Forty Under 40: Part Two



Click here to read the rest of the Forty Under 40 Honorees and here to read our cover interview with Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge.

  Jeff Sheng
30, Los Angeles, Photographer

Photographer-activist Jeff Sheng’s work proves art can make a difference. His “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” series, showing gay and lesbian service members with their faces hidden, caught the attention of military brass and politicians — one of the subjects even noticed his boss, the chief of the Air Force, reading one of the books that featured the photos. “He had no idea that someone who was working for him was part of the series,” says Sheng, who believes the project helped bring about the repeal of DADT. “It had a really profound effect, more than I ever imagined when I started,” he says. Once repeal is implemented, he plans to do a photo book revealing the subjects’ identities. Sheng, whose work includes a series on gay athletes, also has plans for one featuring LGBT adults who attempted suicide as teens. He thinks it will have a profound effect as well, with audiences seeing people who were “a razor blade away from that.”

 Kyrsten Sinema x200 | ADVOCATE.COM 

 Kyrsten Sinema
34, Phoenix, Arizona state senator

Arizona state senator Kyrsten Sinema juggles a breathtaking range of duties and interests. The bisexual Sinema, a Democrat beginning her first term in the senate after three in the house, is an advocate for causes including LGBT rights, public education, and economic development and an outspoken opponent of the state’s controversial immigration law and lax gun control. “My number 1 priority is common sense, because we don’t see a lot of that in the state capitol,” she says. Outside the capitol, Sinema has a private law practice and teaches at Arizona State University, where she earned her law degree and is now working on a Ph.D. in justice studies. She was the only Arizona state legislator on the White House Health Reform Task Force, and she finds time for yoga, marathons and triathlons, reading, and filmgoing. “People always ask how do I get so much done,” she says. Her answer: “I don’t own a television.”


 Daniel Baylis
30, Montreal, World traveler

Like many kids, Daniel Baylis grew up wanting to travel the world. In November, after turning 30 and spending two years working in tourism for the city of Montreal, he decided to actually do it. Baylis quit his job and announced on his blog, The Conversationalist (, that he’d be spending every month in 2011 in a different country — two countries per continent (his apologies to Antarctica). Four months into his adventure — after New Orleans, Costa Rica, and Peru — Baylis has built a loyal following of fans, fellow travelers, and dreamers hoping to one day set out across the world like him. “My blog has become a facet for the ‘armchair traveler’ to see the world,” he says. The focus of this year is personal growth, and while he’s not running away from gay culture, he’s not seeking it out either. “I spent two years as an ambassador for gay life in Montreal, and that completely satiated my desire for gay culture for the time being,” Baylis says. Instead, he’s hoping to spend his year learning and teaching, with the locals he meets through his volunteer work and with his readers through photographs and blog posts. “In Peru, I was walking through the market and had a man stop me and tell me with pride in his eyes that his son was learning English at the school I was volunteering at. That affirmed my choice to go into the world and share.”


 Savannah Dooley
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.”


 Akil Patterson
28, College Park, Md., Wrestler

When he’s not training with his mat partner, Akil Patterson is advising up-and-coming wrestlers or competing for the New York Athletic Club’s wrestling team, with his eye on representing the U.S. at the 2012 London Olympics. His life is all wrestling, all the time. But that’s not always been the case. After making the All-American football team in high school, Patterson went on to play ball in college. But while he excelled in the sport, school itself was largely a dark period in which he avoided dealing with his sexual orientation. A trip to Europe changed all that. After seeing gay men live their lives openly and happily, Patterson came out of the closet to his friends and family and finished his education. Then, after a quick stint in Montana playing semipro football, Patterson was ready for another change. He returned to the wrestling mat — and shed 110 pounds. “I look at those people on The Biggest Loser, and I just think they’re a bunch of crybabies,” he jokes. “I did it through wrestling. It’s goal-oriented, and you’re constantly being challenged.” In one of his first matches, Patterson faced a Pan American Games champion — and won. Now, when he’s not training, he counsels teenagers and young adults in Washington, D.C. “I try to keep them involved in activities,” he says. “I’m filling their world in terms of athletics. Sports helped me, so it can help them too.”