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Vote now for LGBTQ Nation’s 2023 Game-Changing Hero

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The selection of nominees for Game-Changing Hero is front-loaded with firsts, for Hollywood, the sports world, and the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization in the United States.

Kelley Robinson became the first Black queer woman president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Vote now for LGBTQ Nation’s 2023 Game-Changing Hero

Trans actress Hari Nef burst through a pink and baby blue ceiling with her role in a mainstream Hollywood movie.

Popular out and gay wrestler Anthony Bowens became a first-of-his-kind All Elite Wrestling champion.

And Portland chef Jenny Nguyen found a need and filled it with a sports bar devoted entirely to women’s sports. She called it The Sports Bra.

Vote now for LGBTQ Nation’s 2023 Game-Changing Hero

Kelley Robinson

Kelley Robinson, President, Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights Campaign Kelley Robinson, President, Human Rights Campaign

Last fall, the Human Rights Campaign, one of the oldest and the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations in the U.S., announced the appointment of Kelley Robinson as their ninth president, the first Black and queer woman to lead the group.

Robinson, 37, stepped into the role at the end of November after serving as executive director of Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund. She got her start in community organizing with Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, the same year she earned a BA in sociology and women’s and gender studies from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

She arrives in her new post as a crisis management veteran.

“I came to this role from Planned Parenthood,” Robinson told LGBTQ Nation in June, where she grappled with the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022. “And there, I always felt like I was in the center of the fight and the crisis moment. And coming here, it’s like the crisis has found me once again.”

In June, the HRC declared a State of Emergency for LGBTQ + people in the United States.

“But it feels like the right work to do at the right moment,” Robinson said. “And I do really believe in this ethos that with crisis, it actually opens the door for an opportunity to push through transformative change.”

Hari Nef

Hari Nef's character poster for Barbie
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Hari Nef’s character poster for Barbie.

If you’ve seen Greta Gerwig’s sparkly pink movie juggernaut Barbie, you’ll remember Margot Robbie’s Barbie telling Ryan Gosling’s Ken to stop by the “giant blow-out party with all the Barbies, planned choreography and a bespoke song” that she’d whipped up for that night.

Dancing next to Robbie and drinking in the Barbieland vibes is trans actress Hari Nef, Doctor Barbie in the movie, who declares over sequins, “This is the best day ever.”

It was a best day ever not only for Doctor Barbie but the entire trans community, as Nef’s casting in a major supporting role in a massive Hollywood blockbuster changed the game for trans representation on the big screen.

At 30, Nef has been at work on that project for a decade.

The Columbia theater major broke out in the landmark series Transparent, and choice roles followed in out writer/producer Greg Berlanti’s You, Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation, and in the controversial and much talked about The Idol from MAX. Now she’s at work playing the lead in a biopic all about Andy Warhol muse Candy Darling.

While Nef has been breaking through the pink and baby-blue ceiling for years, she’s not sure her role in the Barbie movie is all about trans representation.

“David Heyman, the executive producer, told me that when he saw my tape he didn’t know I was trans. He just knew that I got the tone of what they were going for,” Nef told Out.

“It’s probably positive for Mattel to include me in this because we’re trying to show all different kinds of Barbies, but that’s not why I got the role. I got the role because I fit the role.”

Anthony Bowens 

Anthony Bowens
Shutterstock Anthony Bowens

In September, baby-faced Anthony Bowens made history as the first out gay wrestler to become an All Elite Wrestling champion. The storyline was a crowd-pleaser.

Under team name The Acclaimed, Bowens and wrestling partner Max Caster won AEW’s Tag Team Championship with a surprise victory that brought down the house.  

Bowens came out in 2017 as bisexual and in 2019 as gay.  

“I’ve loved pro wrestling ever since I was five years old and I didn’t want my experience ruined because of other wrestlers thinking I got into it for the wrong (sexual) reasons,” Bowens wrote when he first came out. “The ring is my sanctuary.”

At the time, Bowens shared his relationship with actor and influencer Michael Pavano — six years later the two are still going strong.  

After the wrestling champ brought home the belt last September, Bowens had another memorable moment in June, when a reporter in the ring claimed the wrestler was into her.

“I don’t know if you can see my gear, lady, but I’m gay,” Bowens replied, sparking a roar from the crowd, who drowned out any confusion with chants of “He’s gay! He’s gay!”

It’s a spine-tingling moment.

“If ya told me years ago, I’d have an arena chanting HE’S GAY at me in the most POSITIVE of ways, I’d say you’re crazy,” Bowen posted to Twitter.

“It’s pretty cool to see how far we’ve come.”

Jenny Nguyen         

Jenny Nguyen (provided)

Last year, Portland chef Jenny Nguyen set out to change the game by changing the channel — to women’s sports.

Nguyen said she and her friends were frustrated by how hard it was to find a place to watch WNBA games. While 40 percent of athletes are women, they only get four percent of the TV coverage.

Nguyen fantasized about a sports bar that would be wholly devoted to women’s sports, and the fans who loved them.

She would call it The Sports Bra.

“It was my partner who said, ‘Hey, you know how you’ve been joking about the Sports Bra for years? You should do it,’” Nguyen told Eater.

Nguyen went all in, devoting her life savings and going public with a Kickstarter campaign. The effort brought in double the initial goal in just days.

“When I was looking at that Kickstarter graph, I thought to myself, ‘This might work,'” Nguyen told CNBC.

A year later, The Sports Bra is thriving.

Women are on screen, at the bar, and the source for much more at the Bra, from beer, wine, and spirits, to the beef sliders and carpentry. The furniture was fabricated by a nonprofit called Girls Build.

“Me, personally, I thought the idea was brilliant,” says Nguyen. It’s “what the world needs. But I had no idea that the world would want it. I just wanted to give it a shot.”

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