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Look, no one's
knocking your 9-to-5 gig

Look, no one's
knocking your 9-to-5 gig


After all, we spend the majority of our workweek pushing papers under the flicker of fluorescent lights too. But there's something, well, hopeful about a group of professionals who carve a career from the stuff of dreams--adventure travel, race cars, tropical islands, professional sports. They make work seem fun. So kick back in the cubicle and prepare to meet 10 gays and lesbians working outside the paradigm.

Matt Lew (pictured) Painter and photographer Chicago

Matt Lew's Chicago studio contains a collection of water-filled plastic bottles and glass jars labeled with distant locales like "Turkey," "Kauai," "Lourdes, France," and "The Mediterranean."

"I love water," says Lew, 27, who grew up near Lake Tahoe and whose Lake Shore Drive studio overlooks Lake Michigan. Lew has built a reputation and a following with abstract landscapes that mix seawater with paint. "I really felt that if I took water from all different parts of the world and infused it into my paintings, it would bring that resonance of nature into art and into your home," he says.

Lew collects water on his trips, and friends return from their vacations in places like the Brazilian rain forest with gifts of water. Sometimes clients even commission a painting using water from a place special to them. A couple

recently bought a piece for their anniversary made with water from Aruba, where they'd spent their honeymoon.

Lew's artwork also includes other organic materials, from sand to leaves. "A lot of times it's hidden so you don't even know it's there," he says. "Other times it's very visible."

Studying for 21/2 years at the University of the Basque Country in San Sebastian, Spain, fueled Lew's passion for art. "We'd study Michelangelo in my class, and then I'd travel to Florence and see the actual painting," he recalls. "It was so cool and so inspiring for me."

Single and "enjoying being single," Lew uses his success to help nonprofit groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. He has painted pieces at HRC galas that were auctioned while he worked on them. "Anything that I can give back is huge to me," he says. "I get to wake up every morning, paint, and bring beauty into the world. It's so fulfilling. It's the coolest thing ever."

Gretchen Legler Adventurer and writer Jay, Maine

The icy continent of Antarctica has no native people, but it does have a thriving lesbian population. That's just one lesson Gretchen Legler, a professor of creative writing at the University of Maine at Farmington, learned during a six-month adventure in 1997 to gather material for her book On the Ice, about the people, history, and landscape around McMurdo Station, the largest scientific base on the continent. "I talked to people about why they wanted to be in such a cold, desolate, faraway place," says Legler, 46. "And they wouldn't have an explanation."

She also learned how to set up a tent in a windstorm--when gusts reach up to 70 miles per hour--and plenty about how to keep warm. Antarctica holds the world record low temperature: minus 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit. "I know how to survive really, really, really cold weather," she says. "That gives me a big sense of self-confidence."

As for the lesbian population? "There was a joke going around [the base]," says Legler. "How do you get a date with a woman at McMurdo? Be one."

Legler did just that. She met her partner, Ruth, now a river geologist, while at McMurdo. The two courted Antarctica-style: walking in the snow and cuddling by the observation tube, a metal pipe that runs under the ice and allows scientists to watch what's happening in the frigid ocean. "Everyone was skeptical whether our relationship would last once we 'got off the ice,' " she says. "But it did." They celebrate their 10th anniversary this year.

Legler's next book will be based on trips to Belize and Panama. "I get to do all of these amazing things," she says. "I get to live this life that's very purposeful, because I'm creating stories out of it all of the time."

Salvo Tavella Literature translator Buenos Aires and Rome

O.H. Villordo is one of the most important South American gay writers of the 1970s. And readers a world away have Salvo Tavella to thank for reviving him. Tavella has translated two of the Argentinean author's novels into Italian, transporting them to another continent and a younger generation. "If someone wants to know how gay life was before gay pride,, discos, and saunas," says Tavella, "he'll find the answer in Villordo's novels."

Italy has a strong market for gay books, but not every novel is right for the Italians. Currently he's translating prize-winning author Guillermo Saccomanno's El Pibe (The Kid), about a boy living in Buenos Aires during the 1950s, into his native tongue.

Fluent in Italian and Spanish, the 37-year-old Tavella also speaks English, Japanese, and French. He playfully calls himself the "globe-trotter writer and translator," dividing his time between Rome, Buenos Aires, and Patagonia, a region of mountains and glaciers straddling Chile and Argentina. "You have to see it to understand," says Sicilian-born Tavella about what drew him and his partner of five years, Gustavo, to Patagonia.

Tavella is also a writer. His most recent short story, "Un'estate al Supermercato" ("Summer at the Supermarket"), is about two men who meet at the grocery. Once upon a time Tavella was a publicist for Italian television. But six hours a day (yes, six) in an office was too much, so he quit to become a traveling writer. "I can bring my job anywhere from Rome to Patagonia," he says. "I need only a book, a pen, and some paper."

Joanne Sanders Episcopalian priest Menlo Park, Calif.

As associate dean for religious life at Stanford University, out lesbian Joanne Sanders helps shape young minds. She notably wields her influence by preaching at Stanford's Memorial Church, teaching a class on nonviolent social change, and forging a community among the 36 religious groups on campus.

And she's proof that a person doesn't have to lose her religion because she's gay. "I spend a lot of time with students who have come to terms with their sexual identity, but they're wrestling with what to do with their religious beliefs and spirituality," says Sanders, 47.

Sanders wasn't always a woman of the cloth. In fact, she was a collegiate tennis coach at Grand Canyon University and Seattle Pacific University for almost 10 years before taking a religious path. "I always have been a religiously devoted person within Christianity," says Sanders, who was raised Catholic. "But I needed to find a place where I could live out fully who I am as a religious person and as an openly gay woman." She found an Episcopal church with her partner, Kathy, and within five years began studying at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.

In many denominations it's still tough to be gay in the clergy. Vatican-appointed investigators root out gay students from U.S. Catholic seminaries. The Presbyterian Church recently extended its ban on noncelibate gay and lesbian ministers. And knowing this makes Sanders feel even luckier. She says, "The fact that I, as an openly gay priest, have been so welcomed and embraced by Stanford has been huge."

Richard Koob Hawaiian retreat guru Kalapana, Hawaii

Imagine if your typical workday looked like this: Practice Kundalini yoga at sunrise on the Hawaiian coast, socialize with travelers from around the globe, trek to the beach, sit in on a few staff meetings, play volleyball, and recover in the hot tub. And if it's Tuesday, teach hula.

That's the life of Richard Koob, 60, the director of Kalani Oceanside Retreat, a 120-acre getaway along one of the most unspoiled coastlines on the Big Island. Koob opened his nonprofit retreat in 1982 with his partner (Earnest Morgan, who died in 1985 of AIDS complications) as a place dedicated to nature, culture, and well-being. "It's important to enjoy life and focus on doing what we really love," says Koob.

Many of Kalani's activities, including dance and workshops such as a yoga retreat for gay men, reflect Koob's personal passions. "We've been on the vanguard of helping gay men realize how important it is to develop one's soulful and sensual side," he says.

An eclectic clientele is drawn to its rejuvenating massages, hula classes, historical sites, and breathtaking lava-walled cliffs. Accommodations range from $30 campsites to $260-a-night tree houses. Koob and Morgan always intended Kalani to attract people from a variety of backgrounds--both financial and cultural. Says Koob: "I think that appreciation of diversity comes from the gay experience."

Evan Darling Race car driver Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Growing up in Andover, Mass., Evan Darling used to challenge neighborhood kids to race him and his Big Wheel. He quickly graduated to gas-powered go-karts, BMX bikes, and by his 16th birthday, his first motocross motorcycle. "I was the little racer in the neighborhood," says Darling. Now 39, he's racing cars professionally with hopes of eventually graduating to NASCAR.

Darling is perhaps the only out gay U.S. driver in the macho world of professional racing. (Canadian stock car racer Billy Innes is gay; American ex-NASCAR driver James Terrell Hayes became Terri O'Connell, the first transgender driver, after sex-reassignment surgery in the mid '90s.)

"Surprisingly, everyone so far has been very supportive and very understanding," says Darling. "The fans I have seem to be very intelligent and very accepting."

Off the racing circuit Darling has traveled a bumpy road since coming at age 18. How rough? His parents sent him to a psychologist, and his brother, Brian, returned from college with a pile of straight is great T-shirts. Today, his brother serves as director of Senate relations for the antigay Heritage Foundation. But Darling's relationship with his parents has improved. "It's taken a lot of work," he says. "I've had to ignore a lot of things and just accept them as my family."

Funding his career has been tough too. Professional race cars cost more than $100,000. So when he goes to events like this month's Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, N.Y., on the IndyCar circuit, he rents a car

for $7,000 to $10,000 per weekend. And soliciting sponsors to put their logos on his car isn't easy. "I'm finding it's difficult to get big companies to sponsor a gay person in a straight marketplace," says Darling.

But he remains determined: "The coolest part of my job is when I get into a race car, shut the rest of the world out, and enjoy the feeling of doing well. Being gay doesn't define what you can and can't do in life."

Dustin Portillo Circus clown Independence, Mo.

Many kids dream of running away with the circus, but Dustin Portillo did it. "No firefighter. No paramedic," he says. "I wanted to be a clown." Now 20, Portillo lives the dream by touring with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.

As it turns out, being a clown isn't child's play. Portillo studied for two years at Mooseburger Camp in Buffalo, Minn., which is run by a former Ringling Brothers clown. "They teach you everything," says Portillo. "How to fall, how to throw pies, how to water-spit, how to put on makeup, how to juggle, how to plate-spin."

He's on a two-year tour of "Bellobration," the 137th edition of the Greatest Show on Earth, named for strawberry-blond clown star Bello Nock. But Portillo steals the spotlight with a visual gag in which he tries to take a bite out of a Macintosh computer and again when he and the other clowns parody Dancing With the Stars. One of those other clowns is Portillo's boyfriend. "I guess you'd have to say it was fate," Portillo says of their meeting a year ago. "We both like clowning, we both like the circus, and we're both gay." The two travel town to town in separate but neighboring rooms on the Ringling Brothers train. "If I want to see him, I go 10 feet," Portillo says. "Knock, knock."

When they're not wearing oversize shoes, the couple play tourist. Between recent performances at Madison Square Garden, they saw six Broadway shows. But nothing can keep them from the big top. "I love to make people laugh," says Portillo. "Every single day I come to work I get to perform in front of an audience of 10,000 people, and every single one is going to leave with a lighter heart."

Christopher Webb Color and trend designer/general motors Warren, Mich.

Whether it's the "victory red" of the Chevrolet Corvette or "pewter metallic" of the Hummer H2, every color offered by General Motors in North America starts with Christopher Webb. The 31-year-old not only picks the colors but develops them

(22 new ones each year) and names them: "blue chip" for Cadillac, "rally yellow" for the Chevy Cobalt, "grenade green" for the Hummer H3. He's also created custom colors for cars in movies such as The Matrix and TV shows such as The Sopranos.

A native of the United Kingdom, Webb was studying fashion design at the University of Brighton when GM came knocking seven years ago. And while friends worried that Detroit would be too straight, white, and middle-aged, the single Webb says, "To be honest, I've come into the most accepting, wonderful environment."

One of the biggest differences Webb has found between the runway and the roadway is timing. Fashion designers are now working on their 2009 lines, but GM is now planning models as far in the future as 2015. Still, "when you're developing color, whether you're wrapping color and material around a human form or around a car interior, it's very similar," says Webb. "I'm working on trends." So what's on the horizon? The ascension of orange, blue, and purple.

Randy Neece & Joe Timko Dog trainers Topanga, Calif.

Joe Timko was waiting as a black Cadillac Escalade pulled up outside Canyon View Dog Ranch, carrying Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, and their mastiff.

Timko, 50, didn't flinch. Canyon View is a cage-free-range boarding estate a quarter mile from Malibu, Calif., that sports a bone-shaped doggy pool and a running list of celebrity clients, including Christina Aguilera, Vin Diesel, and anyone else willing to pay $50 a day for boarding and $1,975 for four weeks of obedience training.

While Timko and his life partner, Randy Neece, aren't starstruck, they certainly know how lucky they are. In 1996, Neece was near death from AIDS complications when the antiretroviral cocktail finally became available. "You don't get much further than I was and still come back," says Neece, 54, author of the new memoir Gone Today, Here Tomorrow. As Neece's health improved, the couple began creating what Neece pictured as "a Disneyland for dogs." They replaced the scrub-covered land with trees, well-manicured lawns, and flowers. The business took off; they terraced the play areas and added tunnels so dogs could run under as well as over the lawn. They planted a bamboo garden, built a koi pond, and landscaped the land in ways that would make Walt Disney envious.

"Our philosophy was simple: We wanted a place where we feel comfortable putting our own dogs," says Neece. "And our own dogs are like our children."

Violet Palmer NBA referee Los Angeles

When a National Basketball Association scout telephoned to ask Violet Palmer if she wanted to join the association's referee training program, she thought it was a prank call. Palmer was then a NCAA Women's Division I basketball referee; she had never considered NBA refereeing a possibility.

Two years later it was a reality. In 1997, Palmer was the first woman to officiate a regular-season NBA game, between the Dallas Mavericks and Vancouver Grizzlies.

Naturally, she became the target of curiosity and derision. Before she'd even stepped on the court, NBA all-star Charles Barkley told reporters, "I don't think women should be in the army, and I don't think they should be NBA refs."

But in a job where fans heckle and coaches scream, turning a deaf ear becomes second nature. "I knew if I had an opportunity to prove myself," she says, "there would be no question that I could do the job." And she was right. In the 2006-2007 season she officiated 72 out of 82 games.

Palmer, now 42, was initially cautious about disclosing her sexual orientation. "I wanted my merit and my work to be the focal point," she says. "Now, 10 years in, saying I'm a lesbian doesn't matter." And now her partner of 12 years, Tanya Stine, gets to join her at games.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Todd Henneman