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Articles on this Page
- 11/22/13--15:11: _Virginia Caucuses C...
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Despite regional differences between the Tidewater and Northern Virginia exurbs, Democrats and Republicans – so far – seem to be adopting a traditional ''red-blue'' divide when it comes to LGBT issues in two upcoming special elections that will determine control of the Virginia Senate.
Thursday, Republicans in District 6 – which covers the Eastern Shore counties of Accomack and Northampton, Mathews County, a sliver of Virginia Beach and a substantial portion Norfolk – selected Wayne Coleman as the party's nominee to replace Lt. Governor-elect Ralph Northam. According to results published in the Hampton Roads area newspaper The Daily Press, Coleman won 1,643 votes, or 54 percent of all votes cast, over rivals Richard Ottinger and John Coggeshall.
Coleman, CEO of the Norfolk-based CV International shipping, freight and transportation company, has touted his opposition to marriage equality on the campaign trail. He also donated to several anti-gay Virginia GOP candidates in 2013, including $2,500 to Mark Obenshain's attorney general campaign; $1,500 to E.W. Jackson, infamous for his anti-gay rhetoric, the failed candidate for lieutenant governor; and $1,000 to anti-gay Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach), chief patron of the so-called ''conscience clause'' bill that allows adoption and foster agencies to discriminate against LGBT prospective parents.
Coleman will face off against Del. Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack, Northampton counties, Norfolk) in a special election, the date of which has not yet been scheduled by outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). Lewis was selected by Democrats as the party's nominee to replace Northam on Nov. 16, winning overwhelmingly in the Eastern Shore counties, beating former Del. Paula Miller (D-Norfolk) and Andria McClellan, a businesswoman who served as Northam's campaign treasurer and as chair of the Small Business Advisory Board under former Gov. Mark Warner (D), with 55 percent of all votes cast.
Lewis, an LGBT legislative ally, has earned Equality Virginia PAC scores of 75 in the past two legislative sessions, indicating a mostly pro-LGBT record. In 2012, he voted in favor of an amendment to the so-called ''conscience clause'' bill that would have prevented LGBT or questioning youth from being placed with families that believe homosexuality ''is a behavior rather than an in-born immutable characteristic.'' He has signed statements attesting that he does not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring legislative staff, and he co-sponsored a bill to prohibit such discrimination in state employment.
At the other end of the state, in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, Democrats will hold a caucus Saturday, Nov. 23, to determine the party's nominee to replace state Sen. Mark Herring, who faces a recount in his extremely tight attorney general's race win. Herring won a 164-vote edge over state Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg ahead of the recount, after which a special general election date will be set to replace whichever candidate is the victor.
Republicans insist that Obenshain will be able to reverse Herring's lead, but have not set a date to hold a caucus to select a nominee for the 33rd District. Two likely candidates, however, are former Del. Joe May (R-Loudoun, Clarke, Frederick counties), who lost to a primary challenger earlier this year; and John Whitbeck, an attorney and the Republican Committee chairman of Virginia's 10th Congressional District. Whitbeck ran for the House of Delegates in 2011, but lost to Del. Randy Minchew (R-Loudoun, Clarke, Frederick counties) in the primary. Whitbeck was a strong supporter of the GOP ticket this year, and May amassed an anti-gay record during his years in the General Assembly, even voting against confirming openly gay judge Tracy Thorne-Begland to the Richmond District Court.
In contrast, the Democratic candidates running in Saturday's caucus, Herndon Town Councilmember Sheila Olem and attorney Jennifer Wexton, support LGBT rights, following in the footsteps of Herring, a longtime ally to the community.
Olem said she got involved in politics after her husband disappeared while overseas in 1994 and was presumed dead. After going through a difficult and legally complicated process to have her husband declared dead, the commonwealth of Virginia would not recognize the declaration by the U.S. State Department. With the help of her local legislators, she pushed for a change in the law that would make Virginia recognize similar State Department declarations. As a result of the complicated process she was forced to go through, she decided to become involved in politics to help others solve their problems.
''There needs to be some working together, coming up with solutions to real problems,'' she told Metro Weekly of her campaign.
Olem, who has primarily worked on health, environmental and transportation issues during her time on the Town Council, says she would support legislation to allow same-sex couples to have visitation and insurance rights, as well adoption rights, noting that she raised her children by herself, disproving conservatives' claims that children will be irreparably harmed without two opposite-sex parents. She also supports legislation to ban discrimination in state employment based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
''Absolutely I support that,'' she said. ''What century are we in? I don't see why we should discriminate against someone. It's just not right.''
Wexton, who previously ran to be commonwealth's attorney for Loudoun County in 2011, coming up short while winning the portions currently comprising the 33rd District, told Metro Weekly she believes she is better positioned – politically and ideologically – to win the seat and keep it in Democratic hands. She notes that both of the presumptive Republicans who might run for the seat are extremely conservative, particularly on social issues.
Some Republican bloggers have accused Wexton of living outside the district, attacking her because she appears to be the presumptive nominee due to geography. (Almost three-quarters of the district is in Loudoun County.) But she has pushed back against those accusations.
''I live in the district proper,'' she said. ''They can check my voter status as well as anyone else can, and I'm sure they have been … I'm sick of Republicans peeking in our bedroom windows, and, ironically, now I have a lot of Republicans peeking in my bedroom windows to see if I live here. So make of that what you will.''
Wexton said she supports the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia, as well as closing loopholes on mandatory background checks and repealing the ''Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers'' (TRAP) laws passed in recent years by the Republican-led General Assembly. She also enthusiastically threw her support behind efforts to ban employment discrimination against LGBT people, repeal the statewide ban on same-sex marriage and, in the meantime, while the ban is still in place, work to extend visitation rights, adoption rights and insurance benefits to same-sex couples and families.
''We need somebody in Richmond who's going to follow in the tradition of Sen. Herring, engaging in pragmatic problem-solving while protecting the rights of our citizens,'' Wexton said. ''And that means all of our citizens.''
Because Virginia does not register by party, voters wishing to cast a ballot in Saturday's Democratic caucuses may do so, but will be required to sign a pledge promising to vote for the Democratic Party's eventual nominee, according to Virginia Democratic Party press secretary Ashley Bauman. Voting will occur at three locations: at the Herndon Community Center, in Meeting Room 3 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; in the Group Study Room at the Rust Library in Leesburg from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and at the Cascades Library in Potomac Falls, in Conference Room B, from 12:30 to 5 p.m.
The Virginia State Board of Elections today certified Democrat Mark Herring as the winner in the commonwealth's attorney general race, giving Herring, an LGBT-supportive candidate, a narrow 165-vote lead out of more than 2.2 million votes cast.
Due to the closeness of the race, both candidates declared victory at points during the days following the election, as a re-canvass of votes throughout the state turned up various human or machine errors that affected the count. Election observers via Twitter also pointed out discrepancies in the return rate of absentee ballots for the state's 8th Congressional District, after which local election officials in Democratic-leaning Fairfax County – the state's most populous county – discovered nearly 3,000 missing absentee ballots.
Following the re-canvass of votes, Herring gained a slim lead. Fairfax County then allowed voters who had cast provisional ballots to come in person and attest to the validity of their ballots. The Fairfax county election board – controlled by Republicans 2-1 – counted 271 of 493 provisional ballots, expanding Herring's lead.
According to The Washington Post, even though the Republican-run state election board's decision to certify the results was unanimous, Chairman Charles E. Judd said he was ''concerned about the integrity of the data,'' noting a lack of uniformity in counting votes that occurred between most locations – which reported their results by the Friday following the election – and Fairfax County, which had delayed the counting of the county's provisional ballots to the Tuesday following the election and after the Veterans Day holiday weekend.
Following the certification, the Obenshain campaign released a statement saying it was reviewing the results.
''With the completion of the State Board of Elections vote tally, this initial count show the narrowest percent vote differential of any U.S. statewide race in the 21st century and the closest statewide election in modern Virginia history,'' Obenshain's campaign manager Chris Leavitt said in the statement. ''As it currently stands, the 165 vote margin out of more than 2.2 million votes cast is well within the margin that could be potentially closed in a recount. There have been four statewide elections in the U.S. since 2000 that finished within a 300-vote margin. In three of those four statewide elections, the results were reversed in a recount.''
''Over the next few days, we will continue to review these results. Margins this small are why Virginia law provides a process for a recount,'' Leavitt continued. ''However, a decision to request a recount, even in a historically close election, is not one to be made lightly. Virginia law allows ten days to request a recount. We will make further announcements regarding a recount well within that time, in order to ensure the closure and confidence in the results that Virginians deserve.''
Under Virginia law, if the margin of victory of an election is within a point, the losing candidate has 10 days after certification to demand a recount. If the results remained unchanged, the losing candidate – in this case, Obenshain – has three days to file a formal protest contesting the election results.
The Herring campaign declared victory following the certification of the results, releasing a statement thanking the board, local voter registrars and election officials for their professionalism in overseeing the election.
''I am gratified that the State Board of Elections today certified me the winner of a close but fair election,'' Herring said in the statement. ''I look forward to serving the people of Virginia as Attorney General.''
''Today, we move forward to tackle some of the unique challenges of our era which fall under the auspices of the next Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia,'' Herring continued. ''Our guiding principle will be to put the law and Virginians first, instead of adherence to extreme ideology. In the areas of public safety, veterans services, civil rights, consumer and small business protections, and ethics in our public sphere, significant progress can and will be made for Virginians.''...more
Four days before Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, an audience at the downtown D.C. headquarters of the Center for American Progress (CAP) listened to a story that would likely make anyone thankful not to be a detained immigrant.
''When the police arrived to settle the dispute, they arrested Krypcia and placed her in detention, because they learned that she had fallen out of legal-immigrant status,'' Jessica Jeanty told the midday crowd of about 50 people. Jeanty, policy counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), was relating the story of a transgender woman who fled her native El Salvador in hope of finding a safer environment in the U.S. to express her gender identity, who'd simply been overcharged by a cab driver. Though Krypcia had been in the U.S. for nearly a decade, that minor dispute over cab fare turned into nearly eight months of suffering.
''She spent this time in solitary confinement, because detention authorities refused to house her with other women, and they knew she would not be safe in the male population,'' Jeanty continued. ''The long periods of isolation Krypcia spent in solitary confinement led her to be so distressed and emotionally distraught that she eventually resigned to signing a voluntary order for her own deportation. After months of isolation, she would've rather risked her life by returning to El Salvador and facing violence, than to waste away indefinitely in U.S. immigration detention.''
While Krypcia, who also received help from D.C.'s Casa Ruby multicultural LGBT community center, was eligible to apply for asylum as a transgender immigrant from El Slavador, Jeanty pointed out a one-year filing deadline on such a request.
''Because she never heard of the deadline, she never filed for asylum within the one-year period,'' Jeanty said. ''She missed it and that was not available for her.''
Krypcia may also be giving thanks this Thanksgiving with a thought to the immigration judge who refused to send her back to El Salvador, granting a status short of permanent residency, but that nonetheless returned Krypcia's U.S.-based freedom to her.
''Her story really illustrates how our current system locks up too many people, for too long, in harsh conditions that can really be very severe for transgender people, and for LGBT people overall,'' Jeanty concluded. ''It's a really good example of how the immigration system and the asylum provisions can have a very disproportionate effect on LGBT immigrants.''
The occasion for Jeanty sharing Krypcia's story was the Monday release of ''Dignity Denied: LGBT Immigrants in U.S. Immigration Detention,'' a report penned by Sharita Gruberg, policy analyst for the LGBT Immigration Project at CAP, a progressive think tank. And after Jeanty shared that story, she turned the program over to Gruberg, who introduced three panelists to discuss the topic: Christine Fialho, co-founder and executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC); Royce Murray, policy director at the National Immigrant Justice Center; and Olga Tomchin, Soros fellow at the Transgender Law Center.
''While the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, does not keep data on the sexual orientation or gender identity of people in its custody, reports of treatment of LGBT detainees obtained through Freedom of Information … requests and through complaints filed by immigrant rights groups reveal that much like the general prison population – where LGBT inmates are 15 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population – LGBT immigrants in immigration detention facilities face an increased risk of abuse in detention,'' reads a portion of the introduction to Gruberg's report. ''The U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment went as far as finding the treatment of LGBT immigrants in the U.S. detention facilities in violation of the Convention Against Torture after it received information on gay and transgender individuals who had been subjected to solitary confinement, torture, and ill-treatment – including sexual assault – while detained in U.S. immigration facilities.''
The report comes as the immigration-reform debate again heats up on Capitol Hill, and as many activists hope recent marriage-equality advances will allow focus to turn to other LGBT-related issues.
A number, courtesy of the Williams Institute at the School of Law at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, was also an important part of the conversation: 267, 000 – at least – representing the number of LGBT undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
Panelists discussed an array of disproportionate challenges facing this population, from problems with police and immigration overlap, as illustrated by Krypcia's story, to how homophobia and transphobia have worked against LGBT immigrants accessing services.
Fialho shared a story of how the system has also worked against those attempting to advocate on behalf of LGBT detainees.
''One particular woman at the Santa Ana (Calif.) City Jail who had been denied hormone therapy asked us to speak with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on her behalf to get her hormone therapy,'' Fialho shared. ''Unfortunately, attempts to do that failed. … So, one of the things I did was write a blog on the Huffington Post, not mentioning this woman by name, but just mentioning this one instance of this denial of hormone therapy, as well as some of the other problems we were seeing at this facility. And within 48 hours of posting this blog on the Huffington Post, ICE responded, not by trying to fix the problem but by shutting down our visitation program – not only at this particular facility, but at the other two facilities in Southern California where we were operating. ICE basically blacklisted our volunteers at one of the facilities … and prevented me as an attorney from doing a legal visit to these facilities as well. The problem that we faced was trying to get back into the facilities.
''However, what was great about this was that even though ICE responded by shutting down our visitation program, they did get the hormone therapy to this woman within a week.''
Tomchin, who has also represented transgender clients, stressed how vulnerable this population is, particularly transgender women of color, offering that one such client was arrested simply for jaywalking.
Among a ''wish list'' of items for improving the situation for LGBT immigrants in U.S. detention were suggestions for alternatives to detention, such as community support programs; a hope for eliminating the one-year deadline for filing a request for asylum; and a prohibition on police making immigration arrests so that LGBT immigrants not fear arrest when seeking police assistance.
Tomchin, however, likely put the strongest point on the Monday discussion.
''I very much take the position that ICE simply cannot house trans people safely, within a prison context,'' she said bluntly. ''This is an LGBT issue. In terms of governmental homophobia and transphobia and actual suffering caused by the U.S. government because of people's gender identity and sexual orientation, this is about as bad as it gets.''...more
There is something electric about being in an LGBTQ space. The spark, the sizzle of energy, compassion and willingness to both question and listen fills the air. Though I grew up in a lesbian-headed household my whole life, it was not until I was 13 that I was in a consciously LGBTQ space. I had joyfully joined the end the Boston Pride Parade a few years earlier, tossing candy to kids on the parade route with, at times, a little too much enthusiasm. Though this was a fun memory, it was not until I joined COLAGE programming at Family Week in Provincetown, Mass., that for the first time I was in a room filled with youth who also had LGBTQ parents. I felt safe, I felt understood and I felt home. That feeling has influenced my activism and personal choices ever since.
Knowing the deep impact LGBTQ advocacy and LGBTQ-inclusive spaces have had on my life, it deeply saddens me to know that my experience is somewhat unique. There are people throughout the U.S. who have not yet felt that current of acceptance and there are people around the world who are legally and socially barred from ever creating that space.
In a country like Belarus, where non-governmental organizations (NGO) are required to be registered with authorities, LGBT activists face discrimination, threats and other abuses at the hands of the police. Just this year, Ihar Tsikhanyuk, an openly gay man and LGBT-rights activist, was physically and verbally abused by police after he tried to register the Human Rights Center Lambda, an NGO that supports the rights of LGBT people in Belarus.
Not long after first registering the NGO, Ihar was taken from the hospital, where he was being treated for a stomach ulcer, to the police station. There police officers repeatedly punched and taunted him, demeaning him for being gay and threatening him with more violence. When police officers returned Ihar to the hospital, he asked for his injuries to be documented, but the hospital staff refused.
Those responsible for beating and threatening Ihar Tsikhanyuk have yet to be held accountable. Other activists connected to the Human Rights Center Lambda also remain at risk of further threats and abuses due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and continued LGBT activism. When silence accompanies abuse, it both condones and perpetuates the violence.
Other human rights activists in Belarus face similar harassment and intimidation from authorities. While it is important to recognize that LGBT activists are not alone in the crackdown on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Belarus, the unique reality faced by LGBT activists targeted for their identities matters.
Most people have, at some point in their lives, felt isolated or alone. For some, this alienation is brief and a community or individual embraces that person and changes their life. But imagine that you are isolated from other individuals or communities who share your identity. LGBT people in countries like Belarus are trying to create that space to demonstrate to themselves and others that they are not alone. Every person has the human right to a life of dignity free from discrimination, but this is a distant reality for many who face grave personal risk just for expressing their identity.
This year, Amnesty International's Write for Rights campaign is standing with Ihar Tsikhanyuk and the members of the Human Rights Center Lambda. In December we will come together to send messages of solidarity by urging the government of Belarus to initiate a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the ill-treatment and threats that Ihar suffered at the hands of police officers.
Activists like Ihar must be protected from further violence and humiliation. By joining us in writing to the Belarusian government, you can join millions of activists from around the world calling for change, so they too can create welcoming spaces without risk and advocate for their rights. This is our moment to echo around the world that LGBT activists and individuals are not alone.
Emily McGranachan is the social media lead for Amnesty International's LGBT Rights Coordination Group. This spring she will complete a master's degree in Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs at American University....more
LGBT allies and advocates in Virginia say they are committed to permanently banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public employment and repealing the Marshall-Newman Amendment, which bans the recognition of any form of same-sex relationship, even if committees are reshuffled in the wake of November's election and several expected House vacancies.
The victories of state Sen. Ralph Northam (D) in the lieutenant governor's race and state Sen. Mark Herring (D) – provided he maintains his lead in a recount – in the attorney general's race will leave two Democrat-held seats in the closely divided state Senate vacant, meaning Democrats must win the election contests to replace both men in order to gain control of the chamber, with Northam acting as a tiebreaker.
But Northern Virginia's state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), the General Assembly's only openly gay member, says that even losing both seats wouldn't significantly affect the makeup of Senate committees, which are currently split 8-7 in favor of Republicans, and 3-2 in favor of Republicans at the subcommittee level, as Senate rules say committee memberships last for a senator's full four-year term.
Ebbin is the chief patron of a Senate resolution to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment to the Virginia Constitution, which currently blocks recognition of marriage as anything but ''the union of one man and one woman,'' as well as any legal status for same-sex couples at all similar to marriage, anywhere in the state. That resolution has been co-patroned by incoming Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church, Fairfax Co.), who was elected in November to replace the retiring Del. Jim Scott.
In addition to the Ebbin-Scott resolution, Del. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond, Henrico, Charles City counties) has sponsored a similar House resolution. Last year, a similar bill patroned by Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax Co.) was killed in subcommittee.
Ebbin tells Metro Weekly he will be ''working hard'' to find votes for his resolution in the upper chamber, noting that conversations his Republican peers have already begun.
''The fact that we had three statewide candidates elected who were supportive of marriage equality this last election has proven that pro-gay legislators can prevail in statewide elections,'' Ebbin says. ''No one has lost an election for being pro-gay.''
While he hasn't polled every member of the Democratic caucus on their marriage-equality positions, Ebbin says most are supportive. Ebbin says his short-term focus is on getting the resolution out of committee and onto a floor vote, which give a sense of which legislators to lobby on resolution. He added that recent developments in other states to legalize marriage equality, along with the Supreme Court's June decisions favoring marriage equality, have made some legislators, including Republicans, open to changing their positions.
While not offering names, Ebbin says several Virginia legislators in the House of Delegates seem to have ''evolved'' on marriage equality. Prior to November's election, Del. Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach, Chesapeake) told the editorial board of the Virginian-Pilot that he now supports repealing the Marshall-Newman Amendment, something the board cited in its endorsement of him. However, Villanueva also noted in that interview with the editorial board that he is still opposed to any bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment.
Ebbin also has some time to rally support for the repeal of the marriage ban, even if the vote doesn't occur during the 2014 session, due in part to the nature of how a constitutional amendment must be repealed. Under Virginia law, the General Assembly must first pass a bill or resolution repealing the Marshall-Newman Amendment prior to the 2015 state and local elections. Next, that measure must again in the session following those elections. Finally, the measure would be put to Virginia voters. That means the earliest the ban could be repealed is 2016.
Ebbin adds that he will be introducing, along with Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond, Henrico, Charles City counties), a bill to prohibit discrimination in state employment based upon a job applicant's sexual orientation or gender identity. Last year, the two successfully shepherded a similar bill through the Senate, though it died in a House subcommittee.
Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D) has vowed to sign an executive order to ban such discrimination in public employment, but Ebbin says passing a statewide statute needs to be a priority of LGBT allies in the Legislature.
''There needs to be consistency in state law, and nondiscrimination policies should not depend on the whim of a governor,'' says Ebbin of the need for a nondiscrimination law. ''It tells all employees their service is valued and protected.''
Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax Co.), who co-patroned both the Surovell bill to repeal Marshall-Newman and the nondiscrimination bill last session, says Virginia voters have ''completely changed'' on the issue of marriage equality and would support having another vote on the issue. But he was more pessimistic about the chance of nondiscrimination legislation in the House, due largely to the influence of lobbyists from the Family Foundation, a right-wing organization that emphasizes socially conservative views and opposes LGBT rights.
''I think we might gain a few votes, but it wouldn't be more than two or three House members,'' says Sickles. ''The Family Foundation has them on a short string.''
Asked about whether House Democrats could be further disadvantaged by upcoming vacancies, particularly the retirement of Del. Onzlee Ware (D-Roanoke) and the possible absence of Del. Lynwood Lewis (D-Norfolk, Accomack, Northampton counties) if he wins a special election to fill Northam's Senate seat, Sickles says he doesn't believe Republicans would use potential vacancies, as some liberal bloggers have feared, to strip Democrats of additional committee seats by changing the committee structure from a 15-7 split favoring Republicans to a 16-6 split.
Sickles adds that even absent Ware's seat, Democrats would still hold 32, the number they held last year. And Lewis, he points out, will continue to serve in the House throughout his campaign for the Senate, meaning the possibility of two vacancies at the same time – which would be the trigger for a committee reshuffling – is unlikely. Besides, he says, with Republicans already holding a supermajority in the chamber, there's little incentive for House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Fredericksburg, Stafford Co.) to make such a power grab.
''Del. Ware's seat will be filled before we go into session,'' says Sickles. ''I don't think the majority will use his absence as an excuse to cut seats on our committees. … The speaker's a very fair man.''
Jonathan Parrish, executive director of LGBT-rights group Equality Virginia, says he's unaware of any potential committee reshuffling on the House side, but confirms his organization's strategy will be constant, regardless.
''Our focus has always been on passing the nondiscrimination bill through the Senate, and then working on getting it past the House,'' Parrish said.
Ebbin, a former House member, says he remains optimistic about the chances of LGBT legislation this session, and doesn't foresee any major anti-gay legislative threats.
''We have a much-improved climate in the General Assembly when it comes to these measures,'' Ebbin shares, noting that legislators will no longer be able to use the threat of a veto by outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) as an excuse for inaction. ''We will get a better sense of attitudes on gay rights in the General Assembly this session, and will see if we have any new allies.''...more
The creators of the new musical If/Then have given D.C. theatergoers many reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving. The most obvious three: a grand return for Idina Menzel, in a demanding new role that proves she's still got those powerful, pristine pipes and seasoned acting chops last seen in her Tony-winning turn in Wicked a decade ago; an equally celebratory return for LaChanze, who won the lead-actress Tony two years after Menzel for her work in The Color Purple and here gives a strong, standout performance in a truly supporting role; and of course the fact that If/Then is being staged here first.
As a result, Washingtonians get to see it before any other locale, including Broadway, where it won't make its debut until March.
If/Then: Idina Menzel (L) and James Snyder
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
There are still more reasons to give thanks and see the latest show from the creators of the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning musical Next to Normal before it ends its short D.C. run next Sunday, Dec. 8. But – and this is a big qualifier – don't go into it expecting to get an early Christmas gift, a show you'll still be swooning about into the new year. Because after you reflect on and talk up Menzel and LaChanze -- and there's Rent's Anthony Rapp among the cast, too -- you'll get mired in the muck of what is a confusing show, with a convoluted plot and mostly overwrought music to match.
It's a struggle just to make sense of writer/lyricist Brian Yorkey's overly ambitious plot, which mostly moves at a New York-paced gallop and often abruptly alters course just like a train on the city's subway. Menzel stars as middle-aged Elizabeth, a Type A analytical woman who overthinks and second-guesses every decision she makes. That predilection hasn't helped her as much as she thinks it should -- certainly not when it comes to love. We meet Elizabeth just after returning to an urban dream of New York, after a spell in the sprawling nightmare of Phoenix where she moved with a husband who didn't value her or her ambitions. She's a credentialed urban planner, the show jokes at one point, which does not mean she's cut out to work at Urban Outfitters.
After leaving Arizona, Elizabeth, in short order, meets her lesbian neighbor Kate, a school teacher played by LaChanze; reconnects with her bisexual college friend and sometime-lover Lucas, played by Rapp; and has several random run-ins with Josh (James Snyder) before chancing what Kate calls fate and agreeing to a date. From there the plot zigzags back and forth between several possible life and career paths for Elizabeth -- alternately known as ''Liz'' and ''Beth'' -- chief among them whether to remain a professor and find fulfillment as a mother, or stay childless and aim for greater success as a high-profile city official.
Those paths don't appear to be mutually exclusive by show's end, or at least not to my understanding. If/Then is fuzzy on ''what is'' versus ''what might have been'' in Elizabeth's life. Whatever path she takes, the end result is that Elizabeth has slowly made a kind of peace with a reality that is unpredictable -- and always changing. No matter how much you've done and how much you've learned, she sings, every day you're ''Always Starting Over.'' That penultimate number is the show's crowning glory, its version of Gypsy's ''Rose's Turn,'' complete with Menzel belting it out to the balcony.
If only it didn't take so long to get to such a display of bravura. Instead, Elizabeth is an identifiable but hard-to-love character, one who dwells in the past -- and worries about her future -- more than appreciating the present. The story's biggest saving grace is probably LaChanze's character Kate, a nice, light counterbalance to Elizabeth's neurosis. Kate helps make Elizabeth more open to chance and less anxious about things she can't quite explain. You don't exactly love many of the other characters in If/Then, and you can't single out many of the other supporting actors for praise, either. That's no doubt partly a consequence of them still settling into their characters, particularly in a show, directed by Michael Greif, still finding its way. (The show officially opened Sunday, Nov. 24, after a few weeks of previews when reportedly it underwent significant changes, no doubt including character development.)If/Then -1/2 To Dec. 8 National Theatre $53 to $178 800-514-3849 www.thenationaldc.com
Aside from ''Always Starting Over,'' the all-character ''Finale'' and a few other songs, you won't be singing many praises for Tom Kitt's music. Or, at least, several awkward leaps and disjointed passages throughout will trip you up in your appreciation. Structurally the music is far more complicated than it should be. It often seems complicated simply for the sake of being complicated. For example, the random leap to falsetto in a late passage of ''You Never Know'' doesn't help the song, and it certainly doesn't help James Snyder's voice, which strains beyond comfort. There are also a few subpar songs, such as ''A Map of New York,'' unfortunately drawn out too long and seemingly never-ending, with long passages of dialogue sprinkled in between choruses.
Larry Keigwin of the contemporary dance company Keigwin + Company is making what will be his Broadway debut as a choreographer -- and it is certainly different than most anything else seen on the Great White Way. Keigwin has the actors move in loose, subtle steps, more individualistic than in-synch; more blasé than bombastic -- Bob Fosse's style it is not. It's far easier to appreciate Mark Wendland's elaborate set design, as well as Kenneth Posner's accentuating lights, often bold and bright. The set includes a turntable spinning around the rooms of Elizabeth's spacious apartment, and a large overhead mirror rotating to add depth and dimension to the show's most hopeful scenes, all set in Madison Square Park, where the principal characters meet.
Too bad we can't spend more time there....more
As we approach another World AIDS Day I find myself reflecting on one of the most troubling elements in our discussion moving forward. It is a barrier that continually hamstrings our efforts to create real change and fully actualize the turning point of the epidemic.
That troubling element is the stigma, discrimination, blame and collective denial associated with HIV infection. We must confront stigma and its chilling effect on prevention, care and policy. The active and meaningful participation of people living with HIV is essential to a comprehensive and effective response to HIV.
We can think of stigma as the idea of something being disgraceful, something socially unacceptable. This perception of shame prompts us to distance ourselves from the act, action or person associated with the stigma. That distance only reinforces the negative stereotypes of how HIV has entered people's lives. The imagined belief of how HIV enters a person's life is in many ways is the least important part of the conversation. But from the beginning of the epidemic we have judged transmission to the point that we erase the person and focus on acts, causing stigma and separation.
It is the judgment and mistrust created by stigma that affects policy, prevention and even public perception – with chilling results. Stigma hampers our ability to effectively implement programming to help us make the greatest possible strides in countering the epidemic. Stigma helps the epidemic spread, out of sight and underground. It prevents targeted populations from adequately addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS in their local communities.
One of the first things we must do is look inward and reflect on what we can do at the individual level to confront stigma. We truly can make a difference by rethinking and readjusting our approach, starting with one of the most basic and powerful tools for change: our interpersonal interactions and language.
Though it seems simple, sometimes it's the simple things that have the greatest power to create lasting change in society.
Because language is what creates community, it is important to choose words thoughtfully. When we engage one another around issues of disclosure and understanding, we can see that stigma hinders our ability to create a clear picture of an individual. As a result, we rehearse time-honored scripts too often steeped in naiveté and ignorance. Examining the origin and impact of these scripts allows us to unpack old useless baggage and fill these new voids with compassion and understanding.
It's when we begin to make ourselves vulnerable and open that we feel empathy, that we allow ourselves to understand the unique humanity that resides in each of us. In this understanding we gain the ability to see individuals not as the unknown mysterious other, but rather as sisters and brothers of shared commonalities that allow us to connect and engage beyond the divide created by mistrust, ignorance and our lack of understanding.
To break down this barrier to understanding, we must alter the way we view our conversations. When people disclose their status to you, they are opening outstretched hands and offering the keys to a very personal piece of themselves. They simply ask that you equally open up and reach back to bear witness to their inner truth. In this moment we let ourselves experience vulnerability, which is essential to making the transition to changing the course of the epidemic. This transformation in belief brings into question the basis of our fear and hatred of otherness. Only by adopting a politics of vulnerability can we escape the devastating condition that stigma causes.
Dec. 1 is a day when people are looking for action. Getting an HIV test is a powerful action. But equally powerfulIn that moment a person is holding sacred the vulnerability and trust given to them you during an HIV disclosure. Take time to recognize and affirm someone who does this, bearing witness to this great act of human compassion.
This is not call to simply reach out and embrace someone else. I am asking you to reach out and make yourself vulnerable to understand the shared commonality that you have with another individual. I ask you to look beyond the distinctions and remember that we are all humans trying to live, laugh and love in this world, more alike than different.
Matthew Rose is a member of the community advisory board that serves the Vaccine Research Center at NIH. He also serves on the organizing committee of the Young Black Gay Men's Initiative. Follow him on Twitter @MTKRose....more
Gary Niles Montgomery, the Washington man accused of stabbing transgender woman Deoni Jones to death in February 2012, was today declared incompetent to stand trial and ordered to be held at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, where he will undergo psychiatric care for ''competency restoration.''
Montgomery, facing a charge of first-degree murder while armed, was twice found competent after his arrest, but his lawyers, Anthony Matthews and Colle Latin, objected to both findings and argued that the court needed to revisit the issue. D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin heeded those objections and ordered a third mental evaluation. That evaluation was performed over a 30-day period at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, the D.C. Department of Health institution that houses defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial or in need of intense psychiatric care.
Based on the results of that third evaluation, Morin ruled Montgomery incompetent to stand trial, placed him under St. Elizabeth's care, and ordered Montgomery to submit to a fourth observation while in custody. Morin scheduled a Feb. 7 mental-observation hearing in Superior Court, which will mark four days after the two-year anniversary of Jones's death. At that hearing it will be determined whether the case against Montgomery can move to trial, dependent on whether his mental condition has improved.
Montgomery, originally charged with second-degree murder while armed, was initially found competent to stand trial after a brief screening in March 2012 following several mental-observation hearings. But the case stalled after the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia failed to obtain an indictment on a charge of first-degree murder while armed until November 2012. During that eight-month period, Montgomery switched lawyers for the second time since his arrest, leading to further delays in the case against him.
Matthews and Latin, Montgomery's current defense attorneys, raised questions about their client's competency, prompting Morin to order subsequent mental-health evaluations in early 2013. Montgomery was again found competent to stand trial, leading to another objection from the defense team and the scheduling of the third mental observation.
In the report issued following the second mental observation, St. Elizabeth's CEO Patrick Canavan and KyleeAnn Stevens, the director of forensic services at St. Elizabeth's, wrote that Montgomery was able to comprehend the charges against him and the possible sentencing.
''Mr. Montgomery was able to cooperate with this evaluation without difficulty and would likely be able to behave appropriately in the courtroom,'' Canavan and Stevens wrote. ''He did not demonstrate any signs of mental illness during this evaluation such as being distracted by hallucinations or responding to internal stimuli. … Mr. Montgomery demonstrated an adequate factual and rational understanding of the proceedings against him, and has exhibited a sufficient present ability to assist his attorney in crafting a defense with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.''
Moreover, Canavan and Stevens noted at the time that Montgomery not only understood the sentence he could face if found guilty, but demonstrated an ability to modify his statements, legal strategy, and plea options when faced with hypothetical scenarios that might arise in the course of a trial. Both Canavan and Stevens recommended that Montgomery continue to take anti-psychotic medication for an undiagnosed psychiatric disorder, but noted that while on the medication he appeared competent and fully aware of his surroundings, prompting his transfer from St. Elizabeth's to the D.C. Jail.
According to charging documents, at least two witnesses saw a man matching Montgomery's description strike Jones in the head as she stood at a bus stop on the corner of East Capitol Street and Sycamore Road NE, in the city's Benning Heights neighborhood. One witness found Jones had been stabbed in the head and called for help, while a second attempted to pursue the attacker but gave up the chase in order to seek help for Jones.
A Metro Transit Police Department officer on patrol responded to the scene and called for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services. Paramedics took Jones to Prince George's County Hospital Center in Cheverly, Md., where she later died of her injuries in the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 2012....more
A D.C. Superior Court jury today found Michael Poth, 22, of Washington, guilty of manslaughter while armed in the fatal stabbing of 24-year-old fellow Marine Philip Bushong in the city's Barracks Row neighborhood during the early morning hours of April 21, 2012.
Poth was originally tried on a charge of second-degree murder while armed, but the jury initially deadlocked on a decision. Poth's lawyer, Bernard Grimm, made a motion for a mistrial, which was denied by D.C. Superior Court Judge Russell F. Canan. Canan then instructed the jury that to either choose to convict Poth on the more serious charge – murder – or on a ''lesser included offense'' of manslaughter, meaning a charge that meets the same basic criteria needed for a conviction on the more serious charge.
After receiving instructions, the jury found Poth guilty of second-degree voluntary manslaughter, meaning he planned or intended to attack Bushong, but only to cause him bodily harm and not to kill him. Canan has scheduled Poth's sentencing for Feb. 7. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, a charge of voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison.
The reduction of the charge from murder to voluntary manslaughter signals a success on the part of Poth's defense team to cast doubt on whether Poth maliciously attacked Bushong, or whether, as Grimm argued in trial, Poth had been provoked and was attempting to defend himself following a verbal altercation with Bushong that quickly turned physical. Poth's defense team also successfully managed to have some of Poth's more incriminating statements suppressed, meaning the jury was not allowed to hear about them during trial.
The statements in question included: ''Call me boots and the fight started''; The Marine Corps controls my mind. I don't control my mind''; ''He was talking shit, so I stabbed him''; and ''He punched me in the face, so I stabbed him.'' Those statements were thrown out by Canan after a responding Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer conceded that he might have asked Poth a direct question prior to reading him his Miranda rights, even though the second officer on scene testified that when they arrived on scene Poth's outbursts had been spontaneous.
According to the government's evidence, Poth and Bushong did not know each other prior to the event, but crossed paths when they were in the area near the 700 block of 8th Street SE, near the U.S. Marine Barracks. Poth walked by Bushong, who was with a group of friends at a local restaurant and bar. Shortly after Poth went by, Bushong yelled something at Poth, who took out a small pocket knife and waved it at Bushong and his friends, muttering that he was going to ''cut someone's fucking lungs out.''
Minutes later, Poth, after circling the block, approached Bushong, who was talking to a friend. Video from security cameras had previously shown Bushong and his friend, who who happened to be gay, embracing during Poth's first pass by the restaurant. Poth uttered an anti-gay slur at the two, after which Bushong followed Poth and the two began arguing.
Bushong grabbed Poth's shoulder and drew back his fist to punch Poth. Poth stated, ''I'm going to stab you,'' and pulled out his knife, hitting Bushong once in the chest. Bushong was transported to an area hospital and died of his injuries two hours later.
''Today a District of Columbia jury held Michael Poth accountable for stabbing a fellow Marine to death on a public street near their barracks,'' U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen Jr. said in a statement announcing Poth's conviction. ''Their guilty verdict makes clear that our community will not tolerate the deadly violence that so often arises from petty disputes. We hope that this decision brings some measure of comfort to the family and friends of the young Marine killed that night.''...more
About 70 people, lit candles in hand, gathered Sunday evening at the ''Pillar of Fire,'' a sculpture at 14th and S Streets NW that marks the location of the first Whitman-Walker Clinic – now Whitman-Walker Health – D.C.'s front line at the dawn the AIDS epidemic and beyond.
World AIDS Day, held annually Dec. 1 since 1988, this year emphasized ''Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation,'' a theme underscored by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), echoing statements he made when the District became the first U.S. city in 22 years to host the XIX International AIDS Conference in June 2012.
2013 World AIDS Day Candlelight Memorial with Councilman Jim Graham (center) and Mayor Vincent Gray (center right)
(Photo by Ward Morrison)
''The day is coming, ladies and gentlemen, when we will have eradicated the infection and eradicated full-blown AIDS in our society, and we want to be the first to do that, here in the District of Columbia,'' Gray said, noting that the District's HIV-infection rate, while still more than twice the rate considered to be an epidemic, has dropped from 3 percent to 2.4 percent due to efforts by District health officials and community health centers specializing in HIV/AIDS care like Whitman-Walker Health, to encourage people to get tested and seek treatment. ''We are going in the right direction.''
Councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), David Grosso (I-At large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) were among the local officials attending the vigil. Graham, who served as the executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic from 1984 to 1999, eulogized the former clients and health workers – some of whom were also infected with the virus - who had worked at the clinic and dedicated their lives to serving those less fortunate than themselves and fighting AIDS.
''It's always interesting to me … that World AIDS Day is celebrated a couple of days after Thanksgiving, when we're all so grateful for so many blessings in our lives,'' Graham said, extending his thanks to several of the current employees of Whitman-Walker who dotted the crowd. ''I know I am grateful for Whitman-Walker Health, and everything that is going on every single day here.''
Whitman-Walker Health's Executive Director Don Blanchon tried to rally those in attendance to reach out to those who could be at risk of infection by encouraging them to know their HIV status and provide support for those who may be out of the reach of places like Whitman-Walker.
''On World AIDS Day, we think globally, obviously, but I want you to act locally,'' Blanchon said. ''And I mean that: Get tested, know your status, practice safe sex, and one of the many things you can do to help us right now … is take the effort to reach out to one human being in your life, and bring them in to get tested. There's nothing more important than knowing your status. And if you're living with HIV, stay in treatment, come and see us. We're absolutely there when you need it.''
Near the close of the candlelight vigil, Rabbi Laurie Green of Bet Mishpachah, a local LGBT Jewish congregation, led the group in a short prayer and lighting of a menorah to celebrate the fifth day of Hanukkah. Following the menorah lighting, attendees were invited to speak aloud names of those lost to HIV/AIDS over the years. Rev. Courtenay Miller, the senior pastor of the Norbeck Communty Church in Silver Spring, Md., who also offered prayers throughout the vigil, then led the crowd in singing the first verse of ''Amazing Grace,'' with the last notes echoing in the dark night air as the candles were extinguished and the attendees went their separate ways....more
Not long ago, I submitted myself to a full physical at my doctor's office after much concerned haranguing from husband and family. It's heartwarming that so many were concerned for me as I entered my prime heart-attack years of middle age.
I wasn't particularly nervous given that my primary health problems come down to tennis-related knee and arm pain, along with stress levels that occasionally push me into drama queen territory. But the blood pressure was fine and the heart seemed strong, so I was feeling relaxed until near the end when we got to the blood draw and my doctor mentioned all the different things I would be tested for.
I was getting an HIV test. And that's the moment I stopped being relaxed.
Just to be clear, the routinization of HIV testing as part of our everyday medical care is something I deeply believe in and have diligently worked for in the past. Getting the test myself should be as routine for me as it should be for the entire medical system.
But it's not.
Thinking about it rationally, I know I shouldn't be reverting to my early 1990's emotional state at the idea of having an HIV test. The test should have been just another box checked on the list, along with liver function and a prostate exam, two things I actually should be more worried about at this point in my life.
But a part of me has always been irrational about getting an HIV test because a part of me believes that I'm supposed to have HIV.
Shortly after World AIDS Day on Sunday, a transcript of an October 1982 press conference at the Reagan White House made the rounds on Facebook. Responding to a reporter's question on the emerging AIDS epidemic, press secretary Larry Speakes kicked off a series of jokes about homosexuals, to the merriment of much of the White House press corps. Because fags dying from an unknown disease was then the height of Washingtonian, inside-the-Beltway humor. And it happened more than once.
Transcript of 1982 White House press conference
As sickening as it is read from a distance of 30 years, it was even harder to hear those things at the time they happened. I was a 14-year-old, closeted, high school student in rural Kentucky when Ronald Reagan's top spokesman responded to a plague with a fag joke. Those same jokes and more — ''What's 'gay' stand for? Got AIDS Yet?'' — from my government, my school, my friends and even sometimes my family drilled the message deep into me: To be gay is to be diseased.
So getting tested in the 1990s was always a fearful experience for me, not only because I knew I had done things at times that put me at risk, but because over the years so many of my friends seroconverted. Too many of them died. No matter how much I worked in HIV prevention, no matter the progress I made in maturing into a happy homosexual man, some part of me has always thought of HIV as inevitable. After all, that's what I'd always been told.
In response to that White House transcript, I mentioned on Facebook that it's a miracle my generation grew up even halfway normal, at least those of us who got the chance to grow up. That's why I'm so incredibly thankful for the changes we've seen over the past decade and to live in a time when, despite the many challenges that remain, men like Larry Speakes and the 1982 White House press corps have been left behind in history — today's LGBT kids will learn much different lessons than I did.
And perhaps after another decade or two, that small part of me stuck in the past will finally accept that nothing is inevitable.
Sean Bugg is the editor emeritus of Metro Weekly. He can be reached at // . Follow him on Twitter at @seanbugg....more
The Hyattsville City, Md., Council voted 9-0 Monday to approve the Hyattsville Human Rights Act, a bill that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based upon a person's age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or physical characteristics.
Mayor Marc Tartaro and Ward Four Councilmember Edouard Haba, were absent, but both supported the Human Rights Act as written, according to Ward 3 Councilmember Patrick Paschall, the chief sponsor of the measure.
In passing the Human Rights Act, the city of less than 18,000 joins Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County and Montgomery County in passing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination legislation, which is seen as a first step in the fight to gain statewide protections. Currently, a little under half of the state's population lives in jurisdictions with such protections.
Bills granting statewide protections to transgender individuals have passed the Maryland House of Delegates, but have failed to gain the necessary votes in the Maryland Senate.
Paschall, also a senior policy counsel at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, says that passing a law reflecting Hyattsville's diversity has been his priority since being elected in May.
''The very first thing I wanted to do, the signature initiative I wanted to put my name on, was the Human Rights Act,'' says Paschall. ''We have the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of civil rights in Maryland, and we can send a message to Annapolis that residents overwhelmingly support gender-identity-inclusive laws.''
Carrie Evans, executive director of LGBT rights organization Equality Maryland, was among those who testified in support of the legislation, along with several Hyattsville residents, including LGBT-rights activist Candace Gingrich, associate director of the Human Rights Campaign's Youth and Campus Engagement Program and half-sister of former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In her testimony, Evans noted the importance of passing local laws to build momentum at the state level.
''Passing this ordinance in Hyattsville will make measurable differences in people's lives,'' Evans testified. ''Equality Maryland is part of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality, a coalition of more than 50 organizations, working on passing similar protections at the state level and your passage of this local law will help greatly in that effort.''
Passage of the Human Rights Act also makes Hyattsville the first small city in Maryland and the first jurisdiction in Prince George's County to provide nondiscrimination protections to transgender individuals. Transgender activists and allies have been trying to get Prince George's County – as the last remaining county in the state that can pass legislation independently – to approve protections similar to those included in Hyattsville's Human Rights Act, but Prince George's County Council leadership, particularly Council Chair Andrea C. Harrison, has been blocking a vote on such action.
Dr. Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, which is focused on passing transgender-inclusive protections at the state level, says Gender Rights Maryland is monitoring pending leadership elections in Prince George's County, but cautions that any leadership change will not necessarily ensure the five votes needed for passage of any transgender-inclusive legislation through the County Council.
Beyer notes, however, that polling by LGBT activists during the 2012 marriage-equality fight showed that more than 60 percent of Prince George's County residents support gender-identity protections, far more – at least at the time – than those who supported marriage equality.
The biggest fight for gender identity protections, says Beyer, remains at the state level, which may require a reshuffling of senate committees by Senate President Thomas V. ''Mike'' Miller (D-Anne Arundel, Prince George's counties) or the threat of a primary challenge to some of the Democrats on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee who have been blocking gender-identity protections.
Paschall says he expects to see other municipalities take steps to pass protections for transgender residents in the coming months, and is calling on fellow lawmakers across Maryland to show leadership on the issue. He adds that there is ''no excuse'' for the Prince George's County Council not to pass similar legislation.
''Until we see a county law passed – and, more importantly, a state law passed – we as government leaders have a responsibility and an opportunity,'' says Paschall, ''to provide protections for our transgender citizens.''...more
"People think our music is really fun," says JD Samson of the indie electronic/punk group JD Samson and Men. "But then when you listen to the lyrics," she adds with a laugh, "they're really depressing."
In truth, nothing about the indie electronic/punk group JD Samson and Men is depressing. The Brooklyn-based queer collective, whose other core member is guitarist Michael O'Neill, is just too playful and energetic to provoke a sense of despair. Even those pointed lyrics that some might consider depressing -- typically expressing liberal angst about our conservative, capitalistic times -- are sung in a giddy style and set to spunky, upbeat music steeped in the happy sounds of '80s synth-pop.
(Photo by BMF Media)
"I think the new album is more of a personal journey," Samson says about Labor, the follow-up to 2011's great politically charged Talk About Body. The set reflects a sweeter Samson, who first came to fame as the lesbian third of the feminist trio Le Tigre. "I wrote my first love song on this record," she notes, referring to sharp first single "All The Way Thru." This time around the group also collaborated with outside producers, including electronic act Yusek and Alex Suarez of Cobra Starship.
The collective, including Lorna Dune, will stop at upper Northwest's Comet Ping Pong in support of the new set Sunday, Dec. 8, for a show featuring opening acts from a couple D.C.-based bands that get the Samson stamp of approval, including power-pop trio Ex Hex and sassy synth-pop group Coup Savage and The Snips.
Samson, who also DJs and promotes alternative dance parties in her hip Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, says she would like to tour with a choir. And that's only one of the few long-term goals she mentions. "My goal is to just make sure that I continue to be creatively inspired and to keep working towards creative goals. It certainly isn't a goal that's about records sold or what kind of label we're on or what kind of festivals we're playing."more
"And that's the time I bought the gun."
Rita Lyons drops that hysterical bombshell in the midst of recounting a sordid family story in Nicky Silver's The Lyons, a black comedy full of devilishly delivered barbs and unexpected twists and turns. It's all bright wit and dark humor. You should consider the production at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda the company's dystopian holiday treat for 2013. Every member of the show's seriously dysfunctional Lyons family wishes for a better life and lineage. You know, your standard-issue affair. But fate is a bitch, and so is Rita Lyons.
(Photo by Danisha Crosby)
Surely your mother isn't quite as much of a monster as Rita, played with exacting precision by Naomi Jacobson. For decades Lyons has wished the husband she never loved would finally croak -- even once entertaining the idea of murdering him by firepower. Now that Ben Lyons (John Lescault) is on his deathbed, in a body riddled with cancer and a mouth full of potty, all she has to do is wait for death to take him away and leave her in peace. In the meantime she hopes to rekindle ties with her gay son and alcoholic daughter. In theory it shouldn't be hard, because they're all incredibly lonely people. But everything's a struggle in the Lyons family.
Silver, a gay playwright whose work is familiar to Woolly Mammoth patrons, has said that he doesn't set out to make likeable characters, only those who show a sense that "they are fighting for their survival." Director John Vreeke seems to have drilled that into his ensemble here. These Lyons are all lions to one degree or another. Jacobson is the queen of the jungle, portraying Rita as an utterly indomitable force, one who doesn't back down even when she knows she's said or done something wrong. Toward the end of Act 1, Rita reveals a vulnerable side in a soliloquy addressed to her sleeping husband about just how terrified she is of being alone. While that proves to be merely a momentary lapse of fortitude, it does help give us a fuller picture of the woman. It also allows Jacobson to show off her incredible range as an actor. She never stumbles in the demanding role.
But then Jacobson is in stellar company here. Lescault plays Ben as a thoroughly defeated man who nonetheless rages as if there were still hope, still love to be found with his wife. Marcus Kyd and Kimberly Gilbert are the Lyons' offspring, both horribly scarred by a lack of love and respect shown between, and from, their parents -- and yet both still showing signs that they are capable of giving love and respect. You'll be both charmed and distraught by Kyd's performance as an imaginative, intelligent Curtis, who keeps getting tripped up by a real life that was stunted far too early -- age 7, to be exact -- upon rejection by his homophobic father.The Lyons -1/2 To Dec. 22 Round House Theatre $10 to $45 240-644-1100 www.roundhousetheatre.org
And, as expected, if you've ever had the pleasure of seeing her onstage before, you won't be able to take your eyes off Gilbert. This incredibly expressive local actor puts her whole body into a role, with every physical movement and gesture adding to her portrayal. Gilbert as Lisa is well dressed (in stylish costumes by Rosemary Pardee), but a barely contained bundle of nerves and energy. She's a woman, full of greater potential, who can't seem to do the right thing, but also one who doesn't let that stop her from putting herself out there -- so unlike her brother.
The Lyons ends with a hint of resolution, with widowed mother Rita preparing for a getaway to the Caribbean and each Lyons kid trying to bond with an unlikely stranger. Even excepting for a few subplot twists better left as a surprise, these are signs that the future for this family might be better than its past. It wouldn't take much.
No doubt you first heard Betty Who a few months ago, courtesy of Spencer Stout's elaborately choreographed marriage proposal to his boyfriend, Dustin. You know, the one set at a Utah Home Depot?
"I didn't know them beforehand," says Who, whose song "Somebody Loves You" was the soundtrack to the incredibly popular video, which, to date, has registered nearly 11 million views on YouTube. "I wish I was that smart. Are you kidding? It was totally a shock, surprise, amazing thing that happened." The U.S.-based singer-songwriter, born Jessica Newham in Australia, couldn't have planned that kind of publicity. In fact, she wouldn't have planned it, at least not like that.
(Photo by Sean Hagwell)
"That song is actually a breakup song," Who explains. "I was leaving this relationship really devastated and sad. ... So it's kind of funny that it ended up being this incredibly sweet love song that people use to propose to each other with."
Who has since met the "amazing" couple -- who initially discovered her on Spotify -- and treated them to dinner. "I was like, 'I owe you dinner. You changed my life!'" For the record, though, Who was already in talks to sign with RCA Records months before the video went viral -- that just pushed everyone to move faster.
The 22-year-old Who has known since she was 12 that she wanted to be a pop musician, though she studied classical cello as a high school student at Michigan's famed Interlochen Center for the Arts. Who is incredibly grateful to her parents for all their support -- from moving with her halfway around the world to pursue her musical career, to raising her as an early supporter of the LGBT community.
"I grew up in Sydney, and my mom's best friends were all gay men," Who laughs. "So I'm very familiar with the gay community and I love being an ally." Who has recently performed at events for the Trevor Project and New York's Hetrick-Martin Institute.
These days Who is chiefly focused on writing songs for her debut album. She's aiming for a spring 2014 release. "I have no illusion of creating anything near as good as the Thriller album," says Who, after citing Michael Jackson as her biggest musical influence. "But one can only try." '
Betty Who performs Friday, Dec. 13. Doors at 8 p.m. at the Rock and Roll Hotel, '1353 H St. NE. Tickets are $15. Call 202-388-ROCK or visit rockandrollhoteldc.com....more
I wanted to speak to Pope Francis last week when I encountered the phrase "openness to the transcendent" in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). I feel transcendence while stargazing on a clear, moonless night; but His Holiness thinks this is an impoverished perspective because I do not assume a divinity. He leads an organization given to issuing dogmatic pronouncements. I think that in confronting transcendence we should humbly acknowledge that we simply do not know.
In his exhortation, the new pope calls for renewed evangelizing and mission work. He cites Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." I appreciate his passion, but evangelizers and missionaries merit global skepticism. Evangelism carries an implicit message that the evangelizer's religion is superior to all others. Missionaries advance cultural conquest, often in tandem with their military counterparts.
Francis acknowledges past wrongs by Christians, including the persecution of Jews; and he urges respect in dealing with people of diverse faiths. But I detect no awareness by him of the imperialism lurking within the evangelizing impulse.
That being said, Francis offers much to admire. He wants to replace scolding with confident outreach: "Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation, we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel."
He stresses "the need to resolve the structural causes of poverty" and urges government and financial leaders "to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and health care." He raises capitalist eyebrows when he says, "We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth." But this is similar to Benedict XVI's 2009 economic encyclical, Caritas In Veritate.
He decries environmental destruction. He calls for people across the world to act "as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be." He promotes decentralization: "It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory."
This is fine; but a church that engages with the world cannot expect all the evangelizing to go one way. Those of us affected by the church's ministries and teachings are entitled to have our say, in spite of the self-appointed gatekeepers among the conservative faithful.
Francis writes, "In a way, every Christian is believed to be a bride of God's word, a mother of Christ." If men can slip into female gender roles with papal encouragement, it is hard to see why he declares the ordination of women "not open to discussion," except out of long institutional habit. In any case, we are discussing it.
Francis accuses secularism of producing "a growing deterioration of ethics" and disorientation among adolescents, right before citing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 2006 document, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination; and he associates human rights claims by gay activists with "moral relativism." The USCCB document cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which describes homosexual acts as "contrary to the natural law" and the homosexual inclination as "objectively disordered." This is where we were under John Paul II and Benedict.
Francis has extraordinary pastoral gifts. His public acts have moved many people, even those he categorizes as ethically deteriorated and morally relativistic. Despite the Catholic Church's many historical crimes, I support those who seek to engage @Pontifex on LGBT and women's issues. But they should enter with their eyes open, and not be tempted by his manifest charms into committing what we might call the sin of wishful thinking.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org....more
There's a menace poisoning the modern Hollywood drama. It's wearing an unfamiliar face, but the symptoms are easily identified. The lazy use of narrative cliché. A flat story propped up by superficial metaphor. The persistent suggestion that place can instill purpose. These are the fatal flaws in many a drama, and now, they've become essential components of the Gritty Blue-Collar Drama.
You know the movie. Something something, family matters, blah blah, small-time crooks in over their heads, on and on and on until a scowling protagonist avenges his brother's death on the mean streets of Worchester. Or settles his father's debt in the back room of a Pittsburgh dive. Or does something else -- anything that sheds blood, really -- to justify a hyper-masculine vigilantism.
Out of the Furnace: Harrelson and Bale
Out of the Furnace, to its credit, nearly pivots away from this fate. Russell (an excellent Christian Bale) and Rodney Jr. (Casey Affleck, struggling to keep up) are the products of Rust Belt culture. They grew up in a small town -- almost certainly inspired by director Scott Cooper's own hometown in the Blue Ridge Mountains -- and for better and worse, that town has become them. Russell works in the steel mill, just as Rodney Sr. did, while Junior enlists in the Army. Russell goes to prison, Rodney falls deep into debt with the local heavy (Willem Dafoe). A lunatic (Woody Harrelson) stalks along the edges of their lives. On and on, this grim-faced merry-go-round turns.
The biggest problem? Cooper thinks he has a killer story to tell, so he doesn't linger on the genuine conflict buried at the heart of his movie. Out of the Furnace shouldn't be a movie about vengeance, or hard living in the Rust Belt, or the obligations of family. It should scrutinize the tension inherent within Russell and Rodney's positions. The central struggle is not between men, but between ideas. Is it better to embrace a reckless impulse to act, or a naive faith in the system to act for you?OUT OF THE FURNACE Starring Christian Bale, Casey Affleck Rated R 116 minutes Opens Friday Area theaters
Out of the Furnace doesn't dare consider the implications of this question, in no small part thanks to a bewildering ending that undoes just about every thoughtful moment that comes before it. Despite a talented cast, a befitting affinity for the setting, and a compelling philosophical conflict, Cooper never quite shapes this into a decent movie. Sure, it has its moments. When the credits roll, though, it looks awfully familiar.
Not every drama suffers this fate, though. Philomena exists on the opposite end of the spectrum: It's a story almost too outrageous to be believed, precisely because it's unique.
A young Irish woman, pregnant out of wedlock in the early 1950s, is abandoned by her family, lands at the doorstep of a convent, and loses her child when nuns sell him to an American couple. The woman grows old, never telling her secret until she casts off five decades of Catholic guilt and decides to find the son who was stolen away from her.
Philomena is inspired by these "true events," according to a title card shown before the movie begins. If the story told on screen even remotely approaches the real tragedy of Philomena Lee -- and from what I've gleaned, it does -- this incredible tale deserves all kinds of applause for its messages about faith, resilience and forgiveness. The subtext of this movie concerns itself with a simple, difficult question: How, if at all, does religious conviction help the people wronged by a religious institution? The answer, of course, is better seen than explained.
Judi Dench stars in the title role, once again turning in a splendid performance at the twilight of a career that's been full of them. (A reminder: The woman is 78 years old!) Her magic has always been her ability to scale herself, that distinctive Dench look layered beneath impeccable accents and subtle flourishes. In Philomena, she's a little, innocent Irish lady, prone to outlandish compliments and delighted by the silliest sort of pleasantries. (To wit: When she arrives at a hotel in America, she wants to stay in her room and watch Big Momma's House.) But she's also a remarkably astute observer who's chosen to be that way.
Across from Dench is comic actor Steve Coogan, who co-wrote and produced Philomena. Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith, a former journalist, disgraced flack, and all-around smug pessimist who begrudgingly decides to write about Philomena and her child. (Sixsmith initially resists the idea, gruffing about how human-interest stories are for the "weak-minded, vulnerable and ignorant." He is a jerk.) This is Coogan's most understated performance to date, and to his credit he slips into the modest role with few noticeable difficulties. He and Dench make an odd pair -- his gangly, long frame towers over her in every scene -- but they develop a curious, warm rapport that's played for both gags and dramatic tension. Dench scales her performance against Coogan, so he leads accordingly.PHILOMENA Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan Rated PG-13 98 minutes Now playing Area theaters
What sours Philomena, regrettably, is its unsure direction by Stephen Frears. His low-key style matches the lead performances quite well -- until Frears forces the movie toward a sort of melodrama that's neither appropriate nor useful as a storytelling device. Philomena leans into the maudlin as it concludes, undermining what had been, up to a point, a lovingly executed, unpretentious drama. It's not enough to spoil the movie, thankfully, but just enough to make you wonder if Frears lost his nerve.
This is not the best movie you'll see this year. It's not even the best movie you'll see this month. What Philomena embraces, though, is the one thing audiences rarely see at movie theaters: a truly great story. Don't go expecting anything more or anything less, and you won't be disappointed....more
Donna Summer made it sound so alluring.
It sounded really loudThey said it really loudOn the radio whoa oh oh
Of course, back when Summer's song entered the Top 10 in January of 1980, radio was a simpler affair. FM or AM, take your pick. Or, for something a bit more exotic, CB radios were still fashionable, good buddy.
Today, we've still got good 'ol ''terrestrial radio,'' but it's been joined by live-streaming online, podcasts, satellite radio – a bevy of ''audio platforms.'' There are the upper echelons of corporate radio, and the Internet-enabled podcasts that might come out of a professional studio or dedicated spot in someone's basement. Our ears have never had it so good.
LGBT ears can certainly claim their fair share, too. From the D.C.-based XM Satellite Radio – merged with Sirius Satellite Radio to create Sirius XM Radio – there's ''OutQ Gay & Lesbian Radio.'' Listen to Derek Hartley and Romaine Patterson's show for loads of queer perspective. Or Michelangelo Signorile. The ''iHeartRadio'' app will have you plugged into all sorts of beats from gay clubland on its ''Pride Radio'' channel. Pink sounds abound, from talk to tunes.
With it all being so wonderfully accessible now, some might even get the idea that it's easy. But look to Swish Edition, the local gay podcast that was once going strong. The fun fellahs behind Swish – Dale Blades, Scott Wallis and Steven J. Walker – announced a hiatus in August, writing, in part, ''The boys may or may not return as a threesome to the Secret Underground Studio in the Heart of Washington, DC, but the show – in one form or another – will continue.''
Consuella Lopez makes the same commitment, referring to insighT, her transgender-themed talk show that ran weekly Sunday evenings for three months from late 2012 to early 2013. She vows to bring the show back, live-streamed from WLVS radio on Georgia Avenue, touting its growing popularity while lamenting that other demands got in the way. In other words, as easy and fun as it might seem to take to the waves, Lopez offers a dose of reality.
''It is not easy at all,'' she warns. ''On top of having a full-time job, it takes hours of planning. I would get up at 8 a.m. on Sunday and start working on the show – even after planning it all week. I had all these ideas. But it's money -- time is money. It was taking time away from my business. I just had to let it go. But would I do it again, yes.''
And with WLVS eagerly standing by, Lopez may well return with transgender topics. Her commitment also tempers her warning – hard as it may be, Lopez definitely wants to get back behind that microphone.
In the meantime, give your ears a rest and let your eyes do the work reading about some on-air personalities in the D.C. area who are giving their all to wave the LGBT flag in the audio arena.
DJ Jerry Houston has found his home with 99.5, Pride Radio, Capital Pride and a partner who keeps him grounded
Aisha and Danielle Moodie-Mills sound off on politics and pop culture
Sheila Alexander-Reid brings the LGBT community to the FM dial...more
For some couples, marriage might signal the start of quiet domesticity. Then there are the power couples. Bill and Hillary. Sonny and Cher. And certainly Aisha and Danielle, aka Mrs. and Mrs. Moodie-Mills.
While not D.C. natives, these dynamic women were long ago drawn to the nation's capital and its halls of power, its cadre of progressive professionals and its many platforms for executing change. One of those platforms, it turns out, is BLIS.FM's Studio 202.
Politini: Aisha and Danielle Moodie-Mills
(Photo by Todd Franson)
''We found them through a friend of ours who was also getting into the radio business,'' says Danielle Moodie-Mills, an advocacy professional with a background in politics and education, a SMYAL board member and a 2013 ''The Root 100'' honoree. ''We contacted them saying, 'We've had this idea for a while, and we're really interested in seeing how we can work together.'''
That idea was realized in January 2013 as Politini, their Thursday evening live-streaming show and podcast. The duo market the show as ''Politics and Pop Culture served up with a twist -- A twist of wit, a splash of style, and opinions straight up. From Hollywood to Poliwood (the new Washington), Danielle and Aisha Moodie-Mills, the resident Polinistas of the lifestyle blog threeLOL.com, are giving you the scoop on inside the beltway chatter and Sunset Blvd antics that are pushing our society to the brink – the brink of what, is what they'll discuss on Politini. So, grab a cocktail and join the conversation.''
Beyond the marketing, Aisha Moodie-Mills, who with her wife was on the forefront of bringing marriage equality to D.C. and who works as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, calls the show ''the personal side of politics.''
''What we hope to do with our show,'' she says, ''is to really bring to the public the sense that – beyond the surface kneejerk reaction to what we see happening in the world around us – what we see and what we hear, whether in the political discourse or in the cultural discourse, permeates our social consciousness and colors the way we view one another, the way we view ourselves and the way we engage with the world. And that matters.
''With the show, we try to get to the core of the heart behind the headlines. What's the real passion behind the politics of what we're debating? … We're just constantly getting countdowns, rundowns, sound bites, and we don't always have the space and emotional capacity to stop and say, 'What does this really mean? And why is it happening?'''
Getting behind those headlines, recent Politini topics have included ''Colorless Catwalks,'' ''Civil Rights vs. Religious Rites,'' and ''The History of Disgruntled White Men.'' And while these women get behind the headlines, they also put themselves out there, literally, taking the show to audiences in the form of ''Scandal Watch'' parties, letting Shonda Rhimes's weekly ABC drama help fuel the conversation. There's even been enough buzz to get Laverne Cox, from the cast of Neflix's Orange Is the New Black, to stop by for the Oct. 3 launch at D.C.'s Jin lounge.
''We love Scandal,'' comes Danielle's playfully deadpan assertion. ''We cannot stress that enough. But it was really an opportunity for us to bring our show out of the studio and to a live audience. We really wanted to cultivate community, more so than we're able to do in the studio with just the two of us and our technical producer, Emma Weinstein-Levy. It was an opportunity to get out there and be in front of people and be able to feel the energy of the crowd around a show that we really like. And we have connected with a group of African-American women who are all entrepreneurs in their own right – from music to events to PR – to really create community around this show, around black women as gladiators in suits, as 'fixers.'''
The two say that Scandal points to a theme shared with Politini, which is dissecting the attraction D.C. has for them and others.
''We came here because we wanted to change the world,'' Danielle says of Aisha and herself. ''It sounds corny, and we may get rolled eyes, but for most people inside the Beltway who are in politics, that's the reason why they came here: being a part of something that's bigger than you are. And that's kind of the energy and the passion we bring to Politini every week.''
While Aisha and Danielle definitely bring the passion, one might reasonably wonder why. It might sound like they're just having fun, but producing a weekly show is work. Unpaid work. There are no salaries, no high-dollar sponsorships. Politini may be an extension of their ''threeLOL'' blog brand – standing for ''Living Loving & Laboring OUT Loud'' – but it's no cash cow. Mostly, it's just hard work.
''When we go to 'real' studios with full-on staff, productions teams and bookers and all of that, people ask us, 'Oh, who books your show?' And we just laugh,'' says Aisha. ''We literally do it all. We conceive of the ideas on our couch, which is pretty much where we come up with pretty much everything. Through our constant conversation all week long, we come up with the show ideas. But the labor of it, we really work at our structure. It's scripted pretty well, pretty thoroughly. Danielle does an excellent job at writing the show. We do our best to have a script and some format so that listeners can follow along and know what to expect, yet also keep it very natural and impromptu. We're constantly working at it.''
Danielle promises that money is the next step – or ''Phase 2 of the Politini Media takeover.''
''The first step was to develop a really great show, having fantastic content and really creating a structure that matched our style and our energy and our conversation,'' says Danielle. ''Then, giving people something that they want, and then can't live without. Or don't want to live without.''
With that sort of product, Aisha and Danielle are ready to look for funding, as well as broaden their distribution channels, evolving to a point where video replaces the audio offering.
''We actually call Politini a talk show without qualifying the medium,'' Aisha explains. ''Our goal, ultimately, is to be cross-platform. … The goal is for it to be video every week.''
However Politini moves into the future, Aisha and Danielle are committed to the long haul. Whatever forms that future may take – from audio to video to live events or yet-to-be-discovered platforms – that commitment is a promise to inform their audience. As Danielle says, ''There's no better way to be fabulous than to be informed. And that's what Politini gives you.''
Listen to Politini streaming live every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m. at blis.fm/politini. The archive of shows is available both at blis.fm and on iTunes.
Take to the radio waves, streams and podcasts with some of D.C.'s intriguing audio talents
DJ Jerry Houston has found his home with 99.5, Pride Radio, Capital Pride and a partner who keeps him grounded
Sheila Alexander-Reid brings the LGBT community to the FM dial...more
When it comes to ''institutions,'' D.C. has plenty that are completely removed from Congress, the White House, the Smithsonian or all the other icons recognized globally. At the grassroots level, a few are the Washington City Paper; WPFW, 89.3 FM, the public station offering ''jazz and justice''; and Sheila Alexander-Reid, longtime activist and promoter in the LGBT community. Throw those grassroots institutions together and what do you get? In 2008, the answer was Inside Out, even if it has since become Sheila Alexander-Reid Live.
''A friend of mine was a program director at WPFW,'' says Alexander-Reid, who works by day as Washington City Paper's business manager. ''His name was Bobby Hill. Because City Paper and the station were in the same building, we would see each other coming in and out. He asked me one day, 'I'm thinking about changing the programming, and one of the shows we'd like to have on there would be an LGBT show. I know you're too busy, but can you think of somebody who would be a good host and producer?'
Sheila Alexander-Reid and Dr. Nicole Cutts
(Photo by Todd Franson)
''The best way to get me to do something is to ask me for a referral. Very clever. If you ask me directly, I'll probably say, 'I'm too busy.' But when you ask for a referral, I think I would be perfect! So I'm on this radio show because he asked me if I know of anybody who would be good.''
With that, Inside Out made its debut April 14, 2008, with Lisa Joyner serving as associate producer. In the years following, Alexander-Reid has worked with various producers, different schedules and now the new title.
''First it was called Inside Out, like going inside the out community,'' she says, adding that the show originally aired monthly, then every other week, and now weekly on Tuesday from 1 to 2 p.m. ''I got so many people asking me what that meant and being confused, so I just decided to go with my name. That happened in January with the new timeslot.''
Having a new timeslot is the simplest way of putting it. At WPFW, however, the politics aren't necessarily limited to the station's talk shows. The latest scheduling changes gave Alexander-Reid that weekly Tuesday slot, but others were kicked off altogether.
''They were taken off the air with very little notice,'' she says. ''I support the fact that they were treated badly and that they need to be treated better. But I also benefited from that. I'm torn. I like my timeslot, but if they deem it necessary to put one of the programs back on and move my show to another slot, I'm okay with that. I just like to have a voice and be heard. Whenever they can squeeze me in, I'm just happy to be there.''
That's a very good thing, too, as Alexander-Reid certainly isn't making any money off her show. Instead, she's got to ensure that her listeners enjoy her show enough to be willing to donate to the nonprofit, public WPFW if she wants to stay on the air.
''If you have an underperforming show when it comes to the pledge drive, you're at risk for being cut,'' she says, adding, with a laugh, ''The next one is in December. There's always one coming up, trust me. … WPFW is operating from always just one step ahead of being broke. I have to create an audience for my show, and that audience has to come through. You have to really build the community around your show, a community of supporters. … The fact that this is D.C.'s only LGBT radio show on the FM dial makes it that much more important, that gives it one leg up. I don't necessarily need to meet every goal, but I need to be showing that I have some support out there. It's community-based radio, membership-based radio. If you don't show that you have some support, I don't care how rare or what niche community you represent, you gotta go.''
Today, Alexander-Reid is building that supportive audience with Nicole Cutts, a licensed clinical psychologist, success coach and organizational consultant. Cutts's psychology skills may be of particular use when the show fields hostile calls – an inevitability, says Alexander-Reid. But Dr. Cutts, as they say, is on-call.
''My background and experience equip me to remain calm in the face of people acting kind of psychotic,'' Cutts promises. ''And to understand that this person is expressing their views, their opinions. We try to engage them in a way that's respectful. Not calling them names or lashing back, but speaking to them in a calm, sane way.''
Most of the time, however, Alexander-Reid and Cutts are able to engage the audience in positive ways, interviewing interesting folks from the local LGBT community, talking to newer entertainers who'd like to introduce themselves to the community, and taking on political topics.
Like Alexander-Reid, Cutts says that contributing to this dialogue is a labor of love.
''I get really inspired and learn a lot from the different guests we have on,'' says Cutts. ''I also feel that what Sheila's doing with her show is to get information out there and understanding in the larger world about gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer issues. With radio, it's comfortable for the listeners to take in information, to get more of an understanding, and that's what combats heterosexism and homophobia. Hopefully, by hearing Sheila and often myself on a weekly basis, they probably start to feel like they know us.''
In an age of various ''audio platforms,'' Alexander-Reid emphasizes that being on old-fashioned terrestrial radio is crucial in that mission of reaching listeners who wouldn't necessarily seek out information about the LGBT community. Sandwiched between music shows, many listeners looking for jazz tunes instead get LGBT talk.
''People will come across it by accident,'' Alexander-Reid says of her show. ''With blogs, things like that, people typically have to go there on purpose. I want this message to get out to someone who just happens to be looking for jazz, or just skimming the radio looking for the news or whatever. I like reaching people by accident, because sometimes they may not be open enough to go there on purpose. People [tuning to WPFW] are typically looking for jazz. The station's mission is 'jazz and justice.' My public affairs show gives you the 'justice' portion of that combo.''
Whether or not Alexander-Reid will be the one behind the microphone with WPFW's LGBT programming for the foreseeable future, however, remains to be seen. There is power in passing the torch, and Alexander-Reid is fully aware.
''I would like to let somebody inherit it,'' she doesn't mind admitting. ''I think the whole point of having these co-hosts is to sort of groom them to be able to take over. I don't expect to do any of this forever.''
But she and Cutts are happy doing it for now, every Tuesday at 1 p.m., delivering the LGBT goods on your local FM dial.
Listen to Sheila Alexander-Reid Live Tuesdays from 1 to 2 p.m. on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Several weeks of shows are available in the station's online archive at wpfwfm.org.
Take to the radio waves, streams and podcasts with some of D.C.'s intriguing audio talents
DJ Jerry Houston has found his home with 99.5, Pride Radio, Capital Pride and a partner who keeps him grounded
Aisha and Danielle Moodie-Mills sound off on politics and pop culture...more
Jerry Houston considers his high school days in Baltimore essentially as practice for how he now spends his days.
''Every chance I could get behind the microphone in high school I would,'' says Houston. ''And I always did the morning announcements, all four years.''
(Photo by Todd Franson)
These days DJ Houston is behind the microphone for hours each day on two radio stations in the Clear Channel family: every day on Pride Radio, on the company's ''iHeartRadio'' app, a digital radio service, and on select HD radio stations around the country, including 99.5's HD2, as well as a weekday fill-in and weekend host on Hot 99.5 FM. He also helps oversee outreach online and in social media by the area's leading pop station as its digital content coordinator. This year he also became the entertainment coordinator for the Capital Pride Festival, which Hot 99.5 sponsors.
The 36-year-old Houston -- whose given name is actually Huster -- got his start in 1998 with the company's Baltimore-based country station, WPOC 93.1 FM. Interestingly enough, 99.5 broadcasts out of Rockville, where Houston also makes his home -- directly next door to the station. That ''super-easy commute'' comes in handy, given that Houston often works 10-hour days, six days a week.
''There's a certain passion that you have to have for radio because of the long hours,'' Houston concedes. ''It's not all stars and glamour.''
METRO WEEKLY: How did you get into the radio business?
DJ HOUSTON: It's one of those things I always wanted to do. I always wanted to be in broadcasting. When I was little – this is gonna sound funny – I grew up watching game shows and I always wanted to be either on a game show or a game-show host. And then I wanted to be on television news, and I focused a lot on journalism in high school. Once I got to college [at Towson University] I started getting into radio and television, and managed to get an internship at a radio station in Baltimore during my junior year of college. That turned into a part-time job, which then became a full-time job. That was in Baltimore at WPOC.
MW: What is it about radio that captivated you? The music?
HOUSTON: Not really so much the music as it was the chance to make a connection with people. And by people I mean listeners, to get to know them better and sort of make them part of the experience. One of the things that I've always liked about radio is the contests that we do. I love giving stuff away to people. It's a chance for me to make someone happy. Something that a normal job doesn't always let you do.
I do love the music at Hot 99.5. I'll be honest, it took a little while to get used to country music. I never listened to it. When I started there I had to kind of dive in deep and learn the music and learn about the artists and everything.
Mainstream music, which is what I prefer to listen to -- Top 40, which what 99.5 is, and dance music, which is what we play on our Pride Radio channel -- that music is more what speaks to me personally. That's what I like to listen to. You don't have the sense of community that you do with country music, but you do have more of the energy and party atmosphere with Top 40/mainstream music that I personally identify with – because I'm always about having fun. I love to hang out with friends, or go out for a drink or something like that -- and that's the music that's playing. That's the music that energizes everybody.
MW: How much control do you have over the songs you play?
HOUSTON: I am actually the music director and assistant program director for Pride Radio, so I have a good amount of control over the music being played there. Each station has a music programmer that takes a great deal of care in selecting the music that their listeners will really enjoy.
MW: That means you have control over the music there?
HOUSTON: Absolutely I do. It's nice to have that. With that being such a niche format to begin with, it's nice to be able to super-serve that segment of the audience. We get feedback all the time on social media, people requesting some really obscure dance songs, but we're able to do it because we're so honed in to the LGBT community, and we're supported a lot by iHeartRadio.
MW: Pride Radio focuses strictly on dance music?
HOUSTON: It's dance and pop. We'll play dance remixes of Top 40 songs. Anything by Rihanna, Miley Cyrus. You name it, we're playing it, but dance mixes of it though. So it's a nice alternative to the standard mainstream station that you would listen to.
MW: Why is that gays and dance music seem to go hand in hand?
HOUSTON: [Laughs.] That's the million-dollar question! Pride Radio has been around since 2006 and had gone through different variations before I came on board with it, at the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010. It had made the transition to dance before I got involved. Early on it was a mix of pop and also a lot of, I guess you would call it alternative/granola-ish music. It was such an eclectic mix of music that it was hard for people to listen to. So it slowly made a transition as dance music became more popular on its own.
MW: Is Pride Radio a nationwide thing?
HOUSTON: That's the beauty of iHeartRadio -- listeners can access the station wherever they are around the country. Every DJ that's on Pride Radio is in a different area. We have folks in San Francisco, San Diego. We have somebody in Tampa. And myself.
MW: This is one way Clear Channel specifically reaches out to the LGBT community?
HOUSTON: Exactly. Clear Channel is a really supportive company. That's why I've been with this company for so long, because I've always been supported being who I am and what I do. We've gotten so much support from the company for Pride Radio. That's why we sponsor Pride events around the country, really.
We actually started with DJs on Pride Radio just about a year ago, and I was the first DJ on the station. Prior to that it had just been music and segues and stuff like that.
MW: To try to interject some personality into the mix?
HOUSTON: Absolutely, yeah. And it's brought a whole new life to the station. Our interaction with listeners was okay before, but now we're able to get more information out there about pride events around the country, things that may affect the LGBT community directly, like the marriage-equality movement, the situation in Russia and all of that. We want people to know that we're there for them. Because we reach people who are in cities where gays may not be as accepted as they are here in D.C. Maybe someone in the middle of Nebraska, who feels completely isolated from the outside world, but they have us and they can count on us to bring them information, to make them feel like part of the community that they belong to.
MW: Explain more about your involvement with Capital Pride.
HOUSTON: It's been great. This past one was either my fourth or fifth Pride. At Hot 99.5, we started by joining the parade, then the next year we increased our involvement a little bit more, as I hosted some of the stuff on the main page. Then I was invited back to host the entire main stage, and Hot 99.5 became a presenting sponsor. Over the past year I also became the entertainment coordinator, helping identify the artists for the festival.
Like I said, I've been so floored by just how supportive the radio station has been of the LGBT community here in town. That's why I know I'm home. I know I'm in the right place.
MW: As the entertainment coordinator for the 2013 Capital Pride Festival, I guess we have you to thank for Icona Pop, Emeli Sandé and Cher Lloyd as the headliners?
HOUSTON: [Laughs.] Yeah, it's directly because of my involvement. That was the best Pride I think that we could have had. We wanted to really reach out to the youth at Pride. That's one of the missions of Capital Pride and also one of 99.5.
MW: And you're on board to do it next year, too. Not to put too much pressure on you, but hopefully lightning can strike twice.
HOUSTON: [Laughs.] I know we have a lot to live up to.
MW: If people want to give you ideas, should they feel free?
HOUSTON: Oh, absolutely. We welcome the ideas. We don't want to tell people what they should like, we want them to tell us what they like so we can make it better and give them what they want.
MW: Do you make a special effort to play out artists?
HOUSTON: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We focus on either out artists or artists that are strong allies for the community. That's why you won't hear an artist on Pride radio that is not a friend or ally of the community, if they're not themselves in the community. I don't want to say anyone specifically, but there are certain artists that we know would be controversial and don't support the community in any way -- or not that we've seen publicly.
As an example of an out artist, we have Adam Barta, who's based in New York. He's an artist in the community that wouldn't be known to mainstream folks, but we had him play at Pride last year. He has a few dance songs out.
MW: I imagine there are songs or artists you have to play but would rather not because you don't like them.
HOUSTON: Well, yeah, you're always going to have a song that you're like, ''Oh, my God, why do I have to hear it again?'' [Laughs.] But, honestly, I do love the music that we play.
MW: Is that true with news too: Do you ever get tired of celebrity news, and the latest about Kim and Kanye?
HOUSTON: No, I don't, actually. It's amazing the amount of crazy stuff that celebrities do. [Laughs.] I don't get tired of it because it's great content for me, for all the different shows that I do.
Especially those celebrities that people love to hate like ''Tan Mom,'' or even Kanye West and the Kardashians. It's these celebrities that are just an endless treasure trove of news stories.
MW: Finally, let's get a little personal. Do you have a partner?
HOUSTON: Yes, I do. His name is Chris. He is my connection to ''normal-person world.'' [Laughs.]
MW: Are you meaning to suggest that radio people aren't normal?
HOUSTON: Well, I mean we're all special in our own little ways. But it's easy to get caught up in the entertainment aspect of things. And he keeps me grounded. He keeps me in check. He's my reference point to make sure that I don't ever lose sight of what is important to people. Because it's funny, with radio, and I think with entertainment in general, it's easy to lose sight. I always try to stay grounded and he helps me a lot. Radio is a very busy business. There's a lot going on. It's long hours, but it's really great work.
For more about DJ Houston, visit prideradio.com.
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The Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance (AGLA) will present Equality Awards to James Fisher and Arlington PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) at the LGBT group's annual holiday party at Freddie's Beach Bar & Restaurant Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Fisher, receiving the 2013 AGLA Individual Equality Award, is being honored for his longtime advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community, including serving on the Arlington Human Rights Commission. Fisher also previously served as a member of AGLA's board and as a gay men's peer counselor at the former Arlington branch of the Whitman-Walker Clinic.
Arlington PFLAG is being honored for the group's recent creation of an LGBT youth group, ''ALY'' (Arlington LGBTQ Youth), to provide young people with a safe and supportive environment. PFLAG mothers Elizabeth Fogarty and Gerda Keiswetter will accept the 2013 AGLA Organization Equality Award on behalf of the group.
The Equality Awards are given annually to individuals and organizations that have worked to promote LGBT equality. Winners were nominated and chosen unanimously by AGLA's executive board.
The event, which also serves as AGLA's holiday party, runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at Freddie's, in Crystal City at 555 23rd St. South. There is no admission, but attendees are asked to bring unused, travel-size toiletries, which AGLA will be collecting to donate to the Arlington Street People's Assistance Network (A-SPAN). For more information, visit agla.org....more