The Advocate released their annual 40 Under 40 list of budding powerhouses, leaders in media, politics, sports, and science, who are facilitating our future. We wanted to highlight some of the incredible young women from the list here, but be sure to check out all 40 incredible women and men on The Advocate.
Christi Furnas, 39
When Christi Furnas was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 25, she found herself unable to hold a job and instead focused inward, deciding she wanted to define herself as an artist. Today, the Minneapolis-based painter, who’s been showing and selling her work locally for 15 years, uses her experience to help others with similar disabilities. As a peer support specialist at Spectrum ArtWorks, Furnas mentors adults with severe mental illness and encourages them to find the artist within themselves.
“I’ve seen a lot of people grow and realize they have talents they didn’t think they had,” says Furnas, who also helps her artists maintain portfolios and prepare for art submissions.
Most important to the queer-identified Furnas is leading by example.
“I live my life and speak my mind,” she says, “and I think that encourages others to do the same."
Cofounder, TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation
If Jazz looks familiar, that’s because in addition to starring in her own documentary, I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition, which debuted on OWN last year, she has also discussed being transgender on CNN, 20/20, and Good Morning America.
A preteen who likes to sing and dance, Jazz (whose parents keep their last name and exact location private for safety reasons) uses her newfound fame to help other gender-variant kids. With her parents’ help she’s launched the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, a nonprofit that supports trans kids and their families, even offering grants for medical needs not covered by insurance.
“I want to help other transgender people be true to themselves,” says Jazz, who is the youngest person ever to be honored in our Forty Under 40. “A lot of transgender kids don’t have the support of a family like I do, and I just wanted to share that it’s OK to step out of their shadows and tell their parents how they really feel inside. You can still be loved if you are transgender."
Brittany McMillan, 17
Founder, Spirit Day
If you wore purple on October 20—as did Cher, the Jersey Shore cast, Raising Hope star Martha Plimpton, Conan O’Brien, the ladies of The View, and some of the White House staff—you can thank Brittany McMillan.
McMillan, a Canadian high school student, is making a huge impact in the U.S. with Spirit Day, when teenagers and adults wear purple to show solidarity against anti-LGBT bullying. Compelled to do something after the high-profile LGBT suicides of 2010, McMillan began the initiative as a grassroots effort, but after the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation encouraged celebrities to join in, millions of people wore purple and altered their Facebook and Twitter profiles in solidarity.
“Spirit Day only takes place one day out of the year, but homophobia happens every day,” McMillan says.
Faith Cheltenham, 32
President, BiNet USA
Faith Cheltenham’s been trying to accentuate the B in LGBT for almost 15 years now. “In college I pushed for acknowledgement that bisexuals existed,” she says. “But [our existence] would seemingly be invisible within the organizations I was involved with."
A social media producer by day (Duchess Sarah Ferguson is one client), Cheltenham now promotes bisexual visibility as president of BiNet USA, a nonprofit volunteer organization. Through its website, the umbrella organization promotes visibility for a group often marginalized—even among the L, G, and T communities—by disseminating articles, history lessons, links to local groups, and a calendar of bisexual-themed events around the globe.
Cheltenham, a new mom, sees BiNet USA as her contribution to the equality struggle: “[I’m just] one piece in a tapestry of people fighting for freedom."
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Alexis Pauline Gumbs & Julia Wallace, 29 & 32
Historians, Mobile Homecoming
In 2009, Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Julia Wallace were at a conference in North Carolina, attended primarily by black lesbians, and realized they were the youngest people there. Listening to the older women, “it became very obvious that the choices they had made and the things they had done had made things better for us,” Gumbs says. Adds Wallace: “We became very excited about the experiences they had.” That led the partners in life and work to get on the road and seek out African-American LGBT elders (basically, anyone older than they are) around the nation for a project called Mobile Homecoming. Gumbs and Wallace are documenting their subjects’ lives through video and audio interviews that they plan to assemble into a documentary film by the end of next year, and they are also holding intergenerational events and collecting photos, manuscripts, and other artifacts for an archive of black LGBT life.
The effort “has been affirming and sometimes overwhelming,” Gumbs says. In some cases, “people have been waiting all their life for someone to listen to them.” Wallace says the project made her realize “we have a responsibility to our elders and our ancestors to take care of each other.” In addition to Mobile Homecoming, Gumbs’s projects include BrokenBeautiful Press, a website where activists can share resources, and Brilliance Remastered, which offers online seminars, individual coaching, and other assistance for scholars. Wallace is founder of Queer Renaissance, which uses the Internet and other media to connect artists, activists, entrepreneurs, and others. Soon the busy duo will be collaborating on a children’s book as well.
Amelia Roskin-Frazee, 16
Founder, Make It Safe Project
Though she’s only a freshman in high school, Amelia Roskin-Frazee’s résumé of activism is hefty. She established her middle school’s GSA, she’s one of 18 student ambassadors for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, and she founded her own LGBT organization.
“I was going to my current school’s library and I found that there were pretty much no books about sexual orientation or gender expression,” Roskin-Frazee says. The dearth of LGBT literature inspired her to establish the Make It Safe Project, which provides schools with queer literature. Through her fund-raising efforts, she’s purchased books like It Gets Better and Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens and distributed them to school libraries.
“I’ve given around 20 boxes of books to schools and youth homeless shelters that otherwise didn’t have these resources,” she says. While she sees herself eventually being an “underpaid writer-teacher,” Roskin-Frazee says LGBT advocacy will always be part of her life.
Tucky Williams, 26
Producer, Girl/Girl Scene
With over a million views, Tucky Williams has much to celebrate with her show, Girl/Girl Scene. In what she describes as a “Web television drama series,” Williams tells the story of lesbians living and loving in Louisville, Ky. Williams is the creator, executive producer, and writer, and she also plays the protagonist, Evan, in the series. “I wanted to show what my life was like as a young lesbian having fun,” Williams said. “All the characters really enjoy being gay."
Williams is a role model for many young Girl/Girl Scene fans—90% of her fan mail consists of gracious letters thanking her for producing a relatable show, while the other 10% asks Williams’s advice on coming out.
The first season recently wrapped, and Williams is working on season 2 with new cast members and a new directing team. As far as what fans can expect, she simply says, “We are going to explore deeper, darker emotions. And we’re also going to have a lot more flashy, trashy fun."
Other women in this year's 40 Under 40 are 36-year-old Exec. Director of Immigration Equality Rachel Riven, 34-year-old 2 Broke Girls writer Liz Feldman, 39-year-old My Best Day filmmaker Erin Greenwell, 34-year-old Center for Media Justice founder Malkia Cyril, 36-year-old Sr. Scholar, Public Policy at the Williams Institute Bianca Wilson, 27-year-old PR Manager at GLSEN Andy Marra, 27-year-old Production Coordinator at In The Life Media Lyssette Horne, 33-year-old Director of Programming for Frameline Desiree Buford, and 26-year-old Public Policy Director at Equality Florida Mallory Wells.