You’ve heard the term, and maybe you’ve known a few. Power Lesbians. Does Bette Porter come to mind? Well, guess what? Even if you’ve only seen them on TV, you can rest assured that they are not mythical creatures. These women are indeed very, very real. AfterEllen will be spotlighting power lesbians as part of a new series about gay women who are leading the way and making an impact in our community. We spoke with the following women about what they do, why they chose their careers and learned about their unique paths to success. This first list is all about the west coast, so lez get to it.
Founder of Dinah Shore Weekend, the biggest lesbian party in the world.
She’s single-handedly revolutionized her industry, overturned tradition and raised the bar on female achievement with an event that is entirely produced by women, for women. What started as a small event with 1,500 guests 28 years ago has turned into an event many women consider a rite of passage and a yearly lesbian mecca. 20,000 attendees fly to Palm Springs every March from all over the world, and every year seems to get bigger and better. This year marks The Dinah’s 28th anniversary, and all we are wondering is…how did she do it? Lesbian spaces are hard to come by, after all. And yet, not only has Hanson managed to build an empire out of The Dinah, the event has become the largest tourism booster in the Coachella Valley.
Hanson has booked talent like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Lizzo, and other Billboard charters and has a knack for finding breakout talent. She’s been awarded the first-ever Legacy Award at the 5th Annual Center Stage Gala; the 2015 NCLR Award; the 2014 Spirit of Stonewall Lifetime Achievement Award; and the 2013 Athena Leadership Award.
Beyond being a world-class party and music festival dedicated to lesbians, The Dinah is also a platform for Hanson and the artists performing at the event to take a stand, act and make a difference. Emphasizing the concept of partying “with a cause”, she is a woman deeply engaged/involved in social & political issues affecting the LGBT community but as well women in general, famously partnering with the likes of GLAAD, NoH8, HRC, Equality California, to name a few.
We know she’s a dedicated activist and entrepreneur, but how does she keep so many women flocking to The Dinah year after year?
“Every year, my team and I aspire to create an even better Dinah than the one before. We are the measure of our own yardstick and so the event just gets bigger every year. We learn every year what works and what doesn’t anymore, and we fine tune the event constantly. It also helps that we produce the event in Palm Springs which is the perfect playground for The Dinah, with perfect weather, a welcoming city vibe, and hotels that love the group. And our customers take over the stage we create and they breathe life into the event in a way all the planning in the world could not duplicate.”
You can read our full 2017 interview with Mariah Hanson HERE
Owner of ILDK Media, a boutique PR company based in Los Angeles (Los Feliz) and specializing in LGBTQ PR campaigns.
Mona Elyafi not only built her own business by founding ILDK Media, she is the woman helping put other female entrepreneurs and talent on the map. If you’re looking for representation, she’s the publicist everyone wants, and that extends from LA to NYC. What is her secret?
“I, as both a woman entrepreneur and a member of the LGBTQ community (married to my wife for the past 3 years), have continuously been committed (under the ILDK marquee) to amplifying women’s voices, and supporting the LGBTQ community by championing campaigns focused on social & political causes directly affecting it,” Elyafi told AfterEllen.
Elyafi was born in Beirut, Lebanon and grew up in Paris before moving to La, then to NYC, then back to La where she now lives with her wife in Los Feliz and runs ILDK Media. Her background is in economics, political science, and journalism and she holds a Master’s in journalism from NYU. So how did she break into the PR game?
“My first job was with Sunshine Entertainment – an indie record company that had hits with Grammy Nominee Skee Lo (“I Wish) and The Movement (“Jump Everybody”). Working at Sunshine taught me a lot – I was handling everything from administrative duties, promo, recording, contracts to PR. It was there that I realized that PR was my calling. So I then went on to work for the Lee Solters Company (Lee Solters is credited for having invented the field of PR; some of his clients included: Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli, Michael Jackson etc. After years working for some of the top entertainment PR agencies in Los Angeles (including The Lee Solters Company), I took a leap of faith and launched my own PR firm, ILDK Media, in 2004. ILDK are my grandmother’s initial -she was and continues to be my role model, mentor and inspiration.”
What does she love about PR? Elyafi says the main objective in using her influence as a publicist to not only empower women but all artists who exude a genuine passion for their artistic craft and professional vocation.
“The saying that a publicist is a storyteller speaks volumes. The fact that you can pluck someone from near obscurity and thrust her/him into the spotlight with the right narrative is an immensely meaningful notion to me. My continuous goal is to be an inspirational trailblazing voice in my community by telling stories that act as a catalyst for change and move both the media and the public towards a more inclusive mentality.”
Her roster of clients, past and present, have included big names like transgender activist Michaela Mendelsohn (Transcanwork), Mariah Hanson (The Dinah Shore Weekend), Christin Baker (tello films), E. Jag Beckford (Rainbow Fashion Week), to Marlene Forte (The Fosters, Familia), among others she’s helped get coverage in mainstream media like NBC.com, Forbes, Buzzfeed, LAMag, LA Weekly, NY TImes, Nat Geo Traveller UK, Cosmopolitan, Elite Daily, Nylon, LA Times, among many others.
Staying at the forefront of change, ILDK has been instrumental in making LGBTQ agendas move into mainstream culture. Working hand in hand with clients to champion social and political causes that directly affect our community, ILDK Media cultivates long-term partnerships with a variety of associations including GLAAD, HRC, Equality California, The Trevor Project and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center.
“At the end of the day, the most rewarding aspect of my profession is the knowledge that I, via ILDK, am involved in the very process of helping to change minds and hearts.”
Founder and CEO of Tello Films, Christin Baker gifted the lesbian community with what’s been dubbed the “Lesbian Netflix.”
Christin Baker is founder and CEO of Tello Films, which produces and distributes high-quality web series with a lesbian focus. In 2016 the team at Tello proudly took The Lexa Pledge, which is a movement created by LGBT Fans Deserve Better. The pledge was made as a response to the death of Lexa, a character on the popular series The 100. From The Lexa Pledge website: “This website was born in an effort to raise awareness and encourage media creators to stop introducing LGBT characters into narratives for the sole purpose of baiting queer viewers in, only to force them to watch people like them repeatedly die in acts of shocking violence. The consistent messaging within the media that gay love is punishable by death or tragedy needs to end and not be passed on to the next generation.”
I interviewed Christin Baker in 2017, and since then tello has made even bigger strides, including an Emmy nomination for one of their in-house produced series.
Baker and tello films have empowered numerous women to direct, star in, or produce their own series, giving lesbians and women in general a platform to reach their female audience. Now, tello has acquired the rights to stream more mainstream titles like “Lip Service” and plans to add more shows iin the near future. AfterElen’s Karen Frost wrote about the expansion earlier this month:
“Boldly, Tello films is expanding from its initial focus since 2007 of producing and distributing its own in-house lesbian web series to streaming additional, externally produced content. On 18 March, Tello will begin to release episodes of “Lip Service,” with a new episode each Sunday (in limited countries).
On 1 April, the following movies will be available for screening globally on Tello: “Sometimes in Life,” “Bumblefuck USA,” “S&M Sally” (which, for the record, looks hilarious), and “Butch Jamie.” “Beyond Love,” “Fear of Water,” “Red is the Color of,” and “Girl King” will also be available in North America only. Additionally, Tello will release additional movies after its “Pitch to Production” contest this summer and will be at the Cannes Film Market to look for more titles, all while continuing to reach out to production companies and sales agents about adding their titles to its site.”
We’re rooting for you, Christin Baker! Let’s make Lesbian Netflix happen
The mastermind behind the lesbian sex toy empire Wet For Her
This French designer is breaking the stigma around sex toys and changing the dialogue around lesbian pleasure, and if you’re in the market for some new toys, you really shouldn’t even consider buying them from anywhere but Wet For Her. It’s only common sense that if you are having lesbian sex and you decide to spice things up with toys, you get a toy made by a lesbian. It’s a no-brainer. That being said, how does one decide to open a sex toy business dedicated to lesbians?
For Derock, the choice was obvious. There are very few toys out there that are actually made by a woman, for women, and nothing made by lesbian women for other lesbians. Alice Derock has filled that void with high-end products that are elegant and chic, showing off her French sense of style and a feminine edge. Plus, all the toys are 100 % silicone and phthalate free.
The sex toy industry has historically been tailored for men or for heterosexual couples. Sadly, a handful of companies are capitalizing on lesbian sexuality by selling irrelevant products, without contributing anything to the lesbian community. But why should men be the ones to make money off of female sexuality? This is a woman and a business we can 100% get behind and feel good about supporting.
Owner of the boutique brand and content consultancy “Ronnie B”
Ronnie B specializes in helping companies of all sizes find and fix problems that stem from inefficiencies in communication, and is known for “branding unicorns as a service” – a concept is really taking off recently in California.
Rhonda Bonneville’s business is exceptional in that she built her consultancy in a highly competitive market as a young, black lesbian with a minority and remote team. She’s bold and fearless, and that’s what has built much of her success.
“It was actually a nerve-wracking decision to go out on my own because I was well-paid at a well-funded startup as head of content and also had to turn down some amazing offers from other interested tech giants in the area. It came down to me wanting to spend the two years that I’d put into a startup (because that’s the life-cycle these days) into betting on myself and our ability to match those amazing offers with our own hustle and autonomy.”
Rhonda’s shared wisdom is that a consistently missed opportunity most companies and people make is not using skilled communicators outside of functions and departments where they’re traditionally hired. That is, most consider “communicators” to be those professionals living in the realm of marketing or public relations and rarely see their potential and necessity for improving other departments and functions within the company.
“I work with clients who first and foremost want to tell their stories in an innovative and effective way. Some people find it difficult to balance what they want to say with how people can best perceive the message and that’s where I come in. Some people need help discovering their brand, some need best practices to tell a story they are firm on, and others want to find out if they’re doing the right things. My clients have eclectic needs, work in various industries, and range from small starting businesses to larger fortune 50 companies – it’s important to be flexible.”
Jessica Weissbuch and Kayla Ryan Weissbuch
Co-founders of Brave Trails, a summer camp that serves LGBTQ youth.
In 2002, Jessica moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in order to pursue her dream of working in television production. As time passed, she realized her longing to work with people in a more meaningful way, and was compelled to work with LGBTQ youth. In March 2010, Jessica earned her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University with a specialization in LGBT psychology and became a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in 2016. She has worked with LGBTQ youth for over a decade starting her career at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Jessica is honored to be one of the co-founders of Brave Trails and continues to work with youth, building their leadership skills with programs that support LGBTQ youth to take a stand in their communities and be the leaders of tomorrow. Jessica lives to see these youth become empowered individuals who work together to change the world.
Kayla is a self-described teen advocate and an LGBTQ social justice entrepreneur. For over 10 years, Kayla has dedicated herself to LGBTQ youth leadership, education, and empowerment in and around Los Angeles County. Growing up, Kayla attended and worked at a summer camp from the time she was 8 until 18 years old. Camp gave her some of the most formative and impactful experiences, which she would later use as inspiration to create Camp Brave Trails.
Alongside running Camp Brave Trails, Kayla is pursuing a bachelors degree in Non-Profit Management at Antioch University Los Angeles. It is her goal to give young LGBTQ people the tools, mentors, and supportive peers to be change makers and confident leaders in their communities.