Forty Under 40: Part One

Here are the standouts from this year.



30, Los Angeles, Activist

Perhaps no crucial lawsuit involving the fundamental rights of gay people has been supported so strongly and exhaustively as the Proposition 8 suit, which went to trial last year in a San Francisco courtroom. Adam Umhoefer, who had previously spent six months working as a field organizer in Montana for the Obama presidential campaign, was hired in the early life of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which funded and organized the litigation. For two years as senior project director, Umhoefer has worked to prepare the four plaintiffs for the media onslaught and sustain the organization through fund-raising efforts that earlier this year included a private concert by Elton John in Beverly Hills. Marching on the streets of Los Angeles to protest Prop. 8’s passage helped to ignite Umhoefer’s LGBT advocacy career. “It’s the personal stories that motivate me,” says Umhoefer, a native of Racine, Wis. “Whether it’s the powerful testimony from our plaintiffs describing the harms they’ve suffered or the heartbreaking accounts of teen bullying and suicide, I’ve come to fully understand the consequences of state-sanctioned discrimination. I’m confident the work we’re doing will help all LGBT Americans, not just those that want to get married.”

Matthew Sachs
24, San Francisco, Health worker

Matthew Sachs knows what website you’re hooking up on. He’s paid to know. As a community health intervention specialist for San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, he studies “hookup sites” to monitor the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases. “I’m from a generation that started meeting partners primarily through the Internet, so it seems the natural course of action,” he says. Sachs says he pursued a career in sex education because growing up, most of what he learned about sex in school was focused on heterosexuals. “Sex was treated like something to be feared and riddled with negative consequences,” he says. His experiences might explain his latest undertaking. As a novice with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Sachs is hoping to extend his community outreach and further build relationships between safe-sex advocacy groups. After first chatting with a sister at a beer bust in 2006, Sachs says, he was taken with the sisters’ ability to work an event, sell raffle tickets, and hold a meaningful conversation about charity work and safe-sex practices “all with nun’s habit and whiteface drag makeup. I’d never seen anything like it before.”

Nikki Peet
17, Corpus Christi, Texas, Student, activist

Nikki Peet is a fighter. The high school senior from Corpus Christi, Texas, who lives with osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition more commonly known as brittle bone disease, has survived her share of injuries and non–wheelchair-friendly campuses. So when the queer student decided to form a gay-straight alliance at Flour Bluff High School, she wasn’t dismayed by her principal’s repeated refusals. Instead of giving up, she enlisted the help of Texas A&M’s GSA, which threatened legal action. High school officials responded by banning all nonacademic clubs from meeting on campus. Support for Peet’s cause snowballed to include Equality Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, and a petition, which gathered 55,000 signatures. After a nine-hour protest in March, the school agreed to permit the club — temporarily. “The superintendent is going to get together some people to review us,” Peet says, “to see if the GSA is beneficial or if we’re disrupting people.” Peet, who plans to study cosmetology after graduation, says this experience has taught her an important lesson: “Everyone has a voice. If you feel discriminated against, you should stand up for what you believe in and never give up.”

Bryce Bennett
26, Missoula, Mont., Montana state representative

The first openly gay man elected to the Montana legislature, Bryce Bennett hopes that LGBT Montanans will see him as a resource, something that was unavailable to him at the start of his career. “When I was first becoming interested in politics I didn’t see anyone like me,” he says. “I didn’t think it was possible for a gay man to be elected to office because there were simply too many hurdles. I just want to do my small part to show young gay people that you can succeed.” No stranger to the front lines, the 26-year-old Democrat previously worked for Forward Montana as a field organizer to pass the state’s first LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance in Missoula last year. “We are told over and over by society that we shouldn’t be proud of who we are and that we shouldn’t rock the boat,” he says. “Being openly gay lets me be out front to make waves.”