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Pentagon Sets Trans Ban for April 07

Equality Act Re-Introduced 13

A Controversial “Girl” on Netflix 34

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S E R V I N G G AY, L E S B I A N , B I A N D T R A N S G E N D E R N E W Y O R K


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In This Issue COVER STORY His soul belongs to Daddy 29

COMMUNITY St. Patrick’s symbol of inclusivity 14

POLITICS Transphobes bust up feminist anti-sex work rally 04

John Blasco’s journey from GSA to City Hall 16

Chaim Deutsch blasted as Veterans Committee chair 10 Diaz, Sr.’s bizarre retweet about who controls Hollywood 12

Murders She Wrote 36

BOOKS Now they want common ground? 30 IN THE NOH At 54 Below, Rebecca Luker sings Gershwin 40


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Rally Against Sex Work Decriminalization Hijacked Transphobic UK group embarrasses feminists denouncing pimps BY MATT TRACY


roups opposed to the movement to decriminalize sex work in New York State took their campaign to City Hall on March 11, and among them included a transphobic United Kingdom-based organization whose representatives held a sign saying “No to sex trade, surrogacy, and transgenderism.” The New York Alliance Against the Legalization of Prostitution, which describes itself as a coalition including women’s rights organizations, faith-based leaders, and sex trade survivors, led Monday’s event during which they slammed a recent state legislative proposal to decriminalize sex work in New York because of their belief that it would embolden pimps and sex traffickers. State Senators Brad Hoylman of Manhattan,


Members of the UK-based group ObjectUK held a sign saying “No to sex trade, surrogacy, and transgenderism” at Monday’s rally against sex work decriminalization.

Julia Salazar of Brooklyn, and Jessica Ramos of Queens and Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Dan Quart of Manhattan have taken the lead on that bill, which they say will take

sex workers out of the shadows, reducing the violence and exploitation they face while allowing law enforcement to focus on the perpetrators of human trafficking. The bill would repeal a section of the penal law that advocates for reform say has yielded discriminatory enforcement by targeting marginalized groups, including transgender women, people of color, and immigrants. ObjectUK, the group behind the transphobic sign, told Gay City News in an email following Monday’s rally, “There is no such thing as ‘sex work’ — it is sexual exploitation and paid rape,” and that being a woman “is not a costume or something that can be achieving by modifying your body.” The group also asserted that it is concerned that children and those with mental health

➤ HIJACKED!, continued on p.5


Pence Chief of Staff Wrote Anti-Gay College Column Veep’s new hire also shamed people living with HIV/ AIDS BY MATT TRACY


ice President Mike Pence’s new chief of staff, Marc Short, is under fire after it was revealed he wrote offensive words about people with HIV/ AIDS and the LGBTQ community in a column for his college newspaper in 1992. Short, who was pegged to work for Pence after previously serving as President Donald Trump’s director of legislative affairs, focused his column on downplaying the effects of HIV/ AIDS on straight populations and shaming gay men for “unhealthy lifestyles” that he said played the biggest role in the epidemic. The column appeared in the March 1992 edition of W&L Spectator, a newspaper for which he served as senior editor during his time in college at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Short, now 48, wrote about the “perverted lifestyles homosexuals pursue” and said the media shouldn’t “glorify homosexuals’ repugnant practices.” He further claimed gay activists and journalists maintained an agenda “to scare” straight people into believing they were at risk of contracting HIV, a tactic that he said was designed “to lobby Congress for more federal funding of



Mike Pence’s new chief of staff, Marc Short, attributed his homophobic comments in the early 1990s to what society had not yet learned about the HIV epidemic. Yep, that’s his explanation.

AIDS research and to destigmatize the perverted lifestyles homosexuals pursue.” The Daily Beast first broke the news of Short’s column, which was unearthed by American Bridge, a Democratic opposition research group. In a statement to The Daily Beast, Short said he regretted “using language as an undergraduate college student that was not reflective of the respect I try to show others today.” Notably, he did not apologize. “We have all learned a lot about AIDS over the past 30 years and my heart goes out to all the victims of this terrible disease,” Short said.

Gay rights and AIDS activist Peter Staley, who played a significant role in ACT UP and served for more than a decade on the board of what is now called amfAR: The Foundation for AIDS Research, slammed Short in a statement to The Daily Beast. “I wrote stuff in college too,” Staley said. “And I don’t look back and say, ‘Oh, sorry, it was my college years.’ You’re either on the right side of stuff or the wrong side. He was taking classic Jesse Helms-style rhetoric from the late ‘80s and putting an early ‘90s spin on it and sounding like the fools they all were… Guys like him wanted us to die. And they had an effect.” Short’s homophobia marks the latest blemish on an administration that has been hostile toward both LGBTQ people and those living with HIV/ AIDS. Pence, a former Indiana governor and member of Congress who has represented a brand of deeply religious homophobia dating back to long before he became vice president, refused to mention the queer community during his World AIDS Day Speech. Trump has already redirected money away from crucial HIV/ AIDS funding pots like the Ryan White AIDS CARE Act program and proposed to cut the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is an initiative to fight HIV/ AIDS on a global scale. March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

➤ HIJACKED!, from p.4 problems are having transgender identities “pushed at them as a solution to their problems, which it isn’t.” Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women’s New York City chapter (NOW-NYC), participated in the rally — a move that prompted strong backlash on social media in the days leading up to Monday’s event. But the group distanced itself from ObjectUK after the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City called NOW out for standing alongside an antiLGBTQ group. “We wholeheartedly agree @SDNYC that Object!’s presence at today’s rally was absolutely unacceptable,” NOW-NYC said in a tweet in the hours following the event. “We are sickened to have shared the steps with this group and want to make clear that they were not invited. We apologize for not recognizing their presence and shutting them down.” Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens and has said that the push for decriminalization “does not protect women, it protects pimps,” also attended the event in support of the coalition. But like NOW-NYC, she later disavowed ObjectUK. “I’ve just learned that an anti-trans banner was at this AM’s anti-human trafficking event,” Maloney wrote. “As a proud ally of the trans


Opponent of sex work decriminalization on the steps of City Hall.

community in NY & nationwide, I strongly oppose this org or any others that express any form of transphobia.” Melissa Gira Grant, a senior staff reporter for The Appeal, wrote that feminist Gloria Steinem was unable to attend the City Hall event but sent a statement noting that pimps and human traffickers support the decriminalization movement. Other transphobic protestors from the UK have also appeared publicly in the US as of late to spread their message. A pair of women identifying as trans-exclusionary radical feminists, Posie Parker and Julia Long, interrupted

a January meeting involving the Human Rights Campaign’s out transgender national press secretary, Sarah McBride, and told her that she has “a hatred of lesbians” and champions “the rights of men to access women in women’s prisons.” Those messages are echoed by ObjectUK’s website, which has a list of “the harms of ‘transgenderism’” and states that “biological males identifying as ‘trans’ have already been housed in women’s prisons and have sexually assaulted women prisoners.” The group’s list also states that transgender children receive “unnecessary ‘medical’ treatment such as the administration of puberty blockers.”

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GayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019



Ex-Brass Blast Pentagon’s Untruths on Trans Soldiers

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he former leaders of the US Navy, Army, and Air Force said in a joint statement last week that Pentagon officials falsely told Congress during testimony late last month that medical treatment sidelines transgender service members for longer periods of time and that they “ignored data confirming the success” of former President Barack Obama’s policy to allow all LGBTQ people to serve openly in the military. The March 3 statement, signed by former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, and former US Army Secretary Eric Fanning, followed a February 27 hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel during which five transgender service members testified before this subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee and stressed that they have succeeded in carrying out their respective duties regardless of their gender identity. However, James N. Stewart, who serves as the Pentagon’s leader for personnel policy, and Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, who heads up the Defense Health Agency, pushed the argument that soldiers with gender dysphoria are a burden on the military. Remarkably, Stewart tried to downplay the effect of the ban on transgender troops, saying that the military aimed only to remove those service members with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria — even though by that criteria no transgender person would be allowed to serve if they wished to transition to their appropriate gender. Bono argued that trans service members require more mental health services compared to troops who are not transgender. Stewart also argued that the ban on transgender troops, which was first announced by President Don-


Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, seen here in 2016, was among three major military leaders to condemn the Pentagon for making “misleading claims” to back up President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender service members

ald Trump in a July 2017 tweet, is not discriminatory because it is focused on gender dysphoria instead of being a categorical ban on trans troops. But the exclusion of those diagnosed with gender dysphoria, in practice, comes very close to the president’s original shoot-from-thehip tweet that all transgender personnel would be banned. “The realities associated with the condition called gender dysphoria and the accommodations required for that gender transition in the military are far more complicated than we may assume,” Stewart said, according to The Hill. He also said that Obama’s policy of accepting transgender troops would eventually lead to degradation of “military readiness.” Mabus, James, and Fanning said in their statement — which was issued through the Palm Center, a think tank with a specialty in issues regarding sexual minorities in the military — that the Pentagon’ testimony was rife with “misleading claims” as part of an effort “to justify President Trump’s wrongheaded ban on transgender service members.” The three former military leaders further said current officials made “the untrue assertion that holding all service members to the same

➤ CALLING BULLSHIT, continued on p.17 March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc


Pentagon Says Trans Ban to Take Effect in April Trump administration moves despite ongoing action in one remaining injunction BY ARTHUR S. LEONARD


pinions released by two federal courts this month dramatically reduced the chances that lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Pentagon’s proposed ban on transgender service would be able to block its implementation even as the merits of the issue continue to be litigated. And in a clear sign of how much the Trump administration is champing at the bit to get its policy in place, the Defense Department, on March 12, announced that it would go into effect in 30 days. That despite the fact that one of the nationwide injunctions barring its implementation is still technically in effect. The policy is a modified version of the ban first announced by President Donald Trump in a series of tweets in July 2017 — and just how meaningful those modifications are has emerged as a central issue in the ongoing litigation brought by transgender military personnel and potential enlistees. Until this past January, the transgender ban had been blocked by preliminary injunctions issued by four federal district judges in the fall of 2017. The Supreme Court, on January 22, signaled how this issue would likely play out when it granted the government’s motion to stay preliminary injunctions issued by district courts in Riverside, California, and Seattle. The district court in Baltimore, following the high court’s lead, stayed the preliminary injunction issued there on March 7. And the Court of Appeals for the District Columbia, which had issued an unsigned order on January 4, also granting the government’s motion to stay a district court’s preliminary injunction there, finally issued written opinions on March 8. The injunction in DC, however, remains in place, with the transgender plaintiffs having three weeks to seek further review. If their effort is turned back by the Court of Appeals, the Pentagon would seem to be free to meet its April 12 plans for impose the ban, even though the underlying merits of the four constitutional challenges would remain undecided. Trump originally announced his intentions regarding transgender military service with virtually no advance warning to anybody in a series of tweets on July 26, 2017, stating, “The United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US military.” A month later, the White House released a memorandum spelling out the details: all serving transgender individuals would be discharged and no transgender people would be allowed to enlist. James MatGayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019


President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender military service, announced impulsively in July 2017, could be implemented very soon.

tis, who was then defense secretary, was tasked with drawing up a plan for implementation to take effect the following March. The four lawsuits raised a variety of constitutional claims against the policy as spelled out in the August White House memorandum, and four district judges, all finding the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in proving the ban violated the rights of transgender service members and potential enlistees, granted preliminary injunctions against implementation. In the meanwhile, the policy opening military service up to transgender personnel announced in the last year of the Obama administration took effect on January 1, 2018, though reports indicated that enlistment applications were being slow walked by the Defense Department. On February 22 of last year, Mattis gave the president his report, purportedly prepared by unidentified military experts, providing a justification for a modified version of Trump’s ban, which the Pentagon urged the White House to substitute for the August 2017 policy memorandum. Trump accepted the plan and the recommendation. Mattis proposed allowing currently serving transgender personnel who had initiated or completed transition to stay in the military under a grandfathering provision. Other transgender people could serve unless they were diagnosed with gender dysphoria, but they would have to serve consistent with their sex as designated at birth. Anybody diagnosed with gender dysphoria would be disqualified from serving or enlisting. In proposing these distinctions, the Mattis plan purported to change the basis for exclusion from transgender status to the condition of suffering from gender dysphoria, a psychiatric designation that could be easily exploited to suggest a disabling condition justifying exclusion from

the military. The fact that many people diagnosed with gender dysphoria had served honorably and effectively for extended periods of time apparently gave no pause to the “experts” who authored Mattis’ report. Since the Mattis plan replaced the August 2017 White House memorandum, the government filed motions in all four courts last March seeking to dissolve or stay their preliminary injunctions, arguing that the new policy was distinguishable from the original policy the administration had put forward. But three of the district judges quickly concluded the Mattis plan was not really new, but simply a recipe for implementing the ban originally announced by the president. In the Baltimore district court, the judge who issued the preliminary injunction retired last June without ruling on the government’s motion, which was inherited by Judge George L. Russell, III, who acted only this month, following the Supreme Court’s lead. Though the Trump administration appealed the district court injunctions to the Ninth Circuit and DC Circuit Courts of Appeals, it soon became impatient and turned to the Supreme Court in an effort to leapfrog the intermediate appellate courts. Before the high court ruled on that effort, the DC Circuit issued its order granting a stay, and the Supreme Court acted in similar fashion weeks later regarding the two Ninth Circuit cases, in Riverside and Seattle. Two March 8 opinions from the DC Circuit shed light on what may have been a contentious internal debate among its panel members: Thomas B. Griffith, Robert C. Wilkins, and Stephen F. Williams. In its unsigned January 4 order, the court was brief and to the point, noting the differences between the August 2017 White House memorandum and the 2018 Mattis plan, rejecting the district judge’s conclusion that the latter was essentially the same ban. The opinion seemed to take at face value the government’s argument that Mattis’ plan was not an “implementation” of the Trump ban, but rather a newly conceived policy informed by serious study and expert military opinion. In his opinion for the DC Circuit panel, Judge Wilkins noted the distinction the Mattis plan made between being transgender and having gender dysphoria, seizing upon statements from the plaintiffs’ experts that not all transgender people have gender dysphoria and that not everyone with gender dysphoria will need to transition as part of their therapy. Wilkins pointed out that Mattis’ plan makes it possible for transgender people who do not have gender dysphoria to

➤ TRANSGENDER BAN, continued on p.20


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Chaim Deutsch Blasted as Veterans Committee Chair Advocates say he neglects LGBTQ vets, fails to engage city agency’s leaders BY MATT TRACY


February 26 joint hearing between the City Council’s Veterans Committee and the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction initially deviated from its main focus of suicide — and that was the final straw for Kristen L. Rouse, the out lesbian founding director of the NYC Veterans Alliance. Rouse, a US Army veteran, said in an interview with Gay City News that her team has spent the last year trying unsuccessfully to work with Veterans Committee Chair Chaim Deutsch, a Brooklyn councilmember, in an effort to improve the lives of local veterans and their families. She has now concluded he is neglecting his duties as chair by failing to meet with the city Department of Veterans Services (DVS), ignoring LGBTQ veterans issues, and making inappropriate homophobic comments in conversations with her. The NYC Veterans Alliance is preparing to summarize its concerns in a letter to out gay Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Among the earliest rumblings of trouble came last June 19 when Deutsch made comments that Rouse found disturbing in a private conversation between the two following a City Council hearing. Outside Council offices at 250 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, Rouse recalled, Deutsch, unprompted, brought up his opposition to same-sex marriage before mentioning that he nevertheless still has friends, like Speaker Johnson, who are gay. “In two of the conversations I’ve had with him, he has diverted into puzzling discussions about how he interacts with gay people on the Council and that his district believes in traditional marriage,” Rouse said of Deutsch, who represents Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Trump Village, Manhattan Beach, Luna Park, Brightwater Towers, and Midwood. A spokesperson for Deutsch



Brooklyn City Councilmember Chaim Deutsch speaks during a February 26 joint hearing between his Committee on Veterans and the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction.

pushed back against that claim, telling Gay City News he “does not recall having this conversation, nor would he make a blanket statement like that.” The alleged comments wouldn’t mark the first time Deutsch has explained his anti-LGBTQ views by pointing to attitudes in his district, which, like every other neighborhood in the city, has plenty of LGBTQ residents. In 2013, Deutsch attacked a political opponent, Theresa Scavo, for having the support of the National Organization for Women, saying, “I don’t know how you could represent this community when they have an agenda with gays and lesbians.” Deutsch has created such an uncomfortable atmosphere in Rouse’s view that she felt forced to hire a new staff member dedicated to communicating with him in her place. Five months after the June conversation, Deutsch once again signaled his lack of commitment to issues affecting LGBTQ veterans. He skipped out on a November hearing on legislation that would

require DVS to assist veterans tossed out of the service due to the military’s former Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in upgrading their discharge status. Deutsch’s absence was notable given his role as chair of the committee, especially since he had originally been a sponsor of the initiative to help veterans upgrade their discharges as appropriate until out gay Queens Councilmember Daniel Dromm succeeded in getting it amended to include the provisions regarding gay and lesbian veterans. Deutsch also appears not to have made much of an effort to open lines of communication with relevant city agencies. Rouse said employees within DVS, which is led by out lesbian Commissioner Loree Sutton, told her that the committee chair refuses to meet with them outside of hearings. A DVS spokesperson reviewed calendar entries and confirmed to Gay City News that Deutsch’s interactions with the agency have primarily been limited to hearings. Deutsch rejected that claim, saying he “meets with them regu-

larly.” “If he’s not meeting with [Sutton] and having constructive conversations, I’m not encouraged,” Rouse said. “I’m actually very concerned.” And the NYC Veterans Alliance is specifically disturbed that Deutsch, a conservative Democrat who has among the most consistently anti-gay voting records on the City Council, steers clear of addressing the plight of LGBTQ veterans while giving attention to other demographics. “He cannot stand for all veterans except for LGBTQ veterans,” Rouse said. “We need to have positive messaging from him that every one of us matters and that he will not stand for hate against Jewish veterans any more than he would stand for hate against LGBTQ veterans.” In response, Deutsch said he works with LGBTQ veterans “every day” and “has specifically LGBTQ veterans advocacy organizations included in veterans roundtables, meetings, events, and our veterans resource guide.” His office did not name any of those groups. Rouse acknowledged that Deutsch has remained largely respectful and that she appreciates the attention he has placed on fighting anti-Semitism at a time when it has surged in New York City and elsewhere. She specifically praised him for his part in organizing a rally against “bias, racism, and anti-Semitism” on March 3. Though some participants at the rally voiced their support for LGBTQ rights, Deutsch did not mention the community in his own flyers and communications about the event. “Just as anti-Semitic hate kills, anti-LGBTQ hate kills, too,” Rouse said. “It leaves many of us wishing that he also recognized the importance of standing against hate of anybody, including LGBTQ individuals.” Other LGBTQ veterans share Rouse’s concerns. Isra Pananon,

➤ CHAIM DEUTSCH, continued on p.11 March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

â&#x17E;¤ CHAIM DEUTSCH, from p.10 an out lesbian who completed a tour in the Middle East and is currently in the US Army Reserve, said Deutschâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s disservice to LGBTQ veterans is especially problematic because of the pressing issues facing them, such as suicide risk. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t quite understand why he is unable to vocally support LGBTQ veterans,â&#x20AC;? said Pananon, who is joining the board of NYC Veterans Alliance. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The failure to back up and support the LGBTQ community is to me a leadership issue.â&#x20AC;? During the February 26 hearing about suicide, Deutsch didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t turn to that topic until well into the meeting. Instead, he initially focused attention on ThriveNYC, the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s four-year, $850 million mental health initiative, of which only a small fraction is dedicated to DVS. Deutsch questioned Sutton about why his office fails to receive quick responses from ThriveNYC when it is operating with such a massive budget. Sutton responded that she is happy to finally see funds directed

to mental health needs after spending years as a psychiatrist watching people struggling to overcome barriers to care. â&#x20AC;&#x153;In New York City, $850 million is a small price to pay for 8.6 million people,â&#x20AC;? she said. Sutton also emphasized the importance of allocating resources toward the most marginalized veterans, including women and LGBTQ people. She went on to highlight the city and stateâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s recent enactment of laws banning so-called gay conversion therapy. When that issue was before the Council in 2017, Deutsch voted against it. â&#x20AC;&#x153;This is a time to double down on our mental health,â&#x20AC;? Sutton said. Out gay Queens Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, a member of the Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction Committee whose husband was discharged from the military for being gay, asked Sutton what DVS is doing to help LGBTQ veterans. She responded that the agency works with advocacy groups such as SAGE, which works with LGBTQ elders, and added that DVS is currently putting efforts into es-

tablishing â&#x20AC;&#x153;bonds of trust that will allow us to connect our LGBTQ brothers and sisters with quality legal services.â&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x153;For so many of them â&#x20AC;&#x201D; veterans in the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;80s who kept this from their family members but lived in shame, suffered in silence â&#x20AC;&#x201D; change in policy and culture has allowed them to proclaim who they are, and our general counsel is working with veterans legal services in the city and seeing how to make things better,â&#x20AC;? Sutton said. Rouse came away from the hearing discouraged about what she saw as Deutschâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dismissive and harsh attitude toward Sutton in his effort to â&#x20AC;&#x153;grandstand about ThriveNYC.â&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x153;He never acknowledged the commissionerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s expertise, especially as a psychiatrist,â&#x20AC;? Rouse said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Especially on the topic of veterans mental health and suicide. He was never responsive to her insights on that. He kept digging in on things she has nothing to do with.â&#x20AC;? Rouse said she followed up on the hearing with a Monday phone call to Deutsch during which she

expressed her concern that he did not adequately discuss the issue of suicide during that hearing. The chat largely went nowhere. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I feel like the end of my conversation with him validated the start of my conversation,â&#x20AC;? she said. During the call, Rouse pressed Deutsch on his anti-LGBTQ actions, including his vote against dissolving Councilmember Ruben Diazâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s committee after his recent homophobic tirade â&#x20AC;&#x201D; something the Council overwhelming approved. Deutsch responded that he had his reasons, but would not elaborate out of fear that she would â&#x20AC;&#x153;twistâ&#x20AC;? his words against him. According to Rouse, the councilmember accused her of mischaracterizing his words last year when she said in a letter that he is â&#x20AC;&#x153;a city councilman who has been explicit with me that he cannot support the full equality of lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, or queer veterans or service members.â&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x153;Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not showing leadership when it comes to issues of LGBT veterans face,â&#x20AC;? Rouse concluded. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not an oversight, heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just not leading on that.â&#x20AC;?





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GayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019



Bizarre Diaz Retweet About Who Controls Hollywood Ostracized Bronx lawmaker continues to make waves after losing committee BY MATT TRACY


ronx Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr., retweeted a bizarre Twitter post March 12 featuring a screenshot of a 2017 Daily Beast article with a highlighted sentence saying, “Hollywood is controlled by homosexual Jewish men who expect favors.” Twitter user @TedZeplin originally posted the tweet. The article pictured in the tweet was about sexual assault allegations levied against actor John Travolta by a male masseur who sued him in US District Court in Los Angeles several years ago. The sentence, highlighted in yellow, was part of the lawsuit in which the masseur claimed Travolta said he “got to where he is now due to sexual favors he had performed when he was in his ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’

days.” Travolta allegedly then made the comment about who controls Hollywood. Diaz, who represents Soundview, Castle Hill, Parkchester, Clason Point, and Harding Park, has voiced anti-LGBTQ comments for decades — even as he continues to claim he is not homophobic. His retweet came roughly one month after his City Council colleagues stripped him of his Committee on For-Hire Vehicles in response to his comments that “most councilmembers” are “controlled by the homosexual community.” Earlier in the day on Tuesday, the councilmember referred to his February controversy when he tweeted, “Big difference between the treatment I got for what I said compared with the treatment given to Rep. Ilhan Omar. Humm!!!!!” A spokesperson for Diaz did not respond to requests for comment

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Ruben Diaz, Sr., seen here in his district office in February, is seemingly fixated on the notion that LGBTQ folks have control of politics and Hollywood.

regarding his retweet. The councilmember could not be reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon. The retweet came amid yet another wave of public opinions by Diaz on social issues. On March 11, Diaz railed against political correctness in the latest edition of his longstanding “What You Should Know” email. He said in that note that anyone who criticizes abortion is labeled anti-women, anyone who opposes marriage equality is labeled a homophobe, and anyone who wears President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hat is deemed to be racist. “Clearly my dear reader we are living in a very different America,” Diaz wrote. “Where instead of having an intelligent, respectful discourse, dissenting voices are branded with a despicable name, a “scarlet letter” and stripped of the inalienable rights guaranteed under the United States Constitu-

tion.” During a 40-minute interview with Gay City News in the days before his colleagues took away his committee, Diaz doubled down on his comments about how LGBTQ folks control the city’s lawmaking body. “What is wrong with what I said?” he asked on February 13. “That the gay community has power and control? Yes, they do! Because look at the way they’re doing it. If anyone’s being harassed, it’s me. Look at the way they write their tweets, with their nasty words, the foul language that they use. I didn’t do that.” Diaz has refused to budge after many of his colleagues demanded his resignation following his antigay comments earlier this year. He said he plans to remain in office until voters in his district decide whether to re-elect him in the Democratic primary in June of 2021. March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc


Equality Act Introduced LGBTQ rights bill will likely pass Dem House


Congressmember David Cicilline (center) is joined by Senator Tammy Baldwin (left) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as Chad Griffin, president of the Human RIghts Campaign, at the March 13 announcement of the Equality Act’s reintroduction.



major LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill known as the Equality Act has been re-introduced in both chambers of Congress, setting up potentially historic votes on a bill that would usher in wideranging protections for the community. The measure, led in the House of Representatives by out gay Congressmember David Cicilline of Rhode Island and in the Senate by Jeff Merkley of Oregon, both Democrats, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related federal laws to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, public education, public accommodations, federal funding, credit, and in the jury system. A broad coalition of Democratic members of Congress joined Merkley, out lesbian Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House members Cicilline and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, during an afternoon announcement on March 13. Manhattan Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, also attended. The bill is overwhelmingly supported by Democrats, and has two GOP co-sponsors — Fitzpatrick and Maine’s Susan Collins in the GayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019

Senate. Cicilline stressed that the LGBTQ community is simply seeking the same equality as other communities covered by the 1964 Act. “We are asking for no more and no less, and we will get this bill passed,” he said. “The time has come for full LGBTQ equality. As Americans, we all know that discrimination is wrong. Let’s prove it by passing the Equality Act.” Anticipating criticism from conservatives, Cicilline added, “We cannot use claims of religious freedom to be used to discriminate against an LGBT individual.” The Equality Act, first introduced in 2015, has faltered at the committee level in both chambers. Now the Democratic-controlled lower chamber is poised to finally pass the bill. Even though it faces slim prospects in the GOP-controlled Senate, Merkley insisted it should be given a floor vote there. The Equality Act would implement the protections across the nation at a time when LGBTQ nondiscrimination measures vary widely from state to state. According to the Human Rights Campaign, half of LGBTQ Americans reside in the 30 states without comprehensive anti-bias protections. More than 160 major corporations now support the Equality Act, compared to only three that were on board the day it was first introduced four years ago.



St. Patrick’s Symbol of Inclusivity Queens’ St. Pat’s for All celebrates 20 years of diversity in Sunnyside and Woodside BY KATHLEEN WARNOCK


ucked in between a Saturday storm and one the following evening, it was a clear, sunny day in Queens for the 20th annual St. Pat’ for All Parade on March 3. Led by its grand marshals, the renowned actress Fionnula Flanagan (appearing in “The Ferryman” on Broadway) and dancer/ choreographer Seán Curran, the parade stepped off in Sunnyside with its largest contingent ever. “This is my first time at the parade,” Curran said. “I’m the son of Irish immigrants: my father was from Kerry, my mom is from Roscommon. I grew up with step-dancing in Boston, and it led me to a life in the arts. I’ve been told I have an Irish voice as an artist.” Much has changed — and some things have stayed the same — since Brendan Fay and a dedicated group of activists founded the parade in 2000 as an inclusive alternative to other city St. Patrick’s parades that at that time would not let LGBTQ people march. “Twenty years later, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made,” said out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, a Jackson Heights Democrat. Dromm marches in Queens every year, and is now on the Scholarship Committee for the Fifth Avenue parade held each March 17, an event that welcomed the LGBTQ Lavender & Green Alliance into its ranks three years ago. Fay said, “From the stage, I looked at the crowds gathered there to celebrate St Pats For All at 20 and I saw a movement that transformed the pain of LGBT exclusion into a cultural celebration of welcome and solidarity that has changed hearts and history.” Many elected officials as well as those running for office march in the annual event that travels from Sunnyside to Woodside. Last year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez participated as a Democratic primary hopeful for Congress. This year, she returned as the district’s representative in the US House. “I went to public school in Westchester, and there was Irish culture all around me,” she recalled. “There was an attitude of acceptance and a lot of humanity and joy. And this parade, of course, is one of the best community events around. I’m excited to be marching in it!” The parade’s elder — though young-at-heart — statesman, activist/ actor/ storyteller Malachy McCourt, serenaded Ocasio-Cortez with “Wild Mountain Thyme” the Irish ballad that’s the parade’s unofficial theme song. Reflecting on the recent progress in opening up St. Patrick’s Day Parades to queer contingents, McCourt, said, “Finally, people are understanding that other peoples’ love lives are their



Councilmember Daniel Dromm, US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,, grand g marshals Fionnula Flanagan g and Seán Curran,, and Irish Consul General Ciarán Madden.


The drummers from Fogo Azul NYC, who lead the Dyke March in June, offered a rousingly percussive show in their debut appearance in the St. Pat’s for All Parade.


The Absurdist Pipe Band from Drogheda, Ireland, are joined by larger-than-life papier-mâché figures of LGBTQ icons.

own business! Finally! As long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.” At noon, the crowd and marchers were welcomed by Fay and his co-chair, Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy. A parade of city, state and national representatives, dignitaries, and honored guests were introduced and addressed the crowd, including both grand marshals, and Ciarán Madden, the consul general of Ireland in New York. Borough President Melinda Katz presented Fay and Walsh D’Arcy with a Proclamation of Honor, declaring March 3 to be “St. Pat’s for All Day” in Queens. Just after 1 p.m., the parade stepped off, with Dr. Tom Moulton, Fay’s husband, waving Gilbert Baker’s huge Irish flag. He was followed by the FDNY Emerald Society Pipe & Drum Band and

the St. Pat’s for All banner, held by Fay, Walsh D’Arcy, and other St. Pat’s for All organizers, the grand marshals, Madden, Dromm, OcasioCortez, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, and State Attorney General Tish James. The honor guard from the FDNY, joined by Commissioner Daniel Nigro, followed, with by the Lavender & Green Alliance right behind. Marchers held up larger-than-life papier-mâché figures of LGBTQ heroes Oscar Wilde and Queens own Robert Rygor as well as heroine Eva Gore Booth, the poet and labor activist, and were joined by the Absurdist Pipe Band, a trio of wacky musicians from Drogheda, Ireland (Fay’s home town), who had the crowd laughing at their antics and singing along with their unusual arrangements of traditional Irish as well as pop songs. The New York City Council contingent included Dromm, Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Sunnyside, Speaker Corey Johnson, other Queens Councilmember Costa Constantinides, Barry Grodenchik, and Rory Lancman, out gay Brooklynite Carlos Menchaca, and the Upper West Side’s Helen Rosenthal. Van Bramer said, “My mother has marched with me in this parade every year. And this year, we have an amazing new voice in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She and the other women lead-

➤ ST. PAT’S FOR ALL, continued on p.15 March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

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The St. Pat’s for All elder — but young-at-heart — stateman, Malachy McCourt, serenaded Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

➤ ST. PAT’S FOR ALL, from p.14 ers stand on the shoulders of my 79-year-old mother, who has always been there for me.” Comptroller Scott Stringer, like Johnson eyeing a mayoral run in 2021, brought a contingent of staff and supporters, and Katz, who, along with Lancman, is running for Queens district attorney, marched with her staff. In addition to James, the new attorney general, other state officials on hand included Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and Assemblymembers Catherine Nolan, Brian Barnwell, and Catalina Cruz. For the first time in the parade’s 20-year, there were no anti-gay protesters. Marchers commented, in particular, on the absence of an elderly woman who had been a fixture, always holding a sign: “A SACRILIGIOUS LESBIAN AND HOMOSEXUAL PARADE.” The Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens was followed by the Shannon Gaels GAA (a youth athletic club, complete with hurling sticks and a portable goal), then the anti-poverty organization Children in the Crossfire and the Kaisokah Moko Jumbies from Brooklyn, stilt walkers in resplendent costumes, longtime parade favorites. The parade’s music director, Brian Fleming, on a flatbed truck led the St. Pat’s All Stars, with Dave Barkow on vocals and guitar, Paddy Glynn on banjo, Mol on bass, and Fleming on bodhrán. The Hungry March Band, a Brooklyn-based brass and percussion ensemble, made its St. Pat’s for All debut to an appreciative crowd. Activist groups marching included the All-Ireland Referendum, SaoGayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019


St. Pat’s for All co-chairs Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy and Brendan Fay at the pre-parade March 1 benefit concert at the Irish Arts Center.

irse Palestine, Irish Against Racism, Witness Against Torture, the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network, and the Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire Coalition. Fogo Azul NYC, the drummers who lead the Dyke March, made their presence felt with a percussive parade debut. The Stonewall Democrats of New York City marched with the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, the Queens County Young Democrats, the JFK Democratic Club, the New Visions Democratic Club, and the West Queens Independent Democrats. The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps Marching Band is another parade favorite, and its members marched wearing Irish flags in their hats. The Marching Cobras, a youth drum corps from Harlem and a longtime crowd favorite, were followed by a Chinese Dragon and Drum contingent. Members of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, longtime parade veterans, many wearing both green costumes and hair, had the crowd, many of them wearing union hats and jackets, chanting, “Get up! Get down! New York is a union town!” The final marching group represented longtime favorites SUDS: The Sunnyside United Dog Society, a contingent that had many canines wearing Irish accessories. As the parade halted just before Roosevelt Avenue, an impromptu jam session broke out with the Big Apple Corps, the Marching Cobras, the Hungry Band, the Chinese Dragon Dancers and Drummers, and the Rude Mechanicals all joining in. The musicians riffed off each other, danced, laughed, and urged the crowd to sing along. They might not have been in perfect harmony, but they certainly played well together.

When you buy a product, the expectation is that it should perform in the way it was intended to but that is not always the case. When damage or injury is caused as the result of the use of a defective product, the law in New York recognizes that those who manufacture and/or distribute the defective product, as well as those who sell it, may be held responsible for damages for the injuries which result. Consider the case of the young teenager who while using a hair dryer in her home, sustained severe third degree burns to her hands when the product burst into flames. Her parents had the foresight to consult our office shortly thereafter. Upon consulting an expert who inspected the hair dryer, he advised that the product’s wiring and/or loose electrical connections allowed it to overheat and catch on fire. We sued the manufacturer, as well as the neighborhood store where the hair dryer had been purchased, claiming that this product was defective as it was improperly or poorly designed, that there was a mistake in its manufacture or assembly, and/or the manufacturer or distributor placed the product into the marketplace without adequate warnings. Based upon our expert’s opinion, we were successful in achieving a favorable outcome for our client. If you find yourself in

JXe]fi[IlY\ejk\`e a similar situation, the first thing to do is secure and safeguard the defective product. In situations where the injury occurs outside your home, for example, in the workplace, it is particularly important to be vigilant and contact an attorney promptly. A separate court proceeding may need to be commenced, as soon as possible, to compel preservation of the product and to direct the person, or entity, in possession or control of the product, to grant access so it can be inspected and tested before it is destroyed, altered or disposed of. If you believe that you or a loved one have been injured by any defective product, whether a piece of heavy machinery or a seemingly harmless household item, you should consult an attorney. A timely phone call could be very important to protect your rights.

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Organizing, Building Community from Age 15 How a gay-straight alliance fueled John Blasco’s career in LGBTQ government service BY MATT TRACY


ohn Blasco was just 15 years old when he came out as gay, and like many other queer high school students he and his friends wanted to join the gay-straight alliance. The only problem was that it didn’t really exist. Blasco, now 29 and serving as out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s LGBTQ liaison, felt a burning desire to change that. He attended a workshop on how to build the alliance and he successfully spearheaded the effort to resurrect the club at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn. During a recent interview at the City Council office in Lower Manhattan where he works, Blasco elaborated upon how his work on LGBTQ issues from a young age helped prepare him for his current role within the City Council’s community engagement division. Blasco’s work with the gaystraight alliance opened new doors for the youth rather quickly. He and his peers from the club were hanging out at the Christopher Street Pier one day when outreach staff from FIERCE, an organization run by and on behalf of LGBTQ youth of color, stopped by and started talking to them. “They said, ‘Hey, this is who we are we’re from FIERCE and we have this event coming up,’” Blasco recalled. “The event was about politics and hip hop, and we were interested.” Blasco attended, and before long he was working with FIERCE. Among other things, the group organized forums and local City Council debates, which was how Blasco met his future boss, Corey Johnson, who was running for City Council at the time. The invaluable experience he gained at FIERCE paved the way for bigger opportunities. Blasco, who is still settling into his new gig after joining Johnson’s office in January, is by now a veteran City Council staffer. He first landed a job in 2014 working for



John Blasco, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s new LGBTQ liaison.

out lesbian Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who represented the Lower East Side, the East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, and Murray Hill. Blasco juggled a variety of tasks there, serving as her LGBTQ liaison, scheduler, and communications staffer. When Mendez was term-limited in January of 2018, Blasco went on to work for her successor in the same district, Councilmember Carlina Rivera, for whom he handled community outreach and participatory budgeting. His present work with Johnson’s office represents a culmination of sorts of his wide-ranging work experience around the city. He engages with LGBTQ groups — many of which he already knows through his previous jobs — in order to address pressing issues he says face the queer community: HIV/AIDS, public safety, juvenile justice, and broader criminal justice issues, among other key areas. His work also touches on wider education and health-related issues. With transgender women of color continuing to be targeted by heightened levels of violence nationwide and here in New York — with very few cases solved by law enforcement — those women are a focus of the speaker’s office, Blasco explained. Blasco stressed that the intersection of all these issues and the communities affected by them often means that his responsibilities overlap. A prime example of this, he said, came a few weeks

ago when the City Council’s Committee on Juvenile Justice held an oversight hearing on runaway and homeless youth coming out of the juvie system. “It turns out we’re going to talk about LGBT youth because a lot of those people happen to identify as LGBT,” he said. Blasco explained he is aiming to foster a new approach to communicating with LGBTQ and related groups by catering to their needs: He goes directly to their locations, no matter where they are situated in the city, to hear out their concerns. “Some of them will say, ‘We want to come to you,’ and my response is, ‘Let me know where I can go to you,’” he said. Blasco’s responsibilities also include reaching out to advocates to gather a sense of their positions on issues and how a press conference or briefing could be planned around them. He recently worked on setting up an event during which Johnson, who is HIV-positive, joined other politicians and advocates in calling for a generic version of PrEP, an HIV prevention medication that has skyrocketed in price to the point where it is far out of reach for many of those who need it the most. “It was my first official press event under the speaker’s office,” Blasco said. “I was able to jump in and I was very grateful for that. I connected with the advocates, but also connected with folks that maybe were not already in the co-

alition.” Moving forward, Blasco will be juggling several different initiatives simultaneously. He is preparing to ramp up the speaker’s efforts to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, which is just months away, and he is also helping Johnson with the Trans Equity Program, a Council initiative announced last year to allocate $1.8 million in 2019 to fund education programs, employment services, legal guidance, workforce development, and healthcare services for transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers. The push to create that program was in part sparked by meetings involving Blasco and the Council’s LGBT Caucus prior to his joining the speaker’s staff. “We all sat at 250 Broadway and there was an increase of what we were hearing about trans women being murdered,” Blasco said. ‘We were all saying that we don’t need to write another press release. How many times are we going to write a press release? We need to do something.” The Council responded by organizing forums in different boroughs, where transgender folks had an opportunity to speak about the issues facing them. Those forums led to a report by the New York City Anti-Violence Project about transgender issues in the city, and ultimately became the basis for the Trans Equity Program. Such longer-term initiatives and press events related to them represent a significant portion of Blasco’s duties, but he is also tasked with helping to connect everyday LGBTQ New Yorkers with the resources available to them. “Our most vulnerable communities need to have access and need to know this city has so much to offer,” Blasco said. “Some of those people, whether young people or seniors, don’t know how to access these resources.” On his own time, Blasco is focusing on his personal political as-

➤ JOHN BLASCO, continued on p.17 March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

➤ JOHN BLASCO, from p.16 pirations. He’s running for male district leader — an unpaid elected official who represents his local State Assembly districts with the county Democratic organization — in the 74th District represented by Harvey Epstein, which includes Manhattan’s East Side from Midtown south to the East Village. He declined to comment on his campaign due to rules preventing government officials from discussing elections in government buildings. But he has been tweeting from various locations around the district, where he has been campaigning with a focus on making it easier for folks to become involved in the political process, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. He has also stressed the need to end broken windows policing and to make sure vulnerable communities are included in the 2020 census, among other issues. The interview with Blasco yielded no specific insights into his motivation in running for district leader, but he did mention that his mother instilled in him, from an early age, important values about helping others in his community. “My mom has always said that I need to treat people right, have manners, and give back to people,” he said. “Whether it was with the gaystraight alliance or working with the speaker, I’ve felt that I need to give back, and that I need to connect with the community.” Blasco added, “I have tried to apply that everywhere.”


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➤ CALLING BULLSHIT, from p.6 standards affords ‘special accommodations’ to transgender troops.” The statement marked the latest development in what has become a years-long struggle for transgender service members to retain the open service policy — announced late in the Obama administration — in the wake of Trump’s 2017 declaration that the US government would no longer allow transgender people to serve “in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” citing medical costs. The Department of Defense, however, revealed last month that the military has only spent $8 million on healthcare for transgender service members since 2016, according to the USA Today. The Pentagon spends roughly $50 billion annually on healthcare. Mabus, James, and Fanning concluded that they agreed with 41 retired general and flag officers who wrote a similar statement one day before in which they expressed their “grave concern” that the Trump administration’s ban on transgender service members “contradicts the actual judgment of both current and former senior military leaders, as well as medical research and the experiences our own military and of other militaries.” GayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019


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I Feel Even Sorrier for Jussie BY ED SIKOV


was working my way through the New York Times Magazine story “Your Dog Feels as Guilty as She Looks” by Frans de Waal, a primatologist. It was a pleasant enough article, rife with references to bonobo monkeys and dogs and such. “The possibility of animal hope was experimented upon nearly a century ago,” deWaal writes, “by the psychologist Otto Tinklepaugh. He first let a monkey watch a banana being hidden under a cup, then allowed her into the room where this had been done. If she found the banana, everything proceeded smoothly. But if the experimenter had surreptitiously replaced the banana with a piece of lettuce, the monkey would frantically look around, lifting up the cup, while shrieking at the experimenter. Her expectations had been violated, for which she rightly blamed the sneaky experimenter.” I confess that I quoted that particular paragraph just so I could work in the name Tinklepaugh. The article meanders along until de Waal suddenly veers wildly off course: “Another human emotion that has been elevated to a special status is disgust. In his book ‘Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique,’ the neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga views disgust as one of the five emotional modules that set us apart from all other animals. Here, too, dogs are a prime example, given that they eat feces and lick their testicles. This is taken as proof that dogs must lack disgust. But give your dog a cut lemon (not recommended) and you will see a full-blown yuck! response with curled-up lips, drooling and withdrawal from the sour smell.” Yes, eating feces is disgusting, but who can ever forget the old joke, “Question: Why do dogs lick their own balls? Answer: Because they can.” So

much for one of his two examples of supposedly universal disgust. And then, suddenly comes this offensive, one might even say disgusting passage: “Disgust is an incredibly adaptive response. Every organism needs to avoid parasites and prevent the ingestion of harmful foods (citrus fruits can be poisonous to canines). Ignoring this mundane origin, however, psychologists have fallen in love with the moral connotations of this emotion. We are disgusted, for example, by someone who fakes a racist attack on himself to gain positive media attention. We ‘turn up our noses’ at such people, showing our typical disgust face with wrinkled nose and narrowed eyes.” [Emphasis mine] First of all, this reference to Jussie Smollett is totally gratuitous and utterly lacking in empathy. Is de Waal trying to make his piece “relevant” to this week’s readers’ fickle, everchanging interests? And did it not occur to any Times editors that placing Jussie Smollett, a human being, in the context of eating shit and parasites, was offensive? Finally, please forgive my reliance on jokes this week, but I can’t help but think of the one about the Lone Ranger and Tonto trapped by hundreds of Indians, and the Lone Ranger says, “Tonto — what are we going to do?” And Toronto replies, “What do you mean we, white man?” De Waal’s assumption that everyone in the world, every single human being alive, has the same supposedly natural disgust reaction he describes Smollett as generating is vile, And I object. This isn’t science. This is projection. I can easily imagine someone reacting to Smollett’s recent indictment on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct with pity, sadness, disappointment, or compassion. If it seems like judicial overkill to you, you’re not alone. I think the charges against him con-

stitute an insane overreation, and so does Smollett’s defense lawyer-to-thestars, Mark Geragos. [In the interest of full disclosure, Geragos and I went to college together, but I didn’t know him.] Eating shit and parasites, huh? Discussing Jessie Smollett in this manner is practically libelous, morally if not strictly legally. “The biggest test yet of Fox’s journalistic standards is the impending showdown over Mueller’s findings,” Jane Mayer writes in a recent New Yorker. Her article is titled, “The Making of the Fox News White House.” She continues ominously: “For two years, the network has been priming its viewers to respond with extraordinary anger should the country’s law-enforcement authorities close in on the President. According to Media Matters, in the first year after Mueller was appointed Hannity alone aired four hundred and eighty-six segments attacking the federal criminal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election; thirty-eight per cent of those segments claimed that law-enforcement officials had broken the law. In recent weeks, Hannity has spoken of ‘a coup,’ and a guest on Laura Ingraham’s program, the lawyer Joseph diGenova, declared, ‘It’s going to be total war. And, as I say to my friends, I do two things — I vote and I buy guns.’” Total war, huh? Against whom? People who watch MSNBC? The whole rest of the population? Wouldn’t it be funny if the reign of Rump ended in a second Civil War? Yeah, a real laff riot. Mayer’s article is fascinating and horrifying in pretty much equal measure. It is not news to see Mayer confirm that Rump gets most of his briefings not from his staff but rather by watching TV: “Fox & Friends” and Sean Hannity. Still, it is terrifying to see it spelled out in such extraordinary detail. Kudos to Mayer for being so meticulous. Follow @edsikov on Twitter and Facebook.

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March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc


Shirley Chisholm, Alice Austen Join Washington, Jefferson City Hall now boasts portraits of eight women who were New York leaders


Portraits honoring Catholic social justice activist Dorothy Day and lesbian photographer Alice Austen are among eight new renderings of signficant New York women now on display at City Hall.


FDR Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and Zora Neale Hurston, a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, are also among the eight women highlighted.


Dorothy Day, Shirley Chisholm, and Bevery Sills are exhibited on a staircase in City Hall.



icking off Women’s History Month on March 1, the City Council unveiled portraits of eight iconic female leaders that will grace the walls of City

Hall. Put together in conjunction with the New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History, the installation, “Women’s Voices: Shaping the City,” includes portraits of Alice Austen, an early 20th century lesbian “amateur” photographer whose work is a window into her New York experience and whose Staten Island home is now a museum; Antonia Pantoja, a Puerto Rican educator and community activist; Beverly Sills, the famed opera soprano who went on to lead New York City Opera; Dorothy Day, a 20th century social justice activist who cofounded the Catholic Worker movement and newspaper; Frances Perkins, who as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of labor was the first woman cabinet member; Dorothy Lee, a Chinese-American “Rosie the Riveter” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; Brooklyn Democrat Shirley Chisholm, the nation’s first African-American congresswoman who ran a groundbreaking presidential campaign in 1972; and Zora Neale Hurston, a famed writer, anthropologist, and fi xture of the Harlem Renaissance. The Council’s initiative, launched as part of its month-long Herstory Celebration, is part of a broader effort to redress the vast gender disparity in public artwork and monuments around the city. Sculptor Meredith Bergmann is currently working on a monument honoring women’s suffrage movement leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, which will be Central Park’s first statue to represent a woman who is not fictional. GayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019


East Side Councilmember Carlina Rivera spoke about Puerto Rican educator and activist Antonia Pantoja.

“As New Yorkers realize that we as a city have utterly failed to adequately recognize the contributions of women and try to fi x it, this City Council is proud to lead the way in creating public monuments to our city’s monumental women,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said at Friday’s unveiling. “Most New Yorkers agree that the future is female, but the past was female too, and the entire city needs to do a better job of celebrating that fact and telling stories that have gone untold for far too long.” Upper West Side Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Committee on Women, said, “I am delighted and deeply moved that the City Council and New-York Historical Society have joined forces to honor some of the women who have made a lasting impact on our city.” Valerie Paley, chief historian and director of the Center for Women’s History at the New-York Historical Society, said, “By showcasing our important work on the walls of City Hall, the City Council reminds all New Yorkers of the vital contributions of women to the city’s story. The timing of the launch, during Women’s History


Brooklyn Councilmember Laurie Cumbo talked about Zora Neale Hurston’s legacy.

Month, couldn’t be more appropriate.” Lower Manhattan Councilmember Margaret S. Chin, a co-chair of the Women’s Caucus, noted Lee’s’s trailblazing role as the only ChineseAmerican woman working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, while East Side Councilmember Carlina Rivera, also a caucus co-chair, said, “With only 11 women in the City Council and none in citywide office, it’s clear that we need to end the culture of exclusion that tells women to wait their turn when they aspire to lead.” Out gay Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, who chairs the Cultural Affairs Committee, alluded to the overall effort citywide to more adequately represent women’s contributions in public settings, saying, “Public artwork and monuments must be reflective of our city and our history.”


â&#x17E;¤ TRANSGENDER BAN, from p.7 serve. In this sense, he concluded, the Mattis policy is not a categorical ban on transgender service and may fall within the range of military decision-making to which federal courts would ordinarily defer. Wilkinsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; approach did not satisfy Judge Williams, who wrote in a separate opinion that the court should dismiss the lawsuit outright. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Even if we were simply reviewing a motion to dissolve [the injunction], we still must resolve the constitutionality of the Mattis policy,â&#x20AC;? he wrote. Finding that Mattisâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; policy was a â&#x20AC;&#x153;significant change in circumstancesâ&#x20AC;? after the original injunction was issued because of its differences from the original Trump ban, he wrote, â&#x20AC;&#x153;we must decide whether the change in circumstances renders continued enforcement of the injunction detrimental to the public

interest. To make this determination, we need to ascertain whether ongoing enforcement of the original preliminary injunction is supported by an ongoing violation of federal law.â&#x20AC;? He continued, â&#x20AC;&#x153;We do that by assessing whether constitutional compliance has been achieved by the Mattis policy â&#x20AC;&#x201D; that is, we decide whether the Mattis policy is constitutional.â&#x20AC;? Williams cited the long tradition of courts abstaining from interference with military personnel policy and he pointed out that the open service policy adopted late in the Obama administration was full of hedging about the circumstances under which transgender people would be allowed to serve and the conditions that might disqualify specific individuals. To Williams, the policy announced by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter in June ! # &  4 &             / .

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2016 was not all that different from Mattisâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; February 2018 policy. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Gender dysphoria is also a serious mental health condition recognized by the American Psychiatric Association,â&#x20AC;? he wrote. â&#x20AC;&#x153;It is â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;associated with clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning,â&#x20AC;&#x2122;â&#x20AC;? quoting from the groupâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s diagnostic manual. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The limits on accession and retention of those with gender dysphoria, imposed by the military (under both Secretaries Carter and Mattis), are thus akin to the many demanding selection practices that render the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;vast majorityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; of military-age Americans â&#x20AC;&#x201D; a full 71 percent â&#x20AC;&#x201D; presumptively ineligible. This includes disqualification for â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;anyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; DSM-recognized condition that (like gender dysphoria) is associated with â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;residual symptoms, or medication side effects, which impair social or occupational performance.â&#x20AC;&#x2122;â&#x20AC;? In disqualifying individuals with gender dysphoria,â&#x20AC;? Williams asserted, â&#x20AC;&#x153;the Mattis policy, like the Carter policy before it, serves the same legitimate interests as other disqualifications: ensuring that the armed forces consist â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;of qualified, effective, and able-bodied persons,â&#x20AC;? here quoting from statutory standards for enlistment. Williams gave credence to Trump

administration efforts to buffer the expert basis for a policy initiated haphazardly by the presidentâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s July 2017 tweets. For example, in June 2017, Mattis announced he would delay implementing the open service policy announced by his predecessor Carter the year before in order to prepare for implementation. The administration now re-characterizes this as Mattisâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; intention to â&#x20AC;&#x153;reevaluate the previous administrationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s policies,â&#x20AC;? a framing Williams embraced. And so, he also takes at face value Trumpâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s reference, in his July 2017 tweet, to having consulted â&#x20AC;&#x153;my general and other expertsâ&#x20AC;? before deciding to impose a total ban, even though the White House has absolutely refused to name those individuals. The plaintiffs, Williams concluded, â&#x20AC;&#x153;cannot prevailâ&#x20AC;? so â&#x20AC;&#x153;the wisest course is to terminate the litigation now.â&#x20AC;? Should the transgender ban go into effect next month, the four constitutional challenges remain alive, and discovery remains a contentious issue in all four cases. The Justice Department has stonewalled on requests for information about how the policy decisions were made and to what degree actual expert opinion was the basis for the conclusions the government is putting forward in defense of the policy.

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Did Same-Sex Marriage Begin Under Nixon? 1971 Minnesota nuptials ďŹ nally valid


Mike and Jack McConnell tied the knot decades before states started legalizing same-sex marriage.



arack Obama was the first sitting president to voice his support for marriage equality, but the first-ever same-sex marriage in the world might have occurred under Richard Nixon. Michael and Jack McConnell, whose marriage was officially recognized last year, received a marriage license in Minnesota in 1971 â&#x20AC;&#x201D; 33 years before states started legalizing same-sex unions. The pair took advantage of a loophole when Jack, whose last name at birth was Baker, changed his first name to the gender-neutral â&#x20AC;&#x153;Pat Lynâ&#x20AC;? before submitting their application. They believed the marriage was valid in any event because Minnesota did not explicitly ban same-sex marriage. The attorney for Blue Earth County, where they obtained their license, found out Pat Lyn was a man and directed the clerk not to record the marriage, leaving the couple without proof to obtain Social Security and other benefits provided to married couples. Even after Minnesota secured marriage equality in 2013, the duo was mired in a decades-long legal battle over their 1971 unionâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s legitGayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019

imacy. A district court judge finally ruled in September of last year that their marriage was valid, and this February 15 the couple received a letter from the Social Security Administration notifying them they could receive spousal benefits. The couple was recently profiled by NBC News, but also wrote about their marriage journey in their 2016 memoir, â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Wedding Heard â&#x20AC;&#x2122;Round the World.â&#x20AC;? The book details the challenges they faced while trying to get married, as when the University of Minnesota pulled a job offer extended to Michael. The couple took their case to the Minnesota Supreme Court, but lost, and then to the US Supreme Court. Though the case was dismissed, they suffered no adverse ruling there. That gave the men some hope for the future. â&#x20AC;&#x153;They simply dismissed the case for â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;want of a substantial federal question,â&#x20AC;&#x2122; which basically means they [would decide] at some later date,â&#x20AC;? Jack told NBC News in 2016. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I did not realize that later date would be some 45 years later.â&#x20AC;? Fast forward to 2019, The couple can now make fair claim to being the first same-sex couple in the world to have a recorded marriage. They will celebrate their 48th wedding anniversary in September.






Advocates Rally for Prison Drug Treatment Evidence shows curbing cravings reduces OD risk upon release BY NATHAN RILEY


he coalition supporting public health solutions to the epidemic of drug overdose deaths is backing a bill in Albany requiring prisons and jails to offer medically assisted treatment to inmates with a substance use disorder. Recently released prisoners frequently die from overdose deaths, in good measure because while their cravings are high, their tolerance for the drugs has fallen. The use of methadone, Naltrexone, and Buprenorphine, sanctioned by the federal Food and Drug Adminstration and recommended by experts, minimize the constant craving for opioids. This desperate need escalates when a user is forced to go cold turkey. These medications work on the brain’s receptor to calm a person


Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.

with substance use disorder. The legislation offers patients in prison the same treatment options as those recovering on the outside. Rhode Island produced stunning results after introducing medically assisted treatment (MAT) in its jails and prisons. According to research published in

the April 2018 issue of JAMA Psychiatry, the number of fatalities among those recently incarcerated dropped 60.5 percent. VOCAL-NY, the th he Katal Center for Health, E q u i t y, and Justice. and ti COMPA, the CO Coalition of Medication Assisted Treatment Providers and Advocates of New York State, have gotten behind Assembly bill A0833A and its Senate companion that would require state prisons and local jails to offer MAT. Upper West Side Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal is the lead sponsor of the bill, which is also sponsored by David Weprin of Queens, chair of the Corrections Committee, and Chelsea’s Richard Gottfried, the Health Committee chair. Bronx State Senator Jamaal

Bailey, chair of the Codes Committee, sponsors the Senate companion bill. Rosenthal, who chairs the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, told advocates and former inmates that prisoners with diabetes get medication and individuals with “substance abuse disorder should get medication.” Craig Apple, the Albany County sheriff, recently introduced MAT at his jail, and he urged other sheriffs to adopt the program but expressed dismay that Governor Andrew Cuomo allocated only $3.75 million in his fiscal year 2020 budget for the program. Rikers Island has for decades provided this service to its inmates from the five boroughs. The governor’s allocation for the state’s remaining 57 counties amounts to just $65,879 per county, with no money going to state prisons.

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His Soul Belongs to Daddy Alan Cumming as creepy father figure mentoring Ronald Peet BY DAVID KENNERLEY arly on in “Daddy,” a provocative new play about a filthy rich art collector in his late 50s obsessed with a black artist in his mid 20s, we hear a strained musical phrase from George Michael’s mega-hit, “Father Figure.” This being a play written by the fearless Jeremy O. Harris (earlier this season he wowed and offended audiences with the explosive “Slave Play”) and starring the incomparably audacious Alan Cumming, it figures that, a few scenes later, Cumming would produce a microphone out of nowhere and belt out a harrowed rendition of the song. Not just a verse or two, but practically the entire song, accompanied by a small gospel choir. The lyrics are appropriate indeed. And this is only one of many such moments that challenge and provoke and bewilder. The play is subtitled “A Melodrama” but that only begins to describe this emotionally charged, genre-busting work which is part satire, part magical realism, and part fever dream. Everyone likes to talk but rarely do they truly listen. As directed by Danya Taymor, who happens to be Julie Taymor’s niece, the dialogue registers as overwrought, even ludicrous at times. Yet for the most part, it works. “Stay here. Talk to me tonight,” Andre says breathlessly, in a lusty European accent that bespeaks tons of money. “Say and say and say to me until you slip up and say something you never thought you’d think.” Cumming, who isn’t shy about strutting around in a jock strap or totally naked, is riveting as graybearded Andre, the devilish art collector looking to acquire Franklin, an up-and-coming young artist, as if he were a painting. Andre’s vast collection sports such masters as Twombly, Lichtenstein, and Basquiat. He is not only attracted to Franklin’s youthful exuberance, talent, and luscious “chocolate”


GayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019


Alan Cumming, Ronald Peet, and Charlayne Woodard (foreground) in Jeremy O. Harris’ “Daddy,” directed by Danya Taymor, at the Pershing Square Signature Center through March 31.


Hari Nef and Ronald Peet in “Daddy.”

body, but also his cutting-edge taste in art. “Let me see the world like you,” Andre says as they cavort by the pool, hopped up on Molly, at his ritzy Bel Air estate. And by pool I mean an actual pool, large enough to swim laps in (Matt Saunders designed the modernist, Hockneyesque set). Often characters find themselves splashing around fully clothed. And if you’re sitting in the front row, expect to get wet. For his part, Franklin needs Andre’s money and connections to nurture his work, which con-

sists of little dolls (“coon babies”) made of fabric, perhaps meant to represent aspects of himself. But he also hungers for a father figure, because his biological father bolted when he was an infant. A memory of his father returning a few years later to reconnect haunts Franklin, a recurring theme in the play. The sex depicted onstage is more about power than pleasure. As the S&M element grows more violent, it’s difficult not to think of the master-slave dialectic and white supremacy themes so potent in “Slave Play.”

When Franklin’s hard-nosed Christian mother, Zora (forcefully embodied by Charlayne Woodard), visits to see his show at a prestigious art gallery, he is torn between the independence of his adult life and the fears of his inner child, and he begins to regress to an infantile state. Copious thumbsucking is involved. Ronald Peet is superb as Franklin, bringing a layered uneasiness into his portrayal of descent into childlike madness. Zora is right to question Andre’s motives. Is something evil afoot? Injecting a dose of comic relief are Franklin’s acid-tonged best friends, Max (Tommy Dorfman) and Bellamy (Kahyun Kim), who lounge by the pool sipping mimosas and doing bumps of cocaine, in awe that he “hit the jackpot” with his new sugar daddy. “It’s not like that,” insists Franklin. There’s also Alessia (Hari Nef), the heinously affected gallery owner who champions Franklin’s work, though we sense she’ll to drop him the second he’s no longer hot. To be sure, “Daddy” is a fiercely theatrical, disturbing exploration of intimacy and racial and sexual identity. It is among the few productions I’ve seen that dares to portray the perverse intensity of Daddy-Son role play, more common in the gay world than most people realize. What’s more, the psychodrama contains more frontal male nudity and graphic gay sex than virtually any major play in recent memory. Despite how you feel about the savagely surreal conceit and nearly three-hour running time, you can’t deny that Harris displays an uncanny brilliance. And plenty of guts. DADDY | The New Group and Vineyard Theatre | Pershing Square Signature Center/ Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 W. 42nd St. | Through Mar. 31: Tue.-Fri. at 7:30 p.m.; Sat. at 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun. at 2 & 7:30 p.m. | $85-$135 at thenewgroup.org | Two hrs., 50 mins., with two intermissions



Now They Want Common Ground? Exploring religious freedom, LGBTQ rights, but not persuasively BY DUNCAN OSBORNE t is apparent early in “Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground” that most of the authors of its 35 essays and Robin Fretwell Wilson and William Eskridge, the book’s editors, are not being honest with readers. The book’s premise is that there is a conflict between laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and other important aspects of life and the right to the exercise of religion that is guaranteed to all Americans under the US Constitution’s First Amendment as well as various federal and state laws. While they repeatedly cite the small number of cases in which two bakers, two florists, one venue, and a photographer refused to serve lesbian and gay couples who were getting married, no one in this book establishes that these few cases represent anything more than the last gasps of a right wing movement that has battled for decades to treat LGBTQ people badly and has now lost significant ground in that fight.



Dozens of authors collaborated on a book that ultimately fails to tackle the real issue at hand.

We have more than 50 years of experience with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that barred discrimination against a number of protected classes — not including sexual orientation and

gender identity — and that federal law has accommodated religious objectors and issues related to organizations affiliated with religious institutions. There have been no complaints from the religious right about that law. Currently, 21 states and the nation’s capital bar discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity and 20 of those also bar discrimination in public accommodations, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ lobby. Another one of the 21 bars discrimination in public accommodations, but regarding sexual orientation. There are many local and county jurisdictions that have enacted such laws. Forty-seven states, including the 21, have anti-discrimination laws of one sort or another. These laws vary in their reach and the protections they offer. In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state to pass these protections for LGBTQ people. The concern about anti-discrimination laws constraining the ability of the religious to abuse

➤ COMMON GROUND?, continued on p.31



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March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

➤ COMMON GROUND?, from p.30 LGBTQ people was first raised in 2008 in “Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts,” a book by Wilson, Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, and Anthony Picarello, the general counsel at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Apparently, it took 26 years for this conflict to emerge. While the few conflicts since then have received a great deal of press coverage, they remain few and certainly do not support the sweeping religious exemptions in established law that most of the authors in this book support. One of the authors, Ryan Anderson, a staffer at the right wing Heritage Foundation who is known for his anti-LGBTQ commentary, did not pretend that this conflict exists. Comparing the experience of LGBTQ people to women and African-Americans, Anderson asserted that LGBTQ people do not need the same protections as those two groups but also wrote that the conflicts “involve an astonishingly small number of business owners who cannot in good conscience support same-sex wedding celebrations.” Anderson is wrong about the extent to which LGBTQ people experience discrimination. And he does not understand that he just argued against this book’s central thesis. Jennifer Pizer, the law and policy director at Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ rights law firm, cut through the smoke with the first sentence of her chapter. “Let’s be honest,” Pizer wrote. “The national conversation is not really about wedding cakes and who pees where. It is about whether LGBT people are equal in the country and whether we are entitled to be treated like everyone else in public life.” This 498-page book also ignores the long anti-LGBTQ histories of some of the institutions represented by authors from the National Association of Evangelicals, the Mormon Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and other groups. Most of the authors present themselves as earnest promoters of compromise who seek to extend some legal protections to LGBTQ people in exchange for broad exemptions for the religious from anti-discrimGayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019

ination laws. None of these groups expressed any interest in compromise when they believed they were beating the LGBTQ community. When institutions that opposed or objected to overturning sodomy laws, as the US Supreme Court did in 2003, opposed including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in anti-discrimination laws, as these groups have for decades, and opposed marriage, as these groups did in 2015 when the US Supreme Court required the states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, it is reasonable to ask what prompted this remarkable change in their position. That question is not asked or answered in this book. The answer is that these groups understand that their longstanding and vigorous opposition to the LGBTQ community may have cost them their future. As they opposed us, frequently using vile anti-LGBTQ language, they came to be identified as solely anti-LGBTQ — and adherents, especially younger adherents, began to abandon them. This new posture, which I suspect they would give up should the fortunes of the LGBTQ community be reversed, is mere public relations and an effort to regain the status quo ante where they could freely discriminate against LGBTQ people. Most of the authors are law professors — Eskridge, who is gay, teaches at Yale and Wilson teaches at the University of Illinois — and so the chapters suffer from a tedious redundancy. Several authors noted that others had already commented on the topic they proposed to explore and then they repeated what others had already written. In the end, “Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground” is just a tiresome academic exercise. It has been settled law in this country since 1990 that all of us, including the religious, have to obey laws of general application as long as those laws are applied neutrally. This book offers no argument for overturning that. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, LGBT RIGHTS, AND THE PROSPECTS FOR COMMON GROUND | Edited by William N. Eskridge, Jr. & Robin Fretwell Wilson |Cambridge University Press | $72.50 | 564 pages



Drag Me into Spring Queens uee ens offer blasts from the past, promises for or the future futu


Thorgy Thor, Alexis Michelle, Jujubee, and BeBe Zahara Benet boost brides-in-need, in the TLC show â&#x20AC;&#x153;Drag Me Down the Aisle.â&#x20AC;?



h, almost spring, when a gay manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fancy leans heavily toward thoughts of drag â&#x20AC;&#x201D; what was, what

will be, and where in this wigged out world one can go to untuck his troubles. Therein lies the one to rub out, so to speak, in this March roundup of dresses, tresses, and bravely fought battles of the bulge.









ted Collections Wan , es iv Kn Swor ds, c. et s, et Helm











Drag queen and jazz vocalist Cissy Walken as Amy Winehouse.

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Their personalities shine, and thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s how I want to be,â&#x20AC;? says flannel-loving bride-to-be Emily, of the drag queens who give her a muchneeded shot of self-confidence, in â&#x20AC;&#x153;Drag Me Down the Aisle,â&#x20AC;? which premiered March 9 and is streaming now on TLC. Eager to offer their respective wedding planning, musicianship, style, and hair/ makeup skills, â&#x20AC;&#x153;RuPaulâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Drag Raceâ&#x20AC;? alums BeBe Zahara Benet, Thorgy Thor, Jujubee, and Alexis Michelle arrive in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, by way of Amish buggy. Freed from the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Drag Raceâ&#x20AC;? elimination format that revels in conflict and competition, the all-for-one foursome, challenged with a three-week wedding prep timetable, waste no time endearing themselves to microbiologist Emilyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s conservative Christian parents, and her amiable, if flummoxed, fiancĂŠ. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m just excited for a whole new audienceâ&#x20AC;Ś that this is going to go into different living rooms than â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Drag Raceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; does, probably,â&#x20AC;? said Alexis Michelle, in an interview just prior to the premiere. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t forget,â&#x20AC;? Alexis noted, â&#x20AC;&#x153;TLC is called â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;The Learning Channel,â&#x20AC;&#x2122; and I do think there is some education about humanity and about the fact that we, as queer, genderbending performance artists, have a lot of love and compassion to share.â&#x20AC;?

Edited in a manner that reins in the shade, pours on the positivity, and courts the mainstream viewer with the aggressiveness of a friendship forged in the magic moment between last call and lights on, the showâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tone is a bit too polite for our tribeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s rarified taste. Yet there are moments of sexy transgression, joyous flamboyance, and snarky defiance â&#x20AC;&#x201D; as in, respectively, when Alexis endorses cream-filled donuts as â&#x20AC;&#x153;the best kind,â&#x20AC;? Jujubee frolics in a store full of wedding dresses, and BeBe gives a firm thumbs down to the clunky lanterns Emily wants as centerpieces. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Whether family history or insecurity, it all comes bubbling up,â&#x20AC;? said Alexis, of the long road toward that walk down the aisle. â&#x20AC;&#x153;And in Emilyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s case, it just so happened that her particular areas of insecurities are ones that I have struggled with myself. And I told her, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a daily journey. Seeing your own beauty, and your own worth, is something that takes practice. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not just something you can artificially put on, like a dress on your wedding day.â&#x20AC;? A â&#x20AC;&#x153;To be Continuedâ&#x20AC;? placard before the credits roll leaves no doubt TLC believes our girls will be back again â&#x20AC;&#x201D; to pimp the wedding plans of nervous brides, sashay away, and do it again in yet another town.

â&#x17E;¤ DRAG MARCH, continued on p.33 March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

â&#x17E;¤ DRAG MARCH, from p.32

of them) are at their insightful best during such moments. Tellingly, in the rare times Walken put her firm fingerprints on the Winehouse persona, things really soared. Still, with a dress change for the finale and a searing, clap-along take on â&#x20AC;&#x153;Valerie,â&#x20AC;? Walken saved the best for last and, as such, left us wanting more. See what else she has to offer, on Facebook (misscissywalken).

â&#x20AC;&#x153;If you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t dance, you can always add gymnastics to wow the crowd,â&#x20AC;? Thorgy wisely counsels. She starts strong, then spirals downward fast â&#x20AC;&#x201D; the titular, troubled star, that is, in drag artist and jazz vocalist Cissy Walkenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s flawed but fascinating â&#x20AC;&#x153;Amy Winehouse: Back to Life,â&#x20AC;? a 2019 MAC Award-nominated nod to late chanteuse, revived March 8, at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. High heels planted on this mortal plane via a conditional visa stamped by Satan himself, Winehouse tells her story in songs, archival video clips, anecdotes, and bittersweet observations. (â&#x20AC;&#x153;In life, thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s some battles you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t win. But in death, I think, I was victorious.â&#x20AC;?) Eerily attuned to Winehouseâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s body language and piercing stare, rail-thin, tattooed Walken is a dead ringer for her muse, although she seemed rattled at the modest turnout, and two early comments to that effect worked against her. At the end of the night, she confessed to waking up that morning


Scarlet Envy, currently on Season 11 of â&#x20AC;&#x153;RuPaulâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Drag Race,â&#x20AC;? is at the Laurie Beechman Theatre May 2-5.

with vocal distress. Those factors accounted for the feeling that, despite ample high notes both literal and artistic, the perfectly enjoyable show never shot into the stratosphere. Billed as a tribute concert, its womb-to-tomb narrative is effective â&#x20AC;&#x201D; but stubbornly determined that things never veer too far into camp, commentary, or parody territory â&#x20AC;&#x201D; a shame, since queens with sharp comedic chops (and Walkenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s one

A few episodes into Season 11 of â&#x20AC;&#x153;RuPaulâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Drag Race,â&#x20AC;? and the masses know whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s common knowledge in New York: Our own Scarlet Envy has charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent to burn. Scarlet wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t risk riling Mama Ru, of course, so we came up short on our spoiler request â&#x20AC;&#x201D; but her journey on and after â&#x20AC;&#x153;Drag Raceâ&#x20AC;? will surely loom large, at her May run at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s actually a reincarnation of a show I did last year at [East Village venue] Pangea,â&#x20AC;? Scarlet explained, pegging it as â&#x20AC;&#x153;a reflection of lessons learned after midnight, in terms of

being a working queen, trying to make it in the big city.â&#x20AC;? A preview of music from her five-track EP (in collaboration with James Wilson), scheduled to drop early this summer, is also guaranteed. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I would love to emphasize that the show is all-ages, which is really exciting,â&#x20AC;? she said, for younger â&#x20AC;&#x153;fans who canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t make it into the bars. So as long as they have an appetite for dinner,â&#x20AC;? she noted of the venue, at which this reporter rarely fails to order the fried calamari, â&#x20AC;&#x153;itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all-ages.â&#x20AC;? West Coast fans not able to see Scarlet in Gotham, take heed: Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll be at RuPaulâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s DragCon LA, May 24-26, to participate in â&#x20AC;&#x153;Cupid, You Stupid!: Dating Diaries,â&#x20AC;? in which Scarlet swaps tales of first dates, texting, and nudes, with fellow panelists Becca Kufrin and Mayhem Miller. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Reflections: A Night with Scarlet Envyâ&#x20AC;? plays May 2-5 at 7 p.m. at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 West 42nd Street. For tickets ($24 general admission, $40 for VIP seating and meet-and-greet), visit spincyclenyc.com or call 212352-3101.

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Intensely Earnest, Frustrating, and Faulted Festivals fête, community y critics crittics scorn s trans girl’s story BY GARY M. KRAMER he Belgian drama “Girl,” directed by out gay Flemish filmmaker Lukas Dhont, is a character study depicting the true story of Lara (Victor Polster), a 15-yearold born biologically as a boy who wants to be a ballerina. The film won the International Federation of Film Critics Prize and, at the Cannes Film Festival, the Camera d’Or for best first film, the Queer Palm, and a Best Actor prize for Polster. The film was Belgium’s submission for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Film category (it failed to be shortlisted) and was nominated for a Golden Globe in that category. Despite these accolades, “Girl” has become the subject of intense criticism from the trans community. The casting of cisgender male Polster has been part of the debate, as has a “metaphorical” act of self-harm at a crucial dramatic moment toward the film’s end. In interviews, Dhont defended the casting of Polster, explaining that he looked at cisgender teen girls and boys as well as trans performers, choosing Polster because he was a ballet dancer who could act. Nora Monsecour, the real-life inspiration for the film, approved of Lara’s portrayal, calling it “accurate” in news articles. So, the question is raised: with the praise from the film festival circuit and the backlash from the trans community, is “Girl” worth seeing? The film is a sensitive story, but it is told in a heavy-handed style. Lara’s struggle with her body is the focus of the film, and there are dozens of scenes of her examining her body, damaging her body, and wishing her body were different. An early scene features Lara’s father, Mathias (Arieh Worthalter), walking in on Lara piercing her ear — a symbolic act of change. Lara meets with a director of a ballet academy, who admires her confidence but worries about the strength of her bones given the puberty inhibitors




Victor Polster in the tile role in Lukas Dhont’s “Girl.”

she is taking. Lara also meets with her doctors about transitioning and she says is counting down the days of her treatment and looks forward to having breasts. These scenes, in essence, provide status updates on Lara’s body. We also see her, however, damaging her body — from taping her genitals, to injuring her feet dancing, to wanting to double her hormones to speed her transition. “Girl” presents Lara’s mindset as fragile, as well. She claims she doesn’t “feel female,” but her father explains, genuinely, that when he looks at her he sees a woman. Lara smiles when her younger brother’s teacher acknowledges her as his sister, demonstrating her satisfaction at being able to “pass” as female. But there are also episodes that call attention to Lara being transgender, such as a teacher in a classroom asking the female students for a show of hands to determine if there are any objections to Lara changing in the girls’ locker room. Dhont seems to be so careful, so deliberate in setting up these scenes that each one feels like a big clunky signifier for the drama to come. An obvious example has a ballet instructor telling Lara, who is struggling with pliés, “Some things can’t be changed; you can’t lop bits of your feet off.” There are

also scenes of a teenage girl berating Lara in the locker room for not showering and asking if she should be seen as a boy or a girl. She insists that Lara show her penis, given that she has seen all of them naked. Such a scene of humiliation, while perhaps realistic, seems forced or perhaps obligatory. Lara also has setbacks with both her ballet and her transitioning as her body shows signs of damage from her dancing and her taping. She becomes too weak to perform or to have the surgery she plans on until enough healing takes place. “Girl” uses these episodes to depict Lara’s difficulties, but she is, the film suggests, her own worst enemy, especially when she engages in dangerous behavior. In her impatience to complete her transition — which is an understandable emotion — Lara makes bad decisions. These moments point up what is most frustrating about the film. Yes, Lara is a teenager experiencing all the stresses of puberty, on top of both a rigorous dance education and her transitioning, but her self-willed behavior in the face of the tremendous support she receives makes her unlikeable. Dhont and Polster clearly aim to explore Lara’s internal and physical struggles, but viewers may just feel frustrated with her. Lara

becomes difficult to care about, which is what the film is asking viewers to do. The best thing about “Girl” is Lara’s father, Mathias, who could not be more supportive and understanding. He asks the right questions at the doctor’s office and tries to talk openly and honestly with Lara about her emotions and sexual desires. He champions her bravery, telling her that she is setting an example for others. And he sincerely worries about her physical and mental well-being, even calling her out on her bullshit when Lara lies about a stomach pain or says she’s “fine” when she clearly isn’t. “Girl” could have been interesting — though a very different film — had it told Lara’s story of transitioning from Mathias’ point of view. But because Dhont focuses on Lara, the film plays up the drama of her life — and not all of that works. Lara’s attraction to her neighbor, Lewis (Tijmen Govaerts), prompts her to contrive excuses to visit him. On one occasion, she kisses him, but keeps him from touching her breasts and genitals, instead giving him a blow job. Given Lara’s caginess with her father and her therapist about her sexual desires and inexperience, this scene suggests that Lara is interested in Lewis simply because he does not know about her transgender status. Disappointingly, though, this possibility is never fully explored. “Girl” also becomes problematic as the film climaxes in a scene designed to shock involving a moment of Lara’s self-harm that justly angered the trans community. Dhont aims to provide a compassionate portrait of Lara, and Polster gives a committed performance in the title role. Unfortunately, despite its noble intentions, “Girl” disappoints because of the gap between what it tries to do right and what it actually delivers. GIRL | Directed by Lukas Dhont | In French and Flemish with English subtitles | Premieres Mar. 15 on Netflix March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc


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Murders She Wrote Nicolas Maury stars in thriller ller set in ‘70s 7 Paris gay porn industry BY GARY M. KRAMER ut gay actor Nicolas Maury steals his every scene in director Yann Gonzalez’s audacious thriller, “Knife+Heart,” set in the gay adult film industry in Paris, 1979. When several actors who work for porn producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) are murdered — by a masked killer wielding a dildo that turns into a knife, no less! — she is questioned by the police. Oddly, Anne is inspired to turn these scenes from her life into “art.” She casts an actor and director in her crew, Archie (Maury), as her screen alter ego in a porno called “Homocidal” that recreates her police interrogation scenes as erotic comedy. “Knife+Heart” gets serious — and stranger — as Anne tries to solve the crime. Maury’s loyal right-hand man



Nicolas Maury in Yann Gonzalez’s “Knife+Heart.”

supports Anne as she grapples with the death of cast members and her breakup with girlfriend Loïs (Kate

Moran), the adult film studio’s editor. His scenes add comic relief to this naughty thriller.

In a recent interview via WhatsApp, Maury explained that making the film — and the erotic filmwithin-a-film — was fun for him. “I was like a puppet,” he said. “Sometimes when I act, I consider myself like a Barbie, and it’s interesting — like in Fassbinder’s films — because I love to be a little doll in the hands of the director.” “Knife+Heart” is Maury’s second feature with Gonzalez after playing a transvestite in “You and the Night.” (He also appeared in Gonzalez’s 2017 short “Islands.”) Maury appreciates the director’s fertile vision and his films’ setting in worlds that are dreamlike and poetic. “Yann shot ‘Knife+Heart’ on film, in 35mm, which is uncommon,” Maury said. “Yann and I believe in the power of film. You film the aura

➤ KNIFE+HEART, continued on p.37

Art Made from Gangsters Jia Zhangke’s latest film is strong without breaking new ground BY STEVE ERICKSON hinese director Jia Zhangke is now 48 and is in the unusual position of being the leading representative of Chinese cinema at North American and European festivals and arthouses while having found a comfortable place at home. I don’t think he wanted his image as a dissident in the eyes of Western cinephiles. His recent decisions, like starting a film festival that showcases independent cinema from around the world but vets all films through Chinese censors, show his increasing desire to work within the boundaries of mainstream acceptability. His latest film “Ash Is Purest White” is his biggest budget film so far. It consciously revisits Jia’s past work. The film’s heroine Qiao (played by his wife and favorite actress Zhao




Liao Fan in Jia Zhangke’s “Ash Is Purest White,” which opens Friday at the Quad and Lincoln Center.

Tao) is a composite of the heroines of “Unknown Pleasures” and “Still Life.” The first two thirds of this film

are set in Datong and Fengjie, the cities where those films took place. The scene where Qiao takes a boat

ride after getting out of prison is particularly reminiscent of the imagery in “Still Life.” However, that film had an exploratory quality — Jia used it to investigate high-definition video cinematography and wanted it distributed theatrically in that format when video projection was rare, rather than the norm. In “Ash Is Purest White,” the physical and social disruption caused by the flooding of the Three Gorges Dam is now part of the historical past. Repeating the structure from his last film, “Mountains May Depart,” Jia separates “Ash Is Purest White” into three acts separated by time. In the film’s first part, set in 2001, Qiao (Zhao Tao) lives with gangster Bin (Liao Fan) in an almost all-male environment. Éric Gautier’s cinematography lights up the film with neon street scenes. Bin takes pride

➤ GANGSTER ART, continued on p.37 March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

➤ KNIFE+HEART, from p.36 and soul of things. Maybe Yann films the soul of porn, or the dick, or the sex. He’s like a shaman.” But Maury also gets the opportunity to be creative. He improvises an amusing bit in the film where Archie tells a group of porn actors to undress. When one actor throws his underwear at him, Archie sniffs it, generating a laugh. “That was my idea,” Maury admitted. “It’s risky, but it had to be to be funny.” Likewise, when Archie plays with the film’s cum or masturbation scenes, it is ridiculous, even absurd, but that’s what makes “Knife+Heart” edgy and funny. The actor explained that he approached playing Archie with his body. “I had a trainer, because I would have some sex scenes and some nude scenes, so I wanted to be in good shape,” he said. Speaking of sex, Maury addressed the huge question of why we like to watch pornography. “We’re in this era where it’s easy to watch porn, but this film

➤ GANGSTER ART, from p.36 in living in the “jianghu” (underworld) — a concept which is central to this film — but in practice that means spending his time getting drunk with his buddies and doing petty favors for businessmen and other gangs. Qiao finally takes action at the 42-minute mark, pulling out a gun and shooting it when he gets attacked. This leads to a fiveyear jail sentence for possession of an illegal gun, while he gets out after one. When she leaves prison in 2006, she tries to start life over and tracks him down, but he’s moved on and she’s forced to turn to crime herself. “Ash Is Purest White” is a melodrama, but one whose emotions build up cumulatively. For its first two thirds, the characters seem like stock figures: the long-suffering woman who sacrifices herself on behalf of a man, the gangster who eventually turns straight. Its ironies and reversals seem too easy. If they have much force, it’s due to the way Zhao’s performance reconciles stoic calm and anxiety. Bin starts out in love with his own bravado, GayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019

is about the preciousness of images and the rarity of the image and unconscious images,” he said. “For me, voyeurism is about fetishism. It’s very important for me to sample it — like a wine taster — it’s about exigence.” To get into the character of a porn actor-director in 1979 France, Maury bleached his hair blonde, grew a porn ‘stache, and wore vintage clothes, such as a pair of revealing hot pants. “All the looks they wanted me to wear were real clothes from the era,” he said. “What was difficult was the green trench coat, which Vanessa [Paradis] and I had to share. We both perspired, so it was really wet. I felt bad for her. We used vodka to mask the [smell of] perspiration.” As for working with Paradis and playing her on-screen alter ego, Maury gushed, “It was overwhelming for me, since I have been a huge fan of hers since I was seven. She really inspired me. It was intense between us on the set.” He described Archie’s relationship to Anne bluntly. “I’m her pet,” he said. “I loved

winding up humbled and having to rely on Zhao when he once took her for granted. This may sound pat on paper, but it plays out with an unexpected complexity that both the script and Liao bring to his character. At the end of the film, one notices that its time frame exactly matches that of the 21st century. The political becomes personal here. “Ash Is Purest White” also surveys the recent past through a constant change of video formats and references to other films, beyond Jia’s. The theme song to John Woo’s “The Killer” is played several times. (As different as his films are from Woo’s, Jia loves them and has referred to them before.) Gautier’s cinematography sometimes looks like Christopher Doyle’s work in early Wong Kar-wai films. However, the kind of gang life often romanticized in pre-handover Hong Kong cinema is a thing of the past here. Qiao firing a gun may save Bin from having his head bashed in against his own car, but it destroys her freedom and changes

playing that because it’s important to show that in the job and in friendship.” But he also noted, that while he may play “someone’s dog” in this film or in his current Netflix series, “Call My Agent,” where he plays Hervé, a dedicated assistant to a French film agent, he is not like these characters in real life. Maury, who talks in a soft, gentle voice, often plays effeminate gay men but he does so with confidence, not shame, thereby shattering the stereotypical “sissy.” Oozing charm, he asserted, “It’s my elegance.” Maury had more to say about being a gay man who frequently plays gay roles. “It’s being more deeply myself,” he explained. “Sexuality and gender for an artist is not that important; we are monsters. I want to define myself with texts, authors, projects, and the style of the film I choose. Okay, I’m gay. Maybe it’s obvious for certain people, but I played a part of a young father last November and it was another side of myself. It’s a sweet battle. I’m not in war, I’m not a soldier, but gentle. I think maybe my part can move

the mentality sometimes. I get a lot of messages from young gay guys about Hervé, and that moves me very much.” After all the talk of sex and sexuality, there is one point left to discuss. Given that “Knife+Heart” is a thriller, Maury spoke about what scares him. He said, “Homophobic people, the stupidity of people, the lack of desire of people, the lack of curiosity in humanity, and people who lie,” he said. And then, after a dramatic pause, Maury added, “And mass murders too.” KNIFE+HEART | Directed by Yann Gonzalez | Altered Innocence | In French, with English subtitles | Opens Mar. 15 | Roxie Cinema at the Roxy Hotel, 2 Sixth Ave. at Walker St.; roxycinematribeca.com | Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn, 445 Albee Square West; drafthouse.com/theater/downtownbrooklyn Director Yann Gonzalez will appear for post-screening Q&As on Mar. 15 at the Roxy and Mar. 16 at the Alamo.

BRONX LGBT CAREER FAIR The Office of the Bronx Borough President, the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, the Third Avenue BID, Destination Tomorrow, The LGBT Center and the NYS Department of Labor invite you to join them for a Bronx LGBT Career Fair.

Friday, March 15, 2019 10 AM - 1 PM Hostos Community College 450 Grand Concourse in the Gymnasium Meet employers who are hiring and taking resumes.

Three panel discussions, one per hour How to structure your resume

How to set up a LinkedIn profile

How to go about looking for work – where and how to find jobs

“How to set up your resume” will also take place on Friday, March 8 to help you prepare for the career fair. Email lgbtbronx@bronxbp.nyc.gov for more info.

Register to attend at:

bronxlgbtcareerfair2019.splashthat.com Questions? Email: lgbtbronx@bronxbp.nyc.gov

➤ GANGSTER ART, continued on p.43



Country Matters Miniatures from William Christie; “Falstaff” at the Met tion. The two basses were contrasted — Cyril Costanzo as two High Priests had a rougher, grainier sound while François Lis made an appropriately elegant basse-chantante Jupiter in the second piece. Christie’s band also had a few rough edges with some piercing woodwinds and twangy gut strings — again it worked in this context. The modest approach emphasized the charm inherent in these Rameau miniatures, elements of which were later recycled by the composer into his grand operas.

BY ELI JACOBSON n early March, Les Arts Florissants and William Christie celebrated their 40th anniversary with a return to BAM with “Rameau, maître à danser.” This program consisted of two one-act opera-ballets by JeanPhilippe Rameau: “Daphnis et Églé” (1753) and “La Naissance d’Osiris” (1754). The two works alternate ariettes and a few duets with brief dance interludes and a final chorus. The fusion of dance and song with spectacle was an integral part of French opera deriving from its roots in the court ballets and masques of Louis XIV, continuing through the next century with grand operas from Meyerbeer to Verdi. These two short one-acts were performed as court entertainments at the palace of Fontainebleau — “La Naissance d’Osiris” is an allegorical celebration of the birth of the Duc de Berry, the future tragic Louis XVI. Rather than perform the works in courtly splendor with brocaded peasant costumes, stage director (and erstwhile LAF lead soprano) Sophie Daneman staged these small-scale works as rustic entertainments being performed at a country fair by a band of local amateurs. Christie and his orchestra were placed upstage behind the action while the performers improvised sets (just a few drapes on two poles) and simple costumes (by Alain Blanchot) from repurposed items during the interludes. The choreography by Françoise Denieau, restaged by her assistant Gilles Poirier, is mostly folk dancing of the period, with a few 18th century court ballet flourishes supplied by one or two trained soloists. Daneman found connecting themes between the two opera-ballets: courtship and marriage followed by childbirth. In the pastoral “Daphnis et Églé,” the titular Greek shepherd and shepherdess wish to consecrate their friendship at the Temple of Friendship but the god Cupid informs the couple that they are more than friends! They end up married at the Temple of Love. After the intermission, the soprano who performed Églé returns as an expectant mother in “La Naissance d’Osiris” and gives birth offstage while the peasants celebrate. Daneman provided a clear and unpretentious setting for these two works that put their delicate charms front and center — though they really belong in a more intimate setting than the BAM Opera House. The dancing and the singing had some rough edges here and there, which worked in the context of a rustic fairground entertainment. Élodie Fonnard’s beauty and fresh clear tone made for an enchanting Églé. Her Daphnis,




Reinoud Van Mechlen and Élodie Fonnard in Les Art Florissants’ production of “Daphnis et Églé.”


Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Ambrogio Maestri in the Met production of “Falstaff.”

tenor Reinoud Van Mechelen, had more musicianship and style than vocal ease — he would have benefited from the stylistically appropriate use of mixed head voice. Magali Léger, an experienced Rameau and baroque specialist, produced a dull edgy light soprano as Cupid and Pamilie that belied her established reputa-

The only stop after marriage and childbirth is infidelity, dysfunction, and dissipation (death is the common end to all journeys but we are dealing with comic opera here). Verdi’s “Falstaff” explored these themes in a sparkling Metropolitan Opera revival of Robert Carsen’s 2013 production (seen on March 5) that resets the action in the staid 1950s England of Queen Elizabeth II instead of Shakespeare’s Elizabeth I. Returning as the title rogue was the reigning Falstaff of our time, Ambrogio Maestri, leading a cast of newcomers to their roles. Maestri ‘s Falstaff is a Goliath in vocal and physical size who towered over his colleagues with an overwhelming personality. But he also commands surprising deftness and grace with which he delivered the sly wit of Boïto’s text and Carsen’s intricate physical comedy. Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s Mistress Quickly was not quite the vocal force of nature that Stephanie Blythe was but out of all the cast she managed to steal a few moments of the spotlight from Maestri. Her creamy contralto is a mellow, luscious instrument that makes comic points without pushing vulgar chest tones. The Canadian contralto gave herself over to the fun and games of tormenting Falstaff with an infectious smile and uninhibited physical comedy. Ailyn Pérez (Alice Ford) radiated a gentle sparkle, and mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano (Meg Page) a ripe, fruity fullness. Both were also full of mischief and fun. Golda Schultz and Francesco Demuro as lovebirds Nannetta and Fenton sounded pleasant but low key in the first two acts. In Act III, their nocturnal romances with lovely floated phrases elicited ethereal singing from both. As Ford, Juan Jesús Rodríguez boasted an impressive but rather serious presence and voice — he needed to have a bit more fun up there. British maestro Richard Farnes conducted a fleet, nimble reading of Verdi’s intricate score that kept the music as light and bubbly as revival director Gina Lipinski’s deft recreation of Carsen’s staging. March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

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Trouper With a Great Voice at 54 Below March 24, Rebecca Luker highlights Gershwin BY DAVID NOH n a recent Thursday morning, hours before any actual show was staged, the John Lee Beatty-decorated walls of Feinstein’s/ 54 Below rang with joyous sounds, both mellow and ultra-funky, with peeks at the upcoming cabaret lineup at Manhattan’s “living room.” Femmes formidables Joanna Gleason, Rebecca Luker, Betsy Wolfe, and Nicole Vanessa Ortiz each sang a number from their act, and, afterwards, lucky me was able to sit down and chat with one of my all-time favorites. The ever brightly shining Rebecca Luker will always be Broadway royalty to me, especially married as she is to Danny Burstein, as if Maria von Trapp (which she’s done) somehow got spliced with Tevye (which he’s done), after their escapes from the Old World that is. Luker’s evening of Gershwin songs on March 24 sounds like one real class act, and she talked about her musical heritage. “I’ve always been sort of a highbrow musical gal, but I also grew up doing folk, rock, and pop, and have even crossed over into a more classical area,” she said. “I’ve been sort of all over the place but this music is the quintessential me, in a way, ballads by Gershwin and Kern.” Luker sang a throbbingly elegant rendition of that immortal torch song “The Man I Love,” which the Gershwins wrote in 1924, but mystifyingly kept being dropped from Broadway show after Broadway show. Her 54 gig, “Got Rhythm,” is being presented by Deborah Grace Winer, who also does the popular Lyrics & Lyricist series at the 92nd Street Y. I commented on the added beauty and richness of Luker’s voice at this stage in her life, and Winer agreed. “Apart from the fact that she’s one of my absolute dearest friends in the world, I don’t think there’s a voice in a generation since Barbara Cook that’s like Rebecca’s,” Winer said. “You are right, because, as she’s gone on, it has even more of a




Rebecca Luker appears at Feinstein’s/ 54 Below in two shows on March 24.

patina and luminosity. And there’s the pure joy with which she sings, like it’s in her heart and she is sending it directly. Barbara Cook was the last person who had that luminosity.” In the 1990s, Luker was Broadway’s undisputed go-to ingenue, taking on, in succession, a series of classic roles in big shows: “Show Boat,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Music Man.” “She monopolized those roles because she was that good!,” Winer observed, but to me it also seems like at that time there wasn’t the wide assortment of dazzling triple threat ladies we have today who could step into those roles at a moment’s notice — like Kelli O’Hara, Sutton Foster, Laura Benanti, Laura Osnes, Jessie Mueller, and Stephanie Block. “I had a good run,” Luker said, “but I’m not dead yet! Those were really fun wonderful years, but there were a number of greats who were my contemporaries then, too: Marin Mazzie, God rest her soul, Judy Kuhn, but I do see what you mean. There does seem to be a wonderful plethora of leading ladies now. The one thing I really

don’t do is a high belt — never really figured out how to do that. Now, Betsy Wolfe, who just sang for us, has that wonderful high soprano and a belt.” Luker has made a lovely transition from lead actor to character part player in “Mary Poppins” and the recent “Fun Home,” when she took over for Kuhn. “One of my favorite theater experiences ever,” Luker said of the latter role. “And that’s saying a lot! It was so different for me, a contemporary role, and I loved the story and the music. It was wonderful to be in a contemporary setting. But you’re right, David. It was such a sad show, but what a great exit I had: I’m leaving the room now, leaving, after I sing a really kick-ass solo, and everybody’s like, ‘Awww!’ I was in it for two months and fell in love with the entire cast and crew.” Winer reminded Luker of another new show she recently did as part of the Barrow Group’s Inner Voices series, where three composers write one-man, one-act musicals, each about 40 minutes long.” “I did one called ‘Scaffolding,’ by Jeff Blumenkrantz, directed by Vicky Clark,” Luker explained. “It

was a wonderful experience, right up there with ‘Fun Home.’ A monologue about a troubled mother, who’s raising an autistic child and trying to get him into MIT, so it’s challenging. I’d never done a onewoman show before and it was really fun. I’m doing real character stuff now. I don’t know where I’ve been all these years that I didn’t do them! I got to do the fairy godmother in ‘Cinderella,’ replacing Vicky Clark — getting to play a crazy old lady in the woods was so much fun, I don’t know why I didn’t do more of it when I was younger. I tell kids today, ‘Do everything you can. Don’t let them pigeonhole you,’ although it’s hard not to get pigeonholed when you are a certain type.’ And David, I’m so glad you remember ‘Indian Blood,’ by Pete [A.R.] Gurney, really a wonderful world premiere to be a part of. Yes, I sang a tiny bit in it, too, a Cole Porter song. I miss Pete.” Three nights before I interviewed Luker, I had seen her husband Burstein as Alfred Doolittle in the Lincoln Center “My Fair Lady.” My orchestra ticket was a gift from a friend who, unfortunately, wasn’t aware that star Laura Benanti is always off Tuesday nights. Not a happy camper, I took my seat and the long first act went by in the undistinguished way I thought it would, while thinking to myself, “This show positively cries out for a real star as Eliza!” But in the “Get Me to the Church” number, Burstein came on, musical six guns blazing, and really shook things up with his brilliant verve and deep humanity, actually making this song, which I’ve always rather dreaded, a stunning, uproarious tour-de-force. His blast of charisma seemed to give everyone else in the cast a much-needed kick in the ass and from that point on, the show was an energized delight, with understudy Kerstin Anderson really coming into her own, displaying a lovely, noble profile, like a ship’s figurehead, during the show’s final, protracted arguments

➤ REBECCA LUKER, continued on p.43 March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

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March 14 - 27, 2019 | GayCityNews.nyc

➤ REBECCA LUKER, from p.40 between Eliza and Higgins (Clarke Thorell, brought up from his usual role as Zoltan Karpathy to fill in as the male lead). I told Luker that for what Burstein — who was also the best “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevye ever — did that night the show should have been retitled “My Fair Doolittle.” Glowing with a wifely pride, she agreed: “Somehow, he takes all these iconic roles that have been around for 50 years and he breathes new life into them. I somehow always strive to be the actor he is, the hardest working person in the world next to Deb Winer! “I’m so his wife, but I also so admire him. We’ve been married almost 22 years, and I have two stepsons, almost 23 and 26, from his first marriage. We met doing a show at the Old Globe in San Diego, ‘Time and Time Again,’ written by Jack Viertel with Skip Kennon music, a beautiful show that was supposed to come to Broadway. We were just friends for a year and a half before we started dating. It was a nice way to start and we have worked together a lot, done TV but not concerts, really. He is not a concert singer like me and doesn’t like to do that. I’d love to do another play — or musical! — with

➤ GANGSTER ART, from p.37 the course of the rest of both their lives. For all its genre references, “Ash Is Purest White” never lets one forget that it’s an art film. That’s both a help and a hindrance. It hints at catharsis through music or even UFO sightings, only to deny them. The pleasures of dancing to the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” turn to foreshadowing of the violence to come. A solid film that burns slowly but evenly, “Ash Is Purest White” doesn’t break any new ground. It’s very self-aware that it’s the latest chapter in a book that’s GayCityNews.nyc | March 14 - 27, 2019

Danny. He’s such a good actor, he makes me better.” Of Luker’s Feinstein’s/ 54 Below show, Winer explained, “This all-Gershwin show I am presenting with Rebecca on March 24 is part of my new classic American Songbook series which I do at 54 Below. I created it a year ago and this is kicking off our second season. The idea is to bring little jewel box revues and shows to this club setting the way it used to be. A lot of us in the business wish we’d been born 50 years earlier so we could have gone to those cool Manhattan places. “When you create something like this, it’s like what the Gershwins used to do, create shows with their friends like Astaire and Merman, and everybody who was working at the time. I grew up in New York with George and Ira Gershwin’s sister, Frankie, who died in her 90s and did a lot of concerts and talked about what life was like with them. So the idea is to have the greatest singers doing these songs and talk about their backstories and how they speak to us today.” REBECCA LUKER | “Got Rhythm” | Feinstein’s/ 54 Below, 254 W. 54th St. | Mar. 24, 7 & 9:30 p.m. | $35-$95 at 54below.com; add $6 for purchase at the door; food & drink minimum is $25

still being written. For better; a mature assessment of youthful emotions and experiences — and worse; a retreading of familiar themes, structures, and images rather than a desire to innovate the way Jia’s early films did. This latest feels like the work of a middle-aged artist. ASH IS PUREST WHITE | Directed by Jia Zhangke | Cohen Media Group | In Mandarin with English subtitles | Opens Mar. 15 | Quad Cinema, 34 W. 13th St.; quadcinema.com | Film Society of Lincoln Center, 144--165 W. 65th St.; filmlinc. org



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