Forty Under 40: Activism

Amy Balliett heads up an impressive list of out activists that includes Tony Biel, Brad Sears, Thai Pham, James Neiley, Christoph Babka, Katelynn Cusanelli, and Timothy Scofield.

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 05 2009 11:00 PM ET

1027 KATELYN CUSANELLI 40 UNDER 40 X390 (GRAHAM SMITH) | ADVOCATE.COM

Katelynn Cusanelli | Transgender advocate | 25 | Missoula, Mont.

When Katelynn Cusanelli got the call from Real World casting that she had been accepted as a cast member for the famous show's 21st season, in Brooklyn, N.Y., she wasn't certain she was ready for the limelight. Ultimately she decided to put her "podunk little life" in Missoula, Mont., on hold to become the first transgender person on the iconic MTV program. The Palm Beach, Fla., native began taping the show while recovering from her gender-reassignment surgery. She says her story wasn't given much airtime over the season -- a mixed blessing, given her belief that regular viewers may not be ready to watch and comprehend her transition, especially on salacious reality television.

Cusanelli had quit her IT job in April 2008 after enduring what she describes as endless harassment and discrimination from coworkers. The situation was especially personal for Cusanelli, who had been lobbying the Palm Beach County clerk and comptroller's office to add gay and transgender protections to an antidiscrimination law, put in place to end to such workplace harassment. Her lobbying was successful, and the law was amended in October 2008.

Now that Cusanelli is back in Missoula with her boyfriend, she's returning to activism, starting with the local LGBT center, which she describes as having too small a presence in the city. She doesn't want to be remembered for her Real World fame. She'd rather be at the helm of a revolution -- fighting for LGBT workplace equality, engaging in HIV/AIDS advocacy, and promoting tolerance -- and happily living a podunk little life.

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