Forty Under 40: Part Two
BY Advocate Contributors
April 13 2011 4:00 AM ET
30, San Francisco, Executive pastry chef
It seemed everyone with a sweet tooth in San Francisco was proud that a local had won the first season of Bravo’s Top Chef: Just Desserts. That Turkish-born Yigit Pura is the first openly gay Top Chef and was voted fan favorite was icing on the lavender pavlova. Though he repeatedly wowed the show’s judges with his technical skills and ambition, Pura admits his first forays in the kitchen were less than successful. “Looking back, I think they were a disaster,” he says. “However, I was lucky enough to have a couple of really great mentors in the beginning who had the patience to guide me in honing my talent.” Since coming out at age 18 (first to his sister, who is also gay), Pura has been carrying the banner for equality. “I was very proud to win as an openly gay man,” he says. “I really get frustrated when people see their sexual orientation as a handicap sometimes. I’ve actually seen it as a point of strength. I was always a bit too outspoken for my own good, even as a kid, and moving forward, I tried to have a voice within the community” in rallies and by working with the Trevor Project and HRC. Pura’s next steps include opening gourmet patisserie Tout Sweet in San Francisco’s Union Square at the end of the year. “I want it to have elements of a really precious chic French patisserie, but with my own California organic sensibilities,” he says. “I call it tastefully flamboyant.”
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.
34, Baltimore, Nonprofit executive
As executive director of Equality Maryland since 2009, Morgan Meneses-Sheets has presided over rapid progress, with a gender identity antidiscrimination bill pending in the state legislature this session and marriage equality coming close to passing. Memories of her isolated rural upbringing keep the 34-year-old runner and cardio kickboxing instructor motivated to fight on. “I owe it to my younger self and to all other LGBT youth or others afraid to come out — to live my life being visible and proud of who I am and who I fell in love with — my wife, Rae,” she says. The couple, who met in 2006, have held two ceremonies including a wedding in Vermont, but they long to marry in Maryland with friends and family including their daughter, Lucy, born last November. “These were both beautiful days that only cemented my lifelong commitment to Rae, and yet we are still awaiting the day when our loving relationship will have full legal recognition in the place that we call home, Maryland,” she says.
20, Gothenburg, Sweden, Football player
At age 20, Anton Hysén is Sweden’s first out professional football player — and one of the few out athletes in professional sports. A defender for Utsiktens BK, Anton told Offside magazine, “ I don’t think it matters if I like girls or boys,” when he came out in an interview published in March. Hysén says he’s surprised he’s Sweden’s first out footballer because “this is a pretty accepting country. We’re pretty liberal with everything.” It’s one of the reasons he didn’t hesitate when deciding to go public. “I have my entire family behind me, I have my friends and my teammates. I never had a doubt.” It helps that his father (and coach), former pro footballer Glenn Hysén, gave a rousing speech in support of ending homophobia in sports at 2007’s Stockholm Pride, asking the crowd, “How easy would it be for a 16-year-old boy who plays football to come out as gay to his teammates?” “He was talking about me,” Anton says. “He’s been supportive the entire time. He really doesn’t care.” Anton says he didn’t come out to make a political statement, but he hopes it helps fans of the sport realize that being a gay athlete is no big deal. “You’re there to play football…nothing else.”
19, Melbourne, Australia, Model
Rare is the fashion designer who will cross gender lines when sending an envelope-pushing look down a runway. Rarer is the model who can rock both wear men’s and women’s wear on a catwalk with ease. But Bosnian-born Andrej Pejic is rarer still and seems to be in a post-gender league of his own. The androgynous 19-year-old, who has been featured in the French, Italian, and Turkish editions of Vogue, is on the brink of supermodel status. Pegged by fashion trend watchers as the of-the-moment example of a “femiman” trend, Pejic tops the lists of fashion show casting agents throughout Europe — and says he chooses heels and makeup when he’s dressing himself. Marc Jacobs dressed him in men’s clothes for the Marc by Marc Jacobs spring 2011 campaign, but Jean Paul Gaultier sent Pejic down the runway as a haute couture bride, an undeniable exclamation point of a finale to that designer’s January show in Paris.