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What Do a Playgirl Model, Miss New York and the Village People Have in Common?

2 Feb

Ronnie Kroell (photo by Melissa June Daniels)

Tonight, I was glad to be on the host committee for the birthday party of my supermodel, playgirl coverboy friend, Ronnie Kroell. Now…Talk About Equality is not here to chat about a birthday party – but when that birthday party is attended by Miss New York, Claire Buffie – the first Miss America contestant to choose LGBT equality as her platform, Village Person Randy Jones, Friends Project Founder David Raleigh and the whole thing benefits the Ali Forney Center for Homeless LGBT Youth – you can bet Talk About Equality had reason to go.

I had a wonderful conversation with Carl Siciliano, the Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center. He’s had a long year with lots of ups and downs. For several weeks, the center was in real trouble when Mayor Bloomberg announced enormous cuts to their budget, leaving LGBT homeless kids in the streets. Shortly after Bloomberg’s plans were announced, the Mayor released an “It Gets Better” video. Siciliano released a scathing response calling the Mayor out for his hypocritical message claiming New York is a wonderful place for LGBT kids to move to, while at the same time slashing the budget for the kids who move here without a home. The funds ended up being restored by Speaker Christine Quinn and the City Council and in the meantime, a light has been cast on this important issue.

Ronnie Kroell, In Between Men and In Between Woman, Michelle Clunie

The party was also a reason to watch the new online series, In Between Men featuring TAE friend, Nick Mathews. The series is a sort of “Sex in the City” for white gay men. Sure sure…we already have that…and it’s called “Sex in the City,” but, according to the creator of the show, Quincy Morris, he was looking to bring characters to life that he related to. He wanted to bring to life some multi-dimensional gay characters who were more like the gay men he knew. Though a male actor of color would certainly be welcome in the hit online series – it was great to see the cast show up for this wonderful evening.

We hope to see more attention being paid to our homeless youth this year. As I discussed with Carl, it’s wonderful to teach LGBT kids that It Gets Better, but more needs to be done to reach out to educate parents. So many kids are kicked out of their homes upon coming out to their parents. Maybe that’s the next step – maybe we need an “It Gets Better: PFLAG Edition” to educate the parents and families of kids that are coming out.

A quick shout-out to MS Apothecary, who was selling products to benefit the Ali Forney Center – I’m excited to light my soy candle!

All photos copyright Jamie McGonnigal, TalkAboutEquality.com

As delicious as they look, they are actually "Bath bombs" by MS Apothecary

Miss New York, Claire Buffie

Birthday Boy Ronnie Kroell

Randy Jones and In Between Men's Nick Mathews

Actor and Birthday Boyfriend, Taylor Proffitt

Ali Forney Center Executive Director, Carl Siciliano

The In Between Men and Village Person Randy Jones

Happy Birthday Ronnie!

City Funds Restored to LGBT Homeless Youth Center

6 Jan

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (Photo by Jamie McGonnigal, TalkAboutEquality.com)

With many thanks to the dozens of organizations in NYC and around the country who have helped, in addition to Lew Fidler, Speaker Christine Quinn and the New York City Council, it has been announced that the $35 million in cuts made by Mayor Bloomberg and his administration have been restored.

These cuts included major cuts amounting to a majority of the operating budget for homeless youth organizations such as the Ali Forney Center, which caters specifically to LGBT homeless youth.In recent weeks, there has been an outpouring of very vocal support for the Ali Forney Center, including videos from Alan Cumming and Friends as well as the Talk About Equality-sponsored A Very Mary Holiday, presented by Broadway Speaks OUT!

Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center (Photo by Jamie McGonnigal, TalkAboutEquality.com)

This news comes just a few days after Mayor Bloomberg released what many saw as a hypocritical video message to LGBT teens telling them that “it gets better.”

These cuts would absolutely not have been restored were it not for the hundreds who have stood up and told their story. So, congratulations to all of you who have stood up and spoken up about who you are. This is a victory for all of us.

Please read the following statement from The Ali Forney Center:

“This morning City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Finance Committee Chair Domenic M. Recchia Jr. announced that the Council and Administration have reached a budgetary agreement on the Fiscal Year 2011 financial plan, that fully restores the spending reductions to homeless youth programs proposed by Mayor Bloomberg in the November financial plan.

This is wonderful news for the homeless youth of our City, particularly for homeless LGBT youth who would be disproportionately hurt by the proposed cuts.

I am profoundly grateful to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Council Assistant Majority Leader and Youth Services Committee Chair Lewis Fidler for their strong and dedicated leadership in seeking to have these cuts restored. Thousands of homeless youth have been protected by their compassionate leadership.

I am also deeply grateful to many members of the broader LGBT community who stood up and demanded that our most vulnerable youth be protected from these cuts. Many, many people called, wrote, and e-
mailed the Mayor’s office and expressed their concern and outrage. I do not think that the Mayor, in proposing the cuts, anticipated the depth of the commitment of the LGBT Community to protecting our youth who have been thrown out to the streets, and I am deeply moved by the caring that our Community revealed in fighting the cuts. I want to especially thank David Mixner, Mike Lavers and Joe Jervis for their
efforts in bringing the harmfulness of the cuts to the attention of the LGBT Community.

Finally, I want to thank the homeless youth of NYC for their courage and caring for one another in standing up against the cuts. Two weeks ago dozens of youth joined advocates and providers and Council members on the steps of City Hall speaking out against the cuts. It is not easy for young people to put  a public spotlight on the suffering and hardship they endure, and I am more proud than I can say that they
were willing to do so to protect each other. I particularly want to thank Ali Forney residents Jaden Peterkin and Raciel Castillo for their efforts. They each spoke out at every hearing and on the City
Hall steps, and each wrote op-ed pieces, courageously offering their own experience of homelessness and family rejection to help others understand the hardships endured by homeless LGBT youth.

Today is a great day for the homeless LGBT youth of our City, and for the LGBT community. The cuts to street outreach and drop-in centers would have been catastrophic. But the fight is not truly over until
there are safe beds for the 3,800 youth who are without shelter every night in our city.”

Purpose.com Goes ALL OUT for Equality

8 Dec

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a launch party for one of the most exciting campaigns I’ve seen for LGBT Equality.

We have spent years in this country fighting hard for our equality and to see how far we’ve come when we take a step back and gain a little perspective, it’s astounding. All Out, a new campaign brought to us by the progressively-minded Purpose.com, promises to give us just that – perspective.

All Out has the potential to be one of the most important international LGBT campaigns we have. From their offices:

In 2011 and beyond All Out will be rolling out a variety of creative campaigns and interventions to push the cultural needle towards greater LGBT equality and self-determination, as well as hard-hitting campaigns that will challenge human rights abuses against LGBT communities and individuals around the world. The more support we can build up now, the more wind we’ll have behind our sails when All Out starts running campaigns in 2011.

76 countries make it a crime to be gay or transgender, and in 10, you can still be sentenced to death or life in prison. In many others—including the United States—the ability to work, raise a family and love who you choose free from the threat of violence or state sanctioned discrimination is still a distant reality. History is slowly moving in the direction of greater equality. Let’s work together to push that change forward, faster.

Please watch this incredible launch video they’ve put together and visit their site and facebook page to start getting updates on their great work and find out how you can get involved!

Enjoy some photos from last week’s All Out Launch Party at Purpose.com’s new offices!

Jeremy Heimans

Jeremy Heimans, CEO & Co-Founder and Andre Banks of Purpose.com

Brian Ellner and Jeremy Heimans

Joseph Huff-Hannon and Wesley Adams of Purpose.com

All photos copyright Jamie McGonnigal, TalkAboutEquality.com

Transformer Gallery: Not Tonight, Boehner

4 Dec

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC is currently presenting a groundbreaking LGBT arts exhibit, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.  The Gallery describes the exhibit as “the first major exhibition to examine the influence of gay and lesbian artists in creating modern American portraiture.” As we’ve written, right-wing critics have attacked the exhibit and manufactured a controversy over a video installation by David Wojnarowicz (who died from AIDS-related illness in 1992). The video, created in 1987, is titled “A Fire in My Belly,” made in honor of Peter Hujar, an artist-colleague and lover of Wojnarowicz who had died of AIDS complications in 1987.

After Rep. John Boehner, Rep. Eric Cantor, Glenn Beck, and William Donohue misrepresented the work and whipped up a smear campaign against the installation, the Smithsonian backed off and removed the video.

Now one brave local gallery has taken a stand against censorship and began showing the video in its public space just up the road almost immediately after the video was removed.

The Transformer Gallery has been leading the charge against the blatant mischaracterization of the work and standing up for the integrity of Art, freedom of expression, and the need for dialog about culturally sensitive issues like this.

After displaying the video the gallery owners and management organized an artistic response to the censorship, leading a march and silent protest on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery.

As a response to the censorship by the Smithsonian of Wojnarowicz’swork, and in honor of World AIDS Day & Day With(out) Art, the many alternative art spaces, visual arts organizations, artists, and activists around the world that have paved the path for freedom of expression & the existence of experimental arts venues like Transformer, we feel it is our job to champion all artists’ creative expression without constraints,and to continue the important dialogue Wojnarowicz’s work generates about aggression, hunger, community, love, loss, as well as religion” states Victoria Reis, co-Founder, Executive & Artistic Director of Transformer

The Gallery plans to continue to show the full video, with permission from the estate of the artist.  In addition, they will further dialog around the work by organizing a large-scale public presentation and a panel discussion on the work.

This is an amazing example of the arts community fighting back against anti-intellectual bullying from lawmakers and fear mongering pundits. The turnout was great for such a spontaneous demonstration and it was wonderful to see the larger progressive and artistic community rallying around a LGBT issue.  The Transformer Gallery has taken an immediate and aggressive stance against ignorance and injustice.  They are doing fantastic work to highlight the issue and further dialog in the absence of such integrity from the Smithsonian.

See what people like John Boehner don’t understand is that censorship can’t silence our community anymore.  The video may not be in the Portrait Gallery but more people have seen this work as a direct result of their intervention, and the message has gone further than even the curators of the exhibit could have foreseen. In the age of the internet, and with savvy and courageous arts organizations like Transformer, they can’t stop creative expression and arrogantly bully us into silence.




The Ghosts of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Moving Forward

15 Nov

In a historic protest at the White House moments ago, 13 people were arrested after chaining themselves to the White House fence.  Three generations of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell activists participated in this monumental action.  Present among the demonstrators were several men and women who’ve been arrested in similar demonstrations over the decades, including the first famous Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell protest in the 90’s, and this year’s subsequent White House DADT protests.

Former Servicemembers who were arrested in April during protests at the same location, spoke to Talk About Equality about why they were returning:

“I feel we have come to a critical juncture where we need leadership from Obama and Senator Reid to get rid of this horrible policy.  I am here today because being the first Marine discharged under this policy I feel we need to send a signal to the White House and the Senate to finally do the right thing for LGBT servicemembers and pass the repeal in the Defense Authorization Bill.” Says Justin Elzie, the first Marine discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to Talk About Equality.

Here is the full list of demonstrators who were arrested today:

Lt. Dan Choi, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen,Cpl. Evelyn Thomas, and Cadet Mara Boyd.  All four were arrested in front of the White house in April protesting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL.

Former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom, who was discharged in 1976 and was the first LGBT servicemember reinstated to her position in the U.S. Military, by a U.S. Federal District Court. On July 30th, 1993, Miriam and 26 other protesters were arrested at the White House fence for protesting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Former U.S. Marine Corps Sergean, Justin Elzie who, in 1993, became the first Marine ever investigated and discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

Former Army Arabic Linguist Ian Finkenbinder, who was discharged from the Army in December 2004.

U.S. Army Veteran and Repeal Advocate Rob Smith, who was deployed to both Iraq and Kuwait before being honorably discharged after deciding not to re-enlist in the U.S. Army due to the added pressure of living under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

Father Geoff Farrow, a Catholic priest who spoke out against the church’s official stance in support of California’s Proposition 8, removing the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

Scott Wooledge, a New York-based LGBT civil rights advocate and blogger who has written extensively on the movement to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at Daily Kos and Pam’s House Blend.

Michael Bedwell, long-time LGBT civil rights advocate, close friend of Leonard Matlovich, and administrator of the site www.leonardmatlovich.com

Dan Fotou, an Organizer with GetEqual.

Civil rights activist, writer and speaker David Mixner told LGBTPOV upon the 17th Anniversary of the first DADT White House arrests:

“There was no question among those of us arrested that DADT was a horrible policy.  Am extremely proud of doing the right thing then and extremely proud of those doing the right thing today.”

This action culminates one day of advocacy for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal.  The big push needs to come from all of us in the remaining few weeks of this Congressional calendar.  Don’t let these 13 have sacrificed in vain.

Building and Crossing Bridges

26 Sep

Today I had the unique opportunity to take part in Marriage Equality New York’s 7th Annual Wedding March. Around 2000 LGBT people, their families and allies rallied downtown and then marched with a rainbow of solid-colored umbrellas over the Brooklyn Bridge. We were joined by The Real Housewives of New York, and Claire Buffie – Miss New York, 2010, who is the first Miss America contestant to run on a platform of LGBT equality.

I was reminded of former Miss America Kate Shindle, who spoke at a marriage equality rally right after Proposition 8 passed. Kate is a straight, Republican Broadway performer who is for equality for all people. When she spoke at City Hall back in 2008, she reminded us that we can’t count people out. Our allies come in all shapes and sizes and we never know where we are going to find someone sympathetic to our cause – so keep building those bridges by talking about equality – you may be surprised what you find.

Enjoy some of our photos from today’s events!