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Women on the Verge: Part One

Women on the Verge: Part One

Janora McDuffie

33, Los Angeles, Actress

Janora McDuffie is nothing if not honest. She'll tell you without hesitation that she had second thoughts about accepting the job as host of NoMoreDownLow.TV, a Web show highlighting positive stories of gay black Americans. The actress -- who's appeared in numerous projects, including 24, Lie to Me, and the Beyonce film Obsessed -- is bisexual, but she knows in Hollywood, that's anything but an asset. "I talk a lot of shit about people not out in the industry and what powerful strides they could make if they just said, 'Hey, this is who I am,' " McDuffie says. "I decided there's no way I could point my finger at them and then have the opportunity to make a difference -- and not take it." So McDuffie told show creator Earnest Winborne that she'd take the job, and she's never looked back. The North Carolina native has embraced her role on NoMoreDownLow.TV, which launched in October, pitching ideas about subjects like gay parenting and chronicling her training for the seven-day AIDS/LifeCycle bike ride. "It's such a worthwhile experience working on something greater than myself," McDuffie says. "Magic happens when you stick to your guns and live with integrity and character -- even in Hollywood."

Heather R. Mizeur
38, Takoma Mark, Md., Maryland state legislator

Since her election to Maryland's house of delegates in 2007, Heather Mizeur has had her eye on the future. A Democrat representing the state's 20th district, she says she believes strongly in investing in a 21st-century economy and educating our children to manage it. She's also a big proponent of building sustainable communities and has been fighting tirelessly for marriage equality in Maryland. After coming out as a lesbian in college, Mizeur has lived her life publicly and truthfully, and she says her sexual orientation hasn't stood in the way of her political ambitions. She found that out while going door-to-door campaigning for Takoma Park's city council, on which she served from 2003 to 2005. She was running against a Latino man, and a female voter told her that while she thought Mizeur was the better candidate, she preferred to stand up and vote for diversity. "I paused for a minute," Mizeur recalls, "then I said, 'I'm technically a diversity candidate too. I'm openly gay.' And the woman answered, 'Oh, dear--that is so not a diversity issue in our community.'

Daphne Arthur
26, New Haven, Conn., Artist

Artist and sculptor Daphne Arthur, 26, focuses on memory in her work, which she exhibited in her first solo show, at the Rare Gallery in New York City last year. "Most of the time the work tries to captivate the remnants of an experience, a touch, a memory, a feeling, a color," says the Yale University School of Art graduate. "I have always been fascinated by the way we create personal histories by the construction and deconstruction of memory." The native Venezuelan finds inspiration in the past, where she names Berenice Abbott, Claude Cahun, Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Kass, Julie Mehretu, Mickalene Thomas, Reinaldo Arenas, and Federico Garcia Lorca among her most admired predecessors. "In retrospect, being out has always kindled my curiosity of gay and lesbian artists and writers, maybe to establish a line of affinity, but I always felt that looking into their life, work, and anecdotes would give me a unique sensibility of a particular time in history," she says. When not spending time with her partner, she works in her Connecticut studio, where she is preparing for the Florence Biennale this year.

Nikki Peet

17, Corpus Christi, Texas, Student, activist

Nikki Peet is a fighter. The high school senior from Corpus Christi, Texas, who lives with osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition more commonly known as brittle bone disease, has survived her share of injuries and non-wheelchair-friendly campuses. So when the queer student decided to form a gay-straight alliance at Flour Bluff High School, she wasn't dismayed by her principal's repeated refusals. Instead of giving up, she enlisted the help of Texas A&M's GSA, which threatened legal action. High school officials responded by banning all nonacademic clubs from meeting on campus. Support for Peet's cause snowballed to include Equality Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, and a petition, which gathered 55,000 signatures. After a nine-hour protest in March, the school agreed to permit the club -- temporarily. "The superintendent is going to get together some people to review us," Peet says, "to see if the GSA is beneficial or if we're disrupting people." Peet, who plans to study cosmetology after graduation, says this experience has taught her an important lesson: "Everyone has a voice. If you feel discriminated against, you should stand up for what you believe in and never give up."

Amber Heard
25, Los Angeles, Actress

Known for her roles in films such as The Stepfather, Zombieland, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, and Drive Angry 3D, Heard came out publicly as a lesbian last December at a GLAAD event, where she walked the red carpet with partner Tasya van Ree, a photographer she has dated since 2008. "I am acutely aware of the role that the media plays in influencing public opinion and influencing society, and with that awareness comes the burden of responsibility," Heard said at the event. "I think when I became aware of my role in the media, I had to ask myself an important question: 'Am I part of the problem?' " And as a sign of progress, Heard is perhaps more in demand than ever -- she has a costarring role opposite Johnny Depp in The Rum Diaries, due this fall, and she's been cast as a "bunny" newbie in the NBC pilot for Playboy, a drama set in the 1960s heyday of Hugh Hefner's clubs. Heard takes the attention in stride, saying, "Just because I'm with a woman now doesn't mean I'm less or more capable of changing the world."

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