Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The OUTIES: the Best (and Worst) of 2014

It’s that time when I once again look through the rear view mirror and award the OUTspoken OUTIES for the past year.  I reviewed the events of this past year in the areas of politics and culture and am presenting an unapologetic, subjective, biased list of winners (and losers) who are deserving of the OUTIES trophy. In no particular order, here are the OUTspoken OUTIES of 2014.

Best Politician: Hands down, it’s Larry Hogan.  The Republican managed to rise from obscurity in a state that is 2 to 1 Democratic and ran a steady race to upset Anthony Brown (see below).  His economic message was focused, and his debates’ searing zingers hit the mark. The Brown strategists’ ineptitude and voter apathy helped.
Worst Politician: Hands down, it’s Anthony Brown.  Having cruised to a primary victory, aided by the Democratic establishment, a solid running mate and outspending his opponent by a 5 to 1margin, Brown went negative too early to lift Hogan’s name recognition giving him a chance at victory and squandered a clear opportunity to be the state’s first African-American governor.

Worst Example of Citizenship: The tens of thousands of voters who sat out the election but undoubtedly will grumble ad nauseam about how bad our elected officials are.
Worst Political Bet: Equality Maryland’s PAC for riding the front runner and endorsing Brown before the primary while alienating Mizeur and Gansler supporters in the process.  With three proven allies for LGBT equality running, EQMD should have remained neutral until the general election.

Most Gratifying Success: The passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (FAMA) resulting in non-discrimination protections for transgender folks without having to deal with referendum drama.  The hyped bathroom scare didn’t work.

More Good Fortune for Trans: Movies, TV shows and a cover story on TIME helped propel more visibility for the transgender community.  Recall how Will & Grace and Real World helped gays to be more accepted.
Worst News for Trans: Two more brutal murders of trans women in Baltimore with little likelihood the cases will be solved.

Doing More With Less: A scaled down Equality Maryland, financially and in staff, managed to be a significant player along with other groups and individuals in getting FAMA enacted.
Best Local LGBT Organization: FreeState Legal Project for providing important pro bono legal assistance to those LGBT folks who can least afford it.

Most Altruistic Organization: Repeat winner Brother Help Thyself, which raises much needed money for non-profit LGBT orgs. Great work and they do it every year!
Most Popular Job: Executive Director at the GLCCB.  Three people have held that (or interim) position during 2014.  Here’s hoping for more stability at the Center.

Least Popular Move: Shifting the Pride block party to the MICA-Mt. Royal-Artscape area from Mount Vernon and eliminating Druid Hill Park met with significant blowback from communities.  The GLCCB is listening.

Best ‘I Got the Message’ Organization: The GLCCB, under fire for a lack of transparency and inclusiveness, has taken a series of concrete steps to help alleviate concerns.  It needs to continue.
Best Eatery to Lunch in Mount Vernon: Tavern on the Hill on Cathedral Street offers up a broad menu, tasty food and friendly service at a reasonable price.

Best Mount Vernon Restaurant for Dinner: The Mount Vernon Stable, an area fixture, provides a nice atmosphere for LGBT folks and serves fine dinners (and brunches and lunches) from a friendly staff.
Sorry to See You Go: The closing of The Quest was a blow to the Highlandtown locals and others who wanted to venture from other LGBT venues.  Its neighborhood feel is hard to duplicate.

Best Gay-Friendly Theater: Basically all local theaters are LGBT-friendly.  But Toby’s of Columbia with its large number of resident gay performers and staff gives it an edge.  Sometimes when visiting it seems like Pride with a buffet.  And the shows are reliably superb.
Best Gay Film: The BBC-produced Pride, which ran at the venerable Charles Theater, was my favorite.  It told a heartwarming story of how blue collar laborers and gays bonded to form a strong and successful alliance during the 1980’s miners’ strike in the U.K.

Best Gay Play: Iron Crow Theatre’s Homo Poe Show wins here. Well directed and acted, Homo Poe Show is a weird play in true Iron Crow tradition that consisted of a series of short pieces in an attempt to present Edgar Allan Poe’s works through a queer lens—forevermore.
Best Gay Musical: Dundalk Community College’s splashy production of one of my all-time favorites La Cage Aux Folles wins.  Given that there were gay main characters, the music and lyrics were penned by a gay composer Jerry Herman and the book written by Harvey Fierstein who is also gay, there is no question it deserves the OUTIES trophy.  Moreover, La Cage gives us the unofficial gay anthem “I Am What I Am.”

Best TV Show with a Gay Character: Move over Modern Family and make room for the Boston-based The McCarthys.  Ronny, the gay character played by Tyler Ritter (who is straight), is a hoot as is the rest of his snarky, loveable, sports-obsessed Irish-American family.
Best Kiss Since Al and Tipper Gore: Michael Sam locking lips with his sculpted abs boyfriend Vito Cammisano on ESPN upon learning that Sam was the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL.  Sadly, he failed to make a team—yet.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Stonewall v. Ferguson: Different Eras, Outcomes

In the wake of nationwide demonstrations protesting controversial grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo. and New York, a provocative piece ran on the Bilerico Project website titled “Gays Condemning Riots: The Greatest of Hypocrisies”.

The melee outside the Stonewall Inn in June 1969
The guest blogger who authored the article, Matt Comer, editor of QNotes, a Charlotte, NC-based LGBT newspaper, saw a parallel in the riots that accompanied the Ferguson protests and the Stonewall Inn uprising and asserted, “Some gays are hypocrites: They condemn the rioting in the aftermath of extreme miscarriages of justice for black people, all the while ignoring the fact they gather once a year to openly celebrate and commemorate a riot—a violent outburst that served as the so-called birth of their movement.”
I have some issues with the premise. True, there are gays who oppose what is occurring in Ferguson and New York and in other cities around the country as do people in the non-gay population.  Nonetheless, I am reasonably confident that far more LGBT folks have stepped forward in support of the protesters.  We see the failure of justice continue to plague African-Americans combined with the strained relations blacks as well as LGBT folks historically have endured with local police departments.  There is a natural alliance here. 

Moreover, LGBT organizations and individuals have not only empathized with the protesters with public statements, they have joined hands in the marches, which have been, except for Ferguson, non-violent and restrained considering the level of injustice that has sickened so many.
I also contest the notion that gays celebrate and commemorate the Stonewall uprisings every year.  They are supposed to be doing that, but ask any LGBT millennial (and I dare say even older) if they are even aware of Stonewall or understand its significance.  Clearly, some do; I’m equally sure, however, most either do not or simply don’t care. 

In the early years following Stonewall, there was that energy to create social and political change as people gathered to mark that eventful June uprising with signs, speeches and rallies.  Today, not so much.  Pride is more about where celebrants can openly drink, who will be the entertainment and how organizations can profit from the event.  You never hear a political or rallying speech anymore though so much more work needs to be done. The historical value is rapidly being lost.
I agree with Comer that there are some similarities between Stonewall and Ferguson though he cites the acts of violence as the main reason.  In my view, the common thread is the fact that the participants were fed up with a cumulative effect of unjust police actions and disparate treatment gays and blacks have received. Yet there are differences. 

By most reliable accounts, Stonewall occurred as a result of two factors: bar patrons were angered by the constant police raiding of their “home” and also they had been appalled by the Mafia-run operation of the bar that included pricey, watered-down bootlegged liquor and unsanitary conditions within the establishment. The violence on that early June 28 early morning escalated at Stonewall when a lesbian was being roughed up by the police on the way to the paddy wagon and either she or someone else shouted, “Do something!” 
"Whatever coverage was offered on Stonewall, it appeared to have marginalized the demonstrators, demeaned them and used stereotypes to perpetuate the narrative."

African-Americans in Ferguson have had tense relationships with the police for a long time.  It boiled over when Michael Brown, 18 and unarmed, was gunned down on a Ferguson street by a policeman.  Residents and supporters were hoping that a grand jury would indict the officer, Darren Wilson, for committing a crime and there at least would be justice in the tragedy. 

The grand jury did not indict him and that’s when anger spilled out on the streets.  Although the testimony was murky and often contradictory, my impression was that the prosecutor did not want to see an indictment handed down or he wouldn’t have allowed Wilson to present his side of the story—an unconventional but not unprecedented tactic in the grand jury system.
Another dissimilarity between Stonewall and Ferguson was that Stonewall did not occur as a result of a death.  In fact, there were only minor injuries reported, mostly sustained by police personnel.  Ferguson, as we know, was sparked by the killing of Brown.

With Stonewall, there was no social media to fuel any uprisings.  They occurred mainly from word-of-mouth, and it certainly didn’t attract any national attention or protests until the one-year commemorative march in 1970. 
Local newspapers gave it little “ink” at the time—tiny articles buried among the other news of the day in the New York Times.   Demonstrations were commonplace in New York during that era because of the Vietnam War.  Therefore, Stonewall was merely a blip on the screen. The New York Daily News, the city’s tabloid that dwelled on the sensational, did run a front page article several days later with the headline, “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.” 

That’s another distinction between the two episodes.  With Ferguson, other than conservative news outlets, most of the media has been rather supportive of the demonstrators except when TV footage focused on the looting and burning.  The media today generally understands, at least, why this is occurring.  Whatever coverage was offered on Stonewall, it appeared to have marginalized the demonstrators, demeaned them and used stereotypes to perpetuate the narrative.
Unquestionably, the largest difference between the two events is race.  In Stonewall, the uprising bar patrons were from multiple races.  Race was never the storyline.  In Ferguson, the opposite is true. 

Race has become again a big part of a national conversation and debate.  The response in Ferguson, New York and elsewhere brought to the forefront dubious police tactics in dealing with African-Americans, the prevailing mistrust, as well as obvious flaws in our justice system.  Hopefully, it will spark reform in these areas.
That will be Ferguson’s legacy.  We are realizing Stonewall’s legacy today.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

In A Christmas Carol, Morella Acts Like the Dickens

Any actor will tell you that playing a role is not simply memorizing lines from a script and following the play’s director. One needs to do research and delve into the character’s qualities and persona and for a couple of hours lose one’s own identity and virtually become that character. 
Paul Morella in 'A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas 
Photo: Stan Barouh
In A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas now playing at the Olney Theatre Center’s Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, multiple Helen Hayes Award nominee and Olney stage veteran Paul Morella does exactly that.  Except there is a major difference: he not only acts out a singular character, he plays over two dozen characters in this heartwarming, imaginative adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1943 classic novella A Christmas Carol.
Mr. Morella’s hand in this one-man show stretches out from not only performing the myriad roles but also to being the theater’s usher (welcoming audience members with a warm smile and handshake), self-directing his own performance and turning in a fine job as set co-designer.  This is not a new experience for Mr. Morella as the current adaptation that is now running through December 28 is his fifth consecutive year at Olney—clearly a popular Christmastime tradition for the D.C.-area audience.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.