Click here to read the Forty Under 40 cover story interview with political strategist Chad Griffin.
26 / Brooklyn, N.Y.
Keyboardist, Vampire Weekend
“Being Iranian and gay are two aspects of my identity I embrace,” says Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij. Neither have they compromised success for the gentle-voiced musician, whose career couldn’t be hotter. Besides producing and playing keyboards for one of the most acclaimed rock bands today (VW’s Contra hit number 1 on Billboard’s album charts, and they’ve appeared on Saturday Night Live twice), Batmanglij performs with his side project, electro-pop duo Discovery. “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” is their much buzzed-about single, and he is optimistic about the song’s potential as a gay anthem. “The lyrics subconsciously comment on my own life. I wasn’t fully aware of their double meaning while I was writing it.” he says. “Growing up, there were artists like Tchaikovsky that I felt connected to before I knew they were gay or before I knew that I was gay.”
35 / Los Angeles
When Robert Rave left a successful career in public relations to devote himself to writing full-time, people weren’t quite sure what to make of it. “Some people don’t understand,” he says. “If you’re not making crazy money, it’s a foreign concept to them.” But Rave says he felt like he “was pushing everybody else’s passions and just sort of ignoring my own.” So he moved from New York to Los Angeles to work on his debut novel, Spin, a fictionalized look at the world of PR in the vein of The Devil Wears Prada. He sold the concept as a pilot to Sony Pictures Television, but the option eventually expired, and Spin was published last year by St. Martin’s Press. Rave’s follow-up, Waxed, is due out from St. Martin’s this summer. He says that while he has no regrets about leaving the world of PR behind, every so often, when a friend asks for help, he’s happy to oblige. “That part is fun for me, especially if it’s for friends. But I don’t get paid for it.”
35 / Brooklyn, N.Y.
Executive director, Queers for Economic Justice
More people are getting by with less these days, and Kenyon Farrow’s job is based on the fact that it’s not just straight people feeling the heat. Queers for Economic Justice is also pinching pennies (an expected $40,000 in funding was being held up by the gridlocked New York State legislature, but donations from supporters prevented layoffs, he says). Nevertheless, QEJ continues to provide shelter, support groups, and economic services to thousands of low-income and homeless LGBT people throughout New York City. Farrow came to QEJ in December after years of working on AIDS advocacy and prisoner issues and fighting homophobia among African-Americans; he’s already had several victories including a joint effort with the Audre Lorde Project, Housing Works, and Sylvia Rivera Law Project to help transgender people gain better access to city welfare programs.
29 / Atlanta
Mia Mingus has a refreshingly sunny disposition for someone who spends every day speaking against the big isms and phobias of the world—racism, homophobia, ableism (discrimination against disabled people), sexism, and classism. At the dozens of universities, events, and conferences where she speaks each year, Mingus, who uses a wheelchair herself, focuses on building strength in alliances, stressing that gay rights aren’t isolated from accessibility rights for people with disabilities. Mingus says she’s been lucky to make a living in activism and grassroots organizing. The next step in achieving equality, she says, is beyond getting diverse groups to show up at meetings. “Just being able to physically get into the door and communicate at meetings is a step,” she says of increasing disabled people’s involvement in LGBT advocacy. “But we have to move beyond access. It’s not enough to just be in the room, but we all have to be in on the conversation.”