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Bidding adieu to the inspiring Mart Crowley

And celebrating the impact of ‘Boys in the Band’

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Mart Crowley, gay news, Washington Blade

Mart Crowley (Screen capture via YouTube)

“…If we…if we could just…not hate ourselves so much. That’s it, you know. If we could just learn not to hate ourselves quite so very much.”

Perhaps it’s that line, spoken in the final moments of The Boys in the Band — written by Mart Crowley who died on March 7 at 84 years old — that has infused the 1968 play with its immortal reputation as the first gay play, like it or not, to depict us with a degree of verisimilitude.

In retrospect, it’s interesting to note that my exposure to Crowley’s Boys occurred while I was studying acting at Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago, between 1969 and 1971. Rarely having seen more than one gay male character on the stage or the screen at a time, for an impressionable young actor to witness eight (or nine) of them was astounding. Not only could you see yourself up there on the stage or on the Silver Screen, you could see who you might become (ye gods) or, if you were an aspiring thespian, who you might one day portray.

While Goodman was teeming with a homosexual population (staff, faculty, students), that didn’t translate to any form of gay liberation even as Stonewall came and went during my tenure there. The male acting students who flamed in the hallways butched it up in the classrooms (even under the tutelage of the most effete of instructors) and when playing a homo, they would play the character like they imagined a straight man would play gay so their portrayal resulted in an inauthentic mess which more often than not received high praise.

So, you can imagine when I saw some real queer actors, in addition to some actors who could really play queer, in roles that were written as authentically as any modern American gay voice ever to emerge from a typewriter.

It was a turning point in my consciousness—a Stonewall moment, if you will—and the reason that I would spend the next 50-plus years defending Crowley’s brilliant play.

While Boys is what Crowley is most celebrated for, he also spent time in Hollywood as a producer on Hart to Hart and wrote several other plays including a lovely memoir, A Breeze from the Gulf.

The grousing that I heard about The Boys in the Band had a familiar ring to it, resembling the voices of the characters depicted in The Boys in the Band: the poisoned barbs, the wicked one-liners, the character assassinations when Michael throws a drunken birthday party for his bestie, Harold, the Queen of Mean. And most of these negative pronouncements came from my gay brethren.

So what was the beef? “Those guys were so stereotypical, so gaaaaaaaay.” “They were so swishy.” “They were mean.” “They were self-loooooathing.” “I don’t want people to think I act like them.”

From the time I first saw Crowley’s play and today, I cannot count the number of parties I’ve attended that have very closely, if not almost identically, resembled the one he so eloquently paints in The Boys in the Band. If there’s a difference—and I suppose there is—it’s that we live on an equal playing ground now with the knowledge that everyone hates themselves to a degree. From the innumerable talk shows devoted to the subject and the hundreds of self-help books, not to mention the television shows devoted to deliverance from low self-esteem, it is a catastrophic epidemic in this country and not exclusively the province of gay men.

The condition that Michael and his cohorts suffer from is the human condition. This is not to suggest that Crowley didn’t intend for Michael to have internalized this notion in 1968 (the year Boys takes place), five years before the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. It was virtually impossible for us to believe, or behave, otherwise—again, something Crowley depicts with meticulous honestly. His “boys” ooze vulnerability.

Over the decades, I had a spectacular ride with Boys, beginning in the early 1970s with a staged reading in Provincetown that was scheduled for one performance and lasted most of the summer. Later in the decade, after having seen the movie several times, I found myself in a windowless office in Hollywood doing temp work to pay the bills, gossiping with the cute guy in the adjoining office who was doing the same thing. His voice was so familiar.

Oh my God, it turned out to be Frederick Combs, the accessible one in Boys—the one who brought LaCoste shirts into fashion, the one everyone fell in love with—and the one who directed me in Robert Patrick’s T-Shirts and Harvey Fierstein’s The International Stud (Part One of Torch Song Trilogy), the two one-acts that put me on the map.

In the 1980s, I played Michael again—this time in Des Moines, Iowa, back-to-back on a bill with Robert Chesley’s Jerker in which I played J.R. Under the umbrella title Then & Now, it was a long and energizing evening. Finally, in the ‘90s, I did a celebrity reading fundraiser for the Victory Fund (again playing Michael) produced by Steve Tyler with Bruce Vilanch, Gordon Thomson, Chad Allen, Greg Louganis, and Michael Jeter.

In 1998, I was honored to introduce Mart at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which celebrated the 30th Anniversary of The Boys in the Band.

And so now I bid adieu and express appreciation to an inspiring playwright who granted me permission to discover Michael by playing Michael at various junctures over three decades.

 

Michael Kearns is an actor, playwright and author.

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“Just Vote” is not a strategy

The GOP found out long ago that keeping their based terrified and angry was the key to victory: Democrats need to learn to use it as well

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Eric Tannehill | FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it sent waves of dismay through the LGBT community. Clarence Thomas’ concurrence made it clear that he wants to overturn Obergefell (marriage) and Lawrence v. Texas (sodomy laws).

Already, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has called upon the Supreme Court to overturn Lawrence, and sources tell The Blade that the Alliance Defending Freedom is gearing up challenges to Obergefell in the conservative 5th and 11th Circuits. Even if these challenges fail at the Supreme Court on the first try, the Circuit Courts are likely to issue injunctions that make life miserable for years for LGBT people.

It’s unclear whether the Supreme Court would overturn these rulings. In the Dobbs v. Jackson abortion decision by Alito, he claims that this case is different because it involves human life. On the other hand, the tests for constitutionality created by Alito in Dobbs clearly indicate that Obergefell and Lawrence would fail if brought before him, and should be struck down. Alito very clearly and deliberately left a road map for how to make arguments that ensure these seminal LGBT rights cases are overturned.

The Democratic response to Roe, reassuring the LGBT community, has achieved exactly the opposite: people are terrified and hopeless. Singing “God Bless America,” reading poems, making outraged statements, proposing bills that haven’t a prayer of becoming law, and doing yoga is about all that Democratic leaders have been able to offer the people who put them in office. 

Nancy Pelosi Criticizes ‘Hypocrisy’ Of Supreme Court Overturning Roe v. Wade:

Every proposed solution that might actually work has been shot down. The White House has unilaterally rejected expanding the court or providing abortions on federal land. Manchin and Sinema refuse to budge on the filibuster. No one dares speak about malicious compliance or the legitimacy of a court where most of the justices were put in place by Republicans who lost the popular vote. Meanwhile, Republicans are gleefully planning how they can abuse the system to prosecute women who flee to other states, or people who provide abortifacient drugs by mail.

The singular message Democrats are providing is, “give us money and vote for us, and maybe something good will happen.”

The singular message Democrats are providing is, “give us money and vote for us, and maybe something good will happen.” Vote is not a strategy. Nor is the Democratic base stupid: we know damn well that there is a +7 lean towards the GOP in the Senate, meaning that Democrats must win the national vote by an average of 7 points every year to even have a 50-50 shot of controlling the Senate.

We know that lifetime appointments to the bench mean that the GOP will control SCOTUS for decades. “Just vote” is not a strategy, just like hope is not a plan. But it is patronizing.

This is a complete failure of leadership. Democrats must state explicitly what they will do, and how they will do it, to protect the people voting for them from an increasingly fascist GOP that wants to remake America in its white, Christian, heterosexual image.

We are facing a queer apocalypse, and we’re getting tips on perfecting your “downward dog” and emails begging for money so they can keep doing what they’re doing: which is effectively nothing besides passing legislation that will never see the light of day in the Senate. (The Equality Act, anyone?)

There’s a glimmer of hope: congressional generic ballot polling after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision shows a strong shift towards Democrats, and that the ruling made Democrats much more likely to vote. However, without a clearly enumerated plan and messaging, this is just a blip in our collective short term political memory.

Between now and the election Democratic ads and messaging need to highlight every woman who dies, or nearly so, because of the Dobbs decision. Ads with interviews with women left in screaming bloody agony for hours while a priest and lawyers bicker over whether this is covered by “life of the mother” exceptions.

Women denied lifesaving chemotherapy or forced to carry a pregnancy that could kill them. Women forced to carry a rape to term, and then share custody with their assailant. Make the messaging as brutal as possible: remind voters every day that a vote for Republicans is a vote to torture or kill women.

The GOP found out long ago that keeping their based terrified and angry was the key to victory: Democrats need to learn to use it as well.

The GOP found out long ago that keeping their based terrified and angry was the key to victory

They also need to be explicit in what they are going to do if they somehow manage to retain the House and Senate: namely they will end the filibuster and enshrine Roe v. Wade as federal law.

They need to explicitly spell out how they will use the power given them to prevent SCOTUS from allowing gerrymandered red states from eliminating marriage equality and throwing LGBT people in jail for having consensual sex in the privacy of their own homes. 

Democrats need to stop over-promising and under delivering. The public knows damned well what cannot be accomplished as long as the filibuster is in place, or SCOTUS dominated by conservative ideologues.

The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021 Seated from left to right: Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor Standing from left to right: Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.
Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Failing to do these things will produce even worse outcomes: namely people giving up hope of solutions from within the system, ceasing to vote, and attempting to take matters into their own hands out of a sense of hopelessness and rage.

Viable plans create hope. Scared, desperate angry people do stupid things if they do not have both hope and a plan.

It’s President Biden’s responsibility as a leader to map out that plan unambiguously, while Democrats need to make certain everyone knows what the consequences of failure are. 

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Eric Tannehill is a twenty-something queer activist and university student.

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LGBTQ+ people to Feds: Stop Proud Boys & other terrorist groups!

Federal law enforcement agencies have the power to intervene when local police can’t or won’t do their jobs

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Members of the Proud Boys flash “white power” hand signs Monday while disrupting a Pride event in South Bend. Image captured from a tweet by the Indiana Mutual Aid Coalition asking the public to identify the men.

By James Finn | DETROIT – LGBTQ Pride month in the U.S. this year was marred by violence, threats of violence, and organized attacks by white nationalist groups like the Patriot Front and the Proud Boys.

The Proud Boys have particularly targeted family Pride events, succeeding in having several postponed or cancelled through acts of disruption designed to sow fear and even terror.

Law enforcement agencies have done little to defend LGBTQ people trying to come together in peace. In one egregious incident, sheriff’s deputies bantered and fist bumped members of the racist group as they terrorized small children.

We LGBTQ people must have the right to peaceably assemble without self-proclaimed “white nationalists” swarming in screaming obscenities and shutting our events down.

Local law enforcement often prove unwilling to defend LGBTQ people and familes. If police and sheriff’s deputies won’t keep the peace, then it’s time for federal agencies to step in and crack down.

Here are just a few accounts of Proud Boys terrorism this Pride season:

Proud Boys attack gay bar in California, patrons forced to defend themselves while police watch

“Fuck you, pedophile motherfuckers!” shouted the masked man as patrons of the Mojo Lounge bar and restaurant in Woodland, California pepper sprayed him to stop him and other members of the Proud Boys from forcing their way inside.

“Fuck you, pedophile motherfuckers!” shouted the masked man as patrons of the Mojo Lounge pepper sprayed him to stop him and other members of the Proud Boys from forcing their way inside.

Mojo patrons, who had come to see an “all ages drag show” to celebrate Pride month, had to defend themselves last week because (as you can see for yourself in the video below) members of the Woodland Police Department weren’t helping. Even though police had turned out in force to respond to threats of violence, and even though the Proud Boys contingent had gathered across the street chanting obscenities and homophobic/transphobic slurs, the cops stood back and away from the door as Proud Boys protestors tried to force their way inside.

Terrified patrons had to defend themselves, and the day’s drag show and other celebrations were cancelled.

When peaceful citizens have to resort to pepper spray because the police won’t defend them from masked thugs, then as the saying goes, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Library Pride event disrupted then canceled after Proud Boys rampage for 40 minutes

Also last week, according to the Los Angeles Blade, members of the Proud Boys terrorized library staff and children at a Rainbow Story Hour at South Bend, Indiana’s Tutt Library. According to the Indiana Mutual Aid Coalition, which tweeted video, Proud Boys members flashed white supremacist hand signals and “harassed the presenter, event organizer, staff, and library patrons until police were called.”

Those library patrons were parents who brought their small children to the library to celebrate Pride in peace — by hearing stories about diversity, acceptance, and love.

“We’re stopping them from introducing shit to kids,” one of the Proud members told a police officer, who instead of arresting and jailing the Proud Boys for disrupting the event, or at least forcing them out of the library, had a calm discussion with them.

Library staff then canceled the reading out of safety concerns, saying they may reschedule it “in a few months.”

Proud Boy members protesting a Pride Event at a Nevada library, minutes before one of the men stalked toward the event with a gun in his hands, causing children and parents to flee. Screenshots/KRNV

Children flee Nevada Pride event when Proud Boy approaches with a gun

Also last week, members of the Proud Boys terrorized LGBTQ families at a library in Sparks, Nevada, a small town near Reno. According to the LA Blade, a group of Proud Boys disrupted a drag queen story hour, chanting obscenities and homophobic/transphobic slurs while screaming that the parents who brought their children to Pride are “groomers” and “molesters.”

* More importantly, federal law enforcement agencies have the power to intervene when local police can’t or won’t do their jobs. *

Reno police had been monitoring, but when protesters began to drift away, officers left the scene. Then one of the Proud Boys pulled out a gun and approached the crowd of parents and children. Some witnesses report that the masked man screamed and waved his gun, others that he “merely” held it as he approached a group of small children and parents. Witnesses say the families fled into the library, some of the children screaming and crying.

The police have not explained why they left the scene while masked members of the white supremacist group were still protesting. Nor have police issued an apology to LGBTQ people for failing to protect them from a group known for instigating violence. The police have not pledged to do better in the future.

A witness who took these photos says this deputy and others escorted these masked members of the Cape Fear Proud Boys up to the door of a room in a North Carolina library, allowing them to scream through the door at parents and children until a Pride reading ended.

Sheriff’s deputies in North Carolina actively help Proud Boys terrify families with toddlers

According to patrons at a Pride story event in the Pine Valley branch of the New Hanover, NC library system, a group of 15 masked Proud Boys terrorized them on June 21 with the active assistance of sheriff’s deputies. Families with children as young as 17 months old were forced to flee through a side door, and the library was unable to be used for its ordinary purpose for as long as 90 minutes.

Throughout the incident, a group of deputies failed to stop the white supremacists from screaming obscenities and slurs. Reportedly, the deputies engaged in light-hearted banter with the masked Proud Boys and even fist bumped them in a show of solidarity.

It’s time for the U.S. to join Canada and New Zealand in treating the Proud Boys as a terrorist group

The New Zealand government declared the Proud Boys a terrorist organization last week, citing their role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, racist ideology, hyper-nationalism, and violent messaging.

The New Zealand government say the group’s activities meet definitions of terroristic acts “carried out for the purpose of advancing an ideological, political, or religious cause,” intended to “intimidate a population” or “cause the death of, or serious bodily injury to, one or more persons.”

Canada added the Proud Boys to its list of domestic terror groups back in March, after which point one Canadian branch disbanded for fear of legal consequences.

The U.S. doesn’t classify domestic groups as terror groups the same way NZ and Canada do, but our federal government has mechanisms for putting domestic groups on watch lists and turning up the heat.

More importantly, federal law enforcement agencies have the power to intervene when local police can’t or won’t do their jobs.

I’m thinking about that other group of masked terrorists who haunt American history, the ones who wore white and whose masks ended in pointy tips. When local law enforcement colluded with the KKK or failed to take strong enough steps against them, the FBI often took point instead.

The Proud Boys aren’t lynching people, and I’m not trying to suggest victims of their violent threats have suffered the way Black people suffered under KKK terror, but how about we put a stop to things before they get that far?

Violent threats against Pride events this year have shocked LGBTQ families and communities. Nobody suspected going to Pride would ever be about fear, but that’s what’s happening, a change driven primarily by groups like the Patriot Front and the Proud Boys, racist organizations that hate LGBTQ people as much they hate Black people, immigrants, and Jews.

They’re running amok, and local law enforcement is all too frequently encouraging them or treating them in a “neutral” manner that lets them get away with terrorizing minorities.

So, how about we stop being neutral?

How about we start treating terrorists like terrorists? And how about if police departments and sheriff’s offices won’t do the job, the feds step in and bring the hammer down?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in country where masked racists have free reign to shut down Pride events by screaming obscenities at little children.

Our federal government is run by Democrats right now. If they won’t help LGBTQ people, will anyone? Ever?

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Florida school district to force teachers to Out LGBTQ+ students

Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ is doing EXACTLY what LGBTQ advocates warned it would do even though formal written LGBTQ policies not yet released

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Orange County Public Schools logo, public domain image. Photo of bullied teen girl licensed from Adobe Stock.

By James Finn | ORLANDO – The 9th largest school district in the U.S. just advised its 25,000 teachers and staff that they must inform parents if a student “comes out” to them.

That’s just for starters. Keep reading, because Don’t Say Gay exploded this week in Orange County, Florida, home of Orlando and a dense population that includes 205,000 public school students.

LGBTQ advocates and teachers in Florida are shouting, “We told you so!” as Orange County Public Schools announces policies to enforce Governor Ron DeSantis’s Don’t Say Gay law, formally known as the Parental Rights in Education Act. Advocates have warned for months that the law’s vague wording and provisions to allow parents to sue school districts would prompt draconian anti-LGBTQ regulations. That’s exactly what’s happening in Orange County today.

* Outing LGBTQ teens to unsupportive parents isn’t just bad policy. It’s a moral outrage, an affront to human decency. *

ABC affiliate WFTV reported on Monday that Orange County Public Schools held an administrators-only seminar last week to advise principals on what behaviors would and would not be permissible under the new law. They also report that representatives of the Florida Classroom Teachers Association (CTA) have informed them of new policies they’ve learned about through other channels.

Here’s the lowdown so far on Orange County schools and new LGBTQ polices:

  1. Teachers must report to parents if a student ‘comes out’ to them.
  2. Teachers must use pronouns assigned at birth, regardless of what the parents allow, meaning teachers must misgender trans students in class.
  3. Teachers must remove stickers denoting a particular classroom is a “safe space” for LGBTQ students and others.
  4. Teachers cannot wear rainbows on their clothing, “including lanyards distributed by the district last year.”
  5. Elementary-level teachers are discouraged from putting pictures of their same-sex spouse on their desk or talking about them to students. Teachers are not being discouraged from putting pictures of opposite-sex spouses on their desks.

Teachers are alarmed and speaking out

Several LGBTQ teachers in Florida’s Miami/Dade and Orange counties have reached out to me privately saying they’ve quit their jobs or they’re planning to soon. The Washington Post and NBC News reported recently that LGBTQ teachers in Florida are leaving the profession in significant numbers. Many, however, are staying, determined to fight for justice and equality, and to provide a safe haven for LGBTQ kids.

CTA President-Elect Clinton McCracken is on the record urging Orange County Public Schools to rethink policies: “It will be alarming if our district chooses to interpret this law in the most extreme way. We want them to protect student privacy. We want them to make sure that they’re creating and helping to create safe classrooms. We believe our school board supports that.”

The consequences of outing are STAGGERING.

According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ students are already at a high risk for anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. These risks multiply bigtime if a student is outed to unsupportive parents.

Also, outing teens to unsupportive parents dramatically increases their risk of homelessness. The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law has found that 45 percent of homeless youth in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ, a hugely disproportionate number. They further found that 43 percent of LGBTQ youth were kicked out of the home by unsupportive parents.

Outing LGBTQ teens to unsupportive parents isn’t just bad policy. It’s a moral outrage, an affront to human decency.

Mandatory misgendering of trans students will cause serious harm

I don’t know if anyone at the district level thought the misgendering policy through, but the implications, as with outing, are staggering. Many trans students attend schools where their peers have no idea they’re trans, often because they transferred into the district fully presenting as their gender. Usual school privacy practice around the nation requires teachers not to out these students, regardless of what’s on their birth certificate.

I can’t imagine the justification for suddenly forcing teachers to violate student privacy instead of protect it. I can, however, imagine the anguish that will result. And the jeers. And the bullying. And the tragic consequences.

I can also imagine the anguish of newly transitioning students who started their summer vacations thinking of school as a safe, supportive space where they were free to be themselves, only to return in the fall to a school where their teachers must misgender them.

Forbidding rainbows and safe-space stickers sends a cruel, bullying message

Little rainbow flags and stickers that let LGBTQ kids know they are safe and truly welcome do a great deal of good and no harm. They say, “We value you for who you are. You can come here to this space, and know you will find an adult you can trust. You can report bullying here and be assured the adult you’re reporting it to accepts and values LGBTQ people.”

Forcing teachers to remove those symbols doesn’t just remove the safe space, it sends a toxic message to the entire student body: “LGBTQ people and ideas are too controversial to be open about in school. Rainbow flags are not positive symbols of diversity, love and, acceptance. They’re so toxic, and some people hate what they stand for so much, that they have no place in school.”

I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, bi, cis, trans, or nonbinary, that message spreads intolerance and even hatred.

Discouraging same-sex married teachers from being open about their families also spreads intolerance and hatred

We Americans live in a pluralistic society where people of all races, ethnic origins, and religions live and work together. An overwhelming majority of people in the U.S. have no problem with same-sex marriage, and while a loud minority have a serious problem with it, it’s legal and common and not going anywhere.

Telling gay and bisexual teachers not to talk about their families or display photos of their families in circumstances where straight teachers ordinarily do so sends a terrible message to school employees and students. “Something is wrong with you and your family, so wrong that students must not see or hear anything about your family.”

That message is not pluralistic, it’s not American, and it’s certainly not healthy. It demonizes LGBTQ people as it promotes shaming and discrimination. Utterly unacceptable.

None of this is set in stone yet. Raise your voice!

According to WFTV, that district-wide meeting with administrators last week did not include formal written LGBTQ policies, which have not yet been released. There’s still time to tell Orange County Public Schools policy makers that their proposals will do great harm, that their leaked policies are toxic and morally outrageous.

Outing LGBTQ kids to unsupportive parents? What are they THINKING? Reach out to Orange County Public Schools today, right now, and demand they do do better.

You can contact the district office here, and find contact information for school board members here.

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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