Story at a glance

  • Each year, Out magazine recognizes 100 of the most influential members of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • This year, Janelle Monae is the first of four cover stars to be unveiled.
  • The full list will be revealed on Nov. 19, but the magazine has already revealed a number of featured names.

Another universe ago, in the Before Times, Janelle Monae made headlines when she tweeted the hashtag “I Am Nonbinary.”

The singer and songwriter later clarified that the tweet was intended in support of the nonbinary community and she was still exploring her gender identity. The self-identified “Black queer artist” has long faced speculation over her sexuality and pressure to choose a label. 

“I knew because of my art, I would have to talk about these things,” she told Out for a cover story. “So that put more pressure on me. The most important thing was me having conversations with my family. It was important that my family be reintroduced, not to the little girl they grew up knowing that they called ‘pumpkin’ or they knew was into this or into that, but they knew who I was today — that they knew that I was a free-ass motherf***er.”

And those are Monae’s pronouns, according to the artist’s Twitter bio, which reads: "they/she/them/her/freeassmuthaf***a." And despite the name above her on the cover of the magazine, she’s perfectly content to stay right there. 


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“[Something] I identify with more than ever is the concept of coming in — and people coming into your life — and not coming out. I think there’s so much pressure put on people that can’t afford to announce to the world that, ‘I am queer’ or ‘I’m gay,’” Monáe told Out. She added that she hopes people can “talk about their sexuality and being queer, being gay, or being who they are, they can talk about it, not out of fear, but out of love and celebration for who they are. If people look at me as that beacon of hope, that’s great, but I always tell people don’t feel any pressure to be me. Take your time.”

Still, Monáe declared herself "a black queer artist" onstage in her signature tuxedo while hosting the Oscars in February, noting in the opening monologue, "the Oscars is so white."

“[There are] so many people who have graced stages, who are out protesting and who are fighting to have their voices heard. I just happened to have a mic,” Monáe told Out. “To get on that stage and do anything other than that, would not have felt right to my spirit.”

For her part, the Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, producer and actor made a statement with “Turntables,” a protest song featured in the Amazon Original movie “All In: The Fight for Democracy.”

“We are in the middle of watching tables turn, boomerangs booming back, and the rooster coming home to roost,” she told Out. “White supremacy and racism, and those who abuse their power, we’re seeing the people tearing it down...to see something new. ‘Turntables’ is just adding energy to the movement. There’s a lot of fatigue emotionally around protesting, around going online and asking people to vote, or asking people to sign a petition. There’s fatigue that happens, but we’re not giving up.”


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She’s battling that fatigue with hope and a passion for storytelling, she told Out.  

“My hope is that we can continue to showcase the spectrum of storytelling around Black voices and around Black human beings, stories that humanize us. We can go beyond trauma, showing how powerful we are as Black people to persevere through trauma. I’m ready to see us in the past, the present, the future truly experiencing joy on screen and what it means to just exist,” she told Out. 

Monae is one of four cover stars, including Joe Mantello and two others who are yet to be revealed, chosen for this year’s edition of the magazine’s most well-known tradition. The full list will be revealed on Nov. 19.

Out is one of several magazines owned by Pride Media, which has been in the spotlight for its own reasons this year, including a nonpayment grievance in 2019 and donations by Adam Levine, owner of parent company Oreva Capital, to Republican politicians who have taken anti-LGBTQ+ stances.

"Community building has been the bedrock of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, and part of that is understanding the fact that we are not and have never been monolithic," said David Artavia, editor-in-chief of the magazine in a letter from the editors. "All of us have a story and role to play in this fight. All of our experiences and lived realities are different, special, and integral in building a better world — together. The Out100 list is a representation of this journey. For 26 years, it has stood the test of time and continues to empower the next generation of LGBTQ+ thought leaders, artists, and professionals to create a more inclusive future for all of us."


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Published on Nov 17, 2020