Forty Under 40: Part One

Here are the standouts from this year.




Ryan O’Connor
30, Los Angeles, Entertainer

“Being associated with Oprah Winfrey has opened doors,” says O’Connor, who placed fourth on Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star, a reality competition on Winfrey’s new cable network. “There’s still no comedic gay male host on American TV, but that’s about to change. It’s my responsibility as an openly gay entertainer to lead by example and, as Gandhi said, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world.’” When his solo act, Ryan O’Connor Eats His Feelings, plays New York’s Laurie Beechman Theatre in May, a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Trevor Project, but O’Connor has already inspired at least one “it gets better” moment back in his hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz. “This teenage kid — he looked just like me when I was his age — told me I was his hero,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I didn’t do anything heroic.’ He said, ‘You were you.’ ” 

Mark Shambura
35, New York City, Talent agent

“For me, it comes down to being authentic, and I have found being honest and open with my family and colleagues to be empowering,” says Creative Artists Agency marketing agent Mark Shambura. “How can we ever change others’ opinions if we don’t present our real selves?” Shambura knows a thing or two about presentation — he’s worked on entertainment accounts for some of the world’s biggest brands, including Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and eBay. He’s also been very involved with Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, dedicating his personal time as a board member. “I strongly believe that media and entertainment has the power to transform opinion and inspire others to get involved,” he says. Shambura and his partner, Philip Ross, were wed in Provincetown, Mass., in 2010. 

Amber Heard
25, Los Angeles, Actress

Known for her roles in films such as The Stepfather, Zombieland, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, and Drive Angry 3D, Heard came out publicly as a lesbian last December at a GLAAD event, where she walked the red carpet with partner Tasya van Ree, a photographer she has dated since 2008. “I am acutely aware of the role that the media plays in influencing public opinion and influencing society, and with that awareness comes the burden of responsibility,” Heard said at the event. “I think when I became aware of my role in the media, I had to ask myself an important question: ‘Am I part of the problem?’ ” And as a sign of progress, Heard is perhaps more in demand than ever — she has a costarring role opposite Johnny Depp in The Rum Diaries, due this fall, and she’s been cast as a “bunny” newbie in the NBC pilot for Playboy, a drama set in the 1960s heyday of Hugh Hefner’s clubs. Heard takes the attention in stride, saying, “Just because I’m with a woman now doesn’t mean I’m less or more capable of changing the world.”

Blake Skjellerup
25, Calgary, Canada, Speed skater

Olympian Blake Skjellerup acknowledges that he faced a lot of homophobia prior to coming out in May 2010, but his persecutors eventually realized their mistakes. “They make more of an effort to treat me as the equal — but more fabulous — human that I am,” he says with a laugh. Skjellerup says he decided to be open about his sexuality because of the paucity of other out athletes in both professional and Olympic sports. “I do not think anyone should have to hide who they are because of fear or persecution,” he says. “I had no doubt that my coming out would be a positive experience, and I wanted to share that with other LGBT athletes around the world.” After competing in short-track speed skating world championships in England this spring, Skjellerup plans to return to his native New Zealand to support a queer-straight alliance. “I would like the New Zealand government to recognize that homophobia is a real problem in schools and that support and education should exist to combat this,” Skjellerup says. “Working with the QSA is step 1 to understanding what some of the kids there have gone through and how their support network successfully operates.”