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Coronavirus claims iconic LGBTQ playwright Terrence McNally

The four-time Tony winner penned “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and the libretto for “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

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Terrence McNally (Photo by ReadingReed43 via Wikimedia Commons)

The theatre community, already hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has been dealt a painful blow with the news that Terrence McNally, the 4-time Tony winning playwright whose work portrayed a rich range of human emotional experience and broke barriers in its depiction of gay life, has succumbed to complications from COVID-19 at the age of 81.

McNally, who was a survivor of lung cancer and lived with chronic COPD, died on Tuesday at the Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida.

Born in St. Petersburg, Florida, McNally grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, where his New York-born parents instilled in him a love for theatre from an early age. After earning a BA at Columbia University in 1960, he developed a relationship with author John Steinbeck, who hired the young playwright to accompany his family on a worldwide cruise as a tutor to his teenage sons. Steinbeck would later enlist McNally to write the libretto for “Here’s Where I Belong,” a musical stage adaptation of the author’s classic novel, “East of Eden.”

During his early years in New York, McNally also developed a relationship with fellow playwright Edward Albee, whom he met when the two shared a cab; the pair were essentially a couple for four years, during the period in which Albee wrote “The American Dream” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” two of his most important works. It was a romance that would cast a shadow over McNally’s early career, when some critics dismissed him as “the boyfriend” after the premiere of his Broadway debut, “And Things That Go Bump in the Night.” The play, which was McNally’s first effort in three acts, flopped due to poor initial reviews – attributed by author Boze Hadleigh in his book, “Who’s Afraid of Terrence McNally,” to homophobia from conservative New York critics – even after subsequent critical reaction and audience response proved to be more favorable.

After the failure of his initial foray onto the Broadway stage, McNally rebounded with an acclaimed one-act, “Next,” which featured James Coco as a middle-aged man mistakenly drafted into the army and was directed by Elaine May, and was presented Off-Broadway in a double bill with May’s “Adaptation” in 1967. Several other one-acts followed, and the playwright gained a reputation for tackling edgy subject matter with sharp social commentary, biting dialogue, and farcical situations.  He also attracted early controversy for featuring onstage nudity (from actress Sally Kirkland) for the entire length of his kidnapping drama, “Sweet Eros.”

Success came his way in the seventies, when he racked up an Obie award for 1974’s “Bad Habits,” and a Broadway hit with “The Ritz,” a risqué farce set in a gay bathhouse where a straight middle-aged business man unwittingly goes into hiding to escape his wife’s murderous mafioso brother. Adapted from his own earlier play, “The Tubs,” it was subsequently turned into a 1976 film version (directed by “A Hard Day’s Night” filmmaker Richard Lester), starring original stage cast members Jack Weston, Jerry Stiller, F. Murray Abraham, and Rita Moreno (reprising her Tony-winning role as bathhouse chanteuse Googie Gomez), as well as featuring a blonde-dyed Treat Williams in an early appearance as an undercover cop.

After another series of career setbacks, McNally rebounded again in the eighties with more Off-Broadway acclaim for his play, “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” which starred Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham. The playwright has said that it was his first work after becoming sober, telling the New York Times in 2019, “There was certainly a change in my work. It’s hard to know who you are if you’re drunk all the time. It clouds your thinking. I started thinking more about my people — my characters.”

It was in the nineties, however, that McNally blossomed into a master playwright, with plays like “Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” which placed AIDS squarely in the backdrop of its story about two married couples spending a weekend on Fire Island, and “Master Class,” a tour-de-force one-woman show about Maria Callas which featured Zoe Caldwell in a widely acclaimed performance.

It was also during this period that McNally wrote “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” an expansive play about a group of gay friends who spend three successive holiday weekends over the course of a summer together at a lake house in upstate New York. Transferring to Broadway after a successful debut at the Manhattan Theatre Club – with which McNally had a long association, and where he developed several of his important works – in a production directed by Joe Mantello, it was a pastoral, introspective, Chekhovian drama that offered deeply-drawn, non-stereotypical portrayals of gay characters confronting the various issues in their lives and their relationships; it was also a snapshot of life at the height of the AIDS crisis, exploring the ways in which the spectre of the disease was an unavoidable part of day-to-day life that encroached upon every aspect of gay experience. McNally’s script, bolstered by the richly human performances of an ensemble cast that included Nathan Lane, John Glover, John Benjamin Hickey, Anthony Heald, and Justin Kirk, countered the potential for moroseness with warmth and humor, and the play is now widely seen, alongside plays such as Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and Paul Rudnick’s “Jeffrey,” as one of the most important theatrical works of the AIDS era. A film version in 1997 reunited most of the original stage cast, though the notably straight Jason Alexander replaced Lane in the role of Buzz, the most outwardly flamboyant of the play’s eight gay characters.

It was in the nineties when McNally also established himself as an important figure in the musical genre, contributing the libretto for John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “The Rink” (a short-lived musical drama starring Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli) before going on to collaborate again with the legendary score composers on “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” their musical version of the Manuel Puig novel about the unlikely friendship that develops between a political revolutionary and a gay window dresser as they share a cell in a Mexican prison. The musical (which also starred Rivera) was a smash hit and won McNally his first Tony (Best Book for a Musical) in 1993.

In 1998, he won another Tony in the same category for the libretto of “Ragtime,” a widely-acclaimed musical adaptation of the E.L. Doctorow novel exploring racism against the backdrop of the turn of the 20th Century with a score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynne Ahrens.

His other two Tonys were for “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Master Class,” in 1995 and 1996, respectively.

In his later career, McNally courted controversy once again with “Corpus Christi,” a 1998 “passion play” that queered the biblical story of Jesus and the Apostles by reimagining them as gay men living in modern-day Texas. At the time, the production was met with protests (McNally himself received death threats), although reviewers found its content to be surprisingly uncontroversial, with Jason Zinoman of the New York Times calling it “earnest and reverent” and “more personal than political.”

Other notable dramatic works included “The Lisbon Traviata,” “It’s Only A Play,” “A Perfect Ganesh,” “The Stendahl Syndrome,” “Mothers and Sons,” and his last, 2018’s “Fire and Air.” He also wrote librettos for the musicals “The Full Monty,” “A Man of No Importance,” “Anastasia,” and “The Visit” (also with Kander and Ebb, and also starring Rivera), and for the operas “Dead Man Walking,” “Three Decembers,” and “Great Scott.”

He also wrote for television, including an Emmy-winning teleplay for the 1988 AIDS drama “Andre’s Mother.” For film, he wrote the screenplays for the film adaptations of his plays, “The Ritz,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” and “Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune” (retitled as simply “Frankie and Johnny”).

Besides his Tony and Emmy wins, he also earned three Drama Desk Awards, two Lucille Lortel Awards, and two Obies, as well as a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

In addition to his four competitive Tonys, he was awarded a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2019.

He was also the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Rockefeller Grant.

McNally is survived by his husband, Thomas Kirdahy, whom he wed in 2010 after a long relationship. Other survivors include a brother Peter McNally, and his wife Vicky McNally, along with their children and grandchildren; also listed among the survivors are Mother-in-Law Joan Kirdahy, sister/brother-in-laws Carol Kirdahy, Kevin Kirdahy, James Kirdahy, Kathleen Kirdahy Kay, and Neil Kirdahy.

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Welsh Olympic distance swimmer Dan Jervis comes Out

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming at the Olympics in Tokyo said he was inspired by Blackpool FC soccer player Jake Daniels

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Dan Jervis (Screenshot via British Swimming Livestream-archive)

NEATH, Talbot County Borough, Wales – In a recent interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, 26-year-old British Olympian distance swimmer Dan Jervis revealed that he had given considerable thought before announcing to the world that he is gay.

Jervis told the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast; “I was adjusting to everything else, just trying to fit in — until I thought, Just be you.”

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming for the British team at the Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan, told the BBC he was inspired by 17-year-old Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels, the professional soccer player who made history as only the second person in the past 30 years to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly in that sport in the United Kingdom.

The swimmer also told the BBC it was important to be seen as a role model as he readies to compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Jervis has previously competed winning a 1500m freestyle silver and bronze at the 2014 and 2018 Games in Glasgow, Scotland and Australia’s Gold Coast respectively.

“It took me 24 years to be who I am,” he said and added, “You know, we’re just before the Commonwealth Games and there are going to be kids and adults watching who will know that I’m like them, and that I’m proud of who I am.”

The Olympian reflected on his decision to announce he was gay: “For so long, I hated who I was – and you see it all the time, people who are dying over this. They hate themselves so much that they’re ending their lives.

“So if I can just be that someone people can look at and say, ‘yeah, they’re like me,’ then that’s good.”

Jervis then said he revealed his sexuality to a close friend when he was 24: “At that point, I’d never said the words out loud to myself.”

“I said to her: ‘I think I’m gay.’ I couldn’t even say: ‘I’m gay.’ I was basically punching the words out.

“She was quite shocked but great, and it was exactly the reaction I wanted. I’ve had all good reactions, and the way I’ve described it is I’m not going to change as a person.

“Everyone’s journey is different, but I think I’ve always known.

“It was something in the back of my mind, bugging me. I thought I was bisexual and had girlfriends that I loved – but it came to about three years ago where I knew I had to deal with this.

“It wasn’t affecting my swimming, but me as a human being. It sounds quite drastic, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Yeah, I was smiling, but there was something missing to make me properly happy.

“I’m still the Dan you’ve always known. You just know something else about me now.”

The Commonwealth Games open in Birmingham, UK on July 28.

Listen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0chqfhn

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Online Culture

FCC asks Apple & Google to remove TikTok app from their stores

Its pattern of surreptitious data practices that are documented show TikTok is non-compliant with app store policies and practises

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Graphic by Molly Butler for Media Matters

WASHINGTON – In a series of tweets Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr disclosed a letter sent to both Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet asking the two tech giants to remove TikTok from their app stores over his concerns that user data from the wildly popular social media platform is disclosed and used by bad actors in China.

In his letter dated June 24 to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Carr noted that because of its pattern of surreptitious data practices documented in reports and other sources, TikTok is non-compliant with the two companies’ app store policies and practises.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or meme. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” he said in the letter. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Carr stated that if the companiest do not remove TikTok from their app stores, they should provide statements to him by July 8.

The statements should explain “the basis for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies,” he said.

Carr was appointed by former President Trump in 2018 to a five-year term with the FCC.

In March of this year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a nationwide investigation into TikTok for promoting its social media platform to children and young adults while its use is associated with physical and mental health harms to youth.

The investigation will look into the harms using TikTok can cause to young users and what TikTok knew about those harms. The investigation focuses, among other things, on the techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including strategies or efforts to increase the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform.

TikTok’s computer algorithms pushing video content to users can promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide to young viewers. Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s alleged violations of children’s privacy and facilitation of human trafficking last month.

TikTok has said it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users. The company says it has tools in place, such as screen-time management, to help young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what they see, the Associated Press reported.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” the company said. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

TikTok has also had a problematic relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Recently The Washington Post confirmed that the ‘Libs of TikTok,’ an influential anti-LGBTQ account regularly targets LGBTQ individuals and their allies for harassment from its more than 640,000 Twitter followers while serving as a veritable wire service for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media to push anti-LGBTQ smears.

Libs of TikTok regularly targets individual teachers and their workplaces – releasing their personal information that includes school and individual names as well as social media accounts, and leading its audience to harass the schools on social media.

A year ago, an investigation by Media Matters found that TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. 

Numerous LGBTQ+ content creators have shared stories with the Blade about TikTok’s seemingly arbitrary algorithms that target otherwise benign content that is not listed outside of the platform’s polices and removed the content. In many cases restoring the posts after appeals or in the worst case scenarios banning the users.

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Online Culture

Facebook banning users who post that abortion pills can be mailed

When Facebook started removing these posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday

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Facebook/Meta Headquarters Menlo Park, Calif. (Blade photo by Brody Levesque)

MENLO PARK, Ca. – Social media giant corporation Meta’s Facebook platform has removed posts and has banned some users who wrote posts detailing that abortion pills can be mailed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Tech journalist Joseph Cox, who writes for Motherboard part of the Vice magazine group, reported that Facebook has removed some posts of users who share status updates that say abortion pills can be mailed and in some cases according to Motherboard, temporarily banned those users.

When exactly Facebook started removing these and similar posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday.

Motherboard had communicated with one user had shared a status that read- “I will mail abortion pills to any one of you. Just message me,” who then told the publication in an email:

“I posted it at 11 a.m. and was notified within a minute that it was removed. I was not notified until I tried to post later that I was banned for it.”

Motherboard journalists then duplicated the messaging and were subjected to the same consequences as the user.

The post was flagged within seconds as violating the site’s community standards, specifically the rules against buying, selling, or exchanging medical or non-medical drugs. The reporter was given the option to “disagree” with the decision or “agree” with it. After they chose “disagree,” the post was removed. 

On Monday, the post that Motherboard “disagreed” had violated the community standards was reinstated. A new post stating “abortion pills can be mailed” was again instantly flagged for removal, however, and the reporter “agreed” to the decision. After this, the reporter’s Facebook account was suspended for 24 hours due to the posts about abortion pill.

The platform’s policy clearly states “To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions, we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.”

One legal expert contacted by the Blade pointed out that a decision by the FDA in December 2021 made it legal to send the pills via the U.S. Postal Service.

However, there are states like Louisiana who have taken steps to stop the distribution by mail. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) into law a bill that will prohibit pregnant people from getting abortion pills via mail.

Axios reported that Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Friday, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, that states cannot ban mifepristone, a medication that is used to bring about an abortion, based on disagreement with the federal government on its safety and efficacy.

“In particular, the FDA has approved the use of the medication Mifepristone. States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” the Attorney General said.

As part of efforts to limit abortion access, some states have taken action to block the use of telehealth for abortion. Six states, ArizonaArkansasMissouriLouisianaTexas, and West Virginia, have passed laws specifically banning telehealth for abortion provision. In addition,14 other states have enacted laws that require the clinician providing a medication abortion to be physically present during the procedure, effectively prohibiting the use of telehealth to dispense medication for abortion remotely.

The question for social media platforms is what can be ‘policed’ especially in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision and the FDA deciding that patients to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who can prescribe abortion pills and send them to the patient by mail.

Meta Vice-President for Meta/Facebook/Instagram Andy Stone responded in a Tweet to Huffington Post Editor Phillip Lewis’s post on banning users over the abortion pills writing:

“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”

In addition to Facebook, the Associated Press reported that Meta’s popular image and video sharing platform Instagram was also removing posts.

The AP obtained a screenshot on Friday of one Instagram post from a woman who offered to purchase or forward abortion pills through the mail, minutes after the court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion. “DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” the post on Instagram read. Instagram took it down within moments.

An AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”  The post was removed within one minute. The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.” Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched.

The Los Angeles Blade has reached out to Meta/Facebook for a comment.

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