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Evolution of a Brooklyn Progressive 02

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The Evolution of a Brooklyn Progressive Jumaane Williams offers straight talk on gay marriage, abortion rights BY PAUL SCHINDLER


support marriage equality. I will fight to protect marriage equality,” Brooklyn City Councilmember Jumaane Williams told Gay City News at the start of a 30-minute sit-down on October 19 that his office requested. Williams, a 41-year-old son of immigrants from Grenada, represents a broad swath of the city’s Caribbean community in a district centered on Flatbush and East Flatbush. With term limits facing Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, he is mounting his second bid to win that post in a contest due to be decided between Election Day and the first of the year. Williams’ ambitions on that score explain why — six years after marriage equality became law in New York and two years after the Supreme Court settled the issue nationwide — an outspokenly progressive Council leader was reciting what has long been an article of faith among so many other local politicians. Same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose are issues on which Williams has at times found himself tongue-tied, and the view he was not there on either question hurt him badly when he threw his hat in the ring for speaker four years ago. As the Council’s Progressive Caucus prepared to meet in late November of 2013 to discuss that race, out lesbian Lower East Side Councilmember Rosie Mendez told Capital New York that Williams would have to “affirmatively come out and say that he supports gay marriage and he supports a woman’s right to choose for me to consider him.” Christine Quinn, another out lesbian finishing up eight years as speaker, quoted in the Daily News, similarly dismissed candidates who weren’t “pro-LGBT or prochoice.” Quinn did not name Williams, but he was widely seen as her target. At the time, Williams spoke about these issues largely in frustration that he was being asked to boil down complex issues into approved soundbites. In contrast, last week he spoke directly and in strikingly personal terms. “I support marriage equality, and this is helpful to what I think people deserve to hear,” he said. His past difficulties explaining himself, he said, were based in part on religious beliefs he learned as a youth but also on what he conceded was his “muddled” message. “I think when you’re brought up, your religion tells you a whole lot of stuff,” he said. “A lot of it is very good. I use a lot of it for the work I do, the revolutionary aspect of it. Jesus of Nazareth… a revolutionary fighting for people who are oppressed, fighting to make sure that people had their voice. So that gives me my push for equali-



City Councilmember Jumaane Williams in a “Resist From Day One” protest on January 20, the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president.

ty and equity. But religion can be used for some very bad things, for slavery, for homophobia, for a lot of craziness.” Faith is clearly important in Williams’ life. Twice referring to his late father, he reflexively said “rest his soul,” and in explaining the bond he feels with out gay Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Queens, he recalled watching an old video of Dromm giving an address in which he reminded LGBTQ youth, “God loves us.” “The mindset that you have to say that is crazy,” Williams said. “You have to reaffirm that God loves you. That really hit me. Damn.” The unhealthy mix of politics and religion regarding marriage equality first began to trouble him when he learned his father, a pastor who left his mother to start another family, was voting for George W. Bush “solely” because he felt gays marrying would lead to “the destruction of family life.” “As you try to figure it out, you have to evolve because some of the good things you learn don’t really match up,” Williams explained. “If everybody’s equal, everybody’s God’s child, some of these things they’re saying don’t really make sense.” The stakes, he added, are all that much greater in the age of Trump, which has “crystallized” that “if you’re hating here, that’s all bleeding across” society as a whole. Williams is also taking steps to make clear his support for “a woman’s right to have access to safe and legal abortion,” recently introducing legislation barring employers from discriminating against any worker based on their reproductive health care decisions. “I was trying to be very clear that without those protections,

it’s going to be dangerous for women,” he said. “Who the hell is an employer to be able to fire someone based on a decision that someone makes about their reproductive health. That’s just so out of bounds, it’s absurd.” In the past, Williams has talked about the grief he felt when a woman terminated a pregnancy they created together — an issue he said there “is no space for us to discuss” amidst the reproductive freedom debate. “Not that it should change what the rights of a woman are,” he now hastens to add. “And it’s clear that it is men’s privilege here. If the discussion were reversed, there wouldn’t even be a discussion.” On other issues, Williams’ credentials as a progressive fighter have never been in doubt. In 2013, with his Brooklyn colleague Brad Lander, Williams led the fight to overcome Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto of two Community Safety Act measures that ended discriminatory profiling based on a variety of categories — including sexual orientation and gender identity, the biggest LGBTQ advances on the Council in a decade, he noted — and gave the city’s Department of Investigation independent oversight of the NYPD. He later co-sponsored with his out gay Brooklyn colleague Carlos Menchaca a Council resolution urging the State Legislature to bar the use of condoms as evidence in prostitution arrests, a practice Williams said was often used to harass transgender women. Over the past four years, Williams said, police-community relations have improved — “more than there is credit for on the ground.” He added two big caveats, however: transparency has been hurt by records of NYPD internal disciplinary actions no longer being public, and accountability has not improved. “The people who murder people on camera are not only on the police force, they receive raises, they get more money, and nothing has happened, and frustrating is not the right word,” he said. Williams is proud of his record on a different front, as well — tenant protections — as chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings. The recent package of tenant protections enacted, he said, “used the powers that we have [on the Council] very well.” Still, he acknowledged, “I also believe that as soon as we do stuff, unscrupulous landlords change and adapt, so we have to come back.” Tenacity and results, Williams argued, are his best qualifications for the job of speaker. “I have navigated some pretty controversial things through this Council productively and without dividing the Council and without dividing the city,” he said. “And we need that right now because we’re up against some very bad people, and the Trumpian era is one that needs someone who is not afraid to push forward.” October 26 – November 8, 2017 |


Gay Bronx Youth Charged in Fatal Stabbing Tells His Side Abel Cedeno says pummeling made him “afraid for my life” after years of bullying BY ANDY HUMM


bel Cedeno, 18, the bullied gay teen charged with killing one classmate, Matthew McCree, 15, and wounding another, Ariane Laboy, 16, with a knife spoke to Gay City News from Rikers Island on October 15, recounting the incident, the anti-gay bullying that preceded it for years, and the way it intensified on September 27 inside his history class at the Bronx’s Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in front of two teachers and a class full of students. While most press reports say that Cedeno was just being pelted with pencils before the stabbing, Abel said he was defending himself from repeated punches from McCree, who saw that Cedeno had a knife. “I was trying to get him off me,” Cedeno said, explaining he knew his tormentors to have gang connections and that many of the students at the school carry weapons — “knives and, in some cases, guns,” he said. “I was afraid for my life.” In using his recently purchased knife — which he got on Amazon but is forbidden in city schools — for protection, “No way did I think someone could die,” Cedeno said, adding he was convinced he would die if he did not defend himself from McCree’s attack. “[McCree] knew me as the gay kid with the long hair,” Cedeno said. “He hated that ‘entity.’ He didn’t know me.” He said that McCree continued to pummel him even after Cedeno used the knife to ward him off. Cedeno said he “snapped” when he was being beaten in the face. “I don’t remember that much,” he said. When school security took him away after the stabbing, Cedeno said, he was still “afraid for my life” and feared for the lives of his family members because of what he believed to be McCree’s gang membership. This led him to have a “panic attack” while in the school office.



Abel Cedeno, 18, whose charges were reduced by a Bronx grand jury last week from second-degree murder to manslaughter in the fatal stabbing of Matthew McCree, said McCree’s pummeling of him on September 27 made him “afraid for my life.”

Much has been made in press accounts of the fact that Cedeno had not interacted with McCree or Laboy prior to September 27. Cedeno said, “I knew from other students they had gotten into fights. Matt had hit my friend in the neck and ran away.” He said he also knew that “there are groups of boys in gangs and [McCree and Laboy] hung around with those kids who carry knives and guns. Even the teachers are afraid of these students.” Social media users who say they are part of the 800YM gang have claimed McCree as a member in online postings and have threatened Cedeno’s family and friends. While there were many witnesses to what happened, there is concern that they will be afraid to testify in Cedeno’s defense for fear of retaliation. As Cedeno prepared to testify

before the grand jury at Bronx Criminal Court on October 17 — unusual for someone accused of a serious crime, who is not legally bound to do so — he had the support of his family, two veteran gay attorneys who have signed on to defend him, and his local state senator, Ruben Diaz., Sr., who, despite a long record against LGBTQ rights, believes Cedeno is not getting a fair shake. Cedeno’s supporters staged a rally that morning outside the court urging that he not be charged (see page 5). A rally of McCree’s friends and relatives was also held. Cedeno is represented by Christopher R. Lynn, once the counsel for the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights that passed the city’s gay rights law in 1986 and taxi commissioner and later transportation commissioner for Mayor Rudy Giuliani. His co-counsel is

Robert J. Feldman. Lynn said, “Abel did not attack anyone. It was he who was attacked.” The McCree family is represented by Sanford Rubenstein, who has taken on many high profile cases of people of color who have been victims of hate crimes or abused by the police. The senior assistant district attorney in the case is Nancy Borko, assistant chief of the Bronx Homicide Bureau. This case does not fall into any easy category. A Latino gay youth says he was being bullied and attacked by an African-American youth and was acting in self-defense. Cedeno, according to his sister Vanessa, lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his mom and shared a room with two siblings. McCree, according to the New York Times, lived in a two-bedroom with his mother and two siblings, sharing a room with his brother. The case has highlighted the failure of the New York City schools to combat bullying despite putting a variety of policies into place over the years as well the enactment of a state law meant to curb bullying and create a climate of respect among students. The city Department of Education will likely be sued for millions by Rubenstein for failing to have metal detectors at this high school and, perhaps in addition, for doing little to contain bullying and other violence there. In a 2016 survey, 55 percent of students reported feeling safe at Wildlife and 19 percent of teachers said they would “recommend” the school to parents — down from 94 percent in 2013. The deterioration of the climate has been attributed to a massive turnover in leadership and teaching staff over the last few years. Cedeno said from jail that he was grateful for “the support for me and my family.” He told Gay City News he identifies as gay — though many stories identified him as “bisexual.” He said he was unaware

ABEL CEDENO, continued on p.20

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |


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Charges Against Abel Cedeno Reduced to Manslaughter As grand jury convenes, dueling rallies for Abel Cedeno and Matthew McCree at Bronx courthouse in school stabbing case BY ANDY HUMM


bel Cedeno, 18, the bullied gay Bronx student who said he defended himself with a knife against an attack from classmate Matthew McCree September 27 in front of their fellow students and two teachers, testified in his own defense on October 17 before a Bronx grand jury, and the seconddegree murder charge sought by the Bronx district attorney was reduced by that grand jury to manslaughter. Bail in the case was set at $500,000 and while Cedeno’s attorney Christopher R. Lynn called that outrageous for a class B felony, Lynn’s co-counsel, Robert J. Feldman, said they would try to raise it and that the reduced charge was “a huge victory. It opens the way for a plea deal,” though any plea would be up to Cedeno himself. Earlier in the day, family and supporters of Cedeno and those of McCree, who died in their confrontation at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation, rallied outside the Bronx County Hall of Justice. Cedeno has said he acted in self-defense, using a knife to ward off a beating from two classmates he feared — leaving McCree dead and Ariane Laboy injured. According to Lynn, there is still a risk that the district attorney will seek an attempted murder charge against Cedeno for using his knife in what he and his attorney described as an effort to stop Laboy’s attack. Cedeno and his family spoke exclusively to the Gay City News about what happened and told the grand jury his story on October 17. Before the grand jury session, which is secret, Cedeno was due to briefly appear before a judge, and the courtroom was packed with supporters of both youths, separated by more than 10 court officers, one of whom warned that anyone who engaged in an emotional outburst would be arrested. But Ava Talley of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) said that while she


was sitting there, she was threatened by a McCree family member using terms like “batty boy,” “faggot,” and saying, “I will beat your ass, you he/ she.” “His family keeps saying he was not a bully, but they use homophobic and transphobic rhetoric,” Talley said. “His whole group of supporters was doing it” until she alerted a court officer to the problem. Lynn and Feldman, both of whom are gay, waived Cedeno’s appearance before the judge but called upon the district attorney to have the 25 students and two teachers who witnessed the fateful fight in their classroom on September 27 testify before the grand jury along with their client, who voluntarily chose to testify. Feldman reiterated his defense that Cedeno was suffering from “extreme emotional distress” and “snapped.” He told the court, “Cedeno was not in his right mind” due to relentless bullying and the classroom attack from McCree. After the court proceeding, Lynn said, “Why did the deceased leave his seat in the back of the room and walk 55 feet” to confront Cedeno while McCree’s friend Frankie tried to restrain him once Cedeno took out his knife for everyone in the room to see? McCree’s mother, Louna Dennis, said after the hearing, “I have confidence in the grand jury that I will get justice for my son. My son was never a bully, never had words” with Cedeno. Dennis also said, “Why was an 18-year-old adult [Cedeno] in school with my 15-year-old minor son?” Mariah Miller, McCree’s aunt, said, “My nephew was never in a gang” and, asked by a reporter, said she was not aware of McCree complaining about a culture of violence in the school that many of its students have attested to. Javier Maximo, who identified himself as McCree’s “big brother,” said, “He was always responsible. Matthew always showed respect for his elders.”

GRAND JURY, continued on p.22


Abel Cedeno’s sister Vanessa, who spoke last week to Gay City News and addressed the media on October 17 outside the Bronx courthouse where the grand jury convened.


Family and friends of Matthew McCree, the 15-year-old who died of stab wounds from Abel Cedeno on September 27, outside the Bronx courthouse.

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Weinstein, Trump Scandals Earn Vance a Write-In Foe Out gay veteran prosecutor Fliedner says it’s “my responsibility” to wage uphill fight BY PAUL SCHINDLER


hen Gay City New sat down with District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., in early September for an interview currently airing on Manhattan Neighborhood Network ( watch?v=RHgiKX7lsl0), the twoterm incumbent seemed headed toward an unopposed and decidedly non-controversial reelection. Vance discussed a variety of issues, some of which highlighted progressive reforms he’s championed since assuming office in 2010 — including diversion of a significant number of low-level offenses away from criminal penalties, support for marijuana law reform, the establishment of a conviction integrity unit to investigate new evidence that emerges about past actions by his office, and funding for more than 50,000 rape kits that had gone untested in jurisdictions nationwide. He also addressed questions that have been raised recently about procedures the city medical examiner employed to analyze small DNA samples and explained the statement he issued when the DA’s office decided earlier this year to bring no indictments in its inquiry into 2014 State Senate contributions made by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his political allies. But for Vance, the past month has been an eternity in public perceptions about his stewardship of the DA’s office. On October 4, the New Yorker, working in tandem with ProPublica and WNYC, published an investigative piece that raised serious questions about whether campaign contributions influenced his decision in 2012 not to proceed with criminal indictments of Ivanka Trump and her brother, Donald Trump, Jr., in connection with alleged fraud in the marketing of condo units in the Trump Soho. And in the past several weeks, Vance has been tarred in the exploding Harvey Weinstein scandal because of his decision two years ago not to prosecute the movie mogul on charges of groping a woman in his Tribeca office, despite the alleged



Incumbent District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., is seeking a third four-term on November 7.

Marc Fliedner, a longtime prosecutor in Brooklyn, is waging a write-in campaign against Vance in the wake of questions about the DA’s handling of inquiries into Ivanka and Donald Trump, Jr., and Harvey Weinstein.

victim’s audio tape, captured in cooperation with the NYPD, of Weinstein acknowledging the truth of a portion of her story. In that case, too, campaign donations are a part of the story. The Weinstein case turbocharged the questions Vance faced, and in an October 15 op-ed in the Daily News, the district attorney announced he was suspending all campaign fundraising for 90 days while the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School does a comprehensive review of the way his campaigns have handled donations. Vance will still appear on the November 7 ballot unopposed officially, but the string of controversies proved compelling enough to bring one longtime prosecutor off the bench in what is perhaps a quixotic bid to unseat the incumbent by running as a write-in candidate. What is most striking, though, about the flash campaign announced by Marc Fliedner, who has spent more than 15 years working as a prosecutor in both New York and New Jersey, is that until the September 12 Democratic primary, he was a candidate for district attorney — but in Brooklyn. The out gay civil rights litigator, who said he was motivated to join the Manhattan race based on a storm of encouragement on Twitter in the wake of stories about Vance’s handling of the Weinstein matter, said he plans to establish residency

in Manhattan as of November 1, in line with state law eligibility requirements. One Twitter user, in particular, Fliedner told Gay City News — also in an interview taped for Manhattan Neighborhood Network ( & — stirred the pot several weeks ago and only later asked the veteran prosecutor whether he was okay with the idea. “And the answer was absolutely yes,” Fliedner said. “I felt that it was my responsibility.” Asked to elaborate on that decision, he explained that the stories about the Trump and Weinstein cases painted a “scenario where it seems pretty crudely obvious that if you’re rich, if you’re powerful, and largely in the context of a good ole boys club, I’m going to say, that you can buy yourself a get-out-of-jail card, to put it in the simplest terms. That you are going to be subject to a whole different level of scrutiny from everybody else, that you’re going to be subject to a whole different decision-making process.” Fliedner added, “Of course what that reinforces is the sense that there are some in this society that because of their color and their power and their pocketbooks are able to get a quality of justice that those who are not in that position — people of color, immigrants, those who are impoverished, people with disabilities, all of the kinds of people


who have been traditionally… that people of the LGBT community are not afforded because they are not in that stratosphere of power. That’s a really disturbing message, and it strikes people on a really visceral level.” Vance’s recent troubles began with the New Yorker piece on the Trump Soho published early this month. Vance’s decision in that case, according to the story, came after a two-year investigation, which uncovered emails in which the two younger Trumps discussed how to fabricate false information about the number of units sold in the property. Frustrated at how long the inquiry dragged on, their father brought in his personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz — who that year gave Vance $25,000 toward his reelection — to represent his children. Kasowitz’s money was later returned, in keeping with DA office policy, in advance of a meeting between Kasowitz and Vance. The meeting between the two, which included several other top officials in the DA’s office, was unusual because the office’s attorneys investigating the Trumps did not attend. Vance ultimately decided not to bring charges against the future president’s children, and in response to questions from the New Yorker he said, “I did not at the time believe beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed. I had to make a call and I made the call, and I think I made the right call.” Even though Kasowitz’s original donation had been returned in advance of his meeting with Vance, Trump’s attorney, less than six months later, gave a new donation of $32,000 and over time organized other donors to pony up for at least another $18,000, according to the New Yorker. Kasowitz has denied any quid pro quo, and Vance, explaining that the attorney had “no matter pending before the office” at the time of the second contribution, defended his campaign accepting the money. Still, more than four years later, the district attorney told

DISTRICT ATTORNEY, continued on p.26

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |


Citywide GOP Candidates Now Softer on Gays In races for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, a modulated tone on LGBTQ rights BY DUNCAN OSBORNE


t the end of a brief video posted on Michel Faulkner’s campaign website, the candidate for New York City comptroller says that he is the one who will unite the city. “New York City can and must get back on track, but to do that we have to have principled leadership,” the 60-year-old Republican said in the video. “As a respected religious leader in New York City for more than 30 years, I have the unique ability to connect with all New Yorkers regardless of their political affiliation, ethnic background, religious or sexual orientation.” Including “sexual orientation” in the video, which pops up automatically when a viewer first lands on his site, is unremarkable except that Faulkner has been a consistent opponent of same-sex



GOP comptroller candidate Michel Faulkner (center, behind the poster) at a 2011 rally against marriage equality held at City Hall.

marriage, a position he maintains though he concedes that it is the law of the land. “The LGBTQ community is an important part of New York City, and the individuals are important to my life,” he told Gay City News.

“You’ve got to look farther than the one issue of same-sex marriage.” Faulkner, who is also running on the Conservative Party ballot line against Democratic incumbent Scott Stringer, is not alone among Republican candidates for

JC Polanco, the Republican candidate for public advocate, tweeted a denunciation of Roy Moore, the anti-LGBTQ Republican US Senate candidate in Alabama.

New York City offices in making public comments that could resonate with LGBTQ voters. In an October 18 tweet, JC Polanco, who is running to become

GOP SOFTENING, continued on p.16

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Once Ex-Gay, Now Advocating for Christian Inclusivity Alex Haiken is a religious activist who found his way back to life as a gay man BY NATHAN DICAMILLO


f you tell Alex Haiken that he can’t be gay and Christian, you had better have done your homework. “Because I’ve done mine,” he said. “And I say, ‘Come, let’s talk.’” Haiken likes to talk. He was on the gay student union in college and spoke to classes about what it meant to be gay. Retired after a 23year career at the UN, he spends much of his time volunteering and enjoying life in Manhattan with his partner of 10 years, Mitchell Siegel, but also devotes time as a former member of the ex-gay movement to talking with Christians online or in person about the importance of LGBTQ inclusion in the church. Religion has always been a large part of Haiken’s life but not always an easy road. He grew up in a Reform Jewish household, but became Christian when he was 29. In his church, he gave up dating men until he reconciled his sexuality with his faith 16 years later. His journey has led him through several periods of acceptance and rejection. “The Jewish community thinks I’ve turned my back on them because I’m a Jew who believes that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah,” he said. “Many Christians are not happy with me because I’m unapologetically gay, without secrecy or shame. And the secular gay community dismisses me as insane for my continued association with what they perceive to be a homophobic religion. So there aren’t many places I can go without pissing somebody off.” Haiken grew up in the Reform Jewish tradition, went to Hebrew school, and was bar mitzvahed at age 13. But growing up, Haiken leaned towards atheism. Being Jewish for Haiken was more about the holidays, traditional food, and Yiddish expressions. It was tales of life in a Jewish home that Haiken would tell Kevin Parker when they smoked weed together as young 20-somethings after working long shifts as waiters in a Manhattan restaurant. In


Alex Haiken and Mitchell Siegel, his partner of 10 years.

response, Parker told Haiken that he was a “born-again Christian.” Parker’s goal, however, wasn’t to bring a homosexual man to repentance. Parker grew up in a nonChristian home and followed in his brother’s footsteps when he became a Christian in the mid-‘70s. “One of the things that’s great about Alex is that he’s a very, very caring person naturally,” Parker said. “When there was this essence of somebody else — God — who did things for us as a sacrifice, I think that touched him.” Parker understood that Haiken had been in relationships with men since he was in high school. In fact, Haiken had fallen in love three times before becoming Christian. He came out to his parents at 22. Parker didn’t tell his friend that he had to stop being openly gay to be Christian, but the teachings of many churches at the time emphasized that homosexuals who became Christians would have their heterosexuality restored to them by God. “I believed that if this is the God who created the heavens and the earth then making me straight was small potatoes,” Haiken said. “It didn’t seem unreasonable.” Haiken had seen some gay young men he knew grow up to remain homosexual in behavior and some grow up to be heterosexual in behavior. They were “just experiment- | October 26 – November 8, 2017

ing as kids,” in his understanding, and that made it seem all the more reasonable that sexuality might be mutable. A year into his Christianity, Haiken found the ex-gay movement and was at first relieved to find people who loved God and were claiming that God could make them straight. The movement sought to liberate gay people from their homosexuality like Alcoholics Anonymous helping alcoholics be free of addiction, he believed. “I thought, ‘What an answer to prayer,’” he said. Haiken became involved with an ex-gay ministry in New York and enjoyed the sense of community that it provided him. He became suspicious of the movement’s validity, however, when he didn’t find his same-sex attraction changing even though his faith was not wavering. “I did date a number of women but as wonderful as some of them were, it was always like a Christmas tree with a section of the lights out,” he said. Haiken struggled more with his sexuality than the Christians who first taught him about Christianity. “That was never ever, ever, ever a problem at all for me,” Carol Healey, the woman who gave Haiken his first Bible in 1982, said. Healey’s Christianity began with a Catholic upbringing, but she says she “came to Jesus” when she was

40. After spending time in Baptist and non-denominational traditions, she is now Presbyterian. “The kind of Jesus that I came to and the kind of Holy Spirit that I began to understand was a loving, caring, giving God,” Healey said. “One of the things I would say to people when they would criticize gays or that kind of thing, I said, ‘If Jesus was on earth, guess who he would be hanging out with? It wouldn’t be you or me, it would be them.’ That’s the thing that came to me so fully, was the mercy and the love of the Christ that I worship.” Haiken’s reconciliation of his sexuality and faith didn’t come as easily as Healey’s acceptance of him. But his suspicion of the exgay movement led him down a new journey of biblical interpretation. When Haiken looked into the historical context of what many call “the clobber passages” about homosexuality in the Bible, he found that they didn’t hold up to scrutiny. After 16 years of being a Christian, Haiken came to believe that homosexuality was compatible with Christianity just like heterosexuality was. He now understands that ancient biblical writers would have had no frame of reference for consensual, loving gay relationships. When Haiken was in the ex-gay movement, he believed that his long time of being sexually active with men was part of why it was taking so long for God to make him straight. Haiken was a leader in the ex-gay movement and even gave his testimony on “The 700 Club,” Pat Robertson’s Christian television program. Over time, he realized that he wasn’t getting any straighter. “It was horrible,” he recalled. “Like living a double life.” When Haiken realized that straight men in his church were just as horny as the gay men he was counseling, Haiken soon began to realize that being gay wasn’t abnormal — it was just human. “We had a men’s group,” he said.

ALEX HAIKEN, continued on p.18


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GAY BRAZILIAN, from p.20

likely be subjected to persecution or torture if deported to Brazil and also concluded he could resettle in a safer place in Brazil than where he’d come from. The BIA agreed the man had not met the burden of showing likely persecution or torture if sent back. The Second Circuit panel summarized the petitioner’s claims by writing, “his claim is that private parties have a pattern or practice of persecuting gay men in Brazil, which the government is unable to stop. [He] predicts that people in Brazil will discover that he is gay either from the Internet article about his crime, from his family, or from a future relationship with a man. He asserts that homophobic violence is rampant in Brazil, citing a State Department report that killings based on sexual orientation rose from 2011 to 2012, and a Chicago Tribune article on a 1995 study that found 59 percent of gay Brazilians had suffered some type of homophobic violence. He cites a study ďŹ nding that a gay person’s risk of being killed there is 785 percent greater than in the United States and several high-proďŹ le cases of homophobic murders. He acknowledges that Brazil has gay marriage, active gay rights groups, and certain cities with anti-discrimination laws, but argues that this evidences shows that Brazil is willing but unable to stop the violence.â€? The BIA had acknowledged the evidence about violence and discrimination against gay Brazilians, but put more weight on the “ofďŹ cialâ€? developments — gay rights groups, marriage equality, annual pride parades, and city ordinances banning anti-gay discrimination — to conclude that the petitioner “failed to show the Brazilian government would be unwilling or unable to control those responsible for the violence and discrimination.â€? The appeals panel wrote, “Although the IJ and BIA decisions are sparse on reasoning, substantial evidence supports that ďŹ nding.â€? The court emphasized that the Chicago Tribune article was more than 20 years old, and that the State Department report, while citing “338 killings based on sexual orientation, acknowledged the Brazilian government’s efforts to

ďŹ ght discrimination and promote gay rights.â€? In reviewing BIA rulings, circuit courts do not conduct a de novo reconsideration, but rather judge whether the agency was “compelledâ€? by the evidence in the record to rule in the petitioner’s favor. The Second Circuit found the BIA was not so compelled. On the petitioner’s claim under the Convention Against Torture, the court found that BIA “reasonably concluded that his predicted chain of events was speculative. Even if it is likely that [he] will have a romantic relationship with a man, the record did not compel the agency to ďŹ nd it more likely than not that [he] will be tortured by, or with the acquiescence of, Brazilian authorities.â€? Robert C. Ross of West Haven, Connecticut, represented the petitioner. The Second Circuit’s approach deviates from that recently taken by the Ninth Circuit in appeals by gay men from Mexico, another country where marriage equality has made major gains, some municipalities now ban sexual orientation discrimination, and formerly anti-gay criminal laws have been reformed, but anti-gay violence at the hands of criminal gangs, police ofďŹ cers, and family members of gay people remains a major concern. In an April ruling by that circuit, the court “made clearâ€? that its earlier precedents on refugee claims by gay Mexicans “falsely equated legislative and executive enactments prohibiting persecution with on-the-ground progressâ€? and insisted that US immigration authorities look beyond such “ofďŹ cialâ€? positions to consider the situation that gay people actually face in countries with pervasive anti-gay hostility about which the governments do little. The Ninth Circuit has been particularly emphatic in protecting transgender refugee applicants. In cases where local police ofďŹ cials are part of the problem, that circuit has chided immigration authorities for failing to recognize such harassment as being attributable to the government. The Supreme Court has yet to decide any case involving a claim for refugee status in the United States by a gay or transgender applicant. May 11 - 24, 2017 |



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the Per Curiam opinion noted, if the biological father of a child is not the mother’s husband, he can be listed on the birth certiďŹ cate only if he, the husband, and the mother all agree in sworn statements. Gorsuch also noted that Arkansas oďŹ als now agree that a birth mother’s spouse should be listed on the birth certiďŹ cate — though state law has not been amended to reect that change in policy — and so the newest justice professed to seeing no reason for the court’s ruling. “It is not even clear what the Court expects to happen on remand [to the Arkansas courts] that hasn’t happened already,â€? Gorsuch wrote. The proper action on remand, in fact, is an Arkansas judicial declaration that same-sex spouses are entitled to be listed on birth certiďŹ cates and a permanent injunction requiring that result, something that is not a superuous step, since the State Legislature has not amended the statute. The Supreme Court’s ruling will affect pending litigation elsewhere. In Arizona, a panel of the state’s intermediate court of appeals ruled on

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precedent, it could easily follow the route taken by several state courts that have refused businesses religious exemptions from complying with anti-discrimination laws. Or, it could use this case to back away from the Employment Division holding or narrow it in some way. If it sticks with its precedents, however, the high court is unlikely to rule for Phillips on the free speech argument, since the recognized constitutional exception is for organizations or activities that have a primary or signiďŹ cant expressive purpose. Both the Boston St. Patrick’s Day and the Boy Scout rulings involved non-proďŹ t organizations — not businesses — that were engaged in activities that the court found to have strong expressive association claims. It is unlikely that a business whose primary activity is selling cakes could make a similar claim. But the Supreme Court can be full of surprises, and there have been signiďŹ cant changes in its membership since these cases were decided. It might bow to ADF’s argument that

49 | July 06–July 19, 2017

people of strong religious convictions who wish to incorporate those beliefs into their businesses have a right not to be compelled by the government to undertake activities expressing views contrary to their religious beliefs. If the court came to that conclusion, it would potentially tear a big hole in the protection against discrimination provided by the public accommodations laws of most states, and not just those that ban discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Colorado Court of Appeals’ decision will be defended before the Supreme Court by the state’s attorneys. Craig and Mullins have been represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in their litigation efforts. Lambda Legal and One Colorado, with cooperating attorneys John McHugh and Anthony Giacomini of Denver-based Reilly Pozner LLP, ďŹ led an amicus brief in response to the ADF petition to the Supreme Court. Given the strong interest in this case, it is likely to spawn a blizzard of additional amicus briefs. Oral argument will be held sometime next winter.

June 22 that a lesbian co-parent was not entitled to be listed on a birth certiďŹ cate, conicting with a ruling by another panel of the same court. The issue was recently granted review by the Arizona Supreme Court. The Arizona panel that ruled against the lesbian co-parent on June 22 cited the Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling as well as a 2015 decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Plaintiffs in the Wisconsin case should be able to ďŹ le a new suit based on Pavan, though perhaps this new ruling will convince state ofďŹ cials there to drop their obstruction and accord equal treatment to same-sex married couples. The plaintiffs in this case were represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, with local counsel Cheryl Maples of Heber Springs, Arkansas. Attorneys from the Washington and Boston ofďŹ ces of Ropes & Gray, LLP, worked on the case in collaboration with NCLR, and R&G’s Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, one of the attorneys who participated in the 2015 oral argument in the marriage equality cases, was counsel of record here, and might have argued the case had the Supreme Court scheduled a hearing.




Misunderstood Teens, In a Fresh Take Lina Rodriguez sidesteps familiar tropes about Colombia, sexual awakening



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Maruia Shelton, Laura Osma, and Francisco Zaldu in Lina Rodriguez’s “This Time Tomorrow.�



hen it comes to the nation of Colombia, Americans immediately think of drugs and violence. The ďŹ rst Colombian ďŹ lm I saw, “Rodrigo D.,â€? addresses these issues directly. Tragically, several of its teenage cast members were killed in the period between its shoot and release. The second Colombian ďŹ lm I’ve seen, Lina Rodriguez’s “This Time Tomorrow,â€? completely dodges all stereotypes about the country and belongs to a totally different tradition of international art cinema. It seems incidental that “This Time Tomorrowâ€? was made in Colombia, and, in fact, it was completed partially with funds from the city of Toronto, where its director now lives. Rodriguez is speaking a kind of lingua franca — her ďŹ lm’s dialogue is in Spanish, but its visual language owes a great deal to the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu and the French director Robert Bresson. For all its austerity, “This Time Tomorrowâ€? has odd echoes of ‘80s American teen comedies. In large part, that’s because its narrative is pretty much driven by its family’s 17-year-old daughter Adelaida

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(Laura Osma). The ďŹ lm depicts her ďŹ rst grapplings with her sexuality — there’s a scene in which she discusses dildos and other sex toys with her friends, showing off a sophistication and an ability to act casually around sex that may be a bit of a pose. Her father Francisco (Francisco Zaldua) teaches art, while her mother Lena (Maruia Shelton) is a party planner, and as the ďŹ lm progresses they argue over her ďŹ rst steps into amorous and sexual experimentation. Her attitude toward her parents may be typically adolescent: she complains that they don’t give her enough freedom while she also pushes them constantly to grant her more privilege than she already has.


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THIS TIME TOMORROW, continued on p.32

29 | August 31â&#x20AC;&#x201C;September 13, 2017




October 26 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; November 8, 2017 |


A Second Rainbow Flag at Stonewall Monument This time, activists mount the colors clearly over federal land, even if temporarily BY DONNA ACETO AND PAUL SCHINDLER


n the eve of a National Coming Out Day ceremony dedicating the Rainbow Flag at the site of the Stonewall National Monument, the National Park Service abruptly pulled its sponsorship, citing a technical reading of the boundaries of Christopher Park — ceded to the federal government as a condition of establishing the monument — that found that the flagstaff where the rainbow colors would fly was outside its area. That action was widely viewed in the LGBTQ community and among organizers of the ceremony as a smack-down intended to signal the Trump administration’s unwillingness to allow the Rainbow Flag to fly over federal land on a permanent basis. The removal of the National Park Service flag from the flagstaff and of the monu-


Steven Menendez, Michael Petrelis, and Scott Gorenstein celebrate the raising of the Rainblow Flag over federal land.

ment’s page from the NPS website only exacerbated the outrage. Six days later, on October 17, Michael Petrelis, who secured the permit for the National Coming Out | October 26 – November 8, 2017

Day ceremony, and several other activists returned to the monument site to raise a second Rainbow Flag clearly within the fencedin area of Christopher Park. In a release announcing the October 17 flag-raising, the activists stated, “If the NPS is going to change the parameters for what constitutes federal land then we’re going to meet them on federal land but we’re bringing the Rainbow Flag with us. We dare them to remove it.” Maps of the monument, the release noted, including those provided to Petrelis as he secured the October 11 permit, “did include the flagpole. And whatever other status it may have, it sits within the designated monument area — though not on federal land, the Park Service is now saying.” When President Barack Obama created the Stonewall National Monument in June 2016, us-

ing his powers under the federal Antiquities Act,, the overall area designated amounted to 7.7 acres around Christopher Park and the Stonewall Inn. The city ceded a small portion of that, the territory encompassing the park, to the federal government to allow the national monument designation to go forward. The flag placed within the fenced-in portion of Christopher Park is clearly intended as a temporary assertion of the right to fly the Rainbow Flag over federal land; it is fastened to a pole using twist ties. Still, the activists see it as a victory. According to Petrelis, Joshua Laird, the commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, which has jurisdiction over the Stonewall National Monument, told him, in a conference call, that the NPS could “live with” the second flag that will fly, however briefly, over US government property.


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the city’s public advocate against Democratic incumbent Letitia James, commented on a Time magazine article on Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for the US Senate in Alabama who has a lengthy anti-LGBTQ record. “Moore is unfit for office. Period,” Polanco wrote. “A senate seat is not worth the involvement with someone who has these views.” In 1986, religious leaders, including senior members of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the Salvation Army, Orthodox Jews, and Democrat Peter Vallone, then the speaker of the City Council, gathered on the steps of City Hall to oppose legislation that added sexual orientation as a protected class to the city’s antidiscrimination law. They used language that would make Roy Moore blush. Ten years later, as Republican Rudy Giuliani was gearing up to run for a second term as mayor, he told members of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, “I believe that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. I’ve always felt that way.” In his second term, Giuliani went on to quietly expand the benefits and rights available to domestic partners who had registered with the city. Most of those additional benefits were available only to city employees. When Michael Bloomberg, also a Republican, succeeded Giuliani in 2002, he declined to take a position on marriage until 2005 when he announced that his administration would challenge a state court ruling that required the city clerk to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Bloomberg announced his support for samesex marriage at the same time that he said he would fight the ruling. In 2006, the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, held that the State Constitution did not require clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Marriage was won in the State Legislature in 2011. In 2017, Republicans running for citywide offices feel it necessary to make what are at least nominally pro-LGBTQ comments and to put a lot of distance between themselves

and someone like Moore. When Gay City News mentioned Polanco’s tweet on the Alabama Republican, Faulkner said of Moore, “I find that appalling and it’s unacceptable. I would never, ever, ever want to be associated with anything that man would say.” While there probably remain enclaves in the city where LGBTQbashing will help a candidate, it appears that bashers won’t fly in New York City at least in citywide races. “In terms of citywide elections, they are no longer in the mainstream,” said Ken Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “The Republicans have realized they can’t win with somebody who says outrageous things.” Neither Faulkner nor Polanco, who did not respond to requests for comment, are likely to win their races. With less than two weeks until the election, Campaign Finance Board records show that Faulkner has no money while Democrat Stringer has just over $1.5 million. Democrat James has just over $1 million to Polanco’s $7,700. Both candidates are effectively running against Mayor Bill de Blasio and charging that Stringer and James have not been sufficiently aggressive in checking what they charge are de Blasio’s excesses and flaws. With a loss looming, they are not saying “outrageous things” that could bring attention to their campaigns or motivate their base voters. The candidate who is actually on the ballot opposing the mayor — on both the Republican and Conservative lines — Nicole Malliotakis, felt compelled to change her position this year on same-sex marriage, which she voted against in the State Assembly in 2011, though she remains strident in her opposition to a state transgender rights bill, despite the fact that similar protections have been afforded under city law since 2002. “I think entry into the laundry list is progress,” Sherrill said, referring to “the list of all groups against whom we should not discriminate or be prejudiced against… At this point, the New York City Republican Party, perhaps even Staten Island, has come to the conclusion that it is good politics for them not to be bad on the issue.”

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |

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ALEX HAIKEN, from p.13

“One of the [straight] guys who was one of the pillars of the church said, ‘If it wasn’t for me being accountable to you, I would be out fucking everything that moves.’” When Haiken left the ex-gay movement, he wrote apology letters to some of the men he used to counsel. “I felt they needed to hear it from me,” he said. One of the women who led the ex-gay ministry still sends Haiken a birthday card every year. The first part of the letter wishes him a happy birthday, and the second half is always a plea for him to leave his homosexuality. But he doesn’t spend much energy arguing with her. “There is no functional reason for me to expect she will have a rational conversation,” he said. “You have to be discerning about who you talk to.” Evangelicals in Haiken’s life loved that he was a Messianic Jew — one who accepts Jesus as their savior — while he was in the ex-gay movement. “In fact, I found an inherent kind

of pro-Semitism in some circles which I think can sometimes be as unhealthy as anti-Semitism,” he said. “But when I integrated my faith and sexuality, many in my evangelical community did a 180 and concluded they could no longer afford my friendship.” Haiken compares the cost that LGBTQ people face in being accepted in the evangelical tradition with what would happen if a rabbi became Christian: a destroyed career and social standing. “Christian leaders face similar losses in breaking with the traditional stance on homosexuality,” he said. “It’s remarkably analogous. Jews tried to tell me I couldn’t be both Jewish and Christian, and Christians tried to tell me I couldn’t be both Christian and gay.” Haiken started dating again when he reconciled his faith and sexuality. “Re-entering the dating scene in my 40s was frightening,” he said. “I felt like a nervous school kid learning to walk on new footing.” When Haiken began to date again, his first relationship was with a Jewish man. He had mini-

mal connection with Jewish people since he had become Christian, but found a deep connection with his second first love. He now has that connection with Siegel, who also grew up Jewish and became Christian through dating Haiken. “Mitch was this nice guy,” Haiken said. “Really upfront. What you see is what you get.” Haiken went on to finish his master’s degree in Urban Ministry at Pennsylvania’s Westminster Theological Seminary in 2010 and continues to advocate for the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the church and in society. He sees setbacks with the Trump administration, but believes like Martin Luther King, Jr., that the arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice. At jewishchristiangay.wordpress. com, Haiken writes about issues related to the LGBTQ community within the church. In one post from April 2011, he quotes evangelical scholar Lewis Smedes: “The Church’s treatment of homosexuality has become the greatest heresy in the history of the Church… It’s

a living heresy because it’s treating God’s children as if they’re not God’s children.” Haiken also works with the Trevor Project and uses his seminary degree to talk to gay youth who call the project’s hotline feeling that the Bible condemns them for who they are. He seeks out communities that care about theology as much as he does but also understand his affirming position on homosexuality. While he continues to receive opposition, some of his strongest opponents have become some of his strongest supporters through the years. “I’ve learned that to live as a man of God and a follower of Christ means above all to live with personal integrity,” he said. “And I now get to live an honest and authentic life — before God, before man, and before myself. Unless we can be true to ourselves first, we cannot be true to anyone else. I think Shakespeare got it right when he said: ‘To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’”

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October 26 – November 8, 2017 |

ABEL CEDENO, from p.4

of the resources that are out there for LGBTQ youth, such as the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) and the Harvey Milk High School that the Department of Education runs as a haven for students harassed for their sexual orientation or gender identity — though being LGBTQ is not a requirement — with HMI running its after-school programs. McCree’s story and family life have been recounted in numerous stories, including a profile in the New York Times that gave a very incomplete version of the fateful confrontation. Cedeno and his family were speaking in detail for the first time publicly with their side of what happened on September 27 and prior to that. Cedeno recounted the incident in detail to Gay City News, having already talked to the police about it. That day in class, he said, “They started throwing stuff [at me] — broken pencils, pens, caps of pens.” He said they were hitting his neck where he had just had his mother’s name tattooed and the area was tender. “I said, ‘Please stop,’ but they kept on,’” Cedeno recalled. “I got permission to use the bathroom from the teacher, went, came back, and it started to pick up again. I just got my book bag, started to leave, and as I left they kept throwing stuff at me. I screamed loud, ‘WHO IS THROWING ALL THAT STUFF AT ME?’ It got quiet. Matt got up and said, ‘Hey, it was me. What’s good?’ which is slang for, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ I had to stand my ground. I was tired of not doing anything about it. One teacher, Mr. Kennedy, right next to Matt, didn’t do anything.” Then, Cedeno said, “Matthew walked aggressively toward me from the back of the room. He walked past the second teacher, Mr. Jacobi, who didn’t do anything. As he got closer, I felt frozen in place. I couldn’t move my feet. [I knew] lots of boys and girls carry knives and even guns. I thought that I was going to die. I took out my knife and showed everyone. Frankie [another student] was pulling [Matt’s] arm, saying, ‘Slow down. He has that,’ but [Matt] shook him off. He came at me. He hit my face twice. The second time I snapped. All the years of bullying, and I couldn’t control my body and started to defend myself. The other boy, Laboy, hit me as well in the face.” At this point, Cedeno said, “I don’t even remember that much. I was trying to get them off me. Laboy was going up on me. Both punching me,” despite the two youths apparently having been cut by Cedeno’s knife. School security finally arrived and took Cedeno away. He had a panic attack because “I was afraid for my life.” It did not subside until after the police came. “No way did I think someone could die.” According to Cedeno’s sister, Vanessa, their mother had often complained to school authorities about the bullying to which Abel was subjected and the toll it was taking on his studies and mental health. Cedeno had missed so much



Abel Cedeno

school that he was repeating the 12th grade. When his mom complained about her son being called “a faggot,” a teacher at the school “told him to ignore it and ‘be the better person,’” Vanessa said. “They were telling him to ‘suck it up’ — and he fell into a depression. He would come home from school and go straight to bed.” Vanessa described a loving family that nurtured him and included openly bisexual women, including herself. But despite letting him know that they would be accepting no matter what his sexuality was, he kept to himself about it until now — even though the bullying to which he was subjected was often based on his fellow students’ perception that he was gay. “I would tell him, ‘We’re here for you,’” Vanessa said. “He would just say, ‘I’m good.’” She said her brother had some challenges growing up — overcoming stuttering and being diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder at age seven and going on medication for it. “It helped him focus, but it numbed him to some point,” Vanessa said. “He was very bright. All the teachers loved him. He was very good in math and sciences. He wanted to be a model, an actor, or a marine biologist.” “Ninety percent of his friends were girls,” she added. “They all loved him. In the fifth grade, he said, ‘I want to grow my hair long so I can donate it to cancer patients,’ and he did just that even though he got picked on a lot in the sixth grade for it.” As time went on, Cedeno’s depression increased, he had mood swings, and he was always “fighting about not wanting to go to school,” his sister said. Teachers would “write out plans for him” in response, she added, but not deal with the underlying problem of the

bullying. He didn’t want to change schools because his girlfriends were there, but when most of them graduated in June and he had to repeat his final high school year, he became more isolated. “One friend said to him, ‘You need to have some protection without us there. You know everyone has a knife,’” Vanessa recalled. She also emphasized, “We want people to know how this is affecting our family and how out of character this was for Abel. We’re sorry for everything. No one deserves to lose their child. I see this as a wake-up call that bullying is serious and the schools need to see its effects and take it seriously.” The District Attorney’s Office initially charged Abel with second-degree murder, but on October 17, the grand jury returned a charge of manslaughter instead. Cedeno’s attorneys, who do not by law appear before the grand jury, do not think he should have been indicted for anything. Their affirmative defense will be “extreme emotional disturbance” and “justification” — the legal term for self-defense. “It’s clear as day that he snapped,” Feldman said. A Wildlife school employee posted online that Cedeno “deserves to be free. These kids were bullying him for a while.” And for a while, Cedeno’s friends were speaking up for him in the press, but many fear retaliation now. There has been no public comment from the teachers who were in the room that day and are alleged to have done nothing. Two online petitions calling for mercy for Abel have garnered more than 8,400 and almost 500 signatures, respectively. Sophie Cadle, 23, a trans woman and LGBTQ community advocate, helped organize the October 17 rally for Cedeno that was initiated by Lazara Castillo, a mom whose gay son had also been bullied. Before coming out as transgender, Cadle said, “I was a gay kid in the New York City public schools. I dealt with bullying. I dealt with family neglect. I was in Rikers for nine months and have a suit against the city for discrimination, assault, and bullying by corrections officers.” Cadle said she has turned over to the police multiple screen captures of online posts purportedly showing Bronx gang members threatening to avenge Matthews death — including by going after Cedeno in jail, though he is in protective custody at Rikers. The plight of Abel Cedeno has moved her and thousands of others. No one is happy that another student is dead. “We have to stop this from happening,” Cadle said. Attorney Lynn hopes that community members will write to his client in jail. Letters must be addressed: Abel Cedeno, #2411705842, George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC), 1515 Hazen Street, East Elmhurst, NY 11370. The envelope must have that and a return address on it but nothing additional. October 26 – November 8, 2017 |

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Councilmember Daniel Dromm (second from right) with a young gay man who identified himself as Marcel, transgender activist Sophie Cadle, and Skye Adrian from FIERCE.


GRAND JURY, from p.6

All of McCreeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s family denied his possible involvement with a local gang, but supporters of Cedeno displayed screengrabs of online postings by gang members who claimed McCree as one of their own and vowed to avenge his death. Cedenoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sister Vanessa, who had spoken to Gay City News the previous week, spoke to the press. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re getting threats now,â&#x20AC;? she said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We just want justice for Abel. No one wanted for this to happen. He was bullied from the sixth grade

and would come home with bruises. The schools failed him. My brother should not be in jail. We shouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have to be afraid to be ourselves, especially in school.â&#x20AC;? Another woman, who would not give her name, said, â&#x20AC;&#x153;I have known Abel since he was five. He is no calculating killer. He is one of the gentlest people I know.â&#x20AC;? She added that she home-schools her own kids. Two of Cedenoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s classmates who told the press about how he was bullied relentlessly said they feel too threatened to return to school. The two â&#x20AC;&#x153;sidesâ&#x20AC;? in this case agree

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Tanya Walker, a co-founder of the of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group.

on one thing: the New York City Department of Education (DOE) is failing to control bullying in the schools. McCree family attorney Sanford Rubenstein specifically faulted the schools for not enforcing the state Dignity for All Students Act (DASA). City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, chair of the Councilâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Committee on Education, which is holding hearings on school bullying on October 30, said, â&#x20AC;&#x153;The DOE is failing miserably. It doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t seem anything was done to help Abel.â&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x153;I condemn the violence,â&#x20AC;? Dromm said, â&#x20AC;&#x153;but I understand the rage about being bullied, having been bullied myself at St. Maryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s High School in Manhasset.â&#x20AC;? He is asking Schools Chancellor Carmen FariĂąa â&#x20AC;&#x153;to send a letter to teachers telling them to teach lessons on tolerance. The teachers also need to know that their administrations will back them up, especially when they specifically speak about LGBTQ issues. Many of Cedenoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s supporters were from NYTAG and FIERCE, an LGBTQ youth group. Others were individuals who read about his case and wanted to show support because they, too, were survivors of school bullying â&#x20AC;&#x201D; most recently and some from decades ago, but the wounds are hard to heal and it motivates them to stand by Cedeno. Nayley Whittaker, 23, who lives near Cedenoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s school and was there with her infant child, said she was bullied by a neighbor while pregnant and wanted to fight back but â&#x20AC;&#x153;my boyfriend stopped me,â&#x20AC;? she said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Abel didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t just wake up and

decide to kill someone.â&#x20AC;? Kiara St. James of NYTAG said, â&#x20AC;&#x153;DASA is not being enforced. We have to have intensive trainings for staff and students.â&#x20AC;? Marcel, 20, gay and with long hair, showed up after reading Cedenoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s story online. He said he went to a school where Wildlife is now located and that during his time there â&#x20AC;&#x153;there was bullying for everything â&#x20AC;&#x201D; race, social class, money. There were fights every day.â&#x20AC;? He said kids as young as 13 get recruited into gangs by adults and that while school safety officers can limit fights in school, they then take place off-campus. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I got taken out of school by my father and home-schooled at 14,â&#x20AC;? he said. Tanya Walker, 54, who is outreach coordinator and co-founder of NYTAG, said, â&#x20AC;&#x153;I was bullied out of a collegeâ&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x201D; the College of Staten Island when she protested Borough President Guy Molinari for calling Karen Burstein, the 1994 Democratic nominee for state attorney general, â&#x20AC;&#x153;unfit for public officeâ&#x20AC;? because she is a lesbian. â&#x20AC;&#x153;A group of students told me they were going to get me off campus or they were going to kill me,â&#x20AC;? she said, â&#x20AC;&#x153;and the administration did nothing about it.â&#x20AC;? Sophie Cadle, the transgender activist who helped organize the rally, wants to make a difference for all students. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We want to build bridges,â&#x20AC;? she said, starting with Cedenoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s school. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We want to do â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;know your rightsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; workshops for students,â&#x20AC;? especially LGBTQ students.

October 26 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; November 8, 2017 |


#UsToo: Reclaiming “Lesbian” in Vienna ASSOCIATE EDITOR




CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Seth J. Bookey, Anthony M.Brown, Kelly Jean Cogswell, Andres Duque, Michael Ehrhardt, Steve Erickson, Andy Humm, Eli Jacobson, David Kennerley, Gary M. Kramer, Arthur S. Leonard, Michael T. Luongo, Lawrence D. Mass, Winnie McCroy, Eileen McDermott, Mick Meenan, Tim Miller, Donna Minkowitz, Gregory Montreuil, Christopher Murray, David Noh, Sam Oglesby, Nathan Riley, David Shengold, Ed Sikov, Yoav Sivan, Gus Solomons Jr., Tim Teeman, Kathleen Warnock, Benjamin Weinthal, Dean P. Wrzeszcz





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recently went to a march in New York organized by Voices 4 Chechnya and RUSA LGBT demanding that the US welcome queer Chechen refugees who are being tortured and murdered by the brutal regime of Putin faithful Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov. I’d heard a lot about how gay men and trans women in Chechnya were targeted by police stings, and often kidnapped, but very little about lesbians. During the pre-march rally in front of the Stonewall Inn, one woman read a message from a Chechen lesbian who reminded us that they were being attacked, too. If lesbians were invisible in this “cleansing,” it was because of women’s lowly status in Chechnya, she explained. Unlike gay men, they simply didn’t have a chance to escape. Women were barely allowed to leave the house, and were almost never permitted to study or work abroad. So, rather than sending them to jail and torturing or killing them there if they were discovered to be lesbians, the cops or their neighbors or relatives would simply pressure their immediate family to do the bloody deed at home, behind closed doors. And they often did — with complete impunity. I was grateful they featured that story at the rally. It’s time we talk more about how the experiences of gay men and lesbians are different. Even lesbians don’t talk much about lesbians anymore — at least in the US. Perhaps because many of us have abandoned that word. Young queer women say it’s too final. Too fi xed. Not to mention the fact that it’s so terrifyingly efficient, that in a mere two and a half syllables, it identifies sex and sexual identity, and with a loud, perverted BANG! effectively slams the door on heterosexual female privilege. It’s also true that we’re used to keeping quiet about our own abuse. Even though women broke our silence this week on social media speaking out about our experiences of sexual violence and harassment,

none of the lezzies I know, including me, talked about how this had affected us as dykes. Perhaps we don’t think it did. Or we don’t feel entitled to ask ourselves the question, and examine this nightmare, much less talk about it, through the lens of our insignificant unlabeled lives. Do I sound bitter? I hope so. When I recently suggested to a bunch of dykes that they incorporate a focus on lesbians into their work for women, for queers, for immigrants, against mass incarceration or racism or poverty, nobody spoke in agreement. In fact, one woman sneered and said her work was too important to wait until she found some token lesbian case. As if we weren’t already present. Facing job discrimination. Going to jail far more often than straight-seeming women when faced with the same charge. As if we didn’t face violence, harassment, marginalization. As if black dyke lives didn’t matter. And they don’t. Let’s be honest. None of our dyke lives count. If we don’t have enough anecdotal evidence proving how trifl ing we are, it’s there in dollars and cents. Out of 424 million dollars budgeted for international LGBTI issues in 2013-2014, only a measly two percent went toward projects for LBQ (lesbian, bi, queer) women. And out of hundreds of recommendations put forward at the United Nations in recent years, only one addressed specifically lesbian issues. Those figures come from the fi rst European Lesbian* Conference that took place early this month in Vienna, and they were the proverbial last drop that pushed the organizers into action. (They should crunch the numbers for women’s projects, too, which I suspect are no more eager to embrace lesbian issues than queer NGOs often headed by gay men.) The two researchers who presented a report to the conference on lesbian lives in Europe discovered that we were almost on par with unicorns when it came to mining data even among countries in the relatively progressive European Union.

This meant that not only were they limited in the conclusions they could draw, but that we would hit a brick wall if we wanted to propose a project on lesbian mental health, for instance, because we wouldn’t have enough figures proving it was needed or to create a model for how it might work. Ditto for projects addressing violence against lesbians. No data. Therefore, no funding. And no action. As a result, almost every researcher at the conference begged the lesbian participants from Iceland to Uzbekistan to get involved collecting data on their own communities. The second, equally repeated request, was for lesbians to come out, and stay out, both online and in real life. This visibility tells young lesbians they aren’t alone and creates room to maneuver for all those who can’t risk coming out, especially in cultures where all women are excluded not only from politics and culture, but from public spaces like parks, streets, cafés. Oh, and even though they added the asterisk, acknowledging some felt more comfortable with other words, they insisted we use the word, lesbian*. Because a word is not just a word. In practical terms, lesbian is the only word so far that includes all of what we are. As much as I like “queer,” it fails us with its masculine default. And while a word like “fluid” may be accurate for some, or even many, it not only sidelines gender, but hedges its sexual bets, conveniently leaving the door open to straight privilege. One Ukrainian dyke called a refusal to use the word lesbian flat-out homophobic. I’d say there’s misogyny at play as well. This erasure of “lesbian” and the return to the linguistic closet has real world consequences — less political power, less funding, less research, more invisibility. Visibility is key not just to power, but hope, solidarity, and even joy, if you judge by the ecstatic faces at the lesbian march through the center of Vienna on the last night of the conference. Words also give people ideas. It’s why when homosexuality was outlawed — again — in Britain in 1921, they, too, refused to include the word lesbian. During the debate in the House of Lords, the Earl of Malmesbury famously explained, “The more you advertise vice by prohibiting it, the more you will increase it.” We can only hope. October 26 – November 8, 2017 |

PERSPECTIVE: A Choice on November 7

Constitutional Convention Will Expand Voter Participation BY RACHEL BLOOM


hen looking at the extremely low voter turnout for New York City’s recent primary election, one wouldn’t know that city residents were deciding who would run for mayor this year. It is clear that New York needs to do more to encourage voter participation and competitive elections. While the need is evident, what is lacking is the political will to change the status quo and breathe new life into our politics. That’s why this November, New Yorkers must take control themselves and vote to hold a state constitutional convention to introduce much-needed reforms that make it easier to vote, reduce the power of incumbents, and level the playing field. In this year’s primary, just 14 percent of New York City’s eligible voters turned out to vote. Dismal, yes, and sadly on trend with previous years. In 2016, eight percent of eligible city voters voted in June’s federal primaries and 10 percent voted in September’s state and local primaries. What’s behind these low numbers? First and foremost are difficulties New Yorkers have getting to the ballot. New York has no early voting and no Election Day registration and it limits access to absentee ballots, which means that all voting must happen in person, on a work day.

Laws governing voting in primaries are even more restrictive. Not only does a voter need to be registered with a political party before being able to vote, but New York also doesn’t allow citizens to register or switch parties on election day. And the cut-off deadlines to do so are absurdly early. First-time voters must register with a party 25 days before the election. Those who want to switch their affi liation must do so 25 days before the general election of the year before the primary they plan to vote in, by far the longest deadline in the entire country. (Some New Yorkers may remember that this is also why Donald Trump’s children were unable to vote for him in our state’s primary.) These rules mean that the deadline for new voters this year or those who want to change their party for next year was October 13. With voting so difficult, it’s also no surprise that voters don’t care to turn out, especially when most elections are noncompetitive and feature an incumbent heavily favored to win. Perhaps that’s why city voters didn’t show up in the September primary. With a decision between an incumbent mayor with low approval ratings and a long-shot challenger, why even bother to make time to go a polling station? Voters see the same names, faces, and ideas year after year, in part because elections in New York have become a race for dollars. Rules that treat limited liability corporations as in-

dividuals allow special interests and wealthy donors to pour money into elections, making the cost of mounting a campaign exceedingly expensive and discourage anyone but an incumbent. Public fi nancing of elections, like we have in New York City to great acclaim, would also benefit fi rst-time candidates, but there isn’t a statewide system, meaning that many would-be challengers are shut out. Several commonsense proposals would energize our politics and allow new faces in the room — enacting term limits, allowing early voting, and lowering maximum campaign contributions are just a few reforms that New York needs. Despite these obvious solutions, legislators have been unwilling to enact any changes. Perhaps not surprising when the current system makes it easier for those in power to stay in power. For the fi rst time in 20 years, these solutions can be created outside of the legislative process and passed without the interference of legislators. New Yorkers must seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity provided by the constitutional convention and pass these much-needed reforms that will make our elections more dynamic and include more voices in the process. With Albany unwilling to act, change must come another way, and that way is a constitutional convention. New Yorkers must vote yes on November 7 to fi x our broken democracy. Rachel Bloom is the director of Public Policy & Programs for Citizens Union. In the October 12-25 issue of Gay City News, Nathan Riley made the case against the constitutional convention (


Drug Reformers Declare Solutions Must Be Sweeping BY NATHAN RILEY


ctivists from across the globe gathered in Atlanta October 11-14 to plot strategy for defanging drug prohibition in the United States. The conference, called by the Drug Policy Alliance, scrambled to balance recognition of the limited possibility for gains and the conviction that justice demands sweeping reforms. Michelle Alexander, whose 2010 book “The New Jim Crow” laid out in damning detail the harsh penalties imposed on black and brown communities under the guise of

fighting drugs, gave the plenary address, which took on the puzzle of President Donald Trump’s election. In a fierce display of racial solidarity, she said, voters in 30 states supported Trump’s “deliberate appeal to white racial resentment and anxieties” while at the same time voters legalized pot in four states and led four more states to enable medical marijuana programs. A greater turnout by black and brown voters would have defeated Trump in states like Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. The results don’t represent a paradox, insisted Alexander, but | October 26 – November 8, 2017

fit the longstanding pattern of Jim Crow justice. Last year, 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, she said in a fiery speech, a number greater than the total of all the soldiers killed in Vietnam. “Yes there is an outcry, but it is relatively muted compared to the crack epidemic,” she said. Crack “killed just a tiny fraction of those dying of opioid overdoses and yet a literal war was declared on poor people of color — a militaristic war” during the height of crack use, she argued. There were “round-ups of people herded into courtrooms. “Things are very different this time around. The white face of medical marijuana and the white male face of drug heroes such as those in ‘Breaking Bad’ make it possible for white folk to feel a kind of empathy that was utterly impos-

sible 20 years ago in the midst of the crack epidemic.” Alexander warned that the contrast between white people’s ability to sympathize with Caucasian users and their indifference to the suffering in black and brown communities is more than a weakness in drug policy. As Trump’s election demonstrates, she said, that disparity in attitudes threatens democratic government. A racially mixed crowd of 1,500 gathered in Atlanta as Alexander insisted that whites must break out of the cocoon that shields them from appreciating the suffering of other communities. Citing sentencing reformer Marc Mauer’s book, “Race to Incarcerate,” she explained, “The most punitive nations in the world are the

DRUG REFORMERS, continued on p.27


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the magazine the money would be returned. The Weinstein case involved a visit by Ambra Battilana, a 22-year-old Italian model, to his Tribeca office at his invitation in 2015. Discussing the young womanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s modeling career, the topic of whether her breasts were real came up and Weinstein allegedly grabbed them and then put his hand up her skirt. Within hours, the woman reported the incident to police, who wired her for a second meeting with Weinstein the following day. An audio tape captured Weinstein acknowledging he had touched Battilanaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s breasts but no mention was made of him slipping his hand up her skirt. According to the New York Times, Vanceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s office was concerned that the breast touching could be explained away by Weinstein claiming he was investigating whether the model could reasonably expect to do lingerie advertising work. The lead prosecutor in the case was also told by Weinsteinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s attorneys about credibility problems in sworn statements Battilana made concerning two sexual harassment accusations she had made in Italy. PR representatives for the movie producer were saturating the New York tabloids with that information at the time. According to the Times, Vance met three times with his lead prosecutor before accepting her recommendation not to proceed with prosecution. He now says he was â&#x20AC;&#x153;mindfulâ&#x20AC;? that she â&#x20AC;&#x153;has greater expertise in sex crimes than I do.â&#x20AC;? The New Yorker last week reported that Weinstein was represented in that matter by Elkan Abramowitz, a former law partner of Vanceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s who was a donor to the DAâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s campaign. In challenging Vance, Fliedner doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t quibble with Vanceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s record as â&#x20AC;&#x153;a prosecutor that has been progressive for the most part,â&#x20AC;? but he also recalled the DAâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 2011 retreat from prosecuting Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a French national then leading the International Monetary Fund, who faced accusation from a Manhattan hotel maid that he had forced her to perform oral sex on him. Vance initially proceeded with charges, but his office later announced it had discovered credibility problems with the alleged victimâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s account and dismissed the charges.

That case, Fliedner said, â&#x20AC;&#x153;was the first thing that caused me to be really uncomfortableâ&#x20AC;? with Vanceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s leadership in the DAâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s office. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Again, like the Weinstein situation, thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the perception, and its frankly my perception, that the word of a woman because of who she is, because of her station in life is not enough,â&#x20AC;? he said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;In all of these cases, weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re talking about them, these women who mustered the courage, up against somebody very, very powerful, and in Manhattan there are powerful people and they need to be held accountable.â&#x20AC;? Fliedner acknowledged he faces â&#x20AC;&#x153;an extraordinary hillâ&#x20AC;? in waging a write-in campaign, and even admitted he needs to attend to his private law practice in the process, but rejected the term â&#x20AC;&#x153;symbolicâ&#x20AC;? in describing his efforts. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I hear from these folks through social media and everything, and have been nonstop, that they are serious about taking this as far as they can in the time we have up to the election so I actually think the use of the term symbolic, just to me, is kind of disrespectful to people who are trying to access the process in this really, really healthy way,â&#x20AC;? he said. Still, in laying out a vision for the office, Fliedner struggled to define a clear distinction, â&#x20AC;&#x153;setting these scandals aside,â&#x20AC;? from Vanceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s record. Saying that like the incumbent he would shift focus away from prosecuting low-level, victimless offenses, he mentioned fare-beating on the subways, and then acknowledged that was an initiative Vance already had in the works. Only in saying he would not prosecute sex workers did Fliedner mention a specific departure from current standard practice. But, the challenger from Brooklyn is committed to making the best, most resonant case he can. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I think that Manhattanites, New Yorkers, in fact, are really concerned about racial equity, really concerned about financial equity,â&#x20AC;? Fliedner said, â&#x20AC;&#x153;and I think that as we try to equalize our world and talk about all these thorny issues, I think that criminal justice is the place where the impacts of inequality play out more dramatically than anywhere else â&#x20AC;&#x201D; who will go to jail or not, who will be charged with a criminal charge or not, and who will get off scot-free.â&#x20AC;?

October 26 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; November 8, 2017 |




most diverse; the nations with the most compassionate, or the most lenient criminal justice policies, are the most homogenous. You know, we like to say that diversity is our strength when it may actually be our Achilles heel.â&#x20AC;? Jim Crow justice, Alexander said, threatens civil liberties in the US and it fosters a failed government that could undermine â&#x20AC;&#x153;the future of the globe.â&#x20AC;? The argument that whites must check their privilege and make common cause with immigrants, blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans was a constant conference theme. A true interracial majority coalition is a key objective of the Drug Policy Alliance. There are hopeful signs. Harm reduction programs are spreading in the South, and in California a new law reduced mandatory sentences, with Governor Jerry Brown signing the RISE Act just as the conference convened. The measure ends sentencing enhancements that have added three years to drug convictions for every prior conviction. Long sentences are cruel and cause the pernicious pattern of mass incarceration. Other good news: in Atlanta, the mayor signed a bill decriminalizing marijuana possession, and there are rumors that communities across New York State are prepared to move toward experimental safe consumption spaces where drug users are in the presence of an overdose prevention worker who can intervene immediately if things go wrong. This conference was the first hosted by Maria McFarland SĂĄnchez-Moreno, who has replaced

Ethan Nadelmann as the Drug Policy Allianceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s executive director. McFarland SĂĄnchez-Moreno has done human right work in drug war battlefields in Peru and Columbia, and during her tenure as co-director of US Programs at Human Rights Watch, her team pushed against racial discrimination in policing, excessive sentencing, and unfair deportation policies that tear families apart. The Drug Policy Alliance first championed medical marijuana as a first step in unwinding prohibition, but the organizationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s program has expanded and now calls for decriminalization of all drugs. Essentially, the group wants the police to arrest no one for drug possession, but instead steer a drug user to a harm reduction program. This is the policy in Portugal and is being tested in Seattle. The unhappy truth, however, is that this approach would have only a tangential impact on harsh Jim Crow justice. Possession seldom brings long sentences; these sentences are imposed on sellers. The opioid crisis has brought a new wave of arbitrary penalties. Sellers are seen as murderers because their product includes fentanyl. Yet they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t make the product, and in the northeast US virtually 100 percent of the street product is fentanyl or laced with it. Dealers have no control over the ingredients, but they are sentenced as though they created the system. A sweeping opposition to the criminalization of poverty and drug use forms the radical core of the Drug Policy Alliance, and Atlanta made that ultimate objective abundantly clear.

MANTA SPA FOCUSING ON MAN TO MAN MASSAGE                                                        






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Song of Himself Michael Urie as a willful gay man yearning for love and acceptance BY DAVID KENNERLEY he spate of first-time revivals of groundbreaking gay-themed shows continues. In recent seasons, “The Normal Heart,” “Lips Together, Teeth Apart,” and “Falsettos” have all returned to major New York stages with varying degrees of success. This season, “M. Butterfly” is back on Broadway for the first time, and “Angels in America” is slated to return next spring. Also back on the boards, courtesy of Second Stage Theater, is Harvey Fierstein’s fiercely comic “Torch Song Trilogy,” now simply called “Torch Song,” which nabbed the 1983 Tony Award for Best Play and Best Actor Award for Fierstein. This legendary drama, about a campy gay man longing for acceptance, was born as separate one-acts in the basement of La MaMa, and later featured Matthew Broderick and Estelle Getty. Michael Urie now takes on the iconic lead role of Arnold Beckoff, originated by Fierstein. Some two or three decades after their premieres, one question looms over each of these cultural landmarks: Is the show still trenchant or has it gone trite? In the case of “Torch Song,” this deeply satisfying work not only retains its rich, emotional power, it has acquired a fresh urgency. Fierstein himself retooled the text



Second Stage Theater Tony Kaiser Theater 305 W. 43rd St. Through Dec. 3 Tue., Thu. at 7 p.m.; Wed. at 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m. Sun. at 3 p.m. Some schedule variation $99-$139; Or 212-246-4422 Two hrs. and 30 mins., with intermission JOAN MARCUS

Ward Horton, Jack DiFalco, Michael Urie, and Mercedes Ruehl in Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song,” directed by Moisés Kaufman at the Second Stage through December 3.

for this version. Much of the fat has been trimmed, slashing the running time from four hours to a relatively brisk two and one-half hours, rendering the show more muscular and focused. The three discrete chapters are truncated but still form a cohesive whole. “International Stud, 1971,” named for an actual sleazy gay bar on Perry Street in the West Village, finds Arnold donning drag and makeup for his turn as the alluring Virginia Ham. Things look promising when he takes up with the strapping albeit conflicted bisexual Ed (an excellent Ward Horton), but the romance gets too complicated and they move it to the friend zone. Or so they think. Arnold is outraged at Ed’s insistence on dating women and offers

up keen insights. “How can sleeping with a woman make you comfortable if you know you’d rather be with a man?,” he asks incredulously. “How are you supposed to get respect from anyone if you won’t be yourself? There’s no you to respect.” The backroom scene where the reluctant Arnold gets, um, manhandled is as deliriously astounding as when I saw it more than 30 years ago. The second chapter, “Fugue in a Nursery, 1975,” depicts Arnold and his young new lover, Alan (Michael Rosen), visiting Ed and his incredibly open-minded wife Laurel (the highly appealing Roxanna Hope Radja, who makes the most of her brief stage time) at their farmhouse upstate. The entire chapter takes place in an oversized bed where the

couples swap places and chat about their romantic entanglements. When Ed gets paired off with the model/ ex-hustler Alan, who, by the way, cavorts in bulging briefs, more than just chatter erupts. The most affecting chapter is “Widows and Children First, 1980,” where Arnold’s stern, disapproving mother (Mercedes Ruehl) visits his Manhattan apartment (David Zinn designed the efficient, period-perfect sets), only to discover he is fostering a teenage boy, David (Jack DiFalco), a punk rescued from the streets. Tragically, Alan has died at age 23; Arnold is doing his best to provide David a nurturing home. Separated from Laurel, Ed is crashing on the foldout sofa. Clearly he and Arnold have some unfinished business to sort out.

TORCH SONG, continued on p.29


La Dulcet Musto Nightlife maven appears in a dozen duets to support Gays Against Guns BY TRAV S.D. here may have been more powerful columnists in the history of American journalism than Michael Musto, but none was ever more adored, for he radiates a personality and humor as great as — and often greater than — the celebrities he covers. For nearly 30 years (1984-2013), his Village

T 28

Voice column “La Dolce Musto” was obligatory reading for any New Yorker who wanted to have it on the ball. He’s a frequent presence on television and in documentaries, one of the rotating cohosts of the PBS show “Theater Talk”, a weekly blogger at, and the talent behind the “Musto Unfi ltered” column at Perhaps lesser known is the

fact that he also sings! On Saturday, November 11, he will present his second evening of musical duets with a little help from his friends at Club Cumming, Alan Cumming’s new East Village venue. Joining him onstage will be the likes of Bridget Everett, Murray Hill, Flotilla DeBarge, and a dozen more. Titled “Musto Duets Deux”, the proceeds from the night will benefit Gays Against

MUSTO DUETS DEUX Club Cumming 505 E. Sixth St. at Ave. A Nov. 11 at 9 p.m. $32-$47.5 event/3105536

MUSTO, continued on p.29

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |


Roxanna Hope Radja, Ward Horton, Michael Urie, and Michael Rosen in “Torch Song.”

TORCH SONG, from p.28

The über-talented Urie would seem an ideal fit as Arnold. The irresistibly charming actor has received well-earned kudos for a range of roles, from the scheming assistant in “Ugly Betty” to the lonely clerk channeling Barbra Streisand in “Buyer & Cellar” to the bumbling dolt in “The Government Inspector.” But under the direction of Moisés Kaufman (“The Laramie Project”), his lilting, croaking New Yawk Jewish accent and affectations are so mannered, especially compared to the supporting cast, that he can come off as artificial. Is he trying to channel the inimitable Fierstien? Not that it spoils the overall performance. Urie’s comic timing is impeccable, and he meets the physical challenges of the role with whimsy and gusto. Delivering a gripping turn that still manages to tug at the heartstrings, his Arnold is moody and mooning, wondering why he can’t find a healthy relationship like his straight peers are able to have. The powerhouse Ruehl is superb as Arnold’s meddlesome mother who

cannot accept her son’s “sickness” that he’s “chosen for himself.” Essentially a villain, she manages to muster a level of tenderness that earns our empathy instead of ire. What’s especially striking about this revival is discovering the extraordinary prescience of Fierstein. When he wrote the play, homosexual relations were illegal in many states and gays were routinely vilified, beaten, even murdered. Yet he envisioned a world where gays would be accepted in mainstream society, be open and honest with friends and family, with options for marriage and adoption. He showed everybody that one day these dreams could become a reality. The timing for a revival is ideal. Only a year ago, “Torch Song” might not have had the same cultural resonance, with many of the coming-out issues registering as a thing of the past. But under the current homophobic — no, make that homo-vitriolic — regime in the White House, the right to marry your same-sex partner, adopt children, and live a life free from discrimination cannot be taken for granted.


In addition to everything you thought you knew about Michael Musto, November 11 at Club Cumming you’ll have a chance to find out just how splendidly he sings — in duet with some dozen favorites.

MUSTO, from p.28

Guns. “I’ve always loved to sing,” Musto told Gay City News. “I sang in school. I was in high school musicals. I was in [the annual city high school musical competition] SING! I won Best Actor that year, which is a credit I never tire of bragging about. In college, I was in Gilbert and Sullivan productions. And in the early ‘80s I fronted a Motown cover band called the Must. I hung up the singing for a while. But deep down I’m a ham. Just sitting | October 26 – November 8, 2017

MUSTO, continued on p.39



Friends in Crisis Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath are night and day buds in Steven Dietz’s “Lonely Planet” LONELEY PLANET Theatre Row-Clurman Theatre 410 W. 42nd St. Through Nov. 18 Tue.-Thu. at 7 p.m. Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m. Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. $65-$80; $20 on Tue. Two hrs., with intermission


Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath in Steven Dietz’s “Lonely Planet,” directed by Jonathan Silverstein, at the Clurman at Theatre Row through November 18.

BY DAVID NOH teven Dietz’s “Lonely Planet” is a terrific play from Keen Theater, laced with humor and piercing little jabs of melancholy, about two friends Jody (Arnie Burton) and Carl (Matt McGrath) in a fraught time, namely the plague years of AIDS. I once had a friend, since deceased, who, although a brilliant guy in many ways, was a complete fabulist. Although we were the best of friends, he kept his positive HIV status from me for years and, when he finally told me, said he contracted it one day while walking along Broadway on the Upper West Side, when a van screeched to a halt, somebody grabbed him and threw him in the back, where he was raped by five men. The character of Carl and the play’s context reminded me of him, for Carl also constantly evades the truth in favor of embroidered fancies, which the hilariously rococo McGrath effusively spouts to a usually very tolerant, bemused Burton, who sometimes glancingly evokes Jack Benny’s classic slow timing. These are two proudly out gay actors we’ve enjoyed for decades now, at the very peak of their pow-



ers, resulting in the greatest twohander I’ve seen since John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson made our collective jaws drop in Pinter’s “No Man’s Land,” back in 1975. Burton said, “I had always heard about this play, one of these titles floating around but had never read it, and then I got a call from our director, Jonathan Silverstein, who sent it to me. I thought ‘Ohmigod, this is fantastic!’ Although it was written in 1993, it isn’t dated at all. And although it’s about AIDS on a certain level, it’s really about friendship and how we deal with a crisis.Actually, AIDS is never mentioned or what city or year it takes place in. “This was actually one of the harder plays I’ve done because it’s about these two friends who communicate with one another but aren’t being honest with each other at the same time. Everything is subtextual, so we had to find out what that was before we could put all the layers onto it, like pain and denial.” I remarked that to Burton that his quiet, wry, subdued, and often mournful performance, like playing straight man to McGrath’s dazzling flamboyance, was certainly a change of pace for him, more

known as an ace comedic wiz of a performer, from his virtuosic “The 39 Steps” to his last dual — or was it triple? — performance in “The Government Inspector.” He replied, “That’s exactly why I wanted to do this one! Because, although quite funny, it doesn’t necessarily rely on comedy, and I to get to play just one character with one throughline.” Praising director Silverstein, Burton said, “It was so good, just what I was hoping for. Because you could easily see a bad version of this play, über sentimental. Jonathan had the right approach and such good taste about paring away the sentiment to get to the real emotion and also letting the laughs come but never pushing it so that it always felt really real. It was all organic and flowed very naturally. “The play was written by a straight man, so it’s not so specific. Like when my character says his favorite song is one by Dylan sung by Joe Cocker, which isn’t what one would expect from a gay man. It’s not Cher, so that’s kind of refreshing, that distance that this writer has.” Turning to his co-star, Burton said, “I love the way you say your

lines about all these friends who have passed and how what you do is your way of remembering so many people who were not necessarily famous but who deserved to be remembered.” McGrath replied, “I had heard about this and then was asked to do it not long before the opening date. And my immediate thought was, ‘Who dropped out this time? Call old reliable Matt McGrath!’ [Laughs.] But the company said, ‘No, this is how we do things.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, thank God I don’t have to bring that into the room with me.’ “It was kind of hard to learn the lines when you’re not exactly sure what the intention is. And if it’s that elliptical, it’s so easy to get turned around. My friends who have seen it told me, ‘Oh, you guys make it look so easy.’ It wasn’t. We’ve seen AIDS plays that deal with the lovers, mothers, fathers, but rarely about friendship, and I think that’s the beauty of this play. I know this straight couple — husband and wife — who came to see it, and he waited until they got to their car in the parking lot before he burst into tears. Because it reminded him of his male friendships. “I think the show Carl is always putting on stems from the vitality that has been lost by his friends who had all of these jobs that he hears about and full lives, before AIDS. All these lost unheralded people. For us, who lived through

LONELY PLANET, continued on p.46

October 26 – November 8, 2017 | | October 26 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; November 8, 2017


Ludlam Honored By Those He Loved Everett Quinton brings back a Ridiculous original, and Brian Belovitch is thick in the mix CONQUEST OF THE UNIVERSE OR WHEN QUEENS COLLIDE La MaMa Ellen Stewart Theatre 66 E Fourth St., btwn. Bowery & Second Ave. Second fl. Nov. 2-4, 6, 9-11, 16-18 at 8 p.m. Nov. 5, 12, 19 at 4 p.m. $31; $26 for students & seniors DAVID NOH

Brian Belovitch and Everett Quinton star in a revival of Charles Ludlam’s “Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide” at La MaMa November 2-19.

BY DAVID NOH he late, great Charles Ludlam wrote dozens of plays, but they are rarely revived right here in the very city in which he pioneered the alternative theater scene. To remedy that, La MaMa is reviving his “Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide,” commemorating both the playwright’s founding of his Ridiculous Theatrical Company half a century ago and his death 30 years ago. Inspired by Christopher Marlowe’s “Tamburlaine the Great” and set in outer space, it’s a futuristic tale of war across the universe with Tamberlaine capturing various kings and queens (of course) from Mars, Venus, and Saturn with names like Zabina, Natolia, and Cosroe. This production is being directed by Ludlam’s longtime partner, Everett Quinton, and I snatched the opportunity to discuss it with him at a favorite West Village neighborhood haunt, Hudson Diner. Joining us was actor Brian Belovitch, who is playing Alice, the wife of Tamberlaine. I met Belovitch an eon ago, at his Hell’s Kitchen apartment when he was then known as Tish Gervaise, one of Manhattan’s most lauded trans personalities and certainly the sexiest. Looking like Claudia Cardinale’s younger and even more voluptuous sister, Tish sauntered through the clubs



and then-Bohemian nabes of this burg, leaving a wake of devout fans and gob-smacked guys behind her. Michael Musto was at Tish’s place, too, as was Holly fucking Woodlawn, and we all had a gay old time, perusing Antonio Lopez’s opulent new Arabian Nights-inspired book, for which Tish had modeled, and dishing some serious dirt (including what an avid fan of Screw magazine’s back page ads for transgender escorts Eddie Murphy was). It was a quite heavenly reunion, during the course of which, while discussing “Conquest of the Universe,” Zsa Zsa Gabor’s immortally trashy sci fi epic “Queen of Outer Space” was heavily discussed. (You knew it would be.) Quinton, who spent this past summer memorizing a full act of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” which he performed for a one-night stand in Provinctown at the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, said, “I was asked which of Charles’ plays they should use for this commemoration and I chose this, which was the first one he did when he started the Ridiculous. He would read the newspaper every day and just be inspired by whatever news story caught his fancy and wrote a play from that. And, as Tamberlaine, we have Grant Neale, who was in the original production! I play two roles: Cosroe and Zabina. It’s a big production, we’re excited about the fabulous design of it, and I just want to get it up on its

feet! I’m so proud of this cast, which I hand-picked. Of course, it’s very gay: you know, Charles used to say, “I get down on my knees every day and thank God I’m gay!” Belovitch described his role as “a cross between Suzanne Sugarbaker from ‘Designing Women’ and Ann Richards, although not as smart. But she does use coquetry and various feminine wiles to gain power. You know, I haven’t acted or done drag in so long, look what I have to wear now, which I didn’t use to need!” And with that, Belovitch pulled out not only a cunning pair of high heels but a couple of hip pads. Tish Gervaise certainly didn’t need them back in the day, and Belovitch recounted some of his mesmerizing past. “I’m from Providence, Rhode Island, and always knew I was different from age four or five. The first guy I was ever with was around 15, from high school. Tall and skinny with long hair. He took me to this place by the railroad tracks where you went into this building where there was some cardboard which had been laid out and a candle. It wasn’t traumatizing at all. That shit happened later, when I was introduced to the local nearby cruising ground and started hopping in and out of cars.” Belovitch began transitioning in his teens and came to New York — away from a decidedly non-support-

ive family with six siblings — where he fell into modeling and the cabaret/ club world. He praised the great Lopez as “the most generous man. He drew me a bunch of times and I luckily still have some sketches. But he really got me, all of us, really, and was so very kind. When you posed for him, he made you feel like you were really something special. “But you know, I tried everything, got married [to a soldier for five years and lived on a German army base], had my own rock band, modeled as a woman, and no one knew the difference. But I was too ahead of my time, and the frustration got to me. A downward spiral of drugs — crack cocaine, honey, it was the ‘80s! “But I got myself to rehab and have been sober for a very long time. Then I decided to stop transitioning and became a man again. I’m so happy now, have a new husband — a horticulturist. We live in Brooklyn, and I work in a rehab center now, as a counselor, because I have been there and so know what that’s all about.” I frankly cannot wait to get to La MaMa and revel once more in the delirium, fun, and authentic wit of Ludlam’s universe, especially with these two fabulous veterans who’ve known each other forever. And I will never forgot Belovitch’s line when once asked how he felt after having his breasts removed. Referencing a famous Mary Tyler Moore TV movie of the week, he said, “First, you cry.”

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |

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CALL FOR NOMINATIONS At a gala at the Grand Prospect Hall on Thursday, April 12, 2018, Gay City News will present its third annual Impact Awards recognizing the achievements and contributions of outstanding LGBTQ and allied New Yorkers. These individuals will represent the best in a diversity of ďŹ elds, from advocacy, public service, and business to media, the arts, and literature, with a demonstrated commitment to enhancing the rights, cultural opportunities, health, and well-being of the LGBTQ community, while supporting the principle that America and the world are best served when the dignity and access to opportunity for all are respected and nurtured.

If you wish to nominate an LGBTQ or allied New Yorker who reďŹ&#x201A;ects these values and contributions in their life and work, please ďŹ ll out the attached form and mail it to the address below, before November 15 or NOMINATE ONLINE WWW.GAYCITYNEWS.NYC/NOMINATION2018.

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Please include a copy of your nomineeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s bio and/ or rĂŠsumĂŠ, if available. MAIL TO: Gay City News, 2018 Impact Award Nominations, Attn: Paul Schindler, One Metrotech Center North, 10th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201. | October 26 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; November 8, 2017



Time and Love, Everybody J.B. Priestley toys with time at Roundabout, while love takes a beating in two shows at the Public


Elizabeth McGovern, Brooke Bloom, and Charlotte Parry in J.B. Priestley’s 1937 “Time and the Conways,” directed by Rebecca Taichman at the American Airlines Theatre.

BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE f we could understand time in a non-linear fashion, how would that change our lives and choices? That’s the question posed by “Time and the Conways,” J.B. Priestley’s 1937 play now getting a sublime and gorgeously heartbreaking production at the Roundabout. Taking place in 1919 and 1937, it chronicles a family between the World Wars and their move from giddy affluence to gritty reality. Priestley was inspired by the recent discovery of the theory of relativity and popular notions of time, which suggested that while we experience time as sequential, all times exist at once. One needn’t understand any of that, however, to be deeply affected by this dark drawing room comedy. Its clear message is that we must be mindful of the present and engage in life as it is if we’re to have any hope for the future. The oftenclueless Conways end up chewed up by the world, while the outsiders and realists manage to survive. Directed by Rebecca Taichman with deep sensitivity and precision, the play slowly reveals itself, just as life does. There are elements of magical realism — a literary





American Airlines Theatre 227 W. 42nd St. Tue.-Sat. at 8 p.m. Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. $39-$149; Or 212-719-1300 Two hrs., 15 mins., with intermission

Public Theater 425 Lafayette St. Btwn. E. Fourth St. & Astor Pl. Through Dec. 10 Tue.-Sat. at 7 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. at 1 p.m. $75; or 212-967-7555 Ninety mins., no intermission

form for which Priestley was something of a forerunner — that give the piece an unusual poetry. For all the seeming superficiality, the characters are subtly but beautifully drawn so that by the end their human tragedy is deeply moving. Taichman’s direction is reinforced by the surprisingly affecting set by Neil Patel and a company that is superb. Notably, Elizabeth McGovern as the family matriarch is wonderful. She shows a rage and focus that ground the play and precipitate the family’s demise. Charlotte Parry as Kay gives an intricate performance that is often quiet but creates a felt presence throughout. Gabriel Ebert is terrific as the son who has never achieved his mother’s ambitions but is a man nonetheless content with his life. Perhaps the most unexpected and dynamic performance comes from Steven Boyer, late of “Hand to God.” The outsider who has married into the family, he is the one who finds success because he takes on the world as it is. As humans, we struggle to understand time and our relationship to it, to peer ahead into the future or gaze back to reshape our past. We’d be better to live consciously in the present knowing that our actions today will shape the future. We owe it to ourselves to make time to see this. A powerful man requires sexual favors from a vulnerable, less powerful woman as a condition of her getting something she wants.


Natalie Woolams-Torres and Nia Vardalos in “Tiny Beautiful Things,” based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, adapted for the stage by Vardalos; and directed by Thomas Kail,” at the Public Theater through December 10.

Given the current Hollywood scandals as well as the predator-inchief in Washington, this year’s spate of productions of “Measure for Measure” couldn’t be timelier. Shakespeare’s tale of cynical, self-serving people in power and their moral posturing has seldom seemed more relevant, though it’s grim to recognize the persistence of such abuses over more than four centuries. In the Elevator Repair Service’s scattered, unfocused, and virtually incomprehensible attack on this play, however, it is Shakespeare himself who is the abuse victim. Trimmed to just over two hours, the manic production races through the text with little poetry and less substance. The company is noted for its literal readings of literature, which has been intermittently entertaining. Here, however, the characters are undeveloped, the staging makes little sense, and it’s clear that director John Collins is more dedicated to applying his trademark “experimental” technique than to respecting or even understanding the play. The result is mechanical, confusing, and frustrating. The set is a configuration of ta-

bles with candlestick phones. Why? Unclear. The production’s primary physical element is the projection of the text on screens. This is helpful because the actors speak so fast and often without any idea of what they’re saying that the projections are vital supertitles to help the befuddled audience. The staging includes actors leaping around for no apparent reason. The story concerns Angelo, stepping in for the Duke who appears to have left but is actually observing his country disguised as a monk. When Angelo sentences Claudio to death for having sex before marriage, Claudio’s sister Isabella pleads for lenience. Angelo responds that if she’ll sleep with him, he’ll let Claudio live. Isabella and the disguised Duke create a strategy to catch Angelo in his own snare, which goes off well. When Angelo doesn’t keep his end of the deal, the Duke is revealed, Angelo exposed, Claudio ultimately saved, and Isabella’s virtue remains intact. One only knows this from previous readings of the play. In this production, the whole matter is very hard to follow. One also wonders how Elevator Repair Service gets away with this mess. The company has been a darling of critics for some reason, and the prevailing sentiment today is that “when you’re a star, they let you do it.” “Tiny Beautiful Things” now

TINY BEAUTIFUL, continued on p.35

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |


at the Public is like a gift. More accurately, it’s like a gift shoppe (spelling intentional). From the outside it looks charming, but once inside one is quickly overcome by the sickly sweet odor of potpourri and the growing realization that most of the goods are largely pointless, useless, and cheaply made. The play, adapted from a bestselling collection of letters from an online advice column, attempts to bring these letters to life. Three actors float around the set and intone the letters while Sugar, the name under which the author Cheryl Strayed wrote, gives answers. The letters are the standard, agony aunt fare that has been the staple of this form from the fictional Miss Lonelyhearts to the very real Ann Landers — “love, life, anguish, angst” to quote the musical “Nine.” The answers often veer off course so that Sugar can talk about herself. Sugar maintains that she is not a professional, and that certainly shows. Her replies are often stories about herself and her heroin-addicted, promiscuous past pre-

MEASURE FOR MEASURE Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St. Btwn. Fourth St. & Astor Pl. Through Nov. 12 Tue.-Sat at 7 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. at 1 p.m. $75; or 212-967-7555 Two hrs., 10 mins., no intermission


Pete Simpson in the Elevator Repair Service production of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” at the Public Theater through November 12.

sented in an orgy of humble bragging that’s supposed to inspire her readers to get through whatever challenges they face. Alternatively, she indulges in the kind of peppy, kitten poster sentiment, the therapeutic value of which is “keep your sunny side up.” Sorry to say, but Sugar’s not that interesting, and life isn’t that easy. Director Thomas Kail does the best he can with the material. The set-up is inherently false as we watch Sugar putter around a kitchen and modest home (set by | October 26 – November 8, 2017

Rachel Hauck) as she composes her answers. Watching someone write is boring, so all the activity is intended to show Sugar as a regular wife and mother getting lunch for her kids or picking up after her family while the phantom letter writers move about in the clutter. Nia Vardalos, who adapted the book and appears as Sugar, is a generous actress and consistently appealing, but empathy is a hard emotion to play convincingly, particularly for so long when there’s little else going on.

Tedium and predictability settle in early. What Vardalos fails to understand is that a casually read column or a book kept by the toilet cloys and curdles when extended to 90 minutes of cheap emotion and self-aggrandizement. Other than the recitation of some of the comments from the blog posts, there are no outcomes from Sugar’s — ahem — wisdom, so the piece is dramatically dull. It’s a collection of precious moments, which like the eponymous figurines, are more saccharine than enlightening, and one can’t wait to flush and get back to the real business of getting through life the best we can.



Discovering Our Nature Josh O’Connor and Alex Secareanu play a Yorkshire farmer and the Romanian newcomer who saves him BY GARY M. KRAMER od’s Own Country” is a raw and powerful romantic drama focused on Johnny (Josh O’Connor), a closeted young man living on his ailing father’s (Ian Hart) failing Yorkshire farm. His life changes when Gheorghe (Alex Secareanu), a Romanian, comes to help out during lambing season. While Johnny is initially hostile toward Gheorghe, calling him “gypsy,” an attraction slowly develops between the two men that becomes tender and loving. Writer and director Francis Lee has crafted a compelling character study that is aided by the authenticity of its depiction of farm life. The magnetic Secareanu gives an assured, seductive performance. But it is Josh O’Connor, who palpably conveys Johnny’s emotional suffocation, that will make “God’s Own Country” get under viewers’ skin. Lee spoke with Gay City News via Skype about making his tough but tender film.



GARY M. KRAMER: What inspired this love story, which has already garnered comparisons to “Brokeback Mountain?” FRANCIS LEE: The starting point was the landscape. I grew up on the Pennines Hills of West Yorkshire in a

Directed by Francis Lee Orion Pictures/ Samuel Goldwyn Films Opens Oct. 25 IFC Center 323 Sixth Ave. at W. Third St. ORION PICTURES/ SAMUEL GOLDWYN FILMS

Alex Secareanu and Josh O’Connor in Francis Lee’s “God’s Own Country.”

similar kind of landscape as where I shot the film. It was my playground. It was a landscape that inspired me to find freedom and creativity, but I also found it to be brutal and oppressive. I left when I was 20 to go to college. and the whole time I was away I was obsessed with the landscape and how it formed me physically and emotionally. When I started to make the film, it was natural for me to explore those feelings and look at people I lived and worked with. I thought about big themes, and they become distilled into a story — the themes of falling in love, and how hard it is, and how difficult I found it to be open enough to love and be loved. Those things collided. GMK: The film features many scenes of the young men caring for animals in rather graphic ways. Can you talk about why you showed so

much explicit detail of animal husbandry? FL: It’s an interesting point. I don’t see it as graphic at all. I come from that community. When I was a child, I delivered animals — pigs in particular — and it was important for me to depict the reality and authenticity of rural farming life. Animal husbandry is about the circle of life. I’d have one hand delivering a piglet and a bacon sandwich in the other hand. As urban dwellers, we are disassociated with how farming happens. It shows Johnny’s sensitive caring side. He’s difficult and tough with his family but tender with his livestock. GMK: The character of Johnny is not always likeable. He’s self-destructive, rude, and selfish. Can you talk about how you developed his character? FL: I wasn’t afraid to make him un-

likeable. What I wanted to look at was somebody’s transformation in terms of his emotional life. I wanted to be truthful to the character. Even as he progresses, you begin to understand why he is the way he is. The challenge was having this inarticulate character trying to express himself. For me, it was that journey I found resonant, how hard it was for him. We as an audience might not be on his side, but by the end we are rooting for him, and as he develops so has our perception of him. GMK: In contrast, Gheorghe was full of confidence and sex appeal. What made him a good foil for Johnny, and why was he attracted to Johnny? FL: I think that what Gheorghe is is a very maternal character. He’s more self-possessed and understands more of himself. He has a

GOD’S OWN COUNTRY, continued on p.37

Step by Daunting Step to the Altar Two Mexican men’s grueling fight to get married BY GARY M. KRAMER he road to same-sex marriage was fraught with obstacles, but the setbacks faced by Victor Manuel Aguirre and Fernando Urias, a couple in Baja California, Mexico, were beyond the pale. Same-sex marriage was legal in some states

T 36

in Mexico when this long-term couple wanted to wed. However, in Mexicali, where Aguirre and Urias lived, the local government prevented such marriages. Even after a lawyer filed an amparo (a constitutional appeal) demanding equality, Aguirre and Urias had to endure a lengthy and ugly battle — including a bomb threat at

the courthouse on one of the days planned for their wedding. “No Dress Code Required” is director Cristina Herrera Borquez’s inspiring and moving documentary — it’s impossible not to cry happy tears at the men’s wedding — that recounts these unlikely activists as they prevailed, fin ally getting hitched after more than a

few hitches along the way. Borquez translated for Aguirre and Urias, at points summarizing comments from both of them, in a conference call with Gay City News about their film and story. GARY M. KRAMER: Cristina,

NO DRESS CODE, continued on p.37

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |

GOD’S OWN COUNTRY, from p.36

need to care, and we see that in how he cares for the animals and changes the environment when he arrives. We see him take the light bulb and put it into a lamp to transform his environment in the caravan. He’s attracted to Johnny because he’s sexy and he mirrors who he could have been or who he was until he was processed. Gheorghe has a need to care, and he sees someone in Johnny whom he accepts for all his faults as well as the good stuff, which is the epitome of love for me. GMK: The film addresses issues of foreigners in the UK. Gheorghe makes references to his homeland that indicate why he didn’t stay. But he doesn’t get a particularly warm welcome in Yorkshire. Can you discuss this? FL: I always knew I wanted Gheorghe to be an outsider, and when Romania joined the EU, the UK tabloid press had a field day with xenophobia. They suggested the UK would be flooded with Romanian gypsies to exploit our [National Health Service], jobs, and social security system. That didn’t happen, but the casual xenophobia was spread. When I wrote the script, Brexit hadn’t happened, but it has since taken on a more significant meaning. I worked with a Romanian, and all he wanted was a better his life for himself and his wife. I was ashamed of the reaction he generally had from the UK, and I was compelled to understand the emotional and physical way he coped with that. GMK: The film is rare in that it depicts queer life in a rural community. Can you talk about the attitudes

NO DRESS CODE, from p.36

how did you find this story, and what prompted you to follow it and film it? CHRISTINA HERRERA BORQUEZ: I’ve known them for years in passing. I knew Fer better; he was my hairdresser. We have a dear friend in common. Fer told me years ago he wanted to get married and he knew it was not possible. When our mutual friend said the guys were getting married, my friend said we have to document this. I said I’d talk to them to see if they wanted to do it. We talked,

you’ve encountered? FL: I think it’s a real interesting question. I’ve been surprised that there is an assumption from people who don’t live in a rural community that people harbor homophobia. This is my experience. I’ve not come across any homophobia. They don’t talk about it, necessarily. I write from a personal and emotional perspective. I can’t speak for the rural community in the States, or queers in other rural communities, but I can speak for my area. A local town in my area has the highest lesbian population in the UK. GMK: The film uses space carefully, from the majestic shot on the hillside to the cozy interior of the caravan. Can you talk about the visual approach you took to telling the story? FL: I felt that this landscape had informed me emotionally and physically. I’ve never seen this landscape depicted on screen this way. Yorkshire is seen as bucolic and pastoral, but I’ve felt passive as a viewer. My experience is how cold, windy, wet, and muddy, and how if you’re working on the land the last thing you do is go for a walk and experience it as voyeur. I knew I wanted to represent it from a specific point of view, the eyes of Johnny, who works the land. So I wanted the camera up close and personal, so I worked with the DP to experience this world very much from Johnny’s point of view and we’d see the landscape form the characters. We held back on the wide shot until Johnny experiences it for the first time through Gheorghe’s eyes. It’s a real sense of freedom and freeing up of him. He gets to work there, and it does have incredible, overpowering beauty.

they said yes, and we started shooting in June 2013. I finished the last interview in March 2016. GMK: Gentlemen, how long have you been together, who proposed, and how long did it take for you to get married? FERNANDO URIAS: We have known each other 14 years. Victor did the proposing around three years ago. The start of the legal process to the end took two years. GMK: Gentlemen, you became | October 26 – November 8, 2017

NO DRESS CODE, continued on p.39



Love on the High Seas The dreams and disillusions of a gay cruise BY GARY M. KRAMER he documentary “Dream Boat,” by out director Tristan Ferland Milewski, depicts experiences a handful of men have on a week-long gay cruise in the Mediterranean. This terrific film chronicles several parties, from a fun drag event to a neon-themed one, as well as plenty of skin and sex, including a brief scene of fellatio. The five subjects that Milewski follows — Marek, Dipanker, Philippe, Ramzi, and Martin, each of them winning in their own way — reveal their dreams and anxieties about being single gay men who in some cases are not out to their families or co-workers. The men are all looking for a connection while basking in the safe space of a gay cruise. As their stories unfold, a Greek chorus consisting of other passengers discuss topics ranging from youth and aging to beauty, gay stereotypes, and stigmas about HIV. Their insights are poignant, affecting, and universal. Milewski spoke via Skype with Gay City News about his insightful film.



GARY M. KRAMER: Why did you decide to use the crucible of a gay cruise to discuss the attitudes of gay men? TRISTAN FERLAND MILEWSKI: As a director, I’m generally interested in microcosms. They have their own codes and rules, but they mirror the rules of a larger society. They reveal things about our entire society — not only gay men. I also like to look behind the obvious or the visible. You might expect something when you hear it’s a film about a gay cruise, but I look beyond that. The cruise is a safe space for the people from various nations, but it also means that, after all the freedom and expectations, there are rules, so it’s a boat of dreams and disillusions. This tension is what I found interesting. GMK: How did you find the subjects for the film? TFM: For me, what was important


Directed by Tristan Ferland Milewski In German, French, and Arabic with English subtitles Strand Releasing Opens Nov. 3 Quad Cinema 34 W. 13th St.


Tristan Ferland Milewski’s “Dream Boat” chronicles the stories of five men on a gay cruise.

was a certain diversity in age, background, and relationship status. I wanted all of them to have an inner urge — a special emotional meaning to go on this boat. GMK: What observations do you have about how you approached the film? You have interviews, observational footage, the voice-overs, and parties, parties, parties. TFM: What I found interesting was showing this place of desire and longing, and this glamorous moment of self-representation on deck, and the silent moments below deck in the cabins and hallways. The contrast of those two worlds was very appealing. It shows the layers and how fragile this world of dreams was. GMK: “Dream Boat” addresses elements of pride, but mostly the concerns are body shaming, disability, drag, as well as gay stereotypes. How do you think your film will change minds of gay men who play into these behaviors? TFM: That is the tension. I think these issues are important to the gay community because they are part of the gay community. Guys question their masculinity. They have internalized homophobia. There is gender performance, repression, and belonging. It’s very complex. We all feel these things — even those who play the game. The emotions I bring have a truth and authenticity. GMK: Can you talk about how the gay community is excluded and

exclusive? TFM: If you look at Western society, and the selfies, and how we throw ourselves on the market as a commodity, everybody wants to be seen and loved. All the subjects are drawn to the desire to live and love as they are. In the end, in this meat market, you get emptiness in return. This is the trap of the gay society, but it’s also universal. GMK: “Dream Boat” really captures the loneliness and jealousy of many of the men. It’s sad that all these gay men are together, but despite the pride, the sense of community, and the boat being safe space, there are men who feel they don’t belong. Can you talk about that? TFM: It definitely is a film about not belonging, which I think is something we all know. But in the end, it’s empowering. It’s about how do I position myself? It’s about identity. How do I want to be a gay man? It’s a journey of empowerment and catharsis. It’s intense. When you question how you present yourself — what kind of gay man do I want to be? — it’s not tragic, it’s wonderful. GMK: The film has a very casual approach to nudity. What was your purpose in capturing all the skin? TFM: [Laughs.] In the end, you feel the sexual tension all the time, but on the other hand the film is not so much about sex as you might expect. This is the balance I wanted to create: the physical presence of constant sexual tension, but not be

GMK: There are several comments about gay men’s obsession with looks and youth. What observations do you have about masculinity? TFM: What I found interesting was that on one hand, I think it’s this hetero-looking, straight-acting is internalized self-discrimination. We carry a bit of society with us, so I wanted to bring it up. The ladies night [drag] party is the biggest night. It’s liberating and playful to be in a dress and question masculinity. When someone says, “A real male likes to dress like a lady,” it shows we are beyond gender binary thinking. If you are secure in your masculinity, you should not be afraid of your feminine side. You can be nonbinary. GMK: Your film briefly addresses HIV. How do you think the stigmas about HIV have changed? TFM: I think this is a complex topic, but it’s important to get rid of this stigma and know that people can have a good quality of life and that prevention is treatment to remove the stigma. GMK: Did making this film change your mind about gay stereotypes? TFM: It was a bit of a quest, and I think in the end the film confirmed that we all have the same universal questions and the truth is beyond stereotypes. GMK: Did you make a conscious decision not appear be in your film? TFM: [Laughs.] Yes. I prefer to stay behind the camera.

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |

NO DRESS CODE, from p.37


accidental activists. Were you prepared for such a drawn out battle? What surprised you during the process? CHB: They know they are activists by accident, but it was because of the needs of the LGBTQ community where they live. They really had a need to have their rights respected, and no one was doing that legally. GMK: You keep your cool despite the many indignities and impediments you encounter. Was there ever a time during this war of attrition that you wanted to give in? CHB: There were a lot of times where one or the other wanted to throw in the towel, but it was Fer who said, “No, we have to get up and do this.” It was Fer who was the strong partner, and Victor who was the emotional partner. Even now, they are a couple that complements each other in that sense. GMK: Cristina, how do you think this story and your film help raise awareness of other LGBTQ issues? There is a sound bite from a woman who says gay marriage is fine, but adoption: No! CHB: When I started doing this film, my main point was to raise awareness to make not only heterosexuals but even those in the LGBTQ community look at their

MUSTO, from p.29

down and writing all day is not enough for me.” The fi rst “Michael Musto Duets” show on September 23 was one of the fi rst entertainments to grace the stage of the brand-new Club Cumming. The new space is essentially a reboot of Eastern Bloc, the gay bar at 505 East 6th Street, co-owned by Benjamin Maisani and Darren Dryden, with the continued involvement of nightlife promoter Danny Nardicio. The transformed space is being called a “fantasy performance salon”. “It’s a wonderful mix of highbrow and low-brow,” Musto said. “Classical mixed with drag queen divas. I’m calling it ‘Café Carlyle Meets CBGBs.’” Cumming’s connection to the

Directed by Cristina Herrera Borquez In Spanish with English subtitles Outsider Pictures Opens Nov. 3 Village East Cinema 189 Second Ave. at E. 12th St.


Victor Manuel Aguirre and Fernando Urias in Cristina Herrera Borquez’s “No Dress Code Required.”

GMK: What kind of support — or detractors — have you received as your story got media attention? CHB, VMA, AND FU: The visible support that you see in the film is of people mobilizing in marches. But Fer had a group of ladies praying outside his salon for him to “get better and not get married.” He’d have to tell them to take their prayers somewhere else. Someone in City Hall hired a private investigator to follow the guys around. But he wasn’t good; he was very obvious outside their home and business. He was supposed to find something that would demonstrate that Victor and Fer were evil people.

GMK: Gentlemen, you are respectful even toward your detractors. Can you talk about managing the stress of your experiences?

CHB, VICTOR MANUEL AGUIRRE, AND FERNANDO URIAS: We have had to go through red tape for everything that has to do with our rights all our life. It was frustrating that every time they asked for something they would have to go through hoops when they were entitled. They had to fight for the same right that everyone else has. It was even harder. It was not just the premarital talks that were an issue, it was every other item on the to-do list. It was extra hard because it was how they were being asked. It’s important that people see this documentary so others can see what was happening at that time in our city. Eight same-sex couples have gotten married after them. It is still not legal in Baja California. Couples still have to go through the legal process [filing an amparo].

GMK: Where did you gentlemen honeymoon? VMA AND FU: We went to Cancun! CHB: I was invited, but I didn’t go!

club makes for a high likelihood of celebrity sightings. The very fi rst week, said Musto, Paul McCartney, Emma Stone, and Billie Jean King all arrived as part of the same party. Stone is in the middle of shooting a bio-pic about King, which partially explains the eclecticism of the trio. According to Musto, he initially suggested the duets concept as a night of numbers performed by other singers, but the club’s bookers understood him to mean something more like those records where Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett sing with a succession of partners, with Musto anchoring the evening. Musto didn’t mind the misunderstanding a bit. “People are always encouraging me to sing,” he crowed. “And I love duets. When you’re singing

in a duet you always have your partners as a safety net. No matter how bad I am, there’s always the other person to help carry it! I’m pinching myself. I can’t believe some of the people I get to perform with in this show.” Prominent among them is Bridget Everett, whom Musto mentions he gave early coverage to back in the 1990s. She’s been hot lately, with numerous appearances on “Inside Amy Schumer,” the 2017 fi lm “Patti Cake$,” her just-fi lmed pilot for Amazon, “Love You More,” and a standing ovation for her performance of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” back in August. With “Mr. Show Biz” Murray Hill, he’ll be performing “The Lady is a Tramp” –– with updated lyrics, “because,” quipped Musto,

“neither one of us is a lady.” With jazz violist Aaron Weinstein, Musto will perform “I Loves You, Porgy.” Also on the bill: Flotilla DeBarge, Cheryl Freeman (who played the Acid Queen in the Broadway production of the Who’s “Tommy”), Kasha Davis (from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”), Jill Sobule (“I Kissed a Girl”, “Supermodel”), Brini Maxwell (Ben Sander’s drag character), Amber Martin, Ari Kiki, Kenyon Phillips, and Markus Kelle, all singing what Musto described as a “mix of Broadway, disco, and cabaret diva classics”. About the beneficiary, Gays Against Guns, Musto said, “I’ve been involved with them since last year, in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Now, since the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, it’s a more vital charity than ever.”

rights and how they have to fight for something people take for granted. It went beyond that legal struggle. Now that people are seeing the film, I’m getting feedback from people who are LGBTQ and who are not, and heterosexuals who really have very little tolerance for a different lifestyle can relate to this story and see love and see someone’s rights being completely violated. It can happen to them because Mexico is such a corrupt country. We have to fight for our rights every single day. The film makes people more in tune with someone they never thought they’d be in tune with. | October 26 – November 8, 2017



Women Getting Political Petra Volpe ‘70s feminism tale touches all the bases, but lacks celebration BY STEVE ERICKSON wiss director Petra Volpe’s “The Divine Order” arrives in American theaters at an opportune time. The extent of sexism in our film industry and culture finally seems to be coming to light, although it’s obvious there must be dozens of men who act as badly as Harvey Weinstein did, if not on the same scale. Volpe has made a film that’s overtly feminist — a celebration of Swiss women’s fight to vote, which they had to wage as late as 1971 — and tries to appeal to the widest possible audience (undoubtedly easier in Switzerland than contemporary America, where people who might be attracted by the politics of “The Divine Order” could be scared off by the fact that it’s subtitled). Volpe’s film comes across as the feminist equivalent of the underrated British film “Pride,” which served up an entertaining depiction of gay activists



Directed by Petra Volpe In German with English subtitles Zetigeist Films/ Kino Lorber Opens Oct. 27 Film Forum 209 W. Houston St.


Marie Leuenberger portrays a housewife radicalized into a feminist in Petra Volpe’s “The Divine Order.”

uniting with striking working-class miners in Thatcher’s Britain. But there’s something timid about it; ultimately, it’s too devoted to reconstructing the early ‘70s rather than finding parallels to our present, where misogyny seems to be gaining ground over women’s rights. Nora (Marie Leuenberger) is a housewife in the region of Appenzell when “The Divine Order” begins in 1971. She is busy taking care of her

husband Hans (Max Simonischek) and two sons, and she has a teenage niece Hanna, who has been sent to reform school because she is sexually active and wants to date an older man. Then she attends a meeting where an anti-feminist woman attacks the fight for suffrage. Offended by what she hears, she speaks up for the right to vote and takes her first steps toward activism.

Nora and Mrs. Dr. Charlotte Wipf, head of the “Anti-Politicization of Women Action Committee,” become enemies. But Nora starts making friends with women who share her views. She also makes more demands on her husband, realizing that he should share housework and, of equal importance, satisfy her sexually. Part of what’s wrong with “The Divine Order” can be summed up by the opening sequence: a montage of

DIVINE ORDER, continued on p.41

Immortal But Not Untouchable Takashi Miike’s latest film spills plenty of blood but suggests a quest for justice BY STEVE ERICKSON apanese director Takashi Miike has a reputation for ultra-violence. It’s not always deserved. His latest film, “Blade of the Immortal,” is the 100th entry in a filmography that includes movies made for children. One of his best films, “The Bird People in China,” came out straight to video in the US and was never submitted to the MPAA, but it would be probably be a hard PG-13: its characters trip on psychedelic mushrooms and there’s one violent scene that turns out to be a dream. But his consensus masterpiece and American breakthrough is “Audition,” in which a woman tortures a man and amputates one of his legs





Directed by Takashi Miike In Japanese with English subtitles Magnet Releasing Opens Nov. 3 Quad Cinema 34 W. 13th St.

Takuya Kimura and Hana Sugisaki in Takashi Miike’s “Blade of the Immortal,” which opens November 3 at the Quad Cinema.

for assuming that she’s a submissive doormat. The very next Miike film I saw, “Ichi the Killer,” is even nastier and seems misogynist rather than feminist: it includes an extended interlude where a man is hung by hooks through his flesh and splat-

tered with burning cooking oil, plus several rape scenes. It moved the British board of film censors from their usual job of simply rating films to demand that several minutes be cut for UK release. In fact, American Miike fans are lucky that there’s no

legal requirement for US distributors to submit their films to our MPAA, as there is for its equivalents in Canada and most of Europe. In “Blade of the Immortal,” Manji (Takuya Kimura) is shown killing 100

BLADE, continued on p.41

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |

DIVINE ORDER, from p.40

American anti-war protesters, Janis Joplin onstage, hippies wallowing in the mud at Woodstock, the Black Panthers. Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” plays over the closing credits. This is the laziest possible way to spell out “the ‘60s,” and although the film’s set in a small Swiss village, all these references are American. Some of its other attempts at period re-creation are better, as when Nora barges into Hanna’s room because she’s playing a hard rock album at wall-shaking volume. There’s an “Our Bodies, Ourselves”style workshop celebrating “Yoni Power,” where woman gaze at their vaginas in hand mirrors. Composer Annette Focks abandons her orchestral tones of the rest of the film here in favor of a psychedelic swirl of sitars and congas. “The Divine Order” was deliberately made with women in many of the key technical positions, such as cinematography, production design, and, as mentioned, music composition. Volpe wrote its script herself. In the press kit, she says, “Being a woman, being a man, these are roles you can play with… To this day men as well as women are limited by their prescribed gender roles.” That’s an attitude essential to both

BLADE, from p.40

bounty hunters after they murder his sister Machi (Hana Sugisaki) in front of him in a black-and-white prologue. He gains immortality by having an old lady put “bloodworms” — what exactly these are is never explained — in his body. Fifty years later, Rin (also played by Sugisaki) asks him to be her bodyguard. The daughter of the owner of a fencing school, she survives her father’s murder. Initially, he refuses her request, but after she begs him, he takes her seriously. Together, they move toward a confrontation with the film’s villain, Anotsu (Sota Fukushi). “Blade of the Immortal” uses its protagonist as a punching bag, quite blatantly. His protection from death allows Miike to depict violence toward him with glee. It’s not that Manji doesn’t suffer any consequences: he has lost one eye and his face is heavily scarred. But Miike manages to combine a very obvious pleasure in bloodshed — even a downright fetish-

gay liberation and most versions of feminism. “The Divine Order” doesn’t address the intersection between lesbianism and feminism, though, of course, it’s not obliged to. It does, however, show how the looser masculine roles opened up by the counterculture led to gaybaiting, which happens both to men who have long hair and those with progressive politics. The political credentials of “The Divine Order” are not in doubt, but it doesn’t succeed at being as joyful as “Pride” or as effective a drama as Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake.” In order to convey its message, it needs to work as entertainment, and much of the screenplay seems like a succession of points that Volpe felt she needed to hit, both in terms of the period setting and how a woman who didn’t care about politics got radicalized. The best scene is actually the last one. I’ll just say that you will never see something like that in a mainstream American film, especially as the coda to a movie like this, and it shows, along with recent films about gay men like “God’s Own Country” and “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” how Europeans have partially shaken off a Puritan heritage about sex we’re still immersed in here in the US.

ism of it — with a sense of pain and loss. Manji doesn’t always succeed. The character may be immortal, but the actor who plays him obviously isn’t, and he performed in winter, during which the film shoot took place, wearing skimpy costumes and doing difficult tasks while made up to be half-blind. This tension comes through clearly. Manji and Rin’s bond creates a humane dimension of warmth within the film. Beyond the typical revenge fantasy — whose tropes “Blade of the Immortal” admittedly does partake in — there’s a real yearning for justice in Manji’s quest. He’s not far from many Akira Kurosawa heroes, and in fact the spirit of Kurosawa hovers over this film, as over-the-top as it is. Much of Miike’s work feels completely disconnected from classical Japanese cinema. That’s not the case at all with “Blade of the Immortal.” I went in expecting a B-movie, and I saw a modern samurai epic (at 140 minutes). | October 26 – November 8, 2017

BLADE, continued on p.46

BRINGING MANHATTAN to BROOKLYN 943 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11230 646.494.7227 | 41


Bernstein’s Centennial & Local Gems Philly’s “West Side,” Divine Devieilhe, Diverting Dinos I thought of Jennifer Lawrence since an appealing intelligence is part of the mix — but unlike many so-called “total package artists” doesn’t rely on them. The musicianship and vocalism are equally noteworthy.

BY DAVID SHENGOLD he year 2018 will mark Leonard Bernstein’s centenary, so expect multiple unveilings of his music theater pieces. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s welcomely out Canadian maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in pec-flaunting casual clothes, led off the celebration October 12 with a concert staging of “West Side Story.” The edition cut much dialogue and several non-singing characters and, though Kevin Newbury’s blocking was logical, anyone not knowing the show coming in might have been lost. But who doesn’t know “West Side Story?” The orchestra — which played the dynamic, thieving magpiesourced score under a restored print of Robert Wise’s film a few years back — sounded terrific, with the percussion and brass really rocking out. Their work under Nézet-Séguin was the evening’s point. Yet there were some strong performances among the cast, mostly music theater people but a few with operatic training, too. The biggest classical name was Isabel Leonard, sounding quite splendid as Maria and acting very naturally — the most characterful work I’ve heard from her since her Juilliard days. With a unified, strong high belt and a dynamic presence, Isabel Santiago did full justice to Anita, and the experienced Zachary James (Action) put over “Gee, Officer Krupke” with real panache. Nora Schell (Rosalia) and Mikaela Bennett (Consuelo) also shone. Ryan Silverman may have been a fine Tony some years back but it no longer sits flatteringly in his voice; though he phrased with care, the tone often sounded narrow strained, making a weak match for Leonard’s refulgence. Going against the traditions of the song “Somewhere” — originated by Reri Grist in 1957, taken by Harolyn Blackwell in 1980s Broadway revival, and by Julia Bullock in San Francisco Symphony’s first-ever-authorized “WSS” concert — this




Jennifer Zetlan in the On Site Opera production of John Musto and Eric Einhorn’s “Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt” at the American Museum of Natural History.

redemptive anthem was mystifyingly awarded to Morgan James, white, blonde, dressed in white as if a visiting angel rather than a member of the urban community portrayed. She started with oratorio purity but faltered as she progressed. But the score, the orchestra playing, and the two Isabels made the evening rewarding. On October 1, the Park Avenue Armory’s excellent recital series in the ornate Board of Officers Room continued with a terrific New York debut by soprano Sabine Devieilhe and pianist Anne Le Bozec. Both Frenchwomen showed interpretive and technical mastery as well as individual, sonorous timbres — all wedded to that ineffable quality, genuine charisma. They also demonstrated expert partnering in an intriguing and well-constructed program. Such qualities are rare enough in any vocal recital, let alone a first appearance in New York City before a discriminating “industry” public. The afternoon was crafted around the legacy of Pauline Viardot-Garcia, the remarkable singer, composer, teacher, and salon hostess who knew every major European cultural figure during her long life (1821-1910) and created and previewed music for many major composers of several generations. Devielhe and Le Bozec performed several of her own compositions (“Seize ans” and “Berceuse cosaque” particularly affecting) as well as works by composers from

Bellini, Meyerbeer, and Berlioz through Hahn, Massenet and (in encores) Debussy — with all of whom Viardot-Garcia was linked as exponent, creatrix, or advising muse. The groupings were well devised, with a pair of arias (the showy “Ombre legere” from “Dinorah” and Manon’s engaging “Je suis encore toute etourdie”) in among the French melodies, Italian canzone, and German Lieder. Devielhe’s soprano is fresh, wideranging and — perhaps due to her baroque training — exceptionally good about staying on pitch. Though her German emerged very lightly accented, the command of sung French proved a constant joy, with virtually every word clear and meaningful even at register extremes. Why Devielhe isn’t already in the Met’s line-up is puzzling, as she seems made for the age of HD. One hopes she returns soon, onstage and also with the deft, stylesensitive Le Bozec. The soprano spoke charmingly to her auditors (hardly a foregone conclusion in recitals these days, where many strive unduly for “just folks” oversharing). She needn’t have worried that we knew who Viardot-Garcia was, as others — including Stephanie Blythe — have offered such programs, plus the fact that as a girl this remarkable figure lived in New York, where the Garcia family introduced many Italian operas to the city, hosted by Mozart’s librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, by then a professor at Columbia. Devielhe has film star looks —

The ever-industrious troupe On Site Opera brought a delightful 25-minute opera to the beloved site of the American Museum of Natural History’s iconic T-Rex and Apatosaurus. “Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt,” with a pleasant, upbeat score by John Musto set with characteristic skill to a charming text by Eric Einhorn (who also directed keenly), “Rhoda” enjoyed a threeweek run. Heard September 29, it emerged one of the happiest and best crafted site specific-operatic events I’ve seen. Eight- year-old Rhoda Knight Kalt visits and aids her grandfather Charles R. Knight, the painter who created such memorable canvases of dinosaurs. (I had a postcard of the Apatosaurus in my childhood bedroom; if you’re a native New Yorker you probably did too.) The show was entertaining, informative, and considerately paced and calibrated for adults and children alike. The petite Met soprano Jennifer Zetlan was wonderful as the bright enthusiastic Rhoda, totally convincing in channeling girlish gestures and energy to keep the kid-filled crowd focused and happy. She made much of her text clear even when it lay high — not a musical or vocal problem for Zetlan, whose instrument blossoms at the top, but a consequence of the resonance in the (perforce) high-ceilinged Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs. The room’s acoustics were easier on bass-baritone Robert Orth, the theatrically savvy originator of so many contemporary roles, sounded healthy and deployed his exceptional diction to maximize his lively characterization of illustrator Knight. Patrick Cook sported the right Edwardian look for the paleontologist (and museum president) Dr. Henry Fairfield

ON SITE OPERA, continued on p.46

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |


TOP DRIVER DISTRACTIONS Using mobile phones Leading the list of the top distractions behind the wheel are mobile phones. Phones now do more than just place calls, and drivers often cannot pull away from their phones, even when driving. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, studies have shown that driving performance is lowered and the level of distraction is higher for drivers who are heavily engaged in cell

phone conversations. The use of a hands-free device does not lower distraction levels. The percentage of vehicle crashes and nearcrashes attributed to dialing is nearly identical to the number associated with talking or listening.

Daydreaming Many people will admit to daydreaming behind the wheel or looking at a person or object outside of the car for too long. Per- | October 26 – November 8, 2017

haps they’re checking out a house in a new neighborhood or thought they saw someone they knew on the street corner. It can be easy to veer into the direction your eyes are focused, causing an accident. In addition to trying to stay focused on the road, some drivers prefer the help of lane departure warning systems.

Eating Those who haven’t quite mastered walking and

chewing gum at the same time may want to avoid eating while driving. The majority of foods require a person’s hands to be taken off of the wheel and their eyes to be diverted from the road. Reaching in the back seat to share some French fries with the kids is also distracting. Try to eat meals before getting in the car. For those who must snack while en route, take a moment to pull over at

a rest area and spend 10 minutes snacking there before resuming the trip.

Reading Glancing at an advertisement, updating a Facebook status or reading a book are all activities that should be avoided when driving. Even pouring over a traffic map or consulting the digital display of a GPS system can be distracting.



October 26 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; November 8, 2017 |


Julien Baker’s Assuredness CD centered on her own songs, her voice, and her piano and guitar JULIEN BAKER “Turn Out the Lights” Matador Records Release date: Oct. 27 $17.24; Town Hall 123 W. 43rd St. Oct. 27 at 8 p.m.7 $25-$39.50 MATADOR RECORDS

Julien Baker’s “Turn Out the Lights” will be released by Matador Records on October 27.

BY STEVE ERICKSON or an artist who has only released two albums, out lesbian singer/ songwriter Julien Baker has an astonishingly assured vision. She wrote all the songs on her second album, “Turn Out the Lights,” produced it, and plays the main instruments on it. Her production and the album’s arrangements sound relatively spare even when they venture into adding strings; every song starts out based around Baker accompanying herself on guitar and/ or piano. Without the use of more elaborate instrumentation on some songs, “Turn Out the Lights” might sound like a demo tape — it almost never uses percussion — but I don’t mean that as a criticism. Her debut album, released on the indie label 6131 three years (when she was 18) and reissued by her current label Matador last spring, is said to be even more spare. Baker’s music is centered around her voice, which is a very flexible instrument. It serves the varying tones of her lyrics and dynamics of her music. She sometimes starts off singing in a matter-of-fact voice and builds to a melodramatic crescendo. Her music video for the album’s second single, its title track, demonstrates that. It begins with Baker walking slowly through a field and ends with her running as

F | October 26 – November 8, 2017

a fire burns in the background. While Baker is openly lesbian, I’m not sure one would guess that simply from listening to “Turn Out the Lights.” Her lyrics describe intense relationships, but she never mentions the gender of her lovers. She is also a Christian, who has said in one interview that she attends church every day. Her music is not “Christian rock” and she is being marketed to a secular audience, but her lyrics are full of religious imagery. The song title “Televangelist” might leap out at listeners who knew this aspect of Baker’s identity, but there’s one seemingly overt reference to the intersection — and possible conflict — between being a lesbian and Christian homophobia on the song “Happy To Be Here”: “If you swear that it’s true then I have to believe what I hear evangelicals say on TV.” On this album, her faith seems more central to her work than her sexuality: there are a number of casual references to going to church and the Holy Ghost. There are some definite precursors to Baker’s music. “Turn Out the Lights” reminds me of a cross between Tori Amos’ debut album “Silent Earthquakes” and Fiona Apple. In many ways, these are very facile comparisons: all three women are singer/ songwriters whose music is piano-based (althougBaker also uses guitar frequently as counterpoint). But her tendency

to build a great deal of intensity out of material that might seem mellow in someone else’s hands recalls both Amos and Apple. Apple’s early music started out relatively pop-oriented — and she became notorious for her video “Criminal,” made when she was 19 and looked 15, which put her in deliberately creepy and sexualized positions — but her last album went into a far different direction, with a jazz influence on both her vocals and the drumming. Both Amos and Apple have used their sexuality in various ways as part of their lyrical content and image. Amos sang the anti-rape acapella song “Me And a Gun,” but also expressed a sexual bravado on parts of “Silent Earthquakes.” Baker completely refrains from such attitudes. In her video for “Appointments,” the first single from “Turn Out the Lights,” she wears a white T-shirt and black jeans as she is followed by a troupe of dancers going about her daily rounds. The video ends with her alone on a beach. “Appointments” is actually quite dirge-like, and Baker’s music is often dark, even if it works through these emotions. “Hurt Less” is a love song that opens by acknowledging reckless, if not suicidal, thoughts — Baker declares she didn’t wear a seat belt in the past because she

JULIEN BAKER, continued on p.46


LONELY PLANET, from p.30

that time, we know what that was all about. So many great actors I knew, so many mentors to me, certainly.” McGrath was born right here in Manhattan, “in the hospital on 114th Street, and I grew up in Stuyvestant Town. My father, Chris McGrath, was deputy borough president, and my grandfather, Christopher Columbus McGrath, was a congressman for the Bronx. Although everyone in my family acts, none of them are union. [Laughs.] Actually, my grandmother was tutor to the children of José Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney, one show biz connection, and I even made a movie in 1991 with Miguel Ferrer.” McGrath began acting early, at age five, playing the little son of “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera, a part now essayed by a puppet in its latest Anthony Minghella production of the Puccini. “Yeah, replaced by a puppet,” McGrath laughed. “It was something to be that young and being sung to by some diva, inches away from your face at top volume, in front of 4,500 people. I then went on to do all the boy parts in operas, then played the newsboy in the Broadway musical ‘Working,’ and got my Equity card. I’ve been very lucky and have been working a long time. I’m actually one of

ON SITE OPERA, from p.42

Osborn, who waxed excitement as his forthright tenor pealed forth a dance tune about scientific evi-

JULIEN BAKER, from p.45

didn’t really care if she lived or died — but by the end of the song, her new partner has convinced her that life is worth enough to use them.

BLADE, from p.41

There’s nothing repulsive or offensive in “Blade of the Immortal” a la the torture scene in “Ichi the Killer” or the scene in “Dead or Alive” where a junkie drowns in a pool of water filled with feces. But in terms of the


the jokes in our show — ‘Name the child stars who had horrible subsequent lives!’ [Laughs.] “I took a break from acting, just to have a normal life and go to school, and went to Fordham for a while.” When McGrath returned to the profession, one of the first things he did was Paul Zindel’s quite astonishing, ornately titled “Amulets Against the Dragon Forces,” set in Staten Island, about an alcoholic who preys on young boys in the home of his mother, who is dying of cancer. McGrath playing one of his victims, I can still remember his affecting adolescent gawkiness and querulous sing-song delivery of his oppressor’s name, Mr. DiPardi. It was a career breakthrough for young Matt — “all about denial and self-protection” — and something he remembers with affection. As far as growing up gay, McGrath recalled, “I was smack in the middle of five boys. My parents had gay friends, plus so many theater people we knew, and my father never had a problem with it. I was talking with my family about how we were all raised with a lot of love, etc., and my siblings kindly reminded, ‘No, you were.’ [Laughs.] I guess I was kind of spoiled.” Burton, for his part, really pushed the envelope by asking for a Barbie doll for Christmas when he was four. “And my dad — a fy fisherman and hunter — actually gave it to

me! That was kind of an amazing moment. I was born in Idaho, farm country, and then we moved to Tucson, Arizona. I was a really weird child, incredibly shy. I would literally come out of my room to watch an old horror movie on TV, and then go back to my room to read ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’ and assemble my model monsters. My mom was grateful when acting came up early for me as I came out of my shell, but there were no other actors in the family. “In junior high, I tried my best to fade away and just blend in. My everyday uniform was a T-shirt with brown cords, I didn’t want any attention drawn to me. But I remember there were these Indian sandals the cool kids wore and I got a pair. I remember sitting in class, and everyone turned to look at me wearing them, like ‘Who does he think he is?’ “I ran home and changed into my regular shoes and stayed that way forever. It shut something down in me of wanting to be fabulous. College is where you kind of fall into yourself, and my shyness dissipated, although it’s still there. I never wanted to be famous but I did want to be part of a community. That’s how I wanted to feel, and now New York is kind of like college in a way, you just know everyone.” Although both actors are, quite happily, steadily employed, neither craves big-time stardom. McGrath shuddered, “I know famous people,

and have lived with them [Gwyneth Paltrow, for one, all through the Brad Pitt years]. You get to see what it’s like from the inside and just how much they can and cannot do. People staring at you all the time?! “I went to High School of Music & Art here, with all these kids wondering whether or not to move to LA for career. It says a lot about yourself, which one you choose, where your heart is. And Jennifer Aniston is my hero, because back then she was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re gonna do, but I’m going!’ I have to hand it right to her, she knew exactly what she wanted.” McGrath is currently single, and Burton has had a partner for years, handsome and charming Yuki Lim, who is Korean and president of his own real estate design firm, Apartment 168. We got to exchange some hardcore, kim chiflavored Korean mom war stories, and Burton told me it took forever for Yuki’s mother to even acknowledge his existence. But it’s gotten much better, although there was the Thanksgiving when Yuki went home and she told him, although his siblings would be talking about their families, not to say anything about Arnie. “He got right into his car and drove back to the Chicago airport for the next fl ight to New York,” Burton recalled with pride. “I love him!”

dence. Known for good work at the Manhattan School of Music and elsewhere, conductor Jorge Parodi miraculously kept balance going between the singers and an ace

ensemble of string quartet, flautist, and clarinet; they too moved around as the opera’s focus shifted. “Rhoda” moves on to museums in Chicago and Pittsburgh; alert

kids there should watch for it.

Matador Records seems to be giving Baker a big enough push that it released two music videos before the official release of “Turn Out the Lights,” as well as re-releasing her debut album and putting out her

single “Funeral Pyre” last spring. She plays a concert at New York’s Town Hall on the October 27, the day this album is released. That said, I have a hard time picturing her music fitting any current terrestrial radio for-

mat besides “Adult Alternative” (aka “Triple A”). Despite the fact that one can obviously place Baker in a tradition of female singer/ songwriters, her beautiful voice and music have a real emotional force all her own.

sheer amount of blood spilled, this may be Miike’s most violent film yet. The manga from which it was based ran for 19 years in Gekkan Afternoon magazine, and while I’m assuming “Blade of the Immortal” couldn’t possibly adapt the entire story, it has a deliberately excessive quality.

According to Kimura, Miike said before every major scene, “Everyone, the scene we’re about to take now is a battle to the death.” The climax features 300 extras. If you’re bothered by “Blade of the Immortal’ and suspect it would benefit from a more subtle approach, think of it as kin to

the hyperbolic rhetorical excess in a rock band like Viking metal artist Bathory. In any case, Miike has now completed film #101, which awaits release and whose title leaves me rather baffled: “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable — Chapter I.”

David Shengold ( writes about opera for many venues.

October 26 – November 8, 2017 | | October 26 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; November 8, 2017


Hetrick-Martin Institute’s Largest Annual Fundraiser To Support And Empower LGBTQ Youth CELEBRATING THIS YEAR’S THEME


Sandra Bernhard, Legendary comedienne, performer and host of Sandyland on SiriusXM Radio


Bevy Smith, Fashion maven, host of Bevelations on SiriusXM Radio and Page Six TV co-host





Monday, November 6, 2017 Cocktail Reception – 6:00PM Dinner And Awards Ceremony – 7:00PM Emery After Party to Follow

Cipriani Wall Street, 55 Wall Street, New York City

For tickets, please visit 48

October 26 – November 8, 2017 |

Gay City News  

October 26, 2017

Gay City News  

October 26, 2017