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Acclaimed composer Craig Johnson brings Matthew Shepard oratorio to LA for Pride

Tragedy translates into musical inspiration at the Ford Theatre



Craig Hella Johnson will lead Conspirare from piano in his acclaimed oratorio ‘Considering Matthew Shepard.’ Photo by James Goulden. (Courtesy of Conspirare)

Pride is a time for gathering together to celebrate who we are as a community, and how far we have come – but it’s also a time to commemorate the struggles and hardships of the past, so we can be reminded of why the fight for acceptance and equality must still go on.

One of the most resonant reminders is the 1998 tragedy of Matthew Shepard. It was a hate crime that quickly became a cultural touchstone, and inspired profound works of art in all media.

One such work is “Considering Matthew Shepard,” an oratorio composed by renowned composer/conductor Craig Hella Johnson – who will lead his Grammy-winning choir, Conspirare (along with a small instrumental ensemble and projected imagery), in a performance of this acclaimed piece at the Ford Theatre on June 15 and 16.

Johnson wrote the piece in 2012 as his very first full concert-length composition.

Why, so long after it happened, did he choose the Shepard incident as his subject matter?

“It’s really the other way around.  I have this feeling that it chose me.  Obviously, what happened to Matt pierced a lot of our hearts – but the unique aspect for me was the way it continued to knock on my door, like there was something there that wanted to be expressed.  After many years, I had to finally respond to it,” Johnson says.

After fifteen years of percolation, he had strong ideas about how to approach it.

“One area of music that’s really close to me is the ‘Passion’ setting – so, I set out to create a modern version of that.  It’s a framework which focuses on the last suffering days of an iconic life.  It was my hope  that this would be a way to help us remember Matt – and so many other lives that have been lost to hate crimes.  Matt was certainly the most well-known, but there was also James Byrd, that same year, and a whole generation of men and women that have gone unnoticed and unacknowledged,” he says.

It’s not just about remembering, though.

“I love the idea of a musical container, a big piece that can bring people together in a communal way where we can face ourselves together – not in a punishing way, but to the point where we break down some of our defenses.  We can reflect on ourselves, and ask those larger questions – ‘Why does this happen?  What do I have to do with this?’  Even those of us who might think we are on the outside of this, on the innocent side of this – we can ask ourselves how we might participate in the creation of a culture where such events could happen,” Johnson continues.

Johnson says his intention to bring people together is reflected in his musical choices.

“There’s a broad spectrum of musical styles.  There’s certainly some classical, some operatic aria.  But it was important to me that this piece would encompass musical styles that speak to all the people in this ‘tent’ – this family of humanity that is all included in the experience.  So, there’s Gregorian chant, there’s choral polyphony, there’s folk and country, there’s some blues – it’s a real melding of styles for sure,” he explains.

There are parts of the piece that he’s particularly fond of – such as a section with drums where the singers hurl their hurt and their rage into what he calls “a musical bonfire” for a group catharsis – but there is one moment which has special meaning for him.

“It’s when ‘Matt’ becomes ‘Matthew.’  That differentiation came to me from Judy Shepard, when I asked her how she and Dennis carry this deep loss out into the world, this grief that’s always refreshed for them year after year.  She said, ‘Matthew Shepard is the iconic name that travels the world.  We remember Matt, he was our son – that’s our private grief,’” Johnson says.

“I was able to get some of Matt’s journals, from when he was in high school and early college – that was sacred stuff, for me to get to hold those – and I set some of those into the second movement, I call it ‘Ordinary Boy.’  He loved being in the theater, so that section is like musical theater.  We go through this litany of things he loved – it’s really buoyant and fun, kind of effervescent.  And then, later on, there is a tenor solo called ‘In Need of Breath’ where a transformation takes place – this is where Matt becomes Matthew,” he continues.

So how does his oratorio fit into the Age of Trump?

“We had no sense, when we did the premiere, that this whole topic was going to become hyper-relevant again.  That’s why it’s become so meaningful to be singing it again, to be remembering that these things are happening more and more – the numbers have been spiking since November 2016, and our beautiful trans sisters and brothers, they’re just experiencing it so much right now,” he says.

But it’s not just a somber experience – there’s hope in it, too.

“There’s a movement near the end, called ‘All of Us.’  It’s an invitation to drop all these labels that separate us, and really start seeing each other as a human family – to learn how to live with each other, in love and respect,” Johnson says. “It’s a dream that feels far away sometimes.”

He pauses to reflect.

“I remember, as a young boy, having this question in the face of these confounding realities, these acts of hate, — asking myself, in the midst of all this darkness, is there love to be found?  That was my operating question as I went into this project,” Johnson says.

Did he find an answer?

“Yes.  In performing this with my colleagues, and with these extraordinary audiences we’ve encountered, there is something rich in connecting over the experience.  It’s in the ‘doing’ of this that I have found a kind of ‘living’ answer,” Johnson says.

He is hoping to share that answer with you when he brings “Considering Matthew Shepard” to the Ford Theatre in the middle of our month of Pride.

“Considering Matthew Shepard” will be performed at Ford Theatre (2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E, Los Angeles) on June 15 and 16, as part of the City of West Hollywood and WeHo Arts’ One City One Pride.  Tickets are available at or by calling 323 461-3673.

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Pansexual Visibility Day 2022 is May 24

Days like Pansexuality Visibility Day are perfect for educating people about the various ways people experience sexual & romantic attraction



Graphic via Project MORE

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project is honoring Pansexual and Panromantic Awareness and Visibility Day on May 24, noting that it is a day to celebrate the pansexual and panromantic community and educate others on the community.

As part of creating awareness for the pansexual community, The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, captured important data related to the experiences of pansexual youth, who made up 20% of the survey sample.

2022 National Survey Data on Pansexual Youth

  • 53% of pansexual youth reported that they seriously considered suicide and 21% reported they attempted suicide in the past year.
  • 66% of pansexual youth reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and 79% reported experiencing symptoms of depression.
  • 36% of pansexual youth reported that they have been physically threatened or harmed due to their sexual orientation.
  • 69% of pansexual youth reported that they had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

The Project MORE Foundation, a leading nonprofit service and support provider to the Northern California Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ+) and Ally community explains what it means to be Pansexual:

One common misconception that even members of the LGBTQ+ community have is that pansexuality and bisexuality are the same. Bisexuality can loosely be defined as attraction to more than one gender, but many define it with the more narrow definition of attraction to both genders, i.e,: men and women.

Pansexuality differs in that it includes sexual attraction inclusive of ALL gender identities, which means that people can also be drawn to those who are gender fluid or genderqueer. It is similar for people who are panromantic. When a person identifies as panromantic, it means that they can feel romantically towards anyone of any gender identity. 

When people come out as pansexual, headlines often emphasize that it’s different than being bi, and while that’s true, somebody who is bi may also identify as pan and vice versa. The bisexuality umbrella term includes those who feel attracted to two or more gender identities. Pansexuality refers to people who feel sexual attraction to any gender identity, but because their preference includes two or more genders, they could also consider themself bi. Being pan doesn’t mean that a person is going to be attracted towards everyone, but simply that gender identity doesn’t play a role in that attraction. 

There are many people who identify as pansexual or panromantic, such as Jazz Jennings, the famous 20-something LGBTQ+ rights advocate who came out as trans as a child. Authors Dana Mele and Caitlin Ricci identify as panromantic. Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monáe, and Brendon Urie are also among famous celebrities who identify as pansexual. 

It is quite common that people who are pansexual go on a journey of self-discovery to figure out their true sexuality. Some, like Bella Thorne, initially identified as bisexual, but then grew to realize that gender plays little to no role in their attraction, so her definition of her sexuality changed to reflect that. 

Miley Cyrus, who came out in 2015 as pansexual, is among one of those who went down the path to self-discovery when it came to her sexuality. In an interview with Variety, she said that an interaction with a non-binary individual helped her understand that she felt attraction towards them regardless of how they expressed their gender. In that moment, she didn’t feel gay, straight, or bi, because she wasn’t.

Because definitions can be held loosely, one of the most important takeaways is that how a person identifies their sexual or romantic attraction can differ from one day to the next, but celebrating and respecting a person for who they are is what matters most. Days like Pansexuality and Panromantic Visibility Day are perfect for educating people about the various ways people experience sexual and romantic attraction.

About the 2022 National Survey

This survey is one of the largest and only surveys of its kind, representing the experiences of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ young people ages 13-24 across the U.S. It’s also one of the most diverse surveys of LGBTQ youth ever conducted – with 45% of respondents being youth of color and 48% being trans or nonbinary.

Lastly, The Trevor Project has a guide, “How to Support Bisexual Youth: Ways to Care for Bisexual, Pansexual, Fluid, and Queer Youth Who are Attracted to More than One Gender” that offers best practices for those looking to support the youth who are attracted to more than one gender in their lives.

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Mavericks’ Reggie Bullock, finalist for NBA award for LGBTQ+ advocacy

The NBA announced this week the guard-forward is one of the finalists for its 2022 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award



Reggie Bullock (Dallas Mavericks/YouTube)

DALLAS – While San Francisco is celebrating the Golden State Warriors’ huge Wednesday night Game 1 victory over the Mavericks in the NBA Western Conference Finals, LGBTQ groups in Dallas are cheering on Dallas’s Reggie Bullock for his work off the court. 

The NBA announced this week the guard-forward is one of the finalists for its 2022 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award, which honors players who have made strides in fighting for social justice and advocating for equality.

Other finalists include the Milwaukee Bucks’s Jrue Holiday, the Memphis Grizzlies’s Jaren Jackson Jr., the Minnesota Timberwolves’s Karl-Anthony Towns and the Toronto Raptors’s Fred VanVleet.

The NBA said Bullock’s push for LGBTQ equity stems from the 2014 murder of his sister, Mia Henderson, a transgender woman.

“Bullock has focused on acceptance of all people by working to create truly inclusive communities through neighborhood engagement and national efforts around the LGBTQ movement, including participating in the NYC Pride March, the GLAAD Media Awards, and NBA events for LGBTQ youth and allies,” according to an NBA news release. “Most recently, as part of the Mavs Take ACTION! initiative, Bullock participated in a courageous conversation as part of the HUDDLE series to uplift the trans community, amplify community organizations who are working to support and protect LGBTQ individuals, and create opportunities for allyship.”

Since joining the Mavs a year ago, Bullock, 31, has teamed-up with groups that include Abounding Prosperity, Dallas Southern Pride, House of Rebirth, The Black-Tie Dinner, the Resource Center, as well as the Muhlaysia Booker Foundation. That organization was founded in memory of a trans woman murdered in Dallas.

On this year’s International Day of Trans Visibility, March 31, Bullock joined the founder of the Muhlashia Booker Foundation, Stephanie Houston, and Leslie McMurray, Transgender Education & Advocacy Associate for a session titled, Voices Unheard, Uplifting Trans Perspectives. 

He shared memories of his sister Mia and how her murder motivated him to use his platform as an NBA player to fight for equal rights and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community.

Bullock has also started his own charitable organization, RemarkaBULL, which provides housing and support to members of the LGBTQ+ community in need. Through RemarkaBULL, Bullock wrote an open letter to the NCAA protesting Idaho’s anti-trans student-athlete House Bill 500, which was signed into law by Gov. Brad Little in March of 2020. The law is on hold pending a review by a federal court.

The winner of the Social Justice Award will be announced during the Western Conference Finals, now underway. The winner receives $100,000 donated to the charity of their choice, and the other finalists receive $25,000 donations for their organizations. Bullock’s charity of choice is Kinston Teens, which empowers young people to engage in activism and community development.

In Wednesday night’s Western Conference Final game 1, Bullock scored 12 points, shooting 3/10 3-pt and 3 rebounds in the Mavericks’ 87-112 loss to the Golden State Warriors. Game 2 is set to tip off Friday at 9 p.m. ET, Golden State leads 1-0.

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New trailer gives first glimpse into new ‘Queer as Folk’

The highly-anticipated return looks poised to make some welcome improvements as it reinvents the beloved series for a new era



Courtesy of PEACOCK

HOLLYWOOD – Depending on who you ask, the soon-to-be-dropped reimagining of “Queer as Folk” could well be the biggest LGBTQ television event – or the biggest mistake – of the year.

The groundbreaking original British version of the series, created and written by Russell T. Davies in 1999 (decades before his recent triumph with “It’s A Sin” introduced him to a new generation of queer viewers), has already had an American adaptation in 2000, and each of these installments has its own legion of fans – many of whom have expressed their qualms (to put it mildly) over the entire idea of a new reboot.

That, however, hasn’t stopped Davies from joining forces with writer/director/creator Stephen Dunn (“Closet Monster”) to executive produce one for Peacock. 

Shade from old-school fans aside, the highly-anticipated return of the franchise looks poised to make some welcome improvements as it reinvents the beloved series for a new era. This time, the story promises to deliver a much more diverse assortment of characters than the group of predominantly white gay men featured by its predecessors, with a story centered on a group of LGBTQ friends in New Orleans as their lives are transformed in the aftermath of a recent tragedy.

The new iteration also scores points by employing queer actors to portray all its queer roles – resulting in an impressive lineup of names on its cast list including Ryan O’Connell (“Special”), Johnny Sibilly (“Pose”), Devin Way (“Grey’s Anatomy’), Jesse James Keitel (“Alex Strangelove”), Fin Argus, Candace Grave, Benito Skinner, and Juliette Lewis, and even Kim Cattrall as a “martini-soaked, high society Southern debutante with trailer park roots.” 

Of his reason for getting on board a new adaptation of his show, Davies says, “I’m very proud of what we achieved in 1999, but in queer years, that was a millennium ago! As a community, we’ve radicalized, explored, opened up, and found new worlds – with new enemies and new allies – and there was so much to be said.

Stephen pitched a brand new version of ‘Queer as Folk’ with so much imagination, insight, and crucially, joy, that I simply couldn’t resist. I thought it was about time the title belonged to a whole new generation. The 2022 show is more diverse, more wild, more free, more angry – everything a queer show should be.”

As for Dunn, he explains, “I wanted to create a new groundbreaking version of this show for this moment. Our new ‘Queer as Folk’ is set in New Orleans — one of the most unique queer communities in North America – and I am immensely proud that the new series is comprised of an electric ensemble of fresh characters that mirror the modern global audience.

If there’s one person who is able to see ‘Queer as Folk’ and feel less alone, or who now feels more supported and seen, our job is done. In the true spirit of the original, our show doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of our community, but above all else, the series is about people who live vibrant, vital, unapologetically queer lives.” 

Jacklyn Moore, who co-wrote the new series with Dunn and Executive Produced alongside him and Davies, adds, “I believe deeply in the power of storytelling to make people feel seen, but all too often I feel as though queer and trans representation in art is limited to extremes. We are either shown as saintly heroes bravely surviving a bigoted society or two-dimensional queer-coded villains that feel airdropped in from some previous era. With ‘Queer as Folk,’ we aimed to depict queer characters who live in the messy middle. People who are complicated. Who are funny and caring and flawed and sometimes selfish, but still worthy of love. Still worthy of narrative. As a trans woman, I’m excited to take steps to move past telling stories that seem to just be arguing for our basic humanity. My hope is that Queer as Folk is one such step.”

We’re sure we speak for the rest of the eagerly-waiting fans when we say that we all hope that, too. We can all find out together when Peacock begins streaming the new “Queer as Folk” on June 9.

Queer as Folk | Official Trailer | Peacock Original

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