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Joey Amato, Rev. Wes Isley, Kendra R. Johnson, L’Monique King, David Aaron Moore, Samy Nemir, Chris Rudisill, Gregg Shapiro, qnotes Staff, Trinity

front page

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Material in qnotes is copyrighted by Pride Publishing & Typesetting © 2021 and may not be reproduced in any manner without written consent of the editor or publisher. Advertisers assume full responsibility — and therefore, all liability — for securing reprint permission for copyrighted text, photographs and illustrations or trademarks published in their ads. The sexual orientation of advertisers, photographers, writers, cartoonists we publish is neither inferred nor implied. The appearance of names or photographs does not indicate the subject’s sexual orientation. qnotes nor its publisher assumes liability for typographical error or omission, beyond offering to run a correction. Official editorial positions are expressed in staff editorials and editorial notations and are determined by editorial staff. The opinions of contributing writers and guest columnists do not necessarily represent the opinions of qnotes or its staff. qnotes accepts unsolicited editorial, but cannot take responsibility for its return. Editor reserves the right to accept and reject material as well as edit for clarity, brevity.

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inside this issue

feature

N.C. Native Joni Madison Chosen as Interim HRC Director

 8 Lil Nas X Honored by Trevor Project

news

 5 N.C. Native Joni Madison Chosen as Interim HRC Director  6 Pandemic Cancels More Pride Events  6 Fourth Circuit Rules N.C. Can Be Sued for Violating ACA Over Anti-Trans State Employee Health Care Plan  6 Has the Alpha Omega Variant of COVID-19 Arrived?  7 Court Victory: Charlotte Catholic Violated Title VII Protection by Firing Gay Teacher  7 Charlotte Black Pride Announces Heart of the Community Award Honorees

a&e

Joni Madison is HRC’s current Chief Operating Officer and CHief of Staff, and will now be serving as interim president. She released a statement on her Facebook page stating her goals as she takes on this new title.

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Much More Than Johnny’s Girl

An interview with artist Josie Cotton, known for her ‘80s hits “Johnny Are You Queer?” and “He Could Be the One.”

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17 Tell Trinity 18 Much More Than Johnny’s Girl

life

 8 Lil Nas X Becomes First Black Gay Man to Win MTV’s Best Video VMA 10 An Interview With Elizabeth Palmisano 16 The Windy City 19 Our People: Eric Stith

views

 4 Effecting Change in the Community 12 Walking the Natural Path to Self Acceptance

events

For event listings, visit goqnotes.com/events-calendar.

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Sept. 17-30, 2021

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Effecting Change in the Community Political Voices

by Kendra R. Johnson, Equality NC Executive Director Contributing Writer

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s the summer is turning into fall, we’re holding our communities through difficult and challenging times. With the rapid spread of the Delta variant, threats to reproductive rights at the Supreme Court and climate change, this is a frightening time to be living. But we know that we have to channel this fear into action, standing up for our beliefs. And one of the most powerful ways to effect change is in our local communities, through municipal elections. Although municipal elections were postponed in several cities due to pandemic-related delays to census data, elections are still happening — and that means a lot. The cities of Durham, Winston-Salem and Wilmington are all having elections this fall, among many others. These elections offer an opportunity for members of the public to speak out for what they believe in and vote accordingly. Municipal elections are frequently the elections with the most powerful direct impact on voters’ lives. Cities determine funding allocations for important issues like police funding, money for infrastructure projects or zoning. And these relatively small issues can have a big impact when it comes to issues of social justice, with the potential to radically change the course of the state and country. For example, in the past year, 12 municipalities have passed nondiscrimination ordinances, filling in gaps in federal and state protections and bringing the amount North Carolinians protected from discrimination to over 20 percent. This is amazing progress — ­ but we know that we can do better — and bring comprehensive NDOs to the whole state. A strong majority of North Carolinians support

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LGBTQ nondiscrimination, which means that many cities have a more supportive public than their city council counterparts. This means that voters who prioritize LGBTQ equality will matter a lot — we need you to hold your elected officials accountable. Moreover, because local elections often have low turnout, a person’s individual vote will often matter more — so your voice will be especially strong. We need all hands on deck to stand up for racial and social justice on the local level. Here are some important tips to keep in mind for the upcoming election: • Figure out when your city’s elections will happen. A few North Carolina cities have elections in October, not November, and some have been postponed. You can look this up at bit.ly/3lfkIf6. • If you need to register to vote or update your voter registration information, you need to register 25 days

before the election, which is September 10th for October elections and October 8th for November elections. You can register at bit.ly/3A8RLYa. • If you miss that deadline, don’t fear! You can also register in person at an early voting site after the deadline — just make sure you vote early. • If you’re planning on voting absentee, absentee ballots will be sent out starting on October 3rd (September 5th for October elections). You can request an absentee ballot at bit.ly/391hZ35. • Early voting is from October 14th to October 30th for November elections and from September 16th to October 2nd for October elections. • For October elections, Election Day is Tuesday, October 5th. For November, it’s Tuesday, November 2nd. • We encourage folks to vote early or absentee, since it’s more convenient and avoids last minute problems stopping you from voting, like a schedule change, a flat tire or a medical emergency. So this year, commit to educating yourself about the candidates in your community: who they are, what they believe and what their record is in standing up for racial justice and the LGBTQ community. And if you need any help in doing so, Equality NC will be here. We’re endorsing candidates in municipal elections for this year, and we’ll be certain to put out our list of endorsed candidates on social media and in our communications. We’re always deeply careful and considerate in our endorsements, carefully evaluating all of the candidates who apply and analyzing their record. You can count on our endorsements as a helpful aid to evaluate the candidates running in your community. Let’s all work together for a better future. : :


news

N.C. Native Joni Madison Chosen as Interim HRC Director

Message From Former Durham Resident Confirms Fight for LGBTQ Equality Will Continue By qnotes Staff

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he Human Rights Campaign (HRC) fired their now-former president, Alphonso David, on September 7, after reportedly uncovering evidence he helped former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo against allegations of sexual misconduct. David has stated in a Twitter post he plans to duke it out in court with HRC, but the organization is moving forward with the search for a new president. Meanwhile, former Durham, N.C. resident Joni Madison, HRC’s current Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff will serve as interim president, effective immediately. Madison was included in an article examining prominent North Carolina natives involved in the fight for LGBTQ equality published in qnotes earlier this year, penned by contributor and QnotesCarolinas Project Manager Chris Rudisill. It can be read at bit.ly/2XaUFNA. In a message dated September 9, Madison posted the following statement to her Facebook page: “… this past month — following Alphonso David’s inclusion in the New York State Attorney General’s report on the investigation of Governor Andrew Cuomo for sexual harassment — has been so difficult. What makes this even more painful is that so many members of the LGBTQ+ community are survivors of assault and harassment themselves. And I know this has been a particularly hard time for our HRC staff.” The Boards of Directors have completed a board-led investigation, which ultimately concluded that Alphonso acted counter to HRC’s values, mission and policies. As a result, the HRC and HRC Foundation Boards of Directors have terminated Alphonso for violations of his employment contract. While the Boards engage in a search for HRC’s next President, I was asked by the Board to take on the role of Interim President. Many of you may know me from my role as Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff at HRC. I have been in this role since 2016 when I left the private sector to help lead the team at HRC. Many of you may also know me from my previous life as a long-

North Carolina native Joni Madison will serve as interim director at HRC. (Photo Credit:Facebook) time HRC volunteer, where I was particularly focused on developing women’s leadership. Here are some things you may not know: I was born and raised in North Carolina. I am a minister’s daughter. I knew I was gay at 16. I came out to my family and employer in my early 30s. I married the love of my life, Gina, in our backyard on our 20th anniversary, and in October, we will celebrate 27 years together. I believe in service, and in being called to serve. I know what it takes to roll up your sleeves and embrace leadership when people are hurting. And of all the hats I have worn at HRC, Interim President is the one I never expected to be wearing. But the work is too important for me not to wear it. The need for HRC never stops and never slows down. Right now, in Texas, the same extremist lawmakers who are attacking Black and

Brown Texans’ right to vote and are attempting to strip Texans of their reproductive rights are seeking to re-introduce legislation targeting trans kids. Right now, we need the White House to take steps to ease the refugee and asylum process for LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees, who are extraordinarily vulnerable and at-risk under the new Taliban regime. Right now, we are closer than ever before to making the Equality Act the law of the land, but we know we have an uphill battle to get this legislation through the Senate and onto President Biden’s desk. Right now, LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. and around the world need us to stay in the fight. As I look to what comes next, I know the work can and will get done because of our brilliant staff. These are dedicated, dynamic

and passionate people who have been showing up each day and doing the work. You will be hearing more from them in the coming weeks because these are the folks who are the real drivers of change. And as I look to the challenges ahead, I am beyond grateful to be fighting alongside each and every one of you. You all are not just our grassroots force for good — you are our visionaries, our steady hands and our inspiration. We have gone through so much together, and you keep showing up — because you believe, like I do, in our mission of achieving full equality and liberation for LBGTQ+ people … As we move forward, I hope you will extend your support and positive energy to our staff and volunteers, especially our volunteer leaders, who are going through so much at this time, but who have not wavered in their commitment to our mission. We have to keep fighting to advance transgender justice and end the epidemic of violence, especially targeting Black and Brown transgender women; we have to keep fighting to elect leaders who believe in equality and to defeat lawmakers who are legislating hate; we have to keep fighting to dismantle white supremacy and patriarchal systems of power, and; we have to show every LGBTQ+ kid out there they have a future in a country and a world that can love them just as they are. I am here to dig in, use some elbow grease and help us get to that future. I am here to help guide our organization through this next chapter. And I am also here to listen. Please do not hesitate to reach out with your thoughts, questions or your concerns. Thank you for being in this work with us. We need you, we appreciate you, and, with your help, we will continue to advance LGBTQ+ equality together.” While the HRC board engages in a search to fill the position, Chairs of the Boards and Executive Committees Jodie Patterson and Morgan Cox will work closely with Patterson to provide assistance and support, including engagement and assistance with volunteers, donors, supporters and other key stakeholders. : :

24 hour number for death calls: 704-563-7676

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news Pandemic Cancels More Pride Events

Upstate Pride SC has announced the cancellation of all remaining in-person events for 2021, based on recent data showing a spike in COVID-19 cases across the state, the highly transmissible nature of the Delta Variant and the low vaccination rates in South Carolina. The cancellation includes all Pride Week 2021, and Pride-sponsored events. “Safety is our highest priority,” says President Caroline Caldwell, “This decision is not made lightly. As it is now vital to once again limit social contact, we hope you understand the steps we are taking to keep our attendees and volunteers safe by preventing further spread of the virus in our community.” In Burlington, N.C., the Alamance Pride Board of Directors have cancelled the 2021 Alamance Pride festival, scheduled for October 2, also because of an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the region. In a press release, organizers offered the following statement: “We value the safety and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community, attendees, sponsors, vendors and the community at large. Many members of our community are immunecompromised or have children who are not yet eligible for vaccination. Alamance Pride draws a large number of attendees from outside of the county, [and] we believe it would

be irresponsible to create the potential for a super spreader event in light of the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant. “While the cancellation of the festival is disappointing, Alamance Pride plans to continue a presence at the Burlington Christmas Parade, the Downtown Burlington [and] St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.” Pride events still scheduled at press time for 2021 in North Carolina are: • OBX Pride (Outer Banks) — September 10-12 • Catawba Valley Pride (Hickory) — September 25 • Pride Durham — September 25 • Charlotte Pride — October 16 and October 24 In South Carolina: • Pride Myrtle Beach — October 2 • Famously Hot South Carolina Pride (Columbia) — October 22-23 • Charleston Black Pride — October 29-November 1 • Low Country Pride (Bluffton) — December 11-12 info: upstatepridesc.org — qnotes Staff

Fourth Circuit Rules N.C. Can Be Sued for Violating ACA Over Anti-Trans State Employee Health Care Plan

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a district court ruling September 1, determining that the North Carolina State Health Plan for Teachers and Employees, a state entity, could be sued under the nondiscrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act for denying comprehensive gender-affirming health care coverage. Lambda Legal and Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) filed the case, Kadel v. Folwell, in 2019 against North Carolina officials for discrimination in the state employee health care plan, which covers around 720,000 employees and retirees and has a categorical exclusion of treatment for gender dysphoria. “We are gratified that the Fourth Circuit has affirmed the ability of people to seek justice and assert their rights against discrimination in health care perpetuated by state entities receiving federal funding, in this case, the North Carolina State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees,” said Lambda Legal Senior Attorney and Health Care Strategist, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, “We sued the State Health Plan and North Carolina officials for their blatant discrimination against transgender state employees and their dependents who, like our plaintiffs, dedicate their time and talent to improve the wellbeing of the state and its residents, but are deprived of medically necessary and often life-saving health care services.” “No one should be denied access to lifesaving health care because they are transgender. We are very pleased that the Fourth Circuit affirmed that state governments are not entitled to discriminate. We are also grateful to the Court for reiterating the critical importance of ensuring transgender people are protected from discrimination in health care,” said David Brown, TLDEF’s Legal Director. Over a year ago, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled that the North Carolina State Health Plan, a state entity, could be sued under claims that its actions violated the nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act, finding that by accepting federal financial assistance the state entity had waived its sovereign immunity. Unsatisfied and determined to continue denying health care coverage for transgender state employees, the State Health Plan appealed to the Fourth Circuit, claiming they could not be sued because the state is protected by “sovereign immunity,” and arguing the text of Section 1557 of the ACA is not clear.

Has the Alpha Omega Variant of COVID-19 Arrived?

A relatively new COVID-19 variant called Mu that appears to be capable of evading current treatments has been detected in almost every state. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the new variant of COVID-19 seems to have the ability to evade immunity from vaccines and previous infections. For gay men who are HIV-positive, and especially gay men of color that are positive, a drug-resistant COVID-19 variant could be catastrophic for a compromised immune system. According to the Centers for Disease Control, gay men continue to be at highest risk overall for infection by the HIV Virus. Men of African American descent are at the highest risk level within the community, with one in two likely to be infected at some point in their lifetime. Men of Latin American descent are listed by the CDC as one in four, while European Americans are at one in six. From a report by WHO: “HIV appears to be a significant independent risk factor for [COVID-19] severe or critical illness … and in-hospital mortality.” In lay terms, the end result of COVID-19 infection is worse in people already infected with HIV. A global look at 168,000 individuals who have faced hospitalization as a result of critical COVID-19 infection confirms that severe disease and in-hospital death are much greater in people living with HIV. From a plague exhausted population both straight and queer the question arises: When does this all end? While things were starting to look better on the pandemic front in early summer, along came the Delta variant, which has infected countless unvaccinated and even some vac-

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Connor Thonen-Fleck, the transgender son of a North Carolina state employee and a plaintiff, speaks at a press conference at the Durham federal courthouse in 2019. (Photo Credit: Lambda Legal) Today, the Fourth Circuit affirmed what the lower court ruled: that state health care entities receiving federal funding do so on the condition that they can be sued if they discriminate on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age or disability. This groundbreaking decision marks the first time that a federal appellate court in the United States has ruled that claims of “sovereign immunity do not protect state entities from liability under the Affordable Care Act if they receive federal funding. “We are pleased with this decision and hope the North Carolina State Health Plan for Teachers and Employees will begin providing equal health care coverage to all its employees by discontinuing their unlawful discrimination against transgender people,” Gonzalez-Pagan added. info: nbcnews.to/3C0qLuA — Samy Nemir cinated individuals. Studies have shown so far it’s mostly the unvaccinated who end up in the hospital. For most individuals who are vaccinated and become infected with the Delta variant, symptoms are minor. Those with the Moderna vaccine tend to fare better, if they become infected at all. On average, the United States is reporting 155,395 new infections each day. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 650,000 deaths have occurred nationwide and current statistics estimate 3,000 people are continuing to die every day. The total number of infections and deaths in the United States eclipses every other country in the world. The death toll and proof that masks and vaccines stop the spread of the virus seems to mean little to anti-vaxxers, right-wing politicians and mask protestors. They continue to cry foul and politicize COVID-19, while patients are filling up hospitals into overflow tents. Some in the medical field have begun to speculate that COVID is with us to stay and will continue to mutate, eventually requiring annual vaccines that may or may not provide protection from all variants. As for the Mu variant, the ability to resist treatment has both physicians and the general population concerned it may be the dreaded Alpha Omega strain that researchers have theorized since it was discovered how rapidly the virus can mutate. While no mandates are currently in effect on a statewide level, Governor Roy Cooper continues to encourage all residents to get vaccinated and wear masks. On September 2, Cooper signed an Executive Order to make it easier for North Carolinians to access monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19, which can decrease the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death if taken early. In Mecklenburg County, Mayor Vi Lyles issued a mandate in July requiring all individuals to wear masks for any public indoor settings. info: bitly.is/3A6VxkS — David Aaron Moore


Court Victory: Charlotte Catholic Violated Title VII Protection by Firing Gay Teacher

In a victory for LGBTQ employee protections nationwide, a federal court in North Carolina ruled September 3, Charlotte Catholic High School violated Title VII when it fired former drama and English teacher, Lonnie Billard, for announcing his plans in a Facebook post in 2014 to marry his longtime same-sex partner, Richard Donham. qnotes reported on the incident, and the article can be viewed at bit.ly/2VC1jMw. At the time he was fired, Billard had retired, but was continuing to serve as a regular substitute teacher. According to a report in the Charlotte Observer, Billard began working for the school in 2001, had never attempted to hide his sexual orientation and was also chosen as teacher of the year in 2012. “After all this time, I have a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. I wish I could have remained teach all this time,” said Lonnie Billard, plaintiff in Billard v. Charlotte Catholic High School, “Today’s decision validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man.” In its decision in Billard v. Charlotte Catholic High School, the court pointed to the June 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay or transgender employees from discrimination; and held that the “ministerial exception” to Title VII protections set out in Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrisey-Berru did not apply to the secular role Billard played in teaching English and drama classes. “Today’s decision is one of the first applications of the Supreme Court’s ban on sex discrimination to employees of private religious schools,” said Irena Como, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, “The court sent a clear message that Charlotte Catholic violated Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination when it fired Mr. Billard for announcing his engagement to his same-sex partner. Religious schools have the right to decide who will perform religious functions or teach religious doctrine, but when they hire employees for secular jobs they must comply with Title VII and cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation.” The case will now proceed to trial to determine the appropriate relief for Billard, while Charlotte Catholic looks for potential ways to appeal. An interesting side note: In October, 2020, Pope Francis called for the recognition of Civil Unions. “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said, “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.” Additionally, according to a 2019 Pew Research Poll, 63 percent of American Catholics support marriage equality. info: bit.ly/3k12u1p — David Aaron Moore

Charlotte Black Pride Announces Heart of the Community Award Honorees

Charlotte Black Pride announced their 2020-21 Heart of the Community Award Winners on August 27. The list of honorees boasts three active and capable members of Charlotte’s LGBTQ Community. James Rice III, honored for Outstanding Achievement in Community Leadership, is the volunteer and special events coordinator at Time Out Youth (TOY). Rice began his relationship with TOY as a community intern who was passionate about LGBTQ youth homelessness. In his current role, he is the second openly gay, African-American male to hold a full-time position with the organization. He previously worked with the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce and Charlotte Black Gay Johnathan Wilson (left), James Rice (top right) Pride. Rice earned his B.A. in comand Dianna Ward are all recipients of the Heart of munication from Queens University. the Community Awards. (Photo Credit: Facebook) Jonathan Wilson, director of outreach at RAIN, is the recipient of the Outstanding Contributions by a Young Adult award. Wilson has been with RAIN since January 2018 and has devoted his life to changing the way people think about HIV. As a younger individual, he questioned the purpose of life and began to explore spoken word, dance and poetry as a form of advocacy. Wilson believes in working hard to make an impact on the lives of those around him and in his job at RAIN. He likes working with people and his work at RAIN, because it’s about long-term contact and “hands-on” relationship building.  Dianna Ward, recognized for Outstanding Achievements in Business, is a seasoned executive, well-known throughout Charlotte’s LGBTQ Community. Locally, she’s the owner of Charlotte NC Tours, and she owns and operates tour businesses in other cities, like Greenville Glides, Kansas City Segway Tours and Chattanooga Segway Tours. Following the announcement, an awards ceremony and reception was held September 2, at 7:00 p.m. at Real African Art, with a live performance by Charlottebased R&B artist Tara Anderson. info: facebook.com/CEGInWV — QNotes Staff

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Lil Nas X Honored by Trevor Project Grammy Award-Winning Artist Recognized as Suicide Prevention Advocate of the Year

by Chris Rudisill qnotes Contributor

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eptember is National Suicide Awareness Month, and the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people has honored Grammy award-winning artist Lil Nas X with its inaugural Suicide Prevention Advocate of the Year Award. A recent press statement from the organization highlighted Lil Nas X’s ongoing commitment to supporting their mission to end suicide among LGBTQ young people. Noting his openness about struggling with his sexuality and suicidal ideation, Lil Nas X has advocated for mental health awareness and has displayed an unapologetic celebration of his own queer identity. Also known as Montero Lamar Hill, Lil Nas quickly rose to fame with his 2019 “Old Town Road.” In the short time since his debut, he has been an outspoken and unapologetic member of the LGBTQ community, defying historic norms in the music industry. The Trevor Project released the following statement: “Lil Nas X quickly became a global LGBTQ icon recognized for his fearless effort in changing the status quo around what it means to be queer and Black in the mainstream music industry.” In February, Lil Nas shared a series of intimate TikTok videos documenting his life story, which included his battle with depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety during his rise to fame. The following month, he penned a heartfelt letter to his 14-year-old self about coming out publicly to mark the release of “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).” “I know we promised to die with the secret,” he wrote, “but this

Lil Nas X: ‘Our community deserves to feel supported and … free to be themselves.’ (Photo Courtesy of Sony Music) will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist.” In May, he released the music video for his single “SUN GOES DOWN,” which depicts Lil Nas uplifting a younger version of himself in high school, when he was contemplating suicide and struggling to come to terms with his sexual orientation. A 2021 national survey by the Trevor Project on LGBTQ youth mental health found that 42 percent have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Half of those were transgender and nonbinary youth.

“The past year has been incredibly difficult for so many,” says Amit Paley, The Trevor Project’s CEO & executive director, “But we also know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth have faced unique challenges,” The report also found disparities among Black youth. 21 percent of Black LGBTQ youth and 21 percent of multiracial youth have attempted suicide compared to 12 percent of their white counterparts. The survey captures the experiences of nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youth ages 13-24 across the United States.

These numbers are even more staggering this year due to the added pressures caused by the pandemic. 70 percent of LGBTQ youth stated their mental health was “poor” most of the time or always during COVID-19. “This data underscores many of the serious challenges experienced by LGBTQ youth over the last year and should serve as an urgent call to action,” says Paley. While the pandemic caused some youth to be cut off from school and other external support services, the Charlottebased Time Out Youth (TOY) saw an increase in young people accessing their online support programs like QChat. Earlier this year, Qnotes reported that Time Out Youth saw almost a 30 percent increase from the previous year in young people directly impacted through services, programs and direct outreach. The organization offers free mental health services to LGBTQ youth ages 1123. From a statement on TOY’s website: “We know that access to inclusive, relevant and affirming mental health services can directly reduce depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation among LGBTQ youth.” The Trevor Project continues to push for increased visibility and comprehensive policy solutions to improve the experiences of LGBTQ youth. “Discrimination around sexuality and gender identity is still very real, and our community deserves to feel supported and totally free to be themselves,” Lil Nas offered, while accepting this year’s award, “I get messages from fans telling me about their struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, and it made me realize that this was something bigger than myself. If using my voice and expressing myself in my music can help even one kid out there who feels alone, then it was all worth it.” : :

Lil Nas X Becomes First Black Gay Man to Win MTV’s Best Video VMA

Musical Presentation Featured Appearance by Southern AIDS Coalition Representative by David Aaron Moore qnotes Staff Writer

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his past Sunday, September 12, saw Lil Nas X become the first Black gay man to capture an MTV Video Music Award (VMA) for Video of the Year. But the awards from MTV didn’t stop coming that night. The video for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” also captured awards for Best Direction and Best Visual Effects. When he took to the stage to accept his awards, the clearly surprised Lil Nas announced to the audience: “Okay, first I want to say thank you to the gay agenda. Let’s go get agenda!” He continued, thinking everyone that had worked on the video with him and wrapped by saying, “I

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love you guys so much, I will not take this for granted.” This isn’t Lil Nas’ first winning streak with the VMAs. In 2019 he captured the Song of The Year VMA for “Old Town Road” and the video for the same song captured a best Direction VMA for “Calmatic,} as well as an MTV Video Play Award. That same year “Old Town Road” received VMA nominations for Video of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Hip Hop, Best Art Direction, Best Song of Summer and Best Editing. All of that is in addition to a long list of firsts for the young gay man, including a Grammy Award for Best Music Video and Best Pop Duo in 2019 for his remix of “Old Town Road” with Billy Ray Cyrus, a 2019 American Music Award, a 2020 Billboard Music Award, a controversial Country

Music Association Award (2019) and a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Music Artist of the Year.

GLAAD and the Southern AIDS Coalition

GLAAD released an enthusiastic and educational response to Lil Nas’s success and efforts at the VMAs: “Lil Nas X delivered an incredible performance, bringing his iconic music video to the stage. Mardrequs Harris, Southern AIDS Coalition’s Director of Community Investments, participated onstage during the performance. [Harris] wore the number 433,816 in red, representing the universal color of awareness and support for HIV, and the number of people living with HIV in the U.S. South as of 2015, which has increased substantially over the years.”

The Southern AIDS Coalition is a Coordinating Center for the Gilead COMPASS Initiative®, a more than $100 million commitment over 10 years to support hundreds of organizations working to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern United States. Says Harris: “This experience was surreal. Having the opportunity to share the stage with Lil Nas X was something I never would have imagined. And to have him use his platform to raise awareness about HIV stigma is invaluable to our work.” The VMAs performance follows Lil Nas X’s announcement of the Montero baby registry timed with the September 17 release of his new album ‘Montero.’ Each song on the new album has listed a charity see Lil Nas X on 14


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life

An Interview With Elizabeth Palmisano Artist’s Mom Describes Her as a ‘Steel Fist in a Velvet Glove’

per year as community partners who can ask me for things; things like expressive workshops with clients, volunteer teacher training, murals, donating work for auctions, anything in my wheelhouse. I advocate for anyone that I feel called to work with. My work started out advocating for people of low wage and low wealth.

by L’Monique King qnotes Staff Writer

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he works 60 to 70 hours per week because, as she says: “I love what I do that much, it’s by choice.” Good to know, because this artist needs every waking moment to continue her quest for advocacy and arts engagement. Elizabeth Palmisano is an Artistin-Residence for the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit, Artist-in-Residence at Fort Mill Cooperative Preschool, Tiny house studio owner and the recipient of the Queen City Nerves Readers Choice award winner for Best Visual Artist (2020). She’s busy. Beneath your profile photo on your Facebook page is a quote. Tell us about that.  My mother describes me as “a steel fist in a velvet glove.” People who know me would describe me as kind, gentle, safe. Someone they feel comfortable to be vulnerable with and never feel judged [by]. But I’m also very loud, opinionated and have an intrinsic sense of what is right, and don’t mind telling you. So yes, I have what Reverend Barber of The Poor People’s Campaign calls “Righteous Rage.” Righteous Rage, because there’s nothing wrong with being angry for the right reason. What I do with that anger is very important, so my personal mantra is “What’s more important to me, being right or getting what I want?” If I make it about being right, I’m not going to change their minds. So, I focus on what I want, for them to have a change of heart. So, when I speak to someone, even though I’m strong in how I feel, I’m soft in my approach. I don’t make people feel bad, even if I think they’re very wrong. So, my mom describes me this way because I’m coming with a sense of strength. I make things happen and get people to change their minds and perceptions. I’m strong in my advocacy but my delivery is gentle. Shame and guilt have no place in my advocacy work or my creative practice. Are you a native Charlottian? I love and hate that question. Now when people ask me, I say I’m from Charlotte because I moved from a little town in Upstate New York to South Carolina when I was 11. Then as a teenager, I moved to Charlotte. I’ve been here ever since and I’m 37, so I’m not culturally southern but I am a Charlottean. I love my city, I’m very proud to live here. Where did you go to school? Well, I dropped out of school when I was 15, and it’s too long of a story to explain all the details, but I didn’t get my GED until I was 22. I ultimately did go to college. A mentor, Christine Boatwright, gave me a job [at her pre-school] and encouraged

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Would you share a little about your art with qnotes readers? My art is all community-inspired and process-based. Process versus product. When people ask me what’s my primary medium. My answer is typically “play.” I like to play with children, I love to get adults to play, it’s one of my biggest kicks because we take ourselves so seriously. I don’t care what the art looks like in the end, it’s about the experience, the feelings that come up during the process and sometimes the way that I design my workshops and classes. I model vulnerability and my approach is that of a guide. I’m very specific in how I set it up. I place myself as participant and helper. When people allow themselves to play and just be immersed within the experience, the art at the end, the product is always beautiful. Art is the one place where there is no right and wrong. Who takes your classes? Typically women, children and nongender conforming folks. It’s not typically cis men.

Artist, advocate, teacher: renaissance woman Elizabeth Palmisano. (Photo Credit: Brooke Brown Photography) me to go to college. I was there looking for childcare for my [then] three-year old son and [to] find a job. She gave me both childcare and a job. She’s amazing. She sent me to school for free and promoted me from an assistant teacher to a lead teacher to an after-school coordinator and ultimately the program coordinator. I’ll never forget her. I was young, 24, and had been promoted to program coordinator. I was her right-hand woman, and one day I’m standing in a classroom and someone said my name, and I said, “What?” Christine was standing there and said, “I’m gonna’ need you to stop doing that.” I said, “What?” and she said, “That, saying what.” I was confused and then she said to me, “I know where it comes from, but in a professional setting when someone calls your name, the appropriate response is yes.” I heard her, wanted to comply, and I took it very seriously. I felt, this is what empower-

ment feels like. Someone sees you; they don’t judge you. When Christine said what she did, I didn’t feel wrong, bad or guilty. I just felt understood. So for me, those steps of seeing someone and acknowledging them where they feel understood, is something that permeates all of my work. I knew in that moment I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be able to talk to people that way. As a high school drop out with a messy childhood, I didn’t have a desire to better myself until Christine took the time to see me and offer me a different way. She took the morality out of it. This type of work takes time and that’s why I chose to work in community and programs where I’m allowed that time — in my advocacy and my art. What is it that you do regarding advocacy? I work with a lot of different nonprofits and organizations. I always pick three

Why not cis men? I believe the people who show up are the people who are supposed to be in the room, those who are attracted to the experience. That’s not typically cis men, for whatever reason. I’ve done workshops with organizations that have included cis men and I do gender inclusive programing. However, I seem to attract women more often. Many times, it is women who have started to invest in themselves, and have begun to think “I have worth” and now realize they can take an art class, that it’s not frivolous. And if it is [frivolous], that’s okay, too. Let’s talk about you attracting women. What about in your personal life, are you attracting women there also? [Laughs] Just one woman. Her name is Krystle Baller, and she’s amazing! She is my exact perfect match in every way. We do the exact same work except her medium is music and mine is visual art. So, we’re getting married. We met at “Girls Rock,” a volunteer event, and fell in love in 2019 at “Charlotte Shout” — an enormous three-week long arts festival where all of Uptown Charlotte becomes a giant interactive art installation. It’s been cancelled this year, postponed until next year


due to COVID. I was supposed to have 21 pieces included, and I will when they come back in fall of 2022. Have you set a wedding date? We’ll be married on September 29 in front of these giant two-story tall inflatable lit up bunnies in Romare Bearden Park. They’re part of the Charlotte Should exhibit. It’s a flash style wedding, anybody who happens to be in the park can witness our union. Congrats. When you look at your life so far, bunnies aside, what are you most proud of? My son, he just turned 18. He got his first job as a teacher’s assistant and came home tearful one day over how a student was being treated by his peers. It disturbed him, he cried while explaining to me what happened.

I have raised a white cisgender straight man who is in touch with his feelings, he’s not afraid to cry, an empathetic caring man. We need more of those in the world. I’m very proud of my son. He’s very kind, and he values people, [including] women. That’s beautiful. No wonder you’re proud of him. As an artist pillar of our community, is there anything you wish for when you think of current and upcoming area artists? Safe, affordable space to do their work and the time and money they need [to do it]. Any final words of advice for artists? Take as many risks as possible and don’t should on yourself. If you would do it differently next time — do it. : : Find, follow and engage with Elizabeth at ellafaeart.com or @ellafaeart

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Walking the Natural Path to Self-Acceptance Spiritual Reflections

by Rev. Wes Isley Contributing Writer

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ne of my spiritual values is maintaining a connection to the natural world, and I believe this embodied spiritual practice played a major role in helping me accept my LGBTQ identity. Learning to accept ourselves and celebrating our uniqueness are key to thriving as an LGBTQ person. For some, the path to this acceptance is long, winding and all uphill. Along the way, we may stumble painfully over spirituality or religion. Some LGBTQ folks speak of “searching for my tribe,” and when we find this welcoming tribe or community, it feels like a spiritual homecoming. I suggest that there’s one spiritual tribe right under our noses that we often overlook — the natural world. When I talk about the natural world, I include everything from trees and the ocean to our household pets and even unpleasant critters like snakes and spiders. But how do birds and bees or flowers and trees connect to the LGBTQ community? Easily — as individuals or communities, we are interconnected to everything else in this world, and I believe we can find valuable spiritual lessons there. Sun and water support the plants or animals we eat. Nature provides the basic elements for our clothing (drag included!). The homes in which we live, the cars we drive and the microchips that power our technology — they’re all based in nature, as is the very air we breathe. Despite how it appears on the surface, we’re deeply interconnected. And there are many examples of sexual and gender diversity in nature. Some animals exhibit homosexual behavior, some same-gendered animals couple up to raise offspring together, and other animals could easily be called gender-fluid. We like to say, “Representation matters,” in our search for it, we can simply look to nature. So how does this all connect spiritually? To answer that, I’ll share a little about my childhood connection to nature and how it has sustained me throughout my life. Some of my earliest memories are of playing in the wooded areas near my home just outside Winston-Salem, N.C. When I walked beneath the towering trees and

listened to the birds and insects, I always felt safe and secure. When my parents argued, I took refuge in those woods. When the bullies at school called me a sissy, the trees and birds still welcomed me. While in that tiny patch of nature, I stood tall, I felt accepted and my imagination flowered. The spark that ignited my first impulse to write happened in those woods while playing with friends. My intuition urged me to write down the stories we created as we played. That spark eventually grew to a 20-year career in publishing. But nature provided more than a way to earn a living. Well into adulthood, whenever I felt sad, angry or had to make difficult decisions, I sought out nature. I’d drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway and find a picturesque overlook so my spirit could sort out what it meant to be gay in a world that refused to accept me. Or I’d lie flat on my back at night and ponder the twinkling stars, feeling peaceful and contemplating that if stardust from a Big Bang could eventually clump together to make my gay self and all the diversity I saw in my little world, then maybe I should trust that truth over anything else. Sure, maybe God fit in there somewhere, but the Divinity I knew and experienced was more diverse and welcoming than anything being forced on me. Not long ago, I felt I had lost this connection, and I felt it as a spiritual void. To reconnect, I began walking in the woods again, learning the trails in a Greensboro city park. I began reconnecting to the seasonal changes in nature and in my own life, and developing rituals to mark those changes. I rediscovered my intuition and followed wherever it led, eventually to a Pagan spiritual practice and community. Taking inspiration from nature is integral to my spiritual path, and that well is deep, diverse and inexhaustible. Just like I did as a child, I found welcome, acceptance — and I found my tribe. In your own search for acceptance and celebration, you don’t have to look far. Nature has always reflected diversity and LGBTQ folks. Remembering that is as simple as stepping outdoors. : : Rev. Wes Isley, MDiv, is a chaplain and Pagan minister living in Charlotte with his husband and black lab, Harley.

Nature is a great place to connect with your spiritual self. (Photo Credit: max_play via Adobe Stock)

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Lil Nas X

continued from page 8 or group that fans can donate to, including 13 HIV organizations that are part of the Gilead COMPASS Initiative®. In its first four years, COMPASS has helped train nearly 14,000 people across the American South to become better advocates, combat stigma and educate communities across the region.  Gilead COMPASS Initiative® organizations on the registry include: The Normal Anomaly (Houston, TX), Thrive SS (Atlanta, GA), Counter Narrative Project (Atlanta, GA), The Bros in Convo Initiative (Orlando, FL), Transinclusive Group (Wilton Manors, FL), Arianna’s Center (South Florida), Organización Latina de Trans en Texas (Houston, TX), CH Pier (Greenville, MS), What’s In The Mirror? (Austin, TX), Central Alabama Alliance  Resource & Advocacy Center (Wetumka, AL), Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference (GA/ IN), Relationship Unleashed (Memphis, TN) and Compassionate Atlanta (GA). More info on the organizations is at welcometomontero.com/babyregistry. “When public figures like Lil Nas X — particularly those from the South — use their platforms to communicate HIV facts, it encourages a new generation to join this fight and to end this epidemic once and for all,” said Dafina Ward, Executive Director of the Southern AIDS Coalition, “COMPASS launched with the belief that those on the front lines of HIV in the Southern United States would work better together, empowering new leaders, reaching members of their communities, and improving their capacity to care for people living with or affected by HIV.” 

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A scene from ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).’ (Photo Credit: Sony Video Screen Capture) “Lil Nas X continues to make music and LGBTQ history, this time by using the iconic VMAs stage to highlight HIV in the U.S. South, where HIV rates and HIV stigma plague our community despite advances in prevention and the fact that people with HIV today lead long, healthy lives and, when on proper medication, cannot transmit the virus,” said DaShawn Usher, Associate Director, Communities of Color at GLAAD.  Southern AIDS Coalition, Wake Forest University’s Faith Coordinating Center, GLAAD and organizations in the Gilead COMPASS Initiative have shared the following HIV facts tied to Lil Nas’s VMAs performance and fundraising campaign:

• HIV Is a Social Justice and Racial Justice Issue: Black Americans account for more HIV diagnoses (43 percent) and people living with HIV (42 percent) than any other racial and ethnic group in the United States. Black Americans are vulnerable to HIV because of a often racist structural barriers to resources like healthcare, education, employment and housing. The three groups most affected by HIV are Black gay men, Black cisgender women and transgender women of color. • HIV Treatment Works, U=U: People living with HIV, when on effective treatment, live long and healthy lives and cannot sexually transmit HIV, ac-

cording to the CDC. When someone living with HIV receives effective treatment and follows regimens prescribed by their doctor, HIV becomes undetectable when tested. When HIV is undetectable, it is untransmittable: U=U (#UequalsU).  • HIV Prevention Works: HIV testing should be a part of regular medical screenings. The CDC recommends that every person ages 13-64 receive an HIV test. When a person takes a test and receives an HIV diagnosis, they can be linked to care and medication immediately to protect their own health and prevent passing on HIV to others. •F  aith-Based HIV Stigma Hurts, and Spreads the Disease: With more than 10,000 congregations having members living with HIV, it is important for faith communities to take leadership in addressing HIV stigma. Shaming people living with HIV or for being on medication to prevent HIV stops people from seeking the care they need and lets undiagnosed people pass on the virus. In an interview published on PBS.org, Amit Paley, CEO and executive director at The Trevor Project spoke about Lil Nas’ commitments to helping others, particularly in the LGBTQ Community: “The fact that he has been so open … he is really helping to de-stigmatize conversations that are too often shrouded in shame … It’s particularly inspiring to see someone who is Black and LGBTQ and proud and unapologetic,” said Paley, “And to see someone talk about their experiences and … talk about their art [as] part of their platform to make other people comfortable talking about the challenges they are going through.” : :


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life

The Windy City Pride Journey: Chicago

by Joey Amato Guest Contributor

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hicago is my kind of town…it really is. I’ve been to Chicago more times than I can count over the years, however I have never written a Pride Journey article about the city. Well, it’s about time I did! I planned my visit to the Windy City to coincide with Market Days, one of the city’s premier LGTBQ festivals. Since relocating to Nashville and then Indy, I had heard dozens of stories about this event from friends from around the country who would travel to Chicago specifically to attend. This year’s festival was going to be iconic since last year’s event was cancelled due to the pandemic. Trixie Mattel, Todrick Hall and Greyson Chance were among the headliners performing this year, however I was most excited about seeing Lisa Lisa, Jody Watley and Ty Herndon. Tyler and I arrived on the first day of the festival and it appeared to be similar to a pride event. Vendors lined the street selling everything from artwork to sunglasses as well as some other more risqué items. It didn’t take long for us to run into a few friends, some of which I hadn’t seen in many years. Market Days is what you make it. You can spend the afternoon

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strolling Halsted Street or you can skip the street fair and head straight to the bars, clubs, and circuit events in the evening. Take some time the next morning to check out the hotel’s two-story art gallery space or maybe find time for a quick workout in their fitness center before heading to Hutch American Bistro for brunch. Hutch is located off the same red line stop as Boystown so it’s quite convenient. I ordered the smoked salmon avocado toast which came with fruit salad. It was light yet filling and the perfect way to begin the day. We went back to Hutch for happy hour on a different day and sampled a few additional items including the Chicago meatballs, quacamole and queso. The restaurant offers a daily happy hour menu consisting of half-off select appetizers as well as $3 champagne. Yes, please! When in Chicago, you would be remiss if you didn’t visit one of the city’s numerous cultural instiJoey at “The Bean” in Chicago. (Photo Credit: Joey Amato) tutions. Since the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium are in the a journey through the North Loop, the same complex, we decided to Greeter Tour service can take visitors visit both in the same morning. through many of the 77 neighborhoods in Tyler and I are both huge animal lovthe Chicago area. ers, so we headed straight to the beluga Before heading back to Boystown, grab whale and penguin habitats. Beluga a quick bite at Tied House. I was thorwhales are one of my favorite mammals, oughly impressed by both the food and so it was wonderful to see them up close. service of this establishment. Tyler and The Field Museum is home to one of I shared a few items, including the black the largest (and best, in my opinion) dinobean hummus prepared with salsa roja saur exhibitions in the country. The chronand lime crema as well as the watermelon ological display brings guests through and bigeye tuna, which came with pickled history and mass extinctions leading up to ginger and a koji vinaigrette. The short the birth of dinosaurs. The Field Museum rib risotto was served with roasted sweet is also home to Sue, the largest and most corn risotto, cherry tomato and summer complete T-Rex skeleton ever discovered. squash. While the short rib portion was a This is a must-see for any dinosaur lover. bit fatty for my liking, I found the risotto After a fun-filled day of partying, head part to be incredibly flavorful and cooked back to the 21c Museum Hotel located to perfection. I would order the risotto by in the River North neighborhood, about itself next time…it was so good! a 25-minute red-line commute from Boystown of course is the heart of Boystown. The boutique property is one Chicago’s LGBTQ community. There of the newer hotels in the 21c family. I’ve are dozens of shops, restaurants, busistayed at their properties in Oklahoma nesses and nightlife venues catering City, Nashville and Kansas City and they to every gay under the sun. Some of never disappoint. The 21c Chicago was my favorites include Sidetrack, Hydrate kind enough to provide me with a wonNightclub, Splash and Progress Bar. derful corner suite as well as their Love is What many tourists don’t know is that Love package, which included a pride tank Chicago has a gay beach. While it may top, perfect to wear during the festivities. not have the waves of Fort Lauderdale, We decided to walk back to our hotel Hollywood Beach attracts some of the after visiting the museum as the weather most beautiful people in the Midwest was perfect for a leisurely stroll along the and is only about a 10-minute Uber ride lake — until it started raining. With nofrom Boystown. With only a few months where to take cover, we just admired the of beach weather per year, locals flock to beauty of Chicago’s architectural wonders Hollywood Beach every opportunity posas well as the sculptures in Millennium sible to soak up the sun. Park including the world-famous Bean. There is way too much to see in Speaking of walking, the city offers free Chicago to fit everything into a weekend. walking tours through Chicago Greeter. Especially when you include a festival as Local guides volunteer their time to take well. I am going to make an effort to visit guests on customized walking tours of more frequently, especially since it’s so the city. We decided to focus our tour on close to my home in Indianapolis. architecture and landmarks. Our knowlTo book your next Chicago gaycation, edgeable guide took us to some places visit Orbitz.com/Pride we would have never known about if we Enjoy the Journey! : : had set out on our own. While we took


a&e

Can You Be Dumped to Death? Tell Trinity

by Trinity | Contributing Writer Dearest Trinity, I almost made it to the one-year mark, but my girlfriend couldn’t. I’ve been dumped before, but this time I really was in love. It feels like someone died. I bounce between sad and angry. How long does this feeling last? Dumped To Death, Savannah, GA Dearest Dumped To Death, Being dumped is not only like experiencing a death, it IS a death. And like a death, there are four stages: shock, sadness, anger and, finally, resolution. For a close death it can take as long as a year, but it can take less time if you work at it. Try to give yourself two to four weeks maximum to go through the four stages, then get right back on the dating horse, and start climbing the ladder of life again. Also, sweetie, sleeping lots and watching comedy shows helps too! Love, Trinity

Dear Monogamy, Many couples of all shapes and sizes have trouble with monogamy. Being in a relationship does mean compromise, which also means trial and error. You’re not a child who can’t control your actions, you’re a grown–up trying to have a healthy relationship! So, darling, do the best you can and remember, monogamy is one day at a time. Hugs, Trinity

Dear Trinity, My boyfriend and I never really committed sexually to each other, but recently he caught me cheating. Now he insists I be monogamous, “or else!” I don’t think I can do it. What should I do? Monogamy or Your Life, Portland, OR

Q-mmunity

connections

Hey Trinity, How long should I date someone before insisting they quit smoking? Non-Smokers Blues, Quebec City, QC Hey Non-Smoker’s Blues, Dating a smoker is hell, I know it well. I’d give it two months... if you can, and, pumpkin, if they don’t offer to quit, or at least go on the electric cigarette, then let them know that you may have to quit… dating! Good Luck, Trinity

Dearest Trinity, I’ve been wanting to grow facial hair, and, now that I’m single, I can. Any suggestions? Facing Facial Hair, Chattanooga, TN Dearest Facing Facial Hair, Since famous women keep reinventing themselves through hair color, famous men are doing the same with facial hair, and you can too! It’s a great way to switch things up with your looks. So, honey, start reading:

Trinity’s Fabulous Tips for Facing Facial Hair

 1. BALD HEADS: Yes, be proud, but also try facial hair to add depth and feature to your face.  2. GOATEES (hair only around the chin): Fat faces look thinner with goatees because it adds length.  3. M  USTACHES: For big noses this is an old trick. Plus, it’s back in style, and the most “today” of all facial hair.  4. V  ANDYKES (mustache and goatee): A stylish look but remember, a thin face needs a rounder Vandyke and a round face needs a thinner one.  5. S  IDEBURNS (mutton chops, low or high, thick or long): If you must play with sideburns then, baby, make‘ em look sleek. And when it’s job-hunting time, get rid of ‘em.  6. C  HIN (CHEEK) CURTIANS: To hide fatter cheeks or double chins, grow a thin beard line along the jaw bone to the ear OR under the chin, up the smile lines and across the cheeks to the ear. Try it ‘till you diet!  7. C  HIN CUFF/FLAVOR SAVER (just a bit of hair under the lip): Makes the lower lip look bigger and a good place to start playing with facial hair!  8. F  IVE O’CLOCK SHADOW: Made popular by Don Johnson of Miami Vice. On some it looks great, but on others… well!  9. FULL BEARDS: This rugged, popular look may be for you. Full or groomed are both in style. Also try a Hollywoodian (shaving under the sideburns). Shampoo regularly, please! 10. DYED BEARDS: If you insist on aging gracefully, take Metamucil and get Just For Men. In five minutes, you’ll be 10 years younger. Remember, pigment equals youth and health. : : With a Masters of Divinity, Reverend Trinity hosted “Spiritually Speaking” a weekly radio drama, performed globally and is now minister of WIG: Wild Inspirational Gatherings. Sponsored by: WIG Ministries, www.wigministries.org Gay Spirituality for the Next Generation! Send e-mails to: Trinity@telltrinity.com



space starting at $22: call qnotes for details 704.531.9988

Sept. 17-30, 2021

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Much More Than Johnny’s Girl An Interview With Josie Cotton

by Gregg Shapiro Contributing Writer

wasn’t derogatory like that song does?” It has no demeaning intent at all. I really think that it couldn’t come out today. It had to come out at that moment. It didn’t have to be me. At that moment there was an innocence, and (the song provided) a dance-y way to defang a word in this way. (Now) I think people are so politically correct, I don’t think that word would fly.

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n terms of music and movies, 1982 was an unexpectedly significant year in queer culture. The movies “Making Love,” “Personal Best” and “Victor/ Victoria” were released in theaters. The UK band, Culture Club, led by the original gender-bender Boy George, burst onto the scene and topped the charts, even winning a Best New Artist Grammy Award in the process. That same year, a singer named Josie Cotton released her debut album, “Convertible Music”, containing the campy new wave single “Johnny, Are You Queer?” (written by Bobby and Larson Paine). Depending on where you lived, it was either a hit or just bubbling under. One thing’s for certain, it helped to put Cotton on the radar of a lot of LGBTQ+ folks, especially those with a good sense of humor. Of course, the fiber of Cotton’s talent is greater than that. Over the course of her career, she released six more albums, had songs featured on movie soundtracks, and founded her own record label. As a record mogul, she’s been able to reissue previous albums, including “Pussycat Babylon” on vinyl, as well as see to the long-awaited CD debut of “Convertible Music.” Cotton, who is embarking on an autumn 2021 concert tour was gracious enough to make time for an interview before hitting the road. Josie, 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the release of your debut album Convertible Music, which has been rereleased in an expanded edition on colored vinyl as well as on CD by Bomp! and your own Kitten Robot Records. Do you have anything special in the works to mark the occasion? I didn’t even realize that was the case. [Laughs] I didn’t know there was an anniversary coming, so thank you! I don’t have plans at this moment, but it sounds like I should start making them right now. Did you have gay friends at the time that “Johnny, Are You Queer?,.” the hit single from Convertible Music, was released and, if so, were you concerned about how they would react to the song? I grew up with a whole gay parade of friends of my mom’s. She was very progressive, at the time, in Dallas, Texas. She had gay weddings in her house.  Her best friends were gay. I grew up in a ballet studio [laughs] with a lot of male dancers who swung that way. And my father turned out to be gay. I’m immersed in it. Do you recall the way your friends and family reacted to the song? My friends loved it. Everyone in California was pretty elated over the fact that they had a song that they thought of as their own, which was lovely. The only people who were confused and angry [laughs], as they usually are, was the religious right, who were protesting at KROQ where I think “Johnny…” was number two (in airplay popularity). They thought I was

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The popularity of the song, and the neglect you received from the major label, ultimately resulted in your being labeled a “one-hit wonder.” People tend to have strong feelings about that moniker; either they see it as a badge of honor or a source of shame. Where do you stand? This is funny to me, because it wasn’t a hit. It was banned from the radio [laughs]. I never made money from it. I wonder what they mean by “hit” in “onehit wonder” because I just took a bullet for that song, basically. I also had songs that charted much higher than that, so that’s not even accurate. Another part of it is that it was more like an atom bomb, that song. It actually caused seismic change in an invisible way. It seemed like a joke then. People also said that I sang “joke songs.” It was so much more than that. I just feel proud that I was a part of that because I think the right people own that word. I feel a sense of pride when I hear people so casually use the word. “I’m a queer artist. I’m a queer singer. I feel kind of good that that is in the world now and I had some small part in doing that. I’ve had so many gay men and boys come up to me and say that that was the song that gave them permission to be gay.

a gay man trying to convert people to homosexuality [laughs]. Because I have an odd sense of humor, I would watch some of these crazy shows. They were playing “Johnny, Are You Queer?” at half-speed. (Televangelists) Jan and Paul Crouch, who had a whole worldwide TV network, said I wasn’t real. I remember thinking, “God, I sound just like Brian Wilson,” when they played it at half speed. (Sings “Johnny, are you queer, boy” very slowly.) [Laughs] they were crying and screaming on TV. I was thinking, “No, no, we didn’t mean that! You’re missing the whole idea of this.” It was just strange. As you probably know, there was some reaction on the East Coast that was not as friendly as it was on the West Coast for some reason. It’s always been kind of a mystery to me, how I was banned in Amsterdam, which I thought was kind of a wonderful moment in my life [laughs]. That’s something I can be proud, I suppose, if I choose to be. A lot of younger friends didn’t know there was an issue with that word. They took it in the spirit that it was written, which I think was very innocent. It was more like a phenomenon that was happening. In the androgynous new wave days, girls were falling for boys, and you didn’t know quite what was going on. Also, I considered it an acting job on my part, because I always had great gaydar [laughs], out of the womb. The girl singing that song was dumb as a bag of rocks [laughs]. It’s like, “What? You don’t know what’s happening?” That was the funny part of it to me, because she was just so clueless. And it was done so innocently. That was the whole idea of it. I think on the East Coast, it had an odd pairing in that, in scheme of things, it was when AIDS was coming to the East Coast. I didn’t realize it until much later. I understand why there was a reaction to me, like who am I to come in and ask this question, when all this tragedy was going on. I did appreciate that in time, that that was poor timing.

We’re speaking the day before you are scheduled to perform as part of the Lost ‘80s Live all-star line-up. What does it mean to you to be part of such an event? I’ve done quite a few of these now, The Last ‘80s. I avoided them like the plague up until a couple of years ago because I was doing so many different types and styles of music that I did not want to be associated with the ‘80s, honestly. I went my own way, and that freed me as an artist, so that was a good thing. A couple years ago, it came up again and I went, “OK, I’ll do that.” Then I kind of fell back in love with the ‘80s sound [laughs]. I remember it in a different way than now (when) I’m perceiving it as I’m singing it. It became fun again [laughs]. I was doing these shows and now I’m at the point where I’m like, “OK, I can’t one more time.” I think I’m almost at the end of my ability to go back in time [laughs] because…

But it was by no means intentional. No, it wasn’t. Someone asked me, “What would it be like if that song was coming out now, and no one ever said that before, or used that word in a way that

…There’s so much more to you. Right! There is so much more, yes. I feel like I’m better at what I do: songwriting, conceptual art. I think of myself as a concept artist, really. Every album has

a completely different aesthetic. That’s where I feel alive when I’m doing that. But when I play these shows, and the Greek Theater (in L.A.) is just a grander version of these shows, the people are so ecstatic. I describe it as performing for 10,000 puppies, and I love puppies! They’re so happy and they’re almost crying because you’re connected with their lives. All their memories are connected with you. So, it’s lovely. I’m so flattered and touched by all of that. But when I’m on stage, I don’t feel like I’m fulfilled as an artist when I’m just doing ‘80s songs from so long ago. I don’t think that’s the whole of me is what I’m saying. “Convertible Music” was originally released on vinyl, and some of your more recent recordings, including 2007’s “Invasion of the B-Girls,” 2010’s “Pussycat Babylon” and 2019’s “Everything Is Oh Yeah,” have also been given the vinyl treatment. What do you think about the vinyl resurgence among music lovers? I think it’s fantastic because the people who are into vinyl really are collectors. They’re in love with the sound of vinyl and having the artwork; something that they can hold in their hand it’s a kind of a very visceral experience when you can read all the lyrics. I think that’s a whole part of the experience of music. Kids, especially, love the vinyl. I didn’t realize that CDs are back, too! A lot of people couldn’t get my material on Elektra, because they never put it out on CD, for some reason. But I don’t know quite where they’re getting their CD players, because it’s been eliminated from the earthly planet. The 2021 vinyl reissue of Pussycat Babylon comes at a time when electropop continues to be a popular musical genre. The club-oriented song “All I Can See Is the Face of Bruce Lee,” in particular, sounds like the kind of track that would be a hit with the gay crowd at Tea Dance. For the song “See the New Hong Kong,” there were quite a few dance remixes of that in Europe. This album was a limited release (on CD) 10 years ago. That kind of did a number over in Europe. Then Tiësto did a remix of “If A Lie Was Love.” It’s fantastic! We’re doing a 12-inch single with “Calling All Girls” and the B-side is “Stop Iggy Pop.” Have you ever encountered a drag queen performing any of your songs in her act? Yes! “Hi I Like You” was a huge drag queen song in Los Angeles, I discovered. I love that because there’s a lot of references to trans and pink cotton candy and hookers. A crazy song about the dark side of love and liking people, but really being a multiple personality [laughs]. The end you don’t want to come to in a relationship. They got the humor of it and I was so thrilled. I told my coproducer and he was so ecstatic to hear that because that means you’ve done something great at that point. : :


life

Our People: Eric Stith Two Steps and a Leap

by L’Monique King qnotes Staff Writer

What if you wake up one day and can’t dance? What would you do? You know, that has been a question on my mind, very recently, I really don’t know. I think I would love teaching, learning and giving what I’ve learned to students. If I couldn’t dance, I would teach.

O

nce upon a time, in the Virginia Tidewater area, there lived a little boy. He had six siblings, went to school in Virginia Beach and dreamed of becoming a dancer. His name? Eric Stith. One day he finally grew up and became a young man. At the age of 18, he moved to Charlotte to fulfill his dream of becoming a dancer. Well on his way, Eric, now 20 years old, lives in a center city apartment and is a member of the Charlotte Ballet II Academy. qnotes met Eric for the first time at a Charlotte Black Pride event featuring dancers of many different styles. His stature, grace and command of space could not go unnoticed. But who was the young man bringing life to the resonating choreography? We wanted to know more and knew you would too. What brought you to Charlotte? I want to be a professional dancer, and I wanted to find a way to pursue that. So, I started out as a trainee with the Charlotte Ballet Academy. I’ve always had dreams of working with the original Balanchine dancers. The dancers that are slowly dying off because they were at the height of their careers, in their heyday in the ‘60s and ‘70s — these are the legends of dance. Before coming to Charlotte, I didn’t realize there was any more to me than dancing. I don’t think many dancers learn that until much later in life. It’s a blessing, I’ve learned so much already. So, you graduated high school, came to Charlotte and now life is all about dance? Well, mostly. Currently I’m enrolled at TCC (Tidewater Community College) [and] working on an associate’s in small business management. What will you do with that? It’s really just about learning and knowing more information. In the future I want to have my own school. So, knowing more about business is something that I’d like to find out more about so that I am able to speak fluently [about the business of running a dance school] and know what I’m talking about. Being able to work with the right people. Knowing who I need to hire and how to select people with proper qualifications and learning more about the financial side of owning a business are all things I’m excited about learning and applying. Sounds like a lot of big moves for such a young man. Following big dreams, going to college and moving away from home. Do you live alone here in Charlotte? No. I live with my roommate. We met around the second day [after I arrived] in Charlotte, during the Charlotte

Many artists fear not being able to perform their art. But the thought you’ve put into that sounds more like a plan and less of a fear. Is there anything that frightens you when you think about your future? What frightens me is the feeling of not being happy at what I’m doing. My parents stressed to me: get a career, not a job, and be happy. So, it’s scary for me, the thought of doing something I’m not happy with. Secondly, I’m afraid of not having or trying to find money for the sake of living. 

Eric Stith. (Photo Credit: Alan Huerta via Charlotte Ballet) Ballet Summer Intensive Program. We’re both in the Second Company. Can you explain for our readers what you mean by First and Second Company and the difference between the two? The First Company has its own agenda. They have their own repertoire and perform primarily for people who come [solely] to see dance. If the Charlotte Ballet Academy is featured in media, what you’ll see is generally performed by the First Company. But, there are instances where we/the Second Company also have opportunities to rehearse and perform with them. Second Company is supposed to be a feeder to the First Company. We’re there to learn the pieces and in the best instances perform them. We have our own pieces that we’re working on that we’re performing for schools (K-12); this year especially, elementary schools and middle school because we’re working on a lot of fairy tales this season. Who inspires you? Who comes to mind when you think of dancers you admire? This is gonna’ sound corny, but my mom. She is definitely someone who inspires me. She has her own daycare, her own building. She was doing that before I was born in our house. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that she had her own building, with employees. She does everything she wants to — with kids who can be hard to deal with at that. Still, she pushes through and she also waits for [the right] time. She’s patient [in her pursuits], which is something I need to learn. As for dancers, Arthur Mitchell; you gotta love him. He inspires me a lot as a dancer, a teacher and choreographer. And Mel Tomlinson, also a Black dancer with NYC ballet. He passed away a few years ago.

Would you mind sharing with qnotes something most people don’t know about you? Honestly, that’s hard to answer, I really am an open book and don’t mind sharing my life. I tell people how I feel and very much like to share my opinion, so I don’t have a lot of secrets. Your musical choice for the Charlotte Pride event was interesting and quite moving. Who are you digging and listening to right now? I listen to a lot of classical music and a lot of composers that composed for piano. So, it’s the typical big ones, Mozart, Chopin and Schumann. But I like to find new stuff as well, especially when I’m trying to choreograph contemporary pieces. I like loud stuff, music that when you first hear it you’re like, “What the heck?!” But, I don’t think that. I think, “Wow, this is amazing.” I’m also a big Nicki Minaj fan. I could listen to her all day. Ever dance to any of her music? No, I’ve never really thought about it. I just really enjoy listening to her but never thought of choreographing to her. Sometimes when you do that, you end up not liking the music after, and I don’t want that to happen with her. When you’re not dancing, studying or listening to Nicki Minaj, what do you enjoy doing? I play the piano. I’ve been playing for about a year now. So, I practice almost every day, but also like to just watch tv and eat snacks. I love Skinny Pop Popcorn, ice cream and Oreo Cookies. Any advice for kids who want to dance? I think for a lot of artists, once you start doing it as your job and getting paid for it, your art does lose some of it’s magic because it’s not just for fun anymore; it’s for survival. So, make sure you enjoy it. There’s a fire inside everyone, we all have it. It just burns hotter and brighter in some of us. Make sure you keep that fire burning. And let it be big. : :

Sept. 17-30, 2021

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Sept. 17-30, 2021

Profile for QnotesCarolinas

Qnotes, September 17, 2021  

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