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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.

NY Marriage Equality: How Did We Get There? A Photo Retrospective

26 Jun

I moved from New York to Washington DC three weeks ago to be with my boyfriend. It’s hard not to still consider New York City home after nearly 13 years living there, but after last night – my struggle to move on became even more difficult. For the past several years, I’ve proudly fought alongside some incredible activists, lobbyists, politicians and allies in the struggle for equality. And last night in New York, we finally won.

I thought of writing a diatribe about how much we have to learn from this victory – how for one of the first times in our movement’s history, we worked together to accomplish something. I could be heavy-handed and speak endlessly at the incredible work done by this partnership of several organizations all working towards the same thing. I could even go so far as to reflect on the fact that even though we have this beautiful victory at long last, that there are still 1,138 rights not afforded to legally married gay and lesbian couples and that we MUST focus on equality on the federal level. But instead, I decided to post some photos.

For the past 3+ years, I’ve discovered a love for photography and in my own way, I’ve been documenting some of the movement from my perspective as a New Yorker. So please enjoy these photos which reflect some of my favorite moments and people involved in the recent part of our struggle for equality. Please note: there are photos here from swanky cocktail parties, from pride marches, from rallies, protests, political speeches, phone banks and even a living room or two. New York Marriage Equality happened because of ALL of it, not some.

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All photos copyright Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com

Photos From a Big Gay Wedding

2 May

This weekend, it was my great honor to attend the wedding of our friends Jonathan Howard and Gregory Jones.

You might remember Jonathan and Gregory as the 2nd place winners in last year’s Crate & Barrel Ultimate Wedding contest. Not only did they enter the contest, but they sacrificed greatly to use their new-found celebrity status to expand the conversation on equality. Their work to promote our rights has been unending and I’m certain it will continue to be.

I’ve happily gotten to know Jonathan and Gregory over the past year and am personally looking forward to seeing them more after my move to DC in June and one thing I can say is that they are one of the most loving couples I’ve ever met. They compliment each other in wonderful and indescribable ways. They belong together and there’s no questioning it.

The wedding, held at a stunningly beautiful vineyard in Virginia (after being legally married in Washington D.C.), was filled with friends and family that could not have been happier than to see these two men together. The support, love and genuine emotion was unlike anything I’ve experienced at a wedding before. I’ve been to well over twenty weddings, but never one where the people being married had fought tooth and nail for the simple right to do so.

I was happy to share this day with so many friends who continue to work for our equality and it’s a day I won’t soon forget. Here are some photos from this extraordinary day. Congrats Jonathan & Gregory. We love you and we thank you.

You can see more at Equality Photography.

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.”

Prayers for Equality: An Interview with Sigourney Weaver

13 Feb

Ryan Kelley and Sigourney Weaver in "Prayers for Bobby"

In our struggle for equality, we are so often met with the question “Can people really change?” We so frequently run up against the wall of having a conversation with someone who seems unmoveable. And sometimes, the sad truth of the matter is that some people are indeed unmoveable. In the case of Mary Griffith, it wasn’t until her young gay son took his own life that she saw the repercussions of her ignorance.

Mary’s story “Prayers for Bobby” by Leroy Aarons, tells the story of life with her son, Bobby. And most importantly, it tells the story of how someone can change when presented with irrational fears of what they don’t understand. The book was made into a film last year by the Lifetime Network and it garnered several recognitions including Emmy nominations for Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Outstanding Leading Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, for Sigourney Weaver. The film won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Miniseries or TV Movie and Sigourney took home a Trevor Life Award from the Trevor Project for her portrayal of Mary Griffith.

On the occasion of the DVD release, Sigourney took a few moments to chat with Talk About Equality about the film, on playing Mary Griffith and how things can get better.

Talk About Equality is devoted to telling our stories and we believe that these stories are what will help us win our equality. In your travels, have you had the opportunity to see or hear about the impact your telling of Mary’s story has had on someone?

Mary Griffith

A young person had confided in her mother a few days before that she was gay and her mother had freaked out and taken her phone away and grounded her. Then they saw the movie together and the mother started the process of being able to talk about it with her child and it went from impossible to…let’s start this dialogue. And it was such an immediate heartening result from watching the movie together. It [the movie] takes you through people coming out with such disasterous results.

I thought my friends surely didn’t have that big a problem but the four people I talked to had such terrible stories to share with me. One of them, who goes out in drag quite a bit – his grandmother actually helps him get ready, but they’ve never discussed it..it defies logic..so there’s a real need for more stories like this to be told.

The transition Mary had after the loss of Bobby is one that so many kids fantasize will happen with their own intolerant parents. Speaking as a parent, what would you tell these intolerant parents and how did you personally handle Mary’s transition from intolerance to pride?

 

Sigourney Weaver and Ryan Kelley in a scene from "Prayers for Bobby"

The main thing to remember is that you love your child and we as parents must love and respect our children and listen to them. I think the one thing I feel was so tragic about what Mary did was not her belief or her ignorance, but that she refused to listen to Bobby. She just refused to, and that actually is what cost him his life. If she’d been able to listen, if she had been able to keep that door open, then things might have worked out differently.

As a parent we all have a tendency to want our children to lead very safe regular lives. Lives that are protected somehow- Its really a fallacy. Its not what any of us did and we have to be brave enough as parents to trust our children and encourage them to be who they are and all that they are. It takes such incredible courage to be gay in this society, in this world right now and your child really needs your support – really needs you to be there for him or her. It’s the most important way you can  express your love to your child – by listening and supporting.
You’re an actor who never shies away from a challenge when it comes to the roles you choose – from the big commercial hits like Avatar or Aliens to smaller releases like Prayers for Bobby or Snow Cake – and each of these characters I’m sure brought something new to your life. Did you have a “seeing the world with new eyes” moment with this character and movie?

Bobby Griffith

I definitely did. When I read the script I was a little horrified by Mary – I thought there was this huge chasm between myself and her. My immediate thought was she must live in this kind of place that’s far away from a metropolis-where there might be a big gay community. And then of course when I visited her – she’s about 30 minutes away from downtown San Francisco. I realized that we can be closed-minded wherever we are-even in a big city. I think I had used that geographical idea to sort of marginalize Mary and once I realized that she was in a city and I met her – mother to mother – I realized how much she loved Bobby, how much she loved all her children.

Her house is filled with things he made – his dolls, his drawings, his little attic room is just as he left it. We just met as mothers. She is so courageous and so honest and so candid about who she was then and what the repercussions had been of her prejudice and ignorance. And after a day with Mary, I felt-  ya know -that I get fearful for my daughter when I think of her doing things and I found the Mary in myself. We are parents who want to protect our children from things we don’t understand, things that frighten us.

I stopped being the East Coast judger. This can happen to any of us. It creeps up on us because we love our children and we think by loving them, we should keep them from being who they are. If I just say no, they can change their minds. The more you talk to Mary – she thought he was making a lifestyle choice. It took her forever to understand that this was part of God’s plan for Bobby. And that’s what the story is, of the terrible mistakes she made and that he was perfect as he was. She just couldn’t see it. She didn’t have any help or support until she reached out to PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). PFLAG saved her and made it possible for her to share her story with all the rest of us.

I’m sure you’ve heard about Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, designed to reach out to LGBT kids who may be contemplating suicide. In that vein, if you could, if things were different, is there anything you would want to say to Bobby Griffith?

Wow…I would say…Dear Bobby, give your mother [a chance...]…these are all things he did do because he loved his family so much. He tried so hard to give them the time to embrace him as who he was. So it’s very hard for me to know what to say to Bobby except – we’re going to do everything we can to make sure kids don’t feel that way.

It’s so hard to say ‘go live your life’ and eventually your family will come around and you will find out that you can be this magnificent gay man with so much to offer, with a community and with a family you can have – a family of your own and eventually your family will hopefully meet you halfway. And if not, you’ll have your own family and your own community and it will get better. What could be more painful than what you’re going through now? So just hang in there. And know there are people who love you and care about you and value you and you should be around, because you’re a terrific young person.

For Bobby, everything hinged on the approval of his family. I think there wasn’t The Trevor Project or all these other places where he could have maybe had more people reaching out to him. Where he could finally get the message. It was a message he felt he didn’t have the right to accept.  He couldn’t allow himself to love someone and be loved if his family didn’t love him first. That’s the lesson from this story really – it’s really hard for someone to love themselves without ever learning how to from their family.

Many thanks to Sigourney for taking the time out to speak with us about this incredible film.

If you have not seen it, please order the DVD by clicking here. And if you have seen it, go buy a few copies of the DVD to give to friends and family who might be able to use it.

Pop The Question: Maryland Marriage Equality

2 Feb

As some of you may know, I grew up in Maryland. Ive spent most of my life in and out of the Free State and in fact most of my friends and family live in the state still.

Having been active in the Washington, DC equality movement I was elated last year when marriage equality was finally won in the district. For myself, and a number of nearby native Marylanders, it was a bittersweet moment. Though I have marriage equality where I work and hang out, those rights evaporate on the short metro ride to where I sleep.

We now stand on the precipice of winning marriage equality in Maryland and a number of great organizations are working full steam to make this happen.

Equality Maryland is taking the lead in lobbying state legislators to pass SB 116, the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act”, partnering with Freedom To Marry and others to build a grassroots movement for Maryland marriage equality. Freedom to Marry Political Director, Sean Eldridge (who recently announced his engagement to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes) did an interview with Swirl Radio outlining the state of marriage equality in the country. In it, he outlines legal and judicial strategies as well as upcoming legislative fights.

Our friends at Friendfactor have launched a click to call campaign called “Pop The Question“. The campaign empowers gay Marylanders to ask their straight friends to advocate on their behalf. Allied friends can then call Maryland legislators and voice their support for marriage equality, and their gay friends, through the passage of SB 116. Pop the Question makes it quick and simple for supporters to take this meaningful grassroots action with just a few clicks.

“Gay friends are much more important to most Marylanders than issues or ideology,” says Friendfactor
Founder Brian Elliot. “Our straight friends want to show support, but they don’t always know how or
when. Pop the Question solves those problems.”

So Friends, are you ready to make a few calls? This vote is coming up very soon and we need all hands on deck for this final push. Use the Friendfactor tool, check out the Equality Maryland wesbite for Volunteer opportunities, and take a few minutes out of your day for Marriage Equality in the Free State.

Maybe soon that short metro ride wont take me out of range of my civil rights.

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!

UPDATE: Long Island Principal Refuses GSA, Called People “Faggot” as a Kid, So It’s OK.

20 Jan

Valley Stream South High School

Today at 3pm at Valley Stream South High School in Long Island, students and their supporters will be holding a rally to protest the decision by the High School’s principal to deny their request for a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).

According to press notes, students from the school have been trying to form a GSA since October 2010. They have gone through the proper channels nd had numerous discussions with Principal Maureen Henry. After sharing their experiences of being bullied at the high school and being called “faggot,” Henry replied that she too called people “faggots” when she was young and didn’t mean anything bad by it. Using that as her excuse as to why the students didn’t need a GSA.

Senior Joseph Kofler, one of the organizers of today’s rally said, ““this school really needs a GSA and not because it’s a ‘gay club’. In fact it’s the opposite of our goals, which is to bring about understanding and acceptance for all of our students. And I want to feel safe coming to school everyday and this club will help toward reaching these goals” said the 17-year old.

The other organizer of today’s rally is Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY). “There are over 90 GSA’s that already exist in Long Island schools and by allowing a GSA for students to feel safer is not something revolutionary – in fact, the school is way behind the times and these brave students should be commended for trying to make a difference” said David Kilmnick, CEO of LIGALY.

On the High School’s website, Henry states:

“South High School is committed to a school environment that promotes personal growth, good citizenship and service to others.  South’s motto “small acts of kindness make a big difference” motivates all of the South community to share their time, talent and energy to provide service to others both here at South and in our community.”

Today’s rally will take place at 3:15pm outside the entrance of Valley Stream South High School, 135 Jedwood Place, Valley Stream, NY.

h/t: LezGetReal

UPDATE: According to the Long Island Herald, interim school Superintendent Dr. Richard Marsh announced today that the club has been approved and their first meeting is set for today.

While the club will have no funding or paid adviser for the remainder of this year (as budgets had already been set for the year), it will be part of the budget for following years.

The rally, which is still occurring after school today will hopefully continue to shed light on the bigoted earlier statement from Principal Henry.

A Gay and Lesbian Museum: There’s A Space For US

12 Jan

After a decade of searching, the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society has found a San Francisco location for the first ever LGBT History Museum in the United States. The Museum opening marks the 25th Anniversary of the Society and will feature two opening exhibits: Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating GLBT History,” curated by historians Gerard Koskovich, Don Romesburg and Amy Sueyoshi; and in the front gallery, “Great Collections of the GLBT Historical Society Archives.”

We have written several times about the importance of history and about preserving and reflecting on our past. The opening of this museum is an important moment in our movement.  If we don’t do the hard work of educating younger generations on past struggles, victories, and personal stories, we allow someone else to revise our history.  We have our own stories to tell, remember, and cherish:

“Telling our stories transforms our lives and our society and takes us out of the margins,” said Don Romesburg, a curator and assistant professor of Sonoma State University‘s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. “The museum is at the heart of that project.”

This is a great step for our community.

Miss America Goes Gay(er)

5 Jan

There are some (perhaps stereotypical) things which I feel would perhaps be nowhere without the support and/or participation of the LGBT Community. Among them are:

Musicals – I challenge you to put up a production of The Sound of Music with no Max, no Rolf, no Captain Von Trapp and no stage manager.

Figure Skating – WWBBD? (What Would Brian Boitano Do?)

Fashion - Project Runway is not all that far from Ru Paul’s Drag Race, let’s be honest.

And of course…

The Miss America Pageant. We make the gowns, teach the contestants how to walk, design the sets, choreograph the opening numbers and in some cases, they even let us judge (so long as we promise to play nice *cough* Perez Hilton *cough*). Sometimes we’re even mentioned ONstage.

Kate Shindle being crowned Miss America 1998

Back in 1998, the AIDS crisis took center stage at the pageant when outspoken equality advocate, Kate Shindle took home the crown. She took a chance in speaking up for those living with and dying from HIV/AIDS, and happily it has not been a cause she has ever  let go of. From 2003-2007, I was happy to found and produce the World AIDS Day Concerts in New York City with her and her passion for this cause is unlike any I’ve seen. Since then, Kate has been seen all over Broadway and is currently starring in Wonderland - a new Broadway musical based on Alice in Wonderland.

Now, in 2011, there’s a new crown-hopeful who is making waves. Miss New York, our very own Claire Buffie has chosen as her platform, LGBT Equality. This is the first time in 90 years that a contestant is standing up for the equal rights of a community that has helped make the Miss America Pageant what it is today.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet Claire on a few occasions

Miss New York 2010, Claire Buffie (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, TalkAboutEquality.com)

and am happy to report that she is not only stunningly beautiful (as is expected), but she is well-spoken, articulate and has the same passion for equality, that our friend Kate Shindle continues to have for those living with HIV/AIDS. She marched in the NYC Pride March this June and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge as part of Marriage Equality New York’s Wedding March this past fall. And at any event she attends, she can almost always be seen having one-on-one discussions with LGBT people, young and old about their experiences.

We frequently talk about the need for advocacy outside the LGBT Community. And here we have a marvelous representation being given a nationwide television platform on Saturday, January 15th. As we know, the Miss America contest is going to be seen in televisions all across the country and I for one am very proud that New York is being represented by someone who can speak so eloquently about who we are.

Good luck, Claire! No matter what happens next week, we got your back girl. Come to think of it – who BETTER to have on your side at a Miss America Pageant? We promise not to go all “Drop Dead Gorgeous” on anyone, but our brothers and sisters backstage will certainly be there with some extra spray glue and glitter should you need it.

Taylor Proffitt, Claire Buffie and Ronnie Kroell (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, TalkAboutEquality.com)

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