Forty Under 40
BY Advocate Contributors
April 07 2010 5:00 AM ET
Doug & Ben Burkman
35, 34 / New York City
The design philosophy that Doug and Ben Burkman employ at their eponymous Burkman Bros. label is a simple one: If they wouldn’t wear it, they won’t make it. Their preppy and casual men’s shirts, pants, outerwear, knits, sweaters, graphic tees, and accessories are inspired with “an eyedropper” of exotic influence informed by their travels throughout Asia. Both clotheshorses as young men, they came out at the same time, at age 17 and 16 respectively, and later worked together at Gap Inc. as designers. “We have always had the same common interests, shared a strong work ethic, similar perspectives on life,” Ben says. “Add in the fact that we’re gay brothers and best friends, and it was a natural fit to work together.” Their latest collections can be found across this country in Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and boutique stores as well as in shops in Canada, the U.K., and Japan.
39 / Kansas City
Missouri state senator
When Jolie Justus became the first openly gay member of the Missouri state senate in 2006, she remembers her colleagues sometimes remarking that they’d never met a gay person. But four years later Justus is amazed at the change in tone. “Those same folks will say, ‘Ya know, I don’t agree with you on this marriage thing, but it’s not right that you should get fired just because you’re gay,’ ” Justus says. She’s made a slow, steady push forward on legislation that would add both sexual orientation and gender identity to Missouri’s nondiscrimination code. Last year a committee heard testimony on the bill for the first time in eight years. This year Justus plans to offer the proposal as an amendment on the senate floor, where it will be debated by the full chamber. “I’m not confident that we can get it passed this year, but I do think we’re starting to change hearts and minds,” she says, adding that her goal is to pass the bill before—winning elections provided—2014, when she reaches her senate term limit. Justus is an example of what a difference it makes to have openly gay representation. “I always say, if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”
25 / Kampala, Uganda
Chairman, Sexual Minorities Uganda
Frank Mugisha is working for equality in a country where the degree of antigay hatred would shock most Americans. “I became an activist because of the homophobia in Uganda,” says Mugisha, who chairs the nationwide gay rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda. Lately he and fellow Ugandan activists have been fighting the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill proposed in parliament; in a country where being gay is already against the law, the bill would make homosexuality punishable by life in prison or even, in some cases, death. Mugisha, however, thinks activist efforts and international pressure will manage to kill the bill. “I am very optimistic that this bill will not be passed,” he says. Once that’s out of the way, he’ll continue advocating for LGBT rights as well as HIV education and care. “We will still go on with our work,” he says.
32 / Los Angeles
Director, Mississippi Damned
When Tina Mabry started work on her autobiographical film Mississippi Damned, she didn’t plan to include the tag line “based on a true story.” The movie centers on a dysfunctional family confronting themes of addiction, violence, and sexual assault. “I had to decide if I was ready to proclaim that to the world,” Mabry says. But making the film turned out to be cathartic. “I had never talked about this publicly before,” she says. “To share it with my actors in order to get them where they needed to be was very freeing to me.” Since completing the film, Mabry and her life partner and producer, Morgan Stiff, have been having a lot of “good moments” lately. Mississippi Damned has already won 11 awards, including the grand jury prize for outstanding U.S. feature film at the 2009 Outfest in Los Angeles. And as Mabry moves forward, she does so with a sense of completion. “I feel like I’ve closed a chapter on a certain part of my life, and that feels good,” she says.