BY AMY WOOTEN
In 2001, Fausto Fernós was featured as a 30 Under 30 Award recipient for his innovative live performance work and art. If you don't know where he is now, you are quite possibly living under a rock!
Alongside partner Marc Felion, Fernós co-hosts iTunes' number-one ranked and top downloaded gay podcast, Feast of Fools. Feast of Fools' first podcast was on Feb. 8, 2005, and has moved up the ranks to become the gay podcast of all gay podcasts, with over one million downloads last May. The show features interviews with top celebrities, news, gossip and Felion's innovative cocktail recipies, and has really shed a limelight on Chicago as one of the top cities for innovative and queer podcasting.
'I think when you guys first interviewed me, there seemed to be a lot of anxiety and uncertainty as to where this was all going, and at this point, I think I understand where the path for my life and myself as an artist is,' Fernós said. 'There's a satisfaction is having fulfilled some of those things and creating a powerful impact.'
In 2005, Fernós and Felion were thinking of doing a cable access show. They heard rumblings about podcasting, and in February 2005 decided to create an online radio show. This was before the iTunes store even supported podcasting.
'We sort of defined what it was and because we were borrowing a lot of conventions from television and from live theater,' Fernós said, 'we really thought of it as the departure from radio because you had the ability to hyperlink to content, and you also had the ability to reinvent or to change what the tone and structure and formality of what radio was. In a sense we made Chicago the number one city for queer podcast.'
Feast of Fools pioneered a lot of things, and continues to remain at the forefront. It was the first podcast to feature an HIV-positive person and discuss full-blown AIDS. It was the first to reach a million downloads. It was also the first to obtain a major media sponsor, the first to pioneer the concept of album art and the first to pioneer the concept of show titles. Mainstream media have imitated—or at least tried to imitate--what Feast of Fools started.
The creators remain on top of things—they foresaw the direction online media was going in and ran with it. For example, Fernós knows the cell phone is being reinvented by Apple, so Feast of Fools is in the front lines of creating the first ringtone-based podcast.
According to Fernós, there is a definite shift towards online content, and LGBT people are early adopters of this new technology and finding new ways of consuming information.
For up and coming activists, Fernós offers this advice: 'Make it relevant for you. If you want to change something in your community because you aren't satisfied, first of all, find people like yourself and create a miniature community for yourself. This is for gay or straight people. The power of the internet allows you to have a niche audience. You have to find people who are in synch with what you are saying and trying to accomplish. Also, be very sincere about your goals, and be very honest of them. Learn every aspect of what you are trying to do.
'The most important thing is to understand who you are, your passion and what drives you in this life,' he added. 'I think what you do in school and in your offline life should be about finding that voice and exercising that voice.'
LGBT people are hungry to express themselves, and the internet has provided a way for young people to do just that. Fernós talked about an individual who told the New York Times that Feast of Fools was the reason he was able to grow so much as a teen. 'As a community, we can use it as a really powerful way to change the experience for gays and lesbians, not just in our own backyard, but globally,' he said.
Former 30 Under 30 recipient Miguel Ayala, 28, has been a busy bee in the last several years, especially in the political realm.
Since receiving the award in 2001 for his work at Whitney Young High School ( where he help start Chicago Public School's first Pride Club ) , Ayala attended DePaul University, where he received his BA in Political Science. He was very active in Greek life and organized LGBT events for the school.
But now Ayala has returned to his original calling: politics.
During his undergrad years, he interned for Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., in Washington, D.C. and Sen. Hillary Clinton's first Senate campaign in New York.
Ayala moved to Washington D.C., and is currently working on his Masters in higher education.
'The only way my life has changed has been in just having been able to meet so many people in my life, and having been able to experience so many different things,' he said.
In 2004, he started working for Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and now serves as her legislative assistant in many areas, including LGBT issues and immigration, among many others. He has taken his weekends off to work on campaigns, such as the 2006 Dan Seals campaign ( the Illinois Democrat who ran against Rep. Mark Kirk ) and the 2004 Allyson Schwartz, D-Penn., campaign.
'My future goals include finishing up my Masters, and eventually returning to Chicago, where I'd like to get involved with local politics, and ideally one day run for elected office, either as alderman, in the state legislature or maybe one day back here in Washington.
'Now, my drive is everything that I've seen since then [ high school ] and learned about over the years. Fighting for things like marriage equality, repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' passing ENDA, and seeing the hate crimes bill become law, as well as things that aren't directly about the gay community but affect us, like poverty, immigration and educational access, are part of my everyday work.'
Ayala, who has experience so much in so little time, has advice for up-and-coming LGBT community activists. 'Experience everything you can,' he advises. He encourages youth to take advantages of opportunities in high school and college, such as internships, leadership opportunities and study-abroad programs.
Michael Yarbrough, a 2001 30 Under 30 honoree, may have moved from his beloved Chicago, but is still hard at work when it comes to LGBT issues.
Yarbrough, 31, is currently at Yale University working on his Ph.D. in sociology after completing law school. He tried his hand at multiple paths, but has decided to pursue an academic career.
At Yale, Yarbrough's research focuses on the roles of law in close, personal relationships. His dissertation compares marriage law debates in the U.S. and South Africa.
But research is not all this scholar is doing. He has helped with the South African lobbying effort and is co-writing a scholarly article about how legal marriage might impact the way same-sex couples divide housework.
'My long-term goal is to teach and research sociology at the university level, and perhaps to teach law as well,' he said.
Yarbrough said he initially became involved in the LGBT community to deal with his own sexuality, but what drives him now is the urge to 'connect the dots between the LGBT experience and broader issues of social justice,' such as class, race and gender.
'We must always push ourselves to imagine each of these [ issues ] in new and expansive ways.'
His advice to young LGBT activists is to look beyond the community. 'I think it's incredibly important that we frame our issues in broad terms, connecting the harms we experience with similar harms experienced by other groups,' he said.
For example, during his work in South Africa, he came in contact with LGBT activists and activists fighting for equal property rights on behalf of rural, heterosexual women.
'In different ways, both groups were excluded from the protections of marriage,' he said. 'Not only did that mean they could form alliances around the marriage issue, but it also meant that they helped each other to think about greater transformational possibilities beyond marriage.'
Windy City Times' 30 Under 30 will be held June 20 at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, at 6 p.m. Call 773-871-7610.