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10 Black LGBTQ Leaders And Advocates Making Big Moves In Business

They're innovating and disrupting, while providing spaces for inclusion.

Human Interest

It's Pride Month, and what better time to highlight amazing Black LGBTQ leaders and advocates killing it in business? Yep, now is the perfect occasion. These entrepreneurs and executives are providing spaces for inclusion, disrupting and innovating in fashion, tech, entertainment, and finance, and giving voice to the struggles, issues, and vibrancy of LGBTQ communities. They are exemplary examples of brilliance we all can admire and take a nod from in our own lives both professionally and personally.


Check them out below:

Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of National LGBTQ Task Force 

This power woman and mother is the first openly queer-identified Black woman to hold the position at the long-standing organization, and she's tasked with leading strategy to ensure equality and justice for LGBTQ people across the nation. The National LGBTQ Task Force works to fight against discrimination in housing, retirement, employment, healthcare, and more.

Kelsey Davis, CEO & Founder of CLLCTVE

Kelsey Davis was a creative professional who worked for major companies including Conde Nast and created content for brands including Coca-Cola before launching her own firm that provides services for matching freelance creatives with Generation Z brands. It's the creating real opportunities for other young creatives to get to the bag for us.

Lena Waithe, Co-founder of Hillman Grad Productions

If series like The Chi, Boomerang, Them, and Twenties, or films like Queen & Slim don't ring a bell, sis, you need to go ahead and pop from under that rock, subscribe to somebody's streaming service, and get caught up. Lena Waithe not only includes diverse depictions of LGBQT stories within her scripts, but she takes the advocacy further via the hiring practices and opportunities of Hillman Grad Productions.

Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy, Co-founders of BLK MKT Village

This fab couple offers super-cool items that show just how rich and beautiful Black culture truly is, and they do it so stylishly. Together, Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy lead their Brooklyn shop and online community of more than 280,000 followers, offering a well-edited selection of collectibles, apparel, and heirlooms that would put any museum curator to shame.

Ariell Johnson, Founder of Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse

Ariell Johnson's North Philly shop offers an array of comics that put inclusion and representation at the forefront. From books and magazines to toys and figurines, she provides a special selection of items that ensure all lovers of the genre can find something to enjoy and be inspired by, and she unapologetically includes LGBTQ sci-fi "geeks" and comic enthusiasts in the all.

Natalie Patterson, Founder of Natalie Is Poetry

A self-proclaimed "teaching artist," Natalie Patterson fosters growth, compassion, and integrity via workshops, breakout sessions, performances and lectures. Her client roster includes brands like Sephora, Uproxx, and the United Way, and sis will have you deeply moved with her poetry. Trust.

Arlan Hamilton, Founder of Backstage Capital

As if surviving homelessness, living out of an airport and building a venture capital fund isn't impressive enough, Arlan Hamilton has spent the last six years raising millions of dollars to support more than 170 companies founded by female, minority and LGBTQ entrepreneurs. And get into this latest win: A recent crowdfunding effort reached its $5 million goal via more than 7,000 supporters. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Way to get to that coin, sis!

Angelica Ross, Founder of TransTech Social Enterprises

Her company serves as an incubator to economically empower LGBTQ professionals and their allies by providing training for career skills. The platform particularly provides a forum for tools to fight against employment discrimination, and Angelica Ross, a self-taught programmer and actress known for her role on Pose as well as her work as a transgender rights activist, partners with brands and companies to foster training and employment opportunities.

Corianna and Brianna Dotson, Founders of Coco & Breezy

These savvy businesswomen have been giving twin-rock star-Black girl magic energy since 2009 with their eyewear brand, worn by celebrities including Beyonce, Prince, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and Lady Gaga. As a brand, Coco & Breezy has since expanded into a luxury retreat venture, DJing, and visual art projects. They're also huge in LGBQT activism, lending their voices, art, and platform of more than 170,000 followers and supporters to issues of advocacy and rights protections.

Janelle Monae, CEO of Wondaland Arts Society

She's the soulful, ecclectic, tuxedo-wearing, boundary-pushing singer, producer and actress known for her roles in Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and Antebellum. Janelle Monae is also a fierce artist mentor, record label exec, and LGBTQ rights activist who has identified as pansexual and rides for equal rights and freedom of expression for all. Word to Django Jane.

Featured image via Coco and Breezy/Instagram

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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