The Advocate has selected forty LGBT young people under forty who are making a difference in the world. They are "accomplished leaders in politics, sports, science, religion and the arts.". You can't help but look at this list and feel great hope for the future. Here are five of them..
32 / New York
Actor and Student
Ryan Spahn happily acknowledges that his partner of four years, Michael Urie (of Ugly Betty fame), has the more recognizable face of the couple. In fact, he’s banking on it. Spahn’s first feature film, in theaters this May, is sardonically titled He’s Way More Famous Than You. He wrote the film with Halley Feiffer, with Urie in the director’s chair. Both Spahn and Urie star in the film, along with Tracee Chimo, Jesse Eisenberg, and But I’m a Cheerleader’s Natasha Lyonne.
While completing preproduction for Famous in 2011, Spahn penned a screenplay for another upcoming film, Grantham & Rose, a coming-of-age story featuring Feiffer as a filmmaker willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get her way, foiled by The Jeffersons’ Marla Gibbs as a feisty 81-year-old woman named Rose.
Spahn is also a third-year drama student at Juilliard. Urie, a Juilliard alum, encouraged his partner to attend, promising the education would change his life. Indeed, Spahn says he’s found funding for and self-produced all three of his feature film and a short film projects since enrolling.
“It was unexpected and thrilling,” says Spahn. “So it was more of a juggling act of scheduling the films to fall during my holiday breaks. I am a hard worker, so I managed to balance the workload of Juilliard against these filming schedules.” @ryan_spahn
Harper Jean Tobin
31 / Washington, D.C.
Director of Policy, National Center for Transgender Equality
As a young transgender woman coming of age in Louisville, Ky., Harper Jean Tobin was grateful for her supportive family and friends within her community. But while she describes Louisville as “the least conservative place in Kentucky,” she was still aware of the discrimination and transphobia that runs deep in many Southern states. That awareness led the lawyer — recently named among the best 40 LGBT attorneys under 40 by the National LGBT Bar Association — to actively fight to improve the lives, visibility, and equality of transgender people by creating inclusive federal policy. And that’s exactly what she’s done in her four years with the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“Gears sometimes turn slowly in this town,” says Tobin of the Washington infrastructure. “But we have seen tremendous progress over the past four years.”
Tobin cites 2010 revisions to federal policy that allowed transgender people to obtain passports that reflect their authentic gender without a requirement for surgical procedures. Tobin also highlights ongoing work to protect transgender prisoners and immigration detainees. Tobin says such efforts have been “quite successful” thus far, but notes that there is still much to do. She hopes NCTE’s efforts signal the beginning of “a larger and very critical conversation in our movement about the ways in which so many of our transgender youth are funneled into these harmful systems by poverty, unemployment, rejection, and discrimination.” @transequality
24 / Holyoke, Mass.
When your high school gay-straight alliance faces censorship by the school board, it helps to have the town’s mayor on your side. To be fair, Mayor Alex Morse of Holyoke, Mass., founded that group back in his high school days, which weren’t that long ago. He’s only 24.
The Holyoke High School GSA planned an assembly against bullying in February, and in response a board member wanted to move it after school or require an opt-out provision because of its supposed sexual nature. Morse spoke strongly against the idea, arguing that the kids most likely to opt out would also be most in need of training. When he won and the assembly happened, the mayor was a guest speaker.
Morse shows that even a mayor for a city of about 40,000 can make a difference for LGBT Americans. “Legal protections are one thing,” he says. “Changing the hearts and minds of people is another challenge.” @mayormorse
23 / Boston
Amir Dixon recently made history when his film Friend of Essex screened at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, one of the nation’s preeminent historically African-American colleges. The documentary drama explores the lives of young black gay men today and “looks at how we are seen in the black community through the scope of religion, how we are seen in the [larger] LGBTQ community, and in turn how we see ourselves,” Dixon says. The film has prompted discussions on race, masculinity, identity, and sexuality. This is what he hopes to achieve wherever Friend of Essex screens. “[I hope to set a] national agenda for LGBTQ people of color that is inclusive of all of our experiences,” he says. “This isn’t about me but about us.” @amirnow
33 / Washington, D.C.
Director of Education Advocacy, National Wildlife Federation
If you think you’re busy, you haven’t met Danielle Moodie-Mills. She’s the director of education advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation, a board member for the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, and an adviser for LGBT policy and racial justice with Fighting Injustice to Reach Equality, an initiative of the Center for American Progress. In her spare time, she maintains a blog (ThreeLOL.com) and hosts a radio show (Politini at BLIS.fm), both of which she manages with her wife. But she doesn’t mind her industrious life. “I’m really passionate about all those pieces because they really reflect to my core, which is social justice and working for equality across the board for all people,” she says.
Moodie-Mills’s latest work with NWF centers on encouraging kids to put down the Xbox and get active, and her latest project with FIRE involves helping LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system. “I’m really proud to do the work I do,” she says. @deetwocents