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Will Courts Buy Mattis’ Alibi for Trans Ban? 06

Dead Youth’s Brother Allegedly Targeted Witnesses 05

www.GayCityNews.nyc

SERVING

G AY,

CY N T H

LESBIAN,

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AND

TRANSGENDER

I A F O R NE W YO R K .C O M

NEW

YORK

D O N N A AC E TO

LESBIANS LOCKED IN “QUALIFYING” ROUND CYNTHIA NIXON’S GOV BID DRAWS IMMEDIATE FIRE FROM CHRISTINE QUINN Page 04 © GAY CITY NEWS 2018 | NYC COMMUNITY MEDIA, LLC, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

FREE | VOLUME SEVENTEEN, ISSUE SEVEN | MARCH 29 – APRIL 11, 2018


In This Issue COVER STORY Lesbians locked in “qualifying” round 04

PERSPECTIVE Dykes to the front: Brazil, Ukraine, US 22

COMMUNITY Parade for all who choose to be Irish 08

BOOKS Abdellah Taïa’s lessons of loneliness 24

ACTIVISM Saying no to guns on Central Park W. 10

FILM Andrew Haigh’s emotional acuity 28

HEALTH City reopens its Chelsea clinic 14

THEATER Barbara Kahn on a life worth living 36

Buy this Book!: betterbundobooks.com

MAKE THE CITY YOUR CL ASSRO OM

(212) 220-1265 www.bmcc.cuny.edu/cng 2

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


Transit Workers Mourn

St. Clair Ziare

Richards Stephens

Joy Anthony 11/21/02

Sammuel McPhaul 7/17/01

Chris Bonaparte 8/8/02

Transit Workers killed on the job since 2001

Kurien Baby 11/22/02

Janell Bennerson 1/18/03

Harold Dozier 12/14/04

Barrington Garvey 4/20/05

Louis Gray 11/3/16 Lewis G Moore 12/1/05

Daniel Boggs 4/25/07

Marvin Franklin 4/29/07

William Pena 2/12/14 Edwin Thomas 12/01/08

The 43,000 men and women of Transport Workers Union Local 100 mourn the tragic death of Trackworker St. Clair Richards Stephens, 23, killed on the job March 20, 2018 in service to the City of New York. Transit workers are on the job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide New York City with its most essential service. We toil in tough, dirty, dangerous conditions both above and below ground. TWU Local 100 strives to insure the safety of this valiant workforce, yet the incredibly dangerous jobs we do continue to take its toll on the men and women of New York City Transit. We ask that the millions of New Yorkers who take public transit every day recognize             Paid for by TWU Local 100, Tony Utano, President

GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

3


POLITICS

Lesbians Locked in a “Qualifying” Round Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial bid draws immediate fire from Christine Quinn BY PAUL SCHINDLER

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ven among the 40 percent of New York State voters who say they know who Cynthia Nixon is, much of that recognition comes from her long-running role as Miranda Hobbes in the “Sex and the City” TV and film franchise. Theater aficionados will be familiar with her substantial body of work on stage, which has earned her two Tony Awards. She’s even won a Grammy for the album issued in tandem with Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” But Nixon is no slouch when it comes to public affairs. For more than a decade and a half, she was a spokesperson for the Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers’ union-backed effort to organize parents to advocate for public schools. She was active in the marriage equality fight and has represented Planned Parenthood in Albany, spoken out about surviving breast cancer, and been a ubiquitous presence at local resistance demonstrations since Donald Trump’s election. But perhaps her highest profile politically — at least until this month — was her enthusiastic support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, both in 2013 and last year. Five years ago, when her candidate was still struggling at the back of the Democratic pack, lagging behind front-runner Christine Quinn — who would have been the city’s first out LGBTQ mayor — Nixon, who has variously described herself as bisexual and lesbian, headlined LGBT for BdB, a raucous Cutting Room campaign event featuring an impressive array of stage actors and downtown nightlife personalities. She reprised her emcee duties at LGBT for BdB II this past August. No political figure in New York has been a bigger thorn in the side of Nixon’s mayor, of course, than Andrew Cuomo. They’ve battled over funding de Blasio’s signature pre-K program and the city’s ailing subway system as well as the mayor’s hopes to extract greater tax

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COURTESY OF HRC

Cynthia Nixon accepting the Visibility Award at the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Greater New York dinner in February.

revenues from New York’s wealthiest. No mere political disagreements, these battles have featured nasty personal snubs and brazen bureaucratic maneuvers. So it’s not surprising that Nixon harbors antipathy toward Cuomo, regarding both his priorities and his style. For months, there was widespread speculation, dismissed initially but over time taken more seriously, that she would take on the incumbent even with his $30 million war chest. One would expect the governor’s allies to be prepared for the moment on March 19 when Nixon made it official. That would seem, however, not to have been the case with Christine Quinn, who during her eight years as City Council speaker was rarely at a loss for the well-crafted sound bite, whatever the question posed. In what can at best be described as an unfortunate interview with the New York Post one day after Nixon took the leap, Quinn said, “Cynthia Nixon was opposed to having a qualified lesbian become mayor of New York City. Now she wants

an unqualified lesbian to be the governor of New York.” That an ally of Cuomo would go after a challenger for, in Quinn’s words, never having “run an organization,” is hardly surprising. But Quinn’s decision to distinguish “qualified” and “unqualified” lesbians betrayed an undiminished resentment over Nixon’s support for her 2013 rival and made her the butt of untold numbers of social media posts. In a series of Twitter posts and in several TV interviews, Quinn tried to backpedal, but the phrase will no doubt stick to her — at least through the primary campaign, making her utility to Cuomo nil. The governor, for whom she worked for a time as a special advisor and who no doubt blessed her appointment as a state party vice chair, must certainly have hoped for a better assist from Quinn in the event the primary becomes a horse race. Nixon responded substantively by telling reporters, “My being a lesbian or her being a lesbian I think has nothing to do with why

we’re running for office.” But she also understood the PR opportunity Quinn’s slam unintentionally handed her. On Twitter, she posted, “When I announced yesterday that I’m running for gov, one of Cuomo’s top surrogates dismissed me as an ‘unqualified lesbian.’ It’s true that I never received my certificate from the Department of Lesbian Affairs, though in my defense there’s a lot of paperwork required.” It would be surprising if Nixon hasn’t raised money from the contretemps. If comparisons are to be made, an effective introductory video followed by a fiery speech in Albany put Nixon in good stead when placed side by side with a serious misstep by a political pro. Ken Sherrill, an out gay professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, lauded Nixon’s campaign launch, saying he is struck by “how much more polished she was as a candidate than Zephyr Teachout,” the Fordham law professor who four years ago challenged Cuomo from the left and captured 34 percent in the primary. In Sherrill’s view, Cuomo has few substantive achievements to tout from his second term, in part because he has co-signed Republican-Independent Democratic Conference control of the State Senate in order to maximize his own power by having a divided Legislature. That power, however, is largely the power to block things — more state spending, higher taxes, and wealth redistribution — according to Sherrill. Nixon has focused considerable attention on failing schools, a crumbling subway system, and income inequality hobbling upstate communities — all issues that require spending. Cuomo’s tightfistedness, he suggested, is where Nixon’s message “can resonate.” Pointing to Cuomo’s leadership on marriage equality in 2011, Sherrill noted that most of his “progressive” achievements have been on issues that didn’t involve spending money. Nixon’s challenge — against long odds, Sherrill acknowledged — is to

CYNTHIA NIXON, continued on p.39

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


CRIME

Dead Youth’s Brother Allegedly Targeted Witnesses Kevon Dennis, charged with felony robbery, menacing, also tried to jump Abel Cedeno BY ANDY HUMM

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t 3 p.m. on September 27, hours after a morning fight in a Bronx classroom that left Matthew McCree dead and the bullied gay teen Abel Cedeno, who says he was defending himself with a knife, charged with manslaughter, McCree’s brother, Kevon Dennis, aided by an accomplice, Jonathan Espinal, is alleged to have menaced, beaten, and robbed student witnesses to the incident using a knife, stolen cellphones that might contain evidence, tried to ascertain where Cedeno’s family lives and who his friends were so that they could retaliate, and tried to intimidate witnesses into silence. Kevon Dennis is charged with seven counts, the highest a B felony for first-degree robbery using a dangerous instrument, a knife. He was set to appear in Bronx Criminal Court on March 28 as Gay City News was going to press. Even with these charges weighing on him, Dennis was arrested in the court’s lobby on March 6 as Cedeno was exiting after an appearance in his manslaughter case. Despite Cedeno being surrounded by a police escort for his safety, Dennis is alleged to have tried to jump Cedeno, shouting, “I don’t give a fuck, I’m gonna fuck him up.” He is also alleged to have said, “I could have gotten him. I don’t care if I go to jail.” He was subdued by court officers and issued a desk appearance ticket. Despite his alleged violent witness tampering and threats to Cedeno and his family, Dennis has been allowed to attend Cedeno’s trial. Christopher R. Lynn, Cedeno’s defense co-counsel, is seeking an order of protection for Cedeno and his family from Dennis, calling him a “clear and persistent danger” to them. He wants Dennis barred from the court during Cedeno’s trial, which resumes April 23. Cedeno, who is out on bail, his mother, and his sisters have had to move to undisclosed locations due to the threats against them. According to the September 27 report from Police Officer Daniel Martinez of the 48th precinct, Dennis “cornered the informant [a student from the high school], struck informant with an open hand and closed fist and stated in sum and substance, ‘What do you know about this? Were you there? Do you have anything to do with it? Do you know where Abel lives? Do you know anyone else who talks to Abel? What’s in your pockets?” Espinal is alleged to have taken the student’s cellphone and said, “It’s ours now. Don’t say our names. Pretend you don’t know us. Walk up the block.” When the student tried to get his phone back, one the defendants said to them, GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

ANDY HUMM

Louna Dennis, seen here with her family’s attorney Sanford Rubenstein, has consistently denied that her sons, Matthew McCree and Kevon Dennis, were “bullies,” but Kevon Dennis has been charged with robbing witnesses to McCree’s fatal stabbing of potential evidence hours after the deadly fight in a Bronx classroom.

ANDY HUMM

Abel Cedeno, facing manslaughter charges in Matthew McCree’s death, in court with his attorneys Christopher R. Lynn and Robert J. Feldman on March 6, the day that Kevon Dennis allegedly menaced and tried to jump him.

‘I’m not afraid to go to jail. Do you want to end up like my nephew?” Kevon Dennis is, according to McCree family attorney Sanford Rubenstein, the brother of Matthew McCree and son of Louna Dennis — though some reports have identified him as McCree’s uncle. Louna Dennis is suing the city for $25 million in the death of her son McCree. She has insisted repeatedly and angrily that her sons are not “bullies or gang members” — despite photographic evidence to the contrary — and has said publicly that if Cedeno’s defense counsel won’t stop saying that “there will be consequences.” Louna Dennis claims to have obtained cellphone video of the classroom fight via Facebook, but it is also possible that they were obtained by her son feloniously. While Rubenstein claims video shows Cedeno charging into the classroom with a knife, the video circulating on the news does not show that. It does show McCree pummeling Cedeno hard about the face and Cedeno striking back with a knife. Witness statements say that McCree charged across the classroom to attack Cedeno after he confronted the class about being bullied. Cedeno has said he knew McCree to be a gang member and possibly armed when he was attacked, saying that McCree had previously beaten up his friend Brandon, who also is alleged to have had his phone stolen by Dennis and is now living at an undisclosed location. Kevon Dennis’ lawyer, Andrew Rendeiro, did not return calls for comment on his clients felonious robbery case. Patrice O’Shaughnessy, spokesperson for the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email that they will prosecute both the Cedeno and Dennis cases “to the fullest extent of the law.” As to whether they constitute a conflict for her office she wrote, “They are completely separate cases. Since they are pending cases we cannot comment outside of what is said in court.” No witness tampering charges were brought against Kevon Dennis. Lynn wants a special prosecutor appointed to handle one or the other of these cases given what he sees as a conflict. He is appealing to the court and to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Lynn is also complaining about the fact that he and his co-counsel, Robert J. Feldman, were not informed by the DA’s office about the September 27 or the March 6 arrest of Kevon Dennis related to their case. Indeed, no other news outlet other than Gay City News has reported on the multiple charges against Dennis nor on the threats to Cedeno, his family, and to witnesses.

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MILITARY

Trump’s Trans Ban Aims to Sidetrack Lawsuits Will courts drop injunctions in deference to Pentagon report Pence may have steered? BY ARTHUR S. LEONARD

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n a move intended to evade existing preliminary injunctions while reaffirming in its essential elements President Donald Trump’s Twitter announcement from last July categorically prohibiting military service by transgender individuals, the administration issued three new documents on March 23, the date the president had designated in an August 2017 memorandum as his new policy’s effective date. A new presidential memorandum “revoked” a memo issued by Trump last August on the issue and authorized the Defense and Homeland Security secretaries to “implement any appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender individuals.” At the same time, Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys filed with the federal court in Seattle copies of Defense Secretary James Mattis’ memorandum to the president and a Department of Defense working group’s “Report and Recommendations” that had been submitted to the White House on February 23, in which Mattis recommended a version of Trump’s transgender ban that would effectively preclude military service for many, perhaps most, transgender applicants and some of those already serving, although the number affected was not immediately clear. Mattis’ recommendation drew a distinction between transgender status and the “medical condition” of gender dysphoria, as defined in the psychiatric diagnostic manual and generally seen as authoritative in litigation. Mattis is willing to let transgender people enlist unless they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which the report characterizes, based heavily on subjective assertions rather than any evidence, as a condition presenting undue risks in a military environment. Transgender people can enlist if they do not desire to transition and are willing to conform to all military requirements consistent with their biological sex as designated at birth.

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DEFENSE.GOV

The administration will now argue that Donald Trump’s transgender ban is informed by Pentagon chief James Mattis’ “expert military judgment,” but was the DOD report hijacked by Vice President Mike Pence and outside right-wing groups?

Similarly, transgender people currently serving who have not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria can remain in the military on the same basis: that they comply with all requirements for service members of their biological sex. However, people with a gender dysphoria diagnosis are largely excluded from either enlisting or staying in the military, with some individual exceptions, although those currently serving who were diagnosed after the Obama administration lifted the transgender ban on June 30, 2016, are “exempted” from these exclusions and may serve while transitioning and afterward consistent with their gender identity. (This exemption is justified in the report by the military’s investment in their training and is conditioned on their meeting all military performance requirement for those who share their gender identity.) Under the recommended policy, Defense Department transition-related health coverage will continue to be available for this “grandfathered” group under the Obama policy, but for no others. The March 23 document release took place just days before Lambda Legal and DOJ attorneys’ scheduled appearance on March 27 in US District Judge Marsha Pechman’s Seattle federal courtroom to present arguments on Lambda’s

motion for summary judgment in Karnoski v. Trump, one of the four pending legal challenges to Trump’s policy. Lambda’s motion, filed in January, was aimed at Trump’s July tweet and August memorandum, though the legal advocacy group anticipated the administration would produce some sort of documents to fill the fatal gap identified by four federal district judges, including Pechman, when they issued preliminary injunctions in late 2017: that Trump’s unilateral actions last summer were not based on any sort of “expert military judgment,” but rather on his short-term political need to win sufficient Republican votes in the House to pass a then-pending Defense Department spending measure. Some conservatives at that time were unhappy that a ban on military funding of gender reassignment surgery was not part of the measure, and Trump apparently decided to eliminate the entire controversy by simply reversing the Obama policy of opening up service to transgender individuals. Based on the obvious conclusion that Trump’s policy was not based on “expert military judgment,” the judges refused to accord it the usual deference that federal courts give to military regulations when they are challenged. Indeed, the only in-depth military study on the subject was the one carried out over a period of

years by the Obama administration before it lifted the transgender service ban formally on June 30, 2016, with new enlistees free to join the military one year later. (On the eve of that opening up of enlistment last June, Mattis extended the deadline an additional six months to January 1, 2018.) With no factual backup, Trump’s across-the-board ban was highly vulnerable to constitutional challenge in light of recent federal court rulings that gender identity discrimination is a form of sex discrimination. Courts treat policies that discriminate based on sex as presumptively unconstitutional, putting the burden on the government to show, with “exceedingly persuasive” proof, that they substantially advance an important government interest. The “Report and Recommendations” that have now been filed in Judge Pechman’s court were clearly devised in an attempt to fill that evidentiary gap, despite the claim that the group Mattis assembled to study the issues and formulate recommendations for him and the president were tasked with an objective policy review. The White House document dump ignited a host of questions. There was no clarity about when the “new” policies recommended by Mattis would go into effect — their implementation requiring rewriting and adoption in the form of regulations — and there were many questions about how transgender people currently serving would be affected. Spokespeople for the Defense Department said the Pentagon would abide by federal law, which currently consists of the preliminary injunctions against the policies Trump announced last summer. Since the preliminary injunctions were all aimed at last summer’s tweets and the president’s subsequent August memorandum, were they rendered moot by Trump revoking those policy announcements? Or would the courts see the proposed new policy as essentially

TRANS BAN, continued on p.13

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


MILITARY

Advocates React Quickly to New Ban Policy Trans service supporters say DOD report after-the-fact rationalization of policy courts reject BY PAUL SCHINDLER

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or advocates who have worked for years to open up military service to transgender Americans and were buoyed by a series of four federal court decisions enjoining Trump’s policy as announced last summer from taking effect, the reaction to the White House’s March 23 announcement on the issue was swift. In a written statement, Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said, “This is the same reckless ban that has been rejected by the federal courts, the American Medical Association, many bipartisan members of Congress, and most of the American people. Yet the TrumpPence administration keeps trying to barrel ahead. This plan has no basis in science, medicine, facts, or military readiness — only weak, after-the-fact justifications for President Trump’s irresponsible tweets. It aims to force out trained, capable service members and prevent the military from obtaining the most qualified personnel. A fraction of current service members who have already transitioned may

TRANSEQUALIT Y.ORG

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, says the new policy “has no basis in science, medicine, facts, or military readiness.�

be ‘grandfathered’ in and not discharged — but after this announcement, they will serve under a cloud of hostility. Transgender troops have always served our country, and thousands of trained and capable transgender troops have been serving ably and openly for nearly two years without issue. Implementing this plan would cause needless chaos and expense for the military and discard valuable personnel with critical skills, not because they can’t do their job but because of who they are.� Peter Renn, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, which has challenged the president’s proposed ban in court, stated, “The ‘plan’ unveiled today is nothing more than a transparent ruse cobbled together with spittle and duct tape designed solely to try to mask discrimination. A plan to implement an unconstitutional decree is an unconstitutional plan. In 2016, after careful and deliberate study, the Pentagon determined that the prohibition on open service by transgender people lacked any foundation and lifted the ban. Since then, transgender troops had been serving openly and success-

䉴

REACTION, continued on p.19

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GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

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COMMUNITY

Now, Parade Is For All Who Choose to Be Irish Lavender and Green Alliance gets forward spot on Fifth as gay Irish PM joins the fun

TOM MOULTON

Brendan Fay with Ireland’s out gay Prime Minister Leo Varadkar outside the Stonewall Inn on Mar. 16.

BY KATHLEEN WARNOCK

T

he New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade has stepped off 257 times, its many marchers including New Yorkers great and small, groups from all over the US and the world, and pipers and drummers beyond counting. This year’s edition featured all of the above, with an estimated 150,000 marchers, including the mayor, the governor, the Irish prime minister (and his partner, Dr. Matthew Barrett), and for the third year, a contingent from the Lavender and Green Alliance (Muintir Aerach na hÉireann), the Irish organization for LGBTQ people and allies. Many marchers gathered early Saturday morning, March 17 at Gracie Mansion for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s annual Irish breakfast. First Lady Chirlane McCray, welcomed the group to “The People’s House” and reminded them that March is also Women’s History Month, remarking that the first person to pass through Ellis Island in 1892 was Annie Moore, an Irish woman. McCray introduced the mayor, who recognized NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Chief of Department Terry Monahan and introduced the head of the City Council’s Irish-American Caucus, out gay Daniel Dromm from Jackson Heights. Also introduced were Irish Consul General Ciarán Mad-

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DONNA ACETO

The Reverend Ann Kansfield, an out lesbian FDNY chaplain.

den, Geraldine Byrne Nason, the permanent representative from Ireland to the United Nations, and the newly-appointed Irish ambassador to the US, Dan Mulhall, as well as Upper East Side Congressmember Carolyn Maloney. The crowd cheered when this year’s grand marshal, Irish-American philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman, only the fifth woman to be so honored, was introduced. De Blasio spoke about the history of the Irish in New York and America, then brought to the podium Ireland’s taoiseach (prime minister), Leo Varadkar. A member of the Fine Gael Party, Varadkar was elected to Ireland’s highest office last year as the first out gay prime minister and also the first of Indian heritage. Varadkar had visited the Stonewall Inn in the West Village the previous evening to meet with the cochairs of the inclusive Queens St. Pat’s for All Parade, Brendan Fay and Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, as well as ACT UP members who turned out. In his remarks at Gracie Mansion, Varadkar spoke of the $2.5 million grant from his country to the West Side’s Irish Arts Center. Longtime Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who retired as head of the party last month after 35 years, followed Varadkar to the podium. Adams quoted Frederick Douglass saying it’s “harder to make peace than make war,” and jokingly recognized beloved actor and writer

DONNA ACETO

The Monaghan Pipe Band.

MICHAEL APPLETON/ NYC MAYORAL PHOTO OFFICE

Brendan Fay, Matthew McMorrow, an aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Judith Kasen-Windsor, de Blasio, Louise O’Reilly, a Sinn Féin member of the Irish Dáil, and Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy.

Malachy McCourt as “a brigand and a rounder!” Guests enjoyed traditional music and Irish fare after the ceremony and quickly departed to prepare (or power nap) for the parade, which stepped off at 11 a.m. “We march for the sake of our children and our young people as much as ourselves,” said Fay, founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance as well as the St. Pat’s for All Parade. “With the hope that they may only know welcome, hospitality, and belonging.” Hundreds of groups lined up on feeder streets in the 40s on both sides of Fifth Avenue. Groups generally step off according to how many years ago they were first admitted to the parade. As a result, for the first two years it was allowed to participate, the Lavender and

Green Alliance was placed toward the end and — given the size of the event — by the time its members stepped off the crowds had thinned considerably. Grand marshal Glucksman, who was a 2016 grand marshal of the St. Pat’s for All Parade — launched nearly two decades ago to counter the longtime exclusion of gays from the Fifth Avenue event — lobbied for moving the group closer to the front, something organizers agreed to do. Nearly 200 Lavender and Green marchers assembled on East 44th Street and were given L&G buttons and traditional sashes, made of lavender and green silk, to wear across their chests, with the leaders and marshals boasting intri-

ST. PAT’S, continued on p.9

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


DONNA ACETO

Phil Donahue joins Judith Kasen-Windsor, Brendan Fay, Sister Mary Lanning, Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, and Malachy McCourt in singing the traditional folk song “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

ST. PAT’S, from p.8

cately embroidered silks designed and made by Shohn Donaghy and Gaby Cyramade, with logos designed by Irish artist Robert Ballagh. Check-in and formation were conducted by a wealth of longtime LGBTQ activists, some of whom were involved in the original protests in the ‘90s to let Lavender and Green into the parade, including Jesús Lebron, Ken Kidd, Tarlach Mac Niallais, and Lisa Fane. Each group marching selects its own honorary grand marshal, and Lavender and Green chose Judith Kasen-Windsor, spouse of the late activist Edie Windsor — whose federal lawsuit led to the 2013 demise of the Defense of Marriage Act — and an activist and organizer in her own right. “I burst into tears when I found out,” Kasen-Windsor said later. “I marched for Edie and it was touching and emotional, and I wish she could have been here with us today.” Supporters who assembled behind the group banner included Fay and D’Arcy, McCourt, Staten Island Pride Center executive director Carol Bullock (whose group was denied admittance to that borough’s March 4 St. Patrick’s Parade), former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former State Senator Thomas Duane, who was recovering from back surgery. “I’ll march until I get to the cameras,” Duane joked. They were joined by disability activist Anastasia Somoza, her twin sister Alba, and their mother Mary, along with disabled FDNY veteran and activist Gene Walsh, drag queen and TV personality Lady Clover Honey (Welsh), novelist/ GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

playwright Honor Molloy, and the 2017 St. Pat’s for All grand marshal Phil Donahue. Sinn Féin’s new president, Mary Lou McDonald, as well as Louise O’Reilly, a member of the Irish Dáil (its parliament), also marched with Lavender and Green, and de Blasio joined in for several blocks. Shortly after 11:30, to the skirling strains of the Monaghan Pipe Band (the next group in the parade order), the Lavender and Green Alliance stepped onto Fifth Avenue. The 1.4-mile march north from 44th St. to 79th St. featured hundreds of thousands of spectators, as well as hundreds of law enforcement officers, some in body armor with automatic weapons. Parade chair Dr. John Lahey, the president of Quinnipiac University, welcomed Lavender and Green as it marched by, as did grand marshal Glucksman. The crowd offered few anti-LGBTQ protesters: a group near Central Park displayed a banner reading “MARRIAGE IS 1 MAN AND 1 WOMAN” and a handwritten sign: “Don’t Repeal the 8th” (referring to an upcoming referendum in Ireland that would reform that country’s anti-abortion laws). Later on, a single protester, a man in biblicalstyle robes and a beard, held up a Bible as the marchers passed. “They should have a drink,” Duane quipped afterwards. “I can’t… they should!” Duane did make it all the way to the end, and, before dispersing, the Lavender and Green contingent took pictures and exchanged hugs. Some went to get a bite to eat or headed off for St. Patrick’s Day parties. Others simply went home to rest their aching feet.

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ACTIVISM

On Central Park West, Saying No to Guns Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers stand in solidarity with DC March for Our Lives

TEQUILA MINSKY TEQUILA MINSKY

Demonstrators pointed to the culpability of those resisting change.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Sam Hendler read the names of those killed on February 14.

TEQUILA MINSKY

Meghan Bonner recounted the horror she experienced at Marjory Stoneman Douglas last month.

BY TEQUILA MINSKY

T

hey couldn’t get to the epic march in Washington on March 24, but 175,000 New Yorkers rallied here in solidarity against gun violence in the March for Our Lives. This youth-led movement was sparked by the February 14 shooting of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Nationwide, shaken school students are channeling their grief into action and speaking out against both gun violence and the easy availability of the weapons. In Manhattan, the corridor of Central Park West from 62nd Street north past 86th Street filled in early Saturday morning in anticipation. When the program began shortly after at 11 a.m., the crowd relied on loud speakers set up at intervals to follow what proved an emotional series of speeches. Leading off was Pelham resident Mary Lou Montalto, who spoke next to a poster placard that read: “My granddaughter could not make it here today, I’m here for her.” Montalto’s 14-yearold granddaughter, Gina Montalto, died in the Parkland shooting. Youth were the center of the presentations. Two Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors spoke movingly. In front of a backdrop montage of his fallen classmates’ photos, 16-year-old Sam Hendler read their names. His fellow student Meghan Bonner, her mother and sister at her side, tearfully

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TEQUILA MINSKY

Mary Lou Montalto, whose 14-year-old granddaughter Gina Montalto was killed in the Parkland, Florida, shootings in February, opened the program.

TEQUILA MINSKY

TEQUILA MINSKY

An adapted anti-war slogan from the 1960s was among the placards.

Many signs emphasized the importance of voting this coming November.

gave her own harrowing account of that day. “The adults failed us,” Bonner said. The rally included speeches from a survivor of last fall’s Las Vegas massacre; a librarian who saved students during the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook; Nza-Ari Khepra, a student activist and cofounder of the Wear Orange campaign that brings awareness to gun violence; children — who are now young adults — of parents who died on 9/11; Nupol Kiazolu, the head of New York’s Black Lives Matter youth coalition; and members from Harlem Mothers SAVE and Guns Down Life Up, both local initiatives focused on gun violence reduction. Ethan Rubin, an 11th grade student at Columbia Secondary School, entered Central Park West at 72nd with friends and his mom. They listened to the program through amplified speakers. “There were just as many peo-

ple as the Women’s March, but this felt more emotional,” he said, particularly noting the testimony from the Pelham grandmother and the Parkland survivors. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio were among those at the start of the march that proceeded down Central Park West after the program concluded. Also up front walking were Gays Against Guns with their Human Beings veiled in white, memorializing those lost to gun violence at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando two years ago and elsewhere. The Human Beings took the place of someone who would have wanted to be there that day but could not be. The march, which headed toward Columbus Circle and then east to Sixth Avenue, continued for hours. The crowd was passionate and strikingly diverse in race, ethnicity, and age. Youth walked together amidst many families,

TEQUILA MINSKY

A family united in their determination to end gun violence.

some with small children perched on their parents’ shoulders. One toddler was spotted carrying a sign, and many a seasoned demonstrator walked with a cane. One veteran marcher’s sign read: “I marched in the ‘60s and I’m marching in my 60s.” Another placard — bright yellow with a flower, reminiscent of the peace movement — adapted a famous anti-war slogan and read: “Guns are not healthy for children and other living things.” On Central Park South, onlookers held similar signs, and some apartment windows along the marchers’ route displayed messages of solidarity. Actors were

NO TO GUNS, continued on p.12

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


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GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; April 11, 2018

11


ACTIVISM

TAG’s Exhibit Honors Artists Fighting AIDS Westbeth show offered 40 works in mixed media produced by 14 seminal talents BY TEQUILA MINSKY estbeth’s expansive gallery exhibited Limited Art Editions — 40 pieces in 14 editions, created from 1999-2017 — presented by the Treatment Action Group (TAG). Media ranged from photography to mixed media to printing. TAG owns the limited edition art by the 14 artists represented, and the exhibit marked the first time the editions were shown together. Sales support the important and life-saving work of TAG. The 26-year-old organization is an outgrowth from the activist group ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. In January 1992, members of the Treatment and Data Committee of ACT UP left the parent group to create a nonprofit organization focused on accelerating treatment research. TAG continues to work, through science-based research, community engagement, and collective action, for the day when there will be a cure and an end to HIV, hepatitis C, and tuberculosis. Joy Episalla, the curator and an exhibiting photographer, writes in the accompanying exhibition catalogue that “the financial support

W

TEQUILA MINSKY

TAG board president Barbara Hughes, executive director Mark Harrington, photographer Richard Renaldi, and photographer and curator Joy Episalla, in front of Renaldi’s photograph “Matt, Fort Worth, TX, 2005.”

that the sale of the TAG editions provides is more important than ever…. [particularly as we] are living in dark times. Government funding for HIV research is being rescinded as are all kinds of not-for-profits and advocacy organizations….” More than 30 silver gelatin selenium-toned prints donated in 1999 by photographer Ben Thornberry established the collection. The photographer documented ACT UP activists in action from the late 1980s into the early 1990s, when the AIDS crisis unleashed its most devastating blows. An entire side of the room was devoted to exhibiting 20 of his images. One of the images exhibited —

“David Wojnarowicz’ memorial march, East Village, NYC” — was turned into a over-sized poster hung just behind the reception desk, greeting visitors. “I was at that event,” said TAG’s board president Barbara Hughes, recalling the political performance funeral at Astor Place when a banner was burned. An artist, writer, photographer, filmmaker, performance artist, and activist, Wojnarowicz died in 1992. “A few days after he died, at least 100 candlelit marchers walked through the East Village and a banner was burned,” Hughes said. People speak of Wojnarowicz with reverence, his talent, activism, and

writing drawing attention to AIDS at a time when it was too commonly ignored. The Whitney will host the first major, monographic presentation of work by Wojnrowicz in more than a decade beginning July 13. “His activism is an inspiration,” said Mark Harrington, TAG’s cofounder and executive director, who is no slouch himself, boasting his initial arrest with ACT UP at Wall Street, the week following his first civil disobedience training in 1988. Harrington has been arrested eight times; Hughes, 12 times. Harrington recalled one-action-a-day, for 11 days, in April 1988. “There is a long history of visual graphic arts partnered with activism,” said TAG staff member Joe McConnell, commenting on the sensibility and sensitivity these artists brought to their work. Since 2005, the TAG collection has continued to grow. If you missed the exhibition, the art is still available for purchase at treatmentactiongroup.org/limitedart-editions. The exhibition’s catalogue is dedicated to: David Armstrong (1954-2014), Tony Feher (1956-2016), and Mathilde Krim, Ph.D. (1926-2018), and all “those we have lost in the fight against AIDS.”

NO TO GUNS, from p.10

spotted in the crowd, and Paul McCartney told the media how he, too, had lost a good friend — John Lennon — to gun violence. The multitude of handwritten signs — some simple, some clever — voiced a wide array of personal and nuanced expressions, all focused on the meaning of the day. There were clear themes, including the need to vote — “vote them out” or “I’m going to vote in 2020” — which is part of this movement’s agenda. Voter registration — for 2018, never mind 2020! — was available during the march. Teachers held signs speaking to the inappropriateness of guns, in

12

DONNA ACETO

The Human Beings from Gays Against Guns gathered in Pershing Square in Washington the same day, representing those who would like to have been there but could not be.

any form, in schools. Many marchers pointed to the hypocrisy of regulating women’s reproduction but taking a hands-off approach to buying and selling guns. Over and over, written messag-

es as well as chants condemned easy access to guns in this country, its tragic consequences, the profit motive behind it, and the politicians unwilling to act to stop it.

DONNA ACETO

Republican resistance on Capitol Hill to sensible gun laws was emphasized by DC protesters.

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


TRANS BAN, from p.6

a continuation of what Trump had initiated, and thus covered by the preliminary injunctions? The district judges had all denied requests by the government to stay their injunctions, and two courts of appeals had refused to stay those issued by the judges in Baltimore and Washington, DC, leading DOJ to not bother pursuing stays of the injunctions issued by judges in Seattle and Riverside, California. Complying with the four injunctions, the Pentagon allowed transgender people to begin applying to enlist in January, and announced that at least one transgender applicant had completed the enlistment process by February. Arguably, the preliminary injunctions — giving them a broad reading consistent with their analysis of the underlying issues — would apply to any policy that excludes transgender people from military service pending final resolution of these cases, perhaps at the Supreme Court. In a signal of what was coming on March 23, DOJ attorneys stoutly combated the plaintiffs’ demand in the Seattle case for disclosure of the identity of the “generals” and other “military experts” Trump, in his July tweets, claimed he consulted with before announcing his categorical ban. The government’s attorneys argued they would not be defending the policy the president announced last summer but rather whatever new policy Trump decided to adopt based on Mattis’ “expert military judgment” and the documentation provided to support that. In a series of confrontations over the plaintiffs’ demand for discovery, Judge Pechman produced two written opinions ordering DOJ to come up with the requested information and DOJ attorneys offered a questionable claim of executive privilege protecting the identity of those consulted by Trump. This issue awaited resolution at the March 27 hearing in Seattle as the White House released its new policy documents last week. The administration’s strategic moves on March 23 appeared intended to change the field of battle in the pending lawsuits. When they were originally filed, the lawsuits GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

had a big fat target in Trump’s unilateral, unsupported actions. By revoking his August memorandum and “any other directive I may have made” (that is, the tweets from July), Trump sought to remove that target and replace it with a new, possibly more defensible one: a policy recommended and eventually adopted as “appropriate” by Mattis based on his “expert military judgment.” Clearly, the administration is counting on the judicial deference typically accorded the military to avoid having to defend the newly-announced policy on its constitutional merits. The big lingering question is whether the courts will let them get away with this. The policy itself suffers from many of the same constitutional flaws as the one it replaces, but the “Report and Recommendations” — cobbled together in heavy reliance on the work of dedicated opponents to transgender military service — has at least the veneer and trappings of a serious policy review. The plaintiffs in the existing lawsuit will now need to discredit it in the eyes of the courts, painting it as the litigation advocacy document that it obviously is. Mark Joseph Stern, in a detailed dissection published online in Slate shortly after the document release, reported that administration sources told him that the process of producing the report had been taken over by Vice President Mike Pence and Heritage Foundation and Family Research Council personnel who have written numerous articles opposing transgender rights. According to Stern’s reporting, Mattis was opposed to reinstating the transgender ban, but was overruled by the White House and is reacting as a soldier to the dictates of his commander in chief, unwilling to spend political capital on this issue. Tellingly, the “Report and Recommendations” itself does not provide the names of those responsible for its composition, setting up a new discovery confrontation between the plaintiffs and DOJ. Some are predicting that the new policy will never go into effect. If the courts refuse to be bamboozled by the façade of reasoned policy-making now presented by the administration, those predictions may be correct.

13


HEALTH

City Reopens Its Chelsea Health Clinic Furor stirred by its renovation led officials to reach out for advocates’ input

DUNCAN OSBORNE DUNCAN OSBORNE

At the March 15 official reopening of the city’s Chelsea sexual health clinic, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the health commissioner speaks, flanked by City Councilmember Mark Levine, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Ana Barrio, acting commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, and Matthew McMorrow, an aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE

T

hree years after its planned closing sparked outrage and protests among AIDS activists, the renovation of the city’s Chelsea sexual health clinic is largely completed and the clinic has been seeing patients since March 5. “I want to give credit to the important alliance between the advocates and the people who work in government,” Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, said during the March 15 official reopening of the clinic, which is located at 303 Ninth Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets. “I would like to thank the many advocates who have pushed us to make this the very best clinic it can be.” The clinic was the busiest among the nine health clinics operated by the city. AIDS groups had anticipated that it would play a central role in the Plan to End AIDS, which is an ambitious undertaking to reduce the number of annual new HIV infections in New York State from the estimated 2,481 in 2014 to 750 a year by 2020. With most new HIV infections in New York occurring in New York City, the city has set its own goal as part of the plan of getting down to 600 new HIV infections a year by 2020. The plan relies on treating HIV-

14

positive people with anti-HIV drugs so they remain healthy and cannot infect others. For those who need it, the plan also delivers housing, nutrition, and other services so people can stay on their anti-HIV drugs. HIV-negative people are offered pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Both regimes use anti-HIV drugs in people to keep them from becoming infected. The clinics are an obvious place to identify large numbers of people who are newly HIV-infected and get them on antiHIV drugs as well as to identify large numbers of people who are having sex that may expose them to HIV and get them on to PrEP or PEP. In 2014, the Chelsea clinic had 19,243 visits, or 23 percent of the 83,000 visits to all the clinics that year. The next highest total was reported by the Fort Greene clinic, which had 12,472 visits, or 15 percent of the 2014 visits. In a 2015 letter following the Chelsea clinic’s closing, the Treatment Action Group (TAG), Housing Works, Harlem United, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, VOCAL-NY, ACT UP/ NY, and Ginny Shubert, a leading housing and healthcare consultant, wrote to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking that the services lost with the closing be replaced. “This action poses an immediate and severe threat to the pub-

Joining in the ribbon cutting are Housing Works CEO Charles King, Levine, Barrio, Dr. Sue Blank, the city’s assistant commissioner for sexually transmitted disease control, Bassett, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the city’s deputy commissioner for disease control, TAG’s Jeremiah Johnson, Dr. Eunmee Chun, director of sexual health at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Dr. Freddy Molano, vice president of Infectious Diseases and LGBTQ Programs at the Community Healthcare Network, and McMorrow.

lic health of the City, not only to Chelsea residents, but to all of New York City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities,” the groups wrote. “This action, if not immediately remedied… will undoubtedly result in excess HIV and other [sexually transmitted disease] infections.” Charles King, the chief executive at Housing Works, and Mark Harrington, TAG’s executive director, are credited with conceiving of the Plan to End AIDS and King in particular has been a leading proponent of the plan. Corey Johnson of Chelsea, who was the chair of the City Council’s Health Committee in 2015 and is now the City Council speaker, took a lead role in getting the city health department and the AIDS activists to come to an agreement on how to replace the lost services. “It’s beautiful,” Johnson said as he toured the clinic prior to the March 15 press conference. “I wish there were before and after photos because it was scary.” The official opening was a reconciliation of sorts. While activists did not dispute that the Chelsea clinic, which first opened in 1937, was in need of the renovation, they remained unhappy with how the closing was handled. “We neglected to consult with the community and this was not a good idea,” said Dr. Sue Blank, the

assistant commissioner who oversees sexually transmitted disease control at the city health department, at the March 15 event. “Boy, did you let us know it.” King and TAG’s Jeremiah Johnson both spoke at the opening ceremony and praised the new clinic and the city health department. Ana Barrio, the acting commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, which oversaw the renovation, also won praise from advocates. Also speaking at the event were Upper West Side City Councilmember Mark Levine, the new chair of the Health Committee, Dr. Eunmee Chun, the director of sexual health at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which added 105 sexual health visits to its weekly schedule when the Chelsea clinic closed, and Dr. Freddy Molano, vice president of Infectious Diseases and LGBTQ Programs at the Community Healthcare Network. The clinic has the capacity to handle up to 200 visits a day. The clinic saw 50 people on March 5 and to date has put 21 people on PrEP. Bassett said the city health department was promoting the renovated Chelsea clinic on social media and by word of mouth. “We’re going to be sending it out on social media,” she said. “There’s nothing more powerful than word of mouth.” March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


SAGE CELEBRATES SHE PHOTO ESSAY BY DONNA ACETO

F

or the second year in a row, SAGE, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, celebrated Women’s History Month with “She,” an evening of drinks, appetizers, and the beats to get feet moving, held on March 22 at the Mezzanine at 55 Broadway downtown.

The popular Henrietta Hudson bartender E.

DJ Tikka and the crowd at SAGE’s “She.”

Bridget McGlinn and Abby Sugar.

SAGE executive director Michael Adams with Judith Kasen-Windsor, one of the evening’s sponsors.

GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

15


CIVIL RIGHTS

Sex Bias Found in Trans Funeral Director’s Firing Sixth Circuit adopts EEOC view of gender identity discrimination violating ’64 Civil Rights Act BY ARTHUR S. LEONARD

A

unanimous three-judge panel of the Cincinnatibased US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 7 that a Michigan funeral home violated federal antidiscrimination law by terminating a funeral director who announced she would be transitioning during her vacation and return to work as a woman. Rejecting a ruling by US District Judge Sean F. Cox that the funeral home’s action was protected by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote for the court that the government’s “compelling interest” in eradicating employment discrimination because of sex took priority over the religious beliefs of the funeral home’s owner. This is the first time that any federal appeals court has ruled that RFRA would not shelter an employer from a gender identity discrimination claim by a transgender plaintiff. The Sixth Circuit has in the past allowed Title VII claims under the 1964 Civil Rights Act by transgender plaintiffs under a “gender stereotype” theory with a specific fact pattern, but this is also the first time it explicitly endorsed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s conclusion that gender identity discrimination is necessarily a form of sex discrimination, directly prohibited by Title VII. Judge Moore drew a comparison to a Title VII decision by the Seventh Circuit in the Hively case, which held similarly that sexual orientation discrimination against Kimberly Hively by Ivy Tech Community College, an Indiana school, is a form of sex discrimination. Alliance Defending Freedom’s involvement as volunteer counsel for the funeral home makes it likely the Supreme Court will be asked to review this ruling. The lawsuit was filed by the EEOC, the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title VII, which

16

ACLU.ORG

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that transgender funeral director Aimee Stephens’ firing was an illegal case of sex discrimination.

sued after investigating Aimee Stephens’ administrative complaint that she had been unlawfully terminated. When the EEOC appealed the adverse district court ruling, Stephens, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, was granted standing to intervene as co-plaintiff in the appeal. Stephens worked for R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., a closely-held, for-profit corporation that operates three funeral homes. Its owner, Thomas Rost, identifies himself as a Christian who espouses the religious belief that “the Bible teaches that a person’s sex is an immutable Godgiven gift,” and that he would be “violating God’s commands if he were to permit one of the Funeral Home’s funeral directors to deny their sex while acting as a representative of the organization” or if he were to “permit one of the Funeral Home’s male funeral directors to wear the uniform for female funeral directors while at work.” “In particular,” Moore wrote, “Rost believes that authorizing or paying for a male funeral director to wear the uniform for female funeral directors would render him complicit ‘in supporting the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immu-

table God-given gift.’” Prior to the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision — which allowed that family-held company an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage requirement in employer health plans — there was no high court authority for the proposition that a funeral home, or any other for-profit business, could claim to “exercise religion.” The majority in that case, however, ruled that because business corporations are defined as “persons” in the US Code, they enjoy the same protection as natural persons under RFRA — at least in cases involving closely-held corporations like Hobby Lobby, with a small group of shareholders who share the same religious beliefs. Interestingly, had Stephens brought her own lawsuit, this would not have been an issue, since the Sixth Circuit does not impose RFRA restrictions on private plaintiffs. Since EEOC is the plaintiff, however, this is a case of the government seeking to impose a burden on the free exercise of religion by a business corporation, and RFRA is implicated. The Sixth Circuit panel concluded that Judge Cox erred on several key points in his analysis of the funeral home’s summary

judgment motion. Though Cox determined that the Sixth Circuit does not recognize gender identity claims per se under Title VII, he was bound by circuit precedent to find that Stephens had a potentially valid discrimination claim on the theory she was fired for failing to conform to her employer’s stereotype about how men are supposed to present themselves and dress in the workplace. But Cox concluded that ordering a remedy for Stephens would substantially impair the funeral home’s rights under RFRA and granted summary judgment to Rost. After reviewing the court’s prior transgender discrimination decisions, Moore concluded that the EEOC’s view of Title VII to cover gender identity discrimination directly, without reference to sex stereotypes, is correct. “First,” she wrote, “it is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” Then referring to the Seventh Circuit’s Hively ruling last year, she added, “Here, we ask whether Stephens would have been fired if Stephens had been a woman who sought to comply with the women’s dress code. The answer quite obviously is no. This, in and of itself, confirms that Stephens’ sex impermissibly affected Rost’s decision to fire Stephens.” Moore also wrote, “Gender (or sex) is not being treated as ‘irrelevant to employment decisions’ if an employee’s attempt or desire to change his or her sex leads to an adverse employment decision.” Pointing to an earlier Sixth Circuit ruling on transgender discrimination, Smith v. City of Salem, that was based on a sex stereotyping finding, Moore wrote, “We did not expressly hold in Smith that discrimination on the basis of transgender status is unlawful, though the opinion has been read to say as much – both

AIMEE STEPHENS, continued on p.17

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


AIMEE STEPHENS, from p.16

by this circuit and others. Such references support what we now directly hold: Title VII protects transgender persons because of their transgender or transitioning status, because transgender or transitioning status constitutes an inherently gender non-conforming trait.” In light of this conclusion, the funeral home would have to show it was entitled to an exception. Here, the court found that requiring the funeral home to employ Stephens after her transition would not impose a “substantial” burden within the meaning of RFRA. Rost had suggested two ways in which a substantial burden would be imposed. First, he suggested, letting Stephens dress as a woman “would often create distractions for the deceased’s loved ones and thereby hinder their healing process (and the Funeral Home’s ministry),” and second, “forcing the Funeral Home to violate Rost’s faith would significantly pressure Rost to leave the funeral industry and end his ministry to grieving people.” The court did not accept either justification. For one thing, a basic tenet of anti-discrimination law is that businesses may not rely on customer preferences or biases as an excuse to refuse to employ people for a reason forbidden by Title VII. The court also rejected Rost’s argument that the EEOC’s position forced him to choose between violating his religious beliefs by, for example, paying for a women’s uniform for Stephens to wear, or otherwise quitting the funeral business. The court pointed out

that there is no legal requirement for Rost to pay for uniforms for his staff. (In Hobby Lobby, in contrast, the issue was a regulation requiring employers to bear the cost of contraceptive coverage.) Further, wrote Moore, “simply permitting Stephens to wear attire that reflects a conception of gender that is at odds with Rost’s religious beliefs is not a substantial burden under RFRA,” because “as a matter of law, tolerating Stephens’ understanding of her sex and gender identity is not tantamount to supporting it.” The court would typically have reversed the summary judgment and sent the case back to the district court to determine whether a trial was needed, but no material facts are in dispute in the case, so the Sixth Circuit directly granted summary judgment to the EEOC on its claim that the funeral home violated Title VII and is not entitled to a defense under RFRA. Stephens won on the merits, unless the funeral home is successful in getting the Supreme Court to take the case and reverse. The appeal was argued for the EEOC by Anne Noel Occhialino, and for Stephens by ACLU attorney John A. Knight. Douglas G. Wardlow of Alliance Defending Freedom argued on behalf of the funeral home. The case attracted amicus briefs from Lambda Legal and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, among a number of groups. Judge Moore was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton, while the other judges on the unanimous panel —Helene N. White and Bernice W. Donald — were appointed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively.

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eee5Og1Wbg<Sea\gQ GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

17


CIVIL RIGHTS

Idaho Ordered to Issue New Trans Birth Certificates Federal court finds existing policy is discrimination based on sex BY ARTHUR S. LEONARD

U

S Magistrate Judge Candy Dale in Boise, Idaho, has ordered the state of Idaho to allow transgender people born there to obtain birth certificates correctly identifying them according to their gender identity. Once Idaho has complied with Dale’s March 5 order, the only states where trans people will remain unable to get appropriate new birth certificates will be Ohio, Tennessee, and Kansas, along with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a US territory. The other 46 states and the District of Columbia have varying criteria for how transgender people can revise their birth certificates. Dale ruled in a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal on behalf of two transgender women born in Idaho whose birth certificates identify them as male with the males name given them at birth. One, F.V., states that “she knew from approximately six that she was female” and she “began to live openly as a female when she was 15 years old.” She has transitioned “both medically and socially” and has gotten a legal name change, which she then used to get a new driver’s license, passport, and Social Security card. However, when she contacted the Idaho Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics within the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to get a new birth certificate, she was told that the Bureau “does not consider such applications.” According to Dale’s opinion, “F.V. asserts that living with a birth certificate declaring she is male is a permanent and painful reminder that Idaho does not recognize her as she is — as a woman. Beyond this, she states that presenting an identity document that conflicts with her gender identity is both humiliating and dangerous: it puts her at risk of violence by disclosing against her will and intentions that she is a transgender individual.” The other plaintiff, Dani Martin, has a similar story, having known from an early age she was female

18

LAMBDALEGAL.ORG

Peter Renn, a senior attorney in Lambda Legal’s Los Angeles office, led the team of attorneys who prevailed in a federal court in Idaho.

despite her birth name and anatomy. “Fear of rejection and bullying prevented her from coming out when she was younger,” Dale wrote. With support from her spouse and family she began to transition in 2014 and has lived as a woman since then, taking steps both medically and socially to “bring her body and expression of gender in line with her female identity.” Like F.V., Martin legally changed her name and obtained a new driver’s license and Social Security card, but the state’s policy blocked her from getting a new birth certificate, which, she claims, “has exposed her to harassment and embarrassment,” and has “prevented her from making the change in other important records.” Lambda’s complaint charged that Idaho’s policy against issuing new birth certificates violates the US Constitution’s First Amendment and the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. Dale confined her ruling to the equal protection claim. Any law or policy that systematically treats people differently based on any characteristic requires a rational, non-discriminatory justification. In this lawsuit, the state conceded that there was no rational basis for refusing to issue the requested certificates, but such changes are not specifically authorized under Idaho’s vital statistics statute and evidently the state’s political leadership lacked the willingness to amend the law. Theoretically, the executive branch

could change the policy by adopting a new rule, but apparently it was not willing to take whatever political heat it thought that would generate. In effect, the state’s response to the lawsuit was to ask the court to issue an order, so that officials could refute any legislative criticism by putting the blame on the courts. Idaho does issue new birth certificates for a variety of reasons, including correcting factual errors made at birth, adding the name of the father for infants born to unmarried women in response to an acknowledgement or determination of paternity, and changing names and paternal and maternal information resulting from adoptions. In those cases, “the vital statistics laws require the amendments not be marked or noted on the birth certificate.” However, other changes not specifically authorized by the statute fall under a “catch-all” provision in the law, which requires that they “must be described on the birth certificate.” Since including such information on a new certificate for a transgender person would effectively out them when presenting the certificate as circumstances required, the lawsuit sought to ensure that the requested certificates appear completely ordinary on their face, with no indication of amendment or special circumstances. The only real dispute between the parties was whether the court should go beyond the state’s concession that it had no rational policy

justification for denying new birth certificates for transgender people, to determine whether gender identity itself is a “suspect classification,” imposing on the state a high level of justification for its practice. Idaho officials urged Judge Dale not to do that, but the plaintiffs, concerned about the possibility that the state might come up with a new rule imposing costly barriers to obtaining the new licenses — such as a requirement for complete surgical transition, which is still the rule in many other states — asked Dale to apply a more demanding level of judicial review in evaluating any such rule. Siding with the plaintiffs, Dale extended her opinion to provide a detailed discussion of gender identity and its status under federal constitutional law, concluding that heightened scrutiny should be applied. After reviewing advances in the understanding of human sexuality, she wrote, “to conclude discrimination based on gender identity or transsexual status is not discrimination based on sex is to depart from advanced medical understanding in favor of archaic reasons.” Under binding Supreme Court precedents, discrimination because of sex requires heightened scrutiny. Furthermore, Dale found, gender identity or transgender status should be treated the same way that the Ninth Circuit — whose jurisdiction includes Idaho — has treated sexual orientation or homosexual status. “The pervasive and extensive similarities in the discrimination faced by transgender people and homosexual people are hard to ignore,” she wrote. “(1) Transgender people have been the subject of a long history of discrimination that continues to this day; (2) transgender status as a defining characteristic bears no ‘relation to ability to perform or contribute to society;’ (3) transgender status and gender identity have been found to be ‘obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics;’ and (4) trans-

IDAHO, continued on p.19

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


REACTION, from p.7

fully — until President Trump unleashed his incendiary barrage of uninformed tweets.” Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a research institute focused on policy questions regarding sexual minorities in the military, issued a statement saying, “In service to the ideological goals of the Trump-Pence base, the Pentagon has distorted the science on transgender health to prop up irrational and legally untenable discrimination that will erode military readiness. There is no evidence to support a policy that bars from military service patriotic Americans who are medically fit and able to deploy.” The advocates clearly aim to characterize Mattis’ conclusions as an after-the-fact rationalization of a policy Trump first announced in a tweet storm last July with no apparent reliance on military advice. The president’s motivation, instead, seems to have been to placate House conservatives unhappy about funding for gender reassignment surgery who threatened to withhold their votes from a military spending bill. In four different federal courts, judges issued temporary injunctions against implementation of Trump’s policy, finding that it did not seem grounded in any mili-

IDAHO, from p.18

gender people are unarguably a politically vulnerable minority.” Dale continued, “This is especially true in Idaho, where transgender people have no state constitutional protections from discrimination based on their transgender status in relation to employment decisions, housing, and other services. Therefore, transgender people bear all of the characteristics of a quasisuspect class and any rule developed and implemented by IDHW should withstand heightened scrutiny review to be constitutionally sound.” This would mean that any new requirement imposed by the state and challenged by transgender plaintiffs would have to be supported by an important government interest that the requirement substantially advances. Under this GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

tary expertise — and was at odds with Pentagon findings late in the Obama administration that transgender service was not inconsistent with military readiness and imposed no significant cost in terms of health care spending. Two federal appeals courts declined to block two of the injunctions the Justice Department had challenged. Mindful that Trump’s effort to reverse the Obama policy on transgender troops flew in the face of the conclusions of a lengthy Pentagon review, Mattis argued that review was largely based “on a study prepared by the RAND National Defense Research Institute; however, that study contained significant shortcomings. It referred to limited and heavily caveated data to support its conclusions, glossed over the impacts of healthcare costs, readiness, and unit cohesion, and erroneously relied on the selective experiences of foreign militaries with different operational requirements than our own.” Advocates will pour through the Mattis memo to counter his revisionism on the issue, but the legal challenges to the new policy now face an important new obstacle: the court’s traditional deference to military expertise in Pentagon’s personnel policy, something that hobbled challenges to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy for years.

standard, it is unlikely that a surgical requirement would withstand judicial review, since many states — and countries — have come to agree that such a requirement poses an unnecessary barrier to the ability of many transgender people to obtain appropriate official documentation, without serving any significant public purpose. Dale issued an injunction giving the state up to one month to “begin accepting applications made by transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates,” and specifying that the new certificates “must not include record of amendment to the listed sex” and should use the new legal name of the applicant. The plaintiffs are represented by Lambda Legal attorneys Peter Renn and Kara Ingelhart, with pro bono local counsel Monica G. Cockerille of Boise, Idaho.

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19


PERSPECTIVE: Snide Lines PUBLISHER JENNIFER GOODSTEIN

jgoodstein@cnglocal.com FOUNDING EDITOR IN-CHIEF & ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER

Herman Bell Gains Parole, as Cuomo, de Blasio Lose Ethics

PAUL SCHINDLER

editor@gaycitynews.com

BY SUSIE DAY

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D

ear Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo, You, as governor and mayor — New York State’s most powerful liberals — have argued constantly. I, along with millions of New York civilians, have endured years of your snark-attacks and antler-locks. Recently, it got really bad, when you, Governor Cuomo, insinuated that you, Mayor de Blasio, might be in league with Vladimir Putin to persuade Cynthia Nixon to run for governor. I felt like a kid asking God to “Please make Mommy and Daddy stop fighting.” But then: Herman Bell. Who would have thought that a 70-year-old former Black Panther, granted parole after 45 years in prison for the 1971 killing of two New York City police officers, would bring you two together? Finally, you agree! Each of you has railed against the New York State Parole Board granting parole, on March 14, to Herman. Mommy and Daddy are okay again! It’s ironic that you, Mr. Governor, a purported progressive, say you “disagree strongly” with the Parole Board’s decision, while you, Mr. Mayor, who’ve been called a communist — having gone to Nicaragua in the ‘80s to support the Sandinista Revolution — went further, writing, in a letter to the Parole Board, that what Herman Bell did was “beyond the frontiers of rehabilitation or redemption” and that Herman should remain behind bars. Talk about progressive! Progressive values are, in fact, what motivate me, a legally married, cardcarrying lesbian, to sit here typing to you with real concern. Hey, I’ve been to Nicaragua, too. And I’m glad you guys agree about something. I just abhor what you’re agreeing about. See, I’m one of Herman Bell’s friends. I didn’t know him back in the day, but I know him now. I’ve visited Herman in various New York prisons for the last 18 years. I know Herman to be an honest, compassionate, honorable man, to whom I would entrust my life. It stuns my heart to remember the acts for which Herman was convict-

ed. Yet I’ve seen Herman take responsibility for what he did and express true remorse. I don’t mean to minimize anyone’s loss or pain. There is nothing that can ease it or bring back lost loved ones. But Herman was sentenced to 25-years-to-life; he’s served four-and-a-half decades. Why shouldn’t justice include a 70-yearold man, who poses no imaginable risk to anyone’s safety, getting out of prison to quietly enjoy his last years with his family and friends? I would have thought that you, Mr. Governor, who’s spoken so often against mass incarceration, and you, Mr. Mayor, who curbed the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics, would want to release one among the growing number of elders locked up solely for what they did generations ago. That you would want to take a little credit for the fact that human beings are capable, within the New York State correctional system, of actual correction. Redemption, if you will. Herman is someone who, arrested at age 25, spent his years inside obtaining three college degrees, mentoring hundreds of incarcerated people, coaching prison football teams, and initiating outside projects, like a garden for growing food to feed inner-city people. Someone who, inside prison, has not once engaged in a violent act — even last September, when prison guards assaulted him and slammed his head repeatedly onto a concrete floor. A man who, given a New York State “risk and needs” assessment (COMPAS), consistently scores the lowest possible risk for “felony violence,” “recidivism,” and “absconding.” Under your administration, Governor Cuomo, the New York Parole Board has been modernizing its criteria for release. It’s moving away from relying solely on the “nature of the offense,” as it used to (how can anyone outside a sci-fi thriller possibly go back in time and correct their wrongs?). It now also looks at things like someone’s age; length of time served; how a person has changed; what they’ve accomplished inside prison; disciplinary record; and reentry plan, including family, jobs, community standing. The Board looks at

who someone is today. These are solid, progressive — yea, Enlightenment — standards, and I, as a queer, embrace them. They allowed Herman Bell, on his eighth appearance before the Board, to be granted parole. By not defending the Board’s measured, lawful decision, both of you risk letting this high-profile case be used by vigilante forces to overturn the Board’s humanitarian changes that can affect thousands inside New York prisons. Let’s distinguish justice from gratuitous vengeance. On one hand, I’ll admit that, like everybody, I read news stories about people who do horrible things and wish they would rot in jail. But that’s me, alienated, finding cheap therapy by imagining someone else’s suffering. On the other hand, there is the concerted drive for endless punishment propagated by people like those in the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, who want anyone who hurts a police officer to rot in jail for real. These are law enforcement professionals, devoted to making prison the worst place in the world, where they themselves will never spend one day. “We’re gonna get you, we don’t care why you’re behind bars,” said PBA president Patrick Lynch, responding to Herman’s parole decision. “We just care that you are behind bars.” You, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, are standing back in quiet accord as the PBA tries in every way it can to intimidate the Board into rescinding Herman’s parole so that Herman dies in jail. The PBA has issued an outlandish “safety alert,” supposedly to “provide back-up” to NYPD officers, should Herman be released. Its latest trick has been to get media outlets to pit Manny — the brother of Waverly Jones, one of the slain officers — against Jones’ son, Waverly, Jr., who has for years expressed forgiveness of Herman and his desire for Herman’s release. Those efforts aren’t a cry for justice; they’re the remorseless exploitation of grief-stricken people to get what the PBA wants: public assurance that the police are the unalterable, ungovern-

HERMAN BELL, continued on p.39

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


PERSPECTIVE: Media Circus

Guess What? Rump Lied Again BY ED SIKOV

R

ump’s nonexistent relationship to the truth is no longer news and hasn’t been for a very long time. But I’m still compelled to point out proof of it simply because it’s what journalists do. During his lie-filled campaign for the presidency, Rump stated, among other things, that the LGBTQ community would find him to be our best friend, our buddy, our pal. Since his presidency began, however, he has done nothing but put forth bigoted policies and nominate bigoted people to implement them. His most recent betrayal came in the form of a ban on transgender people serving in the military. The White House issued a statement late Friday evening — prime time for dumping news nobody in power wants to publicize — stating, in part: “Among other things, the policies set forth by the Secretary of Defense state that transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances.” As Politico’s Jacqueline Klimas and Bryan Bender note, “The decision comes after a number of top military officials over the past year — including most members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — have gone out of their way to defend the thousands of transgender troops who are believed to be serving in the military.” It is a sad day indeed when the military brass prove to be more enlightened than the president. The new policy must go through the courts before it can be implemented, so for now, at least, trans soldiers can’t be summarily tossed out just for living authentic lives. My own reading of Rump’s transphobia is that he particularly resents trans servicemembers’ ability (as he would describe it) to take unfair advantage of their right to medical care as members of the armed services. The memo’s standGayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

out sentence describes “individuals who… may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery.” Change “individuals” to “soldiers” and see how the sentence reads. More to the point, how is this any different from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), which provides scholarships to college and university students in exchange for the promise of at least four years of military service upon graduation? ROTC students pledge to serve in the armed forces in exchange — in all instances — for college tuition; trans soldiers pledge to serve in exchange — in some instances — for medicine and/ or surgery. Both deals seem fair to me, especially in an era when the future soldiers sign these pledges in the context of the perpetual state of war in which the US is actively engaged, let alone the terrifying threat of practically imminent wars with both Iran and North Korea that fill our fat, elderly president’s childish imagination along with that of his awful new national security advisor, John “I am the Walrus” Bolton. Trans folks who enlist put their lives on the line, just like every other recruit. In late February, Michelangelo Signorile published a piece in the Huffington Post in which he chronicled a confrontation he had with the Log Cabin Republicans’ head (or better, ass), Gregory T. Angelo, about Rump’s many actions against the LBGTQ community. Angelo had once told Signorile that President Donald Trump was “the most pro-LGBT Republican president in history.” “That was less than two months after the president’s inauguration,” Signorile wrote of his initial exchange with Angelo, adding about a second conversation with the LCR chief this February, “What about now, after Trump and his administration announced a ban on transgender people in the military; fired the entire presidential AIDS Commission; decided not to collect data on LGBTQ people in the Census [though this past September, NPR reported that at least one question on sexual orientation would be included in one Census

questionnaire]; pulled questions about LGBTQ seniors in a health survey on the elderly; supported employer discrimination against LGBTQ people; backed allowing discrimination in public accommodations against LGBTQ people; appointed anti-LGBTQ judges to federal courts; and said he would stop investigating discrimination against trans students in bathrooms, among many other hostile actions?” No surprise: Angelo doubled down on his defense of Rump, which is why the Log Cabin Republicans are to politics as Log Cabin Syrup is to genuine maple. Rump, Angelo proclaimed, was a “pro-LGBT” president. He must be living on Uranus. Better check the area for stray Angelos the next time you get naked. Signorile continues his chronicle: “‘The facts speak for themselves,’ Angelo responded. ‘I don’t want to keep belaboring these points, but: [Trump] entered the White House as first president saying he supports that marriage equality is settled law of the land, sent a letter of congratulations and commemoration [on Log Cabin’s 40th anniversary], and has people in his Cabinet who support marriage equality.’” Okay, let’s review. First, Rump accepts the settled law of the land as the settled law of the land. Then, he sends a letter. Finally, he appoints people who accept settled law. “It’s hard to imagine how much lower the bar could be set,” Signorile concluded. Amen. Comedy relief: You just know you’re in for a good time when you see the headline, “When Two Bunnies Love Each Other Very Much, and Troll the Pences” in the New York Times. The article, by Liam Stack, begins, “This is the story of a little gay bunny. A little gay bunny who belongs to Vice President Mike Pence. A little fictional gay bunny whose book is beating the memoir of James B. Comey, the former FBI director, on the Amazon best-seller list.”

Stack continues: “This is the story of Marlon Bundo, the Instagram star and real-life pet of the vice president’s family, who is also the subject of two dueling children’s books released this week. The first, ‘Marlon Bundo’s Day in the Life of the Vice President,’ is a picture book written by Mr. Pence’s daughter Charlotte that focuses on the bunny’s observations of the vice president, with illustrations by his wife, Karen. The other, ‘Last Week Tonight With John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo,’ is a gay romance between two bunnies that was the brainchild of the HBO comedy host John Oliver. So far, that is the more popular of the two.” Of course it is. “Mr. Oliver revealed the book, which was written by Jill Twiss and credits the titular bunny as a co-author, on his weekly late-night show on Sunday,” Stack writes. “He described it as a mocking rebuke of the vice president’s longtime opposition to gay and transgender rights... In it, Marlon Bundo, a snappily dressed bunny with a penchant for bright bow ties, falls in love with a bespectacled boy bunny named Wesley. Things seem to be going pretty well for the two lovebirds (love bunnies?) until a powerful stinkbug who bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Pence decrees that male bunnies cannot marry each other… Mr. Oliver said all of his book’s profits would be donated to The Trevor Project, a charity for LGBT youth, and AIDS United.” This reminds me of the brilliant toss-away moment in George A. Romero’s horror masterpiece “Dawn of the Dead” (1978) when, as the world descends into gory chaos, a radio host (seen in a rapidly deteriorating broadcasting studio as technicians abandon their posts and run futilely for their lives), sets up a story he doesn’t get to tell by saying something on the order of, “In these difficult times, it’s good to know that some people haven’t lost their sense of humor.” I haven’t lost mine; I hope you haven’t lost yours. Follow @EdSikov on Twitter and Facebook.

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PERSPECTIVE: A Dyke Abroad

Dykes to the Front: In Brazil, Ukraine, US BY KELLY COGSWELL

L

esbians have always been part of every social change movement, and in 2018 we are finally out of the shadows. For better and for worse. People hate women so much. Add a touch of dykeness and our bodies/ our lives are red flags to the patriarchal bull that likes to leave us gored and bleeding in the sand. Especially if we fight back. Marielle Franco was not only a feminist and lesbian, but the only black woman on Rio de Janeiro’s 51-member city council. Known for denouncing racism, homophobia, the epidemic of murdered women, police brutality, and the assassination of young black men in the favelas, she was shot dead on March 14, probably by the same far-right militias that she frequently attacked. She must have known it was coming. Inconvenient people have a way of disappearing in Brazil, especially when they come from the slums. So do women of all races. It must have shocked her murderers to discover that this particular brown woman didn’t fade into insignificance, and instead became a martyr, galvanizing enormous marches throughout the world. A few days earlier, and a world away in Ukraine, Olena Shevchen-

ko, director of the feminist LGBTQI rights organization Insight, was a main organizer of the International Women’s Day march in Kiev, where they took to the streets chanting, “Women’s rights are human rights!” and “Liberty, Equality, Women’s Solidarity!” For their trouble, 200 far-right nationalist thugs attacked them with sticks, paint, and tear gas. That must have been expected, too. Ukraine is no defender of women’s rights, dragging its feet on ratifying the 2011 Istanbul Convention on violence against women. In fact, citing its Soviet-imposed origins, they’ve decided to drop International Women’s Day from their list of official holidays, making this the last official celebration of March 8. Add in the fact that homophobic bashings in Ukraine have risen in tandem with the virulent anti-gay propaganda coming out of Moscow, their arch-enemy and former ruler, and that all feminists are dismissed as man-hating dykes, then attacking the march was a no-brainer for the brainless Ukrainian ultranationalists, who miss the irony of it all. Several people were injured, but instead of investigating their attackers, the cops charged Shevchenko with “violation of the procedure for conducting peaceful assemblies” and for allowing marchers to display a banner that “offended

national symbols of Ukraine.” It portrayed a woman’s body being attacked by a cross, a coat hanger, a coin, a rope, and a trident, the symbol of a far-right group, which closely resembles the official coat of arms of Ukraine. When Shevchenko appeared for her hearing on March 12, the courtroom was packed with far-right thugs insulting and threatening her, and she and her lawyer were forced to hide. Even the presiding judge encouraged her to sneak out the back. The cops didn’t help, and Shevchenko and her lawyer had to call a private security firm to get them out. A couple of days later, the charges were dropped, and she celebrated in a Facebook post, declaring, “Freedom of Assembly and human rights won!” No matter that the death threats continue. I worry for Olena Shevchenko’s safety. I worry about Emma González, too, a student leader of the new US movement for gun control. Yes, we are still more of a democracy than Brazil, more of a democracy than Ukraine — at least for the moment. But there are just so many fucking guns here. So many men willing to use them. And there she is, this young queer leading the charge as the most visible survivor of the Parkland, Florida, attack. And as such the flashpoint for the crowd of rightwing politicians and media stars

who’ve been suckling the poisonous NRA teat their entire careers. Leslie Gibson, a local Republican candidate in Maine, sneered at her as a “skinhead lesbian.” Fox News has ridiculed her and her coorganizers, accusing the massacre survivors of enjoying the attention. Somebody photo-shopped an image of her ripping apart a paper gun target, replacing it with the Constitution to inflame patriotic hate. So far, she’s taking it in stride. The young, bi Cuban American cut her activist teeth as president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and told Yahoo! Lifestyle that her latest inspiration was trans activist Sylvia Rivera, who persisted in spite of attacks, even from the LGBT community. From that, González learned “…there will always be people that hate you, and that they’re always going to be wrong. So it’s good to use that, and remember that whatever you’re doing, if it’s making people that mad, then it’s probably a good thing.” She doesn’t even seem particularly fazed by the possibility that this anger could lead to violence. Maybe she’s been reading Audre Lorde, too, who memorably wrote, “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”

PERSPECTIVE: Keeping Journalism Alive

Canadian Newsprint Is Not The Enemy — Tariffs Are BY DAVID CHAVERN

E

very day at the News Media Alliance headquarters, a stack of newspapers arrives for myself and the staff. But with the Department of Commerce and the US International Trade Commission currently considering tariffs on Canadian newsprint, those days of screen-free reading could be coming to an end. The fact that newsprint is being threatened is the work of one newsprint mill in the Pacific Northwest,

22

NORPAC. In August 2017, NORPAC petitioned the Commerce Department to apply tariffs to newsprint imported from Canada, claiming the imported paper was harming the US newsprint industry. But NORPAC is not acting in the best interests of newsprint consumers or the US paper industry at large — it is acting in its own interest and no one else’s. The buying and selling of newsprint has always been regional without regard for the border. Consumers of newsprint — from newspaper and book publishers

to telephone directory manufacturers — tend to buy newsprint close to their printing operations. The printers who typically utilize Canadian newsprint are those in the northeast and Midwest, where there are currently no US mills operating. But those regions are not newsprint deserts because of unfair trade by Canadian paper mills. Rather, newsprint mills shut down or converted to producing other, more profitable paper products when the demand for newsprint fell, something that has been hap-

pening steadily for decades. Since 2000, the demand for newsprint in North America has dropped by 75 percent. But affordable Canadian paper has helped keep the printed news alive and flourishing well into the 21st century. With new tariffs, many smaller newspapers will have to tighten their belts. The combination of preliminary countervailing and antidumping duties increases the cost of imported newsprint by as much as 32 percent, and a

TARIFFS, continued on p.39

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


PERSPECTIVE: The Long View

Cynthia Nixonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Impressive Launch BY NATHAN RILEY

C

ynthia Nixon successfully opened her campaign denouncing Governor Andrew Cuomo as a man who cares more â&#x20AC;&#x153;about headlines and powerâ&#x20AC;? than about people. â&#x20AC;&#x153;New York is my home. I have never lived anywhere else,â&#x20AC;? she says in her first ad. While identifying healthcare, mass incarceration, and the subways as key issues, she highlighted upstate poverty and economic stagnation, arguing that New Yorkâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fundamental problem is income inequality: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Our leaders are letting us down, we are the most unequal state in the entire country.â&#x20AC;? Her announcement drew a positive response, and it seems clear she will be taken seriously. The governor responded through surrogates who said the actor couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t do the job and, besides, it didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter â&#x20AC;&#x201D; she has neither the money nor the name recognition

to overcome Cuomoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s incumbency advantages. But Harry Enten, a CNN commentator and contributor at Nate Silverâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fivethirtyeight.com, said Nixon could win. He pointed to Ned Lamontâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Democratic primary victory over US Senator Joe Liberman in 2006 â&#x20AC;&#x201D; just six years after Lieberman, who began the race with at 65-to-19 percent edge over Lamont, was their partyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s vice presidential nominee. (Cuomo, of course, is not saddled with George W. Bushâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Iraq War, as Lieberman was.) The political class is quietly giving Nixon room to make her case. Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, and Letitia James, the public advocate, have so far stayed neutral even as the governor worked to drum up endorsements. Media outlets across the state gave ample coverage to Nixonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s charge that Cuomo is a â&#x20AC;&#x153;bully,â&#x20AC;? often accompanying it with comments about his â&#x20AC;&#x153;hair-trigger temper.â&#x20AC;? Scott Stringer, the New York

City comptroller, released a report slamming the MTA for cutting back on off-hour service during the Great Recession but not restoring it in the years since 2010, inconveniencing hospital workers, building maintenance crews, nightlife employees, and other low-income workers who often work the night shift or have early starts. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The MTA runs 60 percent fewer trains citywide from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. than it does from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., and 38 percent fewer from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.,â&#x20AC;? the comptrollerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s report pointed out. Whatever Stringerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s intentions, the report undercuts the governorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s claim, eight years after taking office, that he inherited a deteriorating system. Nixon is expected to argue the governor used the MTA as a piggy bank for other projects â&#x20AC;&#x201D; think of those three upstate ski resorts â&#x20AC;&#x201D; shortchanging necessary maintenance and renovations. Only forty percent of New Yorkers told pollsters they had heard

of Nixon, but the other potential Democratic challengers mentioned â&#x20AC;&#x201D; State Senator Michael Gianaris from Astoria and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner â&#x20AC;&#x201D; came nowhere near her in terms of name recognition. Cuomo well knows that the strongest candidate is challenging him. The New Republic poo-pooed the claim Nixon is inexperienced â&#x20AC;&#x201D; calling it â&#x20AC;&#x153;an elitist obsession with qualificationsâ&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x201D; pointing out that being a citizen satisfied voters who elected New Jerseyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Bill Bradley, Californiaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Minnesotaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Al Franken. Nixonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s first Albany appearance on Monday displayed her qualifications, speaking at a news conference called by the Alliance for Quality Education, an activist group she has worked with for years dedicated to ending the gap between the school budgets of poor

ä&#x2030;´

NIXON LAUNCH, continued on p.39

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CONGRATULATIONS TO THE GAY CITY NEWS IMPACT HONOREES â&#x20AC;&#x201C; & THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMITMENT IN MAKING NEW YORK THE BEST PLACE TO LIVE. GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; April 11, 2018

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BOOKS

The Lessons of Loneliness Gay Moroccan author Abdellah Taïa emerges from his writing to engage the world BY CHRISTOPHER MURRAY bdellah Taïa, the gay Moroccan writer who lives in Paris, will be in Brooklyn on April 10 to do a reading at the main branch of the Public Library at Grand Army Plaza. The event, co-sponsored by the Belladonna* Collaborative and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop with additional support from Seven Stories Press, will feature a post-reading conversation with poet, writer, and scholar Meena Alexander. A new Belladonna* chapbook authored by Taïa will be available the night of the event, along with copies of his novel “Infidels” (Seven Stories Press, 2016.) Taïa, 44, famously came out during an interview for a magazine in a coffee shop in Casablanca. Now, writing in French in Paris, he has authored eight books and adapted one into an award-winning film, “L’Armée du Salut” (“Salvation Army”). He has just completed work on a play about three aging prostitutes on the run in Paris. Gay City News spoke to Taïa recently by phone from his Paris apartment.

ABDELLAH TAÏA + MEENA ALEXANDER

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CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: What, besides the reading, do you plan to do in New York while you are here? ABDELLAH TAÏA: Just to be in New York is terrific. For me, New York and Cairo are the most exciting places I’ve ever been to. Morocco is my place, since I come from there, but besides there, New York is sort of the American Cairo for me. The energy in New York is intense, one feels very deeply the artistic energy of the city. I stay with a friend and her family in Harlem when I come and I love that neighborhood. My dream is to live in New York for a year or two at some point. CM: What’s it like to see Americans freaking out about our president? AT: It’s not just America. There are problems right now with countries in the West in general. The extreme right is coming up again in France. We see the same thing in Holland and Denmark; in Germany, the extreme right is back in the Parliament again. It seems like today that countries in the West are feeling the tensions that indicate a need for a redefinition of democracy. The right are not only against foreigners or immigrants, but some established values, like being against women. This huge strain of reactionary feeling is not focused

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Brooklyn Public Library Grand Army Plaza Apr. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Free, but reservations suggested https://bit.ly/2G5xSZh

COURTESY: ABDELLAH TAÏA

Abdellah Taïa, a Moroccan-born author who now lives and works prolifically in Paris, appears at the Brooklyn Public Library on April 10.

just on Donald Trump. We should be thinking about how did these things happen? We need to think more in global terms and not just about our own country. We tend to think so much in terms of our own country, our own lives. It’s so important to reach out from the isolation of our own problems. Gay people, whether Muslim or Christian or from here or there, know the loneliness of isolation very well. CM: As a writer who is a member of an oppressed minority you are able to reach for parallels with others’ experiences that may in fact be quite different? AT: When I write, I return to this lonely corner and I write from there, but I try very hard then to come out of that corner and to talk to the world about that lonely, sad place. Yes, I suffered, was raped and very lonely for many years, but now I have other choices as a writer and as a human being because I don’t want to live my life alone. Now I can go back to that group and force the group to listen to me whether they like to or not. CM: It’s tough when you speak your truth and others don’t accept it. You’ve said your family screamed and shouted when you came out, but you said you’d never apologize for being gay or having come out. This is why allies are so important, because there are many times when others will reject our truths.

AT: A potential tragedy of being gay is having the courage to come out and live as who you are but still being rejected. The world still asks a great deal, maybe too much, from gay people. We must not only survive, but live our truth and tolerate those who reject us. I’m not talking about me now, but about the little gay boy or girl living somewhere in America or Morocco. That’s why it’s important for people like you and me to speak about the lives people live and not just from a theoretical perspective. CM: How are gay rights developing now in Morocco? AT: Since about 2004 or 2005, the journalists in Morocco have really changed their minds about gay people and have been leading the cultural shifts in attitudes that are making a big difference. They stopped referring to gays using pejorative terms. There is now a word, mithli, that refers to gays without any of the connotations of “pervert” or anything like that. It is a neutral word, neither condoning nor condemning. That is an important change. I think the real problem with gays in the Arab Muslim world is political. The people who run the Arab countries don’t want to change the laws about homosexuals. Of course they will always say the societies are not ready, the family values must be kept intact. They always use the same rhetoric we are all so used to. In the last three years there have been several lynchings of gay people in Morocco with the videos then posted online. So there is of course still much anti-gay feeling. But I do think it is essentially a political problem now more than a cultural one. CM: What’s new in your writing? AT: I am working right now on a play called “One Day I Will Live.” I just finished it, actually. It’s about a group of transgender immigrants in Paris. I am still raising money to begin “The Treasure,” my new film. Next year another of my novels will be translated into English and published by Seven Stories Press. March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


FILM

Queering the Whodunit Aaron Katz playfully pays homage to, subverts murder genre GEMINI Directed by Aaron Katz Neon Opens Mar. 30 Angelika Film Center 18 W. Houston at Mercer St. angelikafilmcenter.com/nyc

NEON

Lola Kirke is a delight as a gal Friday turned gumshoe.

BY GARY M. KRAMER leek and smart, “Gemini,” written and directed by Aaron Katz, is a delicious slow-burn mystery. Set in and around the film world in Los Angeles, the story opens with Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz), a successful actress, backing out of a role in a major motion picture. When her personal assistant, Jill (Lola Kirke), breaks the news to Greg (Nelson Franklin), who is involved with the production, he indicates he’d like to murder Heather. Heather has also just broken up with her boyfriend, Devin (Reeve Carney). This prompts someone to ask Heather if she is now romantically involved with Tracy (Greta Lee), a question that may be uncomfortably close to the truth. When Heather and Jill meet up with Tracy later the same night, someone may have taken a photo of Heather and Tracy kissing. Heather is suitably shaken by all of the evening’s drama, and this prompts her to ask Jill if she can borrow her .22 snub nose, explaining she is afraid of all the crazy people who are mad at her. “I’m not going to use it,” she insists, and Jill reluctantly agrees. It’s no surprise that the gun goes off in the first third of “Gemini.” A dead body is discovered, and Jill, whose fingerprints are on the weapon, is a suspect in the crime. A detective, Edward Ahn (John Cho), investigates the case and

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GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

keeps tabs on Jill, who is determined to elude the authorities and try to puzzle out the whodunit before it is too late. The best aspect of “Gemini” is how this cool and clever thriller unfolds. Katz provides a juicy setup and some prime suspects, but he flips the typical script a bit in ways that are best left for viewers to discover. Acting as a Nancy Drew, Jill, in disguise, meets up with Greg who thinks about the murder like a screenwriter, discussing the killer’s motive, opportunity, and capacity. Here Katz goes meta, but he also plays with detective story tropes by having Jill sneak into hotel rooms and overhear two characters talk about alibis and lying to the police. She also engages in a low-key yet still suspenseful chase scene. Just as Katz did with his impressive 2010 mystery, “Cold Weather,” he pays homage to the crime genre but also subverts it. “Gemini” is wisely not about whodunit; it is really about something else entirely. It would spoil the many pleasures of this alluring film to discuss that in greater detail, but what can be told is that the film plants enough clues for viewers who think about them carefully that — after the credits roll — they will reveal an extra dimension to the story. The dialogue in the film is witty and as crisp as the stylish cinematography. Katz is very precise in both his writing and his visuals. All of the characters choose and speak their words deliberately — even

when they use the word “murder.” One of the film’s best lines has a character admitting, with deadpan sincerity, “Look, I know you and I kind of hate each other, but I actually quite like you.” The filmmaker also uses lighting and filters (especially blue) to comment on the characters’ all too cool emotions. The wily camerawork includes a particularly nifty scene where two characters in conversation become engaged with a third character, and suddenly, the story pivots and heads off in a new direction. Such moments are amusing but they also keep viewers off guard and on tenterhooks as the byzantine plot unspools. The film’s lesbian content is largely pushed into the background because of the murder, but it still has a ripple effect on the story. What exactly is the relationship between Heather and Tracy? And is Jill perhaps in love with or

jealous of either of these women? Katz keeps things ambiguous, letting viewers fill in the blanks, a casual approach that keeps “Gemini” engrossing. As Jill, Kirke makes an appealing heroine. She is obviously smart — arguably too smart for her job, Detective Ahn notes. She provides the film with its moral center. When she engages in risky behavior, like snooping around, her likability makes viewers worry about her well-being. With Jill essentially a girl Friday turned gumshoe, it is a delight to watch her using her knowledge as a celebrity assistant to track down Heather’s ex. Kirke expresses a full gamut of emotions in the film, but she never overemotes. A scene of her crying on the beach after a particularly difficult encounter makes her sympathetic, not weak. In support, Kravitz injects the film with a buzzy energy, playing the movie star diva role with flair. “Gemini” crackles from its opening scene of upside-down palm trees through its final twist. It doesn’t miss a beat.

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FILM

Young Blood and a Wide Net “New Directors / New Films” maintains the global reach NYFF abandoned years ago BY STEVE ERICKSON he multi-national co-production credits for films in this year’s “New Directors/ New Films” series say a lot about its reach: Sri Lanka/ United Kingdom/ USA, Iran/ Canada/ Qatar, Dominican Republic/ Brazil/ Argentina. In the five years since long-time Film Society of Lincoln Center programmer Richard Peña quit that organization, the New York Film Festival has largely abandoned exploring the world of cinema outside the US and Europe. Its younger sibling “New Directors/ New Films,” whose rules limit inclusion to directors who have made only one or two featurelength fi lms, continues to search beyond those narrow boundaries, this year including three fi lms each from Asia and Latin America and one from Algeria. Even in the US, the programmers did not just grab popular choices from Sundance. Two of the three American fi lms included in this year’s festival are documentaries by black directors. Among the selections I wasn’t able to preview, the ones with the most advance buzz are Gustav Möller’s “The Guilty,” a minimalist Danish thriller whose action mostly takes place on a phone call, Hu Bo’s “An Elephant Sitting Still,” a four-hour fi lm whose 29-year-old director committed suicide during post-production last fall and that the program notes call a masterpiece and “sure to be remembered as a landmark in Chinese cinema,” and RaMell Ross’ “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” a politically pointed doc about African-American families in rural Alabama that was fi lmed over five years and attempts to break down stereotypes about black life. Ricky D’Ambrose’s hour-long “Notes on an Appearance” (Apr. 6, 6:30 p.m., Walter Reade Theater; Apr. 7, 6:30 p.m., Museum

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NEW DIRECTORS/ NEW FILMS Film Society of Lincoln Center Walter Reade Theater 165 W. 65th St. Museum of Modern Art 11 W. 53rd St. Through Apr. 8 Newdirectors.org COURTESY OF RICKY AMBROSE

Bingham Bryant in Ricky D’Ambrose’s “Notes on an Appearance.”

COURTESY OF GRASSHOPPER FILM

Mahour Jabbari in Sadaf Foroughi’s “Ava.”

COURTESY OF KHALIK ALLAH

Religion is the primary interest in Khalik Allah’s film about Jamaica, “Black Mother.”

of Modern Art) shows a world of literary references and constant travel, based in a Brooklyn made to look like a suburb of Paris’ Left Bank that’s getting gentrified out of existence if it’s intended to resemble the real New York at all. D’Ambrose fulfi lls the promise of shorts like his 2016 “Spiral Jetty,” while sticking to its aesthetic. He only moves the camera during fake “home videos.” He constantly uses text — maps, books, newspaper clips — as real images and voice-over and off-screen dialogue as expressive sound, not just as the means to tell a story. As a fi lmmaker, he owes a lot to Robert Bresson (he cast Bingham Bryant, an extremely talented director in his own right but not a professional actor, as the fi lm’s lead for its fi rst third), the French New Wave, and Michelangelo An-

tonioni (the initial importance of the Bryant character’s disappearance but D’Ambrose’s eventual apathy about resolving it recalls “L’Avventura”). Still, “Notes on an Appearance” feels both thoroughly Europhile and a fi lm that could only have been made in contemporary New York, especially in its allusive but unmissable references to the perilous class and political constructs under which we now live. D’Ambrose builds on his earlier work while suggesting a larger and more ambitious vision. This fi lm is intellectually challenging in a way that even Woody Allen’s best work set in a similar New York milieu has only hinted at truly being. To bring the program up to feature length, “Notes On An Appearance” plays with French director Clément Pinteaux’s

17-minute short “Young Girls Vanish.” It begins with information about 58 girls being brutally killed between 1653 and 1657 in Gateais, France, with their murders blamed on a wolf. The use of maps and onscreen text does suggest ties to D’Ambrose’s fi lm, but Pinteaux sinks into empty portent and hints of menace that go nowhere. “Young Girls Vanish” makes vague attempts to comment on the persistence of present-day violence against women, but it really has nothing to say or, more importantly, show. Iranian-Canadian director Sadaf Foroughi’s “Ava” (Mar. 29, 8:30 p.m., Museum of Modern Art; Apr. 1, 7:30 p.m., Walter Reade Theater) takes an approach to the coming-of-age tale that might appeal to fans of “Lady Bird,” although she goes more for intense drama than moments of comic relief. However, the influence of North American and European fi lms about teenagers is apparent in her approach to female rebellion: the fi nal shot may refer to a famous image in Ingmar Bergman’s “Summer With Monika.” Fouroughi has her own distinct voice, though. She often uses shallow focus that leaves Ava (Mahour Jabbari) blurred into the background. Her emphasis on

NEW DIRECTORS, continued on p.31

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


FILM

Soderbergh Bets Again on the Movie House “Unsane” has something to say about sharing a film experience with others

FINGERPRINT RELEASING/ BLEECKER STREET

Claire Foy in Steven Soderbergh’s “Unsane.”

BY STEVE ERICKSON n experiment with contemporary technology steeped in an equally trendy suspicion of the modern world, Steven Soderbergh’s “Unsane” is the second featurelength film shot entirely on an iPhone, after Sean Baker’s great trans comedy-drama “Tangerine.” At first, the cinematography seems slightly fuzzy and blurred, but one soon adjusts. However, the portability of smartphones led Soderbergh to choose many unusual camera angles and even deliberately break the rules of 180-degree sightline editing. There are simple shot/ reverse-shot sequences in “Unsane” that are suddenly disrupted by a cut to a completely new perspective or a view from the other side of the room. Soderbergh is a tech geek who long championed the high-definition RED camera before digital filmmaking became the norm. At a time when Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson want their films to be shown on 70mm, “Unsane,” which lifted its title from the original, heavily edited American release of Dario Argento’s 1982 “Tenebrae,” is the equivalent of a heavily compressed MP3 file on cheap earbuds. I suspect Soderbergh thought its jumpi-

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GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

UNSANE Directed by Steven Soderbergh Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street In wide release

ness was the perfect visual counterpoint to its paranoid narrative. Stalking victim Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) has been forced to move from Boston to Pennsylvania, where she toils in a dull office job. Feeling down, she heads to the Highland Creek Behavioral Center for a counseling session. Without realizing it, she checks herself in for a 24-hour internment. She makes the acquaintance of Nate (Jay Pharoah), a friendly addict undergoing detox, and Violet (Juno Temple), an attitude-laden woman. But she thinks that staff member George Shaw (Joshua Leonard) really is her stalker. Panicking, she lashes out and winds up committed for an indefinite term. Soderbergh begins in some kind of recognizable reality. “Unsane” nods to America’s epidemic of opioid abuse and the failures of our health care industry. But in the end, these are just set-ups for a

UNSANE, continued on p.29

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FILM

Andrew Haigh’s Emotional Acuity With “Lean on Pete,” gay Brit filmmaker again shows nuanced insights into how lives are lived BY DAVID EHRENSTEIN s there some special insight LGBTQ folks posses? In my most copasetic moments, I’ve thought this to be true. After all, being disenfranchised by the status quo offers one the possibility of a keener perspective on its workings than that enjoyed by those who aren’t obliged to question it in order to survive. Think of what Oscar Wilde, Noël Coward, and Gertrude Stein had to say about politics, family, romantic love, and language itself, much of it exceedingly pointed and incisive. Not all queer people share this keener perspective, of course. Selfloathing homosexuals (one could scarcely call them “gay”) like Joe McCarthy henchman turned Donald Trump role model Roy Cohn and more recently alt-right wouldbe provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos are exceptions to the rule, with their overt hostility to the “out and proud.” On a less histrionic level so is writer-director Xavier Dolan, who recently declared, “I would not say that being gay has influenced any of my work. And will probably not. I’m gay, but I also have brown hair and I’m nearsighted.” Well so much the worse for him. Such verbal shallowness only serves to underscore his artistic shortcomings. The same can’t be said of today’s most important proudly out gay filmmakers Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, Tom Kalin, and now, most remarkably, Andrew Haigh. Besides gayness, Haynes has dealt with everything from environmental illness (“Safe” in 1995) to the problems of the deaf (“Wonderstruck” in 2017). While Van Sant explored the lives of gay street hustlers in “My Own Private Idaho” (1991) and memorialized a martyred gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk in “Milk” (2008), he has also dealt with a straight working-class mathematical genius in “Good Will Hunting” (1997) and, most recently, a paraplegic cartoonist in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get

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A24

Charlie Plummer in Andrew Haigh’s “Lean on Pete,” which opens April 6.

Far on Foot” (2018). Kalin, by contrast, has dealt with gayness but only within extreme and problematic circumstances: in the Leopold and Loeb murder case biopic “Swoon” (1992) and in “Savage Grace” (2007), about the life and death of queer upper-class sybarite Anthony Baekeland and the incestuous-minded mother he murders. Not exactly something to make GLAAD glad — though fans of the iconoclastic New Queer Cinema have been delighted. When it comes to Haigh, his departures from gay material are of a quieter and devastatingly subtler sort. Born in 1974 (five years after Stonewall), this British writer director initially made his mark with three straightforwardly gay projects: “Greek Pete” (2009), a lightly satirical comedy about a rent boy, “Weekend” (2011), a deeply touching romance about a one-night stand that rapidly turns into something more; and last, but far from least, “Looking” (2014-2016), the HBO series about a group of gay friends in modern day San Francisco. All three films exhibit an ability to deal with gay lives and loves honestly, without sensationalism, and often movingly.

From there, Haigh has taken off with great success in very different, quite unexpected directions. “45 Years” (2015), an adaptation of David Constantine’s short story “In Another Country,” deals with a long-married, middle-aged straight couple and the upset caused when a nearly-forgotten episode from their past rises up to reconfigure what they had thought was a calm and unperturbed life. Evidencing the same sensitivity toward the ebb and flow of personal feelings put so movingly on display with unknown actors in “Weekend,” “45 Years” stars British film icons Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Again, one cannot help but be deeply impressed by Haigh’s ease with realistic drama (he has cited the Karel Reisz’ 1960 classic “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” as a major influence) and also the mastery with which he guides stars with many more years in the film business. Throughout “45 Years,” one can sense Haigh’s genuine curiosity about the warp and woof of a relationship utterly different from the ones he has known, yet at the same time relevant to him in that what these characters experience in coupled maturity may well await

LEAN ON PETE Directed by Andrew Haigh A24 Opens Apr. 6 Angelika Film Center 18 W. Houston at Mercer St. angelikafilmcenter.com/nyc Paris Theatre 4 W. 58th St. theparistheatre.com

Haigh in his own life with the man he recently married. But “45 Years” is only a sight detour compared to Haigh’s most recent film, “Lean On Pete.” Adapted from a novel by Willy Vlautin, it centers on Charley, a sweet-spirited teenager (played with exceptional grace by Charlie Plummer), who, following the death of his father (his mother was out of the picture many ears before), must fend for himself with naught in the way of resources. He finds himself teaming up with a horse trainer (the ever-resourceful Steve Buscemi) who, with the help of a female jockey played by Chloë Sevigny, races horse at small-time events in the Pacific northwest. Put

LEAN ON PETE, continued on p.29

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


ä&#x2030;´

UNSANE, from p.27

man to chase a woman. References to fentanyl, in this context, take topicality to the edge of exploitation. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Unsaneâ&#x20AC;? is essentially a B-movie that thinks it has more on its mind than it actually does. And like most stories of this type, it needs to spend an awful lot of time depicting a woman being victimized before it can celebrate her agency. Warning: spoilers follow. However, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Unsaneâ&#x20AC;? finally comes into its own in its final third. The film eventually boils itself down to its central concerns: a man and a woman confront each other in a room and she tries to make him realize how screwed-up his ideas about love and his behavior toward her are. The film at last conveys some truth about what itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s like to be stalked. (It contains little onscreen violence.) Its meat resonates beyond the genre context. While these scenesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; impact relies on Soderberghâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s decisions about when and where to move the camera, as well as editing, they could probably be staged just as powerfully as theater. Their force stems mostly from the intensity of Foy and Leonardâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s performances â&#x20AC;&#x201D; he convincingly portrays a man with no idea how creepy he seems to others, although his ability to insinuate himself repeatedly into her life seems almost supernatural and works best as a symbol of male power â&#x20AC;&#x201D; and the quality of screenwriters James Greer and Jonathan Bernsteinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dialogue. Soderberghâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s last film, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Logan Luckyâ&#x20AC;? (his return to the cinema after a brief â&#x20AC;&#x153;retirementâ&#x20AC;? spent working in TV), had a $30 million budget raised from advances from Netflix and foreign distributors.

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LEAN ON PETE, from p.28

in charge of a horse named Lean on Pete, Charley finds himself emotionally drawn to the animal, even though both owner and jockey keep telling him â&#x20AC;&#x153;heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just a horse.â&#x20AC;? This, of course, signals tragedy as horses like Lean on Pete, once their racing prowess has ebbed, are â&#x20AC;&#x153;sent to Mexicoâ&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x201D; meaning meat processing plants for dog food. Foolhardy Charley, realizing Lean on Peteâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s time is at an end, kidnaps the horse GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; April 11, 2018

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Unsaneâ&#x20AC;? was made for much less money, more like several million dollars. In the press kit, Soderbergh relates that there were only a dozen people on the set, apart from scenes that needed extras. But part of the reason he departed from working in mainstream American cinema â&#x20AC;&#x201D; and then American cinema itself â&#x20AC;&#x201D; is that his stamp as an auteur was yo-yoing between massive projects like â&#x20AC;&#x153;Oceans 11â&#x20AC;? and infinitely lower budget work like the bugfuck indie film â&#x20AC;&#x153;Schizopolis.â&#x20AC;? My favorite Soderbergh films came during the period when it was possible to make mediumbudget Hollywood fare that was smart and aimed at adults: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Out of Sight,â&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x153;Erin Brockovich,â&#x20AC;? and his remake of Andrei Tarkovskyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s â&#x20AC;&#x153;Solaris,â&#x20AC;? which was widely hated upon its 2002 release. Those days are over, and our culture seems to have agreed that prestige TV â&#x20AC;&#x201D; like Soderberghâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Cinemax show â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Knickâ&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x201D; is now the place for such uppermiddlebrow (if itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s possible to use that word without meaning it as an insult) work. The fact that Soderbergh grew dissatisfied working entirely for TV and still wanted a film shot on an iPhone to play movie theaters, even if its cinematography might ultimately look more attractive on a laptop, says something about the possibilities they still have for the communal experience of fright and identifying with a characterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sense of danger. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Unsaneâ&#x20AC;? may take two thirds of its length to communicate this with much force, but it gets there eventually, with enough power to demonstrate why itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s worth making the effort to see films theatrically instead of waiting for them to appear on Netflix.

and sets off on a journey that seems aimless at first, but is eventually aimed at reuniting the boy with an aunt he hasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t seen in years. Foreign-born filmmakers like Michelangelo Antonioni with â&#x20AC;&#x153;Zabriskie Pointâ&#x20AC;? (1970) and Emir Kusterica with â&#x20AC;&#x153;Arizona Dreamâ&#x20AC;? (1993) seem keen to portray America â&#x20AC;&#x201D; particularly the west â&#x20AC;&#x201D; as a kind of surreal wonderland. But being British, Haigh fits right into

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LEAN ON PETE, continued on p.33

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THEATER

These Shows are No Vacation A well-meaning play undermines itself; a Margaritaville to escape BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE laywright Lindsey Ferrentino is passionate about promoting the inclusion of the intellectually disabled in broader society and has chosen the theater as her platform for advocacy. Unfortunately, her “Amy and the Orphans” is tepid and largely unfocused and does little to advance her cause. In fact, the play demeans the subject matter. According to a program note, Ferrentino wanted to honor her own aunt who had Down Syndrome and was institutionalized from a young age. The playwright acknowledges that while she saw her aunt intermittently, she was never part of the family’s daily life. That shows in a play that, ultimately, is an outsider’s romanticized observation. Maggie, Jacob, and the titular Amy are siblings whose widowed father has died. Though Amy is a ward of the state, her father was her primary contact to the bigger world. Maggie and Jacob, who are not close and have a testy relationship, arrive at the Long Island institution where Amy lives to take her to Montauk for Thanksgiving. Rather than exploring the emotions brought up by the change in their family structure, Maggie and Jacob banter in lame jokes about Jacob having braces on his teeth and Maggie’s obsession with organic foods — which comes off as distracting filler. When Amy joins them, it’s clear she has built a solid life for herself, a fulfilling one that she doesn’t want to give up. When her siblings pressure Amy to live with one of them, she stands her ground and asserts her own right to her life and identity, but Ferrentino can’t pull off the set-up. Though Maggie and Jacob are venal and selfish in contrast to Amy’s maturity and groundedness, the brother and sister are paper tigers who undermine the playwright’s mission to validate Amy’s dignity

AMY AND THE ORPHANS

P

30

Laura Pels Theatre 111 W. 46th St. Through Apr. 22 Tue.-Sat. at 7:30 p.m. Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. $89; roundabouttheatre.org Or 212-719-1300 Ninety mins., no intermission JOAN MARCUS

Vanessa Aspillaga, Jamie Brewer, Debra Monk, and Mark Blum in Lindsey Ferrentino’s “Amy and the Orphans,” at the Laura Pels through April 22.

The results are a false conflict and feeble dramaturgy. Though a black comedy, Peter Nichol’s “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg” from 1967 deals more honestly with the conflicting emotions and the devastation that a child’s disability can visit on a family, providing believable if disturbing insight into what can be an awful reality. As Jacob and Maggie, Mark Blum and Debra Monk do what they can with their underwritten, simplistic roles. Vanessa Aspillaga is Kathy, Amy’s social worker, who by law must accompany her on every outing. Aspillaga is most believable in her watchful, engaged care for Amy, though her character is insultingly cartoonish. Ferrentino turned to an actor with Down Syndrome to play Amy and Jamie Brewer does an excellent job, but given how feeble the play is it feels like Ferrentino is merely demonstrating how high functioning and capable Brewer is. The actress is quite convincing and heartbreaking as Amy retreats, when overwhelmed, into the repetition of movie lines as a coping mechanism. In full disclosure, I come to this play with a very specific bias. My youngest sibling is severely intellectually disabled and has been institutionalized for years. My other siblings and I have been deeply involved in her care and more so since our parents died. Fortunate-

ly, my sister is healthy, thriving, and well cared for. Ferrentino’s play particularly rankles because it avoids any honest exploration of family dynamics, and her characters’ ignorance of even the most basic elements of care and legality surrounding individuals who are wards of a state is implausible. And using their ignorance as the basis for jokes is a distasteful, irresponsible, and manipulative use of a serious condition to make a political statement. Ferrentino’s good intentions become in performance a shallow, emotional exploitation of her subject.

Well, who would have seen this coming? Two musicals in one season with a volatile volcano as a central plot point? In “SpongeBob SquarePants,” it’s just one more silly, cartoonish twist in an unabashedly ridiculous and delightfully off-the-rails show. In “Escape to Margaritaville,” however, it’s just one of the ludicrous elements in a generic rom-com, and a terrible one at that. The inept book writers Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley clearly have no idea how to create a theatrically viable story and instead have tossed off a derivative, soporific boy-meets-girl story that attempts to pass off vulgarity and sexual innuendo as comedy. A subplot with the secondary male and female

ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE Marquis Theatre 1535 Broadway at. W. 46th St. Tue., Thu. at 7 p.m. Wed., Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m. Wed., Sat 2 at p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. $59-$249; ticketmaster.com Or 866-448-7849 Two hrs., 20 mins., with intermission

leads that includes vicious body shaming ending in violence is remarkably tone deaf to current sensibilities. Buffet’s tunes such as “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” are easy-listening ditties now mostly relegated to wedding and Bar Mitzvah DJ playlists. As with most jukebox musicals, the shoe-horning of the songs into the plot is contrived and awkward — probably the most annoying and amateurish element of Garcia and O’Malley’s book. The new songs are bland and unsophisticated and only superficially provide insight into the characters. Given that the characters themselves are tired stereotypes, this isn’t all that surprising. The ethos of life in Margaritaville is that “work is a dirty word.” That certainly seems the case for Christopher Ashley’s disengaged, chaotic direction and the bland, lazy

MARGARITAVILLE, continued on p.31

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


melodrama and lack of grounding in the documentary realism that powered much ‘90s Iranian cinema, especially art films about youth, suggests the influence of Asghar Farhadi. Yet “Ava” deals with specifically female subjects like the implications of pregnancy for young women. As Ava explores the limits of what she can get away with, her mother (Bahar Noohian) is reminded of her own teen years and the beginnings of her marriage. Despite the film’s main interest in Ava, it ultimately reveals itself as a multi-generational portrait of an Iranian family.

Khalik Allah’s “Black Mother” (Mar. 29, 8:30 p.m., Museum of Modern Art; Apr. 1, 7:30 p.m., Walter Reade Theater) is a formally brilliant non-fiction depiction of Jamaica, where the director’s mother was born. Mixing Super-8 fi lm with slicker video, it divorces audio statements from Jamaicans and interviews conducted by Allah (including with his grandfather) from the images of their subjects, instead offering a visual panorama of urban and rural life in the country. Despite beginning with a few sex workers, religion is primarily on the fi lm’s mind, particularly Jamaica’s in-

digenous Rastafarianism (popularized through reggae), and its take is quite positive. But Allah never addresses an elephant in the room. While someone remarks that Jamaica is the country in the world with the most churches, it’s also been called the planet’s most homophobic country, and both conventional Christianity and Rastas have undeniably contributed greatly to this. Allah shows the positive aspects of Rasta ideology and culture, such as anti-colonialism, an emphasis on knowing Jamaica’s racist history, and healthy eating, but apart from the inclusion of one Rasta’s anti-Asian rant, he

largely romanticizes the religion. The men he talks to emphasize how they want women to follow black beauty standards instead of bleaching their skin and straightening their hair. The film’s engagement with sex workers is mighty shallow; instead, it offers up a view of women as Earth mothers on a pedestal. While it’s full of images of physically damaged men missing arms or eyes or suffering from huge goiters, almost every woman it shows is pretty. “Black Mother” hints vaguely at exploring the Madonna/ whore complex but instead succumbs to it, only in a way that’s well-intentioned and superficially positive.

the company. Paul Alexander Nolan as Tully, the guy who escapes the rat race for the laid-back island life, is a dynamic presence with a great voice and lots of charm. Lisa Howard, as the ingénue’s best friend who is the target of the body shaming, brings her powerhouse voice and dazzling appeal to an essentially thankless part. Alison Luff, an earth scientist who comes

to the island for soil samples and falls in love with Tully, is marvelous, though limited by the book. Supporting performances from Andre Ward, Eric Petersen, Rema Webb, and Don Sparks all showcase actors so much better than the material they’ve been given. P.G. Wodehouse famously wrote that when a show is in trouble, you should “bring on the girls,” creat-

ing a distraction from whatever disaster was happening on stage. Sadly, in the case of “Escape to Margaritaville,” bringing on the girls (and cute chorus boys) does nothing to salvage this incoherent mess. Indeed, as the audience filed out humming, “Wasted again in Margaritaville…,” the only thing I could think of was my precious previous two-plus hours.

NEW DIRECTORS, from p.26

MARGARITAVILLE, from p.30

choreography from Kelly Devine. The choreography is particularly egregious, relying on conga lines, movements purloined from TV competition shows, and the most basic tap moves. It’s remarkable how boring it is. What’s even more unfortunate is that there is some real talent in

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31


A Sterling Debut Novel Allegra Huston’s “Say My Name” says a lot about love and life BY DAVID NOH ay My Name” is an extraordinary first novel by Allegra Huston, which spins the tale of Eve, a garden designer, trapped in a dead marriage but revivified by a passionate affair with the much younger Micajah, the son of an old flame. A luminous sensitivity, sage emotionalism, and a true descriptive gift are what really set this book apart, indeed, making Huston something of a modern Colette, the highest praise I can offer. The novel’s US publication was celebrated at an exclusive party in a very special Manhattan locale, Hayward House. It’s the most special of shops, the inspiration of designer Marin Hopper, the daughter of actor Dennis Hopper and writer Brooke Hayward and granddaughter of actress Margaret Sullavan and Hollywood super-agent/ ladies’ man Leland Hayward. Half of the space is devoted to Leland, civilized elegance personified, stocked with precious objects like Marin’s luxe accessory line, a special selection of Diana Vreeland perfume, and a stuffed white peacock, and presided over by a portrait of the legendary Slim Hawks Hayward Keith, another of Leland’s illustrious wives. The other half of the store throws you right into the wilder West of Dennis Hopper: funky rustic handsomeness, all Navajo rugs, Western gear, and the kind of modern art collected by the late actor. The ebullient, ultra-warm Huston laughed when I asked her if her book was in any way autobiographical. “I wish! The plot elements are not, but a lot of the emotions are, the despair, the excitement — those are real. That’s the fun part of writing a novel: the interweaving of imagination and reality to the point where I can’t tell which is which. That’s the goal, really — the emotions have to be real and the novelist’s job is to make sense of who we are and what we feel and do.”

SAY MY NAME

“S

32

By Allegra Huston MIRA Books $26.99; 304 pages

COURTESY OF DAVID NOH

Allegra Huston with David Noh at Marin Hopper’s Upper East Side Hayward House.

Eve’s unraveling marriage to Larry is, however, mirrored by Huston’s life, which involved a lengthy wind-down of her relationship with the partner she called her husband, Cisco Guevara: “That wasn’t planned, however. Larry is a kind of comic relief in a way but I feel justified for this, because he’s lost. I really feel sorry for him because he’s at the same point as her in life where he feels, ‘Is that all there is?’ and is desperately trying to find communion. She got lucky — it lands right in her lap, but not for him.” I told Huston that, as I was reading her book, I almost suspected that Larry might be gay: “I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing that,” she said, “because I don’t know anyone who turned 50 and suddenly realized they’d been doing it wrong the whole time. However, in my personal life, my stepson is now my stepdaughter. This 15-year-old was a brother and is now a sister. Initially, it’s almost like, ‘Ohmigod, where does that come from? Nobody in our family ever did that?’ But of course it’s been happening forever, like those guys who were confirmed bachelors and are now gay.

“I met this scientist Randi Epstein, a hormone expert, when I copy-edited her book. What was fascinating about it was the number of children who are actually born intersex. In the old days, doctors didn’t want to tell the parents this, so they made the choice for the child. It is far more normal than abnormal, as many people think. The Navajo — and others — recognized that in their culture.” Although not gay per se, a rapturous and highly salubrious sexuality does permeate “Say My Name,” particularly in a heated, vertiginous rooftop love scene, prompting fellow writer and lifelong Huston friend Joan Juliet Buck to call it a great “erotic novel” at the party. “I didn’t want to hide sex between the paragraphs, like between the sheets. It’s an area of life that, somehow, is still very taboo. I wanted to see if I could do it, write a sexy book, but also one in which women felt not powerful, but empowered. I don’t see why a sexy novel can’t also be well-written, why there’s this sort of ghetto into which sexy books get thrown. Surely, violence is a much more embarrassing prospect. Sex should exist in novels, like food.”

This taboo was definitely a challenge: “And I wanted to write something that (a) I would want to read and (b) was not from a man’s viewpoint or, God forbid, like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Those books showing a meeting between a girl and a guy and, immediately, she falls flat on her face for him. They make me angry.” An impetus in writing the book was Huston’s secret, long-held desire to have a great love song written for her. “That was the starting point for my plot, but I didn’t want him to be some old rock’n’roll dinosaur, which introduced the younger man/ older woman theme. Older women are so often regarded as invisible. We’re used to having the door shut in our face, like when you go to Home Depot and just try to find someone to tell you where the drill bits are. I also wanted my love story to have an affirmative, happy ending, but not one where she gets the guy. Why are we still defining women’s happiness and success in terms of having a guy?” All the fabulous showbiz lineage encompassed in Hopper’s Hayward House is echoed in Huston’s life. Ostensibly the daughter of eminent film director John Huston and ballerina Ricki Soma, who tragically died in a car accident when Allegra was five, the writer discovered when she was 12 that Huston was not her true father. Her stepmother, Cici [aka “The Crocodile,” according to John, who later divorced her] informed her that her real parent was historian and British TV host John Julius Norwich — the son of legendary British beauty Diana Cooper — who had had an affair with Soma. “I met Diana a couple of times

SAY MY NAME, continued on p.33

March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


SAY MY NAME, from p.32

when I was a teenager. Her garden wall adjoined that of my mother in London — she was still beautiful at 94, still stylish with her big hats. I didn’t meet John Huston until I was five [he and Soma had been divorced]. Although I was blonde and looked nothing like my sister Anjelica and brother Tony, he always claimed me as his even though he knew, of course. He was the center of the universe, everything revolved around him, and when I learned

LEAN ON PETE, from p.29

America just like Tony Richardson did with “The Border” (1982) and “Blue Sky” (released posthumously in 1994, three years after his death from AIDS) and Karel Reisz with his Patsy Cline biopic “Sweet Dreams” (1985). What makes Haigh’s film come alive is the simplest thing imaginable — the sight and sound of his hero walking with and talking to the horse he’s come to love. No, this isn’t a “kid loves horse” story

the truth — the last thing I needed to know, really — I thought, ‘Ohmigod, if I don’t belong here, where do I belong?’ But then it turned out it really didn’t make any difference at all. It was a big relief to gain a father without losing one because I became very close to Norwich. He’s very much alive, 88, every marble in place, and fabulously fit.” Huston went to Oxford, where she studied English. “I had it fi xed in my head that I wanted to go to Oxford. English was the only thing for me, although

I would have loved anthropology or archaeology, which were not offered. It was magical to me, such a beautiful place, and I made good friends there that I have kept.” Huston went into publishing as a copywriter and now calls Taos, New Mexico, home. “I keep busy, writing, copywriting, and being a soccer mom. It’s a low-key, unglamorous life, but I like it. I can see 100 miles outside my kitchen window, friends come to visit, and, although it’s remote, I never feel cut off.

“I’m still close with all my families. Anjelica is about to make a movie, in which she plays a preacher, but they kept putting the starting date off. Tony is all over the place. I never know what he’s doing. My nephew Jack is super busy, acting all the time, and I’m producing a film with him, based on ‘Operation Heartbreak,’ the one novel my grandfather, Duff Cooper [Diana’s husband who was the British ambassador to France], wrote. I read it two summers ago and it’s amazing!”

like “National Velvet” (1944) or “The Black Stallion” (1979) for Haigh makes clear that what Charley is engaged in in these scenes is a species of interior monologue. He’s a young man in crisis trying his best to hold himself together while holding out hope that something will save him. He is in the end saved, being reunited with his aunt, but the interior monologues he’s been engaged in are at an end, since Lean on Pete was indeed “just a horse.” Haigh’s embrace of the sadness

and disappointment life, too, is refreshing, as is the fact that this is a film about an adolescent male without anything related to sexuality in it at all. We often forget that that’s not the only thing involved in growing up and “Lean on Pete” is a starkly sensible reminder of this fact. At present, Haigh is in the midst of making “The North Water,” a fivepart television mini-series scheduled for release in 2019 about a former army surgeon who signs up as a doctor aboard ship making an

expedition to the Arctic only to discover that one member of the crew is a dangerous psychopath. No telling at this point if there’s anything gay in this story. But whether there is or isn’t, one can be sure it will be redolent with the emotional insight that makes Andrew Haigh one of today’s most important filmmaking talents. His body of work offers further proof that gayness may well be an artistic advantage for those who truly know who they are and what life in all its complexity is really like.

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33


OPERA

Sideshow Distractions Music sadly takes a backseat in Phelim McDermott’s production of “Così fan tutte” BY ELI JACOBSON his month, the Metropolitan Opera unveiled a new production by Phelim McDermott of Mozart’s unsettling sex comedy “Così fan tutte,” a co-production with the English National Opera. McDermott resets this intimate chamber piece from a Neapolitan villa to the Coney Island of the 1950s, featuring a bustling boardwalk with bumper cars, sideshow contortionists, bearded ladies, fire-eaters, and dancing dwarves. The colorful sets by Tom Pye and the period-specific costumes by Laura Hopkins vividly recreate a picture postcard Coney Island of the era. The director explains his concept by saying the highly disorienting and artificial carnival setting makes more credible Ferrando and Guiglielmo deceiving their mistresses by disguising themselves as “Turks” (here Fonzie-esque greaser carny workers). Ultimately “Così fan tutte” is about people, their romantic illusions, and how slippery and uncertain our perceptions of ourselves and those we love can become. A certain amount of forgiveness of human frailty is necessary in this world because we are all fallible — men and women. McDermott is more interested in the three-ring circus element, actually having Don Alfonso (Christopher Maltman) and Despina (Tony Award-winner Kelli O’Hara) bring on the sideshow entertainers during Mozart’s divine overture. The entertainers perform a charming pantomime that elicits laughter and hoots of surprise over the music. One disgruntled audience member shouted, “Why don’t you play it again so we can actually hear it this time!” The production invites audience members to listen with their eyes — scene transformations elicited applause that obliterated orchestral interludes and introductions. The carnival performers remain onstage throughout to provide background color, perform for the lovers in Act II, and move set pieces. But they remain peripheral to the story. McDermott simply does not trust the music to tell a story by itself: a great Fiordiligi can break our hearts in her second act rondo “Per pieta, ben mio perdona” simply standing still and clutching her lover’s uniform. This production has Fiordiligi (Amanda Majeski) flying in the air above the stage in a hot air balloon. The image of her suspended in space, floating in circles, suggests her isolation and disorientation at this point in the story but the visuals are doing all the work. On the other hand, this is a comedy (albeit

T

34

MART Y SOHL/ METROPOLITAN OPERA

Kelli O’Hara in the new Met production by Phelim McDermott of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte.”

ambiguous), and McDermott directly references French farce by having the disguised lovers chase the sisters through various motel rooms in the Skyline Motel where Despina works as a maid. American sitcoms are also referenced — Fiordiligi and Dorabella with their poodle skirts, tight sweaters, and saddle shoes are dead ringers for Laverne and Shirley. Majeski evokes a gawky bespectacled Penny Marshall as Fiordiligi, while Serena Malfi’s dark, petite, and impressionable Dorabella is a sultrier Cindy Williams. Their disguised lovers could be Lenny and Squiggy, while O’Hara’s Despina with her big bouffant hair and sassy attitude could be Flo from “Alice.” Don Alfonso is a sideshow promoter who morphs into Liberace in a spangled tux in the final scene. The cast looked young and acted vivaciously. Musically and vocally, this ensemble doesn’t compare with the best Mozart singers of even one generation ago. The best singing was probably supplied by Ben Bliss as a fluent, lyrical Ferrando with a well-balanced, cleanly produced tenor. O’Hara brought the best acting as a cynical, been-around-the-block Despina; she clearly relished taking a break from her usual fresh-scrubbed Broadway soprano wholesomeness. O’Hara’s singing was clean and bright with sunny warmth and convincing Italian diction. Perhaps she had one vocal color but it was a pretty one, and she blessedly eschewed ugly character voices in her Doctor and Notary dis-

guises. Malfi’s dark sinewy mezzo contrasted but didn’t blend with Majeski’s cool, angular soprano and neither exactly bloomed in the highest register. Majeski (following such Met Fiordiligis as Lorengar, Te Kanawa, Fleming, and Vaness) seemed a very competent American regional singer — her trill was sketchy and the tone clean but generic. Adam Plachetka’s bearish Guglielmo was acted with sly wit and sung with a pleasantly earthy low baritone. Maltman’s smoothly genial con man Alfonso sang and acted with a somewhat tatty charm. David Robertson’s conducting was fast and lively on the surface but orchestral ensemble and instrumental solos were less than pristine. The lack of a prompter may have contributed to the momentary musical mishaps — O’Hara went up on a long recitative and was hung out to dry repeating phrases until she could exit the stage. The show is a lot of fun, and younger audience members ate it up. But it stayed fun and superficial even as the betrayals and deception piled up in Act II, and it was there that my interest in this production started to wane. One of my earliest “Così fan tutte” experiences was Peter Sellars’ updated production set in Despina’s Diner with Don Alfonso as an embittered Vietnam vet. That production was willing to dig into the darker recesses of the characters’ psyches. Each bit of physical business was choreographed tightly to Mozart’s music — music and action worked together without one upstaging the other. The Met’s 1996 Lesley Koenig production had idyllic-looking pastel sets but the story it told was anything but an idyll in its first seasons. Thomas Allen’s Alfonso was a bitter misanthrope with a sadistic streak, and the finale found the four lovers reunited but deeply at odds with each other and themselves. (Later revivals conventionalized and flattened Koenig’s direction.) Carnivals can turn into dark and frightening places as Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King love to remind us. McDermott’s production missed the opportunity to take Mozart’s lovers (and us) through the funhouse mirrors or haunted cavern ride in Act II. After nearly three hours, this “Così” sideshow still thrills the kiddies but the adults got bored and fatigued. “Così fan tutte” will be broadcast internationally in HD on March 31 at 12:55 p.m. Check metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/Theater-Finder/ for participating movie theaters. March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


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THEATER

A Life Worth Living Dutch resistance Barbara Kahn brings alive includes lesbian cellist, gay poet BY KATHLEEN WARNOCK idden histories, heroes and martyrs, oppressed people who said something, fought back, made a difference: those are the characters Barbara Kahn brings to life in her historical dramas, which are a staple of each season at Theater for the New City. Kahn’s latest work, “Verzet Amsterdam” (“Resistance Amsterdam”), which opens April 5, is the 25th play she’s presented at Crystal Field’s essential theater venue on the Lower East Side. Telling the story of artists, some of them gay, who resisted fascism and protected Jews from deportation in German-occupied Amsterdam in World War II, Kahn’s play is directed by her and Robert Gonzales, Jr., and features a cast featuring Gonzales, Steve Barkman, Benjamin Cardona, Carl Ellis Grant, Jared Johnston, Anya Krawcheck, Christopher Lowe, Paolo Solis, and Steph Van Vlack. Kahn’s commitment to telling the untold came from advice given to her by her sister. “I was writing contemporary comedies,” the actor-turned-playwright said. “Then, through my sister Phyllis, who is a human rights activist and at that time was on the board of Amnesty International, I got to meet former political prisoners and hear their stories. I said to her one day, ‘I wish I could do what you do. I hear these horror stories and get upset and depressed. You hear them, then you get busy and get more prisoners released.’” Phyllis replied: “Why don’t you do what you do best?” That is: writing. “I immediately shifted gears, and started to write plays about injustice and oppression,” Kahn said. “About people whose lives have been either distorted or omitted in popular culture, and I look for the stories about people or situations that I’m shocked that I don’t

VERZET AMSTERDAM

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Theater for the New City 155 First Ave., btwn. Ninth & 10th Sts. Apr. 5-22 Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m. Sun. at 3 p.m. $15; $12 for seniors & students theaterforthenewcity.net Or 212-254-1109 Two hrs., with intermission

JOE BLY

Steph Van Vlack and Anya Krawcheck in Barbara Kahn’s “Verzet Amsterdam,” directed by Kahn and Robert Gonzales, Jr., at Theater for the New City April 5-22.

know about or didn’t know about before.” For her subjects, Kahn reads widely and scours a range of history websites. She subscribes to newsletters and researches original historical materials and documents. “Verzet Amsterdam” began to take shape for her last year. “I saw a brief historical note about the wartime activities of Frieda Belinfante, a lesbian cellist, and her friend Willem “Willi” Arondeus, a gay poet and painter,” Kahn said. “The actions of their resistance group were extraordinary in saving Jewish lives at the risk of their own. I wondered why, with my interest in history — in particular LGBT and Jewish history — I had never heard of these two.” Kahn then went into serious research mode, trying to find as much information as possible about her subjects from historical records. “I prefer to read primary research, rather than a history book about the person,” she said. “And when I find that voice, of the person herself, then I find what gives me the play. I don’t plot it out as

a play, even when it’s a true story and I know what the ending is. I approach it as an actor. When I have the characters and the situation, they start talking to each other and they do improvs in my mind. And I start writing it down. When I have some of it, I start structuring it: What if we had a transition here? What if this other character joins them?” Onstage, as dramatic works, Kahn’s plays use history to create a dramatic narrative structure: she can’t use every character who took part in a particular event or movement. “So I have to figure out through my research who the main participants are,” she said. “And I really focus on them, and try to find more information about them. I was able to find, even though I don’t speak Dutch, some primary sources for this play.” One of Willem’s lines, which she found in a statement he made to his lawyer after he was arrested by the Gestapo is: “Let them know the homosexuals are not cowards!” The other main character, Frieda, also said something that Kahn

used as one of the key lines in the work. “When Frieda and Willi talk about the action and what is at stake and the risk involved, and he says something about not surviving, she asks, ‘Would you mind that?’ And he said, ‘Of course I will. Why would you ask a question like that?’” Frieda replies, “I want to know that I will have lived a life worth living.” “One of the reasons I was drawn to these characters and the actions they took, with their resistance against fascism, is the relevance,” Kahn said. “I often write in grant applications that writing historical plays holds a mirror to the present. And I believe that. “If I present the same ideas and ideals in an historical setting, most people can get it. Most people can make the connection. And sometimes someone will come up to me after a performance and say, “That’s just like what’s going on now.’” When Kahn hears responses like that, she said, she feels she’s not only writing plays for herself as an artist, but also continuing her father’s legacy. Kahn’s father came to the US as a child, a refugee from a war zone. “I know what to think when I see those terrible photos of the Syrian children and from other countries,” she said. “I have to do what I know how to do, as my sister said, so wisely. She’s my younger sister and a great role model.” March 29 – April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


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GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

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March 29 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; April 11, 2018 | GayCityNews.nyc


CYNTHIA NIXON, from p.4

show voters she’s done her homework on a broad range of issues so that they “can have real confidence in her.” Cuomo, if he begins to feel the heat, will likely try to show up her relative ignorance about how the state operates. “Can she be successful running on a wave of discontent,” especially against an incumbent “who virtually never comes over as pleasant?,” Sherrill asked. “Maybe. Can she be credible? Perhaps.” As for Quinn’s swipe at Nixon, Sherrill said, “She was like an aging shortstop who’s lost a couple of steps to the left. She was not in campaign shape. She just didn’t

HERMAN BELL, from p.20

able face of order, if not law. A militarized gang, whose lives matter more than any civilian’s. Can we imagine these roles

TARIFFS, from p.22

number of newspapers have already experienced price increases and a disruption in supply. If the International Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce make these tariffs permanent in the coming months, it could lead some small local publishers to cut their print product entirely — or even shut their doors. Some, like NORPAC, may argue that by imposing duties on Canadian imports we’re saving American jobs and boosting our own economy, but the opposite is true. What we’re seeing with the newsprint tariffs is not a government acting

NIXON LAUNCH, from p.23

communities without large property tax revenues and those of model schools in well-to-do communities. She slammed legislative leaders and the governor for being a “boys’ club.” Cuomo’s budgets “bully our children and our families by shortchanging them, boxing them in by denying them the opportunities they are owed. It reminds me of the behavior we see from Donald Trump every day.” Nixon’s wife, education activist GayCityNews.nyc | March 29 – April 11, 2018

get the sentence structure right.” George Arzt, who owns a communications and lobbying firm long active in city politics, agreed that Nixon will likely give Cuomo a tougher challenge than Teachout did. “But the governor should win, and should win easily,” he added. Nixon’s strength, he said, is the anger on the left — aimed primarily at Donald Trump, but also diffuse enough that it could hurt any incumbent. “When you’re in for a long time, people can be fickle and may want a change,” he said. But Trump, in fact, may be Cuomo’s best argument against Nixon, Arzt said, noting the governor could argue, “You have a novice in Washington, and look at what a

mess he’s made of the nation, if not the world, in terms of destabilizing it. You need an experienced hand to defend our values.” Comparisons between Trump and Nixon, in fact, were voiced by a number of progressives on social media who rejected her as a “celebrity candidate.” In contrast to Sherrill and Arzt, Mitchell Moss, an urban policy and planning professor at NYU, wasn’t much willing to credit Nixon’s candidacy at all. “I believe that government requires some level of knowledge and experience that is not found on the Broadway stage or the TV screen or the wrestling ring,” he said. “The problem we have is that we don’t know enough

about Cynthia Nixon and what we know about her is not relevant.” Then, adding a comment he predicted would raise hackles, Moss said, “I have found that when an actor is no longer able to compete on the stage, they somehow think they can translate their name recognition to the ballot box. I think that we should learn from Donald Trump that name recognition doesn’t translate to being able to do the job.” Nixon’s best shot, he said, comes in the ever-declining number of voters who participate in primaries. An energized left could possibly spell a major upset, but in a general election, Moss predicted, Nixon “cannot win statewide.”

reversed? What if, for instance, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo spent four decades in prison for his 2014 strangling of Eric Garner? Would Panteleo get out, finally, on parole? Would we let him? This is a

problem I’d love to have. Unfortunately, you, Governor Cuomo, and you, Mayor de Blasio, have more in common than you might like to admit: a fear of your own cops and abandonment of your progressive

values.

to try to better the economy for its citizens. Instead, it is “political arbitrage” by one private investment group — where they are effectively looking to use the US government to tax local and community newspapers across the United States in order to bolster their own bottom line. When considering whether to take NORPAC’s claims seriously, the Department of Commerce excluded input from US newsprint mills owned by Canadian companies — specifically Resolute Forest Products and White Birch. Excluding manufacturers who, during the period of investigation, had three functioning newsprint mills

in the US because they have sister mills in Canada shows an unwillingness to understand the borderless newsprint industry and the restructuring that has taken place in recent decades. If the tariffs on Canadian newsprint are allowed to stand, we’re not only risking a centuries-old relationship with our neighbors to the north, but we’re putting our own US news industry in jeopardy. While the big national and regional papers may have less trouble finding the funds to keep their print editions coming, we could see small publishers lose footing, and those tiny local papers are some of the most vital members of

our news community. Under the right conditions, those papers can find a way to maintain their footing, but if the newsprint industry can’t support them, those communities will become news deserts, and that’s a future none of us wants. We may not be able to save the entire industry by keeping tariffs off our paper, but we can keep it thriving while we re-position ourselves for the years to come. Having affordable newsprint will help us do that.

Christine Marinoni, is registered as a member of the Working Families Party, which has close ties to organized labor. Marinoni’s registration, however, will bar her from voting in the September Democratic primary — a restriction that doomed Bernie Sanders’ campaign here — and in other states — in 2016. Working Families itself will no doubt have a heated debate about whether to back Nixon, the candidate who shares its values, or Cuomo, the incumbent who could punish affiliated unions the next

time contracts are negotiated. Nixon on the November ballot, even not as the Democrat, could spell trouble for Cuomo. Nixon will certainly promote herself as a proud user of city services: she takes the subway, she graduated from public schools, and lived in a fifth-floor walk-up with a single mom. Now she walks the talk and sends her teenage boys to public school. Cuomo loves his Corvette and is more likely to be photographed in the state helicopter than underground during

rush hour. The opening act in this drama promises a furious, hard-fought campaign where Democrats on the left will give vent to their hostility toward neo-liberal centrists. In a New York Times column, Ginia Bellafante wrote that Nixon will slam Cuomo for “too little investment in public schools, too little effort made at eradicating inequality, too much capitulation to big-moneyed interests and venal and corrupt state legislators.” Stayed tuned.

Susie Day is the author of “Snidelines: Talking Trash to Power,” published by Abingdon Square Publishing.

David Chavern serves as president & CEO of the News Media Alliance.

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