Forty Under 40: Part Two

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com April 13 2011 4:00 AM ET

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.”


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 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.”


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 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 (DanielBaylis.ca), 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.”


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 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.”


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 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.”


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Glennda Testone
35, New York City, Nonprofit executive

As executive director of the New York City LGBT Community Center, Glennda Testone manages a staff of 80, a $7.9 million budget, and constant development challenges. And she’s utterly delighted at seeing the 6,000 visits a week to the organization’s Greenwich Village headquarters and the 300 community groups that meet there each year. “I literally see people from the LGBT community come into the building feeling lost or confused or isolated and walking out feeling supported, empowered, and hopeful. It’s just priceless,” she says. In her tenure of less than two years at the world’s second-largest LGBT resource center, Testone, who has worked in media advocacy with the Women’s Media Center and GLAAD, says she wanted to help revamp the center’s cultural programming to include sessions on the most relevant issues of the day, such as repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the fight for marriage equality in New York State. Testone remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the latter. “The more stories I hear about New Yorkers who are in love and happen to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex yet have to find somewhere else to go get married, it just breaks my heart,” she says.


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 Eric Carr
35, Los Angeles, Film marketing executive

“These great stories are anchored by LGBT characters, but they’re essentially relatable stories about families and relationships,” Eric Carr says, describing the acclaimed gay-themed films such as Brokeback Mountain, The Kids Are All Right, and the upcoming Beginners from his company, Focus Features. If you’ve seen or heard about any of them, Carr is partly responsible. As vice president for exhibitor marketing, it’s his duty to get trailers on movie screens, and displays in theaters, and to oversee the general promotion of a film — in other words, to get the word out. Carr sees being openly gay at work as an opportunity to give back to the community. “I never knew what it was like not to be out in the workplace,” he says. In 2010, Carr was named cochair of Out@NBCUniversal, an affinity group comprising gay employees and allies. “We work with executives at the company so employees can get to know both out and allied executives and build relationships and hear stories that inspire them in their jobs,” he says. Under Carr’s guidance, the organization also raises thousands of dollars for nonprofits including the Jeff Griffith Youth Center and AIDS Walk. “I always encourage people to be honest about their sexuality,” he says. “A lot of people think being gay comes secondary to their professional profile, but I think it’s equal and our organization recognizes that.”


 

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 Brenda Namigadde
35, United Kingdom, Asylum seeker and advocate

Brenda Namigadde captured the attention of the world in January with her desperate plea to avoid deportation from the United Kingdom, where she fled in 2002 because of persecution in her native Uganda for being a lesbian. A campaign orchestrated by the group All Out generated more than 60,000 petitions to the British government, which granted Namigadde a temporary reprieve moments before she was slated to embark on a harrowing return journey to Uganda. Her case is now under appeal. (An activist working on her behalf asked that we not use a photograph.) Namigadde magnified the already intense spotlight on the plight of gay men and lesbians in Uganda, where homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison and a bill proposed by parliament member David Bahati would impose the death penalty. When the politician suggested she could return home safely if she would end her campaign against the country, she refused. “I’m not going to repent, because that’s who I am,” she tells The Advocate.


 

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 Mariah Passarelli
31, Pittsburgh, Attorney

While still in law school at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, Mariah Passarelli interviewed for a job with Tom Corbett, then Pennsylvania’s powerful Republican attorney general, now governor,. “He asked if I was married,” Passarelli remembers. “I said, ‘I’m a lesbian, and my partner’s name is Katie.’ He didn’t bat an eye, and he still made me deputy attorney general right out of school.” Now working at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, a private firm in Pittsburgh, the 31-year-old Passarelli says being out hasn’t complicated her rise to the top of her city’s legal community, nor her position at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches ethics. She was recruited to Ogletree through a diversity initiative, and the firm is supportive of her moonlighting as a pro bono attorney for gay people who need her expertise (she’s currently helping two women divvy up their assets following their breakup). “From the very beginning of my career, I had a philosophy,” Passarelli says. “I would rather get hired somewhere because I was out than work at a place where I’d get fired if someone found out I was gay.”


 

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 Rick Palacio
36, Denver, Colorado Democratic Party chairman

Rick Palacio was in high school in 1992 when Colorado voters passed Amendment 2, the antigay initiative that would ultimately be tossed out by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case Romer v. Evans. Though he was just coming to terms with being gay, “the whole idea of the amendment at the time seemed incredibly hateful,” he recalls. “At age 18 in Pueblo, I just knew it was something very discriminatory.” Now, with a civil unions bill being considered by state lawmakers, Palacio is in a position to help right previous wrongs for the battleground state’s gay and lesbian residents. After working in Washington, D.C., as deputy director of member services for House minority whip Steny Hoyer, he’s returning to his home state — where he can trace his roots to the time when it was a U.S. territory in the mid 19th century — as Democratic Party chairman. His agenda? Securing Colorado as a blue state in next year’s presidential election, for starters. But also regaining two U.S. House seats lost to the Republicans in 2010 and taking back the state house. “There’s going to be a tremendous amount of focus on Colorado in the next few years,” Palacio says.


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Yigit Pura
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.”


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 Yoruba Richen
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.


 

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 Morgan Meneses-Sheets
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.


 

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 Anton Hysén
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.”


 

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 Andrej Pejic
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.


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 Matthew Lieberman
33, Los Angeles, Business consultant

Being gay has never been an impediment for Matthew Lieberman, the go-to guy for information on consumer attitudes and behaviors in a swiftly changing media landscape, as USA Today, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Bloomberg Businessweek, MediaWeek, Reuters, and Bloomberg News well know—each has interviewed him. “In order to be a successful and balanced individual, it is critical to be true to one’s self,” says Lieberman, global entertainment and media advisory director at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Being an openly gay man has never been a question at my firm.” His tireless work with the Point Foundation (where he is a member of the board of trustees), GLSEN, GLAAD, and HRC, among other groups, has earned him commendations for community service from President Clinton, Los Angeles magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. “I am proud to work closely with the Point Foundation to help support marginalized students with goals of becoming future leaders,” he says. “My firm supports many organizations in the community, and it is incredibly rewarding to be associated personally and professionally with a firm that emphasizes such values.”


 

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 Amaad Rivera
29, Springfield, Mass., City council member

Visibility is important to Amaad Rivera, the Springfield, Mass., city council’s first openly gay member and one of its few people of color (he’s of African-American and Puerto Rican heritage), as is addressing his hometown’s economic problems. “We have lots of LGBT folks, but we’re kind of invisible,” he says. “We suffer, but we suffer in silence.” To change that, he’s helping organize the city’s first official LGBT pride celebration, set for July 16. He previously put together an antibullying event held in memory of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a Springfield youth who killed himself in response to antigay bullying. In his own youth, Rivera was homeless; he’s now working to help Springfield residents keep their homes, proposing an ordinance to stop foreclosures in the city, which has the state’s highest foreclosure rate, and set up a revolving loan fund.


 

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 Mitchell Reich
26, Cambridge, Mass., Law student and Harvard Law Review president

How’s this for pressure in your mid 20s: Mitchell Reich, who was elected president of the student-run Harvard Law Review in February, joins a list of publication alumni that includes five of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices as well as President Barack Obama. That he’s the first openly gay president of the publication was rather a nonevent within the editorial staff, though The Harvard Crimson ran a feature on the milestone. “It’s one of those moments you always remember,” Reich says of the election. “I was stunned and overwhelmed.” Reich worked on political campaigns for Eliot Spitzer and Obama before realizing public policy left something to be desired. Law quickly filled the void. Even the more prosaic of legal issues (say, tax or administrative law), are surprisingly fascinating, he says. “Legal scholarship has become very specialized, which is a challenge for generalist editors. We need to find a way to continue to establish relevance in the field.… But law journals are just as important as they always were.”


 

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 Jana Mattioli
30, New York City, Filmmaker

As the director of An Affirmative Act, cinema’s first courtroom drama about marriage equality, Jana Mattioli understands and appreciates the power of film as a way to educate the masses. “It’s the most effective in-your-face activism because you don’t have to be preachy,” she says. “It’s a very natural way of implanting thoughts in people’s minds. And it has the potential to reach everybody. A lot of times when you’re on a soapbox saying what you have to say, the only people listening are those who already agree with you.” The film’s story — about a lesbian couple charged with fraud for marrying under the false pretense of being a heterosexual couple—is both heartbreaking and unique. “There wasn’t a movie out there that dealt with gay marriage and the legalities of it, which is an important topic. Hopefully it will open people’s eyes a bit.” But educating isn’t this filmmaker’s only goal. She’s currently putting finishing touches on a comedic short called BIdentity Crisis that she hopes will lighten things up. “I loved directing the drama, but I felt like the gay community also needed something to laugh at, so I’m hoping I can offer that.”