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On pandemic pause, Cox & Piers pivot to a ‘Better’ place

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The mirror has four faces—in front of it, that is, as two maskless BFFs breeze through an ask-me-anything exchange with a worldwide audience, while gazing into a reflective surface as they apply the makeup that transforms them into NYC-based drag queens Jackie Cox and Chelsea Piers.

Jackie Cox (right) and Chelsea Piers. (Image courtesy of It Gets Better Project)

Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, the frequently-tested-for-COVID-19 bubblemates participated in last month’s  It Gets Better 2020 Global Summit, by helming a session in which makeup’s ability to alter and empower provided the metaphorical foundation for a frank, shame-free discussion of mental health issues within context of LGBTQ+ identity and COVID-19-caused isolation.

More on that momentarily—but first, a little about the Summit’s sponsor, in the form an accessory no drag queen is never fully dressed without: A damn good backstory.

The It Gets Better Project was founded in 2010 by Terry Miller and sex-positive advice columnist/activist Dan Savage—a couple whose prior collaborations included the 1999 adoption of a child and a 2005 Canadian marriage. Conceived as a counterargument to suicide among teens struggling with their sexual identity, the “It Gets Better” slogan struck a chord with its target audience by projecting nothing for the future beyond a basic, measurable improvement over their present state of being. The Project reinforced that message by offering YouTube videos featuring well-adjusted LGBTQ+ adults. The testimonials grew in number and variety, fast-tracking “It Gets Better” into popular use as an under promising, over delivering perseverance tactic.

A decade later, the It Gets Better Project supports a Global Affiliate Network spanning 17 countries on four continents, each working to uplift, empower, and connect their local LGBTQ+ youth. Their annual Global Summit is a way for the nonprofit’s volunteers and friends to make personal connections and apply the successes of other Affiliates to their own work back home.

But at a unique point in time when one small sneeze can turn a group trust exercise into a superspreader event, the 2020 Summit took place entirely online. That was a first for the Summit, which further distinguished itself with a never-before offer that gave the general public free access to six events, including December 9’s “Drag Talk.”

Clocking in at just over an hour, the segment has “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (RPDR) Season 12 contestant Cox and her frequent on stage co-writer/co-star Piers putting their own spin on the It Gets Better brand of refreshing candor.

Broadcasting from a workroom complete with flattering backlighting crafted by Jackie (“If it were me, we’d be sitting on milk crates,” deadpanned Chelsea), the gals answered chat room questions from fans by referencing everything from their childhood to how they met to their decade-long “overnight success” career trajectory. As steeped in the past as the duo often found themselves, the conversation was never fully free of that long shadow cast by COVID-19.

“A lot of this experience,” said Chelsea, of the shelter-in-place protocol that dominated most of 2020, “has been relearning things through a different lens.” Working out at the gym with a trainer, she noted, has been replaced by solo sessions with a borrowed kettlebell—and in-person weekly appointments with a therapist turned into virtual sessions.

“What I find most empowering and therapeutic,” said Chelsea, “is talking candidly, to let young queer people know that vulnerability is actually a really powerful thing. I’ve found a lot of clarity and strength in being transparent with my own struggles with depression and anxiety.”

For Jackie, life in lockdown quickly became a matter of finding a workable answer to the question, “ ‘How do I keep going, knowing that drag is something we traditionally do in places where lots of people are packed together?’ You have to find ways to reconfigure the things that bring you joy.” After months of digital content creation challenges, noted Jackie, “We’ve all learned a lot about ourselves and what we can do.”

Commenting on the advent of an unprecedented worldwide shutdown at the exact time she would have been touring the world as a TPDR alum, Jackie invoked wisdom by way of “What Not to Wear.”

“What they tell people who are struggling with fashion,” she noted, “is to dress for the body you have, not the body you want. Make the most of whatever your current circumstance is, because you actually have no other choice… There’s a certain amount of surrender that’s required in all of this.”

To see “Drag Talk” in its entirety, click here.

What follows are excerpts from an interview conducted by this publication just before the event. 

The Los Angeles Blade: What made you want to work with the organization and support its message?

Chelsea Piers: I think that it’s now more important than ever—especially considering the state of our world and the state of politics in this country—that we empower queer youth, marginalized youth who feel that they might not have a fighting chance at a better future. I love that IGB gives queer people a safe space to feel empowered, to do great things with their future

Jackie Cox: It Gets Better is such a simple idea, but it’s powerful because it really reminds kids of the future. You know, when you’re between the ages of 13 and 17, there’s a lot of really intense feelings—and as you come into adolescence and adulthood, for queer youth to feel alone in that experience?

Our entire our entire society is built around, still, this idea of a heteronormative kind of existence and certainly high school is no exception. So to give kids that safe space? It’s [the It Gets Better Project] more than just knowing gay people exist. I think most kids today know that, but to know that they’re not alone in some of their really unique struggles? That is so important.

Blade:  Can both of you imagine if you had grown up with “RuPaul’s Drag Race?”

Jackie: Well, I’ll start on a light note. Certainly my makeup would be better. Oh, my goodness. We have so much access to amazing queer artistry. You know, when Chelsea and I started doing drag 10 years ago, it wasn’t like that. And on a more serious note, I think it takes visibility for people to see themselves represented and then believe in themselves… Our generation is the first generation to survive into real adulthood, coming after the terror that was AIDS and HIV in the ’80s and ’90s. We were a little bit alone. You know, there just weren’t enough [gay male] adults kind of “there.” And now that we’re in our 30s, we can be there for young people. 

Chelsea: I think if I had seen positive, multifaceted representations of queer people in media, a lot of the shame that we internalize as queer people—we wouldn’t see that much of in our generation. I mean, I had the Spice Girls, and they were pretty much drag queens, but that’s another story… But for queer youth to see themselves in rich, layered roles, to see themselves in politics, like Marti Gould Cummings, or to see a queer Iranian person like Jackie on “Drag Race.” That‘s very encouraging, because it doesn’t demonize us. It doesn’t make us seem like caricatures. The more empathy we can lend to all subcultures within the queer community, the more empathy we can create in the general consciousness.

Jackie: And I think that’s going to keep evolving as we move foreword. Look how much the discourse has changed in the last, not 10 years, but five years, around gender identity, and how important that is to validate, as part of the ongoing conversation around mental health. So our job is to keep that going. And to see kids who are about to come out as trans or non-binary at a young age? The power of that is just incredible.

To learn more about It Gets Better, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/itgetsbetter…

https://www.instagram.com/itgetsbetter

http://itgetsbetterproject.tumblr.com/

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Movies

Celebrate Judy Garland’s centennial by watching her movies

The dazzling force of nature made 34 films

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‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ is one of Judy Garland’s iconic film roles.

When the world ends, aficionados will still be watching their favorite Judy Garland movies.

Queer icon Garland was born 100 years ago this year (on June 10, 1922).

Everyone knows how tragic much of Garland’s life was. MGM feeding her uppers and downers when she was a child. Bad luck with husbands. Getting fired from movies because of her addiction issues. Her death at age 47.

You can’t deny that Garland’s life was often a mess. Yet, it’s too easy to encase Garland into a box of victimhood.

Contrary to the misperception of her as a sad figure, Garland wasn’t a morbid person. She was a fabulous comedian and clown, John Fricke, author of “The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic,” told the Blade in 2019. Lucille Ball said Garland was the funniest woman in Hollywood, Fricke said. “‘She made me look like a mortician,’ Lucy said,” he added.

In the midst of the sentimentality and morbidity shrouding her legacy, you can readily forget Garland’s prodigious talent and productivity.

Garland was a consummate, multi-faceted, out-of-this-world talented performer. She (deservedly) received more awards than most performers would even dream of: two Grammy Awards for her album “Judy at Carnegie Hall,” a special Tony for her long-running concert at the Palace Theatre and a special Academy Juvenile Award. Garland was nominated for an Emmy for her TV series “The Judy Garland Show” and for Best Supporting Oscar for her performance in “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Garland, a dazzling, force of nature on screen, made 34 films. There’s no better way to celebrate Garland’s centennial than to watch her movies.

Garland was renowned for connecting so intimately with audiences when she sang. She’s remembered for her legendary musicals — from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Meet Me in St. Louis” to “A Star is Born.”

But if you watch, or re-watch, her movies, you’ll see that Garland wasn’t just a singer who sang songs, and sometimes danced, in production numbers in movie musicals.

Garland was a talented actor. She wasn’t appearing on screen as herself – Judy Garland singing to her fans.

Whether she’s tearing at your heartstrings as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” performing brilliant physical comedy with Gene Kelly in the “The Pirate,” breaking your heart with “The Man that Got Away” in “A Star is Born” or unrecognizable as Irene Hoffmann in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Garland is acting. Her performance etches these characters onto your DNA.

Picking Garland’s best movies is like deciding which five of your 20 puppies should go on an outing. But, if you’re cast away on a desert island, take these Garland movies with you:

“Meet Me in St. Louis”: This luminous 1944 musical, directed by Vincente Minnelli, has it all: Garland in top form, the Trolley song, Margaret O’Brien, along with a stellar cast, and the best Christmas song ever.

“The Clock”: This 1945 movie, also directed by Minnelli, showcases Garland as a gifted dramatic actress. Shot in stunning black-and-white near the end of World-War II, the movie is the story, set in New York City, of a young woman (Garland) and a soldier on leave (Robert Walker) who fall in love.

“Easter Parade”: Sure, this 1948 picture, directed by Charles Walters, is thought of as a light musical by some. But, who cares? It’s in Technicolor, and Judy’s in peak form – dancing with Fred Astaire.

“A Star is Born”: If you don’t know the story of this 1954 film, directed by George Cukor, starring Garland and James Mason, you’re not a member of queer nation. There have been other versions of “A Star is Born,” some quite good, but this is still the best. Garland should have gotten an Oscar for this one.

“Judgment at Nuremberg”: This 1961 film, directed by Stanley Kramer, will never be a date night movie. It’s long (3 hours, 6 minutes), grim (about Nazi crimes) and Garland is only in it for about seven minutes. But the story is gripping and Garland’s performance is mesmerizing. When you watch her as Irene, you won’t be thinking that’s Judy Garland.

Happy centennial, Judy! 

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Books

New ACT UP book is part history, part memoir

‘Boy with the Bullhorn’ chronicles hard work, grief, anger

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(Book cover image courtesy of Fordham University Press)

‘Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York’ 
By Ron Goldberg
c.2022/ Fordham University Press
$36.95/512 pages

The sign above your head shows what’s going on inside.

Last night, you made the sign with a slogan, firm words, a poke to authority – and now you carry it high, yelling, marching, demanding that someone pay attention. Now. Urgently. As in the new book, “Boy with the Bullhorn” by Ron Goldberg, change is a-coming.

He’d never done anything like it before.

But how could he not get involved? Ron Goldberg had read something about ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and he heard they were holding a rally near his workplace. It was 1987, he’d never participated in anything like that before, but whispers were everywhere. He and his friends were “living under a pervasive cloud of dread.”

He “was twenty-eight years old… scared, angry, and more than a little freaked out” about AIDS, he says.

Couldn’t he at least go down and hold a sign?

That first rally led Goldberg to attend a meeting, which, like most, as he came to realize, were raucous and loud and “electric.” Because he was “living fully ‘out and proud’,” and because he realized that this was an issue “worth fighting for,” he became even more involved with ACT UP by attending larger rallies and helping with organizing and getting his fellow activists fired up. He observed as women became involved in ACT UP, too. Monday night meetings became, for Goldberg, “the most exciting place in town.”

There, he learned how politics mixed with activism, and why ACT UP tangled with the Reagan administration’s leaders. He puffed with more than just a little ownership, as other branches of ACT UP began spreading around the country. He learned from ACT UP’s founding members and he “discovered hidden talents” of his own by helping.

On his years in ACT UP, Goldberg says, “There was hard work, grief, and anger, surely, but there was also great joy.” He was “a witness. And so, I began to write.”

Let’s be honest: “Boy with the Bullhorn” is basically a history book, with a little memoir inside. Accent on the former, not so much on the latter.

Author Ron Goldberg says in his preface that Larry Kramer, who was one of ACT UP’s earliest leaders encouraged him to pull together a timeline for the organization and this book is the result of the task. It’s very detailed, in sequential order and, as one reads on, it’s quite repetitive, differing basically in location. It’s not exactly a curl-up-by-the-fire read.

Readers, however – and especially older ones who remember the AIDS crisis – won’t be able to stop scanning for Goldberg’s memories and tales of being a young man at a time when life was cautiously care-free. The memories – which also act as somewhat of a gut-wrenching collection of death-notices – are sweet, but also bittersweet.

This book is nowhere near a vacation kinda book but if you have patience, it’s worth looking twice. Take your time and you’ll get a lot from “Boy with the Bullhorn.” Rush, and it might just go over your head.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Sports

Trailblazing Scots pro soccer athlete comes Out and inspires others

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, saying “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders”

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Screenshot/YouTube

EDINBURGH – Two weeks after making headlines as the first-ever senior Scottish pro soccer player to come out as gay, Zander Murray is revealing the impact his courageous decision has had on at least one closeted player. Murray tweeted a message he received that shows the difference an athlete coming out can make. 

“I just wanted to tell you that you’ve been a massive inspiration for me to come out to teammates and family,” the anonymous player told Murray, according to the tweet. 

“As a young footballer I find it difficult to be myself as it is but being gay and keeping it secret was so challenging. It felt amazing when I told my teammates, they were super supportive.” 

Murray shared the message with a heart emoji and the words: “Makes it all worthwhile young man.”

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, the Gala Fairydean Rovers, on September 16, explaining “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders.”

Screenshot/YouTube

As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Jake Daniels of Blackpool came out as gay in May, the first U.K. male pro soccer player to come out in more than 30 years. Justin Fashanu was the first in Britain men’s soccer to come out back in 1990. Homophobic and racist media reports drove Fashanu to suicide eight years later. 

Reaction to Murray’s coming out last month has been “incredible,” he’s told reporters. One of those reaching out to congratulate him was Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley. The U.K. diver sent him a DM, Murray told a British interviewer. 

“He messaged me while I was on my way back from football training in a car with four boys. I had tears in my eyes seeing his direct message, and I messaged him back.

“I said, ‘Look I am in a car on the way back from football with four boys and I’ve got tears in my eyes and I don’t even care.’”

Prior to coming out, Murray had been “living in fear 24/7,” he told Sky Sports. “I can’t explain it. You’re hiding your phone in case you get messages from friends, constantly double-checking if you have a team night out, you’re cautious with what you’re saying.

“It’s very hard, especially for myself, I’m a character in that dressing room. I’m not quiet in that dressing room, I like to have the banter and to get stuck in, so very challenging.”

But Murray said he couldn’t have decided to come out “at a better time, at a better club.” So why now? He posted the answer on Instagram with several bullet points, including:

  • “Gay male footballers in the UK need role models. 
  • Majority are terrified to come out to friends/family/teammates (trust me a few have reached out already!).”

STV Weekend News Sunday, September 18, 2022 Zander Murray

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