In our fast-paced world of the 24-hour news cycle and seemingly endless social media scrolling, it can be all too easy to get overwhelmed by an overload of information. Our list of the top 14 LGBT+ activists, artists and icons to follow on social media will help keep your head clear by keeping your feeds filled only with the smartest, most informed (and opinionated) people in the game — from pop sensation Sam Smith, who recently announced that they now go by they/them pronouns, to the creator of a quirky, queer dating platform, and the first openly gay man to run for President of the United States.
1. Laverne Cox (@lavernecox) – Actress and LGBTQ Rights Activist
No stranger to superlatives, trailblazer Laverne Cox was the first openly transgender person to receive a primetime Emmy nomination, for her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” the first African-American transgender woman to produce and star in her own TV show (Vh1’s “TRANSform Me”) and the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of TIME Magazine. Cox is also known for her uplifting social media presence, which she uses to promote the hashtag #TransIsBeautiful.
2. RuPaul Andre Charles (@rupaulofficial) – Drag Queen, TV Personality, Actor and Singer-Songwriter
The multi-talented RuPaul burst onto our screens in 2009 with the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race — a popular reality show in which drag queens compete for the title of America’s next drag superstar, as well as a cash prize. He’s gone on to win four Primetime Emmy Awards for the show and is considered America’s most commercially successful drag queen. RuPaul uses Instagram to flaunt killer looks both in and out of drag, announce professional news and share snippets of his otherwise very private life.
3. Chella Man (@chellaman) – YouTuber, Actor, Model, Artist and Activist
Prominent Jewish-Chinese YouTuber and actor (he played superhero Jericho in the DC Universe series “Titans”) Chella Man is known for sharing his experiences being transgender, deaf and genderqueer. He’s also given a powerful talk at a TedX Conference called “Becoming Him” and is an outspoken activist for changing the disparity of roles in Hollywood for both disabled and transgender actors. He uses his Instagram as a platform for acknowledging others identifying as trans and/or disabled and sharing sweet, sometimes sexually empowering photos of himself and his girlfriend, photographer and performance artist MaryV Benoit.
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There is no “right” way to be Deaf. Being Deaf is on a continuum. Some know sign language, reads lips or wear cochlear implants. Some do none of these things. All are valid. The choices one makes on their own body should always be exactly that, THEIR OWN CHOICE. Photo by @maryv
4. ALOK Vaid-Menon (@alokvmenon) – Performance Artist, Poet and LGBTQ Rights Activist
A gender non-conforming poet and performance artist, ALOK is known for their bold, eccentric sartorial choices. In 2017 they received a Live Works Performance Act Grant and released a book of poetry called “Femme In Public,” saying the chapbook “is a dream of what it could look like to celebrate transfemininity in public — both in ourselves and for the people who desire us (by which I mean: everyone, across time, always).” This December, they’ll also be featured in HBO’s upcoming original documentary “The Trans List.” On Instagram, ALOK spotlights genderqueer and gender fluid activists as well as plenty of photos of their iconic, quirky style.
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Notes on my ever evolving relationship with gender: My gender cannot be categorized because it is constantly in flux + shifts depending on my context, geography, + disposition. I experience gender as an obstacle to my selfhood — ultimately I would like to be seen as a person outside of the rubric of gender. Having to ascribe categories to my gender feels antithetical to this because these words make my gender fixed + containable. Words always approximate my gender, like grabbing a hand full of water from a running stream – my gender it finds the cracks + spills out. Foremost I am ALOK, complex + multifaceted + so much of that vital nuance gets lost in extrapolating me to categories which require minimizing difference for the sake of coherence. I am less concerned with being known as I am being felt. I use categories because they are currently the only way to address how I experience disproportionate vulnerability + they allow me to build solidarity with others. I use “gender non-conforming” to indicate how I visibly defy Western society’s understanding of what a man or woman should look like. GNC people are systematically policed into gender normativity to maintain the myth that men + women look in uniform ways. I use non-binary to indicate how I am outside of the Western constructed gender binary of man/woman. There are infinite non-binary genders, we are not merely some third option for leftovers. I use “trans” because I was coercively assigned male at birth + made a decision to transition/transcend elsewhere. I use “gender fluid” because my gender shifts across time + space. Presenting what society deems as “masculine,” doesn’t invalidate the legitimacy of my femininity + vice versa. I use “transfeminine” because I most frequently present in a way society labels “feminine” as people continue to read my body as “masculine” + I therefore experience particular violence for the presumed dissonance between my “masculinity” + “femininity.” I use “queer” as a political term to challenge how/why I have to be a static gender or sexuality category to begin with when I am so much more than that. Thanks!! Love + need you!
5. Sharice Davids (@repdavids) – Lawyer, Former Mixed Martial Artist and Politician
Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids made history in multiple ways when she was elected to Congress last year, ousting her Republican opponent David Yoder by a nearly double-digit margin. Not only is Davids the first openly LGBT Kansan elected to Congress, she’s also one of the first two Native American women to hold Congressional office as a member of the Wisconsin Ho-Chunk or Winnebago people. The former White House fellow and pro fighter was raised by a single mother who spent 20 years in the U.S. Army.
6. Sam Smith (@samsmith) – Singer and Songwriter
Vocal powerhouse Sam Smith first broke onto the U.S. Billboard charts in 2014 with their hit single “Stay with Me” and has been a household name ever since, coming out as gay to the public quickly after the album release of “The Lonely Hour” in an interview with Fader. This year has also been big for Smith — they not only released two successful singles, but also had somewhat of a second coming out in March, announcing they are nonbinary and genderqueer and changing their pronouns to they/them in September. Their Instagram is full of photos of Smith and their friends (including ALOK), body positive photos and messaging, and intimate snippets of their personal life.
7. Jerri Ann Henry – Communications Strategist and GOP Consultant
Jerri Ann Henry is an accomplished messaging strategist with a long history in grassroots activism, who once managed the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, a group within the Republican Party that sought to encourage support for marriage equality leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision for marriage equality nationwide. In 2018, Henry was named the first-ever female leader of the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization that works within the Republican Party to advocate equal rights for lesbian and gay Americans. She resigned from that post in August.
I just whined to my wife about all I was juggling. She responded and told me she is handling mysterious poop artwork on the school’s bathroom walls every morning. She wins. #PayTeachersMore
— JerriAnnHenry (@JerriAnnHenry) November 20, 2019
8. Kelly Rakowski (@lex.app – Photo Editor and Advocate
Photo editor-by-day Kelly Rakowski is also somewhat of an internet sensation, first with the creation of a lesbian culture Instagram account called @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, in which she posts photos of lesbian culture from the 1800s to early 2000s. Her next endeavor was Personals — a text-only queer dating platform that’s supposed to provide users with the opposite experience they might have on an application like Tinder, a kind of “slow dating” that allows people to connect based on similar traits instead of looks alone. The Personals Instagram features a plethora of the often quippy, well-spoken personal ads you can find on the dating platform and are very fun to read.
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THANK YOU ALL FOR A VERY WILD & EXCITING 48 HOURS! THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE AS WE NAVIGATE THE THOUSANDS OF LEX USERS WITH A VERY PETITE TEAM. We are so proud of the positive reaction from our community. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We are taking on the giants of dating apps (read: Tinder) and are in need of funding assistance ASAP. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We're in a pinch and could use some extra $ donations as we run over with servers & software costs because of our super successful launch. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Please give $5-$50 to our Venmo or CashApp @FundPersonals if you can.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Lex is also looking for funding support from investors. Please contact us by email interested. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Photo by Christelle de Castro @christelle_studio⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Models/Friends: @syena
9. Pete Buttigieg (@pete.buttigieg) – Politician, Former U.S. Naval Reserve Officer
Pete Buttigieg, or “Mayor Pete” as he’s called by his constituents in South Bend, Indiana, is the first openly gay man to run for the office of president of the United States. Prior to his current run and mayorship, Buttigieg was an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve and a consultant at McKinsey & Company. He’s the youngest candidate running, with a controversial platform that includes increasing the number of seats on the Supreme Court.
10. Jonathan Van Ness (@jvn) – Hairdresser, Podcaster and Television Personality
Jonathan Van Ness, or JVN as he’s often affectionately nicknamed, stole our hearts when he joined the Fab 5 as the group’s resident grooming expert for Netflix’s original reboot of “Queer Eye.” Since the first season aired in early 2018, Van Ness’ profile has shot to superstardom, and he’s since used his platform to encourage self-love in the form of two published books. He also hosts a podcast called “Getting Curious” — a weekly exploration of all the things JVN is curious about. In his new memoir “Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love,” he gets real about deeply personal topics such as being diagnosed with HIV, binging and purging, and being the victim of sexual abuse. His Instagram is a fun look into his life and friendships with celebrities like Taylor Swift and figure skater Michelle Kwan.
11. Florence Given (@florencegiven) – Artist and Writer
British illustrator Florence Given may only be 20 years old, but her powerful, inclusive artwork is already known around the world. This year she was named Cosmopolitan’s Influencer of the Year for 2019, and designed tour merchandise for musical artist Rita Ora. Next year she’ll be debuting a book called “Women Don’t Owe You Pretty” filled with her artwork and patriarchy-smashing advice. Her Instagram is full of her pop-y artworks, which feature sayings like “it’s a wonderful day to dump him” and “refuse to find comfort in other women’s flaws.”
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One of the last things my ex said to me when I dumped him was “go write a fucking book about it". And bitch I did. I'm gonna be a PUBLISHED AUTHOR and it's available to pre-order on Amazon in my bio NOW! (Pre-ordering my book helps me in a BIG way as a debut author and I'd appreciate your support so much✨) • Unpacking everything from internalised misogyny, the male gaze, rape culture, heteronormativity, whether to date or dump them, how to spot emotional abuse, a guide to self-care & healing, queer dating advice and my own experiences that have shaped what I know about these topics. But that list doesn't even cover HALF of it. This book is going to give you an empowering kick up the arse and hopefully lead you to the liberating realisation that you. don’t. owe. men. shit. • This is all the advice I wish I could have inherited from a book myself, instead of learning the hard way through abuse and experience. But that’s why I’m so excited to share this with you. I hope it means you don’t have to, or if you have, that sharing my experiences make you feel less alone. • I’ve been keeping this book a secret for almost a year, and in many ways writing it has saved me. I’ve been through hell this year – but knowing that every day I wake up I get to write my BOOK has charged my soul and been so instrumental to my healing, because it gave me purpose. I cannot wait to share this with you, the patriarchy is SHAKING
12. Billy Porter (@theebillyporter) – Broadway Theater Performer, Singer and Actor
The iconic Billy Porter is perhaps best known for his leading role as Pray Tell on the FX series “Pose,” for which he was nominated for both a Critic’s Choice Award and a Golden Globe, but Porter actually got his start in musical theater. He’s performed in a number of Broadway shows such as “Grease” and “Dreamgirls,” but is most famous for his role as Lola in the Broadway adaptation of “Kinky Boots,” for which he won both a Tony and a Grammy. Porter is also known for his statement-making, gender-bending red carpet looks such as a red velvet and pink tulle uterus suit he wore this June to the 73rd Annual Tony Awards in support of women’s reproductive rights.
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Thank you @aidshealthcare for all of the incredible work you do for those affected with HIV/AIDS and for your on going mission to create awareness globally so we can finally end this battle. It was an honor to host and perform at the AHF 2019 “Keep The Promise” Word AIDS Day concert in LA with such incredible talent. We must continue to talk about HIV / AIDS, end discrimination and fight until it no longer exists. AHF is the largest HIV / AIDS non-profit in the world, providing care to over 1 million in 43 countries. For more information visit, aidshealth.org. #KnowYourStatus Style by @sammyratelle Wearing @thombrowneny
13. Lena Waithe (@lenawaithe) – Screenwriter, Producer and Actress
Actor, writer and proud lesbian Lena Waithe is currently on a roll — having recently inked an overall deal with Amazon to produce the upcoming horror anthology “Them” amongst other original series for the online streaming platform. Besides being the first black woman to win the outstanding writing for a comedy series Emmy for Netflix’s “Master of None,” Waithe has created and executive produced successful shows such as drama series “The Chi” on Showtime and BET’s “Boomerang.” She’s been quoted by Vanity Fair saying that young women should “stop giving a s— what other people think of you …. when we start to live for ourselves, and be a little bit more selfish, I think we’ll lead more fulfilling lives.”
14. Alphonso David (@alphonsodavid) – President of Human Rights Campaign, Lawyer
Alphonso David became the first person of color to lead the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the country’s largest LGBT rights group — another superlative to add to his growing roster, which also includes being the first black and openly gay man to serve as chief counsel to the governor of New York. During his time as a staff attorney for Lambda Legal in the mid-2000s he also worked on New York’s first marriage equality case, Hernandez v. Robles.
We as individuals, as a movement, and as a nation must do more to combat the forces of hate that have taken more than 150 trans lives since 2013. Let us channel our grief into action, and honor those we've lost with our own commitment for change. #TDOR2019
— Alphonso David (@AlphonsoDavid) November 20, 2019
Austa Somvichian-Clausen is the lead writer for topics of Respect for Changing America by The Hill. You can follow her on Instagram here.
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