-san Liem, artist / activist / organizer

“Do not engage the officers unless they engage you. The point is not to antagonize police.” Those are words of wisdom passed from Yul-san Liem to the various cop watchers that she trains for the Justice Committee (JC), a group working to end police violence and institutional racism in New York City. Though JC uses a number of strategies, from leadership development to political education, their direct action efforts have garnered a lot of attention with the recent focus on the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the New York Police Department. The Cop Watch program that Liem coordinates teaches citizens how to properly monitor and document police actions they feel are questionable or hostile. The initiative lives at the intersection of social justice and community outreach. According to Liem, “We’re asking people to engage in this practice out of loving their community and wanting to help make their community safer.”

20) “Garden of Earthly Delights” – Julia Kunin, artist

In an art world rife with commercialism in persuit of empty trends, Kunin stands above the fray as one the most consistent and visionary artists of our day. Working in the oft-overlooked medium of ceramics, Kunin creates sensual iridescent objects, eerily biomorphic, abstract yet geological. Using industrial sponges dipped in clay, swathed in multicolored metalic glazes, Kunin’s forms are simultaneously beautiful and grotesque. Kunin manages a steady art practice, which has kept her in the public eye for decades, regularly showing in the U.S. and abroad, as well as receiving grants and winning residencies. This year Kunin exhibited in London and Budapest, as well as several shows in New York. She was featured at Art Basel Miami through Sandra Gehring, where she will have a new solo show in the new year.

21) “One People, One Planet” – Teresa Gutierrez, political activist / organizer

Self-identifying as a Marxist, an activist, and a foot soldier, Teresa Gutierrez devotes most of her time and energy to immigrant rights as the National Coordinator of International Action Center for Latin American and Immigration Projects. In 2004, she ran as a third-party candidate for Vice President of the United States on the Workers World Party (WWP) ticket. Gutierrez has long-opposed the economic embargo against Cuba, denouncing American imperialism and capitalism whenever the opportunity arises, calling it “predatory, bloodsucking, murderous imperialism” and suggesting that an armed uprising may well be necessary to defeat the system altogether. She has said, “History shows that an upsurge of oppressed people can impact every other struggle.” The degradation of migrant workers and the militarization of the U.S. border with Mexico are other areas of concern and action for Gutierrez. From coordinating the New York May 1st Coalition, to condemning Arizona SB 1070 and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Gutierrez works tirelessly and passionately on the wide and deep cause that is immigrant rights.

22) “Doin’ the Right Thing” – Lourdes Ashley Hunter, activist / organizer

For the past 20 years, Lourdes Ashley Hunter has pushed for legislative reform that would secure equality for marginalized people. Working with underserved, culturally diverse communities battling complex issues, Hunter understands the socio-economic impacts that under- and misrepresentation brings. As a “black, trans revolutionary,” Hunter works within her own transgender and queer communities as well, dismantling systems and policies of oppression at the local, state, and federal levels. With the Trans Women of Color Collective, Hunter focuses on empowering and healing through increasing the visibility of trans people of color and by acknowledging that race, class, and gender impact the lived experiences of that community and their allies. TWOCC was founded because, as Hunter says, “We simply had enough of our people dying in the streets.” Some of Hunter’s grassroots initiatives have directly impacted reform within government agencies, including the New York City Department of Homeless Services, New York City Human Resources Administration, New York City Police Department, and Woodhull Hospital.

23) “Sense and Sensibility”– Alyse Knorr, poet / editor / volunteer

In the unsung heroes category, we present author, editor, and teacher Alyse Knorr. A profoundly gifted writer, Knorr’s new book of poetry, “Copper Mother,” recently won the 2014 Queer Voices Contest at Switchback Books, and will be published by that press, forthcoming in 2015. Knorr has previously published a chapbook and a novel, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Drunken Boat, ZYZZYVA, Caketrain, and The Southern Poetry Anthology (Texas Review Press, 2012), among others. A professor of English at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Knorr divides her time between writing, teaching, running feminist press Grazing Grain (which she co-founded), and volunteering as an editor for Everyone Is Gay and The Parents Project.

24) “Steel Magnolia” – Anne Balay, academic / scholar

Not many people finish their PhD programs and shortly thereafter decide to become car mechanics, but that’s what Anne Balay did in 1996. Eventually, she began teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Indiana University Northwest, but her interest in blue collar class issues has continued to inform her work. In 2014, Balay won the Sara A. Whaley Prize from the National Women’s Studies Association for her book, “Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers.” The book chronicles the struggle of members of the LGBT community in Northwestern Illinois, who rather than migrate to urban centers, where it’s easier to be queer, have rooted themselves in or near their hometowns, redefining what it means today to be queer and illuminating the dangerous realities of being queer and working class in the Midwest.

25) “Boogie Nights” – Vanessa Craig (aka Vanessa Sew Gay), nightlife impresario / fashionista

Craig has been around the Los Angeles queer women’s scene hosting so many parties over the years that one could easily lose count. However, far from a “Party Monster,” Craig manages to flip the bad rap most promoters get, defining herself as one of the city’s cultural community organizers. Her events have a decidedly aesthetic flair, with ample amounts of hospitality (a word you would not normally use to describe an otherwise cliquish club scene). Night clubs and bars have historically been the safe space where queers could find community, and it is in this tradition at we give a shout out to those who continue to create fertile and welcoming nightlife spaces. There days, Vanessa can also be found among the ranks of the burgeoning queer fashion scene as promotions director and stylist for the Sharpe Suiting, a queer butch fashion house based in LA.