40 Under 40
BY Advocate.com Editors
April 17 2013 4:00 AM ET
39 / West Hollywood
The world of custom furniture may be male-dominated, but Olga Rechdouni hasn’t let that keep her from success. “I grew up in the Ukraine, where my dad had a furniture factory,” she says. “Getting familiar with the custom furniture business from a very young age gave me a big advantage over my male competitors.”
Rechdouni used that advantage as a springboard for her career. She attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, where she earned a degree in interior design, and then traveled the world before founding the furniture and design business Duroque, which recently opened a new, elite boutique in West Hollywood. The store showcases modern trends in accessories and furniture, some made by Duroque, some by other artisans.
For example, Rechdouni’s elegantly chic dog beds — think 500 types of fabrics, Swarovski crystals, and $1,200 price tags — are so popular they are in the homes of several A-list celebrities. To give back, 10% of all sales go to animal rescue agencies.
Rechdouni continues to push Duroque’s distinctive style to new heights and acknowledges that being part of the LGBT community frequently influences her work: “My first pet bed design was inspired by the amazing pet rescue work done by many members of our community.” @duroqueinterior
Photography by Bradford Rogne at The Black Cat in Los Angeles
Jason Paul Collum
39 / Milwaukee
Filmmaker Jason Paul Collum — whose latest work is Screaming in High Heels, a doc about legendary B-movie actresses — admits he was drawn to horror movies at an early age because as a bullied teen he identified with the heroines. “They found an inner strength just to make it through one awful day,” he says.“My favorite movie of all time is [the original] Carrie. The ultimate battered teenager who seeks the ultimate revenge.”
Collum created the first gay-themed horror film franchise in history with October Moon and its sequel, October Moon 2: November Son.
“I’ve screened October Moon at many college campuses, and at almost every show I have a student come up to me in tears or asking for a hug,” he says. “I know it’s not for everyone, but those moments when I see the effect it has on some people, I know I’ve done something right, something important, even if only to a handful of people.” Facebook.com/jason.p.collum
35 / New York
Assistant Director, Job Readiness, Hetrick-Martin Institute
Wade Davis may be one of the few National Football League players to come out publicly as gay after retirement, but to the students at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, he’s just the guy who helps them find jobs.
Davis played preseason games for the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, and Seattle Seahawks. He now works at HMI and is also a member of the board for the Minority AIDS Institute and the advisory group for Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project, where he helps school athletic teams discourage homophobia.“I don’t really think that a kid calling a teammate a ‘sissy’ is necessarily a homophobe, but it’s the casual language that coaches need to stamp out,” he says. The students at HMI, many of whom couldn’t care less about sports, look up to Davis through an entirely different light. “They’re like ‘I need to find a job. You’re the job guy. You can be famous Saturday and Sunday, but Monday through Friday, I need you here.’ ” @wade_davis28
33 / Washington, D.C.
Director of Education Advocacy, National Wildlife Federation
If you think you’re busy, you haven’t met Danielle Moodie-Mills. She’s the director of education advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation, a board member for the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, and an adviser for LGBT policy and racial justice with Fighting Injustice to Reach Equality, an initiative of the Center for American Progress. In her spare time, she maintains a blog (ThreeLOL.com) and hosts a radio show (Politini at BLIS.fm), both of which she manages with her wife. But she doesn’t mind her industrious life. “I’m really passionate about all those pieces because they really reflect to my core, which is social justice and working for equality across the board for all people,” she says.
Moodie-Mills’s latest work with NWF centers on encouraging kids to put down the Xbox and get active, and her latest project with FIRE involves helping LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system. “I’m really proud to do the work I do,” she says. @deetwocents
Marie “Marty” B. Tracy
28 / New York
Veteran and Rider, Long Road Home Project
After two punishing deployments in Afghanistan, Air Force Reserve officer Marie B. Tracy was adrift. When her final mission ended in May of last year, she knew she couldn’t simply jump back into her old civilian life as a grant researcher at Columbia University. A friend told her about the Long Road Home Project, in which half a dozen military veterans were biking across the country to call attention to the dearth of veterans’ services. The project’s other objective was for vets like Tracy “to experience the healing power of the road and the transformative power of long-distance cycling.”
Traveling the 4,200 miles from Washington State to Washington, D.C., over the summer, Tracy, as the only gay person on the ride, spoke to dozens of Americans about what life was like for LGBT soldiers under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“I’d be talking to them about how DADT was so awful and how I want to be OK with myself,” says Tracy, who someday hopes to become a military chaplain, especially now that she can be herself. The reception she got on the trip buoyed her hopes for the future as well.
“You assume people are going to act one way and to have them be so wonderful reminds you how fantastic humanity can be.” @longroadhomeUSA
33 / St. Louis
When Aaron Laxton was first diagnosed with HIV in June 2011, he felt a wave of shame and worry.
“Initially, I remember telling my best friend, ‘Don’t tell anybody,’ ” he recalls. “It was that knee-jerk reaction to being positive.” Four days after finding out that he was positive, Laxton decided he would stop feeling shame. He recorded his first YouTube video declaring that even though he was positive, he was still Aaron. It quelled his fears, and it got friends, family, and acquaintances talking thoughtfully about HIV instead of gossiping behind his back.
The following year, the military veteran turned party scene-ster turned activist became one of the go-to voices on the Web about being HIV-positive with his blog, Aaron Laxton: HIV/AIDS Activism/Advocacy Report, and his widely watched self-titled YouTube channel. Outside of his day job as a case manager for homeless veterans, Laxton leads HIV activist events across the country. He says it helps to have an idealistic outlook, which he fully embraced as a student of sociology.
“I think every activist has to believe that you can change the world,” he says. “It may not happen in our lifetime, but seeing signs from future generations is a step in the right direction.” @aaronlaxton