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Activist & college student Cameron Kasky is queer & very much here

This past Monday the Columbia uni student and activist announced via Twitter and Instagram that he is queer

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Cameron Kasky (Photo Credit: Instagram account of Cameron Kasky)

NEW YORK – He’s 21 now and a student at Columbia University in New York City, but the path he now travels had a beginning that was extraordinary and tragic and could be defined as a journey of self discovery.

On Valentine’s Day in 2018 Cameron Kasky had just left his high school drama class when the campus exploded in violence as a lone gunman committed acts of atrocity in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

By the time order had been restored to the campus, 17 people were dead and another 17 had been left grievously wounded. Students were in a state of shock, but as Kasky later told investigative reporter Emily Witt for the New Yorker about his immediate reaction after the event; “Can’t sleep. Thinking about so many things. So angry that I’m not scared or nervous anymore […] I’m just angry. I just want people to understand what happened and understand that doing nothing will lead to nothing. Who’d have thought that concept was so difficult to grasp?”

Instead of letting the grief and anger overtake them, Kasky along with fellow Parkland survivors David Hogg, X González, Sarah Chadwick, Ryan Deitsch and 15 other students took action. They formed an activist group, Never Again MSD (#NeverAgain) not only to protest the pandemic of mass shootings and gun violence- they also targeted the politically powerful National Rifle Association, (NRA) and its sycophantic politicians.

In a nationally televised CNN town hall, Kasky mixed it up with NRA endorsed Republican Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.  Kasky queried the senator on whether he would continue receiving money from the NRA;

“Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?”  Rubio responded saying, “I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda.”

Kasky repeatedly pressed Rubio about whether he would continue receiving NRA money. The senator deflected although offered he would consider changes regarding some gun restrictions.

Appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres daytime television chat show ‘Ellen’ only days after the February 14 mass shooting, Kasky alongside X González and Jaclyn Corin discussed their advocacy and their national rally called March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, on March 24, 2018.

Their planned event which spawned approximately 880 sibling events across the United States had an estimated participation of an estimated 2 million people marching against gun violence.

In Washington D.C. it was estimated the crowd was roughly 800,000, triple the size of the crowd of roughly 250,000 that had gathered for the inaugural of former President Donald Trump the previous January of 2017.

Kasky and his fellow activists pressed hard to keep the issue of gun violence at the forefront of the nation’s dinner table conversation and as a result they made enemies. In the days after the March for Our Lives, CNN reported:

To hear the National Rifle Association tell it, Saturday’s March for Our Lives was orchestrated by billionaires and Hollywood to push an anti-gun agenda. On Facebook Saturday morning, the NRA posted a short membership-drive video along with a brief message.

Stand and Fight for our Kids’ Safety by Joining NRA,” it said. “Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous. Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.

Kasky and his fellow activists with the support of Brandon J. Wolf, a survivor of the horrific Pulse Nightclub massacre, and other gun reform advocates, pushed for state legislation that in March of 2018, barely a month after that horrible day, the Florida Legislature passed.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act raises the minimum age for buying firearms to 21, establishes waiting periods and background checks, provides a program for the arming of some teachers and the hiring of school police, bans bump stocks, and bars potentially violent or mentally unhealthy people arrested under certain laws from possessing guns.

As Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott signed the bill he remarked, “To the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, you made your voices heard. You didn’t let up and you fought until there was change.”

In the months that followed Parkland, there were significant challenges for Kasky who left the organization he helped found that Fall of 2018. He had a short stint of hosting a podcast but then he mainly focused his political activism efforts through his social media platform of Twitter where he has an active following of nearly 400,000.

He also battled some mental health challenges which he then advocated in a very public discussion on his social media platforms for people to be unafraid to seek help and counsel.

He also did attend the 2019 State of the Union Address of former President Trump, at the invitation of California Democratic U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell, which he posted to his Instagram account. Kasky had publicly castigated Trump for flipping on gun reform and addressing the NRA convention not long after Parkland in May of 2018.

For a student who once described himself as the ‘class clown’ and that ‘theatre kid,’ Kasky has remained politically engaged and focused on his support of progressive liberal politics. He is an activist for gun control and other issues that impact his generation echoing his words to CNN anchor Anderson Cooper not long after the Parkland massacre, “my generation won’t stand for this.”

Photo via Twitter

Kasky sees himself unashamedly in a leftist space and advocates from that position. This past Monday though, the Columbia uni student and activist stepped into a different space as he announced via Twitter and Instagram that he is queer.

He later made fun of his coming out but then went on to lend advice to other young people who may be considering coming out.

Kasky’s joking around led Brandon J. Wolf, now a spokesperson for LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Florida to snark back on Twitter saying:

For Kasky there was also the poignant note of thanks he expressed to those who had traveled the path prior:

“I extend my infinite gratitude to those of you who have supported and uplifted me, and I am dedicated to sharing the joy and light I find on my journey with everybody who needs it,” he wrote. “To those of you who are also struggling to find an identity that you find authentic, take your time. Look inwards and indulge in your beauty and light. You’ll find so much to love, so much to be proud of.”

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Secretary Buttigieg’s son back home after spending Halloween in hospital

“After 3 weeks in and out of hospitals, 125 miles in an ambulance, and a terrifying week on a ventilator, Gus is home”

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, husband Chasten and son Gus (Photo Credit: Chasten Buttigieg)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten Buttigieg, shared that their son Joseph Augustus, referred to as Gus, is home from the hospital after spending weeks in and out of the hospital. 

“After 3 weeks in and out of hospitals, 125 miles in an ambulance, and a terrifying week on a ventilator, Gus is home, smiling, and doing great!” Chasten Buttigieg tweeted. “We’re so relieved, thankful, and excited for him and Penelope to take DC by storm! Thank you so much for all of the love and prayers.”

He also thanked “the countless medical professionals who helped Gus (and his dads and sister) along the way. We are so grateful for your tenderness and care.”

The Buttigieg’s revealed last week that Gus had to spend Halloween in the hospital after falling ill. 

“As you can see, we’re spending this Halloween in the hospital,” Chasten wrote on Twitter at the time. “Gus has been having a rough go of it but we’re headed in the right direction. We’re so thankful for all of the love and support shown to our family these last few months.”

The couple has still not revealed why their son was hospitalized. 

In September, the couple revealed that they welcomed two babies, Joseph August and Penelope Rose, to their family.

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Secretary Buttigieg spends Halloween in hospital with ill son

The couple did not reveal why their son was hospitalized

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg & husband Chasten via Twitter

WASHINGTON — U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten Buttigieg spent Halloween in the hospital after their son Joseph August, referred to as Gus, fell ill. 

“As you can see, we’re spending this Halloween in the hospital,” Chasten wrote on Twitter. “Gus has been having a rough go of it but we’re headed in the right direction. We’re so thankful for all of the love and support shown to our family these last few months.”

The couple did not reveal why their son was hospitalized.

The Buttigieg’s revealed in September that they welcomed two babies, Joseph August and Penelope Rose, to their family.

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I Am a Queer Filmmaker: Can I tell you my story?

I think the best way to eradicate the anti-LGBTQ hatred that persists around the world is to show the breadth of queer people’s humanity

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James Patrick Nelson (Courtesy of the author)

By James Patrick Nelson | BROOKLYN – Our community has made enormous progress in recent years. We are living in a time of unprecedented queer visibility, which empowers us to keep moving forward, and to heal the scars that linger from our recent past.

“Be Will instead of Jack.”

Screenshot of Eric McCormack (Will) and Sean Hayes (Jack) in “Will and Grace”

When I was 14-years-old, “Will and Grace” was a cultural phenomenon — the first queer-led show to attract a world-wide audience. The night I came out to my father, he told me, “Be Will instead of Jack”. At the time, I dismissed this as a harmless laugh-line.

But looking back, it reveals how limited representation fuels internalized homophobia. Apart from being openly femme-shaming, the comment made it sound like there were only two “types” of gay people — flaming or passing.

High school photo of me, shortly after coming out.

And I knew I didn’t fit into either category. I knew my identity was more nuanced and complex than the archetypes on TV. But at that age, having never seen myself reflected on screen, I bought into the idea that there were only a handful of ways to be gay. And so, I spent a lot of my youth struggling to fit in, always feeling like I needed to change something about my body or my voice or my fashion, if I wanted to be part of the club.

But then 2020 offered me a lot of introspection, and I realized I don’t have to fit into a mold. All of the fabulous nuances of my identity are all part of my queerness. And I don’t have to change myself to be part of a community. When I make art and tell stories, I get to build communities, founded on love and authenticity.

Will and Jack are not the only options. There are countless ways to be gay!

Representation Matters

The question remains, how do queer people learn to cherish the remarkable nuances of our identities if we rarely see nuanced, authentic portraits of ourselves on screen?

Cover Image of the Advocate article linked below

Of course, there’s a big difference between nuance and authenticity. Scores of actors have been nominated for Oscars for giving nuanced performances of queer characters. In 2018, the majority of actors who won an Oscar were playing a queer character.

But in these widely distributed films… the actors have always been straight.

No one is saying that an actor has to be exactly like his character in every way, or that talent is a secondary concern. The debate is about access and equality! While queer characters appear with increasing frequency, queer actors are so rarely given the spotlight, despite the authenticity they would bring.

Wikipedia chart listing leading actresses who’ve been nominated for Oscars for queer roles.

When queer stories are populated with straight actors, and geared toward the perceived sensibilities of a straight audience, they often perpetuate unconscious stereotypes.

Queer characters in leading roles are usually in turmoil about their sexuality. And if they have a love interest, they’re always hetero-presenting and meet an unattainable standard of beauty.

Straight people get how painful it is to live in a culture that tells us we have to look a certain way to be loved. Imagine that compounded with the idea that you have to pass as straight to be worthy of love in the first place.

After all, “Be Will instead of Jack” could also be interpreted as “Be more like the one who’s played by a straight actor.”

This pervasive heterosexism means the rest of us never see a healthy or affirming reflection of ourselves. So what’s to be done?

We have to tell our own stories

In recent years, American television has generally done a better job than American cinema at showcasing LGBTQ+ people in leading roles.

For Years to Come” creative references.

Some of my favorites are “Work in Progress” on Showtime, “Please Like Me” on Hulu, and “Feel Good” on Netflix, all examples of LGBTQ+ artists creating and starring in semi-autobiographical stories — a huge inspiration.

I’ve been a working professional actor my entire life, I’ve been screenwriting for about six years, and I’ve recently started producing my own work. I spent 2020 writing and developing a number of film/TV projects, all focused on queer protagonists and majority-queer ensembles.

Recent queer-centric work for stage and film (Clockwise: Waking Up, Speak What We Feel, For Years to Come, Immortal Longings, and Without Touch).

I realized recently that both of the produced feature films I’ve written were sparked by perspectives rooted in my queer-identity. But in both cases, I let the queerness get buried, and the films suffered as a result. From now on, I’m determined to lean into my queerness as a catalyst for my work.

Queer filmmakers don’t have to wait to be picked. We don’t need anyone’s permission. We need to start telling our own stories — here’s one of mine.

When my mother was dying, I found out my father was a porn director.


For Years to Come” poster art. Photo by Evan Smith.

In 2010, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She received in-home hospice care, and I went home to be with her. I knew it was the last time I’d ever see her, so we had a lot of candid conversations. I sat on the bed and asked her about her childhood, her dreams, her regrets, the men she dated before my father — everything!

She freely admitted she spent a lot of her life complaining about the small stuff, like she had all the time in the world. But as I sat with her on the bed, she was more peaceful than I’d ever seen her. She didn’t want to waste any more time. She was thankful for the sunshine and the breeze and the smiles on our faces.

So of course, I adopted this same spirit of frankness with my father. He and I were driving to Costco one day, and I was asking him questions — and he casually mentioned that back in the day, he was a highly paid writer-director of porn!

My head spun around. This was the last thing I expected from the humble man who I remembered painting the fence, watering the lawn, and driving me to school. I was flabbergasted by these two new realities — My mother is dying, and my father’s a porn director!

For Years to Come” visual references. See citations above.

When a parent dies, your narrative about them changes. If you idolized them, they become vulnerable. If you were angry at them, their faults become easy to forgive. Either way, they become a very different person. In this case, my narrative about both my parents got turned upside down at the same time!

After years of development — and a pandemic, which heightened my urgency to make art about grief and healing — I’m finally telling my story in an episodic dramedy called “For Years to Come,” the story of a young gay man who falls in love with his dead mother’s hospice nurse, while struggling to reconcile with his elderly father, who’s secretly a porn director.

Left: Director/Editor Micah Stuart; Center: Me with Co-Producer Jay DeYonker; Right: DP Dennis Zanatta

The Queerness is Not the Conflict

Now, you might be wondering, “What does any of that have to do with being gay?” And the answer is… nothing, really. And that’s exactly the point. What I want to see are stories in which queer people are central characters, but their queerness is not the central conflict.

For Years to Come” poster art. Original photo by Taylor Noel.

Cis-het audiences can relate to stories about losing a parent or finding love. If they can go beyond passive sympathy (watching queer people struggle with “queer problems”), and lean into active empathy (seeing themselves in a queer protagonist)… that feels like genuine progress toward equality.

Meanwhile, queer audiences are hungry for these kind of stories! We want to see ourselves reflected without a filter and without an apology. We’re tired of sitting on the margins. We are the stars of our own lives, and our lives are about more than just the struggles of coming out. We are richly complex, multi-faceted human beings, with endlessly diverse and distinct experiences, and we deserve to be seen, for all that we are.

I think the best way to eradicate the anti-LGBTQ hatred that persists around the world is to show the breadth of queer people’s humanity, in full-throated, heartfelt stories about all that makes us unique, and all we have in common.

For Years to Come” is a vibrant and irreverent story about people redefining themselves and opening their hearts to each other. My creative team and I go into production this winter, and we’re beyond excited to share our story with you! Visit this link to learn more.

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James Patrick Nelson is a Queer writer-actor-poet-filmmaker loving life in NYC.

www.james-patrick-nelson.com

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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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