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The Coolest Jobs


Fashion designer
Los Angeles // 32

Sure, there are perks to Andrew Christian's job as a prominent underwear designer. He's regularly surrounded by hot male models, and bums on six continents bear his name. But hearing from everyday customers is also a satisfying part of the job. "Some guy in Seattle told me, 'I used to be 300 pounds, but I dropped 120 pounds just so I could fit into your underwear,' " Christian says. As a teen, Christian got started in fashion by making his own clothes, as many budding designers do. He was hardly an overnight success, but once he started concentrating on underwear, his career took off. He says he knew his eponymous line of designer undies had reached new heights when a casting call for two models resulted in 150 men showing up to audition, all within a few hours. For Christian, the work is all about helping every man feel confident by looking his best. "Sure, my underwear looks good on guys with perfect bodies, but it also looks good with real people with real bodies," he says. "I want to help people have a better self-body-image."

General manager and vice president
San Francisco // 40

Just how does T2's futuristic liquid robot sound when it morphs? Or that giant pterodactyl-dragon from Avatar when riding an updraft? The sound design artists who work with Glenn Kiser know. As general manager and vice president of Skywalker Sound, Kiser is tasked with matching film and TV projects with the artists who create moods--or whole new worlds--with sound. The projects range in size and scope from queer indie films like Shortbus, Tarnation, or Howl to behemoths like James Cameron's new extraterrestrial blockbuster. In fact, for Avatar, Kiser matched an artist to work with Cameron, assigning him to the project for a full three years. "It can be a lot of pressure," he admits. Deadlines are immovable, as sound artists are "often the last people to touch a project before it goes to theaters." For that mercury-like robot in Terminator 2, Kiser's artists found a solution in an unlikely place. The sound designer "racked his brains to find that sound," and ultimately found it at home feeding Fido. The sound was "the dog food coming out of the can." 5

Restaurateur and chef
Los Angeles // 56

Though she and business partner Mary Sue Milliken are accomplished restaurateurs with over 350 employees, cookbook authors, and TV and radio veterans, patrons who come to one of their three restaurants (Border Grill in Santa Monica, Calif., and Las Vegas; Ciudad in downtown Los Angeles) or their Border Grill gourmet taco truck may well be served food prepared by Feniger herself. "I am first and foremost a chef," she says. Though her workdays start early and rarely end before 11 p.m. or midnight, Feniger, who is also on the board of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, wouldn't have it any other way: "One of the things I told myself 10 years ago was that I wasn't going to let myself be in business meetings during meals. I feel incredibly lucky that I love what I do." Good thing too, because during the opening of Susan Feniger's Street, a new solo restaurant venture featuring delicious street food from around the globe, Feniger was literally in the kitchen, taking the heat. "I was in front of a woodburning oven eight hours a day," she says, laughing. "Talk about a quick diet! I lost 10 pounds in those first few weeks."

San Francisco // 35

Stand-up comedian Charlie Ballard jokes that his Native American name is Dances With Men. "What I'm doing right now is pretty unique--and that's not including the whole gay American Indian thing," Ballard says. "I do a lot of dating stuff about my crashes and burns and my conquests and my defeats." But it's funny, naturally. "Most of the time when you see Native Americans we're always wearing headdresses and G-strings from the movies," Ballard laughs. "When I cross that with being gay, I make fun of it and I'm able to get away with it." What catapulted him onto the stage, Ballard says, was watching an NBC reality show in 2003: "When I saw Last Comic Standing, I said, 'Wow, I wouldn't mind doing that.' " While his gigs at colleges across the country have an inspiring message--"You can be whoever you want to be; you just have to believe in yourself," Ballard tells students--his political message is a little more frank: "I'll make a promise to all the right-wing parties against gay marriage. If you give us gay marriage, I promise to stop slutting around!"

Washington, D.C. // 39

Not everyone would leave a managerial position for a one-month temporary job ("a step above being an intern") but Neda Ulaby is grateful that she did. When she quit as managing editor of the Chicago gay paper Windy City Times to join National Public Radio in 2000, she recalls, "I went from having my own staff to being the mail opener for the arts desk." But Ulaby stayed on after that first month, and within a few years she worked up to her current position as arts reporter. "I say a prayer of thankfulness every day, multiple times," says Ulaby, who connected with NPR through a workshop at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention in 1999. At NPR she's covered stories on a broad range of topics, such as the future of the television drama, Ryan Seacrest's far-reaching cultural presence, and, one of her favorites, the legacy of Harvey Milk. Ulaby, daughter of a Syrian-born professor father and a Texan mother, adds that she is blessed with a supportive birth family as well as a great family of NPR colleagues: "If your coworkers are not cool, your job isn't that great, and I'm really fortunate in that I have wonderful, wonderful coworkers."

Circus artist
Los Angeles // 36

One day, Eros Biox ran off to the circus. Once a college student considering medical school, he quit when he developed an addiction--to stilting. Originally from Michigan, Biox had left school and was living in Seattle when he joined MagmaVOX, a troupe of dancers specializing in pyrotechnic performance art, and within their first year together they were performing for large corporate gigs. Meanwhile, Biox was looking for any and all opportunities to stilt, from stocking high shelves to cresting Washington's Squaw Peak on four-foot stilts--setting an undocumented world record. When Cirque du Soleil came calling, Biox, who has a background in break dancing, acting, and gymnastics, answered: "I played the principal character in the Delirium tour in Europe." Biox says it "was a wonderful experience," if a bit treacherous, he says, "running around the stage for two hours, avoiding hidden trap doors on a smoke-covered stage, all while looking up into bright stage lights!" Now working with Le Studio, a "private by-referral-only program" teaching aerial arts in Santa Monica, he is developing stilt-walking programs for children with severe illnesses and people missing a limb, hoping to combine stilting with advanced prosthetic technology. "When you get a kid on stilts, you can see how much fear is in the body," he says, then after a few minutes, "you can watch the fear disappear."

Food editor
Denver // 41

It's cool, or at least novel enough, to still be employed by a newspaper, but to get paid to eat out and write about one of life's greatest pleasures--well, they need a new adjective to describe Tucker Shaw's job as food editor for The Denver Post. Shaw shared his intense love for food in his 2005 book, Everything I Ate, an unusual project that chronicled every morsel Shaw consumed for a year--breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. After the Post published an article on Everything I Ate and its then-food editor departed, the paper invited Shaw to join the staff. Originally from Denver but living in New York at the time, the gay writer--who pens children's books--jumped at the chance and has been eating well ever since. After the copious amounts of sashimi, rib eye, and Pinot Noir routinely sent his way, Shaw says the forced anonymity of his work--waiters and chefs aren't supposed to know they're serving a critic--is his next favorite part of the job. "The CIA element," as Shaw puts it, requires him to use credit cards with fake names, wear baseball caps at casual establishments, and blend in quietly at upscale eateries.

Nonprofit executive
Fairfield and San Pedro, Calif. // 58

Many people who devote their lives to animal welfare do so out of a sense of duty to unappreciated species on this mortal coil. "As a shy and insecure kid, I really found wild animals wonderful, appealing, free, and elusive. I was just drawn to them," says Jay Holcomb. As executive director of the California-based International Bird Rescue Research Center, Holcomb is routinely called upon for his avian expertise when natural and man-made disasters occur around the world. Rescue operations for severe oil spills that he has managed snare most of the press attention--recall, for example, the fall of 2007, when the tanker ship Cosco Busan struck the San Francisco Bay Bridge, spilling 54,000 gallons of bunker fuel and killing thousands of surf scoters, grebes, and cormorants. "I cannot talk enough about how our attitudes about life and nature affect their world," Holcomb says. "It's why I do this work and why I find these bird precious, invaluable, and very much worth our efforts to help when needed."

Administrative and executive assistant
Washington, D.C. // 29

White House visits and elbow-rubbing with members of Congress and Beltway staffers--these are the job perks for Jazmin Sutherlin, who works for Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, an advocacy and lobbying group in Washington, D.C. "Being at NCTE allowed me to not only visit the White House but also to share in some of the meetings on the Hill and attend the think tanks where legislation is really born," Sullivan says. Previously working at the Transgender Health Empowerment organization, the eloquent Sutherlin was recruited by the NCTE staff, which she says is filled with "brilliant and humble minds," who readily invite her input. "I'm included in important decisions regarding legislation and federal guidelines," she says. Sutherlin prides herself on being a positive transgender role model, especially to the young people who intern at NCTE. She is considering going back to school so she can continue working in the civil rights field, though she's in no rush. "I love my job," she says.

Columbia, Mo. // 38

"Being invited into that intimate moment of birth and empowering women to be in control of their own birth experience is an amazing thing," Brandy MacDonald says enthusiastically. A licensed midwife who operates her own company, Circle Midwifery, MacDonald fills in for an ob-gyn when a pregnant woman chooses an alternative to hospital birth. Expectant women who seek out midwifery have traditionally been from opposite ends of the political spectrum--they tend to be either very liberal or very conservative. "There have definitely been situations in my career where I've been excluded as a midwife because of my sexual orientation," MacDonald says. "It also has a positive side too, because lesbian women are more comfortable with me, for sure." After three successful years in Ashland, Ore., MacDonald recently relocated to Columbia, Mo., where she is relaunching her practice. MacDonald's job satisfaction doesn't end with birth. "It's a good feeling," she says, "seeing 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children on the street that I was lucky enough to be the first one to touch on the earth."


New York City // 31, 28

Christopher Crawford and Jayzel Samonte's work life sounds like a sitcom premise: Two young, wisecracking boyfriends launch a fashion line out of their downtown Manhattan loft. Wackiness and success ensue! Crawford and Samonte still cannot believe their luck: Their menswear line, Company of We, has garnered critical raves and a devoted fan base in a mere eight months of existence. "We wanted to do something together, and we had a lot of time that we were spending just watching television," Samonte says. So, the couple drew sketches of their ideal menswear collection: clean lines, muted colors, military influence throughout. Their stylish and reasonably affordable clothes quickly caught on, especially when gave them the first of many accolades in the fashion press. Soon venerable stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Fred Segal came calling. "How many people get to live with the person that they love, work with them, and build something with them?" Crawford says. "We're so lucky."

Research manager in epidemiology
Los Angeles // 37

Gay men have long had a complicated relationship with condoms. Anyone who's fought a losing battle with a prophylactic due to a latex allergy or loss of an erection may one day owe a debt of gratitude to Leonardo Colemon. The affable Mississippi native manages a team of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and in collaboration with Pamina Gorbach and Peter Anton is developing a lubricant that would be applied to a receptive partner prior to anal sex. This lube (referred to as "booty butter" in an online educational video produced by the group) will contain microbicides designed to kill HIV and other STIs to a certain degree. "There is a condom fatigue within our community," Colemon says. "Gay men like the natural feeling, and I look to a future with that being an option. That's what rectal microbicides will do." This cutting-edge infection-prevention tool is "being developed and targeted to men who have sex with men and don't use condoms consistently," says Colemon. "But it will also be useful to heterosexuals who want safer options for anal intercourse." Colemon, who also volunteers as an HIV/STI counselor at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, notes that Food and Drug Administration approval could take five to 10 years, and he readily admits that while rectal microbicides "are unlikely to be 100% effective, they will certainly reduce the potential for transmission."

Team owner
Chicago // 42

When she was a girl, the quiet transition from winter to spring signaled the beginning of softball season for Laura Ricketts. As the frost thaws on the grass at Chicago's Wrigley Field, she is feeling that excitement once again. "As an adult I haven't experienced that feeling quite so strongly as I do this year," she says. "Then, of course, there is the thrill of being at Wrigley Field on game day, especially the home opener, with a full house of 41,000 fans brimming with excitement and hope for the new beginning. There is nothing quite like it in the world." Ricketts and her three brothers--Tom, Peter, and Todd--purchased the team in October for $845 million, making her the first openly gay owner of a Major League Baseball team. She says that while her new role is exhausting, she is up for the task. "I want to really devote my time and energy to help make the Cubs a model franchise both on and off the field." Her newfound visibility is taking some getting used to. "Never before have I been asked for my autograph!" But of course the ultimate goal is to end the Cubs' century-long losing streak and bring home a World Series trophy.

Los Angeles // 38

Art Conn got his big break in 2001 when a friend asked him to dress the cast of Days of Our Lives for a magazine shoot--a dream come true for a lifelong fan. While his job as assistant wardrobe stylist on American Idol requires more organization and technical work than a gut instinct for fashion, it's hardly all toil even now. "My favorite days at work on Idol," Conn says, "are right after eliminations. We take the remaining contestants and hit the streets to go shopping. We discuss their next song and we collaborate and try things on." Conn describes how a Zara suit shook up Adam Lambert's rocker image for his performance of "The Tracks of My Tears" and how the orange Nicole Miller dress that Jordin Sparks wore for "A Broken Wing" sold out before the show had aired on the West Coast (an appreciative Miller took him out for dinner). Because of his knack for dressing plus-size women contestants, Conn was introduced to Carnie Wilson, whom he now styles for her reality show, Unstapled, on the Game Show Network. Though he's greeted by name by every clerk in Beverly Center mall (and he probably gets a killer discount), friends are warned not to take advantage. "I hate it!" he says about friends who try to spring a shopping spree on him. "I tell them, 'I don't go to your office and ask you to work for me!' "

Creative Director
New York City // 34

When Jerod McClairn first moved to Manhattan at age 19, his eyes were squarely set on a career in the fashion industry. He learned his craft from some of the best in this biz--he assisted celebrity stylist June Ambrose--before moving on to his own clients and eventually catching the eye of former New York Knicks shooting guard Allan Houston. ("I thought he was a singer," McClairn laughs. "I was so not into sports.") Houston tasked him with designing him a custom wardrobe, McClairn's first venture into the big and tall market. Other athletes followed suit, leading McClairn to start Leco Harrell, the custom men's fashion line he runs with his two business partners. It's a decidedly high-end venture (a custom bomber jacket could run upward of $7,000) and a gig McClairn says is a dream come true. "I'm friends with the players and their wives. They love that I don't know anything about sports... None of them care that I'm gay," he says. Though on occasion, he says, some do care. "One of my clients will be out with me, motion to some guy and say, 'You know he's trying to kick it to you, right?' That's the best."

Sex shop owners
Seattle and Brooklyn, N.Y. // 43, 45

Years ago, best pals Rachel Venning and Claire Cavanah were sitting in Claire's apartment. "We were complaining about the lack of a women-friendly sex shop--and suddenly, Eureka!" Venning says. "Let's open one! Classic lightbulb moment." The two settled on the concept of a store that didn't bombard customers with, as Cavanah describes it, "bare breasts and porn models." Now called Babeland (originally Toys in Babeland), the first lesbian-friendly sex toy store opened in Seattle in 1993 (a booming website and three New York City stores have since opened). Like the stores, their books, Sex Toys 101 and the new Moregasm: Babeland's Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex, are unusually gay- and straight-friendly. Venning and Cavanah especially enjoy helping tentative customers, anxious about their first sex toy purchases. "When talking to a customer who's had to screw up some courage to come in--that's my favorite, because that's where I was," says Cavanah. Venning seconds the notion: "I love helping someone pick out their first toys, and cheerleading their sexual explorations. I feel like I'm helping to make the world a better place, one orgasm at a time."

Sales and marketing manager
Fort Worth, Texas // 43

Airlines have been hit harder by the economic slump than most industries, but that hasn't stopped George Carrancho from loving his job. As the national sales and marketing manager for the LGBT community for American Airlines for the last 4 1/2 years, Carrancho has been responsible for directing charitable contributions and creating relationships with gay organizations such as Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign--and traveling the country doing so. Carrancho's job is so much a part of who he is, before he took it, he had to come out to his entire family. "My sisters knew, but my brothers didn't," he says. "I had to do a lot of soul-searching before I took this job." It's a position American has staffed for the past 16 years--it was the first airline to target the LGBT market in this fashion. And though the economy has made Carrancho's job more difficult in 2009 than in years past, he knows he's lucky to be able to do something that makes such a positive impact. "I'm never going to be rich, and I knew that going in. But knowing I can help out great organizations and make a difference in the community makes all the difference."

Campbell, Calif. // 26

Though he may be the youngest mayor in the nation, Evan Low's new job is just an extension of the community service that was part of his upbringing. After graduating from San Jose State University with a degree in political science and the executive program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government (he's now a grad student in public administration), Low immersed himself in local politics in the city he calls home and where his father has owned a business for many years. Elected to the city council in 2006, Low is tasked with addressing many of the same budget woes affecting municipalities everywhere: reducing spending while maintaining services. The Silicon Valley city of 38,000 residents has a small, quiet gay community, and Low received hate mail as a result of announcing his opposition to California Proposition's 8. Nevertheless, he believes his sexual orientation is of little concern to voters. Despite the visible gay community in nearby San Francisco, Low prefers to stay in Campbell. "For me, it's about making a difference in the community I live in," he says.

Consultant and filmmaker
Chicago // 49

Running your own business isn't for everyone, but for some it's "the best of all worlds," as longtime Chicago activist Mary Morten describes her work as president of the consulting firm Morten Group. "I love what I do," says Morten, who established the firm in 2001 after having been Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley's LGBT liaison and then director of the Office of Violence Prevention for the Chicago Department of Public Health. Morten assists businesses and nonprofit organizations with leadership development, diversity training, succession planning, and other projects, all touching on social issues. "I also have a chance to be an independent filmmaker," says Morten, who not only makes films and videos for her clients--she did one in 2007 for the Coalition for Education on Sexual Orientation, now the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance--but is making Woke Up Black, a documentary on five black Chicago youths, whom she has been following since 2008. Most often, she notes, "We see 20-second sound bites about black youths, and they are often negative." Her film, in contrast, will present in-depth portraits of its subjects, ages 16-21, how they live their lives, and how they feel about social and political matters. She expects to finish the film this year and plans to submit it to the Sundance Film Festival.

Network vice president
New York City // 42

Blake Callaway has a deep and abiding relationship with television. "I used to tell my mom that I wanted to be a TV repairman so I wouldn't miss any shows," says the senior vice president of brand and strategic marketing at the Syfy channel. Now tasked with bringing audiences to Syfy's blend of smart and sexy science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal programming, Callaway has been integral in the channel's pioneering marketing campaigns. Syfy's marketing, like its content, is as inclusive as possible. In particular, Caprica, the prequel series to the critically acclaimed reboot of Battlestar Galactica, will explore social issues important to gay audiences: "We are reaching out to fans that love a great drama mixed with relevant social commentary, and that includes gay and Hispanic audiences. We have a gay married character with a very familiar last name to anyone who might be a BSG fan. Obviously the laws of Caprica were settled correctly on the marriage issue... Now, if California can get it right." Needless to say, Callaway loves his job. "I even have a TV in my office."

Philadelphia // 31

It's a wonder Brian Sims has time to breathe. He is staff counsel for policy and planning at the Philadelphia Bar Association, a body that guides attorneys, judges, and politicians on controversial legal matters. Sims is also president of the board of directors of EqualityPA, chairman of the board of directors of Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia, and has recently joined the national campaign board of the Victory Fund. "My not-so-subtle agenda since I joined the bar was to make it more gay-friendly," he says. It's a lot of work, but Sims insists, "I work with some powerful, influential, and wealthy people who have enormous influence on civil rights. To see them come out of the woodwork on civil rights is tremendous." Sims--who made a splash in the collegiate sports world in 2000, when, as a defensive tackle and captain of the Bloomsburg University football team, he came out to his team--is also a speaker in high demand, talking to college students about being a gay jock. Thought his advocacy, policy work, and public speaking, Sims is uniquely situated to see positive change in action. "I'm going to see the fruits of my labor, here and now."

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