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2018’s Icons, Innovators, and Disruptors

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Rye Young: A Second Act
Rye Young contemplates what will happen following his departure from Third Wave Fund, the renowned program he saved from going under.

When Rye Young became the executive director of Third Wave Fund, it was a gamble not only for the organization, but for himself. The organization created by and for women of color and intersex, queer, and trans people under 35 had hit financial difficulties in 2012, and board members spent much of 2013 deciding whether they should close its doors.

“We knew it would be difficult to attempt to jump-start the organization again,” Young admits. “But there was so much love and hope in what could be rebuilt if given the chance. So, we decided to take the plunge and it paid off.”

But he acknowledges it wasn’t easy. “When I became the executive director, it was like managing a startup with a vast community of supporters across the country and a 15-year past steeped in movement history and nonstop organizational evolutions.”

Now 20 years old, Third Wave began 2014 with no major donor pledges or committed grants. Young began fundraising by seeking small monthly gifts, creating a culture of asking for support, and “politicizing” the act of establishing recurring donations. Eventually, he says, “foundations liked what we were doing, and year after year, Third Wave Fund grew beyond my wildest expectations. The grant-making took flight, we were able to hire staff again, and the rest is history.”

The director says that his staff, board, and community of volunteers accomplished this turnaround success “without a strategic plan and without a sense of where we wanted the organization to go once we stabilized. If that doesn’t scream out for a strategic visioning process [now], I don’t know what does.”

While Young had lots of intangible assets at the beginning, he faced an enormous task in relaunching the organization: setting up a new board of directors, mapping out a fundraising plan, executing plans, and designing grant-making programs.

His philosophy was: “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done,” and it fit well with his personality. “My leadership style was one that tended to not ask for help,” he recalls. “I felt like I was doing a juggling act and when someone asked if I needed help, I felt like I would have dropped all the balls just to try and figure it out.”

Things began to change by the end of his second year as executive director, when Young hired program officer Joy Messinger, and his role began to shift. “It was less my job to do everything alone, and more my job to support folks to step into their own leadership and to encourage their own way of seeing Third Wave Fund’s work,” he remembers. “And the more I let other people’s visions for the work take root, the better the work became.”

And that allowed him to think about the bigger picture, “Third Wave’s importance is not about the size of our budget, it’s about the size of our vision. There’s no lack of money in philanthropy, there is a lack of money behind radical grassroots visions and approaches to change. Success had to be grounded in our core purpose, and growth would come from that grounding.”

Young also posited that to be successful, Third Wave Fund would eventually need to run without him — and its leaders needed to stay healthy while doing the work.

“I thought, if an organization must burn out of its staff to build power, then that’s not building power, it’s just taking fuel from other sources like the human mind and body. I thought that these two things — planning for my departure and resisting burnout — were deeply connected and needed to be integrated into my leadership approach.”

Young also knew he needed to be “mindful that what was manageable and sustainable for me was completely dependent upon being able-bodied, white, class privileged, and male, in a world that values all of those things — and that Third Wave Fund’s future staff and leadership must be more closely connected to the issues we address than I am.”

The activist says he doesn’t want to minimize the oppression he faces as “a Jewish queer trans man, but when you hold those privileges that I do in one package, it has a profound impact on the ease through which I live my life and has a mitigating effect on any oppression I may face because of my marginalized identities.”

Young, who began working at the organization as an intern in 2008, will be leaving Third Wave Fund this year. Having spent a decade with the organization, Young reflects on the experience: “I grew up here. What I love most about working at Third Wave is how we allow people who are used to feeling disempowered by philanthropy to shape a new way of doing things that is empowering.”—Savas Abadsidis

Matteo Lanex750

Matteo Lane: He Will Never Stand-Up Straight
Out comedian and ghost hunter Matteo Lane is on his way to stardom.

Matteo Lane is one of only a handful of gay male stand-up comedians in the U.S. who has garnered in-demand spots on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and Late Night With Seth Meyers. He’s also appeared on Comedy Central’s The Comedy Jam and Adam Devine’s House Party, and is part of Netflix’s comedy specials featuring rising stand-ups.

Now he’s picking up even more steam hosting Ghost Hunt, an eight-episode unscripted comedy series that debuted on Snapchat’s Shows platform. Each episode, Lane helps a real person track down someone from their romantic past who ghosted them (suddenly stopped all communication) and ultimately brings them together for deep “ball-busting and closure.”

Born and raised in Chicago, the funnyman’s first passion was drawing — a talent that got him into one of the most prestigious art colleges in the country: the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“I studied painting and drawing,” Lane remembers, adding that his college years were among the most formative. “I was surrounded by weird people — there were no jocks to be found to call me faggot.”

After he moved to Italy to study art, Lane’s talent quickly got him a job illustrating for commercials in New York City. Then his other talent became more enticing.

“The second I went to an open mike night, I was like, ‘This is where I was meant to be.’ Before then, I always felt left out. I’m an insecure person, very introverted in a lot of my thinking. I tend to be pessimistic. It’s a weapon I use against me.”

Maybe that was why he was attracted to other acerbic comedians. “I fell in love with Kathy Griffin when I was 17 years old because I understood that kind of catharsis and related to [Griffin’s] frustrations. I related to that voice: the loser on the outside — catty, funny, and talking about the things I was interested in talking about. Then when I saw Joan Rivers, that was it. I truly believe that [Rivers] might be the biggest inspiration in my life. Sometimes before I go onstage I say, ‘OK, this is for Joan.’” Unfortunately, he never got the opportunity to meet Rivers before she passed away in September 2014.

He didn’t feel the same connection with male stand-ups like George Carlin and Richard Pryor. “I wasn’t attracted to that world because I didn’t think those people spoke my language,” he recalls.

Gay male stand-up comedians like Joel Kim Booster, Julio Torres, Solomon Georgio, Guy Branum, and Tim Dillon are growing in popularity, but Lane says they are still the minority in the industry. “There’s no Richard Pryor* of gay men. There’s no Louis C.K., no Bill Hicks,” he says, even though “we have Ellen DeGeneres, Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes.”

“I think there are a number of reasons as to why,” Lane explains. “I think this country is obsessed with masculinity and sees gay men as a threat. [Today], being gay is more normalized. We’re able to finally enter the male locker room of open mikes and be seen as equal, be appreciated, whereas before we didn’t feel like we had the opportunity to speak our truths.”

Lane says the growing popularity of gay stand-ups is trailblazing “because there are no rules that have been established for us. Everything we’re saying [onstage] is a first — literally.”

Starting out, Lane says, most stand-ups fight against expectations, and he was no different. “There’s a long time in comedy that you fight stereotypes, until one day you just accept who you are, and say you know what? I am gay and I am proud. It’s what separates me and makes me different.”

“Straight guys can talk about whatever they want, I’m constantly figuring out and regulating whether I can talk too much about this, not about that. How deep can I go … without alienating the audience? It’s a weird struggle and I’m figuring it out. But I love it. I fucking love it.” (MatteoLaneComedy.com)—DA
*Ironically as we went to press, Richard Pryor’s widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor, confirmed that the late comedian was bisexual.

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