For the second year in a row we called on our readers to nominate the outstanding women in our community who have been making waves in 2012 and are picking up some serious momentum as we work our way through 2013. From the activist to the artistic, the response was overwhelming. A huge year for women and our rights, the nominees reflected the amazing work that is being done on a daily basis and narrowing it down to ten was not an easy task. We are excited to announce the Top Ten Lesbians of 2013, and cannot wait to see the places these women go in the next year and beyond. On behalf of the entire L Stop Team— Congratulations ladies!
Actor and Producer
Lisa Cordileone is a Chicago actor who stood out in the 2012 Lesbian community as a star and producer of the new hit web series Easy Abby. Originally from upstate-New York, Lisa earned a BFA in Acting from East Carolina University. Once in Chicago Lisa studied at the Second City Improv and Music Improv Conservatories, and worked with theatre companies such as Stage Left Theatre (Warped by Barb Lhota), Profiles Theatre (Persuasion Paper 101 by Neil LaBute), and The Side Project (Through the Middle Ground by Louis Cancelmi). Her current project, Easy Abby is a collaboration with Writer/Director (and fellow Top Ten 2013) Wenjo Carlton that received over 1.5 million views in its first season! On top of playing the quirky and anxious seductress Abby, Lisa spends time as a voiceover actor where she has recorded several audiobooks. If you haven’t seen Lisa out spreading the word about her work, here’s your chance to get caught up before it’s to late- that or you can hop in one of her voiceover training workshops so you can say you knew her “when”!
Filmmaker and Playwright
Coquie Hughes has writing and directing for over 20 years, exploring themes such as domestic violence, the place of queer women in black culture and others which touch on overcoming similar societal hurdles. A mother of two, Coquie founded and runs the media arts training program Lights Camera Youth Action, and a comparable program for adults: Urban Chi Filmmakers. On top of her groundbreaking work on the big screen with films such as Gotta Get my Hair Did and Daughters of the Concrete, Coquie has recently been working on a webseries based off of her 2012 film If I Was Your Girl, which is set to screen its Season 1 finale in Chicago over Pride weekend 2013. Coquie is currently gearing up to shoot her debut feature film Granny Ballers, an urban family comedy about friendship and the ability to stand in the face of adversity. Extremely well directed and impactful, Coquie’s work brings a voice and a face to so many issues that have remained untouched, and it will only grow louder in the year to come.
Cassandra Avenatti is an activist, advocate and organizer who has been passionate about social justice since Elementary School, where she organized a 5th grade fundraiser. Since then, her work has taken her in several directions- as well as countries. From creating and directing programs for queer youth to providing therapy for survivors of political torture, Cassandra advocates tirelessly for reproductive and gender justice, LGBTQ rights and comprehensive sexuality education. The outreach she does spans well beyond normal working hours; her home has become a reoccurring location for “family dinners” for street based youth and has provided some homeless youth shelter for a night or two. If it seems like there are not enough hours in the day to accommodate all of Cassandra’s passion- let alone extracurriculars- you are wrong! On top of singing in a queer choral ensemble and hosting a queer book club, she is a board member and organizer for the Sex Workers Outreach Project. Cassandra recently accepted a position as Coordinator of the Center for Sexuality, Gender & HIV Prevention at Children’s Hospital, where she is excited to build a community and provide services and support to queer young people in communities beyond Boystown. Though she has added one more opportunity to her list, Cassandra dreams of establishing an affirming and self-sustaining housing program for homeless queer youth called Project Fierce Chicago.
Producer, Event planner and Publicist
Described as a “producer, event planner, taste maker, fashion idol, social master and queer powerhouse” Kristen Kaza is a woman of many hats. Leaving her role as Marketing Director for The Chicago Reader last year, this Columbia College Chicago Alum and current instructor began her own event production company called No Small Plans. Creator and host of Slo’ Mo, a queer dance party in Logan Square, Kristen used her ability to bring people together to fill a much needed gap in the neighborhood.
Known for her passion for social justice and her talent of uniting the masses, her production company worked throughout 2012 to produce One Billion Rising, an unprecedented campaign to end violence against women through a coordinated global strike which took place in 183 countries on Valentine’s day of this year. Honored in 2009 as one of 30 Under 30 by the Windy City Times, Kristen has only been picking up steam since.
Filmmaker Wendy Jo Carlton may not ring a bell right away, but chances are if you are a Chicago queer or perused the lesbian section of Netflix, you have come across her work without even knowing it. Wendy Jo has provided the LGBTQ community with content that is not only relevant, but also well written, directed and produced. Described as an artist that is consistently “creating, thinking and pushing the envelope”, she has used her talents to entertain while simultaneously addressing themes prevalent to the queer community. On top of her 2009 Hannah Free starring Sharon Gles, her film Jamie and Jessie are Not Together won an Audience Award and Best Feature Award, a Jury Award for Best Lesbian Feature, and Jury Award for Best Actress (Jessica London-Shields). In addition, distinguished film critics Roger Ebert (Sun-Times) and Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune) both gave the film 3-star reviews. Wendy Jo’s current project is the acclaimed web series Easy Abby for which she has received Golden Kitty Awards from MyLesbianRadio.com, for Best Director for a Lesbian Web Series as well as the Award for Best Lesbian Web Series . Keep your eyes out for more of this director’s work because she is truly a wealth of creativity and ambition that only has greater things ahead.
Activist and Volunteer
Aimee Mandolini has spent the last five years working as the Development Manager at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and was responsible for supporting the strategy and implementation of the organization’s annual development program, including individual, foundation and corporate fundraising. Prior to INCS, Aimee worked as the Business Administrator for two private therapeutic high schools, and managed the schools’ operational systems and processes including financial management, human resources, accounting, and compliance. Aimee serves as a volunteer for various local organizations including the Young Leaders Board and the Development Committee at the Center on Halsted, the Young Leaders Society at the United Way of Metro Chicago, and the Human Rights Campaign 2012 Gala Corporate Committee. In 2012 Aimee was named a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Chicago Fellows Program. Aimee will begin her role as the Director of Development at the University of Denver, Daniels College of Business in April 2013, but is looking forward to continuing to actively supporting several organizations throughout Chicago.
Marty McConnell may have just had her first book (Wine for a Shotgun) published this year, but this woman’s talents and contributions reach far beyond print. As a member of several National Poetry Slam teams split between New York and Chicago, she was the 2012 National Underground Poetry Individual Competition (NUPIC) Champion. In addition to her time on stage, Marty has found time to co-curate the flagship reading series of the New York City-based louderARTS Project, which appeared on both the second and fifth seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. Most recently, Marty co-found Vox Ferus, an organization dedicated to empowering and energizing individuals and communities through the written and spoken word. Hailed for her ability to provide a unique and much needed introspective of life and love outside the lines in the 21st century, the poet skillfully interweaves the themes of the work, sometimes addressing those that would often be ignored. 2013 is already an exciting year for Marty as she tours the country promoting her book and leading workshops, but if you are lucky you will be able to catch her before she is on to her next project.
2012 was an exciting year for women in politics, both for the fate of our rights and the representation we elected. At the forefront of the Chicago Democratic scene stood Leah Israel, who tirelessly served as Finance Director to propel Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth to victory in the Illinois 8th District Congressional race. From her time in college as a volunteer for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid to her years of various campaigns such as Sen. Al Franken and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Leah is a true warrior of the political scene in Chicago and the Midwest. With a longstanding passion for LGBT equality and activism, she not only realizes that the influence of this community is crucial to the movement but ensures it drives her work and campaigns. Leah’s work has not only taken her to the national stage, but to Turkey and Nepal where the Department of State sponsored her in a political exchange program. If you think this up and coming political powerhouse is slowing down any time soon, you’d be wrong. Leah was recently elected to serve on the board of Camp for All Kids, a non profit organization that promotes racial diversity by raising funds to send underprivileged children to overnight camp.
Award winning filmmaker Ky Dickens has been an important voice for the LGBTQ community for several years and is only gaining more momentum as she prepares to release another feature film project this year. Her work directing the documentary Fish Out of Water brought her critical acclaim for her use of animation, LGBT narratives and historical analysis to deconstruct seven bible verses used to condemn homosexuality. Most recently, Ky joined forces with Rock the Vote & Equality Illinois to direct the Vote Naked Illinois campaign, which resulted in over 500,000 absentee ballot requests in Illinois, greatly impacting the midterm elections. As a Documentary Juror at Chicago’s Reeling Film Festival and panelist at the Chicago International Film Festival, Ky has been working hard to present her current project. Sole Survivor, set to be released this year, profiles four people who are the only survivors of otherwise fatal plane crashes, giving them a sensitive platform to tell their stories of fate and survival.
State Representative, IL-14
Representative Kelly Cassidy is not only a politician, but a fearless leader, advocate, mother of three and usually seen sitting down only when in Springfield voting on groundbreaking legislation. Prior to her role representing the 14th District, Cassidy was responsible for development and management of the $20 Million grant funding programs within the State’s Attorney’s office. She was a key player in creating programs for domestic violence victims, hate crimes victims and victims of human trafficking, as well as programs to address mortgage fraud, support community justice centers and enhance the use of DNA evidence.
In her short time as one of Illinois’ 4 openly gay legislators in the general assembly, Cassidy has already become a force to be reckoned with. A fierce advocate for women’s and family rights, she focuses not only on the community she currently represents, but the state she would like to see. From experience in the non-profit sector to local and state governments, Cassidy brings her vigor to the Capitol to fight the important fights. Most recently, Representative Cassidy co-sponsored the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act (Marriage Equality Bill) which is currently waiting to be brought for a vote in front of the House of Representatives and is hoped to be passed with ease this Spring. From spending her weekends knocking on every door in her district with her three boys in tow to making fresh baked muffins on her first day in Springfield, Representative Kelly Cassidy is not going anywhere anytime soon.
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Lauren was born and raised in South Minneapolis and like many other innocent midwesterners got sucked into the black hole of Chicago politics 4 years ago. As the LGBT Coordinator for the Gery Chico for Mayor Campaign she attempted to take on the entire city and hasn’t looked back since. Now working for a communications firm, she spends her extra time running around with cases of PBR playing in different sports leagues, hosting couchsurfers from all over the place, and deciding how she is going to change the world. A simple lady at her core, she has decided that the first person to send her an edible arrangement must be the one.