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7 LBGT Locals Who Give San Francisco Its Good Gay Name

Richard Klein: The Professional

Richard Klein has mad connections. As founder and publisher of the design glossy Surface, the 43-year-old is an authority on the avant-garde scene. These days, Klein is making the most of his hard-won stature to bolster the success of an equally stylish set—his peers in the gay community.

“I’ve always felt there must be a better way for the LGBT community to harness our power,” says Klein, who toasted the launch of his newest endeavor, a national network for LGBT professionals, from his Twin Peaks home office in April. Called Dot429—4-2-9 spells g-a-y on a telephone keypad—Klein’s new project is designed to connect the dots between LGBT people. “There are still so many of us who experience discrimination in the workplace,” Klein explains. “Dot429 can make being gay a professional advantage.”

The proof of the network’s potential lies in an old adage: “It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know.” Dot429 launched with 500 founding members—think celebrity chef Elizabeth Falkner and designer John Bartlett—who, in turn, opened their Rolodexes. Membership has exploded to more than 10,000 nationwide, with members surfing résumés and original articles online and swapping business cards at events in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Global domination coming soon.

Shannon Wentworth: The Global Citizen

By the look of it, Shannon Wentworth holds the key to the sweet life. When the Oakland resident isn’t hanging out with her dog, Reggie, at Redwood Regional Park, the 37-year-old is busy at her full-time dream job, as founding partner and CEO of Sweet, a lesbian travel company whose philosophy is “party with a purpose.”

The idea is to give back to the places we love to go,” says Wentworth, whose carbon-neutral vacations, which range from a girls weekend in Vegas to an all-out African safari, are geared toward raising social and environmental awareness. Since the company launched in 2008, “Sweeties” have done such good deeds as refurbishing parks and picking up trash—during Sweet’s inaugural Caribbean cruise, 152 woman hit the beach to fill 220 garbage bags in just 45 minutes.

Sweet’s goal is “to break down big problems into bite-size, doable chunks so that women will feel empowered and inspired to take action,” Wentworth says. Of course, the sight of hundreds of lesbian “voluntourists” giving back to cultures all over the world certainly can’t hurt international gay/straight relations. How sweet it is.

Jan Zivic and Lisa Schoonerman: The Brainiacs

Jan Zivic and Lisa Schoonerman know all too well the necessity of a healthy brain—“use it or lose it,” as the saying goes. After suffering a cerebral hemorrhage from a devastating car accident in 1998, Zivic underwent emergency neurosurgery before learning later on that she also had a benign brain tumor—and cancer. Schoonerman, Zivic’s partner of six years, is also no stranger to matters of the mind: Her mother has been diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia. In 2007, the couple put their noggins together to open VibrantBrains, the country’s first “brain gym dedicated to cognitive exercise.”

Located in Pacific Heights, VibrantBrains is a social environment for exercising your mind with programs that improve thinking, memory, focus and visual skills. Much like working out with a personal trainer, VibrantBrains coaches guide members through software-based games inspired by the latest science, but also made fun—think a brain-teasing version of Pacman and such challenges as Word Bubbles (how many words can you think of that start with “gol” in just one minute?). Schoonerman says anyone can benefit, but the proof is in the pudding: Zivic, now in excellent health, is herself a VibrantBrains gym bunny. “This isn’t a sales pitch,” says Zivic. “It works.”

Jay Nicolas Sario: The Upstart

Sipping a lemon drop in faded jeans and his trademark loopy scarf, Jay Nicolas Sario looks the part of a faux-hawked hipster fidgeting with his iPhone. The 32-year-old Filipino native, who lives in NoPa with his longtime boyfriend, has none of the affectation you might expect from one enjoying a few moments of fame: As one of four finalists on this season’s Project Runway, the Gap visual merchandiser came this close to taking the series’ top prize. He did, however, get the chance to show his first-ever collection—inspired by the 2009 exhibit Lords of the Samurai at our own Asian Art Museum—in the tents at Bryant Park. Cue the blushing fans.

“Celebrity is part of being a designer, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to be recognized for being on TV. I want to be recognized for my work,” says Sario who, at age 9, styled his sisters’ Barbies in cocktail dresses made from Grandma’s socks. His Fall 2010 collection was more elegant, with intricately structured looks softened by curvilinear shapes. Heidi Klum may have said “aufedersein,” but we expect to see more of Sario. A recent promotion has him heading the launch of Gap’s 1969 stores nationwide, and if all goes according to plan, his Spring 2011 collection will be available at select San Francisco boutiques.

Theresa Sparks: The Transformer

Take the age-old rags-to-riches fairy tale, turn it upside down, toss in gender reassignment surgery, and you will only scratch the surface of Theresa Sparks, executive director of San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission. The former Good Vibrations CEO and SF police commissioner has seen a thing or two since 1997 when Sparks, then a successful environmental engineer, transitioned from male to female and took the only gig she could get as a newly minted woman—a DeSoto cabbie. Post-op, Sparks’ therapist issued her three choices: one, go underground; two, live your life; or three, live your life out loud. Sparks says, “I chose two, and then three happened.”

To say Sparks is living out loud is, happily, an understatement. The Caffé Roma regular, who also hangs out at the Boom Boom Room, is running for District 6 supervisor and has become her community’s de facto transgender leader. Sparks’ call to arms, however, was based in human rights, not politics. “I’ve seen the terrible abuses people are subjected to,” says Sparks, dashing off scary statistics. For instance, two to three transgender people are murdered monthly in the US. My community and young people need to understand we have this opportunity to accomplish more from the inside than out.”

Jessica Silverman: The Curator

What were you doing at the tender age of 22? Likely, you were more stoked on not getting carded at the bar than about launching your own Dogpatch art gallery—unless, of course, you were Jessica Silverman, a Detroit native who thought opening a gallery would be “a lot of fun” while finishing her master’s in curatorial practice at California College of the Arts.

“I didn’t really think of it as a business,” says the 26-year-old proprietor of Silverman Gallery, now on Sutter Street. The cozy space highlights emerging local and international artists inspired by contemporary popular culture. Case in point: After Hours, a series of works on paper, video and sculpture by queer artist Lucas Michael, holds a metaphorical magnifying glass to such antiquated books as the 1956 title, Homosexuality, Disease or Way of Life? (June 11–July 17).

“It’s easy to hop on the train of the next artist as they’re flying high,” says the Marina resident and yogi, “but I have to stay true to my interest in conceptually vigorous work.” This brand of integrity has landed Silverman among an inner circle of SF aesthetes, including designers Charles de Lisle and Jay Jeffers, whom she counts as clients and friends. Also look for Silverman’s curated works at Coup d’Etat in the SF Design Center.