37 / Los Angeles
Felicia Carbajal is the link between marriage equality and cannabis advocacy. While both causes rely on increasing visibility and challenging preconceived notions, Carbajal is the woman in the middle. After California’s Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality in 2008, Carbajal married her wife, thrusting her into a divisive battle over Prop. 8. “There were these [campaign ads] of little girls with pigtails and big puppy-dog eyes,” she recalls. “One was Latina, holding up a sign that I knew this girl was too young to even read. It said, ‘Marriage: One Man, One Woman.’ ”
That girl reminded Carbajal of herself growing up. She became a field organizer for the Courage Campaign, where she co-coordinated Meet in the Middle in her Central California hometown of Fresno. Once the flurry around Prop. 8 died down, she had a chance meeting with physician Allan Frankel, founder of GreenBridge Medical Services — which bills itself as a premier medicinal marijuana clinic. He allowed Carbajal to continue her work as a community organizer.
“[Medicinal marijuana users are] just as important of a community to me as being LGBT and Latina.” Carbajal has met several closeted cannabis users, some of whom relied on it to treat chronic pain. Now her job is to get them and other like-minded medicinal cannabis users to keep coming out. @docfrankel
Photography by Bradford Rogne at The Black Cat in Los Angeles
36 / Denver
Speaker, Colorado House of Representatives
When Mark Ferrandino was elected to represent Colorado’s House District 2 in 2007, the Denver Democrat was the first out LGBT person to be elected to the state legislature. Six years later, Rep. Ferrandino is now the longest-serving official in the state’s LGBT caucus, which includes a record eight gay or lesbian legislators in the House and Senate. This year, he once again made history when he became the first out gay person to serve as Speaker of the House.
As a child bullied for being in special education classes due to a learning disability, Ferrandino never thought he would wield such influence.
“I pinch myself every once in a while, sitting in the office and realizing what I’ve been able to accomplish,” says Ferrandino. “Of course, we’d love not to be bullied, but I am who I am because of the experience that I went through. And I think a lot of my compassion and desire for [helping] others is because I was so helped to get to where I am.”
While he’s been careful to avoid becoming a single-issue politician, Ferrandino has always been an outspoken supporter for LGBT issues, serving as the leading House sponsor for civil unions legislation that failed by narrow, partisan margins for the past three years. But this year, with Ferrandino in charge of the House, and Democrats in control of the Senate and the governor’s office, civil unions are all-but guaranteed to become a reality in Colorado — likely by May 1, according to Ferrandino. That’s an important step toward equality especially for Ferrandino and his husband, Greg Wertsch, who are currently fostering a baby girl they hope to adopt in the coming months. @markferrandino
27 / Tampa, Fla.
Since moving from Brazil at the age of 14, Felipe Matos has been a leader in immigration rights for undocumented citizens. As one of the top community college students in the country, he was accepted by two elite universities but was unable to attend because his undocumented status prevented him from obtaining financial aid. To help change the situation, he has become an organizer and online advocate for Presente.org, a national group that aims to amplify the political voice of Latinos in the U.S.
Matos has also been a part of the national coordinating committee for United We Dream, a network of youth-led immigrant organizations around the country, and he helped organize 2010’s Trail of Dreams, a giant protest in which students marched 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, D.C., to support the DREAM Act and immigration rights.
Today, he is the codirector of GetEqual, a group formed to demand full legal and social equality for LGBT Americans.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform our immigration system,” he says. “This is an opportunity to create a fair system for LGBTQ immigrants as well. We need a fair and direct pathway to citizenship, protect binational families, reform our asylum laws, and stop harsh enforcement that leads to more deportations and detentions.” @f_matos007
21 / Panama City, Fla.
A cover story about Ceara Sturgis in a Mississippi newspaper got it right. “She’s Not a Troublemaker, She’s Gay,” the headline read. At the time, in 2009, it was an oft-repeated talking point employed by her mom while defending Sturgis’s decision to wear a tuxedo in her yearbook picture instead of a cape like the rest of the girls.
Sturgis and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the school district that resulted in a new policy—now everyone wears a cap and gown.
The Southerner again made headlines last summer when she and her partner, Emily Key, wanted a commitment ceremony. The Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, a state-owned facility, had let straight couples marry there regularly, but Sturgis was told no.
“I don’t go looking for things to get into,” Sturgis says. “I’m just trying to live my life.” This time, she joined forces with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the policy was overturned.
“Someone needs to fight for equality,” she says, “and if I’m in the situation, I’m going to fight for it.” Facebook.com/Ceara-Sturgis
—Diane Anderson-Minshall, Neal Broverman, Sunnivie Brydum, Michelle Garcia, Lucas Grindley, Clea Kim, Nick Pachelli, Jase Peeples, Trudy Ring, Christopher Rudolph
To complete our 40 Under 40 list, read our exclusive interview with Tegan & Sara, this month's cover subjects.