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For Heather Matarazzo, ‘Equal’ is still a cause worth fighting for

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Heather Matarazzo (R) with Shannon Purser in ‘Equal.’ (Photo courtesy HBO Max)

NEW YORK – The HBO Max docuseries, “Equal,” which debuts this week, is designed to shore up our education by profiling various pioneers in a movement for LGBTQ equality that might never have happened if not for their refusal to stay invisible. It’s “infotainment” in the best sense of that term, blending real-life archival footage with newly filmed “re-enactments” to deliver a concise overview of pre-Stonewall history.

That means in addition to giving us a queer history lesson, “Equal” also gives us a host of queer actors paying homage to their forebears by standing in for them in the newly filmed sequences. There’s a long list: Cheyenne Jackson and Anthony Rapp (Dale Jennings and Harry Hay), Jamie Clayton (Christine Jorgensen), Samira Wiley (Lorraine Hansberry), and Hailie Sahar of “Pose” (Sylvia Rivera) are some of the better known – but among these familiar faces is also someone who is something of an icon in her own right.

Heather Matarazzo’s breakthrough performance at 13 as middle school outcast Dawn Weiner in Todd Solondz’s 1995 counter-culture classic, “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” made her a touchstone for a whole generation of traumatized teenagers. Later, she won a new flock of fans as BFF Lilly in “The Princess Diaries” movies, as well. 

Now, she is appearing in “Equal” as Phyllis Lyon – who with partner Del Martin (played by Shannon Purser) co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955. The pair went on to become the first LGBTQ couple married in San Francisco in 2008.

 Playing Lyon seems a natural fit for Matarazzo, given her own history as a vocal advocate for feminist and LGBTQ social justice issues, which were still very much on her mind as she spoke with the Blade last week about her participation in “Equal.”

Our conversation is below.

BLADE: How did you feel about playing Phyllis? Was there a sense of personal connection?


HEATHER MATARAZZO: It’s such an interesting question, right? Because history is history is history and so on, and so it goes. I got to feel safe enough to come out thanks to those who came before me, and put their bodies and their reputations on the line, in order for me to say, “Yes, I’m a lesbian,” and be able to say that publicly. I mean, really, I came out because I clearly didn’t have any other choice. It was so spontaneous, and it was so honest, and it was in the moment – and yet, within that, I get to look at those that came before me, in one way or another, and I get to see how their bravery allows me to be brave, too.

BLADE: And now you get to be that for others.


MATARAZZO: I do my best to receive any praise that I’m given, especially by those who say that my coming out helped enable them to come out – especially people that are younger than me, that knew me from “Princess Diaries” and whatnot, and then were like, “Oh my god, Lilly’s a LESBIAN?” I receive it as best as I can, because at the end of the day – and I say this in the most grounded of ways – we really, truly are all lights for each other.

BLADE: Like links in a chain.


MATARAZZO: Yeah, exactly. It’s a collective.

BLADE: What was your takeaway from playing Phyllis?


MATARAZZO: I think both she and Del were wonderful women who really stuck their necks out in order to build a safe community of lesbians. I was just talking about this with my wife the other night, about pre-Stonewall, and the risks that were continually taken in order for us, as members of the LGBTQ community, to be able to organize and meet with each other, in order to have a semblance of “normalcy.”

That’s what I love about Phyllis and Del, their ability, seemingly, to exhibit defiant joy. There’s a lot of joy that I see in their interviews together, about their story, how they met, the sneaking around… it almost becomes like a “Great Muppet Caper.” You know? Where it’s “We’re gonna do whatever it is we have to do to get to wherever it is we desire to be.” And I’m grateful that they both got to have that full experience before they passed, unlike so many that didn’t get it, or haven’t gotten it yet.

BLADE: Do you think it’s important to tell their stories for a generation that maybe doesn’t have it as hard?


MATARAZZO: The older I’ve gotten, on one hand it doesn’t seem like being out is that big of a deal anymore – and yet, even as I say that, we are looking at the fucking clown show that is this Supreme Court nomination process.

Let’s be clear, the United States is abysmal in its human rights practices. That’s not something that went away when we got marriage equality. I mean, look at all of the Black trans women that have been murdered here, this year alone? And I don’t think that we can talk about sexual orientation without also talking about race, without also talking about gender – there are so many different intersections, because when you talk about one, you can’t NOT talk about the other.

We all desire to be seen, and held, in our humanity. And we shouldn’t have to spend so much time fighting for our humanity and our fucking right to exist. Every single person deserves to feel safe, and not fear for their lives simply based upon one’s sexual orientation, or the color of one’s skin, or one’s religion, or one’s gender identity, or one’s – there are so many things. So, for me, it’s all so connected, it’s a microcosmic experience of something much larger. 

BLADE: That ties in with your first-hand experience with sexism in Hollywood. You spoke up in support of Rose Byrne when she helped bring #MeToo and the Harvey Weinstein scandal into the spotlight. What would you say about that subject now?


MATARAZZO: I’m glad Weinstein’s in jail. I hope he stays there, and I hope he rots. 

Here’s the thing, we still have a long way to go. Because again, MeToo was pretty much cis-gender, hetero white ladies speaking out about it, and so, you know, it’s synonymous now with cis-gender, hetero fucking white ladies – when the movement was founded by fucking Tarana Burke. And when you have 63 percent of white women voting for a fucking person who literally said, “I grab women by their pussies?” I mean, I think that white women just need to shut the fuck up, and finally listen to black women, for once.

Right now, the truth is that we are living in precarious times – we always have been, to one degree or another, depending on where you are in the disparity that is this American caste system.

BLADE: Do you hope that the current resurgence of the equality movement will help bring about change in those who oppose it?


MATARAZZO: Sure. Or, we could just leave them by the wayside.

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Television

Ellen signs off after 19 seasons

In her final monologue DeGeneres reflected on the journey across the years then took a moment to dance through the audience with Twitch

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Screenshot/YouTube

BURBANK – The lights went dark forever at the Warner Brothers Stage 1 complex on the lot at Warner Brothers Studio, home to the Ellen show, as comedian Ellen DeGeneres ended her daytime talk show after a 19 season run Thursday.

In a highly charged emotional hour, DeGeneres paid tribute to her staff, executive producers and a global audience of loyal viewers. Highlighting the end run of the show DeGeneres brought on guest Jennifer Aniston, the actress having been the comedian’s very first guest on the first show.

In her final monologue DeGeneres reflected on the journey across the years and she then took a moment to dance through the audience with her ‘DJ’ Twitch. During the course of the hour she discussed the progress that had been made since the series premiered in 2003, noting that she “couldn’t say ‘gay’ on the show” when it started or make a reference to her wife, Portia de Rossi, because same-sex marriage wasn’t legal.

“Now I say ‘wife’ all the time,” she said.  Noting that there was resistance to the show and that few gave it a chance of surviving, DeGeneres promised that she wouldn’t be gone for long. “Today is not the end of a relationship, it’s more of a little break,” she said. “You can see other talk shows now.”

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Celebrity News

Crown Prosecution Service UK charges Kevin Spacey with sexual assault

The CPS told the BBC it could not confirm or deny whether or not Spacey will need to be extradited to the UK

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Screenshot/Sky News UK

LONDON – The Crown Prosecution Service announced Thursday that actor Kevin Spacey has been charged with five counts including three complaints relating to sexual abuse, which is alleged to have taken place in London, and one in Gloucestershire during the time period between 2005 and 2013.

Crown prosecutors told media outlets that the decision to move forward was based on a lengthy investigation by the Metropolitan Police Specialist Crime Directorate at Scotland Yard. The Directorate is a national police agency which handles specialist crime investigations such as e-crime, sex crimes (paedophile unit) or kidnappings.

In its reporting Thursday, the BBC outlined the cases against the actor.

The first two charges relate to alleged sexual assaults on a man, now in his 40s, in London in March 2005, while a second alleged victim, a man now in his 30s, is claimed to have been assaulted in London in August 2008.

The serious sexual offence charge – causing a person to engage in penetrative sexual activity without consent – also relates to the second alleged victim.

The third complainant relates to an alleged assault on a man who is now in his 30s in Gloucestershire in April 2013.

Rosemary Ainslie, head of the CPS Special Crime Division, told the BBC that following the Met’s review of evidence the CPS had “authorised criminal charges against Kevin Spacey, 62, for four counts of sexual assault against three men”.

She added: “The Crown Prosecution Service reminds all concerned that criminal proceedings against Mr Spacey are active and that he has the right to a fair trial.”

The CPS told the BBC it could not confirm or deny whether or not Spacey will need to be extradited to the UK.

Spacey’s alleged sexual assaults occurred while he was living in London and employed as the renowned Old Vic Theatre’s artistic director in London between 2004 and 2015.

Spacey has been embroiled publicly and later in court over sexual assault allegations since October of 2017 when Out actor Anthony Rapp told the world that the Oscar-winning actor had tried to “seduced” him when Rapp was 14 years old. 

Rumours about Spacey’s behaviour had circulated in film and theatre circles for a considerable length of time previous to Rapp’s allegation.

Spacey’s response was immediate. He apologized and came out. “I’m beyond horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years,” Spacey wrote on Twitter.

“This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life. I know that there are stories out there about me, and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been so protective of my own privacy,” Spacey said, adding “I now chose to live as a gay man.”

In July of 2019, Cape and Island District Attorney Michael O’Keefe announced that a charge against Spacey which accused the actor of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old boy in a Nantucket, Mass. bar had been dropped.

In court documents, Cape and Island District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said the charge was dropped “due to an unavailability of the complaining witness.”

News anchor Heather Unruh accused Spacey of getting her son, William Little, drunk at the Club Car, a bar in Nantucket, Mass., and groping him in July 2016 when Little was 18 years old.

In October of 2019, the office of then Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced that prosecutors have declined to move forward in a sexual battery case against the actor because the accuser had died.

That case, one of several involving accusations of sexual misconduct and assault by the Oscar winning actor, allegedly occurred after an October 2016 incident. A masseur had claimed that Spacey had inappropriately touched him in a sexual manor at a private home in Malibu as he was giving Spacey a massage.

A statement released by the LADA’s office notes that the masseur’s allegations against could not be proven without his participation in court proceedings. The alleged victim had also civil suit pending in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against Spacey for the same incident.

Kevin Spacey charged with sexual assault:

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Notables

Equality Florida’s Nadine Smith named to Time’s Top 100 list for 2022

“In the fight for equality in Florida, there has perhaps been no greater advocate for LGBTQ people than Nadine Smith”

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Courtesy of Equality Florida

ST. PETERSBURG, FL. – Time magazine released its annual 100 most influential people list and this year one of the honorees was Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith. In the biographical sketch accompanying Smith’s listing, Time writer Kristen Arnett noted “in the fight for equality in Florida, there has perhaps been no greater advocate for LGBTQ people than Nadine Smith.”

“I am deeply honored to be included in the TIME100,” said Smith, a Black, queer woman. “This recognizes decades of work not only by me, but by the dedicated team of volunteers, staff and supporters I’ve had the privilege to work with at Equality Florida.  Our work is far from done as Florida, once again, stands at the center of the fight against extremism and hate.  We are bearing the brunt of a governor willing to sacrifice the safety of children and destroy our most basic liberties in his desperate bid to be President. But this is not simply Florida’s fight. The wave of anti-LGBTQ, racist, freedom-destroying bills sweeping the country calls each of us to fight for our rights and, indeed, our democracy.”

The list, now in its nineteenth year, recognizes the impact, innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals. 

Smith comes from a long line of activists and barrier breakers. Her grandparents helped form the Southern Tenant Farmers Union to fight for the rights of sharecroppers. While in college, Smith co-founded IGLYO, the world’s largest LGBTQ youth and student organization. She co-chaired the 1993 March on Washington that drew a million marchers and she was part of the first Oval Office meeting between a sitting President and LGBTQ leaders. In the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, Smith and her team coordinated a national response including raising millions in direct resources for survivors and families of the 49 killed. 

Smith’s recognition comes as Florida has taken center stage in the right wing, anti-freedom agenda aimed at erasing LGBTQ people from classrooms, propagandizing curriculum, censoring history, banning books, and putting politicians in control of personal medical decisions.

“Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ presidential ambitions have fueled bills like Don’t Say Gay, the Stop WOKE Act, a 15-week abortion ban, and dangerous national rhetoric that seeks to dehumanize LGBTQ people in service to the most extreme segment of his base,” Equality Florida stated in a press release Monday.

The 2022 TIME100, and its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, with related tributes appear in the June 6/June 13 double issue of TIME, available on newsstands on Friday, May 27, and online now at time.com/time100.

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