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Oprah’s gayest shows

Talk show legend never shied from LGBT topics. Her last episode aired on Wednesday.

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Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey

Oprah, even in her early years, never shied from LGBT topics on her eponymous show, which ended its run this week. (Photo courtesy of Harpo Productions)

Everybody knows Oprah ended her eponymous talk show this week, but one thing missed in the mainstream hoopla was how often and unabashedly she dealt with LGBT topics during her 25-year run.

Oprah and her flock have consistently denied speculation that she herself may be gay. Gay OWN talk show host Brad Lamm told the Blade in March the question has lingered so long he finds it “offensive.” Winfrey confessed frustration over the issue to Barbara Walters in a 2010 interview because its persistence, she said, implied dishonesty on her part.

A look back through the topics of the show’s 4,561 episodes reveals a bounty of LGBT guests, perhaps none more memorable than a 1987 landmark episode that found Oprah visiting Williamson, W.Va. (population: 5,600) to interview Mike Sisco, a gay man who’d contracted AIDS while living in Dallas and who’d returned home to his family in West Virginia.

Word had spread in the small town that Sisco had AIDS and hysteria ensued when he went swimming in a public swimming pool. Sisco told Oprah residents were fleeing “like people do in those science fiction movies when they see Godzilla in the street or something.” The mayor closed the pool and Sisco was ostracized.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah interviews the late Mike Sisco in his hometown of Williamson, W.Va., in 1987. Sisco, who was gay and had AIDS, caused hysteria by swimming in a public pool. (Photo courtesy of Harpo Productions)

It was the height of AIDS hysteria when confusion about how the disease could be contracted was at its peak. Sisco said he agreed to do the show to help educate the public. Rumors were running rampant in the town that Sisco had been seen spitting on food at the local McDonald’s and on produce at a grocery store.

“Mike Sisco’s story is heartbreaking because it shows the reactions/actions of human beings when fear takes hold, when ignorance is abundant and when there is a mob mentality,” blogger Lola Nicole wrote. “[He] went to be with his family so they could care for him, so he could feel loved. He got exactly the opposite.”

Last September, as Oprah started her final season, she visited Sisco’s three sisters, Patricia, Tina and Anna. Sisco died in 1996 and controversy surrounded him until the bitter end — a family fight ensued about where he could be buried. In the ensuing years, his sister Anna had come out as a lesbian.

Oprah also interviewed several of the residents who’d been against Sisco’s presence in the original episode. Some said they’d wished they’d been more compassionate.

Oprah said her goal in doing both episodes was to remind people to be compassionate.

“I think that is the complete message of this whole series we did here today and 23 years ago,” she said at a press conference after the 2010 episode. “I understand people’s fear because in 1987 we still didn’t know everything and it’s understandable that people would have questions and what was represented here in Williamson really was a microcosm for the country. We used Williamson as a symbol for what was going on in the rest of the country.”

Other famous LGBT-related episodes include:

  • Gay pianist Liberace made his final public appearance on the show on a Christmas Day episode in 1986. He died about six weeks later of AIDS-related complications.
  • Ellen DeGeneres came out on a 1997 episode. Oprah also appeared on her sitcom as her therapist.
  • A 2003 episode that had run without incident initially, was rerun in 2005 and caused a major controversy because a guest gave an explanation of rimming, albeit in a hetero context.
  • A landmark 2004 episode called “A Secret Sex World: Living on the Down Low” brought the largely black phenomenon of married men having sex with men on the side to light. It became part of the national lexicon.
  • Last November, singer Ricky Martin discussed being a gay father.
  • In March, “Family Ties” actress Meredith Baxter discussed being a lesbian.
  • A January episode was devoted to coming out.
  • In May, 2008, Oprah interviewed Cher and Tina Turner at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Oprah idol Diana Ross also made a handful of appearances on the show.
  • An October 2006 episode was called “Wives Confess They are Gay.”
  • A March, 2009 episode was called “Women Leaving Men for Other Women.”
  • The “Will & Grace” cast convened in May 2006 for a farewell episode.
  • In July, 2010 former high school football quarterback Kimberly Reed discussed her late ‘90s sex change. Her documentary was shown at Reel Affirmations.
  • And just weeks ago, Oprah interviewed Chaz Bono about his transition and new documentary and book.
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Notables

Gay journalist Chuck Colbert dies

Long-time reporter covered Catholic clergy sexual abuse

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National LGBTQ Task Force Communications Director Cathy Renna, left, with Chuck Colbert (Photo courtesy of Cathy Renna)

Chuck Colbert had a touch of old Cary Grant in him — dashing and debonair in his tuxedo at swank LGBTQ events. But he was also deeply humble and bursting with joy from his lifelong devotion to the core beliefs of the Catholic Church.

His journalistic discipline controlling his personal anguish over the proclamations about homosexuality enabled him as an out gay man to report professionally on the sex abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in the early 2000s.

As a regular freelance contributor to the National Catholic Reporter and other media outlets, Chuck debunked tirades against gays and often underscored how girls and young women had been raped and abused by priests and church officials, too. 

I thought about this a lot when I heard that Chuck had died on June 30. He was 67. 

I was shocked by his sudden passing and how long it took to find out he had died. I met him decades ago through the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association. Why did it take a month and a half for news of his passing to spread? 

Chuck’s friend Karen Allshouse posted news on his Facebook page:  “I’ve learned that while visiting in Johnstown [Pa.] he developed a serious medical issue (involving his esophagus reportedly) and he needed to be transferred to a higher level of medical care and was transferred to a Pittsburgh hospital. Respiratory complications developed and he died. For those who are concerned about his mom — a former high school teacher of his (English) accompanied his mom to the cemetery for the committal service.”

I considered Chuck a loving friend and a journalistic colleague but I realized I actually knew little about him. Our friendship ranged from email exchanges to quick chats at events to deep conversations about religion, including the influence of Thomas à Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ.”

If anyone sought to imitate Christ, it was Chuck Colbert. He was kind without thinking about it. He walked the walk and scolded those who didn’t but claimed to have created the path. 

On March 17, 2002, two months after the Boston Globe exposed the sexual child abuse by priests rotting the foundation of the Boston archdiocese (depicted in the movie “Spotlight,”) Chuck wrote an op-ed in the Boston Herald entitled Leaders of Catholic Church Must Listen to All the Faithful.”  

“Clearly, the Catholic Church in Boston is in crisis. Some blame ‘militant homosexuals’ among the clergy, branding them ‘a true plague on the priesthood.’ Is the crisis, in fact, rooted there? Let me offer another perspective — one based on more than 25 years of faith life as a convert. First, I have failed, somehow, to encounter any Catholic Church culture characterized by ‘priestly homosexuals run amok with no fear of condemnation.’ The reality is significantly more boring,” Chuck wrote. 

He went on to describe his scholarly and theological journey from the University of Notre Dame to Georgetown University, Harvard University and Weston Jesuit School of Theology, receiving degrees at each stop. 

“Still, it was not until I arrived in Cambridge 15 years ago that my spiritual desolation over the conflict between my sexual identity and my religious conviction found its positive counterpart: consolation,” Chuck wrote in the Boston Herald. “The catalyst for that life-saving, personal transformation began when a bright and theologically astute Jesuit priest became my spiritual director.

“He listened,” Chuck continued. “Over time, I broke the silence of my anguished pilgrim journey and its struggle with homosexuality. He understood that I carried with me the heavy baggage of church teaching, those deeply wounding, soul-shaming words from the Catechism, ‘objective disorder’ and ‘intrinsic evil,’ that pathologize (and objectify) same-gender love and its sexual expression. Through the respectful, nonjudgmental listening and guidance of spiritual direction and through richer encounters of God’s grace in the sacraments, therapy, and prayer, I came to experience God’s unconditional love. I now feel, to the core of my being, that God loves me (I suspect you) along with all my quirky postmodern, American, but very human, strengths and vulnerabilities.”

Chuck became an expert reporter covering the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. During a May 7, 2002, appearance on CNN, Chuck responded to a question about the culpability of Cardinal Bernard Law, Archbishop of Boston. 

“I think the question raises a very interesting question, or point,” Chuck said. “And it is not just the personality of the cardinal. Other bishops who were auxiliary bishops at the time [of  Fr. John Geoghan’s arrest for child molestation and release] and are now bishops in other places, as the [Father Paul] Shanley documents have been revealed, these show higher levels of involvement of knowledge. And so it is systemic — but it is also the leadership, the broad leadership that Cardinal Law mustered to either handle or mishandle this scandal, and I think that we will see more of that come out in court.”

Chuck’s expertise was invaluable to the LGBTQ community, as National LGBTQ Task Force Communications Director Cathy Renna told the Windy City Times.

“Chuck was a friend and colleague — one who was extraordinarily principled and helpful, especially when addressing issues related to the LGBTQ community and the Catholic Church. He was instrumental in helping us frame and address the abuse scandal when church leaders scapegoated gay priests, as a person of faith and an intellectual,” Renna said. “[W]orking with him was a vital part of my work taking on the Catholic Church hierarchy while at GLAAD, along with other queer and allied groups. But he was also a pleasure to be friends with, who found joy in life and our community, and was one of the people I most looked forward to seeing at the NLGJA convention and other events. He will be greatly missed.”

Chuck caused some ripples in my life after an interview we did for the online LGBTQ press trade newsletter Press Pass Q in 2016 about my being laid off as news editor by my longtime publisher Frontiers Newsmagazine.

Chuck had interviewed Bobby Blair, chief executive officer of Multimedia Platforms Worldwide, and the new publisher of Frontiers.

“Unfortunately, Karen fell where we realized we were moving toward a digital and Millennial audience, and we wanted to give the generation of Millennials a real shot at creating our content,” Blair told Chuck. “Did you get that on tape?” I asked him. 

Chuck Colbert summed up his philosophy via a quote from Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace:”

“Life is everything. Life is God. Everything shifts and moves, and this movement is God. And while there is life, there is delight in the self-awareness of the divinity. To love life is to love God. The hardest and most blissful thing is to love this life in one’s suffering, in the guiltlessness of suffering.”  

********************

Karen Ocamb an award winning veteran journalist and the former editor of the Los Angeles Blade, has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

She is currently the Director of Media Relations for Public Justice.

She lives in West Hollywood with her two beloved furry ‘kids’ and writes occasional commentary on issues of concern for the greater LGBTQ+ community.

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Sports

Carl Nassib returns to Tampa

Former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end came out as gay in June 2021

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Carl Nassib (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube/KUVV Fox 5 in Las Vegas)

Carl Nassib, who made headlines in June 2021 when he became the NFL’s first out gay active player, reportedly has signed a one-year contract with his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

The 29-year-old defensive end was released by the Las Vegas Raiders in March, and became a free agent. NFL sources said that was due to his contracted salary amount — $7.75 million — and not any reflection on his sexual orientation.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news with a tweet

When Nassib came out last summer, he announced he was donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project, and for Pride Month this year he made a new pledge to help LGBTQ youth. He promised to match donations to the Trevor Project, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

Will Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady welcome Nassib?

As Outsports reported, he’s never made any comments about playing with someone gay. Brady’s former New England Patriots teammate Ryan O’Callaghan recalled that before he came out in 2017, following his retirement, there was one time that he missed the team bus and Brady gave him a ride in his car to that day’s practice.

O’Callaghan told Outsports he believes Brady would have “absolutely” accepted him if he had come out at that time.

“Being married to a super model I’m sure he’s met a few gay people in his life,” said O’Callaghan.

Brady wed Brazilian fashion model Gisele Bündchen in 2009.

Legendary Boston sports columnist Steve Buckley of the Athletic came out as gay in 2011 while at the Boston Herald. He told Outsports that Brady has always been friendly and cooperative, even after Buckley came out.

This is the second time around at Raymond James Stadium for Nassib. He played for the Buccaneers for two seasons prior to joining the Raiders in 2020. His NFL career began in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns. 

As Jason Owens reported for Yahoo! Sports, Nassib was far more productive in Tampa as a part-time starter, recording 6.5 sacks in 2018 and six sacks in 2019. The NFL’s website shows he played just 242 defensive snaps and earned 1.5 sacks last season. 

In 86 games including 37 starts, Nassib’s recorded 22 career sacks, 164 tackles, 53 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.

In addition to Brady, Nassib’s new teammates are Akiem Hicks and William Gholston at defensive end and outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Given that the Buccaneers finished seventh in the NFL in sacks last season with 47, Nassib will be expected to improve Tampa Bay’s chances when their season begins on Sept. 11 in Dallas.

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Out & About

10 LGBTQ events this week

Parties abound with Silver Pride, the ASANA Series and more

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From left, join the Nice Jewish Boys for a happy hour, watch Brooklyn Heights host the Trailer Park Ball and catch a drag show hosted by Rickey Rosé this week. (Blade file photos by Michael Key)

Below are our picks for some of the most fun and creative things to do this week in the DMV that are of special interest to the LGBTQ community.


Silver Pride

Rayceen Pendarvis hosts Silver Pride. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

UPDATE: Silver Pride was postponed; a new date is expected to be announced soon.

Join host Rayceen Pendarvis for ‘Back for the First Time: Silver Pride 2022″ at Studio Theatre this afternoon for a celebration of senior members of the LGBTQ+ community.


ASANA Series Opening Party

Tuesday, August 16
6:30-11 p.m.
Pitchers / ALOHO
2317 18th Street, N.W.
Facebook

The Amateur Sports Alliance of North America kicks off its ASANA World Series in D.C. with a party at Pitchers/ALOHO on Tuesday. The event is hosted by Ba’Naka and features special guests DJ Tracy Young, Tatiyanna Voché and E-Cleff.


NJB Hot Boy Summer Happy Hour

Nice Jewish Boys held the “Mr. Nice Jewish Boy” competition last month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Thursday, August 18
6:30-9 p.m.
Number Nine
1435 P Street, N.W.
Facebook

The Nice Jewish Boys hold a happy hour on Thursday at Number Nine.


Kaftan Couture Happy Hour

Thursday, August 18
6 p.m.
Trade
1410 14th Street, N.W.
Facebook

The D.C. Boys of Leather mix it up with a kaftan party at Trade on Thursday.


LGBTQ+ Speed Friending

Friday, August 19
7-9 p.m.
Moxy Washington
1011 K Street, N.W.
Facebook | Eventbrite

Go Gay DC! hosts a meet-and-greet at Moxy on Friday. Come by to make some new friends in the LGBTQ community.


We The Kingz: Wet n’ Wild

Ricky Rosé (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Friday, August 19
10 p.m.
JR.’s Bar
1519 17th Street, N.W.
No cover
21+
Facebook

Rickey Rosé hosts the We The Kingz show featuring Artemis Demon, Atom Glambert, Baphomette and Phoenix King at JR.’s on Friday.


discoVERS Anniversary

Friday, August 19
10 p.m.
SAX
734 11th Street, N.W.
$30-$50
Facebook

discoVERS returns to SAX for its one year anniversary with DJs Robbie Leslie and Alexis Tucci. There will be a special performance by KC B. Yoncé. The event will sell out, so get your tickets now.


ASANA Series Closing Party

Saturday, August 20
5:30-11 p.m.
DC Brau Brewing Company
3178 Baldensburg Road, N.E., Suite B
Facebook

The ASANA World Series finishes with a bang. The Closing Party will be held at DC Brau on Saturday.


Miss Gay Eastern States America

Saturday, August 20
7-11 p.m.
Rehoboth Beach Convention Center
229 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
$20
Eventbrite

Are you in Rehoboth this weekend? Catch a drag competition at the Convention Center on Saturday.


The Trailer Park Ball

Sunday, August 21
8 p.m.
Freddie’s Beach Bar
555 23rd Street S
Arlington, Va.
Facebook

The Trailer Park Ball will be held on Sunday at Freddie’s. All Tips and donations are to benefit the Imperial Court of Washington and Reign X Charities.


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