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''It's not your regular old Oscar party,'' Michael Fowler says of Glamour, Glitter & Gold. ''It's The DC Center's Oscar party – but on hyper-drive.''
The ''hyper'' speed, it turns out, comes courtesy of local drag act Team Peaches. ''It's going to be the first year that we actually have a live performance,'' says Fowler, new chair of the board of directors for The DC Center, Washington's LGBT community center. ''The Team Peaches performance during the show is going to be out of this world.''
Fowler is working with Ian Smith on this year's Glamour, Glitter & Gold, the Oscar-watch party taking place Sunday, March 2, at Town Danceboutique. Besides Team Peaches, Metro Weekly Editor-in-Chief Randy Shulman and local standup comedian Paul Tupper host the segment between the live broadcast of the 86th Annual Academy Awards. Glamour, Glitter & Gold sponsors have also contributed prizes to be awarded throughout the night in a silent auction and a raffle, including tickets to Rufus Wainwright at The Lincoln Theatre and to Sideshow, this summer at the Kennedy Center.
''This has always been one of our marquee events to raise funds for The DC Center,'' Fowler says. The money will cover general programming funds at the center, as well as provide a cushion for future growth. ''We have had very robust usage of the current space,'' Fowler says of The DC Center's new offices in the Reeves Center at 14th and U Streets NW. The DC Center settled into the space last fall, but already ''we are getting to the point where we are finding ourselves without space sometimes.''
A move to a new location is from two-to-five years away, Fowler says, adding: ''We want to make sure we have strong reserves so that we can sustain the center into the future.''
Glamour Glitter & Gold is Sunday, March 2, starting at 7 p.m. at Town Danceboutique, 2009 8th NW. Tickets are $15 general admission, or $45 for VIP, which includes special seating, hors d'oeuvres and a swag bag. Call 202-234-TOWN or visit towndc.com or thedccenter.org....more
A few years ago filmmaker Eytan Fox was flipping TV channels in his Berlin hotel room when he stumbled on the Eurovision Song Contest. "Suddenly, I realized that I didn't even know who was representing Israel that year," he says.
A lot had changed in the four decades since organizers of the annual music competition had first invited the small Middle Eastern democracy to join its pop parade. Back then, in 1973, as a kid growing up in Jerusalem, Fox's parents "had invited all of our neighbors over to our apartment to watch the contest." Six years later, as a 14-year-old reporter on an Israeli TV show run by kids, Fox was sent to cover that year's Eurovision contest. "I was very proud of myself that I was part of this supposedly very glamorous world of Eurovision," he says.
Eytan Fox (left) with Ofer Schechter
Courtesy of the Washington Jewish Film Festival
In the decades since, Fox had mostly forgotten all about Eurovision, with notable exceptions, such as in 1998 when transgender singer Dana International won representing Israel. Also in that time Fox, who is gay, has become one of Israel's most popular filmmakers, responsible for several hit series on Israeli TV. His feature films constantly travel the international festival circuit, particularly hitting LGBT and Jewish film festivals. In 2006 the Washington Jewish Film Festival (WJFF) presented Fox with an award for his contributions to the field of Jewish cinema.
Fox's films, which include 2002's Yossi & Jagger, 2004's Walk on Water and 2006's The Bubble, chiefly focus on contemporary Israeli life, always present gay and straight characters as close friends, colleagues or neighbors -- often all three. Most notably, these gay-inclusive films are always made with funds from the Israeli government. "The country has been supporting my films since the mid-'90s," says the 49-year-old. "Films that always have gay characters, gay themes, gay love stories, gay sex scenes."
Fox's latest, the sweet and uplifting Cupcakes, which closes the WJFF Saturday, March 9, was inspired by Eurovision. The focus is on a group of Israelis -- three straight women, one lesbian and one gay man -- who compete at a Eurovision-style competition. The group's leading competitor is a Russian husband-and-wife duo, as fake and manufactured -- among other things the husband is a closet case -- as this ragtag Israeli group is authentic, even innocent.
The Israeli group competes by performing a song originally written by Scott Hoffman, otherwise known as Babydaddy from the Scissor Sisters. "Scott is a friend of mine and my family," Fox explains. "At some point I said to him, 'Do you have a Eurovision-like song that you maybe wrote once and never published or anything?' And he said, 'You know what? A few years ago we sat together, we had some drinks, we were kind of tipsy, and we decided to write an ABBA-style song.'"
For Cupcakes, Fox made this song, originally called "Right Back," "sweeter, more sentimental, more kitsch." And "Song for Anat" is sung in Hebrew, a nod to what Fox said the competition used to be.
"It used to be, you came from Spain, you sang in Spanish. You came from Germany, you sang in German," he explains about Eurovision. "And now, everyone sings this funny, bad English. Bad accents and bad lyrics. So it's become more and more of a joke."
METRO WEEKLY: How would you describe Cupcakes?
EYTAN FOX: Well, it is, more than anything, your classic, feel-good movie. It's a film about friendship. How a group with a sense of community can do a lot for each other. And it's about the journey that a group of neighbors take together. It's a very sweet, but complicated, story.
I have films of mine that I consider more serious, more relationship stories. That are usually more politically oriented, have to do a lot with Israel's situation in the Middle East, and its relationship with its neighbors. And masculinity in Israel. Gay identity in Israel.
And then I have the lighter side of my filmmaking. Audiences at the WJFF saw Mary Lou four years ago -- my television miniseries, which was called in Washington an Israeli Glee. So I have the sides in me that are more fun and games, music, dancing, happy, colorful gay and straight characters. Cupcakes definitely falls under that section of my filmmaking. It's somewhat of a musical. I grew up to parents who came from the states and moved to Israel when I was a kid. And my mom loved American musicals, so a lot of my influences come from there. Classic MGM musicals from the '50s. And a lot of other influences, like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a group of French musicals by a director called Jacques Demy.
MW: Cupcakes focuses on a Eurovision-style contest. Explain the significance of that annual competition to you.
FOX: The Eurovision Song Contest has been something very significant in a strange way in my life. It used to be an amazing song competition or contest, where wonderful songs and singers from all over Europe would come together and perform. When I was a kid there was ABBA and Cliff Richard, Olivia Newton-John and Celine Dion -- all these wonderful artists who started their careers in this competition, with beautiful pop songs. I grew up in a very nationalistic country, where any competition outside of Israel where Israel took part, everyone was so into it. It didn't matter if it was the Olympics or Eurovision or the Nobel Prize. As long as Israel was competing, everyone was really into it. I remember the first year of Eurovision where Israel participated. And it was all of us together. All the neighbors came together and watched the competition and really cared about Israel and the Eurovision Song Contest.
MW: I remember the transgender singer Dana International winning Eurovision for Israel in 1998.
FOX: That was an amazing experience. Israel, again, it's a very nationalistic place, so in the beginning when we chose Dana International to represent us in the Eurovision Song Contest, so many people were criticizing that: "How can you send a transsexual to represent our holy land of Israel?" That was what they were saying. And they were demonstrating in the streets against her going to Eurovision. Then she won! That was such a big thing. After she won and came back to Israel, she went to the Parliament, to the Knesset. And all these members of Parliament who were against her shook her hand. Because who cares? She won. It doesn't matter if she's transsexual, or this or that -- she won for Israel. That was a big thing. A lot of people in Tel Aviv were sitting watching this competition, being very proud of the fact that Israel sent a transsexual to this competition, which was very unusual at the time. And she was so good, and she won. And all of us went down to the square in the center of the city -- with rainbow flags. And we danced and sang. And it was an amazing experience. And the funny thing was, the same night, the most macho, even homophobic, soccer team in Israel won the championship of Israel. The same night! And they went to the same square. Guys with their soccer team flags. And we're all dancing together for the first time in our lives. It was really a wonderful, kind of communal experience.
MW: In preparing for this interview, I noticed that Dana International went back and competed again for Eurovision in 2011.
FOX: Yeah, for some strange reason. This competition is really changing in ways that I don't know how to explain. But for some reason she didn't do that well. MW: Has she had a successful career otherwise?
FOX: After Eurovision, Sony/BMG signed her up and tried to create a career for her in Europe and internationally. It didn't really work. Her people didn't know what to do with this sudden success. She does tour Europe, in gay nightclubs and that whole dance scene. She still has a career here in Israel. She's had a few hits since "Diva," her big Eurovision hit. She had a talk show, and now she has this game show where she's looking for the next girl band in Israel, like an Israeli Idol/X Factor show.
MW: Has she ever played a part in your movies? Or have you thought of including her?
FOX: The song "Diva" does appear as a musical number in Mary Lou, and all of ["Diva" songwriter] Svika Pick's songs. But working with her specifically? You know, she's a friend. I love her. I don't know. You never know. We paid homage to her in Mary Lou. I think even in Walk on Water, the characters refer to her and to her success. So I don't know, we'll see. Maybe.
(Photo by Ziv Sade)
MW: One thing I find notable about your films is that music is always a factor. Sometimes it's a small part, but always a significant part.
FOX: Yeah, it always is significant. Music is important and significant in everyone's life -- almost everyone that I know. And I use it in order to describe or characterize a character. Sometimes different musical tastes define different people, different worlds, different psyches. In Walk on Water, I really have two characters -- one very macho, straight, Mossad [Israeli security force]; the other is a gay, young German. And they really have a fight about their musical tastes. They have a constant argument about their different musical tastes.
MW: Do you have a musical background?
FOX: I studied piano when I was a kid, but I was never really a musician. I was actually a dancer. I thought I'd be a dancer when I was young. But then I had to join the Israeli Army at 18 for four years, and realized I won't be a dancer. And chose to be a film director, which is probably for the best.
MW: You were born in New York, grew up in Jerusalem, then moved to Tel Aviv for college, came out and never looked back? You're still living there to this day?
FOX: Tel Aviv is the city that all the young people -- and all the modern, secular, normal people -- flee to. It's our big, modern, vibrant city. It's a wonderful city.
But you know what? Israel has changed in amazing ways, really. I mean, growing up in Jerusalem, the word "gay" did not exist. We didn't even have the word. It was a very unknown concept, homosexuality. But today, the world has become such a small place. People who live in Jerusalem, young people, they saw my films and television work. They know that gays exist. They're exposed to cable television and satellite and Internet. And they watch all the television shows that come from all over the world that have gay characters. And they're exposed to gay websites from all over the world. So, it's not as much fun as it is in Tel Aviv, I think, but there are gay people in Jerusalem.
MW: That's one thing you capture in Yossi & Jagger, from 2002, and the sequel Yossi from two years ago: the remarkable change in only one decade in attitudes toward the LGBT community in Israel.
FOX: Israel has changed in amazing ways. And I'm really proud to say that I think that I've been part of that change. My films and television work -- I've worked very hard at making these changes happen. And Tel Aviv has become really a mecca, a paradise, for gay men and women from all over the world. It's really amazing. It's so gay-friendly. It's full of options for gay people. There are hundreds of gay couples with their kids roaming down the streets of Tel Aviv. And there are parties and nightlife, and so many things.
MW: How long have you and your partner Gal Uchovsky been together? And are you one of those couples with kids roaming the streets of Tel Aviv?
FOX: No. We don't have kids. We met 26 years ago, when I was a young film student. I was directing the Israeli Academy Awards ceremony, something like that. I had just finished film school and they kind of took me to direct this big ceremony, and Gal was a journalist at the time, writing about that ceremony. That's how we met. '
MW: What's the secret to your relationship? It's not only personal but also professional, since you often co-write your films together.
FOX: First of all, we don't really make films together anymore. We realized that's too much. To live together, maintain this relationship and family, and work together.... We try not to work together as much anymore. What is the secret? You know, the answers always sound like clichés. Friendship is the most important thing.
MW: When did you come out?
FOX: When I was about 24. I finished my army service, I moved to Tel Aviv, I started studying film. And then I met Gal. I think after I had Gal in my life, I was brave enough and strong enough to go to my parents and say, "I'm gay, and this is my life, this is my partner."
MW: I understand your parents passed away in recent years. Did they ever come around to accepting you and Gal? Are you close to your remaining family?
FOX: Yeah. My mother became very close to Gal immediately. And my father went through a very interesting process, starting with my coming out. He started going to therapy, which he never did before, and really became a much better person. And he became friends with Gal. It was a very nice journey that he took, and I was there to see it happen. I think the last thing he said to me before he died was something very nice about my relationship with Gal. He said something about how he realizes that Gal is so wonderful for me.
Both my brothers have gone back to the states. So it's only me and then all my alternative family, my close friends, and Gal's family is here. He has a relatively big family in Israel.
MW: You were closeted when you were in the army.
FOX: Of course. This was 1982, the world was a different place. Israel was certainly a different place. It was war, so no one could know.
MW: I know it's mandatory for every young Israeli to enlist, but, for example, the openly gay character Tom in Yossi talks about the possibility of leaving the army before completing his term, in order to stay with his lover Yossi. How common is that?
FOX: That's still a very radical, radical statement that he gives there: That he will leave the army. It's kind of extreme. But Israel has changed, and there's not only one option for young people. The Israel I grew up in had only one option for every man who grew up in it: You had to be straight, you had to be a soldier, you had to be a certain kind of man, who does certain kinds of things. And options have opened and changed.'
MW: How much do you identify with the character of Yossi?
FOX: Yossi is probably the character I most identify with from all my characters. I find Yossi my most personal film, and I feel closest to it. It deals with all kinds of issues that I guess I'm dealing with -- like getting older, and asking questions about who you are and what you've accomplished. And your past and your traumas. And what you've managed to deal with, and what you haven't dealt with, and should be dealing with. All kinds of questions like that.
MW: It's a really touching film. And it takes a turn I didn't see coming. Because it starts so stark, and kind of lonely, and then it ends on a hopeful note. And sweet.
FOX: I was accused a few times in the past of being not as hopeful as people wanted me to be. So I guess I'm becoming more hopeful as years go by.
MW: Did you know you were going to do a sequel to Yossi & Jagger years ago? Why did it take so long?
FOX: Not at all. Why did it take a decade? I don't really know. It takes time to go back and reflect on things that happen. You don't do that after a year or two. You can, but you don't really have the perspective and the time.
Eytan Fox with Cupcakes cast
MW: Have you ever made an American film, ever thought of "going Hollywood"?
FOX: All my films were and are Israeli. Walk on Water had a lot of English in it. But no, most of the films are in Hebrew -- small Israeli films.
I've had my relationship with Hollywood throughout the years. Somehow I never felt at home enough there. And it's very important to me, when I make films, to really feel part of a family that works together and makes films together.
But my next film is going to be a very big film that I'm doing with a producer who works and lives now out of L.A. So it will be a bigger kind of film that might involve Hollywood, in some way, manner or form. But I like doing my thing. I like doing my small, independent, Israeli films, where I can do whatever I want to do. And where I work with people I love. And with budgets that allow me to do whatever I want to do.
MW: What is the focus of that film?
FOX: It's a biopic about a wonderful, beautiful Israeli singer in the '70s, called Mike Brant. Grew up in Israel. Was actually a son of Holocaust survivors. A very poor family. Disturbed parents. Brant never wanted to be a singer, never made it in Israel. Left Israel, became a giant, giant superstar in France. And then at some point became very depressed, and killed himself at the age of 27. But it's full of music that I love. And it has a lot of Israeli history, Jewish history. Sex, drugs and rock and roll -- or more pop music than rock and roll. It has France in the '70s, and that whole music scene of France in the '70s. It's a wonderful story, I'm really happy about it. We're going to shoot it towards the end of 2014.
MW: Earlier you were talking about Tel Aviv being a mecca for young people and gay people in particular. Is there anti-gay violence there of late?
FOX: There always is to some extent. But I have to tell you that I think Tel Aviv is such a nice, gay-friendly city and environment. We had this terrible story a few years back where a shooter went into a gay youth community center and shot a kid. And two kids were killed, and a lot of them were injured and crippled. Just a year ago the police found the guilty person. And it's a big ordeal. So that was very bad, but after that, the whole country got together to fight homophobia, and anti-gay violence. So it's really part of our awareness here in Israel.
MW: It often takes something tragic to bring people together or open their eyes.
FOX: Yeah, sadly enough. But also you could say that the fact that the country has been supporting my films since the mid-'90s, constantly supporting my films. These films are made only with film funds. You can't really make these films without the support of Israeli film funds. And these are government funds: money the country is putting into films, that always have gay characters, gay themes, gay love stories, gay sex scenes. I remember traveling the world, especially gay and lesbian film festivals and Jewish film festivals, with the television series I made in the '90s called Florentine. And this was before Queer as Folk, before that whole Showtime television series, before you had all these gay characters and representations in American cinema and television, or on European television. And people were shocked! "How is it, the holy land of Israel allows you to show these things -- gay love story and scenes -- on primetime Israeli network television?"
MW: What's the answer to that? Why did Israel support that so early?
FOX: It's interesting. Israel is very full of contradictions. A very strange place. A lot of humanity and love and acceptance and inclusion. And then again a lot of fear, a lot of hatred, a lot of survival issues. Traumas. Inability to really see today, our situation, and to be able to reach peace with our neighbors. And to understand that there are certain things that we have to do in order to solve the occupation problem, and the war problems, and so on and so on. So it's really such a mix.
How do you explain the fact that Israel has become one of the most gay friendly, and accepting of gay people, cultures in the world? But then again it's so problematic and difficult as far as accepting the Arab other or Palestinian other? There are really very different views -- religious on the one hand and very anti-religious/secular/progressive on the other hand. It's a very interesting, crazy mix.
MW: Sort-of on that topic, 2006's The Bubble is about the so-called "bubble" that is Tel Aviv. Residents live in peace while surrounded by the broader Middle East region that is perpetually in a state of conflict. One of the film's storylines involves a young gay Israeli who falls in love with a Palestinian. Was that inspired by a real-life experience? Was it your own?
FOX: Partly. I never really had a serious love story with a Palestinian. I grew up in Jerusalem, and therefore the whole story of living between Israel and Palestine -- the Jewish parts of Jerusalem and the Arab/Palestinian parts of Jerusalem -- are really part of my biography. But having a love story with a Palestinian is just my fantasy I guess. [Laughs.] I know a lot of people who have had these kind of relationships, these very difficult, sometimes even tragic relationships. And I was trying to say something about our situation through this tragic love story.
MW: Are there many gay Palestinians around you today? Is Tel Aviv a mecca for them too?
FOX: I don't know if there are many. But I think a lot of young, gay Palestinians escape Palestine and come try to live in Tel Aviv. A lot of them do encounter all the difficulties that the main character, the Palestinian character in The Bubble, does. And a lot of them decide to leave Israel, and leave the region, because they can't live in Palestine openly gay, and they can't live in Israel because they're not accepted here as Palestinians. So a lot of them do leave the whole Middle East and go live in Europe and try to rebuild their lives someplace that is more normal for them.
MW: Do you have hope for a more peaceful Israel and Middle East?
FOX: Different things have to happen, but it's clear that eventually we'll have to have two states here, Palestine and Israel. And we'll have to find ways to live together peacefully. We'll have to give up a lot of things that people are very afraid about. We have to overcome fear, that's the most important thing, and go for the right thing -- which is concessions and understanding that we can't continue this way. The world is becoming so anti-Israeli policies and occupation. And rightly so.
MW: What sense of obligation do you feel in commenting on politics and current events in your work?
FOX: I always try to. I'm working on this television series now. Again, there are relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, and trying to solve problems between them on a more human level of relationships.
MW: What is the television series?
FOX: It's a new television series that I'm shooting as we speak. What would the American idiom be? "Good Family." You say in Hebrew, "It's okay, he comes from a good family." And it's about parents, a family in Jerusalem, whose kids all escape Jerusalem -- we were talking about this before -- and move to Tel Aviv. And the parents are starting to get divorced, and the whole family kind of reacts to that. And there's a nice gay character who is part of this wonderful dance company in Tel Aviv, so we'll have a lot of dance.
MW: So there are a lot of reflections of you in there?
FOX: Yeah. That's part of staying in Israel, making films in Israel. Because, really, I make films about myself. I am a one-trick pony. [Laughs.] I make films about myself and things that I really know, and know about and care about. Me, my friends, my family, my loved ones. '
MW: But you don't always write your screenplays. Are you co-writing that TV series?
FOX: Yeah. I wrote the stories and the characters for all my films. But for different reasons I didn't take the credit for the screenplays. Lately I have decided to do that, kind of put my name on the screenplays as well. Because I always did come up with the story and the characters and what I was trying to say there. And then always brought in a collaborator who wrote the screenplay with me or for me.
MW: So you were a closeted writer before?
FOX: Yeah, exactly. I'm working very hard at coming out of my writer's closet.
Eytan Fox's Cupcakes closes the WJFF on Saturday, March 9, at 7:30 p.m., at the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW. Tickets are $12. The festival runs from Thursday, Feb. 27, through March 9, and a full festival pass is $85. Call 888-718-4253 or visit www.wjff.org....more
Eytan Fox, the gay New York-born Israeli film director, has a relatively short filmography. Directing his first official piece in 1994, he has gone on to helm just 11 projects in his 49 years. Fortunately for Fox, however, of the few pieces he has helped craft, several have become staples of foreign-language gay cinema. Fox doesn't shy from acknowledging and celebrating his Israeli roots, and the challenges and adversities that presents. His films tackle a variety of issues: homophobia, racism, Arab-Israeli tensions, lost love, self-discovery. One even handles Jewish attitudes toward Germany in the aftermath of World War II. Fox doesn't shy from presenting the bleak aspects of life, but he also celebrates its beauty. It also doesn't hurt that he has a penchant for musical numbers, regardless of the film's tone. We revisited four of Fox's most famous films, as well as his latest, Cupcakes, to get a firm grasp on the director's canon.
Yossi and Jagger
Yossi and Jagger
It's important to remember that Israel has allowed openly gay servicemembers in its armed forces since 1993. It's also important to remember that being out is still an incredibly hard thing to do. That's the basis for Yossi and Jagger, a short, emotional drama that finds its setting in a group of soldiers on the Israel-Lebanon border. The film follows troop commander Yossi, and his relationship with his second-in-command officer Lior, nicknamed Jagger for his handsome looks and lip-syncing to Mick Jagger. They keep their love a secret from the other soldiers, using regular patrols to exercise their need for one another -- having sex, talking, enjoying the privacy, as they roll around in the snow together. At just 67 minutes and shot on a shoestring budget, it won't blow you away with production values. What it will do is reduce you to an emotional mess.
Jagger wants to be open about their love, to plan for the future. Yossi, deftly portrayed by Ohad Knoller, is closeted, apprehensive, scared. An impromptu visit from an army colonel, announcing a nighttime ambush, moves the story along, bringing with it a base full of soldiers who are exhausted and weary, unwilling to risk their lives for what they deem to be a pointless excursion. Fox maneuvers through the base, and later the raid scenario, like a fly-on-the-wall. We eavesdrop on numerous conversations, catch glimpses of different personalities, and in such a short space of time the entire cast manages to create an authentic, believable atmosphere. It's what makes the film's ending all the more devastating. We have come to care for these soldiers, in particular Yossi and Jagger, championing their love, their friendships, their bonds. Yossi's emotional outburst, when he finally stops caring what the other soldiers think, is incredible. It may only be an hour, but Yossi and Jagger explores a deeper, and rawer, love story than most films twice its length.
Walk on Water
Fox's film about a Mossad agent hired to be a guide for a German tourist may not sound like much, but you'd be wrong. Eyal is a trained killer, adept at removing terrorist threats without causing a scene. When he returns home from a mission to discover his wife has committed suicide, it sets into motion a narrative that deals with so many issues it's almost too much for Fox to handle -- yet it all somehow works, and works well. Tasked with monitoring Axel and Pia, German grandchildren of a Nazi war criminal long considered dead but discovered alive in South America, Eyal poses as a tour guide to shadow them in an attempt to discover if they know of their grandfather's whereabouts.
Lior Ashkenazi handles the various complexities of Eyal's personality well -- his homophobia when he discovers that Axel is gay; the flirtatious nature of his time spent with Pia (Caroline Peters), Axel's sister; a torrent of barely concealed anger when Axel sleeps with a Palestinian man. It's in the relationship between Eyal and Axel that Walk on Water truly succeeds -- a scene at the Dead Sea strips away the emotional layers holding Eyal back and he opens up to Axel as if he were a true friend. It's beautifully handled by Fox, Ashkenazi, and Knut Berger as Axel. By the film's end, both men are changed. Their effect on each other is obvious, producing a work notable for its focus on homosexuality being part of a much larger fabric of events and social issues. Dealing with homophobia, transphobia, the Israel-Palestine conflict, anti-German sentiment, the emotional cost of killing for a career, lost love and new love, Walk on Water threatens to drown itself under its own ambitions, but the core story, the friendship between its two leading men, keeps it afloat and makes it something of a marvel.
It's easy to see why Fox wanted to call The Bubble "Romeo and Julio." This story of love between two people who live on either side of a conflict is very similar to Shakespeare's tragedy. Once again tackling the Israel-Palestine conflict, Fox presents a tale of Noam (Ohad Knoller), a Jewish man living in Tel Aviv, who falls in love with Ashraf (Yousef Sweid), a Palestinian man. The title of the film references the city of Tel Aviv, a relatively peaceful part of Israel where residents are said to live in a bubble, separated from the conflict and trouble on Israel's borders. Noam spots Ashraf while working at a military checkpoint, but has to return to Tel Aviv as his military service has concluded. Ashraf follows Noam to return a passport that Noam dropped at the checkpoint. The two meet and, naturally, fall in love. Determined to keep Ashraf in Tel Aviv where he can live openly as a gay man, Noam conspires to have him work in a restaurant under the Jewish name Shimi.
It's from this point that the film descends into somewhat soap-worthy fare, with Noam's roommates Yali, who's also gay, and Lulu intertwining with the story. Lulu's boyfriend discovers that Ashraf is not Jewish and he flees to Palestine. The Bubble is intent on contrasting the very different lives of the two men -- the majority of it deals with Noam trying to get Ashraf back, and Ashraf's very conservative family conspiring to keep him closeted. There's a forced marriage to Ashraf's cousin, a Jihad bombing in Tel Aviv that directly impacts a character, an Israeli response in Palestine which affects Ashraf's family, and the whole film culminates, through emotional scene after emotional scene, in Ashraf taking his brother-in-law's place as a suicide bomber. The ending of the film is arguably its most powerful moment, and I won't spoil it, but it's a slog to get there. Fox seems intent on prodding every issue -- Jihadists, bombs, military attacks, the contrasting of life in Palestine with life in Israel, not just for gay men but for everyone. The soapy, schlocky nature of certain portions of the film drag down what is otherwise a very touching, heartfelt relationship between two people who society and culture won't let be together.
Fox's fifth feature, a sequel to Yossi and Jagger that takes place a decade after that film's events, is also his best. It strips away a lot of the social-issues baggage Fox puts into other works and presents a very raw, powerful tale of one man trying to rediscover himself. Ohad Knoller reprises his role as Yossi, and delivers a standout performance. As a closeted cardiologist, the film opens on a depressingly lonely person. Yossi lives his life through his job, taking night shifts and working himself to the ragged edge. His eyes are constantly surrounded by bags, there's a permanent 10-day beard and he never looks like he's had more than a couple hours asleep. A female co-worker pines for him, a male co-worker is desperate to take him to a bar and get him laid -- to a woman, of course. Yossi's scenes at home are in a dimly lit apartment, eating takeout and masturbating to scenes of youthful gay men having sex on sandy beaches. That Knoller has gained weight between the two films adds literal and metaphorical depth to his character. He doesn't care about himself. He's depressed, alone, and is still trying to reconcile a love lost 10 years ago.
What follows, after a series of events that lead him to head out into the desert on an impromptu vacation, is a character study in a man trying to find meaning in his life. Knoller's ability to convey a complex range of emotions adds greatly to Yossi's character. He can move between bemusement, joy and isolated depression in just a few subtle facial expressions. After meeting a group of soldiers on his way to Eliat, one of whom is gay, Yossi's transformation slowly occurs. We see him struggle with his confidence, his sexuality, his body issues. His lust for the handsome soldier is constantly tempered by his own self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy. A later scene, where he finally comes to terms with his own looks, and that someone could find him attractive, is devastating and uplifting at the same time. A somewhat trite ending can't spoil a film that takes great joy in its raw approach to romance and self-discovery. It's a big-budget film without any of the entrapments that brings.
Forgive the pun, but Cupcakes, Fox's latest feature film, is incredibly sweet. Entirely inconsequential, but nonetheless very endearing. It follows a group of normal people, who all share an apartment block, as they find themselves representing Israel at the "Universong" contest -- a global singing competition that takes liberal inspiration from Eurovision. It offers clichés and tropes aplenty, but its saccharine nature won't have you reaching for your dentist's phone number. It's well-acted, colorful, and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Watch it with a glass of wine and low expectations, and you'll likely come away happy, unless you're a complete miser.
It does have some emotional depth. Ofer has a closeted boyfriend whose family sponsors the Universong competition; Anat's husband leaves her because she doesn't pay enough attention to him; Keren is an awkward blogger who writes about things she would never actually do in the real world; Efrat is a lesbian songwriter who wrote the song that is taking them to Universong but who can't get anyone to watch her perform live; Dana is smothered by her conservative father; and Yael is trapped in a job and life that constantly references her former modeling career. Each one of these stories helps carry the film through its short length, and all are resolved with happy endings as the credits roll. Cupcakes is a film you watch when you just want to sit back, smile and not really think about things. Its main cast is a very likeable, watchable group. It's not Fox's deepest work -- and it's certainly not his best -- but it's a fun little ditty that adds a burst of welcome joy to a canon otherwise marked by mature, emotionally resonant offerings....more
Feb. 5 would have been Trayvon Martin's 19th birthday. Jordan Davis would have turned 19 on Feb. 16. There are too many other cases like theirs, and they are not restricted to Florida. To be young and black in America is to be the target of an astonishing degree of savage, unearned hostility.
Unlike George Zimmerman, who was acquitted after killing Martin, Michael Dunn at least was convicted for shooting up an SUV full of black teens. But saying he saw Davis with a gun was apparently enough to dodge the murder one count, though Davis had no gun. Does anyone think jurors would have bought the story had the races been reversed?
Another example of "fear goggles," as Jessica Williams of The Daily Show dubs the racial lens of "chronically terrified white people," was the reaction when Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks offered up some adrenaline-fueled trash talk to Fox's Erin Andrews after the NFC championship game. As Mark Thompson noted on Sirius/XM Progress talk radio, you'd have thought Sherman were King Kong and Andrews were Fay Wray.
When an All-Pro cornerback from the NFL's best defensive squad needs to have his 3.9 GPA from Stanford cited to stop white people's quivering, we have a problem. Though not fatal for Sherman as it was for Martin and Davis, it showed the same instant demonization, the same culturally assigned otherness.
Why is this an LGBT issue? For one thing, African-Americans have been among the most prominent out gay people in pro sports: Brittney Griner in the WNBA, Jason Collins in the NBA (who just signed with the Brooklyn Nets), Michael Sam before the NFL draft. All lacked the privilege taken for granted by white heterosexual men. Facing greater bias, they summoned greater strength. As the Scandal character Olivia Pope is told by her father in the TV drama, "You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have." Many black overachievers grew up hearing this.
But it is not just that black and gay overlap. We must work together to defeat those who exploit fear and hatred to gain power. This requires refuting their lies repeatedly over time. The images of Sam's athletic prowess are a powerful antidote and promise a historic moment come May.
For the past few years I have mentored a black gay youth from a troubled home who is now in college. Seeing his progress renews my hope in the difference that teaching and guidance can make. But there are many more like him. We nurture the next generation one life and one mind at a time. As in a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem about a father playing with his baby, we know we cannot always protect our young from the world. My mentee once told me, "I'm tougher than I look." Thank goodness. He wants to succeed so he can help others.
If we only speak out when it's our turn in the crosshairs, we do the haters' prep work. To defeat them, we must recognize our proper coalition partners, learn patience, and overcome our mutual resentments. We have to make a leap of trust. The alternative is to lose our country.
A youth stands before us who is no longer a child but not yet a man, armed with loud music or with Skittles and tea, wrapped despite himself in the garb of other people's bogeymen. He started out, in Dunbar's words, as a little brown baby with sparkling eyes. There is no greater treasure for parent or nation. His welfare is our mutual concern. We must reach past our differences to help him survive and thrive, lest that light and all its futures go out.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org....more
There is a special hell for serious music-lovers, and in one molten corner resides a certain kind of contemporary classical that puts more emphasis on atonality and stridency than any actual reason for it. Anyone who has felt those particular flames licking at their heels will be forgiven for thinking twice before allowing themselves to be sealed into the red cocoon of the Opera House with modern fare on the menu.
Thus it is with much relief that one finds that with his hot-off-the-presses Moby Dick, composer Jake Heggie is never different for difference's sake. He is, quite to the contrary, working hard and exploring sensitively within many of the traditions of classical opera. And why not? Who says new opera has to be weird?
Moby Dick at Kennedy Center
(Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO)
And if Heggie may not quite (yet) transcend the derivative feel that comes from this embrace of his classical ancestors, and his Moby will inevitably be compared to Benjamin Britten's masterworks of Billy Budd or Peter Grimes, there is nevertheless a big idea here. And its name is Accessibility.
Moby Dick at Kennedy Center
(Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO)
With Elaine J. McCarthy's vast and spectacular projections, a score that swells lyrically and cinematically on waves of emotion, conflict and dangerous seas, and a familiar tale of man against beast (and himself), this is a highly theatrical and watchable opera. It benefits tremendously from Gene Scheer's libretto, which not only pares Melville's dense novel into a tight and dramatically potent story, but also serves to anchor the emotional intensity of Heggie's musical flights. Add the simple but dramatic rendering of the ship in Robert Brill's sets and this is a whole that is in many ways bigger than its parts.
And as such, it represents a place where a new generation may not fear to tread. And if they tread here, they may find they can also tread backward -- to those operas that have so fruitfully and successfully inspired Heggie.
Of course, with such larger-than-life theatrics, there is always the danger that the characters themselves will get swallowed up, and not just by a whale. Here, Carl Tanner as Captain Ahab, the whaling-boat captain who will stop at nothing to find and kill the whale that took his leg, has no trouble commanding not just his boat but also his stage. An impressive and rather dashing figure, Tanner has the kind of charisma that makes one forget he's hiding half a leg somewhere. (Well, almost. He wore an intriguingly designed coat.) His virile baritone sails easily over the Washington National Opera orchestra (playing with power and exuberance under the baton of Evan Rogister), and yet he brings much tender spirit to Heggie's more soulful moments.
A charismatic and vocal counterpoint to Tanner is the superb baritone Eric Greene, who gives his Queequeg an enthralling presence and authenticity that stops dead any chance that this "noble savage" might become the cliché so often made of such characters. Greene offers a sonorous yet silky sound that matches well the understated power and expressiveness of Queequeg. Dramatically, he pairs well with Greenhorn, the young seaman who soon sees that there is more to Queequeg than meets the Western eye. Tenor Stephen Costello fills Greenhorn's not overly written character with a thoughtful energy, and by the second act his voice has warmed into expressiveness, even if a duet with Queequeg never quite takes off.
Another standout is Talise Trevigne in the trouser role of Pip, the cabin boy. Her strikingly rich and beautiful soprano glides through Heggie's score like a knife through butter -- a sheer joy to the ears. Though she may give Pip a slightly incongruous maturity, she captures well his young stride and the theatricality the role requires. As Ahab's first mate Starbuck, baritone Matthew Worth may get a bit close to a nibble on the scenery, but he sings with expression and holds his own.
As shipmates Flask and Stubb, Alexander Lewis and Christian Bowers acquit themselves well as they come and go from the crowded deck scenes, which raises an inevitability of this production: crowd control. With a deck for a set (except for a few scenes) the crew-member chorus creates quite a crowd. Though they are pulled together effectively (and sing with unified gusto) for their two tour de force moments, the rhythm of shipboard life otherwise is never quite captured, especially during the interlude in which they dance and sing of the "Spanish ladies." With the challenge of an oceangoing opera there must come such dilemmas. Here there is room for a tighter, more cohesive feel.MOBY DICK To March 8 Washington National Opera Kennedy Center $30-$305 202-467-4600 kennedy-center.org
Having said that, the fight scenes -- generally not a strong point in opera -- are here effectively choreographed by Robb Hunter. The less crowed moments also carry well, especially those in which the crew members leave the ship to harpoon the whales in small boats. These scenes balance projections with the athletic use of the set's curved walls in ways that are imaginative and well executed.
Still, even if the crowds within don't always work, the crowds without are likely to be pleased. With familiar themes simply told, Heggie's grand and accessible score, and sets and projections that deliver an exceptionally atmospheric experience, this production will, no doubt, continue to make waves. (Sorry.)...more
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) on Thursday announced in a press conference at the Wilson Building that the District of Columbia's Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking (DISB) will issue a bulletin to health insurance companies in the District about the application of nondiscrimination provisions, in particular recognizing ''gender dysphoria'' as a medical condition.
Thursday's announcement clarifies the District's position as stated in a March 2013 bulletin issued by DISB that instructed health insurers to remove language that discriminates on the basis of gender identity and expression from their policies, and grant those with gender dysphoria access to medically necessary benefits. By recognizing gender dysphoria as a medical condition, the newest ruling will allow transgender residents to have any treatments – ranging from hormones to gender reassignment surgeries – covered by health insurance. Previously, most D.C. residents seeking such treatments had to pay out-of-pocket for their care.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray
''Last March, the District began the process of removing exclusions in health insurance on the basis of gender identity or expression,'' Gray said in prepared statement. ''Through the hard work of my Office of GLBT Affairs and a multi-agency working group headed by my Chief of Staff, Chris Murphy, we have today taken the necessary steps to completely eliminate these exclusions.
''Today, the District takes a major step towards leveling the playing field for individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria. These residents should not have to pay exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses for medically necessary treatment when those without gender dysphoria do not. Today's actions take us closer to being One City that values and protects the health of all our residents.''
The latest ruling states that in determining the medical necessity of services and benefits provided to consumers, insurance providers must refer to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care (WPATH), the recognized standard of medical care for transgender people and gender dysphoria. The benefits are not newly mandated, but do clarify that insurance companies offering coverage in the District of Columbia must take into account the District's Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression. That means that any service that would be provided to a cisgender person – meaning someone who identifies with the sex assigned them at birth – such as a mastectomy, for example, must also be provided to a transgender person.
''This action places the District at the forefront of advancing the rights of transgender individuals,'' Gray said in his prepared statements. ''It also fully implements the District's Human Rights Act by incorporating gender identity and expression as protected classes in the District's health insurance laws.''
The District's Department of Health Care Finance and Department of Human Resources also further clarified their policies to be in compliance with the DISB bulletin. Under the bulletin, all private plans offered in the District, as well as government-employee health care plans and D.C. Medicaid, must cover any medically necessary health services for transgender people. Any plans currently requiring insurance riders or supplements for an additional charge must be eliminated by the next renewal period.
Andy Bowen, a local transgender activist who has worked on health care issues with the District government, and who is a policy associate at the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the District's new policy one of the ''most comprehensive'' health care plans in the entire county.
''What we've seen from other places that have instituted these reforms is that it is of minimal cost to insurers,'' Bowen said, citing insurance reforms passed in California and Connecticut. ''There's no need for a premium increase.''
Bowen cited a study by the California Department of Insurance released last year as proof of her claims. That study concluded in its analysis of economic impact that ''the adoption of the proposed regulation would have an insignificant and immaterial economic impact on the creation or elimination of jobs, the creation or elimination of new businesses, and the expansion of businesses in the State of California.''
Bowen also said that the policy could be a boon to insurers, as it can be considered a form of preventative care. If transgender people are able to access medically necessary services, they tend to have better health outcomes. The California Department of Insurance study states: ''[T]he Department's evidence suggests that benefits will accrue to insurance carriers and employers as costs decline for the treatment of complications arising from denial of coverage for treatments. The evidence suggests that there may be potential cost savings resulting from the adoption of the proposed regulation in the medium to long term, such as lower costs associated with the high cost of suicide and attempts at suicide, overall improvements in mental health and lower rates of substance abuse.''
''This is a win for the public,'' said Bowen. ''It's, frankly, a win for insurers. It's a smart government decision, and it's good for human beings.''...more
Visitors to Beacon Bar & Grill will get a treat if they're served a drink by Coverboy Ron, who enjoys creating cocktails to meet even the most discriminating palate's preferred tastes. The 31-year-old, who also works at The Fireplace, views himself as an artist behind the bar, always trying to think up new concoctions for his customers. Raised in rural Oregon, Ron spent his high school time as a scholar-athlete before moving to D.C. to work on Capitol Hill. But his love of politics eventually faded, prompting him to change careers and pursue bartending, where he's been able to interact with and entertain people with his quick wit and subtle yet sexually tinged humor.
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
What's on your nightstand?Two glasses of wine and an empty condom wrapper.
What's in your nightstand drawer?Lots more condoms. A couple of cockrings, lube. It's a storage place for fun.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?Hands down, teleportation. Can you imagine where you'd go?
Pick three people, living or dead, who you would like to spend the day with. And what would you do?Alexander the Great, because I would want to see how he interacted with troops. Zach Braff -- I think he's hilarious. The other one would be Donald Faison. I would pick those two, and be like, "Let's re-enact Scrubs."
You're stranded on a desert island with one person. Who do you pick?Let me give you traits: Taller than me. Great arms. Male, obviously. Black. And someone with at least nine-and-a-half inches.
What annoys you?Indecisiveness. If you're coming up to my bar and being bitchy, saying, "Excuse me, I need service," and then I come up and ask "What do you want?" And you're like, "I don't know, what do you have?"
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
What pleases you?A sense of intimacy, whether with friends or a lover.
What's the worst thing a friend could do to you?Steal a boyfriend. That's the worst thing I think a friend could do.
What's your greatest fear?To be alone.
What's your guilty pleasure?Alcohol. And sex. And chocolate. And all three together.
What turns you on?That sense of intimacy is a big thing, but when I'm looking at a guy, it's arms. I like arms, I like chests. I like to grab them, lay on them.
What turns you off?Arrogance, completely.
Define good in bed.The bottom controls what happens in bed. So it's a top that listens to what the bottom wants. If the bottom isn't enjoying it, the top's just being selfish. Sex isn't just about getting one person off, it's about getting both people enjoying that intimate contact.
Can men fake it?Men can definitely fake it. It's the "O" face, the grunting. That's a lot of it. Maybe men fake it as saying they haven't come yet, when they want to keep going.
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
Name two people you don't ever want to picture having sex.Madeline Albright. And John Goodman. Together or separately.
What's your favorite late-night eats?Stoney's. I go to Stoney's after work. It's right on P Street. It's a great industry place late at night. Their chicken Reuben is amazing.
When you go to a bar, what do you order?Jameson. Maybe a beer or ginger ale to chase it.
Gin or vodka?Vodka.
Scotch or bourbon?Bourbon.
Wine or beer?Wine.
Mustard, mayo or ketchup?Ketchup.
Gaga or Britney?Gaga. Hands down.
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
What's your favorite cocktail to make?I like stuff that I've invented, and people enjoy. I have this drink here at the Beacon called the peppercorn martini. I use a Hendrick's gin, a little bit of dry vermouth, and a black-pepper simple syrup. It's delicious. You get the sweetness of the gin at first, and the heat of the black pepper on the end.
If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be?I look at pictures and say, "Oh, I miss my hair."
You become master of the world. What's your first act?Lower the drinking age in the U.S. It's stupid how it is. Most of our alcohol problems are because we don't start legally drinking until 21.
What age would you lower it to?Eighteen. If you can go into the military, if you can vote, but you can't drink at 18, how is that a world that makes sense? You can get shot, but you can't legally drink?
What are you most grateful for?I love my friends. But I'm most grateful for being able to do what I want.
What would you die for?My parents, my family. I'm not in a relationship right now, but I would hope I would die for my partner.
What's your motto?"Be me." Don't be anything you're not....more
A transgender woman was arrested Friday night in the city's 16th Street Heights neighborhood after police pulled her over for an apparently over-crowded SUV and charged her with driving on an expired license.
The incident occurred around 10 p.m. close to Kennedy and 13th Streets NW. The passengers in the car included three transgender women, two males and local transgender activist Ruby Corado, founder of the LGBT community resource center Casa Ruby. The seven were departing a support-group meeting that had been held at Casa Ruby, 2822 Georgia Ave. NW, that evening.
(Photo by Ruby Corado)
Corado tells Metro Weekly that she had asked the woman who was later arrested to drive the others home as she didn't want them to have to wait outside for a bus due to the below-freezing temperatures. Corado says she noticed a police car following the group immediately after they left Casa Ruby, and advised the driver to continue on their route. The group traveled up Georgia Avenue NW before turning onto Kennedy Street with the police car following. When the police officer eventually turned on his lights, the driver immediately pulled off to the side of the road.
Corado says the police officer came up to the SUV and asked the driver for identification, saying he had stopped her because of an overcrowded car. But when the driver offered her ID, which lists a male name, Corado says the officer's attitude changed and he began asking a lot of questions about her gender and even ''what color she was.'' According to Corado, the officer then became agitated and pulled the driver out of the car.
One of the passengers in the back then jumped out of the car and began crying, while another suffered a minor panic attack. Other passengers tried to call for an ambulance as Corado attempted to contact the Metropolitan Police Department's (MPD) Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) to request an affiliate officer trained in dealing with LGBT issues come to the scene. Corado says an officer at the GLLU told her that someone would be directed to the scene, but that no GLLU-affiliated officer arrived.
(Photo by Ruby Corado)
The passengers were ordered to exit the vehicle and stand outside as police continued interrogating the driver, yelling at Corado, she says, when she asked for their names and requested they show greater sensitivity to the other passengers, who were scared, crying and shivering from the cold. Corado also noticed that there were four police cars on scene, with at least seven other officers joining the arresting officer.
''I'm used to dealing with the police,'' Corado says, nearly in tears as she recounts the night's events. ''But why put other people who are already vulnerable through this? It was freezing cold. Why do they have to traumatize the others? That's what really bothers me. I respect the law. I respect power. But don't abuse your power.''
Corado says the arresting officer would not give her his name, though she attempted to take pictures of him and the other officers present. One of the other officers did give Corado a business card, listing him as Ronald L. Carroll Jr. of the MPD's 4th District. Corado says she was eventually advised that the driver was being arrested for driving with an expired license. The officers then told Corado to drive away with the remaining passengers or risk facing arrest.
Jason Terry, of the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC), says he's been talking to some police officers since last night's incident who have never heard of a charge of driving an overcrowded car.
''It's profiling,'' Terry insists. ''There are some people who can get away with things, and some people who can't, and certainly, a trans woman of color is among the people who can't.''
Further, Terry says the charge of driving with an expired license is a ''61-B,'' meaning a paper arrest, which requires a citation, not jail.
Messages left with MPD's Public Information Office were not immediately returned.
The incident occurs just days after the MPD released its response to the recommendations of a Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force organized by the Anti-Defamation League. In the report, the task force made specific recommendations, among them the need for MPD to ''build trust'' with members of the transgender community.
In her response to the task force's recommendations, MPD Chief Cathy Lanier said, ''Unfortunately, the report reinforces that some members of the transgender community have had – and apparently continue to have – very negative interactions with individual police officers. This is unacceptable. In order to identify and root out this behavior, we must implore the community to report complaints on individual officers to one of a number of options. Given their lack of trust in MPD, we can understand that they may not want to contact MPD's Internal Affairs Division. Therefore, we will ask the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), an independent civilian oversight board that hears and considers complaints of police misconduct, to partner with advocates in the transgender community in a campaign to ensure that individuals know there is another option. The OPC review carries significant weight in the law. In the past seven years, MPD disciplined officers in 97 percent of the cases for which OPC sustained misconduct.''
Some of the other recommendations in the task force's report included reviewing the GLLU structure, personnel and resources; increasing awareness of the GLLU among officers within MPD; and improving training for officers on transgender-related issues.
Terry says that DCTC and other community groups were working on a formal response to the task force's report and will be releasing it soon.
UPDATE, Sunday, March 2, 11:57 a.m.:
The driver of the car, Kaprice Williams, told Metro Weekly in a Sunday-morning interview that she was “shocked” by her arrest and that she's never experienced such treatement from police during her 50 years in D.C.
“I gave them my ID, and they were just being rude,” Williams says. “They kept asking me, ‘Are you white?’ I said, ‘No, I’m black.’”
Williams says she was being interrogated by a younger African-American officer when a white female officer wearing a face mask and a piece of tape over her name plate came around the car, opened the door and pulled her out.
“My arm was grabbed, she twisted my arm, pulled me, pushed me up against the car and pulled my hands back,” Williams says. “When Ruby tried to take photos, five officers rushed her, with their hands on their guns, yelling, ‘Get back in the car!’”
Williams insists she was not read the Miranda warning when she was initially handcuffed.
“They took some time,” she says of the officers. “They were huddled in a group together, and I just heard them talking amongst themselves, mumbling about ‘these faggots.’ I just thought, ‘What can I do? These people have guns.’ So I couldn’t say anything.”
Williams says she was transported to the MPD’s 4th District substation and kept in a cell until 4:30 a.m., when she was released. She said police told her she had been charged with “no permit.”
According to Ruby Corado, Casa Ruby hosted a community meeting Saturday with representatives from DCTC, Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP DC), and other local community groups to discuss the incident.
“We want [MPD Chief] Cathy Lanier to make a statement against profiling LGBT people,” says Corado, speaking on behalf of the groups at the meeting. “We want to get her involved so she can explain why her officers act this way.”...more
With the April Democratic primary fast approaching, some of D.C.'s LGBT organizations are in the midst of vetting candidates for mayor and D.C. Council seats.
The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), a nonpartisan group that rates candidates for their actions on various policies affecting the lives of LGBT residents, released its biennial ratings on Feb. 13. GLAA grades candidates on a scale of -10 to 10 based partly on responses to a questionnaire that outlines the organization's list of issued, as outlined in its 2014 policy brief, ''Building on Victory.''
Points are awarded or deducted for agreement or disagreement with GLAA's view on an issue, whether the candidate demonstrates a substantive grasp of the issues, any recent advocacy on priorities of the LGBT community, and their records.
In the mayor's race, GLAA rated all announced candidates from the city's four major parties, with incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray coming out on top with a perfect rating of 10. In its write-up of Gray, GLAA noted, ''Mr. Gray's accessibility, responsiveness, and follow-through have made him highly effective on LGBT issues.'' The group also cited Gray's advocacy on behalf of the District's transgender population and ''firm understanding'' of the issues.
Close behind was Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who earned a 9.5 for his record on the D.C. Council, dedication to good government causes, and, in particular, his shepherding of various pieces of pro-LGBT legislation through the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, which he chairs. Following Wells was Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who earned an 8 rating for his strong questionnaire responses and long D.C. Council record, with GLAA noting that Evans has the ''longest record of support of any candidate.''
Entrepreneur Andy Shallal, who has no legislative record but has supported LGBT groups, earned a 6, while Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) earned a 5.5. Reta Jo Lewis earned a 4.5, Statehood-Green Party nominee ''Faith'' earned a 3.5, Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At Large) earned a 3, and gay Libertarian Party nominee Bruce Majors earned a 2. Carlos Allen, best known as a rap artist, accused White House party crasher, and a past candidate for mayor, did not return a questionnaire and received a zero rating.
While GLAA does not make endorsements, both Gray and Wells took to their campaign websites to trumpet their high ratings. Gray also used the post to tout his work on various LGBT initiatives related to marriage equality, public safety, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and youth bullying. He also quoted his re-election kickoff speech in which he referred to the diversity of D.C.'s community, including LGBT people, in keeping with his oft-cited ''One City'' theme.
Wells, writing on Feb. 14, commemorated Valentine's Day by sharing his rating and posting a statement on his campaign website.
''On a day like St. Valentine's – a day about love – the stamp of approval from a group like GLAA is particularly meaningful,'' Wells wrote. ''When it's at its best, public policy finds its roots in love. I believe that's because love will always prevail, even in the face of ignorance or prejudice.''
''D.C. has come a long way, and I've been proud to play a role in many of these victories during my time on the Council,'' Wells continued. ''But there are still many victories to win before we can claim true equality for those who believe, as I do, that love is love.''
Evans did not flag his rating on his campaign website, but GLAA President Richard J. Rosendall, who regularly writes commentary for Metro Weekly, says that his organization would be reviewing an addendum from the Evans campaign regarding his work in 2013 in shepherding through a bill that directs the city's chief financial officer to make any changes necessary to all estate tax forms, instructions and regulations to make it clear that all married couples are eligible for estate-tax benefits regardless of whether such a marriage is recognized under federal law. If GLAA determines that action merits additional points, the group may revise Evans's rating upward.
Other candidates were not so enthusiastic about their ratings. Muriel Bowser didn't mention her GLAA rating on her website, nor did Shallal, Orange, or the other Democrats.
Bruce Majors, in response to an inquiry from Breitbart News, told the conservative website, ''In some ways, I think the GLAA rating is hilarious and what GLAA has really done is rate itself into irrelevancy and given itself a failing grade.''
In an email to a conservative blogger, forwarded to Metro Weekly, Majors wrote: ''The problem with GLAA is that they should rename themselves the Statist Gay Activist Group or the Democratic Party Gay Activist Group. … They are entitled to believe that only their approach of regulating heterosexuals they dislike and putting gays on the dole is just or productive. But they aren't entitled to pretend that other gay people who believe that freedom of association and of disassociation, legal equality, free speech, and a growing private sector, are better for gays and everyone, is anti-gay. If they can't develop competence to assess multiple pro-gay approaches, including ones beyond their own collective intelligence or imagination, they should change their name to reflect this.''
Rosendall, noting that he had already seen criticism of the organization on right-wing websites, defended the group's actions, noting that GLAA members went through each questionnaire ''painstakingly.'' He also added that candidates had an ''open book test'' if they had read GLAA's policy brief before answering the questionnaire.
''The community has the happy problem of choosing among several allies of our community,'' Rosendall said. ''In broad terms, these are allies.''
But he also noted that the questionnaire is updated every election cycle, and even pro-gay incumbents do not get automatic credit on some metrics for past records. To be awarded ''championship'' points, he said, a candidate has to have actively led on an issue of importance to the community since the last election.
''We don't put our finger on the scale,'' he said to accusations by bloggers that the organization favors incumbents. ''We go through the same process with every candidate.''
He added that candidates don't get rewarded for identifying as LGBT, saying: ''Some of our strongest allies on the Council have been straight people. It has to be about more than that somebody's gay.''
For the D.C. Council, Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) once again topped GLAA's ratings, earning his fourth consecutive perfect rating since his 2006 re-election. His opponent, Calvin Gurley, did not return a GLAA questionnaire and earned a zero rating. Gurley told GLAA in 2012 that while he did not support repealing the District's marriage-equality law, he did feel residents should have had the chance to vote on it. He also told Metro Weekly that he would fight to prevent bullying in schools and would support more training for Metropolitan Police Department officers on how to deal with suspected hate crimes.
In the Councilmember At-Large race, where District voters choose the top two candidates in a general election, Democratic candidate Nate Bennett-Fleming earned a 7, while incumbent Councilmember Anita Bonds earned a 6. Democrat Pedro Rubio earned a 3, and John F. Settles II, earned a 2.5, with GLAA noting that both candidates agreed with the organization on issues, but failed to demonstrate a fuller understanding of them. Democrat Kevin Valentine Jr. did not return a questionnaire and received a zero rating.
Among non-Democrats for the at-large seat, Statehood-Green candidate Eugene Puryear topped the list with a 4.5, though GLAA noted that his ideological stance is often at odds with the organization, with many of his answers being interpreted as non-responsive or negative. G. Lee Aikin, another Statehood-Green candidate, earned a 3 for agreeing with GLAA on most issues, but was docked points for failing to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of them. Libertarian candidate Frederick Steiner did not return the GLAA questionnaire and received a zero rating.
The biggest surprise in the ratings may have been Republican candidate Marc Morgan, who is gay. Morgan did not return a questionnaire, but was awarded points for his work with Equality Ohio to defeat Issue 1, his work in Arizona as part of the Arizona Together in the No on 102 campaign, and work for the National Minority AIDS Council. But he was docked points for his previous support of anti-gay politicians such as U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) and former Arizona State Rep. Laura Knapereck (R). Morgan earned a 6.5 when he ran for the Ward 1 Council seat in 2010. This year, Morgan received a rating of 2.
In the Ward 1 race, incumbent Councilmember Jim Graham (D) earned a 7.5, with GLAA noting that he disagrees with the organization on some issues. Challenger Brianne Nadeau earned a 5 based on strong questionnaire responsese, but a limited record on LGBT issues.
In the Ward 3 race, incumbent Councilmember Mary Cheh (D), earned an 8.5 for a strong questionnaire and her record of supporting LGBT issues, including her co-authoring of the LGBTQ Homeless Reform Amendment Act of 2013 and her authoring of the Conversion Therapy for Minors Prohibition Act of 2013. Her general election challenger, Libertarian Ryan Sabot, did not return his questionnaire and received a zero rating.
In the Ward 5 race, incumbent Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D) earned 4.5 for agreeing with GLAA on several issues, but the organization noted in its write-up that the McDuffie has ''not established a strong record in his short time on the Council.'' His Democratic opponents, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Kathy Henderson (5D) and Carolyn Steptoe (5B) received a zero and a -2, respectively. Henderson was docked points for ''a weak questionnaire and a record of opposing gay nightclubs and medical marijuana cultivation centers,'' and Steptoe for not returning a questionnaire and for her previous testimony before the Board of Elections and the Council in the support of putting the District's marriage-equality law on the ballot.
In the Ward 6 race, Charles Allen, a former chief of staff for Councilmember Wells, earned a rating of 8.5 for a strong questionnaire and his advocacy on behalf of LGBT issues as president of the Ward 6 Democrats. He also testified in favor of the marriage-equality law. His opponent, Darrel Thompson, a former staffer for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), received a 2 based on his lack of record on LGBT issues and what GLAA described as a ''weak questionnaire.'' Libertarian candidate Pranav Badhwar earned a 2 for responses that reflected his Libertarian outlook, but clash with GLAA's stated positions.
Meanwhile, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city's largest LGBT political group, held the first of two endorsement forums on Feb. 26 featuring Democratic candidates for D.C. Council.
At the Stein meeting, Mendelson and Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) emerged victorious with endorsements in their respective races, while three other D.C. Council races deadlocked, resulting in no endorsements. Mendelson earned 120 votes to Gurley's 13, with 11 voters abstaining in the chairman's race. McDuffie won 124 votes to challenger Henderson's 13, with 1 abstention.
The third candidate, Steptoe, did not return a Stein Club questionnaire required to participate in the forum. Stein Club President Angela Peoples said later that the club did not hear anything from Steptoe's campaign as to why she did not return the questionnaire.
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh (D), running unopposed in the primary, was endorsed at the Stein Club's regular February meeting on Feb. 10, along with Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and candidate for shadow U.S. representative Franklin Garcia. All three were endorsed by unanimous consent of the club members.
In the Ward 1 race, Jim Graham found himself coming in second to Brianne Nadeau, with Graham earning 64 votes to Nadeau's 70. Both were short of the 80 votes, or 60 percent threshold, needed to secure an endorsement.
In the Ward 6 open seat race, Charles Allen narrowly defeated Darrel Thomoson, 68 to 65, with both falling short of the 80-vote threshold.
In the Democratic at-large seat, Nate Bennett Fleming won 60 votes to Anita Bonds's 53 votes, with John F. Settles receiving 14 votes, and 12 for Pedro Rubio. In a runoff featuring the top two candidates, Fleming earned 68 votes to Bonds's 51, with two abstentions. That placed Bennett Fleming just four votes shy of a 72-vote threshold for the club's endorsement in a runoff.
In a statement summarizing the endorsement forum, Peoples said the club officers agreed that there had been a ''robust debate'' between attendees, with representation from all eight wards and various communities that comprise the District's makeup in terms of race, age and sexual orientation/gender identity. She called it a ''great success,'' because members were able to get to know the candidates better and the distinctions between them needed to make an informed decision when voting.
''We were hoping that we could make endorsements in all the races,'' Peoples said. ''However, with the quality of candidates and the investment that was made to garner members' support, it is not surprising that support among the competitive races was split.''
''It was great to see an overwhelming show of support for Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember McDuffie,'' Peoples continued. ''They have a long history of working with Stein, our members and being leaders on our issue. We will definitely be fully supporting them with club resources to ensure their victories on the April 1 ballot.''
Peoples did remark that she found it surprising that Nadeau had been able to garner a majority of votes from the club's members, as Graham, who is gay, has been a longtime and steadfast champion for the LGBT community and the club.
''I think the very close vote count does shed some light on where our members and the community stand,'' Peoples said. ''With the rapid growth and changing demographic of the city and especially in Ward 1, residents seem to be weighing the idea of what the future holds heavier than the record of what's been done in the past. I think either candidate will be a great representative for Ward 1 and the Stein Club will continue to ensure Ward 1 LGBT Democrats have a voice at the table no matter the result on April 1.''
A second forum, focusing on mayoral candidates and candidates for shadow U.S. Senator, will be held March 6 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. The club will hold an endorsement forum for the second at-large Council spot, which by law must go to a non-Democrat, later in the year, prior to the general election....more
Center stage is quite possibly the last place you'll find Chris Svoboda. While she's had a hand in multiple efforts over the years, she's made sure not to be the face of any of them. Her activism has been on the quiet side.
"I have a family member that said, 'Why are you such a flag-waver?'" Svoboda says with a laugh. "I'm thinking, 'I am not a flag-waver at all, honey. You have not seen a flag-waver.'"
(Photo by Todd Franson)
Still, the 51-year-old Svoboda, born in D.C., raised in Richmond, and still dividing her time between the two, is deeply involved. She points to her Catholic upbringing, though not identifying as Catholic herself, for her benevolent values. Her parents, who actually met on Capitol Hill where her father helped to support his medical studies by working as an elevator operator and her mother worked for Connecticut's Sen. Thomas Dodd, raised her to value service to others.
"It's giving back," she says. "That was the lesson taught to me in life: You were given so much that you need to give back."
One very recent expression of that is her work on a short film, Russia Declares Discrimination Newest Olympic Sport, a challenge to all nations with anti-LGBT laws. Since its early February debut, it's racked up nearly a million views. She's also a co-chair for the Mautner Project's annual gala, this Saturday, March 8. Activism like that makes it hard to stay in the shadows.
Sitting in her D.C. home, her cat Simba nearby, as well as several musical instruments, Svoboda seems comfortable opening up about her story. She's somewhat guarded about a few topics, but graciously so. Pulling back the curtain to offer a peek behind the scenes doesn't even make her wince. So take a look, because there's a lot happening.
METRO WEEKLY: I know so little about your background. Let's start with what you studied.
CHRIS SVOBODA: My undergraduate degree was a mathematics/computer-science major. Later, I went to Rutgers for law school, contracts. I've been a technology and science geek from a very young age. I was into computers when I was in high school, the late '70s.
MW: You must have a favorite Star Trek character.
SVOBODA: Hmm. No. You'd think I'd be into that. And Dungeons & Dragons.
MW: You got the science, but not the nerdy?
SVOBODA: I got the other nerdy stuff. Building computers and soldering things. Both my grandfather and my father worked with their hands and I learned how to repair things. When I'd break a window with a baseball growing up, it was a life lesson. [Laughs.] My dad would teach us how to change the pane in the window, how to do the points and all the stuff you need to do. We'd get in trouble, but we'd be taught the lesson on how to fix something. So my brother, my sister, myself, we can change tires and do plumbing repairs. We can do all sorts of stuff.
MW: While your father was practicing medicine, what did your mother do in Richmond?
SVOBODA: Interior decorating. She was also very involved in volunteerism. It was always about giving back. I grew up in a Catholic family, church every Sunday. Later in life, my dad started to go to church every morning, Mass seven days a week. It was always a life of service.
My mother had the little social groups that she belonged to, but they were all involved in service projects. We would go along with mom when she would go to the Virginia Home, which was a public facility for people with paralysis, quadriplegics, people with debilitating diseases and whatnot. We learned at a very early age the importance of being involved and how everything that you did could change and touch a life. It was a behind-the-scenes thing. I think that's why I've always been very comfortable not being in the limelight. That, coupled with living a life -- 50 percent of my life was pretty much lived in the closet.
MW: And "pride" is a sin.
SVOBODA: The way I was raised, it wasn't to be a "boastful" life. It was to be a life of service. You did things behind the scenes and you didn't call attention to yourself. I was also taught to stand up for what you believe in.
MW: You said you were closeted. Do identify as a lesbian? Queer? Bisexual?
SVOBODA: I identify as a gay man trapped in a lesbian's body. [Laughs.] I am the lesbian Martha Stewart. All my gay guy and straight women friends want me to come over to fix stuff. I don't know how to explain it. I'm probably one of the few lesbians who knows "passementerie."
SVOBODA: Oh, my God. Are you really a gay guy? Passementerie is all the fringe and the trimmings on your curtains. All the tassels, the silk-woven tape, all that. I got that from my mom. I love interior design. I love decorating with flowers. I love crafts.
MW: Did you have a sort of coming out?
SVOBODA: Yeah, it was called a debutante ball! We grew up in a world where it was a derogatory thing. Luckily, you could be hidden and no one would know. I was very social, but it wasn't the social life I wanted to have. I grew up in a heterosexual world and I wanted to fit in. When I left, I was able to live my life -- but I still had a foot at home. It took a long time to reconcile that.
(Photo by Todd Franson)
MW: But when did you become self-aware of your sexual orientation? Some people know at 5, some at 35.
SVOBODA: It was something that you didn't really know what it was. Yeah, you had a crush on that teacher or that friend or whatever, but there wasn't anything out there to relate to. And there was no one you could talk to about it. That didn't exist.
What there was, there were dance clubs. The guys -- at this point I didn't know they were gay guys -- we all liked to hang out, all liked to go dancing. We'd go to the "bad" section of town. I don't remember where we told our parents we were going, but we ended up at these nightclubs. They had drag shows and it was so much fun. We had a blast.
MW: Where did you go after high school? Where did you get that math/computer-science degree?
SVOBODA: I went to Sweet Briar. That was a wonderful, wonderful place. I had the dearest friends from both high school and college. My professors from both high school and college are in my life. I've lived a very blessed life with the people and opportunities that have been presented to me.
I did a sort of minor study in studio art. I wanted to go into architecture. I'd always done work on the stage, lighting and sound systems. I created a computer program that would trigger lights and sound.
But then everything exploded in my life. The day after I graduated, my dad had a seizure and they found two brain tumors. Everything was put on hold. I stayed in Richmond and helped my mom take care of him until we figured out what was going on. Then I went off to work in the film business, a year later.
MW: In L.A.?
SVOBODA: No, in North Carolina. Dino De Laurentiis had some film studios down there.
MW: Did you have connections from school?
SVOBODA: No, I just wrote a letter that elicited a response within about three days from the studio manager. She set up some interviews for me. [Laughs.] I can't even remember what I wrote. I had a couple interviews and got a job. I packed some stuff, took my dog and went down there and worked on a bunch of different projects.
We had a summer home down there and I had a place to stay. It was a good place to go that allowed me to just figure out what I wanted to do. And in the film business there are just so many aspects of it. It was the behind-the-scenes financing, the putting things together; and the creative stuff of the writing and the acting. In school, at summer camp, I'd done theater so I enjoyed all that stuff. All the different pieces of my life could come together. I had a nice opportunity down there to work on a bunch of different projects and sort of get away.
After a couple years down there, I met a French producer. He was working on a project and was going to hire a bunch of American actors, and he wanted a liaison. He hired me to be associate producer and I moved to Paris. I lived there and we shot the film in Madrid. I was there for about a year.
MW: What was the film?
SVOBODA: It was only released in Europe. I don't even remember what it ended up being called over there. But I came back here, moved to L.A. and was there for about 16 years.
MW: Was there an opportunity waiting for you in L.A.?
SVOBODA: No, but I had a friend who was willing to drive cross-country with me, and I had a number of friends I'd made in North Carolina who were L.A. natives, so I had places to stay. I actually got my first job within the first week, because I was sitting in a hot tub at a party and somebody said, "Hey, if anybody knows somebody, we're looking for somebody to help us with distribution on some of our little movies." And I went to work for Direct Cinema Limited, which was distributing all the tiny, cute films this guy named John Lasseter was making with his little animated company called Pixar.
MW: The hats you've worn just in the film industry --
SVOBODA: -- are insanely crazy, yep.
MW: You must have good celebrity stories.
SVOBODA: Not really, no. I'd rather stay away from celebrity stuff. I've worked with a lot of really fun, interesting, amazing people. But they're just people.
MW: Do you miss L.A.?
SVOBODA: To a certain extent. I've made some really fantastic friends out there, but it's really messed up a lot of people. People who were wonderful going into it, and then as fame and fortune came into their lives.... I had some dear friends who are still dear friends, and some dear friends who just completely changed.
(Photo by Todd Franson)
MW: Moving around, when did you start to develop your own sense of the gay community?
SVOBODA: That wasn't until L.A. Finally, I got involved. With friends, we'd volunteer for the AIDS Ride. I got involved with The [Gay and Lesbian] Center.
I was on the board of ALSO, the Alternative Lifestyle Scholarship Organization. I don't think it exists anymore. Some guy's family had cut him off, stopped paying his college tuition when they found out he was gay. Twenty years later, he had some money and started this organization. We would pay out -- not big grants -- a thousand dollars, $2,500, to gay students whose parents had cut them off when they found out they were gay. That helped expand my community and my exposure.
MW: So, no big epiphany? No running out into the street shouting, "I'm a lesbian!"
SVOBODA: No, no, no. I finally just got to a place where I started feeling it was okay to be me.
I was able to get involved with GLAAD out there. And HRC. There was another organization I was on the board of called Hollywood Helps. It was an organization that had representatives from all the different studios, production entities, the Chamber of Commerce, and we raised money. This was a behind-the-scenes organization to help people in the industry living with AIDS, people who were having financial troubles, whether it was their insurance wasn't covering the cocktail or they couldn't make the car payment or they used their money for meds and didn't have money for food. I was the treasurer. The coolest thing was, every month, being like Santa Claus. I got to write them checks, directly, for whatever their request was. I can't remember what the maximum was, but it was like $850 for a mortgage payment or whatever was needed to tide them over. It was just the greatest thing to be able to do that.
MW: The AIDS epidemic really pushed the direction of your activism?
SVOBODA: It did. I had friends who.... [Tears up.] It was that time.
MW: I'm sorry to upset you.
SVOBODA: You read the reports, the stories of the history of what slowed down the research advances, the stuff between American scientists and French scientists, and the government, and then you get religion into it -- and there are lives at stake. And to a certain extent, once they identified transmission, then you get upset with people who don't change their habits. That's one of the things that really upsets me so much with kids today, with youth who think they're immune and aren't practicing safe sex and they aren't educating themselves. They're pretending it's something that's not going to get them. They're being foolish. We have discussions about that, us adults.
MW: This must come up at the Richmond Organization for Sexual Minority Youth.
SVOBODA: It does. And the kids are amazing there, because we really do give them a sense of family, a safe place. ROSMY is a wonderful, wonderful organization. We have a 24-hour "911 service" for kids, pre-cleared foster homes for kids who might get thrown out or locked out in the middle of the night by parents. They call our 911 and they have a place to go immediately.
MW: On a different Richmond note, hadn't you told me you were working on a restaurant there with your brother?
SVOBODA: No, my brother and I have invested in a brewery that's going to open in Silver Spring. It's two married lesbians, and the brother-in-law of one has moved here from Denver to be the brewmaster. They're building it now on East-West Highway. Hopefully, they'll be opening by the end of May.
The restaurant I'm working on is actually with my first boyfriend. In seventh grade, David was my boyfriend. David is gay. He was the executive [sous] chef at the Inn at Little Washington. He's one of the most creative chefs, ever. And I'm a foodie. I'm a gourmand and foodie, two different things. I love sort of the highbrow stuff, but I also love the creative genius. I really enjoyed Minibar when it was the six or eight seats. Because I'm a geek! I love the science. I have all the stuff to do that, all the agar agar, all the different chemicals.MW: How do you feel about foam?
SVOBODA: Hello! I've got my foam guns up there. [Points to a cabinet.] I've got both the carbon dioxide and the nitrous oxide to make the different whipped creams and foams.
MW: How much time do you spend in D.C. versus Richmond?
SVOBODA: It all depends on the projects. When I'm working on the restaurant with David, I'll be in Richmond for most of the next three months. If something pops up in D.C., I'll be here.
MW: There's no day job, per se? Just projects?
SVOBODA: Right. I turned 50 a year ago. I had been doing a lot of stuff. A lot of my life had been doing stuff for others, being there for family. I hit 50 and it was the epiphany of it was time for me to figure out what I am going to do with my life, separate from everyone else's lives. So last year I just started doing things that mattered to me, that I wanted to do.
MW: Looking at the video you made recently with Michael Rohrbaugh, is that something you would've done five years ago?
SVOBODA: I would not have had the luxury of the time to be able to drop everything. It was just me and Michael, for the most part, pulling that thing together. The week before shooting, it was just me and Michael trying to raise the rest of the money and get the equipment we needed. I dropped everything and got on the phone and started re-connecting with folks I hadn't spoken to in eons out in L.A. Little by little, everybody was like, "I don't have that piece of equipment, but so-and-so owes me a favor so call them and use my name." Within that one week, we raised the money -- well, not all the money, we're still raising money.
(Photo by Todd Franson)
MW: What are all the steps involved? We all see the finished product, but few of us see how things like this come together.
SVOBODA: I got a Facebook IM from one of my best buddies who said, "Hey, my friend Michael is doing this thing and needs help, and I know that you used to do this kind of stuff." That was Thursday, one week before the shoot. I'd never met Michael, and he was in L.A. We got on the phone later that night and talked for two hours about the idea. I asked him to send me what he had on a budget, what he had on a breakdown of concept, what he had set up as far as crew and equipment, and what he needed, what was missing. After I got off the phone with him I shot out, I don't know, 40 emails. I spent the rest of that night doing emails, phone calls, Facebook, trying to find the people that I needed to put into place. We hit the ground running on Friday morning.
MW: How did Michael sell you on it? Why did you want to be involved?
SVOBODA: Last summer, I had been invited by some friends of mine who have really dedicated their lives to LGBT rights, nationally and internationally, to be a co-host for a function.
MW: Is this an organization? Is there a name?
SVOBODA: It's a group of concerned people working behind the scenes, but this whole thing happened sort of off the record. It was a truly behind-the-scenes event, so I can't give you any particulars. But at that point, a lot of stuff was happening on the international scene, not just Russia. LGBT violence was escalating and these laws were coming into play, while we were in the midst of all this stuff with the Supreme Court here. I heard the reality of what was happening from the victims. When you hear it firsthand, it's even more real than when it's in print, in the news.
I have always felt that we have to speak for those who do not have the ability to speak for themselves, to tell the stories of those who can't tell their own stories. This was an opportunity, working with Michael on this project, to do that.
MW: When was that first phone call?
SVOBODA: When were the Olympics? We posted the video the Thursday before the opening ceremonies, shot it the Friday before. Basically, we didn't sleep for a couple weeks. I'm serious. We had to have it posted before the Olympics, so everything had to be done.
We would've liked to have had another editor, a second set of eyes, but we couldn't afford to hire another editor and we couldn't find one who'd do it for free. So Michael and I sat on the phone going back and forth, little by little, because we started with something that was about four-and-a-half minutes and we knew that we had to have it under two. Michael and I were on the phone going, "Okay, 1:06 to 1:08 can be cut out." We literally went through like that for hours.
Then we needed to work on the music. He wasn't happy with the music, and I'd messed around with songs in college and I had a friend who'd messed around and we were on the phone humming things back and forth. We were writing music and lyrics that Sunday night, trying to get it together. Then, at the 11th hour, King Avriel gave us that song. Gave it to us. We didn't have to pay anything, because she's supportive of what we were doing. We had reached out to music supervisors we knew, friends of friends, but we knew that if we didn't get that, we had to have something. Everybody jumped on board to do whatever they could do.
MW: Another piece of your activism, another example of putting things together, is serving as co-chair of this year's Mautner gala. What's your history with Mautner?
SVOBODA: I was introduced to Mautner about a year and a half ago by some friends who were on the board. I'd had a conversation with them at one of their fundraising cocktail parties. I asked someone on the board, "Why aren't the men more involved?" And it was, like, because they're doing their own thing. I know Mautner had the "Men of Mautner," the one event a year. I said, "Why don't we do that more often?" So they tasked me. I pulled in my "gay husband," Hudson, tapped him to help me coordinate Men of Mautner. We've had a couple dinners to try to get the guys more involved. He's co-hosting the Mautner gala with me, Deb Dubois and Linda Spooner.
That's sort of how I ended up with Mautner. And working with HRC for years. HRC has always been, to me, a very insular organization. I want to see it integrated more than insular. We did a thing about a year and a half ago to get the women of HRC and women of Mautner together to do a happy hour. It was great, because it wasn't just the women -- the guys came. That's where we ended up getting the Friday night comedy night. It's going to be a joint HRC-Mautner event. What's even more exciting is that Lambda Legal is sponsoring. To me, Lambda Legal is really the one that's the unsung hero in all our fights over the last 40 years. They're the ones filing the lawsuits and carrying the lawsuits through. HRC does this great job of lobbying and they've got the membership. Lambda Legal isn't a membership organization. They're more my mentality of behind the scenes. But, man, the work that they're doing is insanely awesome. Lambda Legal is the unsung hero in so much of our battle.
MW: What else might you be working on?
SVOBODA: I'm one of the founding board members of the Virginia Equality Bar Association. We just started that in October.
And almost 20 years ago I was one of the founding board members of an organization called Colors United. It was comprised of students, mostly African-American and Latino, Bloods and Crips. It was an afterschool program to keep the kids off the streets and to help socialize the two opposing gangs. There was a documentary about 15 years ago all about the kids and the program that was nominated for an Academy Award. They want to do another documentary about themselves and where they are 20 years later. Michael and I had actually talked about that. I just got a Facebook IM from a couple of them. I said, "What interesting timing, because Michael and I started talking about that a couple weeks ago."
MW: Seems you're not just plugged into a network, but into the universe. SVOBODA: It's being open, I guess. Being in the moment, being in the now. This moment right now is all we have.
MW: With turning 50 giving you a sort of new drive, where do you want that momentum to take you? Where do you want it to take others?
SVOBODA: I want a world that's fair. I want people to work toward change, toward change that makes the world fair. I think Heather [Mizeur] is working towards that. I've been volunteering on her campaign, since the beginning. She is, to me, what a politician should be. She's all about fairness. She's absolutely awesome.
I think Michael and I, with the stuff we want to do, we want it to be powerful and thought-provoking content. Michael and I were talking about climate change. We were talking about homelessness and hunger. There are so many issues. Michael and I are very excited going forward.
I feel a lot more settled now. I'm comfortable in my life. I'm still frenetic, but it's controlled freneticism. I've learned patience. That was a big thing. I used to be very impatient. Now I'm an extremely patient person. I'm in a really good place.
The Mautner Project Gala & Dance is Saturday, March 8, from 6 p.m to midnight, at the JW Marriott, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. For tickets, $250, visit whitman-walker.org/mautnerprojectgala.
Ladies & Laughter, benefiting the Mautner Project and the Human Rights Campaign, is Friday, March 7, at 7 p.m., at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. For tickets, $75, visit whitman-walker.org/comedynight....more
Have you ever nodded off at the theater? Do you worry that you might be particularly prone to doing just that during Shakespeare, the bard of long, complicated, verbose plays?
Well, especially if you manage to snag front-row orchestra seats, you don't have to worry with Folger Theatre's new well-staged production of Richard III. Director Robert Richmond has aimed to please by bucking tradition and offering an in-the-round staging of Shakespeare's epic history play. In an unprecedented move, he had the seats in Folger's Elizabethan Theatre unbolted from the floor and put in storage, so that, in their stead, he could place a central stage with several trap doors leading to tunnels underneath. And because the wretched Richard was a maniacal killing machine, those trap doors serve as graves here, and are opened and closed plenty during the production.
King Richard Drew Cortese in Folger Theatre's Richard III
(Photo by Jeff Malet)
The result is an immersive experience, one in which you're frequently mere inches away from an actor or two in the show's large cast, which helps keep you on your toes -- and with your eyes wide open. Of course, Richard III is as action-packed as it is discursive, so the 16 castmembers are constantly moving about the stage and getting to and fro from all directions. But it's not just their way with movement -- the acting ability of this fine cast further helps in the wide-awake patron cause.
Leading the charge is Drew Cortese as the titular twisted tyrant, who gleefully removes those who threaten his ascendancy to the throne, even his school-aged nephews. Cortese offers a commanding portrayal that is slightly more nuanced than others you may have seen -- but one that is still far from sympathetic. In his hands, you get a glimpse into Richard's psychological shortcomings, not just the physical ones of this so-called "poisonous hunchback'd toad." In fact, while Richard still has a severe limp, he's otherwise the opposite of physically unattractive as he is most often portrayed. As such, we get a fuller image of Richard: a man with a humble yet inoffensive appearance, a charming, falsely modest disposition, and a brilliantly conniving mind. It's easier than ever to see just how he might have won over subjects and became such a force to be reckoned with.
Naomi Jacobson, one of Washington's keenest actors, is magnificent as Richard III's chief antagonist, Queen Margaret, the widow of King Henry VI, who dies as the play begins. Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan as Lady Anne, Julia Motyka as Queen Elizabeth, wife of King Edward IV, and Nanna Ingvarsson as the Duchess of York -- aka Richard's loathing mother -- are three more female standouts.Richard III To March 16 Folger Shakespeare Theatre 201 East Capitol St. SE $40 to $72 202-544-7077 www.folger.edu
Richmond also tapped a sharp creative team, including set designer Tony Cisek and costume designer Mariah Hale, to further realize the immersive abilities of an in-the-round stage. Jim Hunter on lights, Eric Shimelonis on sound and Casey Kaleba on fight choreography work well together to make each of the show's seven onstage murders evocative, stylized affairs, none more so than the duel that finally does in Richard. This is not a Richard III that is graphic or even bloody. In fact, the murders here are generally carried out without use of weaponry and instead with mere, quick twists of victims' heads -- half at the hands of Richard's dutiful assistant Ratcliffe, convincingly portrayed by bodybuilding hunk Andrew Criss.
The production's creative team also deserves commendation for the skill in which it pulls off the Poltergeist-esque moment when all of Richard's victims rise spectrally from the dead to give Richard fits during a nightmare. It's a rare moment when Richard shows any sign of remorse for his power-mad rampage....more
Ed Bailey can't say for certain that Thunderpuss's monster '90s-era club jams were first played publicly at D.C.'s Velvet Nation. "I think that that's what happened, but I don't really remember -- and I was the sober person," laughs Bailey, the promoter and producer for Velvet, the mega-popular Saturday night gay party at the former Southeast mega-club Nation.
Victor Calderone and the late Peter Rauhofer are among the DJs who performed at Velvet the most. The Velvet Top 5 DJs list also includes Chris Cox, who DJ'ed regularly as both a solo act and as Thunderpuss, his DJ/production duo with Barry Harris. All of Velvet's most popular DJs regularly debuted original songs and remixes at the party, which became one of the nation's most popular and a regular weekend getaway for gays from all over. "There were so many of those moments at Nation, with so many of those DJs, because music didn't leak out back then," Bailey says.
"Back then," of course, wasn't really all that long ago. "It's not like it feels like Nation was yesterday," Bailey says, "but I guess it feels like maybe it wasn't 15 years ago." But in fact, it was 15 years ago this month that Velvet launched at Nation, a few months after the nightclub opened in a former warehouse in the then-derelict Navy Yard neighborhood, now home to Nationals Park. That first Velvet featured Abel Aguilera, otherwise known as DJ Abel, the gay circuit's longest-lasting and most popular DJ, as well as stage performances by female club vocalists Vernessa Mitchell and Veronica.
A little over three years ago Town Danceboutique, run by the same team behind Velvet, including Bailey, hosted its first-ever Nation Reunion Party. The party featured music by Manny Lehman, the DJ who spun the most at Velvet and was billed as the party's resident DJ. "That was a remarkably successful event," Bailey says, about the first reunion. Next Saturday, March 15, Town will host its second reunion, in honor of the crystal anniversary. "Fifteen years seems like a good occasion to pay a little tribute to it," Bailey says. "Another event to celebrate the music and the memories."
Chris Cox will helm the music upstairs, while DJ Wess, who was the DJ in Velvet's small Blue Room, will spin downstairs. The evening will include performances by club singer SK8, known for the song "Just Another Night at Nation," as well as local dance troupe The Firm, an offshoot of Velvet's dance troupe X-Faction. Kidd Madonny will decorate Town with some of the decor he used at Velvet as part of the former production/performance duo RKM.
Also notable is the crew of Velvet veterans who now manage Town, including the club's general manager, bar manager and head doorman. And then there's John Niederhauser, who returned to the fold last year to become Town's head lighting director. Niederhauser will handle the lightshow upstairs just as he did at Velvet. He's also working with Bailey to revamp Town's lights, drawing some inspiration from, as well as paying small homage to, Nation's lights.
Bailey is the first to admit that a night at Town can never be like another night at Nation. "I'm very cautious about managing the expectations," he says. "We can't recreate Nation, we can't make Town into Nation. You can't pay tribute to a lightshow where you had 35-foot ceilings when you only have 14-foot ceilings. So we're going to do what we can."
The Nation Reunion is Saturday, March 15, at 10 p.m., at Town Danceboutique, 2009 8th NW. Cover is $8 before 11 p.m., or $12 after. Call 202-234-TOWN or visit towndc.com....more
''All three of these choreographers are at the top of their game,'' Septime Webre says, referring to Trey McIntyre, Christopher Bruce and Christopher Wheeldon. As artistic director of The Washington Ballet, Webre has put together a program featuring works by these three choreographers, two of whom -- the two Christophers -- are British.
And as it turns out, Anglophilia is the driving force behind the program, titled British Invasions. The focus is on ''the two greats of British rock and roll,'' as Webre describes the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. That's a particularly timely focus given that, to twist a Beatles lyric, it was 50 years ago this decade that the two bands became rock's standard-bearers.
Washington Ballet British Invasion: Chong Sun, Andile Ndlovu, Jonathan Jordan and Jared Nelson
(Photo by Tony Brown)
Trey McIntyre's A Day In The Life uses songs from the Beatles to tell an emotional yet abstract story about a young man who feels like an outsider in his community. The gay, Idaho-based McIntyre originally created the work for The Washington Ballet in 2006. This is its first revival. ''It's got Trey's trademark quirky blend of a contemporary sensibility and classical style; very energized and athletic,'' Webre says. Meanwhile, Christopher Bruce's two-decades-old Rooster, according to Webre, is ''a bit cocky, foolish, very energized'' -- also a way to describe Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, whose music is the foundation for the work.
Webre contrasts these two rock-based ballets with Christopher Wheeldon's There Where She Loved, featuring neo-classical art songs by Frederic Chopin and Kurt Weill. ''It's beautiful, playful and evocative,'' Webre says. ''And it has his trademark blend of some [ballet legend George] Balanchine energy and a lyrical sensibility, which I think is intrinsically British.''
Wheeldon is gearing up to make his mark in musical theater, as director and choreographer of An American in Paris. This musical adaptation of the 1951 film is tentatively slated to run on Broadway next year. But the former resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet is already a star.
Says Webre: ''He's one of the real 'it' boys of the ballet world.'' '
The Washington Ballet's British Invasion runs to Sunday, March 9, at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $25 to $125. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org or washingtonballet.org....more
"My show is really high-energy, a lot of dancing -- Baltimore club dancing," Rye Rye says. Anyone who's seen the Charm City rapper perform knows she speaks the truth. It was Rye Rye, after all, who stormed the stage and fired up the crowd at the 9:30 Club in 2012 as opening act for the Scissor Sisters. She was a similarly irrepressible dancing/rapping dynamo at last year's SMYAL benefit at U Street Music Hall and at Capital Pride's party at the Wonder Bread Factory.
(Photo by Rony Alwin)
This Friday, March 7, Rye Rye makes her debut at the Mansion at Strathmore. The 23-year-old artist will perform from her frenetic 2012 debut Go! Pop! Bang!, which merged hip-hop with club and dance/EDM sounds, and featured guest contributions from Akon, Tyga and Robyn. Also featured on a couple tracks: M.I.A. One of Rye Rye's biggest influences, the international electro-rapper even released the set on her own major-label offshoot.
A dancer since childhood, Rye Rye, born Ryeisha Berrain, opted to make music her focus after a teenage chance meeting in 2006 with Blaqstarr, a fellow Baltimore rapper/producer who was friends with Rye Rye's sister. "He asked me did I know how to rap?" recalls Rye Rye, who until then had only ever written poetry. "Once he asked me that, I just decided to write a song. And then I rapped it to him, on his answering machine." Rye Rye laughs when asked if she ever performs what was essentially her first recorded rap: "I can't! I forgot the words!"
These days Rye Rye, who is working on a new mixtape, has her hands full beyond music and performing. In addition to raising Kenden, her 4-month-old son, the artist continues to dabble as a film actor, with a couple projects in the works. She just wrapped scenes for a role in 22 Jump Street -- the sequel, expected this summer, to 2012's 21 Jump Street (based on the '80s TV series). Rye Rye had a small role in that 2012 movie and also recorded its theme song with Esthero.
I'm going to continue with music and movies," she says, adding, "I just want to do all that I can do to be successful." -- Doug Rule
Rye Rye performs Friday, March 7, at 9 p.m., at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda. Tickets are $15. Call 301-581-5100 or visit strathmore.org...more
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) last week announced that the District of Columbia's Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking (DISB) would be advising health insurance companies operating in the District about the application of nondiscrimination provisions and recognizing gender dysphoria as a medical condition.
The Feb. 27 announcement clarifies the District's position, as stated in a March 2013 bulletin issued by DISB, that health insurers must remove policy language that discriminates on the basis of gender identity and provide those with gender dysphoria access to medically necessary benefits. Those benefits range from hormone therapy to gender-reassignment surgeries. Previously, most people seeking such treatments for gender dysphoria had to pay out-of-pocket for care.
''Last March, the District began the process of removing exclusions in health insurance on the basis of gender identity or expression,'' Gray said in a prepared statement. ''Through the hard work of my Office of GLBT Affairs and a multi-agency working group headed by my Chief of Staff, Chris Murphy, we have today taken the necessary steps to completely eliminate these exclusions.
''Today, the District takes a major step towards leveling the playing field for individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria. These residents should not have to pay exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses for medically necessary treatment when those without gender dysphoria do not. Today's actions take us closer to being One City that values and protects the health of all our residents.''
The rule states that in determining the medical necessity of services and benefits provided to consumers, insurance providers must refer to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care (WPATH), the recognized standard of medical care for transgender people suffering from gender dysphoria. The benefits are not newly mandated, but only clarify that insurance companies offering coverage in the District of Columbia must take into account the District's Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression. That means that any service that would be provided to a cisgender – meaning someone who identifies with the sex assigned them at birth – woman having a mastectomy, for example, must also be provided to a transgender woman.
''This action places the District at the forefront of advancing the rights of transgender individuals,'' Gray said. ''It also fully implements the District's Human Rights Act by incorporating gender identity and expression as protected classes in the District's health insurance laws.''
One of the people hoping to benefit from the DISB clarification is Bobbi Strang, the first openly transgender person to work at the District's Department of Employment Services (DOES). By her own language, Strang says she underwent gender-confirmation surgery last April, about a month after DISB issued its initial bulletin, which encouraged District insurance plans to comply with the city's Human Rights Act. Strang said she tried to get surgery and hospitalization costs covered by her government-sponsored health plan, to no avail. Instead, she ended up fighting with her insurance company to prove that her treatments were medically necessary.
''I was fortunate and blessed that I had the funds to pay,'' Strang said. ''I used up all my savings to cover the cost, and then cashed out my 401K plan to cover any emergency expenses.''
Strang said the most frustrating part is that her government-employee health plan should have covered her medical needs since 2007, when the District's Human Rights Act was amended to include protections for gender identity.
''The mayor's announcement is a significant step for addressing that disparity,'' says Strang.
With the DISB ruling retroactive to March 2013, Strang is hopeful she will be eligible to recoup some of her costs and restore her savings.
''Insurance companies typically like to argue that these surgeries are experimental or elective,'' she says. ''But that's not true. The first gender-change surgery occurred in 1919 and, clearly, it's gotten better since then. But insurance policies typically cover childbearing expenses or joint replacements, even though they aren't considered life-saving treatments.''
Another District government employee who hopes to benefit is Julius Agers, a transgender man who has suffered health problems due to denial of benefits.
''When I came out as transgender several years ago, I never thought that I would have to wait so long to get medical treatment for my needs,'' Agers says.
''At that time, I started binding myself with the hope that I could save the money for surgery within a few years,'' he says, referring to the practice of compressing breast tissue. ''Unfortunately, my health took a turn for the worse due to long-term chest binding. I have had increased difficulty with breathing, like I am slowly suffocating. I suffer from persistent insomnia from the breathing difficulty and discomfort, as well as frequent headaches. The situation has become almost unbearable.''
Agers says he's been unable save enough money for a bilateral mastectomy, often referred to as ''top surgery,'' as he had to use those funds to treat more urgent health problems. He adds that his surgery could cost almost twice as much as other trans men because of his size, as the surgical procedure he would have to undergo would require a double incision. Agers estimates a surgical expense of $15,000 without insurance.
Agers, who supports Gray in his re-election bid, though not in any official capacity, spoke highly of the mayor's efforts to clarify and enforce the District's nondiscrimination law and make it apply to health care.
''Thanks to Mayor Gray's recent actions, I can finally see light at the end of the tunnel,'' he says. ''I will be able to get access to medically necessary care that will literally save my life. The mayor's leadership on transgender issues has simply been outstanding. For too long, our community has been marginalized by leaders that refuse to take the necessary steps to help us live healthy and productive lives. But not any longer in our nation's capital.''
Andy Bowen, a local transgender activist who has worked on health care issues with the District government, and who is a policy associate at the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the District's new policy one of the ''most comprehensive'' health care plans in the entire county.
''What we've seen from other places that have instituted these reforms is that it is of minimal cost to insurers,'' says Bowen. ''There's no need for a premium increase.''
Bowen cites a study by the California Department of Insurance released last year to support that point. That study concluded in its analysis of economic impact that ''the adoption of the proposed regulation would have an insignificant and immaterial economic impact on the creation or elimination of jobs, the creation or elimination of new businesses, and the expansion of businesses in the State of California.''
Bowen adds that the policy could be a boon to insurers, as it can be considered a form of preventative care. If transgender people are able to access medically necessary services, they tend to have better health outcomes. The California Department of Insurance study states: ''[T]he Department's evidence suggests that benefits will accrue to insurance carriers and employers as costs decline for the treatment of complications arising from denial of coverage for treatments. The evidence suggests that there may be potential cost savings resulting from the adoption of the proposed regulation in the medium to long term, such as lower costs associated with the high cost of suicide and attempts at suicide, overall improvements in mental health and lower rates of substance abuse.''
Bowen also points out that she has personally spent ''several thousands of dollars'' on laser surgery related to her own treatment for gender dysphoria.
''This is a win for the public. It's, frankly, a win for insurers,'' says Bowen. ''It's a smart government decision, and it's good for human beings.''
The District's Department of Health Care Finance and Department of Human Resources has also further clarified its policies to be in compliance with the DISB bulletin. Under the bulletin, all private plans offered in the District, as well as government employee health care plans and D.C. Medicaid, must cover any medically necessary health services for transgender people. Any plans currently requiring insurance riders or supplements for an additional charge must be eliminated by the next renewal period....more
Not long ago, things were calm and somber in Uganda. But bigoted evangelical Christians from the U.S. seeking to promote a homophobic agenda led to the drafting of the so-called "kill the gays bill." The bill no longer includes the death penalty, nor is it still a bill -- it is law.
Now that President Museveni has signed it, what lies ahead for Uganda's LGBTQ community? What are the new challenges to the well-being of Ugandan LGBTQ people's survival in a grossly intolerant society? Given the historic pattern of inhumanity and impunity of Uganda's law-enforcement forces and its often biased judiciary, how will the LGBTQ community expect anything less than extrajudicial persecution from civilians whipped into a hateful fury by the gay-baiting and inquisitorial media -- abetted by the legal system that will deny those accused bail and cast them into the merciless detention centers and jails? Uganda, as signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has proved to the world that the signature was just a scribble on paper, nothing more.
Kushaba Moses Mworeko
(Photo courtesy of Mworeko)
In place of rights, we have hope. It is our only asset, and the one we need most. We hope that the worst is quickly tempered in the short term. In the long run, we hope for the best. The onslaught of the last five years has made Uganda's gay community stronger than ever. We have placed the case of our need for human rights before the world, and people all over the world are supporting us. This is a huge victory that cannot be stolen.
For clarity's sake, I must make the point that no one on earth wishes to live in such a hostile environment. Homosexuality is not akin alcoholism or other addictions that might be modified by behavioral therapy. To the contrary, same-sex attractions are inborn traits. People -- threatened with social ostracism, facing discrimination in all walks of life, subject to lengthy prison sentences and heinous stereotyping, fearful of police harassment and "mob justice" -- will both live and die with this orientation. I truly wish that sexuality was a choice, like a faucet that is easily turned on and off. Then those victims of this odious law would be able to fight their same-sex attractions, as it is already wrongly alleged they are able to.
Regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, beliefs, or any other innate or innocuous trait, we all desire -- and deserve -- to be treated with respect and dignity.
To those good people of the world who want to defend the human rights of all LGBTQ Ugandans, I urge you to listen empathetically to these crying citizens. This alone is a tremendous help, for we don't have the power to get every single one of them out of Uganda.
Financially supporting the work of the gay organizations on the ground in Uganda strengthens the ability of those organizations to pressure the government from within and outside Uganda.
People in North America and Europe should counter the hate-instigating evangelical groups by organizing grassroots education campaigns and by lobbying politicians to revoke not-for-profit status of evangelical and right-wing religious sects and denominations that promote intolerance.
There are many human-rights and civil-rights organizations that may be natural allies of the struggle for human rights in Uganda. Many as yet untapped groups may be brought into broad coalitions able to compel action on behalf of LGBTQ Ugandans and beyond.
Finally, there can be boycotts multinational corporations and others that do business with Uganda.
The creation of a movement is essential in preventing more countries from following suit. Nothing is impossible. Together, we will win this fight.
Kushaba Moses Mworeko is a gay D.C. resident and a specialist in the Army National Guard. He fled Uganda in 2009 and received asylum in the U.S. in 2011....more
Incumbent Mayor Vince Gray (D) fell four votes short of securing the coveted endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city's largest LGBT political organization, at a Thursday mayoral forum. He did, however, get closer to that endorsement than any of his challengers, and brought a strong show of support to the forum venue, D.C.'s Metropolitan Community Church, which was packed to capacity.
To win the endorsement for the April 1 Democratic primary, Gray needed to earn 60 percent of all votes cast. On the first round of balloting, Gray earned 115 votes, well short of the 140 needed. But he was significantly ahead of his competitors: Councilmembers Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), with 56 votes; Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), with 28; Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), with 26; and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), with eight.
DC Mayor Vincent Gray
(Photo via Mayor Gray Flickr)
A runoff ballot narrowed to vote to Gray and Evans alone. In this second round, Gray won 112 votes, narrowly missing the 60 percent threshold of 116. Evans, meanwhile, won 74 votes. Eight member voted for ''no endorsement.'' With no candidate meeting the 60 percent threshold, the Stein Club issued no mayoral endorsement.
Throughout the evening, Gray supporters, many wearing campaign stickers on their shirts or jackets, were clearly the largest bloc in attendance. When Gray entered the church, news camera crews in tow, his supporters began chanting ''Four more years!'' Throughout the forum, Gray received the loudest cheers, though smaller groups of Evans and Wells supporters showed enthusiasm for their respective candidates, as well. Bowser, whose supporters were far outnumbered, delivered the most polished responses and stayed within the time limit for each question, while some of the other candidates, including Gray, chose to deliver stem-winders to ignite the crowd, only to be cut off mid-speech by the Stein Club moderators keeping track of time limits.
During the course of the forum, candidates were asked about their records; their ratings by the nonpartisan policy group, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA); the adequacy of the Metropolitan Police Department's (MPD) Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) in combating hate crimes; whether they would support the creation of affirming housing options for LGBT elders; and their stances on the decriminalization/legalization of marijuana.
For Gray, as both the incumbent and the presumptive favorite heading into Thursday evening, he largely relied on his record of achievement on LGBT issues, citing his shepherding of marriage equality through the D.C. Council as chairman in 2009; and his attempts to help transgender residents through a public-awareness campaign, job training through the Department of Employment Services' Project Empowerment, and his administration's policy of ensuring nondiscrimination in health care.
Evans, the longest serving councilmember among the five mayoral candidates, also touted his record of taking pro-LGBT stances as far back as the 1990s, when it was not politically popular to do so. Bowser, Wells and Orange emphasized their records of voting for pro-LGBT legislation, and often pointed out how LGBT-friendly all the candidates are in an attempt to neutralize Gray's advantage as an incumbent popular among many in the city's LGBT community. Wells and Orange, in particular, used the issues surrounding marijuana decriminalization to try and set themselves apart from the other candidates, with Wells criticizing the continued criminalization of those who smoke marijuana in public and advocating eventual legalization, and Orange pointing out the need for legislation to reel in employers who would use drug tests to turn away job applicants.
By dint of their sheer size, the Gray supporters at Thursday's forum controlled the room for much of the debate, occasionally booing Stein members who spoke in favor of other candidates before being shut down by the club's president, Angela Peoples, and Martin Garcia, vice president for legislative and political affairs. Overall, though, most remained respectful.
''Four years ago, in June of 2010, this club endorsed Vincent Gray by 63.1 percent over Mayor Fenty,'' said Paul Kuntzler, one of Stein Club's original co-founders. ''As I assess the race, I believe that Mayor Gray is going to win the election, and I urge us to be part of that winning ticket.''
Longtime activist Peter Rosenstein also endorsed Gray, saying he felt the city ''was never better off than it is today,'' and urging all those present to support whoever the Democratic nominee is in the general election. While the winner of the Democratic mayoral primary is expected to go on to win the seat in heavily Democratic D.C., Rosenstein's statement hinted at the specter of a possible candidacy by At-Large Councilmember David Catania (I), seen to be a viable Gray challenger in general-election polls. Catania has said he will seek the mayor's office if Gray wins the primary.
''This year, we do have an embarrassment of riches,'' said transgender activist Jeri Hughes. ''We have some great candidates running for mayor. But, make no mistake, I am supporting Mayor Vincent Gray.''
Other members, despite being in the minority, expressed their support for other candidates.
Christopher Dyer, who works on behalf of the Bowser campaign, stood up for his preferred candidate, saying: ''It would be folly for me to not acknowledge the work the mayor has done on our behalf, but I think we need a mayor who actually believes that 'One City' is more than just putting logos on government letterhead. So I'm supporting Muriel.''
Stein member Justin Becker threw his support behind Jack Evans.
''I'm supporting Jack Evans because of one word: dedication,'' Becker said. ''Jack is a dedicated advocate for the LGBT community, and has been since the beginning of his political career. Jack has proven his dedication to our community time and time again, when he led the effort to overturn D.C.'s sodomy laws, supported marriage equality in D.C., and advocated – and continues to advocate – for fair treatment for people with HIV/AIDS.''
Ward 2 School Board member Jack Jacobson also spoke on behalf of Evans, emphasizing Evans's record and knowledge of how to foster economic growth, along with his support for education.
Stein Club member Paul Cooper spoke on behalf of Wells, as did longtime activist Bob Summersgill. Both men focused on Wells's record on ethics, contrasting it with the Gray administration, which has at times been overshadowed by federal investigations relating to Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign.
''All of the candidates tonight, they are unimpeachable in terms of their support for LGBT issues,'' Cooper said. ''As Democrats, though, we should also be thinking about who's good for our party and who's good for our city. And one of the things we read most about in the newspaper is the corruption that is taking place in our government. We've lost members of the Council, we have indictments, we have that entire culture of corruption. And there's only one candidate who's been a leader fighting for clean campaigns and ethics reform. … I hope you'll support Tommy Wells.''
Wells supporter and Ward 5 community organizer Jade Hadley instead chose to focus on her preferred candidate's roots as a social worker and his work on social-justice issues.
''I think when we look at the health of a community, the most important thing is to look at how the community treats the marginalized and the oppressed,'' Hadley said. ''As a social worker and as a public official, Tommy has tirelessly advocated for the least of these in all of our communities. His work as a social worker, suing the city and working with D.C. at the height of its HIV crisis, as well as when crime was out of control, Tommy advocated for the least of these.''
Following the second round of balloting, Gray said that while he would have loved to have won the Stein Club's endorsement, and believes his record merits an endorsement, he will continue to be an advocate for LGBT issues as, ''It's the right thing to do.'' He also said he was confident that he would win the majority of LGBT votes in the primary.
''I am so happy at the number of people who came out and supported us tonight,'' Gray said. ''I'm really appreciative. We came within four votes of getting the endorsement. Had this been a majority vote, we obviously would have won. It really is an affirmation of our record, and we'll continue to do the things that got us here tonight.''
Stein members also debated the endorsement for D.C.'s shadow U.S. senator. Neither Challenger Pete Ross, with 93 votes, nor incumbent shadow Sen. Paul Strauss, with 85 votes, crossed the endorsement threshold.
Peoples said she thought the forum went well and that high turnout for the mayoral forum was indicative of the Stein Club's ability to unify disparate segments of the LGBT community and the Democratic Party around discussions of policy and visions for the city's future.
''I'm disappointed that we didn't make an endorsement,'' Peoples said. ''I continue to think that the Stein Club's endorsement is important, and we think that our members really are at the forefront of leadership in the Democratic Party. I wish we would have been able to endorse, but no matter what happens, we're going to be in full force in November in support of any Democrat.''
With regard to those candidates the club has endorsed, Peoples said she intends to have the club's political action committee ''max out,'' or give the maximum amount allowed to the campaigns of the endorsed councilmembers: Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5). For the chairman's race, the maximum donation is $1,500, and $500 for a ward seat, according to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
Peoples said she researching precedent for Stein Club donations to candidates for non-Council races. In such races, Stein has endorsed Franklin Garcia for shadow U.S. representative and incumbent Eleanor Holmes Norton as the District's congressional delegate....more
Coverboy Scott didn't think he'd ever work in a gay bar. In fact, he didn't know much about the LGBT community at all. But when the owner of a newly opened Freddie's approached his friend and asked if he knew anyone who needed a job, Scott found himself being volunteered for the position. "I think my friend wanted me off his couch," he laughs. A native of Northern Virginia, the 38-year-old enjoys slinging drinks in a happy work environment where he gets to interact with people of all types, and see the satisfaction on their faces after he serves them a well-made cocktail. Although he's an athlete who prides himself on physical fitness, Scott's Achilles' heel is his incurable sweet tooth. He's also got a good sense of humor, a happy-go-lucky attitude and is very open-minded, whether it's accepting other people's differences or introducing some creativity and fun into the bedroom.
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
What's on your nightstand?I really don't have a nightstand, but I have a drawer that's close by, and that has a vibrator, a gag ball, and a vibrating hand. And also the remote control to my DVD player.
What's your favorite movie of all time?Braveheart. The emotional trauma that William Wallace deals with throughout the movie, and how he represents himself and the entire nation that doesn't respect them is pretty emotional.
What's the worst movie of all time?Howard the Duck is possibly the crappiest movie ever.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?To have a sexual pleasuring power, so it doesn't matter who the person was, you'd be able to please them sexually without even trying. Just be like bam! Instant orgasm. That would be cool.
Would this cross over to both men and women?Oh, yeah. That's what would be fun.
Pick three people, living or dead, who you would like to spend the day with. And what would you do?Bill Murray, Barack Obama and Elton John. We would do whatever Bill Murray says we're going to do, so if he said, "Let's have sex," I'd be like, "Whatever. Let's do it."
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
You're stranded on a desert island with one person. Who do you pick?My girlfriend, Adriana. We've been together seven years.
What annoys you?People that don't put other people first.
What pleases you?General, small acts of kindness.
If you could read the mind of someone famous, who would it be?I would want to read the mind of George W. Bush. That guy's an idiot. I would love to just ride around and see what's going on in there. Can you imagine?
What's your greatest fear?That I can't take care of her or please her for the rest of her life.
Would you rather go skydiving, rock climbing, bungee jumping or hang gliding?I'd skydive into a hang glider and then bungee jump. And then maybe climb the rocks back up. But you'd have to do it all blindfolded.
What's your guilty pleasure?Chocolate. Snickers, Baby Ruths, Butterfingers, Twix. I love Oreos.
What turns you on?I'm pretty sensual, so any sort of touch turns me on. Knee, ear, back.
What turns you off?Cold hands.
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
Can men fake it? Should they?Oh, yeah, they can fake it. And they should every now and again. Absolutely. I have faked it.
How do you fake it?The same way a woman does. You're just like, "Oh, God," and then "Oh, yeah!" I don't want to show you my "O face." Maybe later. If you give me one of those donuts over there.
If you were a porn star, what would your name be?I've already been a porn star. I'm on video, it's just not public. I would be Sugar Shaker.
And what would you be known for?Dropping sugar. All over the place. On oily skin. On the beach.
What's the best tip you ever got?A $200 tip on a $15 tab.
Gin or vodka?Vodka.
Scotch or bourbon?Bourbon.
Wine or beer?Beer.
Mustard, mayo or ketchup?All of them. Together's fine, too.
Madonna or Britney?Jessica Simpson.
What's your favorite cocktail to make?My favorite cocktail to make is anything that somebody truly enjoys. Even if it's a vodka-Diet Coke and they love the way I make it, that's my favorite.
What's your theme song?"My Kind of Party."
You become master of the world. What's your first act?I have a setup for that. When I hit the lottery, which is coming up soon, I'm going to buy an island. I'm going to invite everybody I know. We'll have a nice big party. I'll have a video camera so I can blackmail them later if I run out of money.
Cuddling: The best or a waste of time?I like cuddling. Being with another person is enjoyable.
What are you most grateful for?I'm most grateful for my life. Being happy every day.
What would you die for?My country.
What's your motto?Live each day as you can....more
The Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs today announced the honorees of its third annual ''Sheroes of the Movement'' awards, given annually to lesbian, bisexual or queer women who have made significant contributions to both the LGBT movement and the District.
This year's three Sheroes, nominated and selected by members of the Mayor's GLBT Advisory Committee, are Cathy Chu, Amy Nelson and Kelley Robinson. They will be honored at a reception on Friday, March 21.
Chu, the youth leadership manager at Supporting & Mentoring Youth Advocates & Leaders (SMYAL), develops programs and training initiatives designed to empower younger LGBT people in the District, Maryland and Virginia. She also serves on the steering committees for the National Association of Gay-Straight Alliance Networks and Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sisters.
Nelson, an attorney with Whitman-Walker Health's Legal Services Program, has overseen the growth of the program's transgender legal practice during the past three years, with a caseload of more than 220 cases in 2013. Nelson was also involved with the launch of the District's first Name and Gender Change Clinic, which assists members of the transgender community in updating identity documents and personal records, free of charge. On average, the clinic serves about 15 clients each month.
Robinson, the assistant director for youth engagement at Planned Parenthood, has designed and created programs for youth around access to reproductive health care services. She has been especially talented at engaging young people of color and LGBT youth to serve as activists and leaders in the fight for reproductive rights. Under Robinson, Planned Parenthood has doubled its campus presence over the past two years, bringing its total number of campus groups to 250 across the nation, and increasing its number of teen advocacy programs to 100.
Those wishing to attend the Sheroes of the Movement awards ceremony, Friday, March 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Fannie Mae Conference Center, 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW, must RSVP by March 18 by sending an email to // ....more
As Virginia's 2014 legislative session comes to close, activists are taking stock. Equality Virginia, the commonwealth's major LGBT-rights organization, came into this year's legislative session with optimism, particularly after the swearing-in of the state's top officeholders: Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, all of whom were vocal in their support of LGBT rights when elected last fall. But two vacant state Senate seats, affecting the makeup of Senate committees, and a Republican-dominated House of Delegates conspired to defeat many of the organization's top initiatives.
Equality Virginia's main priority had been the passage of an employment-nondiscrimination bill to protect LGBT workers. But the Senate version of the bill, SB 248, was defeated after the committee taking up the bill in the upper chamber deadlocked. Had Democrats won two Senate special elections sooner, they would have controlled the chamber and given out new committee assignments that likely would have allowed the bill to pass out of committee and onto the full Senate.
A similar bill, co-introduced by Delegates Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church, Fairfax Co.) and Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach, Chesapeake), would have amended Virginia's Human Rights Act to provide protections for public employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. While that bill was tabled in the corresponding House committee, Equality Virginia did see some progress underlying the fact that a handful of House Republicans had either co-patroned or expressed support for such measures.
''There is no excuse for the Commonwealth of Virginia to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees differently from any other employee,'' James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. ''It is promising to see lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agree that LGBT state employees should not live in fear of being fired simply because of who they are.''
Other bills that failed to gain traction in either chamber included measures to prohibit discrimination in housing, to ban ''gay conversion'' therapy for minors, and to allow second-parent adoption.
The Senate version of the adoption bill deadlocked on a 6-6 vote, and the House bill was tabled in committee, despite being introduced by a Republican, Del. Joseph Yost (R-Radford, Giles, Pulaski, Montgomery counties) and getting two additional Republicans delegates, Tom Rust (Fairfax, Loudoun counties) and Gordon Helsel (Hampton, Poquoson, York Co.), to sign on as co-patrons.
''Second-parent adoption is about Virginia's children,'' Parrish said in a statement. ''Until Virginia gains the freedom to marry, there are thousands of children, being raised by gay and lesbian couples, who would gain numerous protections if second-parent adoption were possible. Protecting our children should be a no-brainer.''
Equality Virginia had expressed hope that a bill allowing people to add an additional adult, such as a partner or spouse, to their insurance, would pass the House, particularly after it overwhelmingly passed the Senate. But that bill, too, was tabled before it could receive a floor vote.
There is some hope for the 2015 session, as all bills that were related to repealing Virginia's Marshall-Newman Amendment – the state's constitutional ban on any recognition of same-sex couples – were continued to next year, giving proponents of marriage equality more time to regroup and rally. With a fully seated Senate, now controlled by Democrats, LGBT-rights supporters believe they will be able to pass legislation through the proper committee channels and onto the floor, where Democrats – and a few Republicans – have the numbers to pass measures such as the nondiscrimination bill. The only bill that would likely be doomed from the outset in the upper chamber would be the second-parent-adoption bill, which must go through the Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, which Democrats stacked with Republicans to offset heavily Democratic membership on other committees. The House, however, would still pose the biggest obstacle to any LGBT-related legislation gaining traction.
''While we fell short of achieving our goals, this session has shown that a growing number of legislators are willing to stand on the right side of history in support of equality and fairness,'' Parrish said. ''We will take the momentum we have gained this session to continue our work towards making Virginia a place that is fair and welcoming for all.''...more
The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), the largest nonpartisan LGBT political group in Washington, announced Friday that it is honoring Jerry Clark, Alison Gill and Earl Fowlkes Jr. as the winners of its 2014 Distinguished Service Awards.
The awards, given annually to individuals or organizations serving the LGBT community in the D.C. metro area, will be presented at GLAA's 43rd Anniversary Reception on Wednesday, April 30.
Clark, a health-benefits consultant, serves as the chair of the D.C. Statehood Coalition, as the political director of D.C. for Democracy, and as a board member of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. He has also served as a trustee for the Law and Society Association, as co-chair of Whitman-Walker Health's spring gala, and as a member of the Democratic National Committee's Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council. He served on the board of directors and as a former co-chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and was appointed to the Mayor's Committee on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
Gill, in her role as the government affairs director at The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide-prevention services to LGBT youth, coordinates advocacy for LGBT mental health and various policy initiatives at the federal, state and local levels. Gill previously worked as public policy manager at the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), where she focused on ''safe schools'' policy issues, including combating anti-LGBT bullying. Gill also advocates on behalf of members of the transgender community through her work at Trans Legal Advocates of Washington (TransLAW).
Fowlkes is the president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity Inc., an international black LGBT organization. He founded the International Federation of Black Prides (IFBP) in 1999 as a way to promote a multinational network of LGBT Pride and community-based organizations. In 2012, IFBP became the Center for Black Equity, with an expanding mission ''to promote a multinational LGBT network dedicated to improving health and wellness opportunities, economic empowerment and equal rights while promoting individual and collective work, responsibility, and self-determination.'' Fowlkes previously served as the executive director of the DC Comprehensive AIDS Resources and Education Consortium (DC CARE Consortium) and of Damien Ministries. He has advocated on behalf of LGBT issues and HIV/AIDS for 25 years, and currently serves as chair of Mayor Vincent Gray's GLBT Advisory Committee.
GLAA's 43rd Anniversary Reception will be held on April 30, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at Policy Restaurant and Lounge, 1904 14th St. NW. Tickets are $55 and can be purchased online at glaa.org or by calling 202-667-5139....more
People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV), a group of religious people who support LGBT rights and which often allies itself with the commonwealth's LGBT community, has written a letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) criticizing his expected nomination of Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones to serve as the chairperson of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
''As a non-partisan group, we have no view as to whether Mayor Jones is the correct person to lead the Democratic Party,'' wrote the Rev. Robin Gorsline, POFEV's president and CEO. ''However, we do have concerns about the potential impact of his appointment on the advancement of LGBT equality in Virginia.''
Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones
(Photo by via richmondgov.com)
POFEV's chief objection to Jones largely stems from his opposition to marriage equality. After President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage in 2012, Jones publicly said he disagreed with the president. Beyond politics, Jones serves as the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of South Richmond.
''Mayor Jones has much to recommend him as a public leader – as do many individuals whom you might consider,'' Gorsline wrote in his March 4 to McAuliffe. ''However, he has not appeared to many as friendly to the concerns of the LGBT community in general. While he has supported and issued anti-discrimination policies in the workplace, he has not been enthusiastic in his outreach to the LGBT community and he has failed to support marriage equality in particular. His engagement and position on marriage equality would set a low bar for all elected officials in the state about the importance of marriage equality and could be interpreted as indicating that your support for equality is less deep than your public statements would indicate.''
Gorsline also recommended that McAuliffe discuss the issue of Jones's position on marriage equality and on LGBT rights, and suggested that Jones could demonstrate his support by signing a statement that other mayors, including Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, have signed advocating marriage equality.
According Richmond CBS affiliate WTVR, Jones could be named chair of the Democratic Party at the party's March 15 meeting.
In a statement to WTVR, McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy defended McAuliffe's decision to back Jones.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
(Photo by governor.virginia.gov)
''Governor McAuliffe believes the next state party chair should be a leader who will grow the party, manage the organization effectively and win elections,'' Coy wrote in response to WTVR's inquiries. ''That is why he fully supports his good friend Mayor Dwight Jones. Mayor Jones has spent his life fighting for civil rights and for equal treatment for all Virginians under the law. He is a great Mayor for Richmond and he will be a strong leader and voice for progress as chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia.''
Michael Paul Williams, a columnist for The Richmond Times-Dispatch, penned a March 7 column in which he called for Jones to take a stand on same-sex marriage, accusing him of ''equivocating'' by saying he supports equal treatment under the law, despite the fact that Virginia's laws treat same-sex couples differently from heterosexual couples.
''[Jones] is ensnared in the inherent conflict that faces a faith leader when he moonlights in the secular world of politics,'' Williams wrote. ''But if he wants to lead his party in Virginia, Jones has a conundrum. … He'd be the titular head of a party whose ranks include the religiously unaffiliated, Jewish Americans, white mainline Protestants, and white and Hispanic Catholics. The majority of each of those groups supports same-sex marriage. … If his conscience or his congregation won't allow him to support marriage equality without equivocation, Jones and Virginia Democrats have an irreconcilable difference.''...more