33, Washington, D.C., Former White House staffer
In her wallet, Karine Jean-Pierre keeps a yellowed snapshot of her as a child, posing with her family in front of the White House's north fence. It's one of those quintessentially idyllic images, and Jean-Pierre -- both as the girl in the photo and the Obama administration staffer holding it during a recent interview nearly more than 25 years later -- is positively beaming. Though she left her post as regional director in the White House Office of Political Affairs in March (a next move is yet to be announced), Jean-Pierre's imprint as a Haitian-American and openly gay woman is a sign of broad diversity in the West Wing. "What's been wonderful is that I was not the only; I was one of many. President Obama didn't hire LGBT staffers, he hired experienced individuals who happen to be LGBT," she says. "Serving and working for President Obama where you can be openly gay has been an amazing honor. It felt incredible to be a part of an administration that prioritizes LGBT issues."
18, Anata Rosa, Calif., Student, activist
Kayla Kearney is no stranger to the stage. The 18-year-old senior at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, Calif., has performed in several musicals, sings in two of her school's choirs, and is considering a career in theater or music. In fact, her peers thought she was getting on the school stage to sing at this year's celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This time, however, she was going to speak. During an eight-minute oration, Kearney commanded the attention of students who otherwise would be texting their friends or whispering to the person in the seat next to them. Instead, all eyes in the auditorium were on Kearney, who decided to share that she is a lesbian and explain what it means to be openly gay. A YouTube posting of her speech later racked up nearly 250,000 views and received mostly positive feedback from around the world. "It was liberating and felt amazing," she says. "I was so nervous backstage, but when I finally started to talk I felt good. It felt right, like I was doing the right thing, and the applause was huge from the student body."
27, San Lorenzo, Calif., Professional softball player
When softball player Vicky Galindo came out as bisexual in The Advocate, she was on her way to the Beijing Olympics. It had been a tough year: She had recently broken up with her longtime girlfriend, a lot was weighing on her, and opening up about her sexuality was something she felt had to be done. "I needed to be comfortable with who I was," she says now. It was also her way of coming out to her parents. "I was like, 'Hey, Mom, by the way, there's an article I did that you might be hearing about.' " Galindo returned from China with a silver medal and the admiration of her teammates, including one who said Galindo's openness gave her the courage to come out herself. Galindo hopes to continue inspiring others. In addition to playing second base for the Chicago Bandits, she works as an assistant coach at a junior college. "I don't discuss my sexuality with my kids," she says, "but I'm sure they've seen things online. And for them to think, Hey, this is my coach. She's an Olympian and she's done all these great things and she's bi, hopefully it will inspire them to be proud of who they are."
34, Phoenix, Arizona state senator
Arizona state senator Kyrsten Sinema juggles a breathtaking range of duties and interests. The bisexual Sinema, a Democrat beginning her first term in the senate after three in the house, is an advocate for causes including LGBT rights, public education, and economic development and an outspoken opponent of the state's controversial immigration law and lax gun control. "My number 1 priority is common sense, because we don't see a lot of that in the state capitol," she says. Outside the capitol, Sinema has a private law practice and teaches at Arizona State University, where she earned her law degree and is now working on a Ph.D. in justice studies. She was the only Arizona state legislator on the White House Health Reform Task Force, and she finds time for yoga, marathons and triathlons, reading, and filmgoing. "People always ask how do I get so much done," she says. Her answer: "I don't own a television."
34, Baltimore, Nonprofit executive
As executive director of Equality Maryland since 2009, Morgan Meneses-Sheets has presided over rapid progress, with a gender identity antidiscrimination bill pending in the state legislature this session and marriage equality coming close to passing. Memories of her isolated rural upbringing keep the 34-year-old runner and cardio kickboxing instructor motivated to fight on. "I owe it to my younger self and to all other LGBT youth or others afraid to come out -- to live my life being visible and proud of who I am and who I fell in love with -- my wife, Rae," she says. The couple, who met in 2006, have held two ceremonies including a wedding in Vermont, but they long to marry in Maryland with friends and family including their daughter, Lucy, born last November. "These were both beautiful days that only cemented my lifelong commitment to Rae, and yet we are still awaiting the day when our loving relationship will have full legal recognition in the place that we call home, Maryland," she says.