40 Under 40

Musicians Tegan and Sara lead the pack of accomplished leaders in politics, sports, science, religion, and the arts. Meet the architects of the next decade.

BY Advocate.com Editors

April 17 2013 4:00 AM ET


Josean Vargas
30 / Rochester, N.Y.
Designer

It’s not just clothes that make the man. For Josean Vargas — designer of J. Vargas, a line of hip, whimsical graphic bow ties and neckties — it’s the accessories too. “When I moved here to Rochester, I got a job, and I needed work clothes,” he says. “I’m always looking for ways to show who I am, but I also needed office-appropriate clothing.” At his new day job, working for a nonprofit that deals with early education and child care, he soon found himself in his organization’s fabric recycling bin, discovering inspiration for the perfect bow tie.

Vargas, originally from Puerto Rico, markets the line with his partner, Michael Rodriguez, through shops and fashion events in N.Y. as well as the company’s online store. Vargas got his start making dresses for his sister and moved up to designing pageant wear. Now Vargas and Rodriguez are working on expanding their brand with a line of women’s wear. They have big plans for their fashion empire and already have a growing list of rabid fans. And instead of solely relying on his organization’s fabric recycling bin for inspiration, Vargas lets the colors of the seasons influence him. “I just love to do whimsical or happy prints,” he says. “Something that, when a person looks at it or wears it, they get this warm feeling of happiness.” @jvargasdesign

Vanessa Selbst
28 / Los Angeles
Professional Poker Player

When Vanessa Selbst took home her biggest winnings at a French poker tournament, she and her friends paraded around the Cannes airport with the giant cardboard check for $1.8 million. Her sense of humor and emphasis on smart card playing have helped Selbst weather the pressure of professional poker to become the game’s top-earning woman, netting over $7 million so far.

Selbst is proud to be the first out LGBT poker player, but she says gender and sexuality matter little at the table. The Yale Law School grad began working with clinics devoted to LGBT rights, which she plans to soon take up full-time. @vanessaselbst

James Adomian
33 / New York & Los Angeles
Comedian

Laughter isn’t only the best medicine — it’s a powerful bridge. James Adomian’s spot-on impressions, goofiness, and matter-of-fact comedy wins crowds over from coast to coast. “Hate’s a temporary state of mind that we can all get out of with love and laughter,” he says.

Adomian became a breakout star doing sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. But stand-up is where you can hear Adomian in his most raw form. His album Low Hangin Fruit is proof. “I partly started doing stand-up because I’ve been out of the closet my adult life,” he says. “One of my pet projects is finding homophobic clichés and tropes in our culture and highlighting them for an audience. I’m lucky, most people react positively.” @jadomian

Jama Shelton
38 / New York City
Director, Forty to None Project

When True Colors Fund cofounder Cyndi Lauper announced the appointment of Jama Shelton as the first director of the fund’s Forty to None Project — the only national organization focused solely on bringing an end to LGBT youth homelessness — the expert on trans youth homelessness felt the weight of responsibility upon her.

“After nearly 10 years of working directly with gay and transgender youth experiencing homelessness, I’ve seen firsthand the barriers that they face,” says Shelton. “My work will focus on making sure that those young people… have a voice that is sorely missing in society today.” For more than a decade, Shelton, who identifies as transgender, has worked in services for homeless LGBT youth. She’s also a professor at Hunter College and the New York University School of Social Work. @fortytonone

Kyle Richardson
27 / Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Watering Hole Yoda

Owning a gay bar in the Deep South was never something Kyle Richardson planned when he was a student at the University of Alabama, where he began throwing the Pink Party, an annual event that quickly outgrew his apartment. Eventually he saw a void itching to be filled. So Richardson opened Icon, Tuscaloosa’s only LGBT bar, in early 2010.

“Alabama does have a reputation of being conservative,” he says. “Gay life isn’t always perfect here, but I think everywhere has its own struggles.”

“The gay community needed somewhere they could go. Tuscaloosa has plenty of bars, but there was a huge void without a gay bar. Since we opened, our community has grown and is becoming a stronger part of the city.” @icontuscaloosa

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