Jared Polis | Congressman | 34 | Boulder, Colo.
For U.S. representative Jared Polis, an entrepreneur-turned-politician, Congress does not disappoint. "This is a challenging and exciting job every day," he says, noting that his long hours and aptly situated apartment keep him within blocks of the Capitol. "I haven't gotten to go into D.C. much."
Polis, who became the House's third openly gay member after Colorado voters elected him last November, is awestruck by the pace of action in his new gig. "I never expected that we would pass something of the magnitude of the Recovery Act," he says of the $787 billion stimulus package President Obama signed into law in February. Polis campaigned on an environmental platform and is thrilled with the bill's initiative to make federal buildings greener and to provide incentives for environmentally friendly construction. But where do gay issues fit among all the other priorities? "I expect we'll take action soon on the Matthew Shepard hate-crimes act, and I'm very hopeful that we will pass a ban on workplace discrimination later this year," he says.
Polis, whose district is mostly suburban Denver and mountain resort areas, says his sexuality has always been a secondary issue for his constituents, who elected him based on his Iraq, education, and health-care stances. "I think it shows just how far our country has come that a district without a major LGBT population center can elect someone who's openly gay."
Jamie Citron | Obama administration | 26 | Washington, D.C.
When Jamie Citron joined Barack Obama's campaign over two years ago, the White House seemed like a distant dream. "There was always that exciting afterthought of, What if we take this all the way? " says Citron, who now works for the administration. "But I didn't allow myself to think about it too often."
Citron, who eventually became deputy director of the campaign's LGBT program, has enough trail stories to thrill any political junkie, but he says the thing he liked most was the open-door policy that enabled him to share his ideas with senior staff members. "It takes a little courage to go into the office of a political legend," he says of people like David Axelrod, Obama's chief campaign strategist, and deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand, "but once I started taking advantage of it, it was hard to stop."
One of Citron's biggest wins: suggesting that Ohio gay activist Lisa Hazirjian and her partner join 15 other American families who rode with the president-elect on his whistle-stop tour en route to the inauguration. "That was the greatest accomplishment of the inauguration for me," he says, "to give Lisa the platform to meet the man she had worked so hard to elect."
Nick Shalosky | School board member | 21 | Charleston, S.C.
Nick Shalosky's "little Facebook experiment," as he calls it, made him South Carolina's first openly gay elected official last fall. The College of Charleston junior was doing independent study on Internet technology and local campaigns when "I thought it would be interesting to see how students could use social networking sites to get one of their own elected." So when, two weeks before Election Day, he noticed no one was running for the open school board seat in his district, Shalosky jumped in as a write-in candidate, using Facebook to announce his candidacy to friends and other voters. That simple get-out-the-vote strategy was all it took to win.
The school board is certainly just a stepping stone for Shalosky, who grew up in Conway, S.C.,15 miles inland from Myrtle Beach. As secretary of his state's Stonewall Democrats chapter, he was heavily involved in last year's presidential campaign, volunteering for Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and then Barack Obama, and questioning Republican candidates about gay rights at local events. He also ran the campaign for a county council candidate. After Shalosky graduates in 2010, he plans to go to law school, then practice advocacy law and "start building my political career from there."
James Anderson | Mayoral aide | 38 | New York City
Being an aide to the mayor of the nation's largest city would be daunting to some, but to James Anderson, it's thrilling. "It's an amazing opportunity to make a difference on issues that really matter," says Anderson, who as Michael Bloomberg's communications director is one of the New York City mayor's key staffers, advising him behind the scenes on strategic communications, ensuring message consistency, and overseeing the administration's work with editorial boards and opinion makers. And being an openly gay man, Anderson adds, has always presented opportunities, not impediments. "It's always just been along for the ride," he says of his sexual orientation. As the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's first communications director, from 1998 to 2002, Anderson helped produce award-winning public service announcements, featuring Judy Shepard, on antigay violence in schools. He then worked for New York's Department of Homeless Services from 2002 to 2006, when he assumed his current position, where he's also played a key role in developing the city's community service initiative, NYC Service. The mayor, "as innovative an elected official as they come," is also "a tremendous supporter of full equality for LGBT New Yorkers," Anderson says, and has called on the state legislature to enact marriage equality. "It's amazing to work for Mike Bloomberg."
Aisha C. Mills | Fund-raiser | 31 | Washington, D.C.
Sometimes the perpetual outsider makes for the consummate insider.
"My entire life, I have been a variety of 'others,'" says Washington, D.C.-based fund-raiser Aisha C. Mills. Though her mother has Asian and Buddhist roots, Mills was raised by her African-American Southern Baptist grandparents. While she holds a master's degree in business from University of Maryland, many of Mills's relatives never graduated from high school. When she worked for the Human Rights Campaign, Mills says she was often one of few people of color in the room, but while she worked at the Congressional Black Caucus, she was sometimes the lone lesbian. Defying stereotypes, Mills says, has made her accessible to more people. "I kind of thrive off of that, and I've resisted marginalization."
After serving as executive director for the Black Caucus's political action committee for two years and doubling its donor base, Mills started her own consulting firm, Synergy Strategy Group, in 2006. She specializes in fund-raising for candidates as well as for progressive and socially responsible organizations including the Black Student Fund, which provides financial support to low-income, school-age black children in D.C. "My goal is to help people who have never really had a strong voice with decision makers amplify their voice and get access," she says, "so they too can get the type of resources they need."
Jason Rae | DNC member | 22 | Milwaukee
Not yet a college graduate, Jason Rae has accomplished more than many people several times his age. Five years ago, before he could even vote, then-17-year-old Rae was elected to represent Wisconsin on the Democratic National Committee after a vigorous hand-shaking campaign, beating a former state legislator and a firefighters union president. Last year, as a history and political science student at Marquette University, he made headlines as the youngest superdelegate to the Democratic convention. Heavily courted by then-candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he eventually supported Obama.
Rae graduated in May and will finish out the three remaining years in his second term with the DNC. While he doesn't have any solid work plans, he says he wants to run for public office before he turns 40. In the meantime he serves on the Wisconsin Governor's Commission on the United Nations, sits on the board of statewide gay rights organization Fair Wisconsin, and cochairs the DNC's Youth Council.