Andy Marra * 27 (far left in image below)
New York City
PR Manager, GLSEN
Andy Marra thanks her diverse identity for leading her to a life of activism. The Korean-American, born in Seoul and adopted by American parents, was bullied in middle school when she came out as transgender. But it was after the gay son of a family friend was assaulted that Marra was introduced to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. Now, as GLSEN's public relations manager, Marra looks for innovative ways to make people aware of her organization's efforts to keep LGBT students and their allies not only safe but inspired. In addition to her day job, Marra is an advocate for Korean reunification. She'd like to see LGBT Koreans recognized for their positive contributions to that effort.
"We all share a common stake in reunification," Marra believes, "regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity."
Lyssette Horne * 27 (center left in image below)
New York City
Production Coordinator, In The Life Media
Lyssette Horne was one of many LGBT youth rejected by her parents and forced to leave home because of her orientation. At one point the homeless teen thought suicide might be her only way out, but mentors stepped in to help. Now, as a public speaker and TV producer at In the Life Media, behind the first and only national LGBT issues-oriented television program that airs on public television, Horne has become a mentor herself.
Horne's stories have ranged from studies of LGBT youth homelessness to the criminalization of HIV. She also recently told her own story in the Emmy-nominated documentary Invisible: Diaries of New York's Homeless Youth, which she coproduced. "I take the shame away, stand in my truth, and bridge a gap to create a family of socially aware and conscious youth who want more than what was given to them," she says.
Toyce Francis * 38 (center right in image below)
New York City
Toyce Francis grew up loving the kids' show The Magic Garden, but "it was also the first time I realized that everyone doesn't always get to see themselves in media. [When] they called the names of children watching at home, they never called 'Toyce' no matter how close I sat to the TV or how frantically I waved. Watching The Magic Garden was the first of many years of feeling that there was no one else out there like me." Last year Francis decided to launch his ISeeGayPeople.TV, an online television network that features quality LGBT Web series and films all in one place.
"But it's much more to me," Frances says. "It's a magic mirror that reflects those who are often neglected by mainstream media." Next up is a Web show based on his life as a late gay bloomer: "I will finally be able to see myself reflected back at me, literally," he says.
Zachary Barnett * 30 (far right in image below)
New York City
Founder, Abzyme Research Foundation
Though Zachary Barnett is HIV-positive, his interest isn't in finding a cure. As the founder-director of the Abzyme Research Foundation, Barnett is putting his energies into a vaccine. He believes abzymes, a type of antibody, can help lead to the end of AIDS. After becoming aware of the abzyme research by the University of Texas's Sudhir Paul, Barnett used his experience in event planning and public relations to throw a fund-raiser for Paul's work. That led to Barnett forming the nonprofit organization the following year. Today, Barnett is utilizing celebrity-driven PSAs and grassroots campaigns to raise money for the first human trials of an abzyme vaccine. "If we can just get to the first human trial and it reduces the viral load of an HIV-positive person, it will be such a breakthrough," Barnett says.
Tico Almeida * 35
Founder, Freedom to Work
Tico Almeida is trying hard to put himself out of a job--a surprising ambition, given the self-perpetuation tendencies of Beltway insiders. But the employment attorney and founder of the new group Freedom to Work has a singular mission: to secure LGBT employment protections.
"We tell our potential funders that none of their donations will go to purchase a fancy office building or a bloated staff," he says. "We're lean, efficient, and aggressive in achieving our goal."
Lead counsel on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for the House Committee on Education and Labor from 2007 to 2010, Almeida has been a key figure in pushing President Obama to issue an executive order that would ban the federal government from contracting with companies that discriminate. As he sees it, about 16 million workers could be protected with simply the stroke of a pen.
Mallory Wells * 26
Public Policy Director, Equality Florida
Mallory Wells knows the people of Florida. Born in Lakeland, raised in Orlando, now living in Gainesville, the 26-year-old bisexual is the only lobbyist in Tallahassee solely devoted to LGBT issues.
"The state legislature in Florida is a lot more conservative than the people of Florida are, and it can be difficult at times," Wells says. "Four years ago people used to tell me they didn't have any gay people in their district, and most legislators did not understand that LGBT Floridians can be fired from their jobs just because of who they are. Now every single legislator has had an LGBT person sit in their office and explain to them what it is like to be an LGBT Floridian."
Mallory helped pass an LGBT-inclusive antibullying bill ("the first time the words 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identity' were uttered on the floor of the Florida House and Senate," she says), and her next goal is helping to elect Florida's first out legislator. She just needs to find a candidate first.
Matthew Baumgartner * 38
Owner, Bombers Burrito Bar
New York state senator Roy McDonald is one of only a handful of Republicans who voted in favor of marriage equality when the legislature approved it last year. When he was still wavering, a large billboard loomed over his drive to the capitol in Albany, which read, "To Senator McDonald. Please support marriage for ALL loving couples." The message came from Bombers Burrito Bar and its gay owner, Matthew Baumgartner.
"A lot of my friends for the gay cause are unaware of how the local politicians vote," he says. "When they saw a billboard about it, they got involved and called his office." The billboard cost Baumgartner $5,000 to run for a week. And he wasn't worried about losing business.
"People weren't going to stop eating there because of a billboard," he says. "And if they did, quite frankly, they're not really the kind of customers I'd like there anyway."
Christi Furnas * 39
When Christi Furnas was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 25, she found herself unable to hold a job and instead focused inward, deciding she wanted to define herself as an artist. Today, the Minneapolis-based painter, who's been showing and selling her work locally for 15 years, uses her experience to help others with similar disabilities. As a peer support specialist at Spectrum ArtWorks, Furnas mentors adults with severe mental illness and encourages them to find the artist within themselves.
"I've seen a lot of people grow and realize they have talents they didn't think they had," says Furnas, who also helps her artists maintain portfolios and prepare for art submissions.
Most important to the queer-identified Furnas is leading by example.
"I live my life and speak my mind," she says, "and I think that encourages others to do the same."
John Campbell * 24
Treasurer, City of Harrisburg
Partying, landing a job, and dating are often priorities for 24-year-olds. John Campbell's concern, saving the capital of Pennsylvania from financial collapse, is a bit weightier. Campbell was elected in November as the treasurer for Harrisburg, a city of 50,000 that's $300 million in debt. Campbell, the executive director of the Historic Harrisburg Association and an economics student at Lebanon Valley College, is working with a state receiver to right Harrisburg's books.
Campbell's resistance to auctioning off city property puts him in opposition to Mayor Linda Thompson, who allegedly directed homophobic comments at another gay staffer. "The question isn't the mayor's opinion on gays," Campbell says. "It's whether she's competent."
Campbell doesn't rule out running for higher office. "If there's a need by the community, I'm willing to reevaluate my situation," he says, sounding very wise.
Brian Sims * 33
Candidate, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
The state that spawned the political career of Rick Santorum may be seeking a little redemption on the national landscape. And Pennsylvania may find it in Democrat Brian Sims, who, in an April 24 primary, is attempting to unseat a Democratic incumbent in the state House. There's no Republican challenger in the race, so the victor will likely take office. If that's Sims, he'll be the state's first openly gay legislator.
The son of two retired Army lieutenant colonels, Sims is widely credited with turning around Equality Pennsylvania, a once-floundering LGBT group that has since pushed successfully for municipal LGBT protections around the state.
But Pennsylvania woefully lacks comprehensive LGBT rights laws. Sims is fighting to change that. "Pennsylvania is not an archaic state," he says.
Charlie Brown * 33
Social Media Activist
After Joplin, Mo., was struck by a devastating tornado last year, the city found an unlikely hero in a young gay man named Charlie Brown. However improbably, the Westboro Baptist Church played a big role in igniting Brown's activism. The notoriously antigay congregation announced their intention to protest in Joplin just days after more than 150 people were killed by the storm. Brown quickly launched a Facebook page and organized a 7,000-person counterprotest that not only demonstrated Joplin's unity against Westboro but inspired donations of water, diapers, and toiletries. Brown set up another Facebook page seeking money for rebuilding efforts that's brought in tens of thousands of dollars for repairs.
Currently serving as the press officer for Homes of Hope Joplin, a nonprofit that builds energy-efficient homes, Brown is warmly embraced by his community.
"I've never had an issue with anyone I work with regarding my sexual orientation," Brown says. "And I'm very open about who I am."
Jazz * 11
Cofounder, TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation
If Jazz looks familiar, that's because in addition to starring in her own documentary, I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition, which debuted on OWN last year, she has also discussed being transgender on CNN, 20/20, and Good Morning America.
A preteen who likes to sing and dance, Jazz (whose parents keep their last name and exact location private for safety reasons) uses her newfound fame to help other gender-variant kids. With her parents' help she's launched the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, a nonprofit that supports trans kids and their families, even offering grants for medical needs not covered by insurance.
"I want to help other transgender people be true to themselves," says Jazz, who is the youngest person ever to be honored in our Forty Under 40. "A lot of transgender kids don't have the support of a family like I do, and I just wanted to share that it's OK to step out of their shadows and tell their parents how they really feel inside. You can still be loved if you are transgender."
Blake Stuerman * 20 (left)
Imagineer, The Walt Disney Co.
Blake Stuerman knows about a high-stakes work environment. "There's an enormous pressure when you're working on a show for a Disney park," he says. "What you create will be seen by millions of people and, hopefully, inspire them."
By 16, the Ohio native was living on his own in Chicago, having secured internships with prestigious artistic groups, which let him shadow the stage manager on Jersey Boys and Wicked. A year later he left for New York to pursue a design career. "I was suddenly working next to these people who I'd read about in textbooks, and they had their Tony Awards on the shelf. I was only 17 and my parents had to sign a release so I could use the sharp tools in the studio."
A chance encounter with director Bryan Singer encouraged Stuerman--who generated buzz with his Mad Men-esque screenplay about Disney--to move to Los Angeles, becoming a Disney Imagineer. "I write treatments for the park spectaculars," he says. "Using emotions and visuals, it's like putting on a movie in a theatrical setting."
Bianca Wilson * 36 (center)
Sr. Scholar, Public Policy, Williams Institute
An American and French-Canadian biracial black lesbian, Bianca Wilson has a line-straddling identity that helps her better understand all the LGBT community. Former psychology prof Wilson's job at the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, advances law and public policy around sexual orientation and gender identity. Her latest project is "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she says, initiated by the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center and funded through the Children Bureau's Permanency Innovations Initiative. "It's a federally funded project focused on improving the lives of LGBTQ children and adolescents in foster care, especially one that explicitly acknowledges the importance of decreasing heterosexism and antitransgender bias as a project objective," she says, adding that she hopes to study lesbian sexual health and how young gay women are affected by sex education.
She's no armchair researcher, though: "I think the most important questions to examine are those that may directly address societal problems."
Galen Dodd * 15 (right)
Student Athlete, Palisades Charter High
When high school volleyball player Galen Dodd came across Outsports.com, a resource for LGBT sports fans and athletes on every level, he instantly felt a connection. Dodd, who plays for the Palisades Charter High School team and on another at the Southern California Volleyball Club, figured out he was gay in middle school. First he came out to his sister, but before he could tell everyone he knew on Facebook, he had to deliver the news to his parents.
"I didn't want to tell them about it," he says. After his sister relayed the news to them, he was still reluctant to talk to them about it. Dodd has since grown closer to his parents, and he turned to them for help in writing his story for Outsports. In October 2011, Dodd became the youngest person to come out on the site, and he has received a complete embrace from his team. "My coaches told me that halfway through the fall season, after I came out, they saw a tremendous growth in me as a player and that my team really rallied together," he says. As Dodd now knows, it's all about the team.
Mike Halterman * 26
Founder, Out on the Town magazine
Little did Mike Halterman know that Arkansas school board member Clint McCance's 2010 Facebook rant about a "purple fag day" would help further his dreams. Spurred by a vacuum of LGBT responses in the Deep South, readers flocked to Halterman's then month-old magazine, Out on the Town, for a response to McCance. Today, Halterman distributes 10,000 copies everywhere from Pensacola, Fla., to Shreveport, La.
"People [here] never had a voice of their own in their own media before this," he says. "It was always, 'Here, read this magazine from Atlanta, Dallas, etc., that doesn't cater to you at all and doesn't have anything relevant to how you live your life over here.' A lot of us live rural lives and...things are a little slower here. The communities are more tight-knit."
Leaving the South was never an option, he says. "So many...like Ellen DeGeneres, Cat Cora, Lance Bass...have left the South and made an impact nationally, but my goal was to always make a difference at home."
Desiree Buford * 33
Director of Programming, Frameline
When Desiree Buford became the new director of exhibition and programming at Frameline, the nation's only nonprofit organization solely dedicated to the funding, exhibition, distribution, and promotion of LGBT film and media arts, it was hardly a surprise. She had been working behind the scenes there since 2003. But now Buford shares curatorial oversight of the Frameline-sponsored San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, the longest-running and largest LGBT film exhibition event in the world. With an annual attendance of over 55,000, the festival is the most prominent and well-attended LGBT arts program in the Bay Area.
"There is something uniquely transformative about seeing images of one's experience and identity reflected on the screen," Buford says. Still, she finds time to play--as drag king Delicio Del Toro. "I love messing with gender and gay male masculinities using camp, male archetypes, uniforms, tear-away pants, and choreography."
Kyle Hernandez * 28
Kyle Hernandez is striving to solve the world's energy problems by helping increase the sustainability of biofuels and food crops. But another goal of the Texas-based biologist is to show underrepresented groups that there are people just like them doing amazing things with science.
After he completed his Ph.D., Hernandez's work was honored by the National Science Foundation with a prestigious postdoctoral research fellowship that focuses on broadening participation in biology. In addition to his work in the lab, Hernandez speaks at a local community college hoping to inspire minority students interested in transitioning to a four-year college in pursuit of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees.
"It's a great opportunity to encourage a wide range of talented students from extremely diverse backgrounds to follow their dreams," he says.
Micah Kellner * 33
New York City
Member, New York State Assembly
Before New York State assemblyman Micah Kellner could hear wedding bells, he wanted every New Yorker to have the same right to marry. The first time he spoke on the Assembly floor was to support a marriage bill in June 2007, two weeks into his first term. It failed, but four years later the state, the nation, and Kellner's girlfriend rejoiced when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law.
In December, Kellner exchanged vows with his sweetheart and campaign adviser, Marie Ternes. Kellner, who has cerebral palsy, is the first openly bisexual person to be elected to the New York legislature, and he wears all of his labels with pride. "I can only be me, and I just try to own the title, because I think so many folks choose either to ignore [bisexuality] or are disdainful of it," he says. "I like to point out that it is LGBT, and we rise as a community, we fall as a community."
Christopher Dibble * 33
Christopher Dibble believes it's important to recognize the contributions made by LGBT people who came before him. A photographer with much editorial and commercial work to his credit, he's begun a series of still photos and short video documentaries called "Grow," focusing on people over 50.
"Everything they did allowed me to walk down the street and hold my husband's hand," says Dibble, who has so far photographed 15 people in Los Angeles and San Francisco and plans to add those from other cities. He envisions making the images available in a variety of venues--in galleries, on T-shirts, in a book, and in a documentary film. He hopes to get the number to at least 100, but hasn't set a limit.
"If I could photograph people in the elder community for the rest of my life, I would," he says.
Ricardo Lara * 37
Bell Gardens, Calif.
Member, California State Assembly
One of the California state legislature's great achievements for LGBTs is now under attack. The FAIR Education Act, which passed last year and mandates inclusion of historic LGBT accomplishments in public school curricula, may be the subject of an odious antigay ballot measure come November, but Assemblyman Ricardo Lara is fighting to thwart such a move. His argument to constituents in a heavily Democratic Los Angeles-area district transcends communities.
"I relate back to our immigrant experience, of how we've been treated," says Lara, whose parents were born in Mexico. "As a Chicano, I cannot pick and choose what oppressed group I'm going to support. Oppression is oppression."
Lara is currently running unopposed to become the first LGBT person of color in the state Senate. Such a milestone would be a welcome victory for the state's highly diverse LGBT population.
Ernesto Dominguez * 23
Youth Technology Specialist, Cascade AIDS Project
Holding hands in public should be an act of affection. But for same-sex couples, it's also often one of bravery, even in liberal Portland, Ore. Two men there were enjoying the view from the city's Hawthorne Bridge last year when they were jumped and beaten by a group of as-yet unidentified attackers.
Resident Ernesto Dominguez quickly organized a solidarity rally on Facebook. "Let's take back our bridge and show the community we won't stand for this hatred," he recalls of the event's impetus.
Dominguez works as the youth technology specialist for the Cascade AIDS Project and drew on that experience, using social media to bring more than 4,000 people back to the bridge a week later, where they all joined hands. Appreciation for Dominguez's efforts spread beyond Portland--in March the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force presented Dominguez with its Paul A. Anderson Youth Leadership Award. His thank-you speech, in which he talked about being both a gay man and an undocumented immigrant, was widely shared among activists.
Malkia Cyril * 34
Founder, Center for Media Justice
For the last decade, Malkia Cyril's to-do list included ending racism, solving poverty, and raising the voices of those seeking social justice. Lofty objectives, but she is determined to cross those items off her list.
In 2002 she launched the Center for Media Justice, an organization that trains social justice organizers to communicate their causes more effectively. She also founded the Media Action Grassroots Network, which ensures people aren't left out of the national conversation just because they're technology-deficient. The group lobbied against a proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile and helped establish "a minimal version of network neutrality--the first free speech rules to govern the Internet." Cyril says there is still much to be done, especially online. She's focused on preserving the Internet as a knowledge tool for citizens and discouraging its use as a marketing instrument for corporate America.
"I want media change I can measure, media leaders that rock, and media rules that protect our basic human rights," she says. "Is that too much too ask?"
Erin Greenwell * 39
Filmmaker, My Best Day
Erin Greenwell grew up in Missouri in the kind of place that changes "from rural to suburban to urban based on which highway ramp you exit," she says. But she hopes her movie, My Best Day, helps bring all those areas closer. The subversively comedic story that she wrote and directed is about small-town people handling life's big issues, including when it's OK to question if the guy sleeping on your single father's couch is actually his lover, not just a guy who can't afford his own rent.
The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival to four sold-out audiences and earned a glowing review in Variety. Greenwell says getting the call that you are invited to Sundance is like hearing "Will you marry me?"
But what impressed her most was her director of photography's conservative Republican father-in-law slowly uncrossing his arms at a screening and chuckling happily.
Brittany McMillan * 17
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
Founder, Make It Safe Project
Though she's only a freshman in high school, Amelia Roskin-Frazee's resume 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
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
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
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."