Tag Archives: New York

The best thing you’ll read today.

17 Aug

In April of last year, I got a call from my friends at Freedom to Marry. They frequently ask me to come take photos for their events and this time they had a special request.

They were going to be interviewing an elderly gay couple that had been together for 60 years and couldn’t be married. They wanted me to come take some portraits of the couple while they were being interviewed.

This adorable elderly couple spoke at length about their war stories (and I mean literally – both men served in World War II). As they were both singers and voice teachers, they also treated us to a couple songs.

I’d write more of their beautiful story for you, but it’s been done – by the New York Times. Check it out.

The purpose of us going there was to get their story out. This was a few months before New York would pass the marriage equality law and Richard & John didn’t want to leave the state to get married. Their romance was a New York romance and they believed they should have the right to tie the knot in the state they called home.

Well, last Friday after 62 years, Richard Mace and John Dorr were married. In New York. We want to congratulate the happy couple whose only advice to me was to “Never go to bed angry.”

You can watch the Freedom to Marry video that was shot that day here:

Merely Legends: Dinner with Patricia Neal & Celeste Holm

15 Jul

Disclaimer: this post has nothing to do with being gay. Well…maybe a little.

About 10 years ago, I was still quite fresh in New York City. The bitterness and jaded behavior had yet to seep into my soul.

I was house sitting for my friend and composer, David Friedman. David had conducted the choirs for a bunch of big Disney films like Beauty & The Beast and Pocohontas and composed the score for the film, Trick.

In the middle of the week at one point, the phone wrang. I picked it up and an older woman crowed into the phone “HELLO! Is David there?” I replied that he was away and wouldn’t be back until the weekend. “Damn! He was supposed to take me to the theatre.” I apologized and she said “Who are you?” in an almost accusatory tone. I told her I was a friend of David’s and I was taking care of his apartment while he was away. She replied “Well you sound delicious, would you like to take me to the theatre this Thursday?” Having no idea still to whom I was speaking, I asked “Who is this?” “Why, it’s Patricia Neal of course.” I told her it would be my honor to take her to the theatre on Thursday.

Me and Patricia Neal

My 23-year old self was thrilled beyond words. I was going to the theatre with the first woman to EVER win a Tony Award for her performance in a Broadway show. She won an Oscar for her performance in Hud with Paul Newman and no one will ever forget her brilliant work in the classic film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with Audrey Hepburn.

I showed up at her East End Avenue pad on the Upper East Side and she proceeded with a tour. She showed me her award room and mentioned that “Most of theses awards are because I had a stroke and lived to tell about it.” She showed me her Academy Award and inquired “Did you see me in Hud with Paul Newman?” I unfortunately had not and terrifyingly told her so. “It’s alright,” she said “If you blinked your eyes, you would have missed me…but I still won the Oscar.”

She told me a few more stories, bragged about her granddaughter, Sophie Dahl (yes, she was once married to Roald Dahl), and with that we left for the theatre.

Patricia Neal

Ms. Neal was 77 at the time and after multiple strokes had suffered almost no short-term or long-term memory. I escorted her down the stairs to Danny’s Skylight Room on 46th Street and we sat down for a cabaret. Others came up to her table to greet her and she’d always say “Darlings, introduce yourselves,” as she just couldn’t recall many names. Among her friends there that night were Jerry Orbach and Joel Grey and with each handshake I sank deeper and deeper into disbelief of where I was and what I was doing.

Towards the end of the show, Ms. Neal asked me “Darling, have you ever been to Sardi’s?” I hadn’t. “Well tonight’s your lucky night, you’re going to Sardi’s with Patricia Neal!” Many of you know Sardi’s for their glamorous days where they’d created caricatures on the walls of celebrities who’d visited. I recalled Sardi’s from Muppets Take Manhattan where Kermit the Frog famously took down Liza Minnelli’s portrait and replaced it with his own.

We walk through the doors, and everyone immediately knew there was royalty in the room. More introductions and sparkling conversations about the old days of Broadway and Hollywood. And despite having so many stories and so much experience, she seemed to want to know more about me than anything else.

Celeste Holm

We’re almost finished with dinner when a smaller older woman came and said hello. She had her scarf pulled up over her nose and a tight knit cap pulled to the edge of her eyebrows. She chatted with Ms. Neal as if they were old friends and finally was asked to join us for dessert. “Darlings, introduce yourselves,” she said. “Hi, I’m Jamie McGonnigal.” “Hi, I’m Celeste Holm.” My heart dropped through my feet and into the hardwood floor. This was the original…ORIGINAL Ado Annie in Oklahoma. She was in All About Eve with Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe. I spent the next 20 minutes choking down profiteroles while they caught up.

Then I giggled…and then I chuckled…and then I laughed. Not the quiet laughter you would expect from someone in the middle of this situation, but an awkardly loud laugh that caused Ms. Neal to turn to me and say “Darling, what’s wrong? You’re hysterical.” “Ms. Neal, I apologize. I just happened to take a step away from myself and realize that I’m sitting at Sardi’s with Patricia Neal and Celeste Holm. Things are just a little absurd to me right now.”

“Darling.” She replied. “It’s nothing to get hysterical over, we’re merely legends.”

It was in that moment that I knew I would forever have a story of my first meeting with Patricia Neal and Celeste Holm. We lost Patricia to lung cancer 2 years ago, she was 84. And this morning at around 3:30am, my other dinner partner from that magical night, passed away. I’ll never forget that night, as you can imagine. And the world will never forget these “mere legends.”

You said you’d never forget.

9 Sep

So this post isn’t about finding LGBT equality or news of some injustice towards LGBT people. But it’s part of my story and part of who I am today, and I wanted to share it.

On September 13, 2011, I found myself in an uncharacteristically patriotic mood. Having been in New York City and having escaped the same fate as thousands of other New Yorker’s, I made my way to the Javitz Center to see what I could do to help.

Over the course of the days and weeks that followed 9/11, the fear, the hope and the community that pervaded the cold, hard city was palpable. I’d never felt so much compassion among strangers as I did in those few weeks. It quickly changed when we went to war and again became politicized individuals – but for that one brief shining moment, we all came together in a way that makes even the most cynical heart melt.

The following is something I wrote after a day of volunteering downtown. I was a lot younger then and so much has changed since, but in considering the anniversary of 9/11, I’m choosing to honor the naive, gentle, bright eyed young man who wrote these words almost 10 years ago.

September 13, 2001

It’s been nearly two days now since the tragedy which took sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of this great city. I call it a “great city” because despite, or rather, IN spite of the horrors that have befallen us, not only do we go on, but we go on with more strength, courage and love than we’ve ever had.

Today I had the unique honor of volunteering to aide the firefighters, EMTs, police officers, military personnel and other volunteers who have arrived from all over the country. I helped distribute food to the heroes who make me proud to be an American.

There was a time, not very long ago, when I would giggle at such a patriotic statement. For me, it’s always been a statement that evokes President’s Day Car Commercials and third grade filmstrips about Washington crossing the Delaware. I’ve had very real moments in my life when I’ve been a bit choked up by something patriotic…I was able to visit the Smithsonian in Washington DC, back in eighth grade, that’s where they display the flag which Francis Scott Key was watching as he wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.” I felt truly proud to be an American then. Then a few years ago, I was doing a show in Media, PA. On a day off, I went to visit the historical sights of Philadelphia. I was in Independence Hall, where the Declaration was signed. Not only was I proud to be an American, but, I also experienced a strange sense of deja-vu.

Then today, after being on my feet for close to ten hours, and many of the would-be volunteers had been dismissed, I took some candles I’d packed in my bag (for reasons I was unaware of), I lit the candles, passed them around to some of my fellow volunteers, grabbed the American flag from the side of the truck and began singing the words Francis Scott Key wrote so long ago. By the time we’d finished, many voices had joined us, and those that did not had their eyes closed and their hands over their hearts. I don’t know why I did it, I just felt like it, and I am thankful to be an American, where I can do it if I want to.

After they began to close up shop where I was located, I headed to Penn Station to catch the train home. In front of the station, I saw some visibly ragged guardsmen. I walked up to them and thanked them. They then returned the thanks, recognizing me from the triage. I then headed down to the basement of Penn Station to catch my train home. In the corridor, sitting on the floor in front of a locked down marketplace, there was a man. He was a construction worker or a firefighter I think. I could tell from his dusty apparel, he’d spent the day at ground zero (as it is being referred to). I walked up to him and asked him how he was doing. He looked up and as a tear rolled through the caked on dust on his face, he said “I’ll be fine.” I said “Is there anything you need?” He responded…”My kids.”

I told him how sorry I was and expressed my gratitude for all the work he’d done…and this man…This man who had spent the last 50 hours straight risking his own life to save others’. This man who continued to work, despite his own sheer exhaustion. This man who was searching through the wreckage to find his children, apologized to me for not being able to work longer. THIS IS A HERO. And this is a man who makes myself and hopefully anyone else who reads this, proud to be an American.

If you are in New York and you see a man or woman with dust on their boots or a firefighter, police officer, EMT, or a military officer, please, take a moment to thank them and ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them. These are heroes.

Take a break from bickering over who’s to blame, what George W is going to do next, and about impending war. Take a moment and throw a thought or a prayer to my heroes, who will continue to work through tonight and many more nights to come.

thanks, Jamie

Some days, I really miss the kid who wrote that.

 

Bert & Ernie Petitions Bring Out the Haters

11 Aug

So there’s a really interesting/ridiculous discussion going on regarding a Change.org petition that was created last week to out the ambiguously gay duo, Bert & Ernie. There is another petition saying they should get married (as Sesame Street is clearly located in New York, and since the puppets from Avenue Q tied the knot, it seems to make sense).

There have been many discussions about whether or not Bert & Ernie are gay. While they adorn the t-shirts of many walking through Chelsea and the West Village, do we have any real evidence? Well last year, regarding the A-Team movie that was released, Bert tweeted:

“Ever notice how similar my hair is to Mr. T’s? The only difference is mine is a little more ‘mo,’ a little less ‘hawk.'”

Most assumed this was Bert’s coming out tweet, as “mo” was clearly short for “homo.” No other explanations have been offered. We’re not so sure about Ernie, but they’ve lived together 32 years, so…I think it’s safe to assume.

However the real interesting part came today. Now that the story of these petitions is getting out, it seems it’s ruffling a few feathers. People who are against the famous Muppets coming out of the closet have taken to Change.org to create petitions against the felt nuptials. What’s striking me though, is the anti-gay language that is being used in these new petitions’ comment sections.

Petition Signer Sharon Howell says:

“Im so sick of gay people pushing they’re life style on everyone else, first they wanted acceptance and gay rights, okay they got that, then they wanted gay marraige okay they got that which is ridiculous, and they’re still not satisfied. Is’nt sesame street a children’s show? can’t we leave something pure and untouched for the children for god sake they’re exposed to so much already, I have nothing against gays, but sometimes you guys just go way too far, if you want to push for gay marraige and rights that’s your thing, but leave the children alone please. I really hope the shows creators DO NOT ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN, children should continue learning AB’CS and 123’s not about adam and steve god created man and woman to marry!!!”

Firstly, maybe Sesame Street should be teaching a little more about use of apostrophes and commas. Secondly, I’m still trying to figure out when we got gay rights and gay marriage. Last I heard, the government was ripping apart a married gay couple because one spouse isn’t a US citizen. Thirdly, in case you missed it – everything she says should be taken with a grain of salt because she “has nothing against gays.” I just love how that little sentence absolves people of being a bigot.

Rachelle Rose says:

UNBELEIVABLE! i have nothing against gays.. i have many friends and bestfriends who are. but my ONE YEAR OLD does not need to be watchin shit like that!, shes to young to even know about any of that!…if they do that i will not put that on for my kid

Again with the “i have nothing against gays.” She has lots of friends and bestfriends who are gay but apparently behind their backs refer to their relationships as “shit.” fun.

Latabitha King says:

“Kids are too young to try to process this type of information PERIOD.”

And here…in this one simple sentence, we have the reason we have lost referendums in 31 states for marriage equality. I just spent a week with hundreds of LGBT families and hundreds of their children. Do you think these children look at their parents and think “I wonder what my moms having sex is like?” I watched Sesame Street as a kid and I knew that Gordon and Susan were married. Did I ONCE consider what was happening in their bedroom? Nope. If there was a gay couple on Sesame Street, who just happened to live in the same apartment and hold hands and sing songs together, will kids automatically start thinking about gay and lesbian sexual relations? I doubt it.

While at first I thought the Ernie and Bert getting married petition was fairly silly, I’m now in support of it. I think the better scenario would be for a human couple to be introduced on the show that happened to be gay, but I’ll take what I can get. Bert & Ernie, I hope to one day be “doin’ the Pigeon” at your reception.

Avenue Q’s Rod & Ricky Tie the Felt Knot in NYC

24 Jul

I was honored to attend the wedding of Avenue Q’s infamous Republican showtune-loving puppet, Rod and his partner of nearly 8 years now, Ricky. We were happy to get a brief interview with the couple that we will be sharing later, but in the meantime, please enjoy some photos of their nuptials.

Rod says, “To have this finally happen for us — especially so soon after Will and Kate — is unbelievable to me.  I realize there are a lot of broken hearts out there now that Ricky and I are off the market — step back, all you chorus boys! — but I’ve known since Day One that Ricky is the husband for me.  He’s the furry fellow I want to spend my life with both on and off the stage.”

Now in its 9th year in New York — and with productions in countries around the world — AVENUE Q is a three-time Tony Award-winning musical about people and puppets fresh out of college in search of their purposes in life, living as neighbors in an outer-borough of New York City.

In AVENUE Q, Rod, a Wall Street banker, and Ricky, a “Chelsea boy,” meet through an online personal ad placed by Rod’s best friend and slacker roommate Nicky.  It is love at first sight.  And the rest is soon to become history!!

Also in attendance at today’s marriage ceremony was Amy Hausman, an All Peoples Wedding Officiant for the Starlight Rainbow Wedding Initiative and AVENUE Q’s Jennifer Barnhart, Jed Resnick and Howie Michael Smith.

Thousands of New Yorkers put a ring on it!

24 Jul

This morning in New York City, close to 700 couples made history by being the first gay and lesbian couples to marry in the state.

Talk About Equality and the Family Equality Council were there to document these marriage pioneers!

The new law, which passed in New York and was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo 30 days ago, has broken the barrier to equality for thousands. Couples of every age, size and shape were lined up starting in the early hours this morning, to finally gain legal recognition for their partnerships. We spoke to couples who’d been together for 2 years and couples who’d been together 42 years – who’ve been patiently waiting for this sunny Sunday morning at the New York City Clerk’s office.

Please enjoy some photos from today’s day downtown, followed by a special reception held by Governor Andrew Cuomo at New York’s Dream Hotel. At the reception, the governor honored several individuals and organizations who joined together to eventually win the fight for marriage equality. And finally this evening at the LGBT Center of New York, several organizations including Empire State Pride Agenda, Transgender Legal Defense Network, Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry hosted an enormous wedding reception for today’s newlyweds. Several elected representatives responsible for the passage of marriage equality and special guest, George Takei helped ring in the celebrations!

Also check out this video we put together about Gabriel and Dylan, one of New York’s first married gay couples. More photos, video and information on how to get married in New York available at FamilyEquality.org :

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