October 13 Michael R. Jackson PULITZER-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT
b. January 26, 1981
© GETTY IMAGES Michael R. Jackson
“That’s the experience of what being a young Black gay man is … I wanted to try to invite everybody to step into that.”
He is the first Black writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for a musical.
Michael R. Jackson is a playwright, lyricist, and composer, celebrated for his groundbreaking Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, “A Strange Loop.”
Jackson grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He started playing the piano at age 8 and participated in church choir and plays. His early experiences on stage fueled a passion for the theater, which his mother indulged. She took him to plays throughout his childhood.
Though he knew for much longer, Jackson came out as gay at age 16. He attended NYU Tisch School of the Arts, receiving both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. As a queer Black man, Jackson felt like an outsider in the typical New York City gay scene. He channeled this sense of alienation into his art.
Before his commercial success, Jackson served as a Sundance Theatre Institute Composer Fellow and a Dramatist Guild Fellow and worked on a variety of projects. Among them, he wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the book for the musical adaptation of the indie film “Teeth” and composed “The Kids on the Lawn,” a song cycle that The New York Times Magazine published in its culture section.
Earlier, Jackson worked as an usher for various Broadway musicals, including “The Lion King.” He wrote “A Strange Loop”—with the book, music, and lyrics—drawing upon this period. The story follows a queer Black man named Usher, who works as an usher and is writing a play about a queer Black writer who is writing a play about a queer Black writer. The show opened off Broadway in 2019 and premiered on Broadway in 2022. In 2020 it made Jackson the first Black writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for a musical, and it was the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize before opening on Broadway. In 2022 the play earned two Tony Awards: Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical.
Among his many other honors, Jackson has earned two Obies, two Drama Desk Awards, two Outer Critics Circle Awards, and a Lambda Literary Award for Drama. The New York Times named him one of the “Best Black Male Writers of Our Time” and Queerty listed him among 50 heroes furthering equality and acceptance in America.
Jackson’s second musical, “White Girl in Danger,” channels his childhood soap opera obsession into a campy, humorous exploration of race, class, and identity. It opened in April 2023.
October 14 Leslie Jordan ACTOR & COMEDIAN
b. April 29, 1955
d. October 24, 2022
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“Happiness is a habit. It’s a choice. It’s something that you have to work for.”
He was an Emmy winning actor and comedian and an LGBTQ advocate.
Leslie Jordan was an Emmy-winning actor and comedian and an LGBTQ advocate. Beloved for his puckish humor, small stature, and distinctive Southern drawl, he appeared in commercials, television shows, films, and theater productions.
Jordan was born and raised in Tennessee. His father died in a plane crash when Jordan was 11. His childhood travails were compounded by being a diminutive gay youth in the conservative South. Sent to a camp designed to toughen up young boys, Jordan returned with the award for best all-around camper—not because they succeeded, but because he made everyone laugh. Humor became his best defense.
In 1982 Jordan moved to Los Angeles, arriving with money his mother had sewn into his jacket. He was soon appearing in television commercials. Standing just 4 feet, 11 inches, he found an asset in the physicality for which he had once been bullied. Feeling free and flush with cash for the first time, he fell into substance abuse and was arrested multiple times on DUI charges. Despite this, Jordan landed his first television role on the 1986 series “The Fall Guy,” and his career took off. He achieved sobriety in the late ’90s.
Jordan earned an Emmy in 2005 for his performance as the snarky Beverley Leslie on the hit series “Will & Grace.” He appeared in three seasons of the award-winning anthology “American Horror Story” and became a regular guest on the sitcom “Hearts Afire,” among countless other TV performances. Jordan also appeared in more than a dozen films, including “The Help” in 2011.
Jordan sang and wrote several of his own stage productions. His first autobiographical play, a musical titled “Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies That Have Plagued My Life Thus Far,” turned his childhood traumas into poignant comedy. It appeared off Broadway in 1993. He earned acclaim for his role as “Brother Boy” in Del Shores’s darkly funny 1996 play, “Sordid Lives,” and reprised the part in the film adaptation and TV-series spinoff.
Jordan brightened lives in multiple ways. During the height of the AIDS epidemic, he volunteered with AIDS Project Los Angeles, providing food and companionship to homebound patients. In the grim early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, his warmly hilarious videos went viral, earning him more than 5.8 million Instagram followers.
In 2021 Jordan published his autobiography, “How Y’All Doing? Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived,” and received the GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics’ Timeless Star Award. He died in his car the following year, after suffering a heart attack and crashing into a building.
October 15 Tina Kotek GOVERNOR OF OREGON
b. September 30, 1966
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“When you’re coming out, you have to build a resilience of dealing with people who treat you differently for who you are, and that has made me a stronger person.”
She is the first openly lesbian governor of Oregon.
Christine “Tina” Kotek is the first openly lesbian governor of Oregon and one of the first two lesbian governors elected in the United States. She was the first openly lesbian speaker of a State House and the longest-serving House speaker in Oregon’s history.
Kotek was born in York, Pennsylvania, to first-generation American parents of Czech and Slovene ancestry. After graduating from Dallastown Area High School, Kotek attended Georgetown University but did not complete her studies. She moved to Oregon in 1987 and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1990 in religious studies from the University of Oregon. She earned her master’s degree in international studies and comparative religion from the University of Washington.
Kotek’s community service began long before she ran for public office. She served as an advocate for Oregon Food Bank and a policymaker for Children First for Oregon and continues to volunteer at her church’s food pantry.
Religion has always played an important role in Kotek’s life. She came out as a lesbian during her religious studies, which forced her to reconcile two key facets of herself. Though much anti-LGBTQ rhetoric originates from religious institutions, Kotek uses her faith to find strength in the face of opposition.
Kotek is vocal about her lesbian identity. She met her wife, Aimee Wilson, in 2005. They married in 2017, two years after same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide. Though they keep the details of their personal lives private, they are very open about their relationship and often attend political events together.
Kotek’s first foray into politics was marked by a loss in the 2004 Democratic primary, when she ran for a seat in the Oregon House. Victory came two years later, when she won a House seat with more than 80% of the vote. She was reelected every two years, and in 2013 she was nominated for Speaker of the House—a position never held by an out lesbian. She maintained the post until 2022, when she stepped down to run for governor.
In 2023 Kotek was elected the 39th governor of Oregon, making her the state’s first openly lesbian governor and one of two lesbian governors in U.S. history. She has devoted her life to bettering the lives of her adoptive home state’s citizens. Among other policies, her progressive Democratic agenda includes raising the minimum wage, increasing health care access, and keeping abortion legal.
Kotek lives in North Portland with her wife and their two dogs.
October 16 Marijane Meaker PULP FICTION PIONEER
b. May 27, 1927
d. November 21, 2022
“We are what we are. We don’t have to define or label it.”
She helped launch the lesbian pulp fiction genre.
Marijane Meaker was a prolific author who helped launch the lesbian pulp fiction genre with her 1952 novel, “Spring Fire.”
Meaker grew up in Auburn, New York, surrounded by books. Enamored of pen names from an early age, she carried the affinity into adulthood, publishing under a variety of pseudonyms.
In 1943 Meaker attended Stuart Hall School, a Virginia boarding school, but was expelled for unruly behavior. She enrolled in Vermont Junior College in 1945, then in the University of Missouri the following year, where she joined the Alpha Delta Pi sorority. Throughout college, Meaker sought the company of other aspiring writers and began submitting her own work for publication. She sold her first story to Ladies’ Home Journal while she was a student.
After graduation, Meaker worked as a clerk for Dutton Publishing before becoming a proofreader for Gold Medal Books. She began publishing mysteries under the name Vin Packer. As Packer, she penned the novel “Spring Fire” about a love affair between two sorority sisters. The novel sold an astounding 1.5 million copies at a time when gays and lesbians were largely closeted and considered mentally ill. The unexpected financial success of the book uncovered a huge untapped market for lesbian-themed fiction, and Meaker continued writing in this newfound genre.
Throughout the 1950s, Meaker pursued relationships with other women, most notably the American writer Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith is best known for thrillers such as “Strangers on a Train” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” The couple met at a lesbian bar in New York and lived together for a time.
In the late ’50s, Meaker began writing nonfiction paperbacks about lesbians under the pen name Ann Aldrich. In the ensuing years, she wrote children’s books under the name Mary James. As M.E. Kerr (a play on Meaker), she earned acclaim for her young-adult novels, which told captivating stories while authentically depicting a range of issues affecting teens, from mental illness to sexism and homophobia.
Later in life, Meaker published several books under her own name, most notably “Highsmith: A Romance of the Fifties” (2003), about her two-year relationship with the author.
Among other recognition, Meaker received the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1993 for her achievements in young-adult literature. She received the Trailblazing Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society in 2013 for her contributions to the lesbian literary cannon.
Meaker died in Springs, New York, at age 95. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major media published her obituary.
October 17 Scott Minerd WALL STREET INNOVATOR
b. March 23, 1959
d. December 21, 2022
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“I think real success is being motivated by trying to create something … that really will make a difference and impact society.”
He was a Wall Street superstar and prominent philanthropist.
Scott Minerd was the highly successful global chief investment officer of Guggenheim Partners, a Wall Street investment firm, and a financial commentator for CNBC and Bloomberg Television. A prominent philanthropist, he contributed millions of dollars to LGBTQ and other human rights causes.
Minerd grew up in Pennsylvania’s coal region in the tiny rural town of Chalkhill, just north of the Mason Dixon Line. His mother was a homemaker, and his father worked as an insurance agent. Minerd received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in 1980. He became a CPA and took his first job at PriceWaterhouse as an accountant. After he completed graduate work at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, he headed to Wall Street, where he quickly proved himself to be exceptionally gifted. Between 1983 and 1996, he rose to prominence at firms such as Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley.
Having amassed a significant fortune by the age of 37, Minerd bought a house in Venice Beach, California, and left his career to pursue bodybuilding. He quickly grew bored of retirement and in 1998 joined Mark Walter, a successful financier, in launching what would become Guggenheim Partners. Minerd’s skills proved instrumental in driving the firm’s extraordinary growth. He became the company’s chief investment officer in 2005, a position he held until his death.
A talented prognosticator, Minerd was among the first to predict the global financial crisis in 2007 and the financial fallout of the Covid 19 pandemic, rebalancing his clients’ portfolios to favor safer investments. He regularly attended the Global Financial Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and became a financial markets advisor to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as well as a trusted TV analyst.
For Minerd, a rare openly gay man working on Wall Street, success was about more than moneymaking and machismo. He supported multiple charities with his time and fortune. Minerd worked with SMUG International, an NGO supporting sexual minorities in Uganda, to create housing for LGBTQ people there. He donated $27 million to the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles to help feed homeless families. Minerd served on the board of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization, helping asylum seekers, and he created and funded his own organization to help immigrants and refugees. With his husband, Eloy Mendez, he produced a documentary short, “We Are Here,” about the lives of four undocumented immigrants. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Minerd died of a heart attack in Vista, California. He was 63.
October 18 Ryan Murphy WRITER, DIRECTOR & PRODUCER
b. November 9, 1965
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“I feel every day that everything I create— everything I do—I want it to be a risk.”
He is an award-winning writer, director, and producer whose work frequently features LGBTQ characters.
Ryan Murphy is an award-winning writer, director, and producer whose work frequently features LGBTQ characters and storylines. Among many other credits, he is the co-creator of the Emmy-winning TV series “Glee” and “American Horror Story” and the director of the films “Eat, Pray, Love” and “The Normal Heart.”
Murphy was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. When he came out as gay at age 15, his traditional Catholic parents were unsupportive. Only his grandmother fostered his confidence.
Murphy attended Indiana University Bloomington and graduated with a degree in journalism. He performed in choral ensembles throughout his education. Those experiences helped shape his high school musical comedy-drama, “Glee.”
After working as a journalist for several leading papers, such as the Los Angeles Times and the Miami Herald, Murphy began screenwriting. His first television show, “Popular” (1999), ran for two seasons. Professional recognition came in 2003 with “Nip/Tuck,” his Emmy-nominated series exploring America’s relationship with plastic surgery. “Glee” followed in 2009. It ran for six seasons and earned Murphy his first Emmy Award. The show earned 40 nominations and won six Emmys. It inspired a concert tour, albums, games, merchandise, apps, and a film that Murphy directed.
Murphy’s next big TV project, the anthology series “American Horror Story,” premiered in 2011. Among the most successful TV series in FX network history, it has earned more than 125 awards, including 16 Emmys. The show’s 12th season began in 2023.
Murphy’s various film credits include directing “The Normal Heart,” the awardwinning TV film adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Tony-winning play about the rise of the AIDS crisis. Murphy traces his personal productivity to that era—a time when young gay men like himself, menaced by the epidemic, never knew how much time they had left.
“Pose,” the critically acclaimed FX series Murphy co-launched in 2018, also takes place during that period. It centers on the New York drag ball culture and includes more than 50 transgender characters played by trans actors. Murphy donated his profits from the show to LGBTQ+ charities. The year before, he launched an initiative to promote inclusivity in Hollywood moviemaking. It spawned a program in which each director on his TV projects mentors a rising female or minority director.
Murphy has been nominated for countless awards and won dozens, including six Primetime Emmys, five Golden Globes, a Tony, and a GLAAD Media Award. AmfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, honored him for his contributions to TV and film and the fight against AIDS.
Murphy lives with his husband, David Miller, and their three sons.
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