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Velvetpark's Official 25 Queer Women of 2016

Velvetpark's Official 25 Queer Women of 2016

We would be remiss not to acknowledge that 2016 has been a deeply tumultuous year for many obvious social and political reasons. To add to the list, our community lost significant individuals this year. Before we celebrate the accomplishments of those who have defined this year we would like to take a moment to remember poets Monica Hand and Michelle Cliff, activist and philanthropist Joan Nixon, writer Gloria Naylor, pioneer Jeanne Cordova, DJ and party curator Ellie Conant and psychic advisor Youree Dell Harris, known as “Miss Cleo.” May they all rest in Strength.

And now we proudly announce our eighth annual Top Queer Women of 2016. These are lesbian, bisexual, or queer women, or non-conforming, non-gender-binary identifying individuals who have contributed something of note in the areas of academia, activism and the arts. We would like to let our readers know that every year we ask the community of peers for nominations. And, we continue to follow the conventions of not repeating a name from years past, and this list, although numbered, is not hierarchical—the names represented here are of all equal importance. Many thanks to our honorees for all your dedicated, thoughtful and thought provoking work. Happy holidays from Velvetpark.
1) Mahoyo: Farah Yusuf and Pia & MyNa Do - Filmmakers / Photographers / DJs / Club organizers / Stylists
The Mahoyo Project has been traveling the globe in 2016 to promote their documentary which aims to break stereotypes of gender, race and location. Mahoyo collaborates with local artists who all have counterparts in the creative scene in Stockholm where the collaboration continues. The documentary traveled to Johannesburg. Check out the trailer to see a budding movement where norms and stereotypes are challenged.


2) Elle Hearns - Activist / Community Organizer
Elle is a strategic partner and organizing coordinator of #BlackLivesMatter. As BLM has evolved, gender justice has emerged as one of the four main branches of the movement for which Hearns has become a vocal component. Elle Hearns has appeared on MTV, as well as on CNN and Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. Elle is also the Central Region Field Coordinator for GetEQUAL and has been creating safe space for transwomen in her home state of Ohio for the last few years. A staggering 23 trans women were murdered in 2016, the need for safe space, solidarity, and Elle's tireless work cannot be overstated.


3) Arlan Hamilton - Entrepreneur / Investor
Arlan is the founder of venture capital fund, Backstage Capital, dedicated to investing in women, minorities and LGBTQ folks with high-potential business ideas. Why have white men continued to dominate tech industries with startup ideas? Simply because other white men invest in them and promote them. Hamilton represents a small but growing group of women venture capital managers dedicated to diversifying the startup industry. Backstage Capital makes $25,000 – $100,000 investments in pre-seed and seed funds. This past year she backed 19 companies and hopes her fund will soon support 20 more. Backstage Capital is a true rags to riches story, that blew up this year by securing capital from legendary silicon valley investors. Hamilton also has stayed true to ethics, she recently refused to take $500,000 from an investor tied to Trump-supporting, Peter Thiel. The cure to predatory capitalism is the equitable distribution of wealth to which Backstage Capital is providing the tincture.


4) Alicia Anabel Santos - Performance Artist / Producer / Playwright / Activist / Writing Coach
Alicia is a self-identified Latina Lesbian Writer who after reading one too many stories about women she could not wholly relate to, decided to write her own tales. Alicia Anabel is a proud New York-born Dominicana who is passionate about writing works that empower and inspire women to find their voices, speak up and demand that they be respected. Alycia is founder and CEO of NYC Latina Writers which in 2016 has celebrated its 10th year anniversary!


5) Ovidia Yu - Novelist / Playwright 
Ovidia is an award-winning playwright and novelist living and working in Singapore. She has been writing since the late 80’s on subjects pertaining to identity and is known for her strong female characters and is considered to be one of the most influential feminists in her country. Yu has had more than 30 of her plays produced and this year she published her 3rd novel in a series of mysteries called Aunty Lee’s Chilled revenge. If her written accomplishments don’t say enough, She is out in a country in which LGBT people have no rights, and being queer is criminalized.


6) Malkia Cyril - Activist
You may recognize Malkia Cyril from her appearance in Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th now playing on Netflix. In the documentary, Cyril is one of the esteemed experts (along with Henry Gates Jr. and Angela Davis among others). DuVernay interviewed to articulate the systemic criminalization and incarceration of the black community since the end of slavery. Cyril has civil justice in her blood, her mother was a Black Panther, and Cyril grew up in Harlem learning to read at the Liberation bookstore. Today Cyril serves as the executive director of Center for Media Justice in Oakland CA, which is dedicated to the democratization of society through universal access to media and technology, as well as communication rights, and fair media representation and ownership. Cyril is actively involved with other organizations that protect digital rights and freedoms, net neutrality, and racial and economic justice in the digital age. Cyril regularly contributes to Politico, Huffington Post and the Guardian. This summer Cyril was awarded the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer award. 


7) Clarity Haynes - Artist 
Clarity is that special breed of artist who finds expression and meaning through the human form in the most traditional of all mediums, paint. In this digital age of instant representation and pixel driven imagery one might wonder what would necessitate an artist to spend hours, days, years painstakingly to represent stroke by stroke, color by color something easily caught on one's phone. When you see Haynes work, you immediately understand why the genera endures. Haynes is known for her large-scale representations of female bodies. One of her most notable works have been an ongoing series of women’s torsos she calls the “Breast Portrait Project”. This year Haynes' work was represented on the cover of Sinister Wisdom 101: Variations,  and she was a finalist in the National Portrait Gallery’s “The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today,” on view until January 2017.


8 ) Grace Chu - Photographer
Chu has been documenting queer women’s culture, lifestyle and art for almost two decades. She has been a regular contributor to AfterEllen.com, Curve Magazine, Jezebel, Huffington Post and others. Her queer party shoots have given us glorious and riotous scenes of lesbian nightlife. And with her ear ever to the pop cultural pulse, she has also been a beloved writer of a time-honored tradition of TV recaps, covering shows such as the Amazing Race to The Real L Word. With the change of hands at what was once the most widely read lesbian site AfterEllen. Chu continues her work in the mainstream press shooting for the likes of TimeOut.


9) Jeannine Kayembe - Poet / Artist / Urban farmer
Jeannine is the co-executive director of Philly Urban Creators, a North-Philadelphia based non- profit transforming blighted landscapes into dynamic safe-spaces that cultivate connectivity, self-sufficiency, and innovation. In 2009, Jeannine moved to Philadelphia to perform spoken word poetry where she has become a motivative speaker, poet, and community activist in and out of Philadelphia. In 2016, Jeannine was featured in a spread on where queer lives and farming intersect by Neal Santos, an exhibition in Glasgow called "My Little Corner" featuring stories of radical queers in the 60's n 70s. She was also open plenary speaker for a national environmental conference, which after realizing it was sponsored by corporations who promote monopolies and genocide through food deserts, like Monsanto, she took over the conference demanding a re-evaluation of priorities and purpose. Jeannine also co-coordinates HoodStock––a full-day block party festival of art, live music, farming, and social consciousness. 


10) alyce b emory and Kim Ford - Co-Founders of the Black Lesbian Conference
alyce d. emory and Kim Ford, two LGBT and community activists & workers co-founded the Beyond Bold and Brave organization which held the national Black/African Descent lesbian conference in March 2016 at Barnard College in New York City. The elaborately catered conference included a keynote address, panels, workshops, and roundtable discussions. It's goal was to be, “The Evolution of Our Community,” as a gathering of Transgender and Cisgender Black/African Descent Lesbians to Celebrate, Assess, Connect, and Create and to increase the visibility of Black/African Descent Lesbians.


11) Alixa Garcia &Naima Penniman - Performers / Environmental Activists
Alixa and Naima make Climbing PoeTree and raised over $50k on their Kickstarter campaign in 2016 ($7k over their goal) after over 10 years of incessant touring and relentless cultural activism bridging the gaps of artists and musicians internationally. They have organized 30 national and international tours, taking their work from South Africa to Cuba, the UK to Mexico, and throughout the U.S. including 11,000 miles toured on a bus converted to run on recycled vegetable oil. In 2017 Climbing PoeTree will be touring nationally with their forthcoming album, INTRINSIC, a collaboration of over 30 artists.


12) Amanda Lugg- AIDS activist