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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)

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.




Artist Lost to AIDS, CENSORED on World AIDS Day

1 Dec

David Wojnarowicz (portrait by Peter Hujar)

The interwebs are all abuzz today with news about an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. The exhibit, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

features a video by artist 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.

An 11-second portion of the 4 minutes on display (the actual film is 30 minutes long), features a cross with ants crawling over it.

Today, after just a few hours of pressure from The Catholic League, who complained that the piece was “designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians,” the museum shut down the exhibit, effectively censoring the artwork of an openly-gay artist who died from AIDS – on World AIDS Day.

Since last night, pundits have been attacking the exhibit as a tax dollar-funded installation. Glenn Beck said about the exhibit:

“And then you have the tax dollars funding this wonderful art display. It’s Christmas at the Smithsonian.”

And this morning, Fox & Friends reported:

“Your taxpayer dollars being used for this: A picture of Jesus covered in ants. The art is being pulled, but the museum is keeping your money. Is this a good use of your dollars?”

As has been reported (and could have easily been found out with the most cursory amount of research by any journalist), this exhibit is entirely privately-funded, as can be discovered by looking at the event’s page on the National Portrait Gallery website. Thanks to Media Matters for more incredible reporting.

So, not only did those who publicly oppose equality successfully censor an openly-gay artist who died from AIDS on World AIDS Day, but they’ve lied to raise wrongful anger against our nation’s greatest museum.We have left some messages for the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, but have not yet heard back. We hope to offer some further information on this soon.