40 Under 40
BY Advocate.com Editors
April 17 2013 4:00 AM ET
29 / San Diego
Mixed martial arts competitor Liz Carmouche may not have won her most recent match, but she still made history. Wearing her signature rainbow mouth guard, Carmouche, Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first out gay fighter, took on standing champion Ronda Rousey in UFC’s first women’s championship match. Carmouche put up a longer-than-expected fight, putting Rousey on the defensive before she eventually beat Carmouche.
The former marine gravitated toward MMA after leaving the military in 2009. She quickly became a formidable fighter. And now, she eats, sleeps, and breathes MMA, with a legion of fans known as Lizbos cheering her on.
Carmouche says she has never faced homophobia head-on during her time in the mixed martial arts world in general.
“MMA has been very accepting. I wouldn’t say that every gym you go to is as open as the gym I’m a part of. But they just accepted me with open arms.” @iamgirlrilla
Joanne Lohman & Lianne Sanderson
30 & 25 / Washington, D.C.
Professional Soccer Players and Philanthropists
Money often becomes the first — and only — line of defense when it comes to helping underprivileged people. But when professional soccer players Joanna Lohman and Lianne Sanderson, partners in business and life, decided to help poor girls in the U.S. and abroad, they knew the most powerful currency they could give would be confidence. Toward that end the couple founded the JoLi Academy, which gives girls a place to learn soccer skills and play in a supportive environment. They believe if you give a young girl a chance to not only play a sport but excel, she will gain an unparalleled sense of self-esteem and confidence that could eventually help elevate her out of poverty.
Sanderson’s experience running a soccer academy in her home country of England and Penn State–educated Lohman’s business acumen have helped the duo take JoLi Academy (which is headquartered in Washington, D.C.) to small schools, universities, and girls’ soccer leagues across the U.S. as well as to train girls in Jamaica and India. Their workshops give children something nearly as important as financial help: time and moral support. The work is exhausting, but Sanderson says working with her partner makes it worthwhile.
“We’re so lucky that we have each other,” Sanderson says. “There’s times when we’re in India where we find it hard to just keep going. I might feel hungry, or tired, or run-down, but Joanna is just there for me, to remind me to keep going.” @joannalohman @liannesanderson
31 / San Francisco
Transgender actress Aneesh Sheth says her life shows why you should always follow your dreams. “When I transitioned, I didn’t think I could be an actress,” says Sheth, a performer from an early age, who studied musical theater at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. So at 26 she went into social services, working as a counselor for LGBT youth with the Trevor Project. Then she got a call to be a guest star on the NBC sitcom Outsourced, playing the first South Asian transgender character on network TV.
A board member for the HIV organization The Stigma Project, Sheth is currently developing a TV series about a transgender woman. She’s forging ahead in her personal life as well, with plans to marry fiancé Michael Schumpert in June.
“Whatever path you choose to go down,” she says to LGBT youth, “don’t lose sight of who you are. You can still do what you want to do.” @ashneesh
31 / Mission Viejo, Calif.
When bowler Scott Norton won the 2012 Professional Bowlers Association’s Chameleon Championship in Las Vegas, he did what most people would — he burst into tears and laid a big one on his significant other. But Norton’s spouse is a man named Craig Woodward, and when ESPN aired the footage at the end of the year, it was a watershed moment in professional sports. Norton soon appeared on the sports media circuit, endearing himself to fans and reporters with a warm smile and self-effacing manner. Norton, who is also an attorney, may be modest, but he’s also ambitious.
“My biggest goal is to be PBA Player of the Year,” he says. “At the time this will be written, I am one of a very few number of front-runners for that.” The California native was raised in bowling — which he says is more blue-collar than macho — by his mother, United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Virginia Norton.
“It would be amazing if my mother and I are the first mother/son in the Halls of Fame,” he says. @norton_bowling
32 / New York
Actor and Student
Ryan Spahn happily acknowledges that his partner of four years, Michael Urie (of Ugly Betty fame), has the more recognizable face of the couple. In fact, he’s banking on it. Spahn’s first feature film, in theaters this May, is sardonically titled He’s Way More Famous Than You. He wrote the film with Halley Feiffer, with Urie in the director’s chair. Both Spahn and Urie star in the film, along with Tracee Chimo, Jesse Eisenberg, and But I’m a Cheerleader’s Natasha Lyonne.
While completing preproduction for Famous in 2011, Spahn penned a screenplay for another upcoming film, Grantham & Rose, a coming-of-age story featuring Jake T. Austin as 17-year-old Grantham, who commits a petty theft that lands him in the unexpected company of The Jeffersons’ Marla Gibbs, as a feisty 81-year-old woman named Rose.
Spahn is also a third-year drama student at Juilliard. Urie, a Juilliard alum, encouraged his partner to attend, promising the education would change his life. Indeed, Spahn says he’s found funding for and self-produced all three of his feature film and a short film projects since enrolling.
“It was unexpected and thrilling,” says Spahn. “So it was more of a juggling act of scheduling the films to fall during my holiday breaks. I am a hard worker, so I managed to balance the workload of Juilliard against these filming schedules.” @ryan_spahn