Juliana Huxtable
Juliana Huxtable

The UB Awards: 10 Awesome Queers of 2015

2015 was a groundbreaking year for queers in the fields of entertainment, sports, and politics. LGBT artists and stories were recognized at the Grammys (Sam Smith), the Oscars (The Imitation Game), the Emmys (Transparent) and the Tonys (Fun Home). Dozens of athletes came out, as did coaches, and in June the United States finally recognized marriage equality. While there were some hiccups along the way – Houston’s anti-trans vote in November, for instance – there were plenty of people that deserve to be celebrated. Here are ten of our favorites, who we hope will keep doing amazing work in the new year.

Dai Burger

The New York rapper who gave us hits like “Titty Attack,” “Big Boob Bitch,” and “In Ya Mouf” was generous this year. Dai Burger offered up one of the year’s catchiest party songs, the awesome “Choppin’ Necks,” back in the spring, and she followed it up a month ago with a great five-track self-titled EP. For those who like queer female rappers but grew weary of Azealia Banks, Dai Burger’s rising star was a welcome surprise.

 

David Denson of the Helena Brewers
(image via Facebook)

David Denson

Left-handed first baseman David Denson plays for the Helena Brewers, a Pioneer League rookie affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. 20 years old, he came out in August after a player on an opposing team called him something rude, making Denson the first out player in professional pro baseball history. With 104 athletes outing themselves last year, that’s saying a lot. On Twitter he mentioned recently that he’ll be the subject of a new documentary, but we’ll have to wait until later in 2016 for details.

 

Photographer Rhys Harper of the Transcending Gender Project
(image via GoFundMe)

Rhys Harper

Rhys Harper is the photographer behind the Transcending Gender Project, an ongoing photo essay documenting transgender and gender variant individuals in their hometowns. It’s been featured in Posture, as well as Huffington Post, and Mic.com, among others.

There’s currently a crowdfunding campaign going to upgrade Harper’s photo equipment, a campaign which will conclude with a special portrait session in Boston later in January.

 

Juliana Huxtable

Photographer, model, DJ, poet, art world lecturer, and New York nightlife fixture Juliana Huxtable had quite a year. From a February Vogue profile to multiple appearances in the New Museum’s triennial (as artist and model), the Texas-born trans artist’s year culminated in a series of sold-out speaking dates on college campuses. That’s a whole lot for someone who only graduated from Bard College back in 2010.

 

Man Booker Prize winning novelist Marlon James
(photo by Charlie Forgham Bailey, via Facebook)

Marlon James

Queer novelist Marlon James made history earlier this year as the first Jamaican to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize. His epic A Brief History of Seven Killings isn’t for the faint of heart. The novel begins with a mean-spirited tween narrator watching in horror as his parents are raped and then killed while he watches from under the covers. But the epic novel – which includes multiple narrators and also the CIA, Bob Marley, and a posse of sinister drug lords – is worth your time. The book was optioned by HBO, who plan to turn it into a TV series.

 

Caitlyn Jenner's famous Vanity Fair cover
(image via MikeMozart/Flickr)

Caitlyn Jenner

There are lots of reasons to dislike Caitlyn Jenner, from her conservative politics to her tendency to barf out cringeworthy statements that show minimal understanding about trans issues for people that aren’t wealthy white reality TV stars.

However! Even though 99.9999999999 percent of trans people are not Olympic athletes, television personalities or extensions of the Kardashian empire, Caitlyn is in the unique position of exploring her own gender while under a media microscope. And whether we like it or not, she’s a big reason why more people than other have started seriously discussing transgender identity and rights. Plus, I Am Cait was pretty eye-opening! For a nuanced take on Jenner’s role as a trans ambassador, check out Glamour’s Woman of the Year profile written by trans man Thomas Page McBee.

 

Openly gay basketball player Dalton Maldonado
(photo via Facebook)

Dalton Maldonado

The year’s most talked about LGBT athlete was high school (and now college freshman) basketball player Dalton Maldonado, who was outed in 2014 by an opposing team who literally chased the starting senior out of his school after the game. The clever young man decided to use the experience as a teaching moment, even after the school yearbook left him out of the basketball tribute page, and he is now working to start a Louisville chapter of GO! Athletes, a network of LGBT athletes aiming to create safe spaces in the LGBT community.

 

former Houston mayor Annise Parker
(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Annise Parker

People can say all kinds of terrible things about Texas, and many of them might even be true, but here’s a fact: the people of Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, have now elected a lesbian mayor for three consecutive terms. That’s a big deal. And while this was a crappy year for queers in Houston, with voters using restroom panic as a means to be shitty to trans people, Parker was vocal in her support for expanding LGBT rights. Once she leaves office, she’s a finalist for a prestigious fellowship at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. They’ll announce in January whether she gets it or not.

 

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A photo posted by Amber Rose (@amberrose) on

Amber Rose

Openly bi model and internet personality Amber Rose has been called a slut plenty of times, which might explain the genesis behind the Amber Rose Slutwalk in Los Angeles this fall. It’s not a totally original idea – Toronto had its first Slutwalk way back in 2011 – but Rose is trying to start a movement, one where women can wear whatever they want.

“I like to dress provocative. I’m happy about my body. I work very hard at my body,” she told us. “And if I wear my cleavage out or I wear a short skirt, it does not mean I’m going to go have an orgy in the next five minutes. I could go be picking up my son or going out to eat, or whatever the case may be. It’s my body, it’s my choice, I can wear what I want, and it doesn’t mean I want you to touch me.”

 

Jussie Smollett

“There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,”actor Jussie Smollett told Ellen DeGeneres in a backstage interview in March. Smollett plays Jamal, the gay middle brother of the Lyon clan, on hit FOX series Empire. The show, which dominates Wednesday ratings every week, focuses on Jamal’s tense relationship with his hip-hop mogul dad, played by Terence Howard, and it groundbreaking in its depiction of the realities of black queerness (even though it’s totally a show about rich people in the entertainment industry).

(featured image: detail of Juliana Huxtable, “Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm)”)