We're a community service, not just a business," say Kaia Wilson and Tammy Rae Carland, cofounders of Mr. Lady, a music label and video distributor founded by and for lesbian feminists. Yes, they do everything, from getting CDs pressed to designing album covers to promoting releases; their covers boast a radical twist, and they share a whopping 50 percent of profits with their artists. But at its core, Mr. Lady is a gay and lesbian activist group. "We use art to organize our activism," says Wilson. The duo and their artists hold speakouts across the U.S. to talk about sexual identity and have a following in the thousands. At any given event, expect to see a cross-section of the feminist community, including police-brutality protesters, pro-choicers, and activists from health centers, rape-crisis clinics, and queer youth groups. When they're not on the road, Wilson and Carland spend a large part of their time fielding calls for help from gay teens seeking advice and support. "What keeps us going," says Carland, who is also a professor of film and photography at the University of North Carolina, "is the opportunity to mobilize our community and heighten gay/lesbian consciousness in the entertainment industry."
The Durham, North Carolina- based Mr. Lady was founded in Greencastle, Indiana, in 1996, when Wilson, a musician, began searching for a label that was sensitive to lesbian issues. When she discovered few options, she and Carland invented one. Added inspiration came from their experiences in hetero-happy middle America. "They thought we were such weirdos!" Carland laughs. "We wanted a community we could connect with." Their latest project? A shout-out to the transgender crowd on a CD compilation entitled Calling All Kings and Queens. For more info, visit www.mrlady.com.