Forty Under 40
BY Advocate Contributors
April 07 2010 5:00 AM ET
Mid 30s / Brooklyn, N.Y.
You may know Gloria Bigelow best as a stand-up comedian, but when she isn’t touring the country with her act, she’s working with underserved kids. In years past Bigelow’s focus has been on the arts. But this year students at EBC/East New York High School told Bigelow what they really wanted was to cheer for their school’s basketball team. “I call them my Chocolate Cheerios,” she laughs. “They make up their own cheers, costumes. They feel like a part of something.” And the schedule—she works 10 hours per week—allows time to work her comedy chops at clubs around New York and on the occasional tour. Though she says comedy is opening up to more women—and to women of color who are gay—it’s still a man’s world. “If I go [see an act] that is not a gay show, I’m going to hear things like ‘faggot.’ I’m going to hear a black joke.” Still, she says, she’s completely honest about who she is in her act. “Robert Klein gave me some advice. He said, ‘Wait until they fall in love with you, then hit them in the stomach with the gay. Once they adore you, when you say you’re gay, you’re really going to flip their world.’ ”
28 / Pasadena, Calif.
Blogger, real estate agent
Most gay people like to make things pretty. This desire, real estate agent and blogger Brigham Yen explains, is why they often lead the charge in urban renewal, and it’s what fueled his passion to help turn downtown Los Angeles from a no-man’s-land into a 24-hour district. Yen developed a love for cities while growing up in un-urban Utah (yes, Brigham is his real name). After college he moved to Los Angeles, where he became engrossed in the city’s effort to clean up its blighted downtown and expand its transit system. Yen began attending planning meetings for new buildings and subways, made contacts with politicians, and was soon hired by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District as an economic development associate. He was part of an effort to convince residents and businesses to move downtown, including a Wolfgang Puck restaurant and a trendy sneaker store. Now a real estate agent, he leases retail spaces and sells condos in neighboring Pasadena, where he lives with his partner. His enthusiasm for sustainable cities recently led him to launch Pasadena Real Estate With Brigham Yen, a popular blog on the city’s pedestrian-friendly developments.
34 / Rapid City, S.D.
Sure, it’s funny when the Little Britain character claims to be “the only gay in the village,” but imagine being “the only gay in the nation.” For indigenous peoples, such isolation within Native American nations or tribes isn’t really all that funny. Coya Artichoker, a Sicangu Lakota who grew up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, is working to bring together LGBT people living alone or in small numbers through her organization Sacred Circle, a resource center to end violence against Native American women. Artichoker said her work was influenced by watching a friend endure a same-sex relationship that was violent for years. “It was heartbreaking to watch,” she says. “The typical things would happen to her, as in any other violent relationship, but because they were queer, people didn’t respond in the same way. It wasn’t taken as seriously.”
28 / Washington, D.C.
Executive director, Servicemembers United
President Obama’s State of the Union pledge in January to end a policy that “denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are” put Alex Nicholson’s schedule into overdrive. The Servicemembers United executive director, who was discharged from the Army in 2002, has been aggressively lobbying Capitol Hill, especially now that a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal bill has been introduced in the Senate by Joseph Lieberman. Nicholson has pushed for the Pentagon to deliver a clear mandate from its yearlong review process about allowing gays to serve openly and honorably. “We believe their intentions are sincere, though their strategy isn’t necessarily the best,” he says of military leaders’ review of the DADT policy. “[On Capitol Hill] the risk of waiting until after the midterm elections or until other volatile issues pass is just too great.” But Nicholson is optimistic—and is considering rejoining the military as an attorney should Obama’s promise become a reality.