Women on the Verge: Part Three
35, New York City, Nonprofit executive
As executive director of the New York City LGBT Community Center, Glennda Testone manages a staff of 80, a $7.9 million budget, and constant development challenges. And she’s utterly delighted at seeing the 6,000 visits a week to the organization’s Greenwich Village headquarters and the 300 community groups that meet there each year. “I literally see people from the LGBT community come into the building feeling lost or confused or isolated and walking out feeling supported, empowered, and hopeful. It’s just priceless,” she says. In her tenure of less than two years at the world’s second-largest LGBT resource center, Testone, who has worked in media advocacy with the Women’s Media Center and GLAAD, says she wanted to help revamp the center’s cultural programming to include sessions on the most relevant issues of the day, such as repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the fight for marriage equality in New York State. Testone remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the latter. “The more stories I hear about New Yorkers who are in love and happen to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex yet have to find somewhere else to go get married, it just breaks my heart,” she says.
25, Los Angeles, Producer, writer
Together with her mother, Savannah Dooley cowrote, coproduced, and developed Huge, a series for the ABC Family network. Though the show, about teen weight-loss campers including Alistair, who was perceived as gay, ran for just one season, Dooley is already at work on a slate of new projects. “I’m interested in breaking from traditional queer narratives, because my own sexuality never followed a narrative that I saw in the media,” she says. One of the greatest joys of Huge was representing a group that’s typically marginalized in the media and seeing the impact that had on viewers. My mother had often told me how rewarding that was, but experiencing it firsthand has strengthened my resolve to tell stories that aren’t typically seen, particularly LGBTQ stories.” (Dooley’s mom should know; she is My So-called Life creator and Wicked librettist Winnie Holzman.) Next up, Dooley will follow her short film Snapshot, which screened at Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, in 2010, with another lesbian-themed short, a lesbian-inclusive feature, and a young adult novel that “will definitely include one or more queer characters.”
35, United Kingdom, Asylum seeker and advocate
Brenda Namigadde captured the attention of the world in January with her desperate plea to avoid deportation from the United Kingdom, where she fled in 2002 because of persecution in her native Uganda for being a lesbian. A campaign orchestrated by the group All Out generated more than 60,000 petitions to the British government, which granted Namigadde a temporary reprieve moments before she was slated to embark on a harrowing return journey to Uganda. Her case is now under appeal. (An activist working on her behalf asked that we not use a photograph.) Namigadde magnified the already intense spotlight on the plight of gay men and lesbians in Uganda, where homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison and a bill proposed by parliament member David Bahati would impose the death penalty. When the politician suggested she could return home safely if she would end her campaign against the country, she refused. “I’m not going to repent, because that’s who I am,” she tells The Advocate.
31, Pittsburgh, Attorney
While still in law school at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, Mariah Passarelli interviewed for a job with Tom Corbett, then Pennsylvania’s powerful Republican attorney general, now governor,. “He asked if I was married,” Passarelli remembers. “I said, ‘I’m a lesbian, and my partner’s name is Katie.’ He didn’t bat an eye, and he still made me deputy attorney general right out of school.” Now working at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, a private firm in Pittsburgh, the 31-year-old Passarelli says being out hasn’t complicated her rise to the top of her city’s legal community, nor her position at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches ethics. She was recruited to Ogletree through a diversity initiative, and the firm is supportive of her moonlighting as a pro bono attorney for gay people who need her expertise (she’s currently helping two women divvy up their assets following their breakup). “From the very beginning of my career, I had a philosophy,” Passarelli says. “I would rather get hired somewhere because I was out than work at a place where I’d get fired if someone found out I was gay.”
39, Brooklyn, N.Y., Documentary filmmaker
As an African-American lesbian, Yoruba Richen is uniquely positioned to examine the relationship between the LGBT and black populations, a topic animating gay rights struggles nationwide. The Harlem native tackles the topic in The New Black, a feature-length documentary about homophobia and the black church. A veteran social justice chronicler, Richen felt moved by the 2008 election, when Barack Obama was elected president, but Proposition 8 passed in California. Many media outlets blamed African-Americans for the passage of the antigay proposition, a point the Fulbright scholar and journalism professor found oversimplified. “I became increasingly fascinated about the longtime strategy the Christian right had made to work with black churches over these antigay issues,” she says. “I thought it was a very interesting way of looking at how politics works in this society.” Following the success of Promised Land, her documentary about post-apartheid South Africa that aired on PBS last year, Richen is in the early stages of production for The New Black. She hopes to complete the film after the 2012 election and spark widespread conversation.
30, New York City, Filmmaker
As the director of An Affirmative Act, cinema’s first courtroom drama about marriage equality, Jana Mattioli understands and appreciates the power of film as a way to educate the masses. “It’s the most effective in-your-face activism because you don’t have to be preachy,” she says. “It’s a very natural way of implanting thoughts in people’s minds. And it has the potential to reach everybody. A lot of times when you’re on a soapbox saying what you have to say, the only people listening are those who already agree with you.” The film’s story — about a lesbian couple charged with fraud for marrying under the false pretense of being a heterosexual couple—is both heartbreaking and unique. “There wasn’t a movie out there that dealt with gay marriage and the legalities of it, which is an important topic. Hopefully it will open people’s eyes a bit.” But educating isn’t this filmmaker’s only goal. She’s currently putting finishing touches on a comedic short called BIdentity Crisis that she hopes will lighten things up. “I loved directing the drama, but I felt like the gay community also needed something to laugh at, so I’m hoping I can offer that.”