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Playwright finds multi-edged humor in “Boxing Lessons”

Playwright John Bunzel’s ‘Boxing Lessons’ plumbs thorny family secrets

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Bruce Nozick, Stephen Tyler Howell and Luke McClure in ‘Boxing Lessons,’ written by John Bunzel, at The New American Theatre. (Photo by Enci)

Boxing Lessons’

New American Theatre

1312 N. Wilton Place

April 26-June 2

newamericantheatre.com

John Bunzel says of himself, “I’m an equal opportunity offender.”

Formerly a writer on TV shows like “The Wonder Years,” among others, Bunzel has built a solid reputation in the local theater scene for his black comedies about sex, money and bad behavior. 

“I find humor in love, sex, sexual orientation, family, money and neuroses,” he says. “I make fun of it all.”

His newest play “Boxing Lessons” is having its world premiere run at the New American Theatre beginning April 26. Offered by the critically acclaimed theater company as a celebration of its one-year anniversary in its new home on Wilton Place, it’s directed by theater founder Jack Stehlin and features a top-flight cast in the company’s newly refurbished space.

Bunzel’s multi-edged humor is this time turned toward a story about the family and friends of a famous writer, who gather in his cabin after he dies under mysterious circumstances. As they go through the clutter he’s left behind, hidden family secrets come to light that shake everyone’s understanding of their relationship with him and with each other.

“The core of the play is about a family that comes together to deal with the death of its patriarch,” Bunzel says. “And he happens to be a famous writer, so I think there’s one dimension of the play that’s about how to deal with when a famous person passes away, how the stakes get a little bit higher, but really, though, it deals with the things they find out, the truth about the man their father really was that they only learn after he’s gone.”

The play was “certainly influenced,” he says, by the conflicted feelings he had around his own parents dying, feelings that were based in “knowing about the world they came from, that I was raised in.”

“It was a privileged type of upbringing,” he says, “that had its roots in a WASP-y New England. There were dos and don’ts about what you do with your life and what kind of a man you were going to become.”

He built his play around unpacking the secret life of a man from that same privileged mindset.

“Part of what this is about,” he says, “is how toxic secrets can be. There’s an unwinding of a multitude of secrets, that ultimately lead to a really big secret about the father.”

Much of the play hinges on revelations, so it wouldn’t be fair to go into much detail about what any of them are.  

Still, the playwright feels safe in elaborating, “This man, who has passed away, was someone who was locked into that world, where despite being enlightened — despite being a liberal, an artist, a progressive thinker — he was still full of all sorts of shame and guilt around his sexuality. What we’re really putting in front of people is that even in 2019, with so many people who are liberal in their thinking and their politics, they are accepting of a gay and lesbian lifestyle, they voted Democratic their whole lives, they believe in a diverse world, but they still have a lot of shame and guilt around who they are sexually.”

Bunzel says the show is not just about sexuality. 

“I’m delving into a lot of different topics,” he says. 

As the truth comes out about dad, so do the various truths about the rest of the family and that opens the door to a lot of other topics, one of which he says is “the thin line between love and hate.”

“It’s also about the anger and resentments we hold against our parents,” he says. “I think a lot of people struggle to be able to forgive.”

He’s quick to add that the play is most definitely a comedy.  

“This should not be some heavy lecture or melodrama. I’m trying to attack it so that it has emotional resonance also makes people laugh at their own insecurity, their need to keep things secret. Dark comedy is a very difficult genre to tackle,” he says. “Essentially, it’s a tragedy that’s funny and if it isn’t funny, it doesn’t work. It actually seems kind of sick and gross.”

With “Boxing Lessons,” the performers have an even more precarious tightrope to walk because the play is grounded in realism.  

What he hopes will connect audiences to the tone of the piece, which he calls “surprising and fresh,” is the universal nature of the characters’ experience.

“I think people are going to be taken by how non-judgmental this play is,” he says. “It’s not commenting at all, beyond the fact that this family has spent years dealing with shame and wanting to hide the truth about themselves, for a multitude of different reasons. And the father — this was a guy who spent his life being a ‘man’s man,’ who everyone saw as being overtly heterosexual. I think this is something that people are going to identify with, they’re going to say, ‘Oh, OK, I knew a man who was like that,’ or they knew a family who found out something like that.” 

Ultimately, Bunzel says, despite its darkness, the play sounds a note of hope.

“Without having an ending that wraps everything up,” he says, “where everything gets solved and everybody feels good, it gets to this place where we can take ownership of who we are and what we’ve done. Once we really admit that, we can take responsibility. Then there’s a path forward for us to get better.”

In a time when our headlines are dominated by emerging secrets and our culture divided over how to reckon with them, does the playwright hope audiences will take home any kind of political message about taking ownership and moving on together?

“If it helps them to think beyond the play into the world and our society,” he says, “then that’s terrific.”

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GMCLA’s ‘Solid Gold’ Gala: Honoring LGBTQ+ Champions with Iconic Diva Tributes

“Solid Gold” show will feature tribute to the music of Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, and Whitney Houston

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GMCLA's SOLID GOLD, one performance only. Sunday, June 30 at Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles is honoring champions of the LGBTQ+ community and celebrating the music of three iconic divas at its annual gala fundraiser Sunday, June 30 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Celebrating our history through the music we love

GMCLA’s “Solid Gold” show will feature the music of superstars Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, and Whitney Houston, performed by the chorus’s 150 members in front of a live band with dancers. The show will include a special three-song medley joined by stars from the Drag Race universe Priyanka and Latrice Royale.

Immediately after the show, the party will move to GMCLA’s annual Gala Fundraiser, where they’ll honor Senator Alex Padilla and his wife Angela Padilla with their Civic Voice Award, and the HBO series We’re Here with their Artistic Voice Award.

GMCLA will honor Senator Padilla for his decades of work in politics as an advocate for immigrants, community building, the climate crisis, and voting rights. They will honor Angela Padilla for her work on mental health issues through her organization FundaMental Change. GMCLA will recognize We’re Here for shining a light on the impact of anti-LGBTQ legislation on the community in the South.

Alex Padilla, U.S. Senator, California.

“We deeply honor Senator and Mrs. Padilla for joining us at the Gala,” says GMCLA executive director Lou Spisto. “Each of them has dedicated many years of their life’s work to make our region a more vibrant and inclusive place, and to make the lives of all who live here healthier and safer.”

Spisto says the “Solid Gold” show also honors artists who have made an incredible contribution to the community:

“We can hardly imagine music that doesn’t play a significant part in our lives. These great artists span many decades, the 60s, 70s, 80s, into the 90s and of course, Dionne Warwick continues to inspire us today,” he says.

GMCLA performances at Disney Hall are a tradition in LA. (photo courtesy GMCLA)

Powerful choral tribute

For anyone who’s never seen the GMCLA perform, Spisto describes it as an overwhelmingly emotional experience.

“When 150 men sing together, they create a beautiful noise that’s really powerful, and it reaches across the footlights in a way that makes it hard not to feel a connection and an emotion,” he says. “When predominantly men sing love songs to and about men, simply singing those lyrics becomes very powerful, and you won’t experience that anywhere else.”

“We celebrate our community as much as we celebrate music,” he says.

The fundraising Gala supports all the work that the GMCLA does across the community. GMCLA works with the public school system to provide choral programs and empowerment programs in high schools through its Alive Music Program, which has reached more than 85,000 public school students over ten years. The Chorus also performs more than 30 free public shows across the community every year.

Spisto says these programs reflect the GMCLA’s commitment to building up the community.

“GMCLA has changed hearts and minds for 45 years now. GMCLA has participated in the movement to speak about who we are, sing about who we are, and fight for our rights,” he says.

“Things have become easier and we don’t live in the world of 1979, and it certainly differs from the world we faced when AIDS devastated our community. But we still face tough times, and we still need voices like this chorus to stand up for the Greater Community.”

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles: Solid Gold and Gala Fundraiser will take place at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Ballroom, 300 E Green St, Pasadena, CA, Sun June 30, 3pm. You can purchase tickets at https://www.gmcla.org/

GMCLA’s Ongoing Mission

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles: Solid Gold and Gala Fundraiser take place at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and Ballroom, 300 E Green St, Pasadena, CA, Sun June 30, 3pm. Tickets at https://www.gmcla.org/

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‘Tiger’ burning bright: an interview with Mary Timony

Today’s female-driven music scene wouldn’t be the same without her

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Mary Timony is back with a new album. (Photo by Chris Grady)

It’s hard to imagine what the current female-driven music scene would be like without Mary Timony. From Sleater-Kinney to Haim, from Angel Olsen to Mitski, the influence of Mary Timony is in every note being played, every word being sung. On her new solo album, “Untame The Tiger” (Merge), with its sly nod to Joni Mitchell, Timony has brought her many years of musical experience to the fore, resulting in what is easily her most accessible release. Beginning with the incredible six-plus minute opener “No Thirds” and continuing through the first single, “Dominoes,” and gorgeous numbers including “The Guest,” “The Dream,” and “Not The Only One,” Timony is assured to keep listeners purring along. Timony made time for an interview shortly before the album was released.

BLADE: Mary, I’d like to begin by talking to you about your musical lives in D.C. and Boston. I went to college in Boston in the early 1980s and was constantly amazed by the bands of the era such as Mission of Burma, Human Sexual Response, and ‘Til Tuesday. I moved to D.C. in the mid-1980s to go to grad school, and at the time, the music scene there was dominated by go-go music, and a smaller indie music featuring BETTY and the late Tommy Keene, among others. What do you remember about the music in D.C. as someone who grew up there?

MARY TIMONY: That’s interesting. We kind of did a switcheroo. I’m from D.C. and I moved to Boston. (In D.C.) I learned, as a teenager, about rock shows and rock music from being involved in the punk scene, the post-hardcore scene of kids here. Those are the shows I went to in high school. Basically, the Dischord (Records) bands and stuff. I saw every single Fugazi show from when they started in ’87. Before that, whatever was happening in 1985, hardcore shows by Swiz and Soulside and Kingface and I loved Ignition. Other than that, I would go see bluegrass out in Virginia and I loved go-go. I would go to see (go-go bands) Rare Essence and Trouble Funk. I was very into that stuff; that was really exciting. I think I liked go-go the most out of all of it, actually [laughs]. I would go to DC Space and 9:30 (Club), mostly for local (acts). I don’t think I ever saw BETTY, but I was a teenager then.

BLADE: Was the active music scene in Boston in the early 1990s part of the appeal for you when it came to relocating to Boston to attend Boston University?

TIMONY: The reason why I went there was because I wanted to go to a music program that was in a big university, in case I didn’t wanna study music the whole time, which is exactly what happened. I studied classical guitar for a year and then I didn’t really like the program much, so I transferred to study English. I found out about the (Boston) music scene from friends. We went to The Middle East (nightclub) and TT’s (T.T. The Bear’s nightclub). Then after college, I ended up living right down the street from The Middle East and I was there constantly.

BLADE: Good old Central Square! As a performer playing in bands including Autoclave, Helium, and Ex Hex, and as a solo artist with her own band, it’s not unreasonable to say that Mary, you are someone who plays well with others. 

TIMONY: [Big laugh.]

BLADE: What makes you such a good team player?

TIMONY: I didn’t know I was [laughs]. I’ve gone back and forth between doing solo stuff and being in bands. Mostly, I’ve done projects where I’ve written a bunch of songs and I’m trying to…I haven’t done a ton of collaborative stuff really. Ex Hex was fun because it was more collaborative. Wild Flag, the same thing, totally 100% collaborative in every way. But Helium was really my thing, but I got some great people that totally influenced it. I’ve always been doing my own thing but tried to find really good people. Music really is about connection. It’s never as good if it’s only one person’s vision. Usually, if it’s good it’s good because of the connection between the musicians. Music is a social art form, I think.

BLADE: “Untame The Tiger” is the title of your new album. In 1999, Joni Mitchell titled her album “Taming The Tiger.” Are you, in any way, making a nod to Joni?

TIMONY: A little bit because I am a huge fan. I have been since I was 18. But, it sort of came to me because I have a song called that on the record and I’m sure that probably came from ripping off Joni Mitchell. Then I just thought that’s a cool name for a record. Then I thought, “Oh, shit!” [Laughs] It’s already been taken! Then I thought about it and then I forgot about it. Then I thought about it again and finally, I was like, “It’s OK. It’s a little bit different.” And I love her!

BLADE: I’m currently reading Ann Powers’ book “Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell,” which comes out in June.

TIMONY: Oh, I’m definitely going to have to read.

BLADE: Yes, please add that to your reading list. “Untame The Tiger” is your first new solo studio album in 15 years. Are there things you write and sing about on your solo records that might be out of place on an album you would record with another one of your musical outfits?

TIMONY: Yes. That’s why this ended up being a solo record. I guess it was because of the tuning of my guitar. They were more or less finished songs. I wanted the songs to sound kind of acoustic. I also wanted to play with a bunch of musicians who I really love. All those things just made it seem like a solo record. If I’m writing for a band, like Ex Hex, which is basically the other band that I do right now, they’re not finished. I bring them in (to the band members) with that band in mind.

BLADE: I love the lush instrumental section on “Thirds” and the psychedelic sounds of “Looking For The Sun” and “The Guest.” Were there things you were listening to while writing the songs for “Untame The Tiger” that were inspiring to you?

TIMONY: I was listening to a lot of music, a ton of stuff. I don’t ever try to purposely emulate anything very often, but I can’t help it. I’d rather be influenced by stuff without really thinking about it too consciously. I always have loved listening to The Left Banke’s instrumentation and The Moody Blues’ string parts. Most of the string parts come from trying to emulate The Moody Blues [laughs] or The Left Banke. I’m obsessed with The Left Banke.

BLADE: “Walk Away Renée,” right?

TIMONY: Yes. This guy, Michael Brown, was such a genius. He wrote so much stuff as a teenager. His dad was a string arranger. Anyway, I love those string parts. I was listening to this prog-rock band The Strawbs and this early (Ronnie) Dio band Elf. (The Flying) Burrito Brothers and The Byrds, too. I love Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. Richard Thompson and I was really obsessed with Gerry Rafferty’s early solo record called “Can I Have My Money Back?” I love that record. I was listening to it a ton when I was arranging the songs.

BLADE: Why was the song “Dominoes” selected as the first single from “Untame The Tiger?”

TIMONY: I don’t know. I let other people tell me [laughs]. I really hate sequencing records and I hate choosing singles. I’m just too close to it. I can’t tell what people are going to like or not. A lot of times, the ones that I like are not the ones that other people like. I asked (the people at) the label and they suggested that. I think it’s more poppy sounding. Dave Fridmann mixed that one and “Don’t Disappear” and he’s a genius mixer. and these mixers are always very pleasing and accessible sounding. I think that has something to do with it, too.

BLADE: Earlier, we talked about your long history of playing music with others, which reminded me of your guest spot singing “All Dressed Up In Dreams,” written by gay singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt for his band The 6ths’ “Wasps’ Nest” album. 

TIMONY: He’s such a genius!

BLADE: How did that come about?

TIMONY: When I moved to Boston, for a year I lived with Claudia (Gonson of Merritt’s band The Magnetic Fields), who is his drummer. I lived in a group house in Cambridge. I was friends with Claudia, and Stephin lived a few blocks away. She told me he was making this record with guest singers they wanted to go over and sing on it. I went over there one day and he taught me the song and I sang on it.  I think he’s one of the best songwriters of the last 50 years or whatever.

BLADE: I completely agree. As someone who has collaborated with Stephin, are you aware of an LGBTQ+ following for your own music?

TIMONY: I don’t know. I think maybe a little bit. I’d love that. I love everybody who can connect with it, because all I’m trying to do is connect with people.

Mary Timony (Photo by Chris Grady)
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We predict an #OscarsSoStraight evening at the Academy Awards

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Photo Credit: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

HOLLYWOOD – The 96th Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, will take place on Sunday, March 10 at new early time 7 p.m. EST at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and broadcast live on ABC.

Depending on whether you are an “Oppenheimer” lover or a hater, the Academy Awards this year will come off as either a blast, i.e. as in nuclear explosion, or a bomb, i.e. as in the atomic kind.

Spoiler alert: “Oppenheimer” is set up to create scorched earth against all its competitors. 

If you are attending an Oscar party and filling out your predictions list, you will do very well if you mark “Oppenheimer” down the line. (But uncheck it in the Best Supporting Actress category. Love you Emily Blunt, but, no.) 

Here is what an LGBTQ high visibility evening would look like: “Barbie” would win Best Picture because there was Kate McKinnon, and what self-respecting LGBTQ person does not appreciate pink? It would just edge out “Anatomy of a Fall” or “Maestro,” which feature bisexual main characters. “Anatomy of a Fall” would win Best Director for Justine Triet to make up for the Best Picture snub, however. 

Best Actor would go to Colman Domingo for his portrayal of gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin, just edging out Bradley Cooper as the bisexual Leonard Bernstein. Two-spirit Lily Gladstone would edge out Annette Bening as the iconic Diana Nyad (Lily might actually win this, though Emma Stone is coming on strong). Sterling K. Brown would win for gay Clifford Ellison in “American Fiction” and we would ogle runner-up Ryan Gosling as Ken because even though Ken is presumably straight, we gay boys know the truth.

Lesbian icon Jodie Foster would win playing a lesbian character in “Nyad.” “Nimona” would win Best Animated Feature. “The ABCs of Book Banning” would win Best Documentary Short Film. “Barbie,” “Maestro,” and “May December” would duke it out as front runners in the screenplay categories.

None of those are likely to happen, however, with the exception of Lily Gladstone, as mentioned. Oh, and Billie Eilish may win for best song. That won’t be a particularly LGBTQ moment, however, as Eilish does not like her sexual orientation being talked about, so she won’t mention it, and we won’t either.

Because the Oscars are preceded by so many other award shows and programs, many populated with Academy voters, there usually are strong indications as to who really will get what. This year, that message has been a strong sweep and one name emerges above all others. Cue explosion: “Oppenheimer.”

It is the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant physicist who led the Manhattan Project during World War II. Oppenheimer’s complex personality is challenged as he is recruited to head the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to build the atomic bomb. With five Golden Globe Awards, seven BAFTAs, eight Critics Choice Awards, the Directors Guild Award, The Producers Guild Award, and three Screen Actors Guild Awards, its dominance coming into the Oscars is clear.

Out magazine observed, “It’s been a great year in cinema for LGBTQ+ actors, directors, writers, films, and characters.” It has been. Unless the Oscar awards show producers specifically call that fact out, it may go unnoticed, however, and LGBTQ representation may be minimal. The announced presenters so far do not scream queer, with the possible exception of our favorite mom-of-a-trans person, Jamie Lee Curtis.

This is the year when we enjoy the concept of “it was an honor just to be nominated” LGBTQ-wise. It may be the year that we just appreciate that we don’t win all horse races just because we are LGBTQ or the horses are queer.

The Academy loves to be unpredictable, however, so you never know. Rainbows and unicorns may emerge. I wouldn’t bet on it.

But, Academy, come on, surprise us.

My prediction is that in the morning after this year’s ceremony, we may be social media-ing #OscarsSoStraight, and Out magazine’s “hope that the 2024 Oscars could potentially be the most queer- and trans-inclusive ceremony ever” will have gone up in a cloud of atomic smoke.

Oh well. At least you should do well at your Oscar party.

*****************************************************************************************

Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including The Los Angeles Blade, The Washington Blade, Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] 

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‘Blindspot’ reveals stories of NYC AIDS patients that haven’t been told

Former Blade reporter’s podcast focuses on POC, women, trans people

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Kai Wright, a former Blade reporter, hosts the podcast ‘Blindspot.’ (Photo by Amy Pearl)

“We said that people had The Monster, because they had that look,” activist Valerie Reyes-Jimenez, said, remembering how people in her New York neighborhood reacted when people first got AIDS.

They didn’t know what to call it.

“They had the sucked in checks,” Reyes-Jimenez, added, “They were really thin…a lot of folks were saying, oh, you know, they had…cancer.”

“We actually had set up a bereavement clinic where the kids would tell us what they wanted to have when they die,” Maxine Frere, a retired nurse who worked at Harlem Hospital for 40 years and was the head nurse of its pediatric AIDS unit said, “How did they wanna die?”

“Nobody wanted to come on,” said former New York Gov. David Paterson, who in 1987 was Harlem’s state senator.

At that time, Manhattan Cable Television gave legislators the chance to do one show a year. “So I decided to do my show on the AIDS crisis and how there didn’t seem to be any response from the leadership in the Black community,” Paterson added.

These unforgettable voices with their searing recollections are among the many provocative, transformative stories told on Season 3 of “Blindspot,” the critically acclaimed podcast. 

“Blindspot: The Plague in the Shadows” is co-produced by the History Channel and WNYC Studios. The six-episode podcast series, which launched on Jan. 18 and airs weekly through Feb. 22, is hosted by WNYC’s Kai Wright with lead reporting by The Nation Magazine’s Lizzy Ratner.

The show is accompanied by a photography exhibit by Kia LaBeija. LaBeija is a New York City-based artist who was born HIV positive and lost her mother to the disease at 14. The exhibit, which features portraits of people whose stories are heard on “Blindspot,” runs at the Greene Space at WNYC through March 11.

If you think of AIDS, you’re likely to think of white cisgender gay men. (That’s been true for me, a cisgender lesbian, who lost loved ones to AIDS.)

From the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, most media and cultural attention has been focused on white gay men – from playwright and activist Larry Kramer to the movie “Philadelphia.”   

“Blindspot” revisits New York City, an epicenter of the early years of the HIV epidemic.

The podcast reveals stories of vulnerable people that haven’t been told. Of people of color, women, transgender people, children, drug-users, women in prison and the doctors, nurses and others who cared and advocated with and on their behalf.

“Blindspot,” through extensive reporting and immersive storytelling, makes people visible who were invisible during the AIDS epidemic. It makes us see people who have, largely, been left out of the history of AIDS.

Wright, 50, who is Black and gay, cares deeply about history. He is host and managing editor of “Notes from America with Kai Wright,” a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.

Recently, Wright, who worked as a reporter at the Washington Blade from 1996 to 2001, talked with me in a Zoom interview. The conversation ranged over a number of topics from why Wright got into journalism, to how stigma and health care disparities still exist today for people of color, transgender people and poor people with AIDS to the impact he hopes “Blindspot” will have.

“I came to work at the Blade in 1996,” Wright said, “the year after I got out of college.”

He’d done two six-month stints at PBS and “Foreign Policy.” But Wright thinks of the Blade as his first proper journalism job.

From his youth, Wright has been committed to social justice and to understanding his community. Reporting, from early on, has been his connection with social justice. “I often say, journalism has been my contribution to social justice movements,” Wright said.

His first journalistic connection to the Black community came when he was 15. Then, Wright became an intern with the Black newspaper, the Indianapolis Recorder.

“That’s how I got the [journalism] bug,” Wright said.

Since then, Wright said, he’s worked almost exclusively with media that have a connection with the community.

Wright grew up in Indianapolis and went to college at Emory University in Atlanta. He didn’t intend to be a journalist, he wrote in an email to the Blade. At Emory, he studied international politics.

Wright’s life and work changed direction when he began working at the Blade. “I was a kid,” Wright said, “I’d just come out. I used journalism to find out what it meant to come out.”

Wright, when he came to Washington, D.C., was, as he recalled, just a kid. He didn’t know anyone in D.C. and there was a Black, queer community. This helped Wright to come out. “I couldn’t have told you that at the time,” he said, “but in retrospect I can see that I moved to  D.C. to come out.”

Journalism was Wright’s way of finding his way through coming out.

“I didn’t know if the Blade was hiring,” Wright said, “I just walked in.”

He didn’t have a deep resume but he had a lot to say. The Blade hired him and immediately put him to work reporting on AIDS.

“It was a pivotal cultural and political moment – a pivotal moment for the community,” Wright said.

That year, when Wright began working with the Blade, life-saving treatments (early drug cocktails) were emerging for AIDS.

“There was no way that HIV and AIDS wouldn’t become a central part of my journalism,” Wright said, “I really wanted to report on it.”

With the emergence of treatments, white gay men with health insurance began to feel that they were turning the page and that AIDS was no longer a death sentence.

“But, as a reporter, I was meeting Black gay men who were going into emergency mode about the AIDS epidemic,” Wright said.

Black people, poor people, drug users and others without health insurance and access to treatment were still dying and transmitting AIDS. “‘This is getting more and more dire,’ the activists said,” Wright recalls.

They told Wright, “The rest of the community is starting to turn the page. We can’t turn the page.”

In D.C., Wright could see, through his reporting, the racial discrimination in the community at large in the AIDS epidemic, and in the queer community.

Two things are true simultaneously, Wright said, when asked if there is still stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS today.

“Science has made so much progress,” Wright said, “It’s no longer necessary for any of us to die from HIV.”

“I take a pill once a day to prevent me from catching HIV,” he added, “I can do that. I am a person with insurance…with a great deal of social and economic privilege.”

But many people in the United States don’t have health insurance, and exist outside of the health care system. The divergence in treatment and stigma that he saw as a young reporter in 1996 are still there today, Wright said.

“The divergence in class and race has grown even more profound,” he said, “among people of color, young people – transgender people.”

Wright hopes  “Blindspot” will make people who lived through the epidemic and whose stories weren’t told, feel seen. And that “they will hear themselves and be reminded of the contributions they have made,” Wright said.

The queer press plays an important role in the LGBTQ community, Wright said. “We need a place to hash out our differences, share stories and ask questions that put our experience at the center of the conversation,” he emailed the Blade.

“There’s more space for us in media than when I started my career at the Blade,” Wright said, “but none of it is a replacement for journalism done by and for ourselves.”

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LGBTQ+ Critics Announce nominations for 15th Dorian Film Awards

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to watch the Dorians – not even via streaming – because there isn’t an actual presentation

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Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott star in ALL OF US STRANGERS, nominated for 9 Dorian Awards by the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics.

HOLLYWOOD – If you’re one of the many LGBTQ movie fans who were disappointed when your favorite queer film or performance or director didn’t get the nominations you KNOW they deserved, take heart. This year’s “awards season” just got a lot more rainbow-tinted, thanks to GALECA, the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, which on Monday announced the nominations for its 15th annual Dorian Film Awards.

While they may not be as glamorous or prestigious – yet! – as the Oscars, the Dorians (named, of course, in homage to iconic queer writer Oscar Wilde and his quintessential novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”) are not to be taken lightly. GALECA is a well-established and respected organization consisting of over 500 entertainment critics, journalists and media icons, one of the largest entertainment journalists organizations in the world, with “an impressive roster of members who contribute to some of the most revered and distinct media outlets in the U.S. and beyond.” Each year, they turn a “queer eye” toward picking the best from the annual crop of entertainment, with separate awards presentations – spaced throughout the year – for film, television, Broadway and Off-Broadway, with categories focused on both mainstream and LGBTQ-themed work in these various media; and although their choices often mirror those of other awards bodies like the Academy, SAG, or the Golden Globes, they’re also known for asserting that “certain perspective” which has always helped the queer community to be at the forefront when it comes to being “tastemakers” in the wider culture.

Some of their film award categories are specifically designed for this – for instance, in addition to separate awards for mainstream and queer films, they present a “We’re ‘Wilde’ About You” award for rising stars, and include categories for “Most Visually Striking,” “Best Unsung” and “Campiest” movies of the year. Even within the general categories, however, they often elevate the kind of films that are typically passed over by more “traditional” awards – as is evidenced in their strong slate of contenders for 2024’s honors.

Most obviously, perhaps, this alternate perspective is reflected in the fact that “All of Us Strangers,” writer-director Andrew Haigh’s melancholy-yet-romantic gay ghost story that was completely left out of the Oscar nominations despite being widely touted as a favorite in several categories, received the most nods of any other film from the Dorians with 9 nominations. In second place is “Barbie,” with 7 nominations (including one for director Greta Gerwig, whose snub in the parallel Academy Awards category led to a flurry of vocal criticism on social media), queer cinema icon Todd Haynes’ “May December” (also snubbed by Oscar) is in third with 6, and Celine Song’s Korean-language “Past Lives” (5) and Greek absurdist auteur Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” (4) rounding out the top five most-nominated titles.

It probably also goes without saying that the Dorian nominations tend to be much more inclusive of queer talent, even in mainstream categories. This year, Oscar nominees Colman Domingo and Jodie Foster are joined by fellow out LGBTQ+ actors Andrew Scott and Trace Lysette in the Best Performance and Supporting Performance categories – which, notably, are inclusive of all genders, with one individual winner in each.

This year, the Dorians also introduce three new awards: LGBTQ Screenplay, LGBTQ Non-English Language Film, and Genre Film. The latter is an especially  interesting move that seems reflective of the oft-ignored but widespread influence of “gay geek” culture as well as a response to calls for other awards bodies to make space for the fantasy, sci-fi, and horror films that are often disregarded when it comes to awards due to long standing bias within the industry establishment against the artistic merits of such content.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to watch the Dorians – not even via streaming – because there isn’t an actual presentation, though some have been held in past years. Maybe someday they’ll be the must-see TV event we all KNOW they deserve to be, but in the meantime, don’t worry: we’ll make sure and fill you in on all the winners after they’re announced on Monday, February 26.

The complete list of nominations is below.
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Film of the Year

All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Barbie (Warner Bros.)

May December (Netflix) 

Past Lives (A24) 

Poor Things (Searchlight)

LGBTQ Film of the Year

All of Us Strangers (Searchlight) 

Bottoms (MGM)

Passages (MUBI, SBS)

Rustin (Netflix)

Saltburn (Amazon MGM) 

Director of the Year

Greta Gerwig, Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Andrew Haigh, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Todd Haynes, May December (Netflix)

Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer (Universal)

Celine Song, Past Lives (A24)

Screenplay of the Year

Original or Adapted

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Samy Burch, May December (Netflix)

Andrew Haigh, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Arthur Harari, Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall (NEON)

Celine Song, Past Lives (A24) 

LGBTQ Screenplay of the Year

Andrew Haigh, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Arthur Harari, Justine Triet, Anatomy of a Fall (NEON)

Dustin Lance Black, Julian Breece, Rustin (Netflix)

Arlette Langmann, Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias, Passages (MUBI)

Emma Seligman, Rachel Sennott, Bottoms (MGM)

Non-English Language Film of the Year

Anatomy of a Fall (NEON) 

The Boy and the Heron (GKIDS, Toho)

Godzilla Minus One (Toho)

Past Lives (A24)

The Zone of Interest (A24)

LGBTQ Non-English Language Film of the Year

Afire (Janus Films, Sideshow)

Anatomy of a Fall (NEON)

Cassandro (Amazon MGM)

Monster (Well Go USA, Gaga, Toho)

Rotting in the Sun (MUBI)

Unsung Film of the Year

To an Exceptional Movie Worthy of Greater Attention

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (Lionsgate)

Monica (IFC)

Origin (NEON)

Theater Camp (Searchlight)

A Thousand and One (Focus Features)

Film Performance of the Year

Colman Domingo, Rustin (Netflix)

Paul Giamatti, The Holdovers (Focus Features)

Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple, Paramount)

Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall (NEON)

Greta Lee, Past Lives (A24)

Trace Lysette, Monica (IFC)

Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer (Universal)

Natalie Portman, May December (Netflix)

Andrew Scott, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Emma Stone, Poor Things (Searchlight)

Supporting Film Performance of the Year

Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple (Warner Bros.)

Robert Downey Jr., Oppenheimer (Universal)

Jodie Foster, NYAD (Netflix)

Claire Foy, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Ryan Gosling, Barbie (Warner Bros.) 

Rachel McAdams, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (Lionsgate)

Charles Melton, May December (Netflix)

Paul Mescal, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Rosamund Pike, Saltburn (Amazon MGM)

Da’Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers (Focus Features)

Documentary of the Year

American Symphony (Netflix)

Beyond Utopia (Roadside Attractions, Fathom Events)

Kokomo City (Magnolia)

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

20 Days in Mariupol (PBS Distribution)

LGBTQ Documentary of the Year

Every Body (Focus Features) 

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project (HBO, Confluential Films)

Kokomo City (Magnolia)

Little Richard: I Am Everything (Magnolia)

Orlando, My Political Biography (Janus Film, Sideshow)

Animated Film of the Year

The Boy and the Heron (GKIDS, Toho)

Elemental (Disney)

Nimona (Netflix, Annapurna)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (SONY)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Paramount)

Genre Film of the Year

For excellence in science fiction, fantasy and horror

All of Us Strangers (Searchlight)

Godzilla Minus One (Toho)

M3GAN (Universal)

Poor Things (Searchlight)

Talk To Me (A24)

Film Music of the Year

Barbie — Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt, et al. (Warner Bros.)

The Boy and the Heron — Joe Hisaishi (GKIDS, Toho)

The Color Purple — Stephen Bray, Allee Willis, Brenda Russell, Kris Bowers, et al. (Warner Bros.)

Oppenheimer — Ludwig Göransson (Universal) 

The Zone of Interest — Mica Levi (A24)

Visually Striking Film of the Year

Asteroid City (Focus Features)

Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Oppenheimer (Universal)

Poor Things (Searchlight)

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (SONY)

Campiest Flick 

Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Bottoms (MGM)

Dicks: The Musical (A24)

M3GAN (Universal) 

Saltburn (Amazon MGM)

“We’re Wilde About You!” Rising Star Award

Ayo Edebiri

Lily Gladstone

Jacob Elordi

Charles Melton

Dominic Sessa

Wilde Artist Award

To a truly groundbreaking force in entertainment

Quinta Brunson

Ayo Edebiri

Greta Gerwig

Lily Gladstone

Todd Haynes

GALECA LGBTQIA+ Film Trailblazer Award 

For Creating Art That Inspires Empathy, Truth and Equity

Colman Domingo

Jodie Foster

Andrew Haigh

Todd Haynes

Andrew Scott

Timeless Star (Career Achievement Award)

Honoring an exemplary career marked by character, wisdom and wit, the winner of this award will be named along with the other final victors on Feb. 26. Past recipients include Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and John Waters.

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Subjects matter: an interview with author Martin Duberman

New book ‘The Line of Dissent’ debuts Jan. 8

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Gay writer and historian Martin Duberman is the very definition of a living legend. At the age of 93, with nearly 40 books to his credit, Duberman shows no signs of slowing down. His latest book, “The Line of Dissent: Gay Outsiders and the Shaping of History” (G&LR Books, 2023), out Jan. 8, compiles a dozen essays (many of which were previously published in “Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide”), along with a pair of codas. Some of the names, including W.H. Auden, Alfred Kinsey, and Sylvia Rivera, will be familiar to many readers, while others are sure to be revelations. Duberman was gracious enough to make time for an interview in advance of the book’s publication.

BLADE: In the introduction to “The Line of Dissent,” you write that the book is “opinionated” and “contains no demolition jobs,” and you note “appraisals are mostly appreciative.”  Is this in response to something you’d seen other historians doing?

MARTIN DUBERMAN: Historians, being human, have a wide range of responses to the individuals they choose to write about. In my earlier books (“Charles Francis Adams, 1807-1886” and “James Russell Lowell”), I felt personally more distant from the subjects. But my recent work follows the trajectory of my politics — that is, moving steadily leftward.

BLADE: Most of the essays in “The Line of Dissent” previously appeared in “Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide.” Was the idea to compile the essays into a book your idea or G&LR publisher Richard Schneider’s?

DUBERMAN: The idea for the book was mine though Richard was immediately enthusiastic.

BLADE: Were there any essays of yours from “Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide” that didn’t make the cut for the book?

DUBERMAN: There are 12 essays in the book, and I’ve probably written some 20 (my memory’s a little shaky here), which, if accurate, would mean some seven to eight didn’t make the cut. David McReynolds would be one example.

BLADE: In many ways, “Gay & Lesbian Review” fills a void left by the loss of “Christopher Street,” as well as the death of several regional LGBTQ newspapers. What does it mean to you that a publication such as “Gay & Lesbian Review” exists?

DUBERMAN: I think the role “Gay & Lesbian Review” plays in the community is significant. No other publication reaches an educated, but not academic, audience.

BLADE: 2023 turned out to be a year in which historically significant LGBTQ people — including Bayard Rustin, Diana Nyad, and Leonard Bernstein — are the subjects of high-profile biopics. Are there one or two people about whom you wrote in “The Line of Dissent” that you think would make a good subject for a movie?

DUBERMAN: Lord, yes! Offhand, I couldn’t name even one who wouldn’t qualify for a film, and who wouldn’t find an audience. Every one of their lives was dramatic and rich. As were dozens of other LGBTQ+ people not in the book. Check out the lists in “Outwords” (theoutwordsarchive.org) as one source for candidates. It’s an invaluable resource for candidates to write about and to honor.

BLADE: Essay subjects Essex Hemphill, Andrew Dworkin, and Lincoln Kirstein are people about whom you also wrote the full-length books “Hold Tight Gently,” “The Feminist as Revolutionary,” and “The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein,” respectively. What makes a person a fascinating subject worthy of a book-length project to you?

DUBERMAN: Using “drama” as a guideline, I’d say that Sylvia Rivera’s life was especially full of vivid and sometimes hair-raising episodes. Ditto Essex Hemphill and Andrea Dworkin. A film on Andrea was recently completed, but I haven’t seen any release date for it.

BLADE: When you write a revelatory essay such as “Edward Sagarin: ‘Father’ of the Homophile Movement,” are you as excited about sharing your knowledge and/or the results of your research as you hope the reader will be when they receive the information?

DUBERMAN: My level of excitement varies with the subject. The three you cite are among the most important. In a semi-conscious way, I tend to respond to “second rank” figures — that is, people who in their own day made a substantial political contribution but the general public has forgotten.

BLADE: “The Line of Dissent” opens with the dedication: “To the current generation of queer radicals. Please hurry!” I live in South Florida, which is suffering greatly under anti-LGBTQ Gov. DeSantis and his cronies. However, we are seeing young LGBTQ people in the state taking action and becoming activists in response. That’s not just happening in Florida, but in other places, as well. Does that give you a sense of hope for the future?

DUBERMAN: Yes! I see lots of evidence of activity emerging from the latest generation. Alas, I also see Young Republicans who are equally outspoken. It could come down to a dogfight, with damn near everything at stake. For now, I’m still sticking with my optimistic prediction.

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The ultimate guide to queer gift giving

Perfect presents for everyone from roommates to soulmates

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Searching for special deliveries for that special someone? Consider these elf-approved, consciously curated presents perfect for everyone from roommates to soulmates. 


Star Wars Home Collection

Movie nights in bed get a comfort upgrade from the Force – for those who uphold Jedi code in the streets but embrace the Dark Side in the sheets – with Sobel Westex’s Star Wars Home Collection, five- to seven-piece twin, queen and king sets suitable for either alliance. Cop a bootleg of the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” (legal copies don’t exist, nor has it been rebroadcast since its one-and-only airing in 1978) and settle in for a snacky screening with premade Johnson’s Popcorn (a Jersey Shore staple) or Pop ’N Dulge’s DIY gourmet kits. SobelAtHome.com, $350-$390; JohnsonsPopcorn.com, $27+; PopNDulge.com, $23


Bird Buddy Smart Feeder

Avian enthusiasts get up close and semi-personal with feathered friends thanks to the Bird Buddy smart feeder that allows safe viewing via a solar-powered, app-enabled camera, along with adorable add-ons like a suet ball holder and three-in-one nutrition set to keep the neighborhood’s population happy and healthy. MyBirdBuddy.com, $299-$415


Jewelry – but make it an experience. That’s the premise behind Link x Lou, a quick-fitting accessory service providing recipients with in-person appointments for custom-linked, clasp-less 14-karat white- and yellow-gold necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and rings that wear until they’re worn out. Money’s on ’em lasting longer than the situationship you’ve got goin’, but may the odds be ever in your favor. LinkxLou.com, $55-$500


Orttu Shelton Puffer

Guess who’s coming to dinner? It’s you as an alt-timeline Tom of Finland in Orttu’s fully quilted, oversized Shelton Puffer comprised of double-layered high-sheen fabric and press-stud fastening that results in a slick style statement vers-er than you are. Orttu.com, $203


Winter Discovery Mini Scented Candle Set

Apotheke takes the guesswork out of choosing just the right ambiance-inducing aroma with its Winter Discovery Mini Scented Candle Set, featuring six fragrant two-ounce tins in seasonal smells that include birchwood apple, black cypress, blackberry honey, cardamon chestnut, charred fig, and firewood (with a combined 90-hour burn time), and packaged in a nostalgically illustrated gift box accentuated by festive gold detailing. ApothekeCo.com, $64


Polaris General 1000 Sport

Resort communities across the country have adopted golf carts as a preferred mode of transportation, and you can establish yourself as a local baddie in Polaris’ General 1000 Sport – in ethereal colorways like ghost gray – equipped with a four-stroke DOHC twin-cylinder engine, 100 horsepower, 1,500-pound hitch-towing capacity, and enough street cred for Boomers to shake their fists at. Polaris.com, $17,500+


‘Arquivistas’ Crystal Book

Brazilian crystal devotee Tatiana Dorow has curated an impressive collection of more than 1,000 rare and exquisite minerals – ranging from one ounce to over 5,000 pounds – the comprehensive record of which is now compiled in the sizable coffee-table tome “Arquivistas” (Portuguese for archivist) that’s sure to satisfy, delight, and provide endless holiday-party talking points to the New Agers in your life. (You know they will.) ArtAndAnthropologyPress.com, $350


Bovem Globe Trimmer 2.0

There are plenty of manscaping tools on the market, but perhaps none are designed with your delicate bits in mind like the handsome second-gen Bovem Globe body and groin trimmer with its ergonomic textured grip, powerful 6500 RPM with low vibration, varying guards, and replaceable TrimSafe blades that tidy you up without cutting skin or pulling rough hair. Deck the halls! – no more bloody Christmas balls. Bovem.co, $60-$87


Lexington Glassworks Decanter Set

Pour one out from Lexington Glassworks’ hand-blown whiskey decanter, each one individually crafted in the company’s Asheville, N.C., studio and detailed with an elegant crackle finish that lends an air of sophistication to any home bar cart. Pair with a set of LG’s complementary rocks glasses, in the same distinguished style, for a cherished gift. LexingtonGlassworks.com, $280


Joule Turbo Sous Vide

Your fave chefs’ autopilot cooking technique hits home countertops in Breville’s sleek Joule Turbo Sous Vide stick, which cooks seasoned-and-bagged meats and veggies to a faster-than-ever optimal internal temperature (unattended, no less) before a lickety-split sear and serve results in restaurant-quality dishes deserving of at least a couple Michelin stars for your minimal-mess kitchen. Breville.com, $250


Outlines Shower Liner System

Holiday hosts can practice responsible replenishment amid our planetary plastic-waste crisis when you gift Outlines’ thoughtfully designed Shower Liner System that provides users with a machine-washable cotton top piece and fully recyclable bottom to replace when it’s time to ditch the grime. Set it and forget it with three-, six- or nine-month auto-deliveries. LivingOutlines.com, $50


Barbie Perfume

Fight the patriarchy doused in Barbie’s sweet-and-fresh fragrance that, from top to bottom, features notes of strawberry nectar and red cherry, peony and pink magnolia, and sandalwood and soft musk for an extraordinary scent that’s more than Kenough. DefineMeCreativeStudio.com, $65


AiRROBO Pet Grooming Vacuum

Posh pets enjoy salon-style luxury in the comfort of their homes when treated to a grooming session by the AiRROBO vacuum (think Flowbee for cats and dogs), a five-tool, one-stop solution for keeping furbabies’ hair, dander, allergens and mites to a minimum. The portable pamperer includes an electric clipper, crevice and de-shedding tools, and grooming and cleaning brushes housed in a space-saving, HEPA-filtered capsule. US.Air-Robo.com, $110


Aura Smart Sleep Mask

What does the future of total relaxation and deep sleep look like? Blackout darkness and complete serenity in a dream-state sanctuary when you spend your nights in the Aura Smart Sleep Mask with built-in speakers for guided meditation and snooze-inducing ASMR, zero-pressure eye cushioning, and light and sunrise therapy to help you wake rested and refreshed at home and (especially) away. Indiegogo.com, $190


Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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Black Deafhood: A journey at the intersection of sexuality, disability, race

Gallaudet’s Bobbi-Angelica Morris on their activism and art

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Bobbi-Angelica Morris is a Gallaudet University graduate student, activist, and artist.

Editor’s note: One in four people in America has a disability, according to the CDC. Queer and Deaf/disabled people have long been a vibrant part of the LGBTQ community. Take two of the many queer history icons who were disabled: Michelangelo is believed to have been autistic. Marsha P. Johnson, a hero of the Stonewall Uprising, had physical and psychiatric disabilities. Today, Deaf-Blind fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson, actor and bilateral amputee Eric Graise and Obama administration Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathy Martinez are just a few of the people who identify as queer/Deaf/disabled. The stories of this vital segment of this queer community have rarely been told. In its series “Queer, Crip and Here,” the Blade is telling some of these long unheard stories.

“My ‘coming out’ story looks more like me telling someone my favorite cookie flavor is chocolate chip,” Bobbi-Angelica Morris, a Gallaudet University graduate student, activist, poet, photographer, videographer and visual artist, told the Blade, “than an emotional roller coaster.”

“I’ve always embodied this carefree energy pertaining to who I am, what my purpose is, and how I show up for others,” added Morris, who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing and identifies as a Black, nonbinary, queer and abolitionist artist.

Earlier this year, Morris, 23, received the Mary Bowman Arts in Activism Award from the National AIDS Memorial, the San Francisco organization that displays the internationally acclaimed AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Over the phone and in email, Morris spoke with the Blade about a range of topics – from her “Deafhood” to how she felt safe at a queer Halloween party.

Morris, who uses she/they pronouns, grew up in different parts of the East Coast. They spent most of that time in Richmond, Va.  

“Growing up, most of the people around me would ask if I was gay,” Morris said, “because I fit into the stereotypical realms of present day msc [masculine] presenting dykes.”

“No one questioned me when I actually came to terms with my queer identity,” they added.

Before enrolling in Gallaudet, Morris spent most of their time as a student with hearing people in schools, where most teachers and students didn’t communicate in American Sign Language (ASL). Morris was the only Deaf student in their classes until they graduated from the University of Virginia in 2022 in Charlottesville. There, they majored in global development studies and minored in ASL with a concentration in disability studies and community development.

Growing up, Morris didn’t know about ASL or the creativity and history of Deaf culture.

“It wasn’t until I was in elementary school,” Morris said, “that an audiologist said I qualified for hearing aids.”

In their poetry, Morris, who speaks and signs their work, reflects on their family and their experience of being Deaf.

“I reflect on my own Deafhood:/ my playground fights/ with uneducated parents,” Morris writes in a poem, “When little Black Deaf girl doesn’t hear someone speak to her,/that someone thinks little Black Deaf girl is disrespectful.” 

Like many Deaf/Hard of Hearing people, who go to school when they don’t know American Sign Language, and there are no ASL interpreters, Morris felt isolated.

“I had no knowledge of the Deaf community or of Black Deaf history,” they said.

Some in Morris’s family and community couldn’t accept that Morris is Deaf. “Some, not out of maliciousness, prayed for my healing,” they said.

What Morris calls her “Black Deafhood,” has been a long journey at the intersection of sexuality, Deafness, disability, Blackness, gender, activism, and art. 

Deafhood is a “journey that a Deaf person undertakes to discover his, her or their identity and purpose in life,” according to a Deafhood Foundation statement on deafhood.org.

Hearing people often perceive of Deafness as a disease that should be cured, and of Deaf people as incompetent, second-class, less-valued, citizens.

Just as coming out helps queer people to affirm their sexuality and connect with the LGBTQ community and history, Deafhood empowers Deaf people to have pride in themselves – to connect with the Deaf community, history and culture.

As it often goes with finding and loving your queer self, Deafhood is a process. 

In middle school, Morris watched “Switched at Birth,” the popular TV series. The teen and family drama features Deaf and hearing actors and scenes in ASL.

The show jump-started Morris’s interest in Deafness and the Deaf community. “But, I still didn’t understand my connection [with the Deaf community],” Morris said.

Curious to discover something about Deaf culture, Morris started an informal class – a club. There, they and their friends learned signs from YouTube videos.

At the University of Virginia, Morris took a sign language class. They studies abroad for a time in India.

At Gallaudet, Morris began to feel connected to the Deaf community. They are a student in the Master of Social Work program at Gallaudet’s School of Civic Leadership, Business, and Social Change. Morris will graduate with an M.S.W. degree in 2024.

They are equally committed to making art and activism – to working for social justice for Black, Deaf/disabled, queer, and other marginalized groups. A love of art and social change is etched in their bones.

“I am an abolitionist and an artist,” Morris said, “I cannot be one without the other.”

Their abolitionist identity is connected to how they experience intersectionality. Morris sees their life as connected “to the movement for total liberation of all our people, beings, and non-beings in this present day and beyond,” they said.

Because they are an artist, they have a responsibility to use their skills to educate, inspire and protect “everyone and everything that abolitionists fight for daily,” Morris said.

From early on, Morris loved being creative. During an unstable childhood, art helped Morris to express their feelings.

Fortunately, art ran in Morris’s family. “My bio-mom is an amazing artist,” Morris said, “so we would draw things together.”

Later, Morris’s god-mom gave Morris materials that sparked their interest in painting and photography.

In middle school, Morris got into spoken word poetry when one of their Boys and Girls Club mentors showed them a spoken word video. At the University of Virginia, Morris participated in poetry slams. In their Gallaudet social work program, they impressively deploy their artistic and activism chops.

Their advocacy projects are numerous. Morris is developing ASL G, a non-profit organization. The group’s mission “is to develop community garden coalitions and programming for art and health wellness through disability justice,” Morris said.

Morris was the former creative outreach coordinator of VOCA, a non-profit that supports BIPOC, Deaf artists.

“I have family members that have been incarcerated,” Morris said. “Because of that, I want to fight the injustice of the prison industry and mass incarceration.”

Morris is the president of Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI), a student club at Gallaudet.

Ableism, audism (discrimination against Deaf people), homophobia and racism are issues for Morris. “The white presence is prominent in many institutions,” they said, “often they’re predominantly white.”

Morris likes being a Gallaudet student. But, “there’s a lack of racial competency at Gallaudet as there is in the whole of America,” they said.

The queer community has provided safe spaces for Morris. 

Once, Morris and their partner attended a queer Halloween party in Charlottesville. “Half the people in attendance knew or were learning sign language,” Morris said. “I think it was then that I realized how connected the queer community was in ensuring no one was left out.”

Morris went to the party as Beast Boy, and their partner went as Raven from Teen Titans.

Follow Morris on Instagram @Blckrainbow5

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Charles Busch reflects on the paths he didn’t take in new book

‘Leading Lady’ a riveting memoir from legendary entertainer

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'Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy' comes out on Sept. 12.

“Charles, I’m telling you, I go to plays in rat-infested basements where I’m the only one who shows up,” the late queer icon Joan Rivers once told the queer, legendary playwright, actor, director, novelist, cabaret performer and drag icon, Charles Busch. “I can see the actors peeking through the curtain and groaning, ‘Oh God, that old bitch in the fur coat is here. Does that mean we’ve gotta go on?’”

Busch reminded Rivers that she’d seen him perform in a rat-infested basement.

This is just one of the many stories that Busch, born in 1954, tells in his riveting memoir, “Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy,” which comes out on Sept. 12.

“Leading Lady” is a page-turner. Some of its tales of Busch’s life and career, such as his account of a Christmas party with Rivers as a guest, are dishy. Others, like his memories of trying to care for his beloved Aunt Lil, when he knew she was dying, would make even the Wicked Witch in Oz tear up.

The memoir, is, as Busch says on his website (charlesbusch.com), the story of “a talented artist’s Oz-like journey.” 

“Leading Lady” isn’t linear. This isn’t a detriment. Busch deftly intertwines memories of his life and career from his mom dying when he was seven to being raised by his loving Aunt Lil to being the author and star of the cult classic “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” to watching Kim Novak handle fans to being the Tony-nominated writer of “Tales of the Allergist’s Wife” to being creative during the pandemic.

“Storytelling is a huge part of my life,” Busch told the Blade in a lengthy phone interview, “I get into various adventures and, I think, this could be a good story to tell.”

Interviewing Busch is like chatting with a fab storyteller over coffee or a glass of wine. Except that you’re talking to a legend who’s entertained and inspired queers (and discerning hetero audiences) for decades. (I’m wearing my “Vampire” T-shirt as I write this.)  

As a playwright, Busch writes “linear” plays, with a beginning, middle and an end, he said. As a cabaret singer, “the way I sing songs is telling a story,” Busch said.

Since childhood, he’s been creating vivid scenes in his imagination. From early on, Busch has felt as if he’s both a spectator and star in the movie of his life.

It seemed inevitable that he’d write a memoir. It’s the ultimate form of storytelling. “You reach a certain point in your life,” Busch said, “where you’re more reflective and see your life as a whole.”

“You reflect on the paths you didn’t take,” he added.

Busch spent his childhood in Hartsdale, N.Y. He had two older sisters, Betsy and Margaret. His mother’s death was devastating for Busch. His Aunt Lil and Joan Rivers have been among the women who have been “mothers” to Busch since his mom died.

Once, Busch said he and Rivers dined with friends. “Joan Rivers said ‘I wish I had a gay son I could phone at midnight and discuss whatever movie was on TCM,’” he recalled.

Busch would have loved to have been Rivers’s “gay son.”

Life in Hartsdale was hard for Busch after his mother passed away. His father was often absent and showed little interest in his children.

Things were miserable for Busch when his grandmother, for a time, cared for the family. He knew, as a boy, that he was gay and hated going to school where a movie-and-theater-loving kid who liked to draw wasn’t one of the cool kids.

Yet Busch forgave his “father’s failings,” he writes in “Leading Lady, “because he gave me the theater.”

Busch became entranced with the theater when his father, an aspiring opera singer who performed in summer stock, took him to the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to hear Joan Sutherland sing the role of Amina in Bellini’s “La Sonnambula.”

Busch was saved from a life of boredom and bullying when Aunt Lil, his mother’s sister, took him to live with her in Manhattan. There, like Auntie Mame, she raised him. She prodded him into applying to the High School of Music and Art in New York City. He was accepted there.

After high school, Busch graduated with a bachelor’s degree in drama from Northwestern University in 1976.

“My Aunt Lil is the leading lady [of the title of his memoir],” Busch said, “she was the most influential person in my life.”

One of the reasons why Busch wrote “Leading Lady” was to paint a full portrait of her. “It was important that it not be this kind of gauzy, sentimental memory piece,” he said, “making her out to be a saint.”

Aunt Lil adopted Bush when he was 14. Her goal was that he would go to college, become independent, be a survivor – make a place for himself in the world.

“I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t stepped in,” Busch said.

“She was very intellectual,” he added, “I’ve never met anyone [else] with such a pure devotion to thinking. It was a little intimidating.”

Aunt Lil’s standards for caring – for giving of oneself – were so high that it was almost impossible to meet them. “She believed that you should anticipate what people would need,” Busch said, “before they told you.”

Looking back, Busch is most proud of himself when, “I’ve gone past my natural self-absorption,” he said, “when I’ve thought of someone else.”

Busch is being too hard on himself. In “Leading Lady,” and when interviewed, he’s caring and curious as well as witty, savvy, and as you’d expect, a bit campy.

His sister Margaret died recently. “She declined gradually over nine months,” Busch, said, choking up, “I gave her my bedroom and I slept on my sofa.”

Like many of her generation, Aunt Lil didn’t understand queerness or drag. But she loved Busch. She didn’t go to see his productions, he said. “She could have gone like other parents,” he said, “and been tight-lipped. And said something nice that she didn’t believe.”

But “she didn’t want to lie or be hurtful,” Busch added, “so, for her, it was: can’t I just love and support you, and not go?”

Aunt Lil didn’t get Busch’s sexuality. But she knew about secrecy. Busch learned of a terrifying secret that his aunt had long kept hidden. In the 1930s, during the Depression, Aunt Lil worked as a nurse. One day, when she worked overtime, one of the patients suffered a burn. She had to leave nursing. “Her sister in a nasty mood revealed this,” Busch said, “Aunt Lil never discussed it.”

In the 1970s, Busch had trouble getting into theater because there were only roles for actors playing straight male characters. “The only way I could get on stage was to write my own roles,” he said, “I have a rather androgynous nature.”

Busch found that the feminine within him was a place of authority and strength. “I’m fine when I play male characters,” he said, “but I’m better when I play female characters.”

Why this is so liberating for him is a bit of a mystery to Busch. “But I accept and love it,” he said.

Times have changed since Busch made his first big splash with “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.” “In 1985, being a drag queen was considered a negative,” Busch said, “my generation of drag performers bristled at being referred to as drag queens.”

Busch no longer bristles. “I feel like the characters,” he said, “I enjoy costumes and getting the right wig.”

“But, I go from male to female not through trickery or anything visual, I transfer through my soul.”

In “Leading Lady,” Busch recalls AIDS and other dark moments from the past. Many of his friends and colleagues died from AIDS. “AIDS was the World War II of our generation,” he said.

But Busch, in his memoir and in his life, isn’t only looking back. He’s very much in the present. Busch is embarrassed to say he was lucky. During the pandemic, devastating to many, he made art. He did play readings on Zoom and finished writing “Leading Lady” which he’d worked on for 14 years.

During the pandemic, Busch with Carl Andress co-wrote and co-directed the movie “The Sixth Reel.” The film’s cast includes Busch, Julie Halston (Busch’s longtime muse), Margaret Cho and Tim Daly.

Busch describes the film, an homage to the Hollywood madcap movies of the 1930s, as “a comic, caper movie.” 

“I play a disreputable dealer in movie memorabilia,” Busch said, “a legendary lost film is found, and I see it as my ticket out of debt.”

The “Sixth Reel” is playing from Sept. 21 to Sept. 27 at the LOOK Dine-In Cinema West 57th Street in New York City.

“I hope the run in New York will encourage people to distribute this little movie,” Busch said.

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Meet ‘one of the most powerful disabled people on the planet’

Eddie Ndopu a wizard of advocacy and glam

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(Book cover image courtesy of Amazon)

(Editor’s Note: One in four people in America has a disability, according to CDC. Queer and disabled people have long been a vital part of the LGBTQ community. Take two of the many queer history icons who were disabled: Michelangelo is believed to have been autistic. Marsha P. Johnson had physical and psychiatric disabilities. Today, Deaf-Blind fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson, actor and bilateral amputee Eric Graise and Kathy Martinez, a blind, Latinx lesbian, who was Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy for the Obama administration are just a few of the people who identify as queer and disabled. Yet, the stories of this vital segment of the queer community have rarely been told. It its series “Queer, Crip and Here,” the Blade is telling some of these long un-heard stories.)

Everything comes full circle: back to Britney Spears for Eddie Ndopu, 32, a queer, Black, disabled man who is a wizard with advocacy and glam.

“I knew I was queer early on,” Ndopu whose memoir “Sipping Dom Perignon Through a Straw: Reimagining Success as a Disabled Achiever” (Legacy Lit) is just out, told the Blade recently in an extended interview, “though I didn’t have the language for it.”

Ndopu, whose mother fled from South Africa because of apartheid, was born in Namibia. At age nine, he and his family moved to Cape Town, South Africa. He was raised by his mother, a single mom.

When he was two, he was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. He was expected to die from this degenerative disability by the time he turned five.

Decades later, Ndopu knows what it means to live with declining strength, and the knowledge, that while we’ll all die, he’ll likely die sooner than most of us.

At the same time,through his queerness, disability, and imagination, Ndopu said, he embodies what it’s like to live a fabulous life.

It began when he was a child watching and listening to Spears. “Britney was the first pop star I encountered as a young boy,” Ndopu said. “She was iconic in so many ways. I adored her! I watched her dance.”

His mother gave him an album by Spears. “It was my thing,” Ndopu said, “The first thing I owned.”

Spears seemed unstoppable to Ndopu. It triggered something in him. “It made me want to be on the global stage,” he said.

Years later, Ndopu empathized with Spears when she fought to be released from the conservatorship she was under from 2008 to 2021. 

“Disabled fans, especially, were with Britney in her battle to be free,” Ndopu said, “because often, disabled people, particularly intellectually disabled people, have been denied agency. Have been denied their autonomy.”

We owe Spears an apology, Ndopu said. “It’s analogous to what disabled people go through,” he added, “we’re owed an apology for all the ways in which we’ve been made to endure so much [through ableism].” (This reporter is queer and disabled.)

Since childhood, Ndopu has loved beauty, fashion and glam. “My first dream was to be a designer,” he said, “I sketched in art classes in school.”

Ndopu daydreamed about living in the United States – about being based in New York City. He watched the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful.” “I didn’t watch for the stories about the characters,” Ndopu said, “I watched for the fashion! It gave me glimpses into a world where I wanted to be.”

But as his disability progressed, Ndopu lost strength in his hands. He could no longer draw. “I had to dream a new dream,” he said, “I knew I wanted to do something extraordinary. I imagined an escape.”

One day, he looked through a magazine and saw a story about a school, the African Leadership Academy, that was going to train young people in Africa to be future leaders. He applied to the school.

“They rejected me. Because they didn’t know what to do with me,” Ndopu said, “I wrote to them and got in.”

“I don’t know if I’d do that today,” but I did then,” he added, “that was my saving grace.”

Going there was Ndopu’s first big break. When he was only in his teens, Ndopu was speaking about disability justice.

After graduating from the Leadership Academy, Ndopu graduated with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Carleton University in Canada in 2014. In 2017, Ndopu was the first African student with a degenerative disability to graduate with a master’s in public policy from the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University. Based at Somerville College, Ndopu received a full scholarship from Oxford.

Today, Ndopu, known for his fab oversized, bejeweled sunglasses, is an award-winning global humanitarian and social justice advocate. Time magazine has called him “one of the most powerful disabled people on the planet.”

Ndopu, fulfilling his childhood daydream, now, lives in New York City.

He is on the board of the United Nations Foundation, a group founded by Ted Turner to support the work of the UN. He works for the UN as a global advocate for sustainable development on issues from climate change to hunger.

Ndopu likes to identify as queer because, he believes, the word “queer” embodies all of his identities – from race to disability to sexuality to being fabulous. “I love to identify as queer,” he said.

In college, Ndopu was infatuated with a guy on the basketball team. He was heartbroken when his affections were unrequited. “That was the moment when I fully embraced my queerness,” Ndopu said, “I came out with my first heartbreak. There was no sitting with it. I went from zero to 100!”

Ndopu became one of the directors at Carleton’s gender and sexuality resource center. He studied queer theory.

There’s a critical contradiction for queer, disabled people, Ndopu believes. At its best, queerness (and the queer community) celebrates the full spectrum of bodies, sexuality and gender from nonbinary to pansexual to two-spirit. “The body is at the center for queer folks,” he said, “that’s something to celebrate.”

On the other side of the coin, though, the queer community doesn’t want to accept, “doesn’t want to have a conversation about bodies that aren’t the socialized idea of the body,” Ndopu said.

That often boils down to ableism toward queer, disabled bodies, Ndopu said. If you’re queer and disabled, you go through “the tension between acceptance and desire,” Ndopu said.

There are many “inspirational” memoirs by disabled people – tales of “overcoming” disability – of overpowering insurmountable odds. 

Thankfully, Ndopu’s memoir doesn’t fit this bill at all. “Sipping Dom Perignon Through a Straw” is searing and intimate. Ndopu describes his family: what it was like to grow up with an absent father, how oppressed his mother was by apartheid and how loving and caring she was of him. But much of the memoir is focused on his year at Oxford. 

For most people, queer, non-queer, disabled or nondisabled, being at Oxford would have been like being in a fairy tale. Like living the fantasy of your life.

For Ndopu, it was a crowning achievement. He had friends, studied what he wanted to study at a renowned university, and, even became student body president of his program.

Yet, from the get-go, his time at Oxford was riddled with ableism. The physical inaccessibility of the buildings was bad enough. But, Ndopu needs help 24/7 with activities of daily life from getting dressed to going to the bathroom. Finding and paying for caregivers at Oxford was a nightmare for him.

“A sharp, illuminating debut memoir,” Publishers Weekly, said of Ndopu’s book, “…Ndopu shines a light on ableism both conscious and unconscious.”

His experience at Oxford made Ndopu realize that being successful wouldn’t protect him from disability-based prejudice and discrimination. Being brilliant wouldn’t guarantee that you’d have a caregiver to help you pee. He came to believe exceptionalism is used against disabled people (and other marginalized groups).

 “The idea that we have to be resilient – that if we have enough grit we’ll overcome all obstacles is used to oppress disabled people,” he said.

You might think that, given his shortened life expectancy and experience of ableism, homophobia, and racism, Ndopu would give up hope. But you’d be wrong.

“I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!” queer and disabled icon Audre Lorde says in the epigraph to Ndopu’s memoir. 

“I deliberately chose this quote from Lorde’s Cancer Journals,” Ndopu said, “I hope I’ll die in as close to a transcendent experience as possible.”

No matter what, Ndopu will be fabulous. “It’s not a frivolous thing,” Ndopu said, “being fabulous makes me, visible.”

For too long, queer and disabled people have been invisible, he added.

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