Sia | Musician | 33 | New York City
Sia Furler is lounging in her downtown Manhattan loft, rattling off a few of her favorite things. "Bongs shaped like fairies, tie-dye jumpers, unicorns, dream catchers-all things you can buy in a truck stop," says the Australian singer-songwriter, unleashing an infectious cackle that belies her honeyed, often pained vocals.
Surely, Furler's most cherished curio is her androgynous lover, fellow musician and former Le Tigre member JD Samson. Her romance with Samson surfaced at the beginning of 2008, around the time Furler released her fourth and best-selling album, Some People Have Real Problems , when she told British gay magazine Attitude she was seeing an American woman. "I don't really call myself gay or bisexual-I call myself 'friendly,'E,f;" she says, laughing again before she explains that Samson is her "boyfriend," but Furler still refers to her as she. "It's just what we do. If I'm the princess, JD is the prince. If I'm the witch, she's the warlock. If we have kids, she'll be Poppy and I'll be Mommy."
The couple discussed having children and recently collaborated on "I'm Raising You to Be Average," an ode to their future offspring that Furler hopes to feature in a musical she is penning with jazz musician Larry Golding. Meanwhile, she is already polishing up her fifth full-length album (working title: Face Paint ) and has completed four songs with Christina Aguilera for the diva's next release, a step in the right direction for Furler, considering her recent realization that she prefers life outside the limelight. "I'm living the dream of a 10-year-old, and I'm not 10 anymore," she says. "My new dream is to get a house in the country, have babies, and play Scrabble constantly-while occasionally flying out to Los Angeles to write pop songs for stars, of course."
Eric Himan | Musician | 30 | Broken Arrow, Okla.
"I came out at the start," says singer-songwriter Eric Himan. "People always ask me, 'Do you feel like you could be bigger if you weren't out?' but I think being out has done nothing but help me because it has connected me to a community that I am a part of and am constantly being reinforced by. I wouldn't do it any other way." Himan got his start in the music business as a freshman at Penn State when he won a talent show. By 19 he had released his first CD of bluesy folk sounds and was performing at colleges around the country on his weekends and breaks from school. At these colleges Himan got to know the campus LGBT groups, which got him involved more with gay communities all over the country, leading to performances at youth centers, then gay bars, then Pride festivals.
With his new band, Eric and the Adams, Himan is transitioning from acoustic performer and fixture on the Pride circuit to a rock 'n' roll format on the road to broader appeal. "Now we play straight bars and all the gay people show up anyway, which is great," he says. "We want to break down those walls." Himan, who lives in Broken Arrow with his partner of four years, says he thinks his living arrangement would have been impossible 40 years ago. "My great-uncle, who is gay, is flabbergasted that I am openly gay. He comes from a different generation, and that wasn't possible for him. For him to think that my partner and I live in rural Oklahoma and don't hide and are free about who we areaEUR|he thinks it is great, but I don't think he can wrap his head around it."
Jamie Lauren | Chef | 31 | San Francisco
Jamie Lauren's life hasn't changed much since she appeared on season 5 of Top Chef -- she's just a lot busier. "I'm under the heat lamp now," Lauren says on the phone while having her hair highlighted in anticipation of the Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs. Lauren admits she had reservations about becoming a gay reality star. "At first, I didn't want to be the lesbian poster child. I wanted to be taken seriously as a chef," she says. "But fans I've met thank me just for being out on TV, and that's the best." Lauren didn't win the competition (don't mention celery around her), but it definitely raised her profile. She works 12-hour days in the kitchen at Absinthe Brasserie in San Francisco (she's been the executive chef since 2007) before rushing off to cooking show demos and gay rights events. And Lauren admits she spends a fair amount of time meeting fans. "People come into the restaurant, take pictures," she laughs. "A few people even come through the back entrance to try and sneak into the kitchen."
Del Marquis | Musician | 31 | New York City
While he was growing up, Derek Gruen's love of rock music and playing guitar was primarily an expression of teen angst. Now best known as Del Marquis, the nattily attired lead guitarist of Scissor Sisters, he makes different connections. "I don't know how you could perform onstage without expressing sexuality," he says. "If you're not expressing yourself, you're doing something wrong."
Following two full-length Scissor Sisters album releases and a couple years of near-constant touring, Marquis has begun recording and releasing solo material. Though the critical response to his '80s-inspired music has been positive, he's poised for a fight. The new music is being released through his website (DelMarquis.com) in the form of four digital EPs, the first two of which, Hothouse EP and Character Assassination EP, are already available. " EP and digital are still dirty words," he says. "That has to change." While record companies and some music publications are still scratching their collective heads trying to determine what to make of nonalbum formats, Marquis says audiences have moved on and embraced new forms: "People are way more open to a conceptual digital-only release. I think you'll be seeing more EPs in the future." Marquis is taking full advantage of digital media, including an episodic "horror-sci-fi" video with each EP, centering on Marquis's alter ego Viz, a "sex assassin" programmed to be "a messenger of filth and fear." Choke on that, major labels.
Chris Ryan | Party promoter | 27 | New York City
Chris Ryan's unusual path to his career as a Manhattan party promoter began with the word "fag." While a student at New Jersey's Northern Valley Regional High School at Demarest, he saw the complacency of school officials regarding antigay taunts in the classroom and launched a successful campaign to talk with every educator in his school to increase sensitivity and develop an antiharassment policy. In 1999, Ryan took his efforts nationwide by founding Gay Youth Against Discrimination, a student-run organization that educates teachers and administrators about classroom harassment at hundreds of high schools and colleges across the country.
These days Ryan, who now runs Chris Ryan Productions & Promotions, makes sure to mix a dose of activism into his potent recipe of dance parties, go-go boys, and booze, served straight up at many of New York's liveliest nightclubs. His events have included fund-raising and awareness campaigns for the Anti-Violence Project, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and other gay organizations. His wide network of contacts, which he began amassing through his Gay Youth Against Discrimination work, has allowed him to cross-pollinate his twin passions: social issues and socializing. "When you have such a large audience, I believe it's essential to use it for a good cause and not only for business purposes," he says. "I've made the lives of gays my business, and I'm not only here to show them how to have a good time but to also inform them of the issues."
John Krokidas | Filmmaker | 35 | Los Angeles
John Krokidas originally studied to be an actor, but while a student at Yale University he convinced a professor to let him make a short film instead of writing his undergraduate thesis, and the rest is history. Krokidas enrolled in graduate school at New York University, where during his interview the department head kept asking, "Who are you?" When the department head was unsatisfied with his other attempts to define himself, Krokidas finally said, "I am gay. Is that going to be a problem?" Another professor in the interview took that opportunity to come out, right then and there. After graduating and doing script coverage for Miramax in New York, Krokidas convinced executives there to let him pitch his own project. He did, and the studio signed him for a three-picture deal. Krokidas's latest film, Kill Your Darlings , which he cowrote and will direct, is about a murder that brought Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac together, and will star Chris Evans and Jesse Eisenberg. "Every time I've tried to filter myself or shy away from making the film I wanted to make, worrying if it was too gay, too explicit, those are the projects that didn't get made," Krokidas says. "The films and scripts I've had success with are the ones where I stayed true to my original intentions."