Out100 2022: 24 LGBTQ+ Titans of Media and Entertainment – Out Magazine
Your favorite show, a viral video, a news headline targeting bigotry: make no mistake, there are influential LGBTQ+ folks working in front of the camera and behind the scenes to make these achievements possible.
Journalists, influencers, activists, producers, and power players in the spheres of media and entertainment not only keep us clicking; they move hearts and minds toward equality. See the impactful Out100 figures who make the world a little more rainbow below.
Amy Schneider became one of the most famous transgender people in the U.S. with her 40-game winning streak on Jeopardy! That was the second-longest winning streak in the show’s history, and Schneider is in fourth place for all-time regular season cash winnings with $1.382 million. She became the first woman to pass the million-dollar mark and went farther than any other out trans contestant on the venerable quiz show, qualifying for the Tournament of Champions (which had not yet aired when the Out100 went to press).
The year also saw Schneider, who is bisexual, announce her engagement to Genevieve Davis and quit her job as a software engineer. As to what comes next, Schneider says, “I’m still trying to figure that out! I’m writing a book, but I’ve also been going around and speaking at different events. Mainly, at the moment, I’m trying to figure out what the best use of my unexpected platform would be.”
For her proudest accomplishment of 2022, she notes, “I got a couple pieces published on Defector. I’ve loved the writers on that website for years, and to know that they considered my work worthy of appearing on their site is so encouraging.”
Fame also brought some challenges. “My partner and I had been dating for less than a year when Jeopardy! happened and turned our life upside down,” Schneider says. “I suddenly had so many different things going on; we were traveling a ton, getting recognized in public. It was definitely a trial by fire for our relationship. But we were very intentional about making sure that we gave our relationship the attention that it needed, that we kept communicating, and that we made the adjustments that we needed to. Her emotional intelligence and honesty is what drew me to her in the first place, and it’s why I never doubted that our relationship would survive this change.”
“I don’t think that people have purposes in life, because that implies that if you don’t achieve that purpose, you’ve somehow ‘failed,’” says Schneider. “I think we have many different purposes throughout our lives, and all we can do is pursue whichever seems the most valuable at the time.”
One thing we should do if she could change anything about the world, she says, is “remove all the carbon we’ve pumped into the atmosphere.”
As for what’s next, she says, “I’m excited to find out!” @jeopardamy
Over the last several years, 41-year-old playwright, composer, and lyricist Michael R. Jackson has been in a not-so-strange loop of success. In 2019, his musical A Strange Loop, which revolves around a Black gay man writing a musical about a Black gay man writing a musical, premiered off-Broadway. The show subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, making it the first musical written by a Black person to win and the first musical to win without a Broadway run.
In 2022, A Strange Loop premiered on Broadway, and its success didn’t stop there. Earlier this year, the musical earned 11 Tony nominations — the most nominations of any 2022 production. The show ultimately won the Tony Award for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.
Working in the industry hasn’t always been easy for Jackson, who has been developing A Strange Loop since 2002. At the time, Jackson had recently graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and written a monologue about his post-grad confusion called Why I Can’t Get Work, which later turned into A Strange Loop.
Years later, Jackson has made peace with some of the hurdles he has encountered along the way. “The largest obstacle I have faced is myself — my propensity for self-doubt and self-loathing has historically been a fearsome adversary and not easy to overcome,” says Jackson. “It was years of writing A Strange Loop and going to therapy to get more into my body that helped me overcome those demons.”
With that self-work, Jackson has found clarity about his goals. “I believe my purpose in life is to tell stories on stage and screen with clarity and eloquence,” he says. “I once heard this described by Kate Bornstein as the telling of truth to ease suffering.”
When it comes to advertising, David Lawenda has climbed the summit. As Paramount’s executive vice president of Digital Sales and Strategy, Lawenda helms a team of over 500 diverse employees who drive revenue to Paramount’s significant streaming empire, which includes Paramount+ and Pluto TV.
Every climb has its challenges, of course. This year, he and his department had to face “some serious headwinds” like inflation and supply chain issues in helping clients grow their business. But through listening to each’s unique challenges and “leveraging a consultative approach,” Lawenda is proud to declare “we’re outpacing the marketplace in revenue growth right now.”
But sales isn’t the only priority for Lawenda, a gay Jewish man who knows the importance of inclusion. To this end, he helped form a Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Task Force that helps educate and empower Paramount employees of all backgrounds.
“We want Paramount to be not only a place where everyone can grow their career, but where team members can also enjoy coming to work as their true and authentic selves,” says Lawenda, who credits the task force with helping the company’s employee engagement index reach an all-time high.
“I delight in lifting others up — whether that’s friends, family or colleagues — and I am an advocate and champion for so many around me,” adds the Georgetown graduate, who previously worked at Facebook and Univision. “That means paving new ground, creating opportunity, and shining a spotlight on my team at work. It also means creating unforgettable experiences and memories for my friends and family outside of work. I am an active, generous, patient and kind listener to all in my life and I am present as a caring and supportive husband, son, brother, uncle, friend, colleague, and leader.” @davidlawenda
Together, Michael Rogers and John Byrne run Raw Story, the largest independent LGBTQ-owned news site in America that focuses “on investigative journalism and progressive politics…known for its groundbreaking coverage of social justice and domestic extremism.”
Byrne founded Raw Story Media in 2004, serving as Raw Story’s primary writer, editor, and publisher until 2010 and now acts as CEO. He is also the founder and executive director of Prevention305, a Florida nonprofit that raises awareness around the HIV-prevention treatment PrEP. He’s also the owner of AlterNet Media.
Michael Rogers first joined the Raw Story staff in 2005 and by 2009, had become a partner and vice chairman of the company alongside Byrne. Rogers holds the same roles at AlterNet, which publishes content on Alternet.org and TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com. He is also co-host of The Raw Story Podcast with Mike Rogers & Shannyn Moore and founded Netroots Connect in 2008, a nonprofit that works to bring community leaders together to create change.
Before his work with Byrne, Rogers was known for his controversial blog that focused on exposing the hypocrisy of antigay politicians who were themselves closeted LGBTQ+ individuals — and his boldness has not dwindled over the years. The media partners say that “producing quality news is harder than ever as advertisers avoid ‘controversial’ topics.’ This means reporting on gun violence, police brutality, and abortion access…. [Our readers’] loyalty has allowed us to continue our fearless reporting.”
One of their proudest accomplishments of 2022 has been “expanding our original team with a focus on racial justice and Capitol Hill. Our reporting has already uncovered hidden video from a racially motivated killing and has held 50 GOP Senators accountable in their reaction to the January 6 insurrection.” As for the future, the two say they’re “tremendously excited about our original journalism and bringing light to issues like choice, LGBTQ rights, and racial equity.” @rawstorymedia
Every major journalist focused on queer issues knows Rich Ferraro. As chief communications officer of GLAAD, the nation’s foremost LGBTQ+ media watchdog, Ferraro is the go-to source advocating for voices within the community, whether it’s breaking news or Hollywood productions. The breadth of this work is, well, breath-taking; it ranges from censoring hate speech on social media during the Super Bowl to representing LGBTQ+ voices at the Davos Summit. Love a queer storyline on TV? Chances are, GLAAD (and Ferraro) played a hand.
This work isn’t easy, and it’s a job that Ferraro has doing for 15 years. “Representation matters, but it is often an uphill battle to ensure LGBTQ people and issues are included, especially in ways that accurately depict the diversity of our community,” he says. “I’m driven by this challenge. I do not accept ‘no’ when it comes to inclusion.”
During a challenging year for LGBTQ+ people, including the proliferation of “don’t say gay” bills and legislation targeting transgender youth, Ferraro and his team work to counter hateful attacks. He is proud to have brought the 33rd GLAAD Media Awards back to in-person festivities, which aired on Hulu, streaming the message of acceptance to living rooms nationwide. He is also proud of an ad GLAAD spearheaded showcasing the Briggle family, who are raising a trans teen boy in Texas, as a powerful rebuttal to anti-trans political vitriol.
“My role in bringing LGBTQ stories to audiences of all kinds and in locations around the world is something I am grateful for and have tremendous pride in. It’s been a calling more than a career,” he says. “GLAAD gives me a powerful platform to do this work, but I believe each of us can play a role in LGBTQ acceptance by telling our own stories and using any platforms we can access to champion each other’s stories. I want to give people the tools and best practices to forward storytelling for good.” @richferraro
Pamela Stewart means business. As president of West Operations for the North America Operating Unit at the Coca-Cola Company, she is responsible for over 80 million consumers. But it’s her charitable work that truly pops. She has served on LGBTQ+ advisory boards with Out Leadership, former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and GLAAD, where she is the chair of the nonprofit’s board of directors.
As chair, Stewart works closely with GLAAD’s leadership to accelerate LGBTQ+ acceptance in the media and culture, be it through headlines, corporate policies, or positive representation in Hollywood. She knows the power of storytelling, and she collaborates with GLAAD to make sure LGBTQ+ narratives are accurate and to hold the powers-that-be accountable.
To this end, Stewart is proud this year to have made Fast Company’s Queer 50 list, raising visibility for lesbian and queer women of color in the process. She also lists GLAAD initiatives she worked on tied to raising LGBTQ+ inclusion and safety in sports, video games, and corporate C-suites as among her other recent major accomplishments.
What is Stewart’s purpose in life? “I am here to create safe environments where people feel more comfortable in their own skin and to stretch people beyond their own perceived potential,” she declares.
“If I could wave a magic wand, the change I would want to see in the world more than anything else is for people truly to practice love, acceptance, kindness, and understanding toward all beings so that we each can see and recognize how more alike we are in our needs than different,” she adds. “More pointedly, laws, legislations, and everyday cultural practices would foster these ideals to enable safety, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness.” @pammiestewart
LGBTQ+ Latinx representation is still lacking in mainstream media. Thankfully, there’s The Q Agenda, a talk show that centers the voices and issues vital to this community. These conversations are guided by its four diverse and discerning hosts: transgender activist and actress Juliana Joel, lesbian comedian Lianna Carrera, gay celebrity makeup artist and entrepreneur Victor Ramos, and gay multihyphenate media personality Enrique Sapene.
“If The View and The Real had an LGBTQ Latinx baby, it would be The Q Agenda,” the group explains. “With topics on everything from politics to religion to sexuality, our goal is to provide a platform for members of the LGBTQ community to speak their minds and be heard, which is not always easy in conservative, traditional, machismo Latin culture. We believe that by sharing our stories, we can break down barriers and make our community stronger.”
It’s been a banner year for The Q Agenda. The LATV show (available to stream on LATV.com, Amazon Prime, and Revry TV) celebrated its eighth season, cohosted the Outfest LGBTQ+ Film Festival where the hosts interviewed luminaries like Billy Porter, and worked with the Tourist Office of Spain to promote LGBTQ+ travel in Barcelona. The hosts’ stars are also growing: Joel made TV history as the first out trans character and actor on the Disney Channel with Raven’s Home and has upcoming appearances on Showtime’s American Gigolo and Netflix’s Absolute Dominion; Carrera is a full-time writer and creator for Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s multimedia company Westbrook, Inc.; Ramos is blowing up as a social media content creator and TV host; and Sapene is the executive producer of Canela TV’s hot new reality series Secretos de Villanas.
And of course, coming up, there’s season 9 of The Q Agenda, which will continue the show’s vital role of advocacy and visibility. “If we could wave a magic wand, we would want to change how the Latinx community is represented in the media,” the hosts say. “We are underrepresented and often misrepresented, and it’s time for that to change.” @theqagenda @thejulianajoel @liannac @vicmram @enriquesapene
If you’ve ever wondered why gay men can’t sit in chairs properly or why they like iced coffee, comedian Rob Anderson has the answer for you in his popular video series, “Gay Science.” Launched during 2020, this hilarious collection explains gay stereotypes with fake science, often flipping the end result into something positive.
“The videos I make shows how stupid stereotypes can be and riffs on superior queer decision-making skills,” says Anderson. “My content lets gay people laugh at themselves in a way that still makes them feel good about who they are and the special community they belong to.”
Anderson also has a YouTube series called “Everything is Gay,” where he takes popular characters from fictional works and explains why they are gay. So far, he has dissected several characters from the Harry Potter universe, figures from the Bible, and Disney princes and princesses including Jasmine, Ariel, Cinderella, and Belle.
“I’ve known since I was a kid that I’m on this earth to entertain,” says Anderson. “But the kind of entertainment you’re left thinking about for a while and remember often.”
Earlier this year, Anderson embarked on his very own Heartthrob Live comedy tour, which includes original music, presentations, and personal stories Anderson has kept far away from the internet. Anderson also jokes that “the show comes highly recommended for anyone who’s had, witnessed, or smelled gay sex — or is doing serious research on the subject.”
Since he became popular on social media, Anderson has used his platform to raise money for nonprofit organizations. His proudest accomplishment this year was producing a submissive comedy pop song called “Nothing for You.” One hundred percent of the song’s proceeds went to For the Gworls, an organization that throws parties to raise money for Black trans people who need help with rent and gender-affirming surgeries. @heartthrobanderson
Alex Perez is an award-winning journalist and national correspondent for ABC News. The out gay Black Latino of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent describes himself as both the proud son of a single immigrant mother as well as a proud husband. And while he appreciates the visibility for the LGBTQ+ community that comes with his job, he centers the importance of honest journalism first.
“Fundamentally, I am a storyteller. I consider myself — and hope to be — the bridge between those I interview, the topics I cover, and the audience who places their trust in me,” Perez says. “Ethical, fact-based journalism remains important. I believe in the power of every word.”
The cisgender Perez has received accolades for his work, including the Marshall Memorial Fellowship. Prior to joining ABC, Perez worked at NBC in Chicago where he covered then-candidate Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. Perez has also garnered a following on social media, where his often-shirtless photos with husband, Kevin, have become popular on Instagram.
Despite his work covering major stories on national television, Perez these days is most proud of how he responded to the pandemic and resulting global economic shutdown. “I’ve somehow been able to find what feels like balance in my life. It’s not something we Americans are good at doing,” Perez says.
Part of this balance involved learning how to trust himself. “I’ve learned to respect, recognize, and rewire my inner voice. Most importantly, I’ve learned to laugh, love, and live in a way that respects who I fundamentally am as a person. [That] may not sound like much to some, but I know the fifth grader me — overweight, constantly bullied, and terrified someone would discover he’s gay — never imagined he’d get to this place in life.” @perezreports
Dexter Mayfield is a true multihyphenate. He is “thriving” as a dancer, body-positive influencer, model, content creator, and host of CBS’s Come Dance With Me — roles that spark “so much joy and a divine purpose,” the 37-year-old attests.
Mayfield inspires much joy in his fans as well. For Out’s 30th anniversary, he recreated a vintage Swimsuit issue of the LGBTQ+ magazine, just one example of how he has redefined sexiness and possibilities for queer men of size.
“I would describe the work that I do as a joyful act of resistance through existence,” he explains. “To live at the intersections of being Black, fat, femme, and queer can definitely get extremely overwhelming at times.” And it’s the work he does and the representation he brings to the landscape that gives him meaning: “I believe my purpose in life is to lead with love, spread joy, and make sure everyone has a seat at the table.”
Mayfield cites hosting Come Dance With Me as a major accomplishment this year — particularly after twice being rejected at auditions for So You Think You Can Dance. Now, he can help pass his lessons and light on to others. “To not only get the opportunity to share all that I’ve learned throughout my dance career with young up-and-coming talent, but to also be able to help their parents unleash their inner dancer as well was a beautiful blessing that I will absolutely cherish forever,” he says.
Mayfield was raised in the United Methodist Church, and he continues to live by its creed: “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.” He works to “demolish the divisive and destructive hate-filled delusion that fuels racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and any other ‘ism’ that continues to plague our society systematically in all its forms.” @dexrated
TonyTalks, aka Antonio Baldwin, is here to sprinkle some fairy dust on your day. As his over 1.2 million YouTube subscribers can attest, Baldwin has an innate ability to spark mirth with a wig (or several), a few deft edits, and some astute societal observations. Riffing on everything from exhausted mothers to cynical customer service workers to dim party girls — in videos where he plays all the parts — Baldwin walks the fine line of poking fun with aplomb, pointing out the ridiculous without getting hateful. His mom, sister, and aunt serve as inspiration for many of the complicated, hilarious women he portrays.
“The content I create is an escape from reality,” says the Atlanta-based gay creator. “I make videos about everyday problems that we all go through but with an exaggerated twist [that] brings light and laughter to any situation.”
Struggling with depression, anxiety, and insecurity when he was younger, Baldwin found refuge in ’90s sitcoms and sketch comedy. After realizing he had a knack for making people laugh, like his idols on the sketch comedy series Mad TV, Baldwin found his creative outlet with YouTube. He still struggles with silencing his own harsh inner critic.
“Although I’m still overcoming it, I’ve learned to treat myself like a best friend,” he says. “Life taught me that. When life gets lonely, you must have the ability to connect with yourself in such a loving way.”
Humble and unpretentious, Baldwin resists the inflated self-promotion common with internet personalities. “My biggest accomplishment will forever be taking my family to Disney World,” he says. “It’s always been a dream of mine to provide new experiences for the ones I love and to be able to fully fund a trip to the most magical place on earth is an accomplishment I will never forget.” @iamtonytalks
David Barta made reality TV waves this year when the health and fitness instructor came out as pansexual during the fifth season of MTV’s Ex on the Beach. “A big thing that has been going on for me, behind closed doors, in the past year and a half or so, has been my sexuality,” he told castmates during his coming-out episode. “Talking to guys is still pretty new for me. I’ve been interested in men for years now, I just haven’t been honest with myself.”
Not only did Barta come out, but he also confessed to having a crush on his bisexual castmate Mike Mulderrig. It was a moment — not just for his legions of (thirsty) fans but for Barta himself, who has been on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth ever since. It’s one that Barta says has been good for his body, soul, and business.
Barta’s business as a health and fitness coach in the Beverly Hills and Los Angeles areas has taken off this year and he’s in the best shape of his life, he says. Even more importantly, he’s gotten real about every aspect of his life, even when it meant making hard and painful choices. “I was in a serious relationship for the last year, choosing to end that relationship and moving on was the greatest obstacle in my way of achieving those things, as hard as it was to walk away,” he explains.
Now Barta is intent on letting nothing stand in his way, and he sees a bright future now that he’s out and proud. “[I’m] continuing to grow and come into my own self and continue to grow my training business here in L.A.,” he says.
“I believe that my purpose in life is to contribute to other people’s lives: physical training-wise and emotionally,” he shares. If that weren’t enough, well, heavy lifting, he also wants to help make the world a better place with his openness. “If I could wave a magic wand, I would erase the presumptions and stigmas about bisexuality,” Barta says. That’s a reality we all can embrace. @davidbartatraining
Ever since A.J. Mayers was a kid growing up in Laredo, Texas, he dreamed of writing stories. In 2009, he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in radio, television, and film and then moved to Hollywood, where he worked in the entertainment industry at MTV, Paramount Pictures, and Universal Pictures.
Currently, Mayers is a senior AV producer in the Originals marketing department for Amazon Prime Video, where he produces audiovisual content, like trailers, to attract audiences to Amazon Originals. He’s also on the board of the Los Angeles chapter of Amazon’s LGBTQ+ affinity group, Glamazon.
Life for Mayers in the entertainment industry has not always been easy. Seven years ago, he was battling alcoholism and ended up in the hospital, which he says saved his life and caused him to get sober.
“This new clarity gave me a new lease on life and helped me to hyperfocus on my career and goals as well as advocate and help others battling mental health issues and addiction,” says Mayers. “In the queer community, so much of our social lives revolve around drinking, so navigating this space sober came with its own social challenges, but it taught me to be confident and comfortable in my own skin in a way I never could have imagined.”
Aside from working in Hollywood, Mayers is a published fiction author and serves on the board of directors for the antibullying nonprofit Boo2Bullying.
“My purpose in life is to use my voice and life experiences to help others, specifically in the queer community, because growing up I did not have access to the many resources this new generation now has,” says Mayers. “Oh, and I want to continue to just be a nice person. Kindness goes a long way.” @ajmayers
Don Mancini has perfected the art of the horror-comedy. The gay writer of every Child’s Play movie has now moved his beloved killer doll to TV with Chucky, which airs on Syfy and the USA Network, and things couldn’t be better. The series that follows Chucky (played by his original voice actor, Brad Dourif) as he terrorizes a young gay teen isn’t just a great horror show or a great comedy — it’s also truly a great queer show.
“I’m very proud that the queer characters and relationships from season 1 of Chucky have been embraced by our community,” he says, “and by young people in particular.”
And embrace them we have. Not only do fans love the gay teen romance between Jake Wheeler, who initially finds the Chucky doll, and Devon, his classmate-turned-boyfriend, but they’re going nuts over the queerness of Tiffany, Chucky’s lover (also played by her original voice actor, Jennifer Tilly). In the franchise’s lore, murderer Charles Lee Ray’s soul was transferred into a Chucky doll — but in this series, he sometimes possesses the body of Nica Pierce (played by Fiona Dourif, daughter of Chucky’s voice actor), a female human — and Tiffany does not have a problem with that at all.
Mancini says his life’s purpose is “to tell stories.” But he’s doing so much more than that. He’s shining a light on marginalized people who have historically been confined to allegory and allusion. He’s highlighting queer kids and showing the world how great they are. He’s making one of the funniest, most delightful, and most frightening shows on TV. And he’s doing it all with a red-haired child’s toy. @realdonmancini
A true film industry multi-hyphenate, writer, director, producer, and actor, Elegance Bratton is using his platform to tell stories that matter.
Partnering with Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson for her Disney+ anthology docuseries Growing Up, which presents coming-of-age stories of 10 different youths from diverse backgrounds, Bratton directed an episode of the show focusing on a young gay musician named Amiri and his struggles with racism and rejection in his community. Britton used Amiri’s episode of Growing Up to highlight what it’s like being brought up in the world as a Black gay teen, an important perspective that still does not get the spotlight it needs in the media.
“The biggest obstacle I faced was believing that my sexuality made me an abomination,” Bratton shares of his own challenges. “I’ve overcome it through true love, community, and my work as an artist.”
But Growing Up was not Bratton’s only accomplishment this past year. Making his directorial debut with art house film company A24 at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, Bratton wrote and directed The Inspection, another Black gay coming-of-age story that centers on a young man named Ellis (played by out Pose and Hollywood star Jeremy Pope) who faces homophobia both at home and at a South Carolina Marine Corps boot camp. The film, which also features an ensemble cast that includes Looking alum Raúl Castillo and screen legend Gabrielle Union, was inspired partly by Bratton’s real-life experiences and, as he puts it himself, is his greatest professional accomplishment so far.
“My purpose in life is to remind people that they are enough,” he says. “That you are more than the circumstance you may find yourself in, and that you can change the world.” @elegancebratton
TLC has really stepped up when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation — and viewers have Howard Lee, president of TLC Streaming at Network Originals, to thank. In 2020, TLC made history when the 90 Day Fiancé franchise featured its first same-sex couple: Erika Owens and Stephanie Matto. Later that year, 90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way also featured the franchise’s first gay male couple: Kenneth Niedermeier and Armando Rubio.
“I believe it is crucial to push forward diverse storytelling. At TLC, we have proudly and successfully featured unique stories of all kinds for years,” says Lee. “90 Day Fiancé has given us the unique opportunity to show millions of people globally all the different forms love can take, and it’s so important that LGBTQ+ couples are included in that mix.”
But Lee and TLC have not stopped there. Earlier this year, the company’s streaming service Discovery+ debuted The Book of Queer, a television series that celebrates history’s forgotten LGBTQ+ heroes. Each episode is dedicated to an LGBTQ+ historical icon and features an original song and music video created and performed by queer artists, including Betty Who and Vincint.
“At TLC, we’re always striving for visibility, and The Book of Queer was one of our big efforts towards providing that representation to a traditionally marginalized group and to celebrate our minority communities,” shares Lee.
Lee has been with TLC since 2008, and before that, he was vice president of Development and Production at Planet Green and vice president of Development for the Travel Channel. Under his leadership, TLC has broken multiple performance records and has consistently been ranked the number-one primetime ad-supported cable network in key demos for women. Lee also leads the network’s initiatives on diversity, acceptance, and inclusion, which includes TLC’s annual Give a Little Awards and a campaign dedicated to anti-bullying.
Out producer JoAnn Alfano has had an impactful career in Hollywood that has contributed positively to the quality of LGBTQ+ representation on television. Currently, Alfano is the executive vice president of Scripted Current Series and the Head of International Business Development at Universal Studio Group, an organization she has been with since 2013. Before that, Alfano was president of Brillstein Television, where she developed and executive produced ABC’s Resurrection. Earlier in her career, she was also the president of her own production company called Tray Entertainment, which had a first-look deal at NBC Universal Media Studios.
In her current role and over the course of her career, Alfano has worked on many LGBTQ+ shows, including Tales of the City and Will & Grace. Alfano also worked as an executive producer on 30 Rock and Project Runway, which garnered her an Emmy win for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2007 and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Reality Competition Program in 2011.
“My job allows me to have a producing hand on many of our shows, and I really enjoy the broad range of series I get to oversee,” she says. “Throughout the years, I’ve helped develop seminal LGBTQ+ series, such as Tales of the City for Netflix and both incarnations of Will & Grace for NBC. I never forget how lucky I am to have a role in creating great television that resonates with the queer community.”
More recently, Alfano worked on the new Queer As Folk series with Stephen Dunn and Jaclyn Moore, which she describes as a “terrific experience.”
“As a fan of the original Russell T Davies series and the Showtime remake, being a part of this new iteration — and bringing another positive example of LGBTQ+ television to audiences — has been an honor,” says Alfano.
Hulu has always been at the forefront of LGBTQ-inclusive content, and this year has been no exception. From television series like How I Met Your Father and Only Murders in the Building to films like Sex Appeal, Crush, and Fire Island, Hulu has made it its mission to represent the LGBTQ+ community.
Decisions like these always come from the top, and this year viewers have Hulu’s CEO and president, Joe Earley, to thank. Earley started with Hulu in January after more than 25 years in the industry. Most recently, he was the executive vice president for Content Creation & Marketing at Disney+. He also spent three years as president of the Jackal Group, a production company that developed programming for Fox Networks Group, and 20 years with Fox Broadcasting Company.
As Hulu’s president, Earley sees his job as both “finding the path for Hulu’s maximum success and creating an environment where people can do their best work and thrive.”
Thus far, he seems to have achieved that. “It’s been a year full of many small accomplishments, thankfully, which have had the cumulative effect of re-establishing and improving relationships among many teams, and across different companies,” says Earley. “We all know to succeed in this business, it takes a village — and now ours is bigger, stronger, and happier. That feels good and bodes well for a brighter future.” @2earley
Some of the world’s biggest gay stars are represented by Joe Machota. Ricky Martin, Ryan Murphy, Billy Porter, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jim Parsons are all in the hands of the power agent, who heads the Theatre department at Creative Artists Agency, the influential entertainment agency known more broadly as CAA. His other A-list clients include Scarlett Johansson, Eddie Redmayne, and Aaron Sorkin.
Machota, a Boston Conservatory graduate, began his career as an actor. He’s now one of the biggest behind-the-scenes names on Broadway and beyond, so much so that he was name-dropped on Smash, NBC’s long-gone-but-beloved musical drama about the Great White Way. (“Get me Joe Machota at CAA!” demanded Anjelica Houston, who played a producer.)
Why call Machota? “My job is two-fold. I am fortunate enough to be in a position to support and foster new talent and mentor the next generation of agents and executives, in turn, supporting and giving a platform to new artists and voices. As an agent, I am lucky to help my clients realize their visions and celebrate their unique gifts and stories,” he says.
This year, Machota is proud of the accomplishments of his clients; he cites Porter’s trans teen romcom Anything’s Possible, Harris’s Netflix show Uncoupled, and Parsons’s upcoming dramatic film, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, as among the highlights. In addition to helping foster LGBTQ+ representation, he fights for acceptance in the workplace. When he began at CAA in 2006, he was the New York office’s first out hire, and he resolved to always be out in professional settings. He helped found the agency’s LGBTQ+ Alliance, and he cites to out CAA cochairmen Kevin Huvane and Bryan Lourd as key role models. “If I can follow in their enormous footsteps in helping to pave the way for others…it would be an honor.” @joemachota
In Hollywood, Rod Aissa has always made it his mission to uplift queer stories. “Early on, the biggest obstacle I faced was finding my voice in this industry,” shares Aissa. “There were many times I would be the only out queer person in meetings, and it has always been important to me to advocate for queer creators and storytellers.”
Aissa is certainly doing that work now as the executive vice president of Entertainment Unscripted Content for NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. In this role, Aissa oversees all unscripted lifestyle and documentary programming across NBCUniversal’s entertainment portfolio, including NBC, Bravo, E!, Oxygen True Crime, and Peacock.
When asked to describe his work, he simply says: “I empower talented storytellers to share their voice and have their stories told.”
This year Aissa has been involved in many projects, but what he’s most proud of is the LGBTQ+ storytelling he played a part in. He worked on Catching a Serial Killer: Bruce McArthur, which tells the story of a Toronto killer who preyed on gay men. He also worked on the Real Housewives of Miami, which recently featured its first out central cast members across the Real Housewives franchise: Julia Lemigova and Martina Navratilova.
Throughout his career, Aissa has also worked as a producer on a number of reality television shows, including Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, The Ashlee Simpson Show, The Osbournes, and Meet the Barkers. His work on The Osbournes earned him an Emmy win in 2002 for Outstanding Nonfiction Program and an Emmy nomination in 2003 in the same category.
Even though there are more queer people in the industry than when he started, Aissa says “there’s still more work to be done. But it’s great to see the progress the industry has made since I started my career.” @jrodaissa
When Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham set out to create a series about the women who played baseball in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II, they saw an opportunity to expand on the stories Penny Marshall began telling in her 1992 film. With their eight-episode first season of A League of Their Own on Prime Video, the out creators gave space to queer women and Latinas who played in the league but were forced to hide, as well as the Black women who weren’t allowed to play but who eventually batted in the Negro leagues.
Previously best known for being one half of the hilarious, lovable duo in Broad City, Jacobson also stars as catcher Carson in the breakout series that already has viewers making fan art of her onscreen romance with D’Arcy Carden’s Greta. “I’m most proud of putting League out into the world finally. I’m really proud of the show and the stories we are telling,” Jacobson says of her accomplishments in 2022. @abbijacobson
“I make things that are, in one way or another, centered on joy — and I’m queer, so naturally I’m drawn to queer joy, which we don’t get enough of,” says Will Graham, A League of Their Own‘s co-creator who was previously the showrunner and executive producer of Mozart in the Jungle.
“I try to tell historical or contemporary queer stories that we haven’t heard before, in genres that we aren’t usually visible in, and in ways that can have an impact. I believe queer stories are universal,” they say.
For Graham, League is the shining achievement of their year: “Abbi [Jacobson] and I and our whole team put years of research, love, and work into A League of Their Own, and immersing myself in those histories for years was really life-changing.”
“When former AAGPBL player Maybelle Blair came out at 95 at our premiere in June, it put everything into perspective for me — getting to see her live through the telling of her story a second time and this time having queerness included,” Graham adds.
As of press time, Jacobson and Graham are waiting to hear if League will land a second season, but they’re also both moving forward with other inclusive projects. While Jacobson is adapting a short story that she intends to direct, Graham has recently finished shooting Daisy Jones and the Six and they’re directing Uncle Wick, an action comedy with a queer protagonist.
Meanwhile, they are heart-warmed by the response to League and how it’s resonated with so many queer fans. “One person told me that they watched the show with their mom and came out to her midway, which made me lose it,” Graham says. “I’m so proud to be a part of the team telling these joyful queer stories and hopefully connecting our community to a part of its history we don’t hear too much about.” @willwisslergraham
With her innovative multimedia company Free Lion Productions, award-winning filmmaker Fiona Dawson hopes to “build empathy through multimedia projects that educate, entertain, and inspire.”
She describes one of Free Lion’s biggest and most personal projects, Now with Fiona, as a “multimedia machine,” with a show, animated explainers, speaking engagements, books, a podcast, and merch. “All of our work centers on uplifting positive stories of kindness and courage from the LGBTQ+ community.”
Dawson describes herself as “a 45-year-old, cisgender, bisexual, immigrant woman, and a trans ally…. I’m a yogi and I practice meditation. I believe we’re all spiritual beings having a human experience.”
On her proudest accomplishments of the past year, she says, “I’ve rented all my life and never felt a desire to buy property, but a few years back I began yearning for a home that was completely mine. I started looking into campers in 2017 and set it as an intention that one day I’d have one to live in full-time. In March of this year, that dream came true. I bought a brand-new Gulf Stream Vintage Cruiser, which looks like a 1950s diner inside. Her colors are like a Tiffany box, so I’ve named my camper Audrey, after my muse, Audrey Hepburn.”
“I managed to get accepted to live on Pecan Grove RV Park, which was once Matthew McConaughey’s digs,” she adds. “This spot is the coolest, most delightful place to live!”
Dawson’s new book, Are Bisexuals Just Greedy? Animated Answers for All People Who Simply Want to Understand the Spectrum of Being LGBTQ+, releases in November. “Discussions around the cheeky chapters can be heard on my podcast and social media channels,” she says.
“My next larger project is getting…Now with Fiona picked up for distribution,” says Dawson on what’s next for her. “As your host, I journey to reveal answers to rather direct questions about gender and sexuality in an uplifting and ‘edutaining’ way.” @nowwithfiona