Past '40 Under 40' Honorees Are Still Changing The World
BY Daniel Reynolds
August 21 2014 9:30 AM ET
Since 2009 The Advocate has been profiling some of the best and brightest members of the LGBT community. From politicians, to rock stars, to community organizers, our "40 Under 40" has shown a spotlight on individuals who are working to make the world a more inclusive place.
A lot has happened in the world since 2009. Marriage equality has arrived or become a key issue in states across the country, the "transgender tipping point" has been covered by Time, and there are more out and proud public figures in politics and entertainment than ever before. And The Advocate is proud to report that many of our "40 Under 40" alumni have become key players in this ongoing movement toward LGBT equality.
Take a look at some of our past honorees who continue to bear the torch for change.
Brian Sims / Member of Pennsylvania House of Representatives
At the time The Advocate named Brian Sims to its “40 Under 40” list in 2012, the Pennsylvanian former attorney and NCAA football captain was still a greenhorn politician attempting to unseat a longtime Democratic incumbent in the state’s House of Representatives.
Later that year, he won the primary and then the election, becoming the first out elected official in Pennsylvania. Since assuming office as a representative of the state’s 182nd district in December 2012, Sims has become a major force in transforming the perception of Pennsylvania from “the state that spawned the political career of Rick Santorum” that “woefully lacks comprehensive LGBT rights laws,” as The Advocate noted two years ago. In 2013 Sims introduced a same-sex marriage bill as well as legislation to ban so-called gay conversion therapy. He has urged Sen. Bob Casey, a fellow Democrat, to support marriage equality, and asked Republican Sen. Pat Toomey to support ENDA. In response, they either voiced or voted for these respective LGBT rights causes, garnering Sims a reputation of reaching across party lines to advocate for change.
After a federal judge ruled that the 1996 ban on same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional in May 2014, Sims expressed his excitement about marriage equality in the Keystone State, while also cautioning that Pennsylvania still “lacks even the most basic protections for LGBT people.” Having secured the Democratic primary spot for his district earlier this year, we have no doubt Sims will continue to tackle LGBT rights issues like workplace equality throughout his reelection and beyond.
Andreja Pejic / Model
Andreja Pejic was a 19-year-old wunderkind in the fashion world when The Advocate profiled the Bosnian-born model in 2011. Pejic, our publication wrote, is “on the brink of supermodel status,” whose ability to walk Jean-Paul Gaultier’s catwalk in both men’s and women’s attire placed Pejic in “in a post-gender league of his own.”
As a model, Pejic has already achieved wild success, having appeared on the cover of New York magazine as well as in the music video of David Bowie’s “The Stars are Out Tonight.” In July 2014, after years of challenging the gender divide in fashion, Pejic came out as a transgender woman on Entertainment Tonight. Following her appearance, Pejic wrote a note on her Facebook wall thanking the public for its support and also extending a hand to gender noncomforting youth.
“I know it's hard, I've been there, but remember it’s your right to be accepted as what you identify with---you deserve the same respect as any other human being on this planet,” she wrote. “As a transgender woman I hope to show that after transition (a life-saving process) one can be happy and successful in their new chapter without having to alienate their past. Most importantly differences should not equal divisions, let's all stand together in union.”
Later this year, she is also set to appear in The Little Mermaid, a live-action adaptation of the classic fairytale directed by Sofia Coppola.
Sia / Musician
The career of musician Sia Furler, one of the entertainers profiled in The Advocate’s 40 Under 40 in 2009, has been nothing short of explosive. Since collaborating with Christina Aguilera to co-write "Bound to You," which was featured in the film Burlesque and received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song, the 38-year-old Australian native continues to work with some of the biggest names in the business. Her voice can be heard everywhere from David Guetta’s hit Titanium, on which she provides the vocals, to the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby, which features her song “Kill and Run.” In July 2014, her album 1000 Forms of Fear, led by the acclaimed single “Chandelier,” debuted to international success and acclaim, topping charts in Australia, Canada, and the United States. The music video of "Chandelier" alone has received more than 120 million hits on YouTube.
At the time of Sia’s interview with The Advocate in 2009, the bisexual singer had been planning to wed her then-girlfriend JD Samson, one of the band members of Le Tigre. She and Samson have since parted ways, but Sia tied the knot to filmmaker Erik Anders Lang earlier this month at her home in Palm Springs.
Dustin Lance Black / Filmmaker and Co-Founder of AFER
In 2009 The Advocate made writer Dustin Lance Black the cover of its “40 Under 40” issue on the heels of his now-legendary win for Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards. Channeling his hero Harvey Milk during his acceptance speech, Black skyrocketed to the international spotlight when he the told the world, "If Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than, by their churches, by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you."
Black has continued to make good on Milk’s mission, emerging as a major LGBT activist in his own right. In 2009 he became a co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization behind the challengers of Prop. 8 and its eventual overturning in the Supreme Court. Along the way, he wrote 8, an acclaimed play reenacting the federal trial Hollingsworth v. Perry, which may now be read free of charge on college campuses across the nation. True to his biopic background, Black also wrote a screenplay based on the life of another gay, if closeted, public figure, J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
Outside of Hollywood, Black has also successfully leveraged social media to enact change in the face of controversy. In one recent instance, Black's alma mater, Pasadena City College, revoked an invitation for Black to serve as a commencement speaker after old nude photos leaked by his ex were brought to the attention of members of the school’s administration. In response, Black wrote an open letter to the college’s students, criticizing the administration for "sending the message that LGBT students are to be held to a different standard, that there is something inherently shameful about who we are and how we love." The shameful slight became a teachable moment, as Black's invitation to speak at the 2014 graduation ceremony was restored. He accepted, and used the occasion to speak about how he overcame obstacles in his own life and encouraged the graduates to “let your freaky differences shine.”
In his private life, Black has also captured international attention in his relationship with Olympic diver and U.S. Splash host Tom Daley (pictured with Black above). Their Instagram photographs, widely reported by the gay press, provide a window into the happiness of love, regardless of sexual orientation.
Heather R. Mizeur / Member of Maryland House of Delegates
Heather R. Mizeur, a Maryland state legislator, caught The Advocate’s eye in 2011 for her work representing the state’s 20th district, where she became a champion for issues ranging from community-building, to education, to statewide marriage equality.
In 2014, same-sex marriage has been legal in the Old Line state for more than a year, and Mizeur has established herself as a politician who isn’t afraid to stand by her guns, most notably to her own party’s plan to expand casino gambling in Maryland. This year, she also made headlines as a candidate in the state’s gubernatorial election, in order to fulfill her goal of becoming the first out politician elected as governor. Although she ultimately lost the Democratic primary to Anthony Brown, Mizeur has proven herself a mover-and-shaker who, casinos or no casinos, isn’t afraid to take a chance on creating change.
Vincent Pompei, Director at the Human Rights Campaign
Vincent Pompei began his career a public school teacher, who, after experiencing harassment by his school’s administration for his sexual orientation, ousted an antigay administrator through a formal complaint. Galvanized to help others avoid this kind of discrimination, Pompei began LGBT awareness training for educators in his district, and then beyond. He went on to join and serve as the conference chair of Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership (CESCaL), where he helped launch initiatives to prevent bullying and suicide among youth across the nation.
Since joining the ranks of The Advocate’s "40 Under 40" in 2012, Pompei has entered a PhD program in Education Leadership and has testified at a congressional hearing to advocate for safe schools. He was also hired by the Human Rights Campaign as director of the Youth Well-Being Project, where he leverages his 10 years of experience as a teacher and counselor to organize an annual national conference that focuses on the safety and health of LGBT young people. In the photo above, Pompei is greeting Chelsea Clinton at the inaugural Time to THRIVE conference in Las Vegas.
Jazz / Founder of the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation
Jazz, the eloquent, outgoing 13-year-old transgender activist, is rarely far from her next endeavor. Named to The Advocate's 40 Under 40 in 2012, she is well-known from her appearances with Barbara Walters on 20/20, on MTV, Logo, the Oprah Winfrey Network documentary I Am Jazz, and her founding of the Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation. Recently, according to GLAAD, she has even added "children's book author" to her list of accolades, having published her cowritten picturebook I Am Jazz.
Now, the teen has started videoblogging to reach her peers and spread her message of acceptance and resolve — starting with a stirring "Letter to the World." Referring to letter writing as "a peaceful approach to achieving equality for all," Jazz says she made the vlog to give voice to her own evolving perceptions of herself and the world. For instance, she explains how she no longer accepts being told she was "born a boy."
"Yes, I used to say it myself," she admits. "But as I've grown over the years, I've understood something: I always was a girl."
"By the end of this, I want to pass my confidence and pride in being transgender to others," she continues. "Although most would run away from who they are, I embrace my uniqueness."
(Mitch Kellaway contributed to this report)
Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge
In 2011 The Advocate interviewed Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and his partner Sean Eldridge for the cover story of “40 Under 40.” At the time, the pair was planning for their nuptials, although the future seemed uncertain. The New York State Senate had recently rejected same-sex marriage, and Eldridge had withdrawn from Columbia Law School to work as communications director at Freedom to Marry in order to fight for the right to wed Hughes. When Eldridge was asked if he would ever consider running for political office at the time of the interview, he responded, “Yeah, uh, we’ll see. I think these things are hard to predict.”
Three years later, Eldridge is running for Congress in the New York district where he and Hughes have since purchased a $1.9 million home. (They married in 2012 after same-sex marriage was legalized in New York.) Eldridge now runs Hudson River Ventures, an investment fund that supports small business in the Hudson Valley, and also serves on the board of Scenic Hudson, which works toward environmental conservation in the region.
Hughes, who ran the online campaign in Barack Obama’s 2008 election and was thus billed by Fast Company magazine as "The Kid Who Made Obama President," is continuing to make a mark in media. In 2012 he purchased and revitalized the century-old publication The New Republic, a progressive bimonthly magazine of which he now serves as editor in chief.
Ireen Wüst / Olympic athlete
Ireen Wust rose to the international spotlight at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, where the speed skater, 19 at the time, took home gold at the 3000-meter event. But that limelight was nothing compared to when she announced she was dating a fellow female skater, Sanne van Kerkhof, three years later, and subsequently told off a reporter for being overly intrusive, asking why he wasn’t as equally interested in the private lives of her male teammates.
Regardless, the bisexual athlete took home Olympic gold in Vancouver in 2010, and again in Sochi in 2014, where, despite the antigay political climate, she took home five medals, garnering her the distinction of becoming the first out LGBT athlete to win a gold medal at these games. At this point, she also became the most decorated female skater from the Netherlands. Many criticized Wust for hugging Russian President Putin after the first of these wins, the act of which was captured on YouTube. (Wust told a Dutch broadcaster “got a cuddle from him” at her celebratory party.) But others also pointed to the subversive nature of the gesture—an antigay political figure embraces a member of the LGBT community, and the recording becomes part of the “gay propaganda” he banned.
Chad Griffin / President of Human Rights Campaign
“Chances are you've never heard of Chad Griffin,” begins the cover story of The Advocate’s “40 Under 40” issue in 2010, which profiled the up-and-coming activist and his work as founder the non-profit American Foundation for Equal Rights. At the time, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the challenging case to California’s Proposition 8 law assembled by AFER, had yet to be decided at the district level, and it was still three years away from what ultimately would be a Supreme Court decision that would restore marriage equality to California. While Griffin, who got his start at age 19 in the White House press office of the Clinton administration, was known locally in Southern California for campaigns that included wilderness protection, his reach had yet to extend nationally.
Today, chances are you have heard of Chad Griffin, who was named as president of the Human Rights Campaign in 2012, in part due to the broad political and cultural impact of AFER and these trials, which are recounted in the play 8, directed by co-founder Dustin Lance Black, as well as the recent HBO documentary The Case Against 8. Although it has only been two years since Griffin took the reins at HRC, his mark has already been indelible. In this position, Griffin steered national dialogue toward LGBT issues and helped win political victories for advocates of our cause, including the 2012 reelection of Barack Obama, who became the first sitting president to endorse same-sex marriage. This year, Griffin has also pushed for not only the Employment Non-Discrimination Act free of religious exemptions, but also a “fully comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill” and a world where “full federal equality is the only acceptable option,” as he stated in an op-ed for Buzzfeed.
And what of the long-term plan for a man who has already accomplished so much? When asked what the future held in 2010 for his career, Griffin, who had spent the day photographing nature in the reserves he had helped protect outside of Los Angeles, responded, “As long as I’m challenged and enjoy what I’m doing, I’ll keep doing it… But I certainly don’t plan on being in politics my entire life. One of these days, who knows when, I could disappear for a few years with my camera.”
See a full list of all past "40 Under 40" honorees on the following pages.
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- S.C. Congressional Candidate: Beware of Gay 'Gremlins'