The Innovators

By Savas Abadsidis

Originally published on Advocate.com September 04 2013 5:00 AM ET

Innovation is central to the LGBT experience. Whereas many of our non-queer counterparts were often able to move in well-worn paths through the worlds of commerce and business, LGBTs have long had to carve out places for ourselves.

Being out often meant being an outsider, and being an outsider often meant a choice: either remove ourselves from the world of business, or innovate, create, and take part in new and unexpected ways. And that outsider perspective can be instrumental in finding ways to innovate.

These LGBT innovators are making our world brighter, fairer, and more interesting by half. 

 

1. Kevin Iwashina
Film Producer
Los Angeles
 
As a partner at Preferred Content, Iwashina has been focused on helping young filmmakers secure financing and distribution for their independent films. Award-winning documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011, dir. David Gelb) is one excellent example. He helped raise the financing, developed the festival strategy, and then secured worldwide distribution with various partners. (The exposure was no doubt instrumental in engaging so many critics who might have otherwise not seen the film; it has a 99% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes). The process went so well that he launched a new business, City Room Creative, an editing and production services company. Kevin is also currently the vice chair of CAPE, the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment. “There is a rising Asian American culture that is thriving in the digital and content creation area. We hope to take the nonprofit resources of CAPE and help these young [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] develop their talent and take things to the next level.”
 

 

2. Nick Denton
Founder, Gawker Media
New York City
 
As proprietor of Gawker Media (which includes i09, Jezebel, Deadspin, Kotaku, Jalopnik, Gizmodo,Valleywag, and Lifehacker), Denton’s empire rivals old-media organizations in terms of breadth and entertainment, but the company’s real innovations have been in mixing original content with found news while dropping the pure snark of its earliest iterations, bucking conventional wisdom by allowing for anonymity in comments (the site’s smart community of commentors keeps trolls in check), and building an e-commerce income (Denton calls it new “service journalism”). Early in 2013, Denton told staffers that he expects to grow revenue by 40% this year. Making money in media in 2013? That’s innovative.
 
3. Paul Mareski
President, Team One
Los Angeles
 
As the head of Team One, a division of global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, Mareski’s goal is to “launch the remarkable.” What’s remarkable is Mareski’s unparalleled success in our media-saturated culture; he’s managed to effectively launch and relaunch numerous brands, including Häagen-Dazs, Ritz-Carlton, Icelandic Glacial Water, and Flexjet by Bombardier. Creating innovation in the advertising sphere has never been harder, but Mareski makes it look easy through incorporation of one of Team One’s core values, philanthropy. As he recently told the Agency Post, “Giving back to the local community was always a part of Team One’s culture, and it has now become a pillar for our organization. This philanthropic commitment by the agency has now turned into a multitude of grassroots efforts put forth by our employees. A few examples of our collaborative volunteer efforts include a 15-year partnership with a local elementary school, a highlighted charity each month to volunteer and donate to, and a tradition started long before I arrived: Each year we close our doors for an entire day so that employees can volunteer their time, on our time, to charities.”
 
 

4. Judy Dlugacz
Founder, Olivia
San Francisco
 
Sometimes Plan C turns out to be much better than plans A or B. Dlugacz began her career as a separatist lesbian activist in Washington, D.C, then founded Olivia Records, the largest and oldest independent record company specializing in female artists. Dlugacz had a knack for connecting women through music. When, 15 years into that second career, Dlugacz mused that a concert on the water might be fun, another industry, lesbian cruises, was born. Olivia Cruises and Resorts has since become the largest travel brand, including cruises and land-based vacations, exclusively for women. And Olivia has proven to be an economic force to be reckoned with: In 2000, four Istanbul newspapers featured front-page headlines about how lesbian cruises had spent more than $500,000 in three ports of call in three days, boosting a flagging Turkish economy. A prolific and generous philanthropist, the 61-year-old Dlugacz is currently at work on a book about the last 30 years of lesbian history through the lens of her work with Olivia.
 

5. Jeremy Heimans
CEO, Purpose
New York City
 
As the cofounder and CEO of Purpose, Heimans has built a social business that builds movements to unlock people’s power to remake the world. Since 2009, Purpose has launched several major new organizations, including All Out, a 1.7 million member strong international LGBT rights group, built the world’s first open-source global activist platform, and advised institutions like the Gates Foundation, the ACLU, and Google. Before Purpose, he co-founded GetUp! an Australian political organization and internationally recognized social movement phenomenon that today has more members than all of Australia’s political parties combined. In 2007, he cofounded Avaaz, the world’s largest online citizens’ movement, which now has more than 24 million members.
 
“We’re doing something entirely new,” he says. “We’re helping to define a new field. We’ve brought together some of the world’s best movement-builders across a wide range of disciplines—political organizers and storytellers, social technologists and behavioral economists, designers and systems thinkers. With such diverse expertise on hand, we’re able to figure out how and when to deploy smart people power transnationally to tackle big challenges like corruption in Brazil, scaling consumer demand for the sharing economy, or changing the culture of homophobia in sports.”
 
Purpose is founded on the belief that movements will be key to solving the biggest challenges of this century, and as a result, they’re doing things no one has ever done before. Heimans “believes that the most powerful social and economic models will be bottom-up, distributed, and participatory. We’re driven to explore what the world would look like if the people most affected by injustice were the ones with the most power to fight it.” Through strategic use of new technology, they innovate ways to organize the majority world — those in the global south who are traditionally more difficult to reach — and strengthen their ability to more easily mobilize for change.

 

6. Finn Bingham
Director of Special Populations Services, Callen-Lorde
New York City
 
Bingham is a genderqueer trans masculine person who is the director of special populations services at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which provides health care and related services to New York’s LGBT communities, regardless of ability to pay. A trans-affirmative environment, Callen-Lorde provides hormone therapy, primary care, and mental health care. Targeting the needs of special populations and developing culturally competent strategies for delivering those services is a profound innovation. Says Bingham, “Individuals of transgender and gender nonconforming experience have faced and still face misunderstanding from health care providers. As a consequence, many do not get primary and preventive care. We’re changing that.”
 

7. Kenny Neal Shults
Actor, Comedian
Brooklyn, N.Y.
 
“Young people use new media so regularly and seamlessly these days, and utilize YouTube and video so prolifically — why not teach them ways to create messaging that contributes to the common good?” says Shults. He uses humor to teach young people how to use social media for social good through a public health program called MyMediaLife. “I’ve taught teens to make online campaigns that teach other teens to use new media more mindfully and avoid behavior that could feel like bullying. We’ve also taught HIV-positive teens to make videos for other positives on the importance of taking their meds. My dream is to get funding to work with a group of teens to address texting while driving — it’s literally killing teens.”
 
His company offers the program to nonprofits and service organizations that want to engage gay men, the HIV-positive, teens, transgender folks, and other at-risk populations in positive social change without shaming or lecturing. “So much of our efforts to shape the direction young people go in fail because we neglect to listen to young people in the process. Instead of fearing adolescents’ relationship to new media, we can embrace it and learn to leverage it for social and behavior change.”
 

 

8. Andrea Minkow
Cofounder, Minkerman
New York City
 
Minkow is an entrepreneur and the cofounder of Minkerman, a technology company with a passion for making event management smarter. CE2, her unique cloud-based software for use at sporting events, festivals, and concerts, increases efficiency, aids in developing new revenue streams, cuts costs, and uses event data to improve the participant experience.
 
“There are statistically very few women, let alone lesbians, in the tech world, and even fewer who are entrepreneurs,” says Minkow. “I am proud to be a part of movements in the field to bring lesbian entrepreneurs to the fore, such as StartOut. I see how real-time data-driven decision-making can propel events into the future. I have seen this in other industries, and I want this for mine. I see a holistic solution that will radically change how events are planned and managed. And I am making that solution a reality right now.”
 
According to Minkow, “The world can always be made better, you just have to jump in and make the change. From my early work in politics to my work now in technology, I strive to make things better. I am creative, fearless, and willing to take a risk, knowing that the best outcomes result when you take what you know and improve upon it. In the current case we are creating mission-critical software that makes tickets cheaper, lines shorter, parking easier, food better, and events safer and smarter. I often hear that what we are taking on at Minkerman is crazy, but that is often followed by a comment about how awesome and useful it will be.”
9. Bahíyyah Maroon
Founder, Eripio Institute
Orlando, Florida.
 
A recipient of the President’s Service Award, Maroon is the senior director of research and design at the Eripio Institute. She oversees funding development and evaluation services delivered to nonprofits, municipalities, and school districts throughout the United States. Maroon’s grant-writing and program design has resulted in over $11 million in federal and state funding secured on behalf of nonprofits and schools.
 
“I take data about social programs and turn it into visual records that are meaningful for change makers and institutions committed to a thriving world. There are so many solutions and so many great efforts being made to address the world’s problems. At some point, though, we have to ask, ‘Is it that our solutions aren’t working? Or is it that we aren’t scaling — amplifying — the solutions that have the highest impact?’ My research shows that it’s the latter. Right now the most important innovation in philanthropy and social programs is the use of curation, which is taking big data on outcomes and transforming it actionable insights. I founded Eripio Institute to promote curation as a tool for scaling viable solutions to real issues in our world today.” What makes her an innovator is that she has “an abundant level of respect for hybridity. There’s so much to be gained by tradition, for instance, the adage that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ But at the same time we need radical transformation to tackle our world problems.”

 

10. Martine Rothblatt
Author, Lawyer, Inventor
Washington, D.C.
 
If the author, futurist, lawyer, and entrepreneur, Martine Rothblatt, didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent her. Dubbed the “Martine Luther Queen of radio,” by Howard Stern, her life reads like a character conceived by a hybrid of Robert Heinlein and Octavia Butler, a description that would probably appeal to the transgender activist. Some of her work has included the Human Genome Project, the launching of satellite communications companies, and the biotech company United Therapeutics after her daughter was diagnosed with life-threatening illness. She also heads the trans-humanist Terasem Movement, that focuses on the advent of the singularity (theoretical emergence of superintelligence through technology) and the possibility of immortality through the downloading of our consciousness via nanotechnology.