10 Women Who Could Have Been The Advocate’s “Person of the Year”

Last week, The Advocate named Pope Francis its 2013 “Person of the Year,” much like TIME Magazine named him their Person of the Year, for reasons that don’t seem to be much more substantial than the fact that he’s said some kind of decent things about LGBT people, things The Advocate hopes the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide might agree with and thus be influenced into compassion. I won’t go into all the arguments about why their pick is a bad one — the rest of the internet has already done that for me — but I thought it would be a good exercise in positivity to instead look at 10 women from inside our queer communities who would have been better picks. Because this is Autostraddle, I’ve limited the list to LGBTQ women, and also because this is Autostraddle, I want to hear who you think I missed. Part of the purpose here is to highlight how very many women there are out there doing incredible work despite the fact that they rarely get the recognition they deserve, so when you inevitably think of someone who had an incredible year but isn’t named here, please let me know in the comments. Let’s make this a real celebration of all we’ve accomplished in 2013! A few days after the initial announcement, The Advocate doubled down on its decision, acknowledging the widespread criticism of the choice but ultimately reaffirming the hope that applauding Francis’s steps so far would push him into advocating further acceptance. But I’ll say I hope The Advocate keeps reading its critics, including this list, so they don’t repeat this act of erasure next year. And if not? Well, I’ll be around to make a new list of the important queer ladies of 2014.

via imbd

via IMDb

Laverne Cox, Actress and Trans* Activist

In addition to being arguably the best part of everyone’s new favorite show, Orange is the New Black, actress Laverne Cox spent 2013 educating the world on trans* issues, advocating for trans* people in the prison systems, befriending Melissa Harris-Perry and just generally winning our hearts. She is currently the only transgender actress playing a transgender character on a TV show, an accomplishment that would be enough to get her on this list even if she hadn’t done any of those other things.

CeCe McDonald, Trans* Activist and Prisoner

After defending herself against a transphobic and racist attack outside a bar in 2011, McDonald was charged with second degree murder (she pleaded down to second degree manslaughter) in the death of one of her attackers. She was subsequently sentenced to 41 months in prison. Her prospects in the prison system, from correct placement to hormone therapy, were abysmal from the start, but McDonald has put on a brave face, telling press, “I’ve faced worse things in my life than prison.” This month, we learned that none other than Laverne Cox is working on a documentary, called “Free Cece,” about McDonald’s story. Cox interviewed McDonald from the men’s prison facility where she is being held, and that’s only the most recent example of McDonald speaking out from behind bars. If her actions so far are any indicator, she’ll she’ll continue her activism even after her eventual release.

Photo via Getty Images

Photo via Getty Images

Brittney Griner, WNBA Player

Approximately two seconds after joining the Phoenix Mercury as the 2013 WNBA Top Draft Pick, Brittney Griner came out publicly. She went on to appear on the cover of ESPN Magazine, attend the GLAAD Awards, be featured by Elle Magazine (and basically every other publication in the country), sign a contract with Nike, become a style icon and maybe probably find time to play some basketball, too? Just guessing here. Very few professional athletes come out even after going into retirement, so Griner’s choice to discuss her sexuality just as her career was starting is truly a brave one. The 6’8, bow-tie-wearing, tattoo-sporting Griner isn’t fazed, though, telling USA Today, “When you’re doing something good and you’re on top, someone’s always going to have something bad to say.”

photo by robin roemer

photos by Robin Roemer

Kate McKinnon, Comedian

When she debuted on Saturday Night Live in April 2012, Kate McKinnon was only the third out gay cast member in the show’s history. But we’ve known McKinnon was hilarious since at least 2007, when she joined the original cast of Logo’s “Big Gay Sketch Show.” On SNL, she’s become a bit of a breakout star, proving time and again that you can’t really lose if you commit fully to even the most ridiculous of characters. If this BuzzFeed list isn’t enough to win you over, please watch her Ellen impression (performed on “Ellen,” of course) to fall in head over heels.


Fallon Fox, MMA Fighter

Fallon Fox’s coming-out interview has been fuel to the fiery debate over whether trans* athletes should be allowed to compete as the gender they identify with, but she hasn’t quit MMA fighting despite allegations that her past and transition give her an unfair advantage over cisgender women fighters. She may not have wanted to be a trans* icon, but when it became clear she was going to be outed, Fox took on the mantle anyway. She has continued to advocate for herself and for other trans* athletes, picking up sponsors and fighting back against near-incessant bullying.


Edie Windsor, Activist

Much has been written about Edie Windsor, the woman who sued the United States when they taxed her $363,000 on her inheritance when her wife, Thea Spyer, passed away in 2009. The couple had been together for 44 years and had married in Canada in 2007, but the government didn’t recognize the marriage and refused Windsor’s request for a spousal tax exemption. When Windsor won her case this June, it was a crucial blow for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which the Department of Justice had ruled unconstitutional in 2011 but which various cases across the country have kept alive in fragments. While marriage is not the be-all, end-all for many people (queer and not), the recognition Windsor won for her marriage gives hope that same-sex marriages are on their way toward equal legal footing.

mary lambert

Mary Lambert, Musician

Singer-songwriter Mary Lambert spent 2013 proving she was much more than “that girl who sings on Macklemore’s ‘Same Love,’” and not just by releasing a full-length version of her verse from that single. Lambert’s portfolio of “heartbreak folk” songs and spoken word poetry reflect on her struggle to reconcile her Christian faith with her sexuality, body image and sexual abuse. Her music career took off this year — she’s signed with Capitol Records, performed at the VMAs, been nominated for a Grammy and released an EP, “Welcome to the Age of My Body,” just last week.

via Flickr

via Flickr

Diana Nyad, Swimmer

At age 64, Diana Nyad completed her long-held goal of swimming from Cuba to Florida. It was her fifth try — the fourth since she turned 60 — and she made it all 103 miles without the help of a shark cage. No, her 53-hour journey wouldn’t have been any different if she’d been straight instead of a lesbian, but Nyad has used her platform as a noted athlete to talk about her sexuality as well as the sexual abuse she experienced as a young woman. She’s an accomplished athlete and a role model for many.


Raven-Symone, Actress

After years of outside speculation and cryptic comments to the media, Raven-Symone officially came out this year to celebrate marriage equality in California. She’s also dating model and actress AzMarie Livingston, making me more jealous of a couple than I ever thought possible. It’s important that this former child star came out because many of us grew up with her, from her early days on The Cosby Show right on through The Cheetah Girls and That’s So Raven. Her coming out story, long and convoluted as it is, reflects the way many of us come out today: not with one big announcement, but through a series of affirmations about our beliefs and the people in our lives.


Sally Ride, Astronaut

It was only a year and a half ago that we learned through her obituary that Sally Ride, the first female astronaut to travel to space, had a 27-year-long relationship with a woman. Ride and Tam O’Shaughnessy were childhood friends and collaborated on books and other projects but kept their relationship as private as Ride’s fight with pancreatic cancer. This year, Ride was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for her work as an astronaut, scientist and advocate for racial and gender equality in education. She may have kept much of her personal life very private, but Ride nonetheless made a huge impact on many young women growing up in the 80s, including our very own Riese.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Kaitlyn lives in New York, which is the simplest answer you're going to get if you ask her where she's from. She went to journalism school and is arguably making the most of her degree as a writer and copy editor. She utilizes her monthly cable bill by watching more competitive cooking shows than should be allowed.

Kaitlyn has written 69 articles for us.


  1. Particularly in the year of DOMA’s repeal, Edie Windsor would have been a much more deserving recipient of the title ‘Person of the Year’ than the Pope, who was a disappointing choice for so many reasons. I would’ve been very happy to see one of the women on this list (particularly Edie Windsor, Laverne Cox or Brittney Griner) named Person of the Year – I’d find it hard to pick just one of them, though!

    • Agreed! It was really hard to pick people for this list, because there really are so many hundreds of women making a real, tangible difference throughout the country. And I think it goes without saying that any one of them would have been a better pick for an LGBT magazine’s “Person of the Year” than a straight white man who leads a historically aggressively antigay, anti-trans* organization.

    • The way the Advocate wrote about Edie Windsor and their choice not to pick her was so condescending and sexist and terrible and UGH I was so angry about it. I don’t think she would be my choice for Queer of the Year either, but I hated the way they wrote about her.

    • When I saw Edie Windsor on the list i was like ‘she totally has a shot at this’ then I saw the Pope and I was like…MAAAAAAAAAAAAAN. I mean it just HAD to be the Pope, it was like..IDK expected? I was really rooting for Edie though, a lot changed this year because of her actions.

  2. Brittney Griner is my person of the year since she kind of helped me accept myself and thus I came out to my bestestest friend (who was a-okay in her reaction)

  3. My contribution might not be the best. I felt like there were a lot of controversial deaths (murders) of trans women this year. Although it would be seen as sort of a cop out to just name “trans women of color” as a general person of the year (similar to Time’s person of the year 2006) but it would easily open up a wider conversation about what’s going on.

    Chelsea Manning would’ve been somebody to list as she came out and was convicted earlier this year.

    Janet Mock, although she wasn’t somebody that people spoke about often would’ve been a great person to add to the list. I think she might make next year’s list, depending on how well her her book sells (fingers crossed).

    I really thought Laverne Cox should’ve been picked. There haven’t been many trans women characters on TV/Movies that were portrayed by trans women. It was a nice change to have that happen. Especially because the show, Orange Is The New Black was so popular this year.

    • I really want to second Chelsea Manning. But yeah, any trans* woman would’ve been incredible.

      Instead, we have a white male. Whoo-hoo.

  4. These are all great women. But I kind of think it’s an odd list having someone who is in a male prison for four years for defending herself after being attacked by drunk racist transphobes put on the same list as a comedian on SNL. I’m not saying being a comedian on a network show doesn’t have its own importance to those who like the show but, wow, how can you equate getting a cushy job on a mediocre program to actual survival? One of these is not like the other.

    • The Person of the Year is flawed as a concept. More than anything, it boils down to media attention, which, for better or worse, everyone on this list has in common.

    • Representation. She’s the first out lesbian on SNL. That’s a huge deal. Lesbian visibility is so damn low, in history and right now. She’s out, she’s proud, and even more so, she doesn’t fit some tiny little stereotype of a lesbian. So there’s that. Just my two cents.

      • It is a flawed concept but somehow, comparing stories of a woman being thrown in prison (a men’s one yet) for trying to protect herself from people bodily attacking her (and yes, that was in 2012) shouldn’t be juxtaposed with people getting jobs in media. Maybe they both received publicity, but that doesn’t mean they belong in the same list. One is an egregious human rights violation while the other stuff is show biz news. And Danitra Vance who was on SNL in the 90s was widely known to be queer by people ‘in the community’ and didn’t hide it even if she didn’t make a big media statement.

  5. All of these women are amazing and inspiring and far, far more deserving than the freaking Pope. Luckily, in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a magazine list and it in no way interferes with the continued awesomeness of queer folks actually working to make the world a little better however they can.

  6. Edie Windsor. My vote, anyway.

    The Advocate sucks, besides. Using it for queer women news is like depending on Ryan Murphy for representation – it isn’t going to end well.

  7. I’m totally all for Edie Windsor. She is like my hero. Without her, thousands of families might still be torn apart and forced to live away from each other. If I was given the chance to even just say THANK YOU to her. MAN, I could die happy. AS make it happen with an interview with her? Pretty please? =) You know you wanna.

    • Send a thank you card to Edie and her lawyer Roberta Kaplan
      Paul Weiss Law c/o Roberta Kaplan
      1285 Avenue of the Americas
      New York, NY 10019-6064
      United States

    • I want her to be my lesbian grandma + would be 100% down for interviewing her. But I have a feeling she’s kind of burnt out on that after the year she’s had!

  8. you know it’s terribly hard to say who on this list deserves the nomination because i was aware of 90% of them and ALL of them are a true inspiration. ok i might vote brittney because crush…

  9. Diana Nyad has my vote! All of these women are truly incredible.
    Cannot wait to see the documentary Laverne Cox is working on.

  10. Free CeCe! That’s my only real contribution to this post.

    (real talk: all of these women have made it a very proud 2013 for me)

Comments are closed.