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Pride Month 2021: LGBTQ women in arts and entertainment who are paying it forward

In honor of Pride Month, Know Your Value is spotlighting LGBTQ women artists who are making big waves — all while working to improve opportunities for underserved communities.
Lena Waithe
Lena Waithe poses in the press room with the Emmy for outstanding writing for a comedy series at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles.Jordan Strauss / Invision/AP

LGBTQ inclusion in arts and entertainment is vital in changing attitudes and erasing prejudices.

Earlier this year, Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy non-profit organization, stated, “In the midst of a destructive pandemic, a long overdue cultural reckoning with racial injustice, and a transition into a new political era for this country, representation matters more than ever as people turn to entertainment storytelling for connection and escape.”

In honor of Pride Month, Know Your Value is spotlighting just a few LGBTQ women artist-activists who have created big waves in film, TV, theater, music and publishing — all while using their gifts and platforms to expand opportunities for underserved communities.

Lena Waithe: Actor, screenwriter, producer

Image: Lena Waithe, 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival - Variety's Creative Impact Awards and 10 Directors to Watch Brunch
PALM SPRINGS, CA - JANUARY 03: Lena Waithe attends the 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival on January 3, 2020 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival)Vivien Killilea / Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival file

Waithe started her Hollywood career as an assistant to “Girlfriends” creator Mara Brock Akil and as a production assistant to Ava Duvernay. She continued as a producer on the comedy “Dear White People.”

In Netflix’s “Master of None,” Waithe made history in 2017 when she became the first Black woman to win the Emmy for best writing for a comedy series for the episode “Thanksgiving,” which was based on her coming out experience. In her acceptance speech she addressed the LGBTQIA community saying, “I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers.”

Waithe’s list of accomplishments is impressive. She also created the BET series “Twenties”, Showtime’s “The Chi,” wrote her first feature “Queen and Slim,” voiced Pixar’s first openly gay character in the animated movie “Onward,” and started her own production company Hillman Grad, whose mission is to support a range of diverse voices and art across all. Waithe also founded the Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab, a 10-month, tuition-free program for marginalized storytellers, and Rising Voices, a collaboration with Indeed that grants a $100,000 production budget to 10 filmmakers of color.

Addressing her huge slate of initiatives Waithe simply said, "I have to help usher in this new generation and tell them to tell their truth and to do it unabashedly."

Poppy Liu: Actor, writer, producer, doula

Image: Poppy Liu, 2019 Summer TCA Press Tour - Day 17
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 08: Poppy Liu of Sunnyside speaks during the NBC segment of the 2019 Summer TCA Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 8, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)Amy Sussman / Getty Images file

Currently in the HBO Max break-out hit “Hacks,” alongside Jean Smart, Liu was also a series regular on NBC’s “Sunnyside,” starred in the Margaret Cho-produced web series “Mercy Mistress,” and will appear in the upcoming Paramount+ reboot of “iCarly.”

Named one of The Advocate’s “champions of pride,” Liu is also a doula and serves on the board of SisterSong, an organization built by women of color activists dedicated to reproductive justice through a human rights framework.

Born in Xi’an, China and raised between Shanghai and Minnesota, Liu said, “I create art to understand myself, process the world, collaborate with my communities, and connect to a higher purpose … I want the queer future that we dream of to be something that is on everyone's collective consciousness.”

Brandi Carlile: Singer-songwriter, producer, author

Image: Brandi Carlisle attends the 2019 CMT Music Awards at the
BRIDGESTONE ARENA, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, UNITED STATES - 2019/06/05: Brandi Carlile attends the 2019 CMT Music Awards at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Debby Wong/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)Debby Wong / LightRocket via Getty Images file

A self-taught singer and multi-instrumentalist, beloved by the likes of Dolly Parton and Barack Obama, Carlile is a six-time Grammy winner and a member of the supergroup Highwomen. The band’s 2019 song "If She Ever Leaves Me” was written from a queer point of view, with Carlile saying, "Queer people love country music…We just don't think that it's going to open its doors to us. And when it does, it's wildly satisfying."

In her new memoir “Broken Horses,” Carlile recounts a poor rural childhood and coming out at 15, which was complicated by her Baptist faith. Across a two-decade-long career, Carlile’s activism powered her own Girls Just Wanna Weekend festival in 2018 featuring an all-female lineup, as well as her curating an all women’s “super jam” set at the legendary Newport Folk Festival in 2019.

Married to wife Catherine Shepherd, and mother to daughters Evangeline and Elijah, Carlile penned a recent essay for Parents on navigating queer parenting and helping other LGBTQ families.

A firm believer that representation matters and reflecting on her own experience as a teen, Carlile said “It’s important to be out in your music career, because…representation can be kind of life or death for a kid in a small town. At the very least it can give someone hope.”

Tanya Saracho: Actor, playwright, screenwriter, producer

Image: Tanya Saracho
Tanya Saracho, actress and writer.Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images file

While studying theater in college, Saracho started writing and in 2001 launched Teatro Luna in Chicago, an all-Latina theater group. Ten years later Saracho co-founded The Alliance of LatinX Artists (ALTA), an organization that also sought to challenge ideas on gender.

By 2012, Saracho was writing for television, working on “Devious Maids”, “Girls”, and “How To Get Away With Murder,” before creating and showrunning the hit Starz series “Vida,” which had an all-LatinX and majority-queer writers’ room. Of Vida, Saracho said, “The dominant culture gets to have complicated narratives in the media . . . but we’re either cartel or we’re squeaky-clean girls …The big, radical thing that I’m trying to do is to portray Latinas as complex human beings.”

Last year Saracho started Ojalá Productions and also recently launched the Ojalá Ignition Lab, an incubator program providing five writers with mentoring from experienced showrunners and executive producers, as well as Saracho herself. Speaking to her track record of founding and creating Saracho said, “You know, I keep starting things because there’s a need.”