Lena Waithe’s “Vanity Fair” Cover Is a Watershed Moment for Black Lesbian Visibility

Feature image and images throughout article via Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

Do you ever have one of those moments where your world suddenly spins sideways? That’s what happened to me this morning when I saw Lena Waithe’s cover on the new edition of Vanity Fair.

There’s a lot happening. It’s still incredibly rare to see a lesbian, bisexual, or queer woman on the cover of a major media publication. It’s bordering on unheard of for the cover subject to be a queer woman of color. More than anything, what took my breath away was seeing a butch heartthrob like Lena Waithe get to be fully herself — bare faced, locks hanging, fresh side cut, and in a white tee. With the faintest gold chain around her neck.

Here she is. She looks like the women I’ve loved, women who I’ve shared a morning coffee with over scratchy voices and bare legs, women I’ve kissed under streetlights. For just that moment, looking at this cover, it felt like the rest of the world gets to see our beauty in all of its black, queer glory.

The joy of this Vanity Fair piece continues. Lena is not only the featured model, photographed by the iconic lesbian photographer Annie Leibovitz, who did the Kate McKinnon Vanity Fair photos last fall that made us collectively swoon — but also the article and interview with Lena was completed by Jacqueline Woodson. Woodson, an award winning black lesbian writer perhaps best known for her works Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn, described Lena’s current rise succinctly, “For so many of us who have not seen an out Black lesbian front and center this way, her arrival is a small, long-awaited revelation. Her arrival is our arrival.”

That feeling — “our arrival” — perfectly describes this interview as a whole. A black lesbian media star, being interviewed by a black lesbian writer, in one of the world’s most famous and lauded publications. It’s a watershed moment. Black queer women being given open space to be warm, and smart, and loving with each other — that’s the world we should all get to live in.

In the interview, Lena Waithe talks about her influences ranging from black sitcom classic A Different World  to literary great James Baldwin; the love she has for her fiancée, producer Alana Mayo; and the love she has for black women like her mother and grandmother, who raised her; the community of black women mentors and peers she’s building in Hollywood. She never says the word “feminist,” but that revolutionary kind of love bleeds through every word. She’s bringing all of herself to the table, just as she has every step of the way thus far. Watching her shine feels like cheering for a member of the greatest home team — because it is. In her editor’s letterVanity Fair Editor-in-Chief Radhika Jones correctly names 2018 as Lena’s year. Given the way she loves on us, I’m ready for it to be Lena Waithe’s decade.

I could talk about Lena Waithe forever. Instead, I leave you with this quote from the interview, which comes directly from Waithe herself, “We gotta tell our shit. Can’t no one tell a black story, particularly a queer story, the way I can, because I see the God in us.”

Go out there and make some magic today.

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Carmen Phillips

Carmen Phillips is Autostraddle's former editor in chief. She began at Autostraddle in 2017 as a freelance team writer and worked her way up through the company, eventually becoming the EIC from 2021-2024. A Black Puerto Rican feminist writer with a PhD in American Studies from New York University, Carmen specializes in writing about Blackness, race, queerness, politics, culture, and the many ways we find community and connection with each other.  During her time at Autostraddle, Carmen focused on pop culture, TV and film reviews, criticism, interviews, and news analysis. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. And there were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. To reach out, you can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram, or her website.

Carmen has written 716 articles for us.


  1. Well this makes my heart sing <3

    Thank you for bearing and sharing the glad tidings Carmen!

  2. Literally just joined A+ after reading your article. I realized I needed to stop effing around and support y’all in whatever way I can. Thank you!

    • HELLO!!!! WELCOME! I’m so excited that you became an A+ member! Hope we keep running in to each other around these parts!

  3. Lena Waithe + Alana Mayo + Jacqueline Woodson + Annie Leibovitz?!

    That’s almost too much goodness in one place for my queer heart to handle.

    I love that article and I love your enthusiasm for it, Carmen. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Carmen, Carmen, CARMEN YOU HAVE PERFECT TIMING. I need(ed) this article so much. Thank you. AHHHHHHH THIS IS SO FANTASTIC

    • and!!!! this!!!!

      “Her voice trails off. Maybe another writer would have pushed her for more. But in that moment I only want to sit with her in the quiet, to muse, wordlessly, about the strength of mothers and grandmothers and the many levels to our survival.”

      That’s that we’re not family but we’re family thing isn’t it? That this black lesbian writer recognizes it’s not time to push even though other writers (who don’t understand anything but hunger for a story no matter the ache it creates in the person they’re interviewing) would’ve. AHHH it gets better and better, this is making my whole week!

      • AND THIS!!!!!

        When I ask Lena if she thinks we’ll ever have our lesbian Moonlight, she is quick to tell me we’ve already had it. “Pariah,” she says, referring to Dee Rees’s stunningly rendered 2011 feature about a young black lesbian coming out. “I fuck with that movie really hard. I thought it was really beautiful.”


        • Yes!!!! To this day I am so sad that Pariah does not get the recognition it deserves cause it’s such an amazing movie!

          • Pariah is literally my favorite gay coming of age movie of all times. I’ve seen it more times than I can count. Glad to see we all share such excellent tastes!

  5. Saw Lena post this cover on instagram this morning and was SO EXCITED to read Autostraddle coverage of it–this exceeded expectations, thank you thank you!

  6. This is wonderful thank you for sharing this! Lena is a treasure. Cameron Esposito also a while back did an interview with her for her(Cameron’s podcast) that was a delightful listen(how can it not be with two butch Chicago gals).

  7. This actually gave me shivers! Your love, bolstered by Lena’s love, shone right through this Carmen

  8. Lena’s interview is the best thing I’ve read all week. She’s super bright, motivated, hard working and socially conscious… I could go on and on. Plus, seeing her and Alana in love, just living their lives within the pages of VF is so beautiful and feels monumental.

    My girlfriend and I watched the Thanksgiving episode of Master of None on our second date and we’ve been together for almost a year now, so clearly Lena does have the magic touch :)

  9. Well past time to see this!

    Thanks for the article for people like me who don’t bother with fashion type mags.

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