Forty Under 40: Part One
BY Advocate.com Editors
April 12 2011 3:00 AM ET
Read The Advocate's interview with Forty Under 40 honorees and cover subjects Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge here.
33, Los Angeles, Actress
Janora McDuffie is nothing if not honest. She’ll tell you without hesitation that she had second thoughts about accepting the job as host of NoMoreDownLow.TV, a Web show highlighting positive stories of gay black Americans. The actress — who’s appeared in numerous projects, including 24, Lie to Me, and the Beyoncé film Obsessed — is bisexual, but she knows in Hollywood, that’s anything but an asset. “I talk a lot of shit about people not out in the industry and what powerful strides they could make if they just said, ‘Hey, this is who I am,’ ” McDuffie says. “I decided there’s no way I could point my finger at them and then have the opportunity to make a difference — and not take it.” So McDuffie told show creator Earnest Winborne that she’d take the job, and she’s never looked back. The North Carolina native has embraced her role on NoMoreDownLow.TV, which launched in October, pitching ideas about subjects like gay parenting and chronicling her training for the seven-day AIDS/LifeCycle bike ride. “It’s such a worthwhile experience working on something greater than myself,” McDuffie says. “Magic happens when you stick to your guns and live with integrity and character — even in Hollywood.”
24, Provo, Utah, Student, activist
Cary Crall had just returned from a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he learned of the church’s campaign to pass California’s Proposition 8. Crall, who knew he was gay but wasn’t out to his fellow students at Brigham Young University, wasn’t comfortable with the reactions he encountered to the measure. “I felt like [people] were very smug in their position on Prop. 8, as if their views were supported not just by their religious beliefs but by studies and science.” After district judge Vaughn Walker overturned the ban in 2010, Crall read the entire decision and was astonished by the lack of studies and science in the church’s defense. “There was no real support for these ‘rational’ arguments for Prop. 8,” Crall says, “and I wanted to point that out.” He wrote an editorial in the BYU student newspaper, calling on Mormons to question their reasons for supporting the measure. His letter was published in the paper’s print run but was quietly pulled from the online edition after a few hours. The attempt to silence Crall backfired when major outlets like ABC News began asking him to defend his letter, and his bravery and eloquence in doing so made him a hero to many. Crall, who graduated in April and will attend medical school in the fall, still considers himself a Mormon but plans to continue asking questions and supporting LGBT causes.
Heather R. Mizeur
38, Takoma Mark, Md., Maryland state legislator
Since her election to Maryland’s house of delegates in 2007, Heather Mizeur has had her eye on the future. A Democrat representing the state’s 20th district, she says she believes strongly in investing in a 21st-century economy and educating our children to manage it. She’s also a big proponent of building sustainable communities and has been fighting tirelessly for marriage equality in Maryland. After coming out as a lesbian in college, Mizeur has lived her life publicly and truthfully, and she says her sexual orientation hasn’t stood in the way of her political ambitions. She found that out while going door-to-door campaigning for Takoma Park’s city council, on which she served from 2003 to 2005. She was running against a Latino man, and a female voter told her that while she thought Mizeur was the better candidate, she preferred to stand up and vote for diversity. “I paused for a minute,” Mizeur recalls, “then I said, ‘I’m technically a diversity candidate too. I’m openly gay.’ And the woman answered, ‘Oh, dear—that is so not a diversity issue in our community.’
26, New Haven, Conn., Artist
Artist and sculptor Daphne Arthur, 26, focuses on memory in her work, which she exhibited in her first solo show, at the Rare Gallery in New York City last year. “Most of the time the work tries to captivate the remnants of an experience, a touch, a memory, a feeling, a color,” says the Yale University School of Art graduate. “I have always been fascinated by the way we create personal histories by the construction and deconstruction of memory.” The native Venezuelan finds inspiration in the past, where she names Berenice Abbott, Claude Cahun, Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Kass, Julie Mehretu, Mickalene Thomas, Reinaldo Arenas, and Federico García Lorca among her most admired predecessors. “In retrospect, being out has always kindled my curiosity of gay and lesbian artists and writers, maybe to establish a line of affinity, but I always felt that looking into their life, work, and anecdotes would give me a unique sensibility of a particular time in history,” she says. When not spending time with her partner, she works in her Connecticut studio, where she is preparing for the Florence Biennale this year.
36, Philadelphia, Marketing director
As marketing director for Chase Sapphire, Brent Reinhard oversees the entire portfolio of customers for the first Chase card to specifically target LGBT customers in media advertising. A Chase employee for eight years, the 36-year-old is actively involved in the LGBT community in the Philadelphia area, and he believes his contributions make him a stronger performer in the workplace. “Our cardholders are not homogeneous; they represent diversity across lifestyle, gender, age, and ethnicity — the full spectrum,” he says. “Having a team that resembles the population we serve makes it easier to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes. You can’t fake this — I always try to put myself in the customers’ mind-set, and I see this as key to winning in a competitive marketplace.” He is an adviser to JPMorgan Chase’s PRIDE employee resource group and the cofounder of the Philadelphia regional chapter of Out & Equal. He also sits on the board of directors of AIDS Delaware.
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.”
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.”
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 Change.org 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.”
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.”
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.’ ”
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.
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.”
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.”
33, Washington, D.C., Former White House staffer
In her wallet, Karine Jean-Pierre keeps a yellowed snapshot of her as a child, posing with her family in front of the White House’s north fence. It’s one of those quintessentially idyllic images, and Jean-Pierre — both as the girl in the photo and the Obama administration staffer holding it during a recent interview nearly more than 25 years later — is positively beaming. Though she left her post as regional director in the White House Office of Political Affairs in March (a next move is yet to be announced), Jean-Pierre’s imprint as a Haitian-American and openly gay woman is a sign of broad diversity in the West Wing. “What’s been wonderful is that I was not the only; I was one of many. President Obama didn’t hire LGBT staffers, he hired experienced individuals who happen to be LGBT,” she says. “Serving and working for President Obama where you can be openly gay has been an amazing honor. It felt incredible to be a part of an administration that prioritizes LGBT issues.”
32, New York City, Journalist
“I’m absolutely interested in writing about the lives of gay people in 2011,” Jacob Bernstein says, “but I think it should be part of what I do, rather than all that I do.” Yet while covering the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., for The Daily Beast in 2009, he made the notable decision to toss aside a reporter’s typical objective distance. “I inserted myself into the story because I was troubled by the homogeneity of the crowd,” says Bernstein, the son of filmmaker-novelist Nora Ephron and Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. “Marches have trouble drawing in blacks and other ethnic groups, but I still felt embarrassed looking out into a sea of white gay men like myself with $800 cameras around their necks and tight Fred Perry shirts holding signs that said ‘Equality Now.’ ” But aside from that instance and his popular post about gay backlash to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” — “My friends and I were all embarrassed by that cheesy, obvious song,” he says — Bernstein tries to remain neutral, even when tackling topics like Hollywood’s gay villains or Barbara Bush’s defection on gay marriage. “I’m much more interested in being a journalist than a commentator,” says Bernstein, who has covered culture and media for New York, W, WWD, and The Huffington Post. “There are already so many commentators, many so boring and self-obsessed it frightens me out of becoming one.”
18, Anata Rosa, Calif., Student, activist
Kayla Kearney is no stranger to the stage. The 18-year-old senior at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, Calif., has performed in several musicals, sings in two of her school’s choirs, and is considering a career in theater or music. In fact, her peers thought she was getting on the school stage to sing at this year’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This time, however, she was going to speak. During an eight-minute oration, Kearney commanded the attention of students who otherwise would be texting their friends or whispering to the person in the seat next to them. Instead, all eyes in the auditorium were on Kearney, who decided to share that she is a lesbian and explain what it means to be openly gay. A YouTube posting of her speech later racked up nearly 250,000 views and received mostly positive feedback from around the world. “It was liberating and felt amazing,” she says. “I was so nervous backstage, but when I finally started to talk I felt good. It felt right, like I was doing the right thing, and the applause was huge from the student body.”
21, Washington, D.C., College basketball player
Kye Allums always loved playing sports, but it was a one-on-one match with a friend in seventh grade that sparked his passion for basketball. “We played, and she said I was pretty good after she beat me,” Allums says. “Then she asked if I wanted to play on her traveling team, I said yes, and that’s how it all began.” Allums went on to continue a successful career in high school and college basketball. By the wrap of the 2009–2010 season, he held down a solid year chock-full of career highs on George Washington University’s women’s basketball team as a sophomore. But last season was not only a turning point in his life but in college sports as a whole. Allums came out as a female-to-male transgender person, making him the first openly transgender player in NCAA Division I sports and causing the NCAA to further reiterate its acceptance of transgender athletes. As he approaches his senior year, the fine arts major says he’s not sure where he’ll be in 10 years, but he’s glad to have broken a gender barrier in sports.
27, San Lorenzo, Calif., Professional softball player
When softball player Vicky Galindo came out as bisexual in The Advocate, she was on her way to the Beijing Olympics. It had been a tough year: She had recently broken up with her longtime girlfriend, a lot was weighing on her, and opening up about her sexuality was something she felt had to be done. “I needed to be comfortable with who I was,” she says now. It was also her way of coming out to her parents. “I was like, ‘Hey, Mom, by the way, there’s an article I did that you might be hearing about.’ ” Galindo returned from China with a silver medal and the admiration of her teammates, including one who said Galindo’s openness gave her the courage to come out herself. Galindo hopes to continue inspiring others. In addition to playing second base for the Chicago Bandits, she works as an assistant coach at a junior college. “I don’t discuss my sexuality with my kids,” she says, “but I’m sure they’ve seen things online. And for them to think, Hey, this is my coach. She’s an Olympian and she’s done all these great things and she’s bi, hopefully it will inspire them to be proud of who they are.”