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Forty Under 40

Forty Under 40

Brittany McMillan • 17
Surrey, Canada
Founder, Spirit Day

If you wore purple on October 20—as did Cher, the Jersey Shore cast, Raising Hope star Martha Plimpton, Conan O’Brien, the ladies of The View, and some of the White House staff—you can thank Brittany McMillan.

McMillan, a Canadian high school student, is making a huge impact in the U.S. with Spirit Day, when teenagers and adults wear purple to show solidarity against anti-LGBT bullying. Compelled to do something after the high-profile LGBT suicides of 2010, McMillan began the initiative as a grassroots effort, but after the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation encouraged celebrities to join in, millions of people wore purple and altered their Facebook and Twitter profiles in solidarity.

 “Spirit Day only takes place one day out of the year, but homophobia happens every day,” McMillan says.

Mike Munich • 25
Los Angeles
Entertainer

“I want to blur the line of gender roles and sexuality and prove that there is no box one must force oneself to fit inside,” Mike Munich says.

The desire to provoke comes naturally to the singer-dancer, who also has an extensive portfolio as an underwear model. It might also have rubbed off from his association with another pair of rule-breakers he’s worked alongside recently: Adam Lambert at his controversial 2009 American Music Awards performance and Lady Gaga in her “Born This Way” video. Munich also helped carry Gaga’s famous egg vessel when she arrived at the Grammy Awards last year.

Munich hopes to soon generate his own headlines when he completes the album he’s working on, having already released two singles, “Beat the Beat” and “Referee.” The performer thinks back on his childhood, when he was bullied so mercilessly he had to change high schools.

“I want to encourage people, especially kids, to explore, discover, and be true to themselves and not be afraid of what they find inside,” he says.

Faith Cheltenham • 32
Los Angeles
President, BiNet USA

Faith Cheltenham’s been trying to accentuate the B in LGBT for almost 15 years now. “In college I pushed for acknowledgement that bisexuals existed,” she says. “But [our existence] would seemingly be invisible within the organizations I was involved with.”

A social media producer by day (Duchess Sarah Ferguson is one client), Cheltenham now promotes bisexual visibility as president of BiNet USA, a nonprofit volunteer organization. Through its website, the umbrella organization promotes visibility for a group often marginalized—even among the L, G, and T communities—by disseminating articles,  history lessons, links to local groups, and a calendar of bisexual-themed events around the globe.

Cheltenham, a new mom, sees BiNet USA as her contribution to the equality struggle: “[I’m just] one piece in a tapestry of people fighting for freedom.”

John Carroll • 30s
New York City
Dancer

“I felt like Nomi Malone in Showgirls watching Goddess,” dancer John Carroll says, recalling the moment he first saw the provocative posters for Broadway Bares, the annual striptease event in New York that raises money for HIV/AIDS organizations. “I couldn’t believe my eyes and I was determined to be a part of this organization.”

Although he grew up an hour from Manhattan, it seemed like a long journey to Broadway for Carroll, who battled both spinal meningitis and relentless bullies as a child.

“My career has taken me far beyond my childhood dreams,” says Carroll, who has shared the Broadway stage with legends including Patti LuPone in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Bernadette Peters in Follies.

Carroll also never dreamed he and longtime boyfriend Michael Gallagher would became one of the first same-sex couples to legally wed in New York last summer. “From being run out of school for being gay to standing hand in hand with the man I love, being part of LGBT history was a full circle blessing for me.”

Vincent Pompei • 35
San Diego
Conference Chair, Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership (CESCaL)

When Vincent Pompei became a schoolteacher, he designated his classroom a safe space for LGBT students. But when another teacher in his conservative public school found out Pompei was gay, there was no safe space for the teacher to hide from bullying at the hands of fellow educators and the school’s administration. So he filed a formal complaint with the district. The administrator in charge was subsequently removed, and Pompei started conducting LGBT awareness training for teachers across the district. That experience empowered him to get involved in the Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership, which just held its Supporting Students—Saving Lives Conference (CESCAL.org), attended by 500 educators from 29 states, sponsored by Southwest Airlines, and endorsed by President Obama.

“There are a lot of kids for whom it hasn’t gotten better yet,” says Pompei, who was also a victim of bullying as a child and who is now the Supporting Students—Saving Lives conference chair. “We don’t want to just prevent suicide, we want children to know that the people around them are going to love them, protect them, and welcome them for who they are.”

The next conference is Feb. 15-17, 2012 in San Diego.

Martin Rawlings-Fein • 34
San Francisco
Filmmaker, Choosing to Be Chosen

As a bisexual transgender Jewish man, Martin Rawlings-Fein is a member of three sometimes-marginalized segments of the LGBT community. “People like to box us in and put us in places where we don’t really fit,” he says. “It can be overcome if we talk to each other.”

Rawlings-Fein is filming LGBT people who’ve converted to Judaism for what will become a feature-length documentary, Choosing to Be Chosen, and he’s created several short films showcasing trans people’s diversity. He contributed to the Lambda Award–winning anthology Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, and on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s LGBT Advisory Committee he headed up groundbreaking research on the impact of bisexual invisibility. An information technology professional and married father of two, he’s now running for San Francisco school board.

Jose Lugaro • 35
New York City
Development Director, NY LGBT Center

While nearing graduation at Penn State University, Jose Lugaro discovered the business side of nonprofits, which he says changed the course of his life. Since then, he’s worked as a fund-raiser for LGBT organizations—on staff and as a volunteer—helping to raise millions for causes he believes in.

 As deputy director of development at Chicago’s Center on Halsted he secured a $1 million donation, its largest gift ever from an individual, and now, as the director of development for New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center, he oversees all fund-raising that supports the center’s $7.5 million annual budget. Among the rewards is witnessing firsthand the impact of his efforts.

 “I see it in the eyes of the people who walk through our doors. Each and every one of them is at different stage in their journey and they have one thing in common. The center is there for them, whatever their need.”

Justin Torres • 32
San Francisco
Author, We the Animals

Justin Torres unflinchingly describes growing up the youngest and smallest of three brothers and the son of a strict father in his new book, We the Animals. Torres’s first novel is already a critical success, with a mention in O, The Oprah Magazine and an NAACP image award nomination.

 The story’s unnamed narrator is a queer boy “looking at his family from that perspective,” Torres says. He’s a peacekeeper, as Torres writes, “which sometimes meant nothing more than falling down to my knees and covering my head with my arms,” while his brothers swung away, “until they got tired, or bored, or remorseful.”

 The protagonist’s mother knew even while pregnant with her first son that what grew inside her belly was a “heart ticking like a time bomb.” None of that messy view of family stops Torres and his partner from dreaming about starting their own, he says.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs & Julia Wallace  • 29 & 32
Durham, N.C.
Historians, Mobile Homecoming

In 2009, Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Julia Wallace were at a conference in North Carolina, attended primarily by black lesbians, and realized they were the youngest people there. Listening to the older women, “it became very obvious that the choices they had made and the things they had done had made things better for us,” Gumbs says. Adds Wallace: “We became very excited about the experiences they had.” That led the partners in life and work to get on the road and seek out African-American LGBT elders (basically, anyone older than they are) around the nation for a project called Mobile Homecoming. Gumbs and Wallace are documenting their subjects’ lives through video and audio interviews that they plan to assemble into a documentary film by the end of next year, and they are also holding intergenerational events and collecting photos, manuscripts, and other artifacts for an archive of black LGBT life.

The effort “has been affirming and sometimes overwhelming,” Gumbs says. In some cases,  “people have been waiting all their life for someone to listen to them.” Wallace says the project made her realize “we have a responsibility to our elders and our ancestors to take care of each other.” In addition to Mobile Homecoming, Gumbs’s projects include BrokenBeautiful Press, a website where activists can share resources, and Brilliance Remastered, which offers online seminars, individual coaching, and other assistance for scholars. Wallace is founder of Queer Renaissance, which uses the Internet and other media to connect artists, activists, entrepreneurs, and others. Soon the busy duo will be collaborating on a children’s book as well.

Amelia Roskin-Frazee • 16
San Francisco
Founder, Make It Safe Project

Though she’s only a freshman in high school, Amelia Roskin-Frazee’s résumé of activism is hefty. She established her middle school’s GSA, she’s one of 18 student ambassadors for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, and she founded her own LGBT organization.

 “I was going to my current school’s library and I found that there were pretty much no books about sexual orientation or gender expression,” Roskin-Frazee says. The dearth of LGBT literature inspired her to establish the Make It Safe Project, which provides schools with queer literature. Through her fund-raising efforts, she’s purchased books like It Gets Better and Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens and distributed them to school libraries.

 “I’ve given around 20 boxes of books to schools and youth homeless shelters that otherwise didn’t have these resources,” she says. While she sees herself eventually being an “underpaid writer-teacher,” Roskin-Frazee says LGBT advocacy will always be part of her life.

Kevin Hauswirth • 28
Chicago
Social Media Director, Office of the Mayor

Not long ago, if you had opinions about how your city should be run, you visited your alderman, wrote letters, or perhaps just grumbled to yourself. Now you can also share your input online, and you might hear back from the mayor, at least in Chicago. With social media director Kevin Hauswirth and two other technology team members, Mayor Rahm Emanuel aims to make city operations “transparent like never before,” Hauswirth says. He facilitates communications between citizens and the mayor through Facebook, Foursquare, Google+, and other platforms, including a website where Chicagoans can offer suggestions for budget priorities.

Thanks to Hauswirth, some citizens saw their ideas reflected in the most recent budget, and some received a call from the mayor. Whatever the next social media platform is, “we’ll be there too,” says Hauswirth, who adds that the mayor is not only tech-savvy but LGBT-friendly as well. Emanuel has officiated at civil unions (“It’s really inspiring to see your boss up there,” Hauswirth says) and supports full marriage equality.

Liz Feldman • 34
Los Angeles
TV Writer, 2 Broke Girls

Liz Feldman’s been accomplishing great things since she was well under 40, under 20 even. At 18 the Brooklyn native was plucked from a New York City comedy club to become a regular on Nickelodeon’s All That. According to Feldman, she has been in “the right place, right time” ever since.

A writing gig on Blue Collar TV—“admittedly, a strange fit for a Jewish lesbian from New York”—led to a job on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which earned Feldman four Emmys. Since leaving that post, she’s been doing some old-fashioned sitcom writing, on Hot in Cleveland and now CBS’s hit 2 Broke Girls. It’s all part of Feldman’s master plan to someday make a TV series with a lesbian lead. In the meantime she’s still doing her scrappy Web series, This Just Out, on TheLizFeldman.com because, she says, “I wouldn’t feel complete if I weren’t interviewing lesbians in my kitchen.”

Jason Franklin • 32
New York City
Executive Director, Bolder Giving

Jason Franklin’s selfless spirit developed early. As a high school student he decried cuts to Oregon’s education system, in college he volunteered for the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, and later, while getting his Ph.D. at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, he worked to rebuild arts organizations in 9/11’s wake.

 So it was a pretty seamless transition to his current job as head of Bolder Giving, a New York–based philanthropic organization with a singular mission. “We are the only organization in the country that focuses on how much to give,” Franklin says.

 Through workshops and seminars, Bolder Giving shows philanthropists-in-training how much charity is possible for them and shares inspirational stories of people—from the super wealthy to the middle class—who’ve dug deeper in their pockets for causes important to them, including many LGBT causes.  “Giving back will actually take care of you longer,” Franklin argues, “because if your community is doing better, so will you.”

Tucky Williams • 26
Louisville, K.y.
Producer, Girl/Girl Scene

With over a million views, Tucky Williams has much to celebrate with her show, Girl/Girl Scene. In what she describes as a “Web television drama series,” Williams tells the story of lesbians living and loving in Louisville, Ky. Williams is the creator, executive producer, and writer, and she also plays the protagonist, Evan, in the series. “I wanted to show what my life was like as a young lesbian having fun,” Williams said. “All the characters really enjoy being gay.”

 Williams is a role model for many young Girl/Girl Scene fans—90% of her fan mail consists of gracious letters thanking her for producing a relatable show, while the other 10% asks Williams’s advice on coming out.

 The first season recently wrapped, and Williams is working on season 2 with new cast members and a new directing team. As far as what fans can expect, she simply says, “We are going to explore deeper, darker emotions. And we’re also going to have a lot more flashy, trashy fun.”

Rachel Tiven • 36
New York City
Exec. Director, Immigration Equality

The Obama administration’s announcement more than a year ago that the antigay Defense of Marriage Act is indefensible raises many unresolved questions regarding immigration for same-sex couples. As executive director of Immigration Equality, Rachel Tiven has been on the front lines in pushing the White House for action on behalf of thousands of binational couples faced with deportation or denied marriage-based green card privileges that straight married couples are afforded. A growing number of gay couples have seen their cases dropped and their futures brightened with the help of the organization.

“The je ne sais quoi, the ‘it’ that makes us so magically unique as a nation, is that so many people from all over the world want to come here,” Tiven says. “Diminishing, denying, or disrespecting this wellspring of our collective creativity is a threat to who we are as a nation.”

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