Tag Archives: LGBT History

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

11 Oct

Me and my brothers, I’m on the far right. Note the bevel.

October 11th is National Coming Out Day.

Coming Out in this country is something which has changed a great deal since I was a kid. For many young people today (though certainly not all), the process has become far less traumatic. The act of telling a friend or family member that you’re gay is now frequently met with a “so?” and a “cool, let’s go to a gay bar!”

While the reactions for some have changed, the process, the act of summoning the courage to say it, has remained the same. For me and for thousands of others, we spent years hiding – pretending to be something we  weren’t.

I dated girls in high school. Well, I hung out with girls in high school. At one point, one girl who was a good size larger than me, pushed me up against the band room lockers one afternoon. “I want you to go out with me.” she said. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll say yes.” Ever the pacifist, I reluctantly agreed. Nothing ever happened outside of her falling asleep on my lap at a few parties (an action she had in common with my fiancé). Every moment with her was filled with fear. I wasn’t just afraid of getting my ass kicked, I was afraid of something happening where she would find out who I really was. And tell everyone about it.

My first beard, Beth. Note my happiness.

Another girl I dated – to this day, one of the sweetest people I know, I had one date with. We went to see Shadowlands in the movie theater. The event was plagued by 3 different delays due to a faulty projector, so the already painfully-long film was met with two 30-minute intermissions. As if things weren’t awkward enough.
A card I received a few days later, professing her “love” for me…yes, she said “I love you”, caused me to end that very quickly.

So when I finally came out to my best friend John (as bisexual of course, cuz that’s the natural progression of things, right?), I expected shock and surprise. I mean, who would expect a 19 year old who’d never seriously dated a girl and dreamed of moving to New York City and starring on Broadway to be gay? Instead John offered to host a coming out party for me at his dorm and offered zero of the shock and awe I hoped for.

And of course, coming home from my first rennaisance faire with my Dad. And he claimed not to know.

In all seriousness though, when a person comes out to you, act surprised – even if you’re not. We work really hard to hide who we are in many cases and if upon coming out we’re met with a “Oh, I know. We all know,” what you’re saying to that person is “We’ve known forever, you’re bad at hiding and we’ve been talking about you behind your back for years.” Not exactly the most supportive message to send to someone in easily the most vulnerable place they’ve ever been in.

So today, on National Coming Out Day, be yourself. If you’re gay, tell someone who didn’t know before – maybe even someone who probably doesn’t care. Tell your taxi driver, your banker, the guy holding the door open at 7-11. In honor of all those who can’t come out for fear they’ll be kicked out of their homes, lose their livelihood, or worse – come out to someone new. And have a gay day.

 

 

Did he see the stars over Laramie?

7 Oct

Every year, I re-post the same story about Matthew Shepard. It’s a brief reminder so that the people I know and love don’t forget who he is and the incredible moves forward we’ve made in memory of him.

Tonight, I ran across someone who re-blogged the story and they attached a video from YouTube. It’s a brief interview with Matthew which I’ve never seen. Actually, despite having worked with Matthew’s mom, Judy on several events I produced for their foundation, I’ve actually never seen video footage of Matt.

As brief as the footage is, it hit me hard. I’ve never seen Matt speaking, never heard his voice.

When the tragedy happened, I was starting my sophomore year in college. I wasn’t out to anyone. I remember watching the stories on a TV in my college campus center and so desperately wanting to tell someone how upset, how scared I was.

Let’s be honest, I was doing musicals and I’d never really dated any girls, so it was no surprise when I finally did come out but for me, I was still terrified someone might find out – especially after what happened to Matt. I know I wasn’t alone in that and that this is the reason for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. When something like this happens, it terrorizes more than just the victim of the crime.

Tonight, 14 years ago, Matt was laying in a field, tied to a fence, beaten and bloodied, staring at the stars over the Wyoming sky as he lost consciousness. I like to think that there was a moment before he closed his eyes, that the pain went away and he was able see the stars and know he was loved.

14 years ago today

6 Oct

On October 7, 1998, Aaron Kreifels was riding his bike through a field in Wyoming. He wasn’t expecting that day to be different from any other beautiful sunny afternoon in the vast plains surrounding Laramie, but that day would change many lives.

Aaron spotted what he initially thought was a scarecrow next to a fence. Then he noticed a glisten of blood. The sun sparkled on what he barely recognized as a face. What Aaron had discovered was the 22 year-old Matthew Shepard, clinging to life.

Most of you know what happened next. Matthew held on for five more days and as his parents held his hand and prayed, Matthew slipped away quietly on October 12th, leaving in his wake a new movement for equality.

The outcries for justice and for greater protections were immediate and resonating.

Since then, Matthew’s mother Judy has made it her personal mission to protect all young LGBT people from Matthew’s horrific fate. In founding the Matthew Shepard Foundation, she has created safe spaces in and outside of schools for kids, and worked with parents to ensure their children learn to erase hate from their lives.

But overwhelmingly what you saw in 1998 was a community ready to act, ready to change something. And Matthew’s story was the catalyst for that. Many of you have seen or read the Moises Kaufman play, The Laramie Project – Matthew’s story as told through interviews of those who were living in Laramie at the time – some of his friends and some who just happened to be riding a bike through the plains of Wyoming that day. If you think of nothing else today, please consider the importance of telling your story – how your story can change the world around you.

This young boy, unbeknownst to him, has changed the world with his.

Oscar Wilde Arrested!

6 Apr

On this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde was arrested after losing libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry.

Wilde was in a long-term relationship with the son of the Marquess for nearly four years. This made the Marquess none too happy and she outed him as a homosexual. Since homosexuality was illegal at the time, Wilde sued the Marquess for libel. Since there was much evidence supporting the Marquess’ accusations, Wilde was found guilty and sentenced to two years of hard labor.

At this point, Wilde was already a well-known writer, having written brilliant and popular plays including The Importance of Being Ernest and his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Additionally, Wilde was known among society for his flamboyant style and wit.

Following his release, Wilde fled to Paris where he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol about his experiences in prison.

In honor of Oscar Wilde, here are some of his most memorable quotes.

“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”

“Arguments are to be avoided: they are always vulgar and often convincing.”

“By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”

“I am not young enough to know everything.”

“I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”

“I have nothing to declare except my genius.”

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

“n America the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience.”

“It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But… it is better to be good than to be ugly.”

“There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating – people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing.”

“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

and my personal favorite:

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Arrested for a New Year’s Kiss

31 Dec

Tonight, after you finish the countdown, commemorate the moment with a tribute to what happened December 31, 1966. At the stroke of midnight, make sure you kiss him “on the mouth for three to five seconds.”

The men and women at San Francisco’s Black Cat, a small gay bar, were awaiting that magical moment – that second where men and women around the world make that declaration of love to enter the new year. The seconds ticked to zero, and like millions of others, the couples at the Black Cat locked lips and welcomed 1967.

At that moment, at least eight plainclothes officers emerged from the crowd and began viciously beating and arresting the kissing couples. As these kisses constituted criminal “lewd conduct,” the arrests and the raid on the bar were seen as legal. The officers refused to identify themselves as the violence escalated and they began ripping holiday decorations from the walls. A bartender was dragged by the police over and across the bar through broken shards of glass. A customer had his head bashed into a jukebox and was then arrested.

Nearby, at the New Faces bar, similar attacks and arrests were occurring. When the female co-owner and  asked police for identification, she was mistaken for a man in drag (another arrestable offense) and pistol whipped so badly that she had to be hospitalized. Robert Haas, a 120-pound waiter came from the back of the bar to help. He was dragged into the street and beaten so severely that his jaw was broken and his spleen ruptured. He was then booked and charged for felony assault against a police officer before being taken to Los Angeles County General Hospital for treatment.

Six Black Cat kissers were tried and convicted of “lewd or dissolute conduct in a public place”, which consisted of male couples hugging and kissing. According to the police report, one couple had “kissed on the mouth for three to five seconds.”

Two years prior to the Stonewall Uprising, these events energized the LGBT community to begin fighting back. They raised money for a legal defense fund and successfully fought the police and the charges in the courts. Additionally, they were able to get some of the mainstream media on their side. The telling of our stories in a public forum helped turn the tide for San Francisco to finally elect someone like Harvey Milk to public office.

As we enter 2012, spend some time being grateful for the enormous strides we’ve made – specifically in 2011. But don’t forget that we have a long way to go. Keep telling your stories as we move ahead and keep talking about equality.

Happy New Year!

How NBC’s ‘Playboy Club’ is the gayest thing on TV and why you should watch it

26 Sep

Did you happen to catch NBC’s The Playboy Club last Monday? If not, you best make your way over to Hulu and check it out. Then turn it on tonight at 10pm to watch episode 2.

Laura Benanti

You might ask what a new TV series about the 1960s Playboy Club in Chicago may have to do with LGBT equality and why the hell we might be writing about it. In the interest of fair reporting, I should start by saying I’m horrifically biased as my best friend Laura Benanti plays bunny mother, Carol-Lynne and is fabulous! Laura is also one of the best LGBT allies a person could ask for, constantly using her notoriety to further the conversation about our rights. So there’s that. But having a Tony Award-Winning Broadway musical star as one of the leads, isn’t the only thing that makes Playboy Club one of the gayest shows on television.

While watching the pilot and following some characters who seem somewhat mysterious but very likable, we couldn’t help but notice (and tell you about) one of the final scenes of the first episode. The two characters who they try to make us believe are a young attractive married couple happen to be gay. And not only that – they are running a meeting of the Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society!

NBC's The Playboy Club features a scene at a Mattachine Society meeting

As we’ve written about here before, the Mattachine Society was among the first homophile organizations in the country and was founded in 1950. The characters in the Playboy Club (a lesbian Playboy Bunny and a gay man) are in what was referred to as a “lavender marriage.” This was a common occurrence and still exists today when someone feels the need to hide their sexuality by marrying someone of the opposite gender.

This marks the first reference we can think of where the Mattachine Society appears in the mainstream media.

Amber Heard

And if that weren’t enough of a reason for you to watch NBC’s The Playboy Club, please direct your attention to the gorgeous young Amber Heard – another one of the show’s stars. Amber came out as a lesbian last year. Amber, who has been seen in Zombieland and Pineapple Express came out in an interview to AfterEllen.com and had this to say:

“I think when I became aware of my role in the media, I had to ask myself an important question ‘Am I part of the problem?'” she told the the website. “And I think that when millions and millions of hard-working, tax paying Americans are denied their rights and denied their equality you have to ask yourself what are the factors that are an epidemic problem and that’s what this is.

“Injustice can never be stood for. It always must be fought against and I just was sick of it being a problem,” Heard said, adding, “I personally think that if you deny something or if you hide something you’re inadvertently admitting it’s wrong. I don’t feel like I’m wrong.”

The Playboy Club's Wes Ramsey

And as I was watching the pilot, I recognized the actor playing Max the bartender. I googled him and he’s the star of the gay mormon film, Latter Days in which he plays a hunky young gay man who falls in love with a Mormon missionary. He’s yet another reason to love this show.

And finally – if you have not already set your alarm for 10pm tonight, just today, the actor who is ironically playing the male half of the previously-mentioned lavender marriage has come out publicly. Sean Maher who also appeared in Fox’s Firefly, lives with his partner of 9 years, Paul and their two young children Sophia Rose, 4, and Liam Xavier, 14 months. He told Entertainment Weekly regarding being in the closet in Hollywood:

Sean Maher

“It was so exhausting, and I was so miserable,” Maher says. “I didn’t really have any life other than work and this façade I was putting on. So I kept my friends from college [where he was out] separate from my work friends, and that was very confusing. I just kept going on and on painting this picture of somebody I wasn’t. I didn’t have time for a personal relationship anyway. And you just don’t realize that it’s eating away at your soul.”

And when asked about his current job and what it’s like to be open about who he is at work, Maher said:

“Creatively, I feel so much more open and free, and I am so happy on The Playboy Club,” he says. “I think it’s because I’ve never been so open on set. All of the relationships that I have off-camera, I never would have allowed five years ago. It feels so liberating.”

We’d like to congratulate Sean, Amber, Wes and of course Laura for their success on The Playboy Club and we can’t wait to see where these storylines lead.

Not Like the Other Cavemen: Gay or Transgender Stone Ager Unearthed

6 Apr

He’s not like the other cavemen.

According to the Daily Mail, in the Czech Republic, a late Stone Age era skeleton was found in excellent condition. While that’s a pretty neat find on it’s own, archaeologists were a bit confused by the burial of this fine gentleman. Due to the importance of funerals at the time, experts believe that what they found was no coincidence.

Apparently, men were always buried lying on their right side, with their heads facing west, while women of the time were always buried on their left side with their heads facing east. This man was found buried on his left side, with his head facing west. While this aloneis enough to raise eyebrows, archaeologists also noted a difference in the artifacts buried with him.

Men of the time were normally buried with weapons, swords and such as well as portions of food and drink to accompany them to the other side, while women were primarily buried with household objects such as jugs or an egg-shaped pot at their feet. Our man was found not with weapons, but with household jugs and pots as women were. Lead researcher Kamila Remisova said

“Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual  orientation, homosexual or transvestite. What we see here does not add up to traditional Corded Ware cultural norms.”

Whether he was gay, bisexual, transgender or “third-gender” as another researcher put it, it sure is nice to know that not only have we been around a while, but there may have been Stone Age societies that may have recognized and honored us for who we were. I think he needs a name. If Lucy gets one, so does our boy. Thoughts?

Virginia Allows Transgender Freedom…382 Years Ago

23 Mar

The early seal of the Virginia Colony

Long before our country was struggling with the idea of gender-free bathrooms, actually – long before we were struggling with the idea of Independence from Great Britain, it seems that a Virginia magistrate was already getting things right.

382 years ago this week, In 1629, a man named Hall appeared before the court. He had not committed any crime. He was appearing before the court merely because he confused people. You see, at various times, Hall would appear as Thomas, dressed in men’s clothing. And at other times, he would appear as Thomasine, dressed in women’s garb. Virginian’s apparently couldn’t come to grips with a sexually ambiguous person.

Christened and raised as a girl, Hall was inspected by many because of the court case, and all insisted she was a man. The confusion arose because although Hall was raised female, in later years, he developed more masculine features, but still behaved effeminately, perhaps due to his upbringing. The problem presented itself in the first place because early Virginians lived in a society where clothes made the man…and the woman. People’s rank, social status, gender and job were all things that were communicated through their attire. If you wore an apron, you worked in the home, if you wore a certain kind of hat, you worked in the fields. It was a time when someone’s fluid gender expression could really confuse people.

The court was composed of the governor and council. When the judges heard from Hall, he refused to choose a gender. The court, the highest judicial authority in the colony, accepted Hall’s self- definition “a man and a woeman, that all the Inhabitants there may take notice thereof and that hee shall goe Clothed in mans apparell, only his head to bee attired in a Coyfe and Crosecloth with an Apron before him.”

TIME Magazine: Homosexuality “A Pernicious Sickness.”

19 Jan

TIME Magainze's cover from October 31, 1969

45 years ago this week, Time Magazine published a 2-page essay titled “The Homosexual in America.”

As you would imagine, the ideas presented in the article would now be considered arcane, but in order to understand the strides we have made as individuals and as a community – we must consider our history. We cannot move forward without understanding how far we have come in a relatively very-short period of time.

This article was written when my father was 20 years old and certainly these ideas were part of the norm opinion of Americans at that time.

In reading this essay, one must do one’s best in trying to understand society’s impressions of homosexuality at the time. We were hated, but we were starting to become visible. It’s clear in the article that we had become noticed – specifically within the artistic fields.

“Homosexuals are present in every walk of life, on any social level, often anxiously camouflaged; the camouflage will sometimes even include a wife and children, and psychoanalysts are busy treating wives who have suddenly discovered a husband’s homosexuality.”

The writer continues:

“On Broadway, it would be difficult to find a production without homosexuals playing important parts, either onstage or off. And in Hollywood, says Broadway Producer David Merrick, “you have to scrape them off the ceiling.” The notion that the arts are dominated by a kind of homosexual mafia—or “Homintern,” as it has been called—is sometimes exaggerated, particularly by spiteful failures looking for scapegoats. But in the theater, dance and music world, deviates are so widespread that they sometimes seem to be running a kind of closed shop. Art Critic Harold Rosenberg reports a “banding together of homosexual painters and their nonpainting auxiliaries.”

But what is most interesting is the fact that this was a time when we had begun standing up for our rights. The Mattachine Society, one of the first and certainly the most visible early gay rights groups is mentioned in the article:

“Such views are enthusiastically taken up by several so-called homophile groups, a relatively new phenomenon. Best known of these deviate lobbies is the Mattachine Society, which takes its name from the court jesters of the Middle Ages, who uttered social criticism from behind masks. In recent years, the Mattachines have been increasingly discarding their masks; the Washington branch has even put picket lines outside the White House to protest exclusion of known homosexuals from the civil service and the armed forces, has lately protested exclusion from the Poverty Program. Borrowing a device from the civil rights movement, homophiles have even issued lapel buttons bearing a small equality sign ( = ) on a lavender background”

Can’t help but notice the logo that seems to have been picked up by a certain modern-day gay rights group.

I can’t help escape the fact that our lives are being discussed as if they were something so foreign, but again, one must step into the shoes of someone living 55 years ago in a recently post-McCarthy America, where the rotting roots of fear and Puritanism were still running deep. This analysis is not unlike a National Geographic special, making it sound as though “the homosexual” was no more than an endangered Madagascan marsupial.

“Today in the U.S., there are “mixed” bars where all homosexuals, male and female, are persona grata; “cuff-linky” bars that cater to the college and junior-executive type; “swish” bars for the effeminates and “hair fairies” with their careful coiffures; “TV” bars, which cater not to television fans but to transvestites; “leather” bars for the tough-guy types with their fondness for chains and belts; San Francisco’s new “Topless Boys” discotheques, featuring bare-chested entertainers. San Francisco and Los Angeles are rivals for the distinction of being the capital of the gay world; the nod probably goes to San Francisco.”

The article continues on, discussing the fact that the UK was leaps and bounds ahead of the US when it came to legal protections for gays (some things never change), and goes on to solidify what seemed to be a consensus in America by quoting New York Supreme Court Justice Samuel Hofstadter in saying “to legalize homosexual conduct is an injustice to society’s future and an evasion of the problem.” But it’s not until the final paragraph that the writer lets his or her opinion be known (there is no easily-identifiable author of the essay in question):

“Even in purely nonreligious terms, homosexuality represents a misuse of the sexual faculty and, in the words of one Catholic educator, of “human construction.” It is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible, treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste—and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.”

It is this final paragraph which clearly defines the majority of our country’s views on who we were at the time. It is also perhaps the most troubling and dismissive. While much of the article certainly doesn’t condone or support gay people, it acknowledge the relevance of our existence, but in this final paragraph, the author releases the full arsenal of their hatred on a portion of our country’s population that was desperately in need of protection.

In reading this and other writing from this time, I have become more and more grateful that I live in the decade in which I live. We are alive now, at a time when our voices are being heard, when our friends and family have become increasingly supportive and embracing of who we are. We live in a time where our actions can create more and more change. I ask you all to go read the whole article and show it to others. Tell your friends and family just how far we have come and encourage them to make change in their own communities. It is this work that has brought us from then to now…and will ultimately introduce a time when our children will no longer fear what resides deep in their own hearts.

Note: The photo is actually from a later issue where the cover story dealt more specifically with the topic first related in the magazine in January, 1966.

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