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‘That kid from YouTube’

Young Iowan releases a book about growing up with his ‘Two Moms’

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Zach Wahls (Photo courtesy Lambda Legal)

You know him as “That kid from YouTube,” but the now 20-year-old loving son of two moms, Zach Wahls hopes he will soon be “That kid from the New York Times Best Seller” list.

“We’re all keeping our fingers crossed — it would be great to be a New York Times best selling author before I can legally have a drink to celebrate that fact,” says former Eagle Scout Wahls about his two-week-old memoir “My Two Moms,” which has been in or near the Amazon top 100 best sellers all week.

A major boost for Wahl’s book came last week with his April 30 appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” on Comedy Central, which caused his book about being raised with Iowa values by a committed lesbian couple to jump up the Amazon’s 22nd spot.

Before he was on the “Daily Show” or Ellen DeGeneres, Wahls was a viral video sensation. Not because he did a weird impression or blew something up, but because he gave an incredible, moving testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, which was considering sending to Iowans a Constitutional amendment that would undo a state Supreme Court decision to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

In his testimony, Wahls discussed his excellent grades and outstanding athletic achievements, opening his own business, studying engineering at the University of Iowa and his time in the Scouts where his mother Terry, whom he calls “short mom,” was a den mother, while “tall mom” Jackie helped out with the Cub Scouts.

“If I was your son, Mr. Chairman, I believe I would make you very proud,” Wahls says in one memorable moment of the video.

But this all-American boy — who says he can’t drink, but does enjoy a cigar every once in a while, and would like to celebrate the success of his book with one if he makes the Times list — is now turning his 15 minutes of fame into a career of advocacy.

His book chronicles the struggles his family faced over the years — such as mother Terry’s struggle with M.S. — and the values that kept them together.

On the phone from Asheville, N.C., on Monday, the day before the vote on Amendment One, he has a lot to say.

WASHINGTON BLADE: The book is organized in an unusual way. Why?

ZACH WAHLS: The book has 14 chapters and two appendices. The first chapter is “Be Prepared,” which is the Boy Scouts’ motto, and the last chapter is “Do a Good Turn Daily,” which is the Scouts’ slogan. And the middle 12 chapters are named and oriented after and on a tenant of the scout law. And the scout law is a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

Each chapter is an examination of that value, and how I learned it from my moms first, and how I learned it from the Boy Scouts, what it means to me, and what it means to the LGBT community in general.

BLADE: What was the “Daily Show” experience like?

WAHLS: It was the seven coolest minutes of my life.

And Jon, actually — unlike the host of literally every single other show — actually came to the green room backstage before the show and we had a nice little conversation. It was very clear that he had read the book, it was clear that he enjoyed the book and we just had a great little conversation.

I was standing in the green room, and what he does is that he starts talking very loudly as he’s walking toward you down the hall, so you can hear him coming, and he knows that you can hear him coming.

He’s just such a classy guy. Just 100 percent pure class.

I went to the rally to restore sanity last year, and it was the first time I’d ever ridden a Greyhound, actually. Like 24 hours on a Greyhound from Iowa to D.C. to the rally, and I’ve been watching the show since I was like 10. It was an amazing moment.

My moms and my sister were there, they had a great time too. It was great for sure.

BLADE: You seemed very confident and calm. Were you nervous?

WAHLS: Well he came backstage before, and that helped a lot. I was like almost about to have a nervous breakdown when he actually walked into the room. So that would have been what I was experiencing when I walked on stage had he not done that. So that was useful.

It was definitely a high stakes seven minutes. We managed to have a conversation and have a great time, and it was a blast.

But they told me before I went on, don’t make any jokes, and I kept trying not to.

BLADE: But you did! You did make a joke, and it landed well, the audience laughed!

WAHLS: I was having so much fun, I couldn’t help myself.

BLADE: What is the key to changing minds on the issue of rights for LGBT people?

WAHLS: The single most important task is continuing to systematically dismantle this myth of choice.

I think that’s why the YouTube video was so successful. I mean I never come out in the video and say I’m straight — and I’m hesitant to come to conclusions, because that’s something we shouldn’t do — but I think it is fairly clear in the video that I am a flaming straight man. So I think that the single most important development in any person’s movement on the continuum of opposition to LGBT rights to support for LGBT rights is the understanding that sexual orientation is not a choice. It is a pervasive misconception, and in many cases a pervasive lie that unfortunately many Americans do believe to be true.

But when you see people move beyond that misconception, it becomes very difficult for them to believe subsequently that homosexuality is immoral. Because if it’s not a choice, how could it be immoral? It’s much like historically saying someone is immoral or less than simply because of the color of their skin or the organs between their legs.

It used to be the belief that women were subservient to men and that blacks where inferior to whites, and that’s why — when it came to women’s suffrage or civil rights in the sixties — you had to address the underlying discrimination and the underlying beliefs before you could have the political solution that guaranteed equal rights, and that’s what we’re seeing here as well.

BLADE: One problem the LGBT movement often has with allies is commitment. Polling shows most Americans are with the LGBT activists on the big issues like employment, housing, benefits and even equal marriage is polling over 50 percent nationwide, but that doesn’t mean that supporters bother to leave the house to go vote for our rights in a special election like North Carolina’s. How do we inspire more allies to action?

WAHLS: To be clear, I don’t consider myself an ally. I might be straight cisgender man, but in my mind, I am a member of the LGBT community.

I know the last thing that anyone wants is to add another letter to the acronym, but we need to make sure as a movement we’re making a place for what we call “queer-spawn” to function and to be part of the community.

Because even though I’m not gay, I do know what its like to be hated for who I am. And I do know what its like to be in the closet, and like every other member of the LGBT community, I did not have a choice in this. I was born into this movement. I want to be explicitly clear first of all.

These fights affect me, they affect my family.

Now my best friend Nick, a straight guy, he’s an ally.

In terms of how we can have an upgraded commitment from straight allies, the fact is that if you look at the straight community, generally, there is a lot of excitement. And its not just support but excitement on this issue, because I think — in liberal politics generally — this is one of the few issues across the country in which we are not just standing our ground, but actually advancing as a progressive community.

Gay people can’t win this alone though. There aren’t enough people in the LGBT community itself to win this on their own. So in terms of what strategies are most effective? I think that making sure that you are illustrating these personal connections and engaging in this relationship building. Obviously, I come from a somewhat biased point of view, but if you have a close family member or a close friend who is openly LGBT, not only are you more likely to support the issue, but you’re more likely to act as well.

BLADE: There are lots of heartfelt YouTube videos out there with people explaining why LGBT rights matter. Why did yours blow up so big?

WAHLS: I know, its kind of crazy! Well, I think there are two factors. First is that it disrupted some expectations. When you think of whatever that stereotype of two women raising a kid is, a clean cut engineering student, Eagle Scout, entrepreneur — from Iowa to boot — probably isn’t that stereotype. And I think people enjoy seeing those stereotypes getting broken down.

I think more importantly and fundamentally, in that video, I hope you really do see me display my love for and commitment to my family. And I think it reminded a lot of people of their own love and their own commitment that they feel for their families. And I think that was really what struck home. The confidence, the passion, and at the end of the day, the love that was driving through.

BLADE: After three years of equal marriage, what are attitudes like across Iowa today on the issue of same-sex marriage?

WAHLS: Actually, The Onion had a great article, when marriage became legal, and the headline was “Hell opens up and swallows Davenport Iowa.” Obviously it was satire. The sky didn’t fall. Divorce rates are falling, straight people are still marrying straight people. They aren’t catching the gay. 92 percent of Iowans feel that they have not been affected by the Supreme Court ruling in any major way and 56 percent of Iowans oppose a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court decision [that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in Iowa].

It’s important to note that there is still a small disconnect between those who support same-sex marriage and those who would oppose its repeal. I think that this speaks to the Iowan ethos, which is the notion of “live and let live.” Even though they may not necessarily support same-sex marriage, they aren’t willing to take it away from couples like my parents.

BLADE: Until your video went viral on YouTube, yours was pretty much a quiet, average all-American family. How have your mothers handled all of the extra attention?

WAHLS: My moms have handled it really about as well as you can expect mothers to handle this kind of thing. It was definitely hard at some points for them. They see, obviously a lot of potential when you’re in the limelight to come under very sharp criticism and that happened.

There was a conservative radio host in Iowa who spent 20 minutes of his show going through my speech line by line by line accusing me of all kinds of rhetorical black magic. He seems to think I’m some kind of mastermind or something, which is quite flattering. But my moms hear that, and their protective instincts kick in, definitely.

They’ve been overwhelmingly proud, no doubt about it, but their primary concern is my safety. But they know I’m a grown man, I can handle myself — more often than not — so they’re mostly proud.

Although I do spend a lot less time at home, so I don’t see them or my sister nearly as frequently as I used to. And we’re all a little disappointed about that. My sister and I were both looking forward to the Avengers movie together for a long time, and she caved and saw it with “short mom,” which I was a little upset about. But I understand. I guess. [laughs]

Unlike her, I’m willing to wait til I get home to see it.

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Movies

Dorian Awards cast a queer eye on television

Netflix favorite ‘Heartstopper’ nabs three nominations

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Kit Conner and Joe Locke in ‘Heartstopper.’ (Photo courtesy Netflix)

As Hollywood gears up for the year’s second “Awards Season” ahead of July 12’s scheduled announcement of the 2022 Emmy nominations, it seems only fitting for us to bring some attention to another awards organization that has already dropped its picks for the year’s best in TV content. We’re referring, of course, to the Dorian Awards, which have been bestowed by the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics since 2009. 

If you’ve never heard of the Dorians, that’s not surprising. In keeping with the entertainment industry’s frustratingly persistent skittishness when it comes to All Things Queer, the Dorians haven’t gotten much attention in the mainstream press – though with a 385-member voting body and a scandal-free history, they are arguably more reputable than the Golden Globes. Named in honor of iconic queer writer Oscar Wilde (as a reference to his novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”), they are admittedly low profile when it comes to glitz and glamour, handing out their prizes at an annual “Winner’s Toast” day party instead of a formal evening affair. Nevertheless, they’ve gained traction as Hollywood’s attitudes toward LGBTQ inclusion and representation have shifted, and each of their two annual ceremonies – one for TV, one for film, held about six months apart – draw an increasing number of A-listers to participate, both as nominees and presenters; and while the Dorians may not hold the level of prestige enjoyed by some of the industry’s other awards, at least we can be sure their voting membership won’t overlook queer shows and talent as often as their counterparts at the Motion Picture and Television Academies.

That doesn’t mean the Dorians are exclusively focused on LGBTQ content. The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics – formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, or GALECA – explicitly states that its awards are to honor “the best in film and TV, mainstream to queer+”, while calling attention to the importance of queer contribution and sensibility within the wider culture and reminding “bullies, bigots, and our own at-risk youth that the world loves the sly Q eye on entertainment.” With some state governments and the SCOTUS itself dedicating themselves an all-out assault on the LGBTQ community and its hard-won rights, that last point seems particularly resonant; with so much homo- and transphobic hate pouring its efforts into erasing us, our visibility is more crucial than ever.

Fortunately, as the slate of Dorian nominees announced by GALECA on June 22 reveals, the queer presence on television is strong. No longer segregated to a “niche” genre, the LGBTQ community has finally begun to appear on our screens as it does in life – blended, alongside everyone else, into a world that has room for us all. That’s what ideal inclusion looks like, and it’s heartening – especially now – to see that it has become the norm in so much of the industry’s best offerings.

This year, HBO leads the pack in terms of nods. Two of its heavily queer-inclusive shows, “Hacks” and “Somebody Somewhere,” received five nominations each, while “Euphoria” and “The White Lotus” snagged 4 and 3, respectively. In total, the cable-and-streaming giant got 24, with an additional 13 for programming exclusively on HBO Max, bringing the total to 37.

Coming in second with less than half that number is Netflix. Among its 15 nominations are three nods for “Heartstopper,” the runaway queer fan favorite based on a sweet UK webcomic about two schoolboys in love, and two each for Natasha Lyonne’s brain-twisting time travel dramedy “Russian Doll” and the already-award-winning Korean thriller “Squid Game.”

New series scored high among Dorian voters this year. Besides “Heartstopper” and “Somebody Somewhere,” ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” Showtime’s “Yellow Jackets,” and Apple TV+’s “Severance” each received multiple nominations, with many other freshman titles picking up individual nods.

As for the awards themselves, the Dorians feature fewer overall categories – instead of being split into “gendered” divisions, actors of all genders compete for a single award in each category – and set themselves apart by striking a mildly tongue-in-cheek pose in the presentation of its “special” accolades. In presenting awards like Campiest TV Show or the brand new “You Deserve an Award” award, the Dorians give a tip of the lavender hat to the tradition of Wildean wit at their back – but they also assert the importance of queer perspective when it comes to taste-making and the aesthetic arts.

Nominees for the 14th Annual Dorian TV Awards (honoring shows which debuted June 1, 2021-May 31, 2022) are listed below. Winners will be revealed on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

BEST TV DRAMA: “Better Call Saul”; “Heartstopper”; “Yellowjackets”; “Severance”; “Succession”

BEST TV COMEDY: “Abbott Elementary”; “Barry”; “Hacks”; “The Other Two”; “Our Flag Means Death”

BEST LGBTQ SHOW: “Hacks”; “Heartstopper”; “The Other Two”; “Our Flag Means Death”; “Somebody Somewhere”; “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

BEST TV MOVIE OR MINISERIES: “Dopesick”; “The Dropout”; “Midnight Mass”; “Station Eleven”; “The White Lotus”

BEST NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGE TV SHOW: “Elite”; “Lupin”; “My Brilliant Friend”; “Pachinko”; “Squid Game”

BEST UNSUNG SHOW: “Better Things”; “The Other Two”; “Our Flag Means Death”; “Russian Doll”; “Somebody Somewhere”; “We Are Lady Parts”

BEST TV PERFORMANCE: Quinta Brunson (“Abbott Elementary”); Kit Connor (“Heartstopper”); Bridget Everett (“Somebody Somewhere”); Bill Hader (“Barry”); Lily James (“Pam & Tommy”); Natasha Lyonne (“Russian Doll”); Melanie Lynskey (“Yellowjackets”); Amanda Seyfried (“The Dropout”); Jean Smart (“Hacks”); Zendaya (“Euphoria”)

BEST SUPPORTING TV PERFORMANCE: Murray Bartlett (“The White Lotus”); Anthony Carrigan (“Barry”); Jennifer Coolidge (“The White Lotus”); Hannah Einbinder (“Hacks”); Jeff Hiller (“Somebody Somewhere”); Janelle James (“Abbott Elementary”); Matthew Macfadyen (“Succession”); Christina Ricci (“Yellowjackets”); Rhea Seehorn (“Better Call Saul”); Sydney Sweeney (“Euphoria”)

BEST TV MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: Beyonce, “HYPERLINK “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aeDlZOD-B0″Be Alive” (94th Academy Awards); Kristin Chenoweth and cast, “HYPERLINK “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PmS5JIfSkk”Tribulation” (“Schmigadoon!”); Bridget Everett and Jeff Hiller, “HYPERLINK “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=As-a_bzFrl0″Don’t Give Up” (“Somebody Somewhere”); Jean Smart, “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” (“Hacks”); Cecily Strong and cast, “HYPERLINK “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj5mJGyoYIM”Corn Puddin’” (“Schmigadoon!”); Hannah Waddingham and cast, “HYPERLINK “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B0HktX4xqQ”Never Gonna Give You Up” (“Ted Lasso”)

BEST TV DOCUMENTARY OR DOCUMENTARY SERIES: “The Andy Warhol Diaries”; “The Beatles: Get Back”; “How to with John Wilson”; “Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known”; “We Need to Talk About Cosby”

BEST CURRENT AFFAIRS PROGRAM: “The Amber Ruffin Show”; “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”; “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”; “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”; “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”; “The Rachel Maddow Show”; “ZIWE” (Showtime)

BEST ANIMATED SHOW: “Arcane”; “Big Mouth”; “Bob’s Burgers”; “Q Force”; “Tuca & Bertie”; “What If…?”

BEST REALITY SHOW: “Legendary”; “The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans”; “RuPaul’s Drag Race”; “Survivor”; “Top Chef: Houston”; “We’re Here”

MOST VISUALLY STRIKING SHOW: “Euphoria”; “The Gilded Age”; “Loki”; “Severance”: “Squid Game”

CAMPIEST TV SHOW: “Diana: The Musical”; “Euphoria”; “Girls5Eva”; “Nine Perfect Strangers”; “Schmigadoon!”

WILDE WIT AWARD (to a performer, writer or commentator whose observations both challenge and amuse): Joel Kim Booster; Quinta Brunson; Jerrod Carmichael; Jennifer Coolidge; Bowen Yang

THE “YOU DESERVE AN AWARD!” AWARD (to a uniquely talented TV icon we adore): Gillian Anderson; Christine Baranski; Lynda Carter; Kim Cattrall; Cassandra Peterson

GALECA LGBTQIA+ TV TRAILBLAZER (for creating art that inspires empathy, truth and equity): Jerrod Carmichael; Margaret Cho; Russell T. Davies; Kate McKinnon; Bowen Yang

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Photos

PHOTOS: 2022 Baltimore Pride

Annual LGBTQ march held on Saturday

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Baltimore Pride 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

The 2022 Baltimore Pride Parade was held on Saturday, June 25. The march was followed by a block party and entertainment.

(Washington Blade photos by Linus Berggren)

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Theater

Queer actor on new role: ‘Playing villains is a blast’

Jaye Ayres-Brown returns as a contemptible Londoner in ‘Red Velvet’

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Jaye Ayres-Brown in ‘Red Velvet’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company. (Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography)

‘Red Velvet’
Through July 17
Shakespeare Theatre Company 
Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh, 450 7th St., N.W.
$35-$120
Shakespearetheatre.org

After a five-year absence from the stage, actor Jaye Ayres-Brown (queer, gender fluid, non-binary, and trans-femme) returns to the boards as a contemptible cisgender Londoner in playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s “Red Velvet” at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Klein Theatre.

Possessed of presence and genuine warmth, Ayres-Brown, 27, is playing Charles Kean, the smug and dubiously talented son of legendary English actor Edmund Kean. Charles is also the essential antagonist in Chakrabarti’s exploration of the life and career of renowned early 19th century African-American Shakespearean actor, Ira Aldridge (Amari Cheatom).  

When Aldridge is tapped to play Othello on the London stage, Charles, who’s slated to act opposite the star as evil Iago, quits the show. It’s 1833 and Charles is deeply opposed to a Black actor playing a Black lead character, and he’s even less pleased that his real-life fiancée Ellen Tree (Emily DeForest) is assaying Othello’s romantic obsession Desdemona in the production.  

Offstage, Ayres-Brown is Aldridge’s biggest fan: “He was way ahead of his time. A hundred years before Stanislavsky, Aldridge was introducing a proto naturalist approach to acting. In retrospect, it’s hard to disentangle the public’s reaction to him. He was something so different. But were white audiences reacting to his innovative acting style or were they showing their racial bias?” 

“In the play, I’m that bias,” says the New York-based actor. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Joan Crawford famously said, “I love playing bitches. There’s a lot of bitch in every woman — a lot in every man.” 

JAYE AYRES-BROWN: Oh yeah, playing villains is a blast. Ira Aldridge was such a spectacularly heroic person, an amazingly gifted and resourceful artist, he deserves a good villain to push against, a meaningful villain who makes us admire the hero even more. And Amari [Cheatom], the actor who plays Aldridge, is a great artist who deserves a strong antagonist too. 

BLADE: Are you enjoying your stay in London 1833? 

AYRES-BROWN: No, I hate it!  But my character loves it. Charles enjoys tremendous privilege – racial and professionally. He’s a cisgender white supremacist committed to the patriarchal power structure of the time. But me, Jaye as a person, is less than charmed by it.

BLADE: But aesthetically, it’s quite fine? 

AYRES-BROWN: Yes, You-Shin Chen’s sets are impeccable, and the period costumes are beautifully rendered by Rodrigo Muñoz. Sometimes, I do feel a little bit like a drag king in Charles’ attire. It’s a performance of masculinity. 

I have an expansive experience of gender in which I include masculinity and I think I have something interesting to say and a unique perspective. Language about gender nonconforming identity didn’t exist in 1833, but the people existed, getting by the best way they could. Everyone was either a man or a woman. Who knows today how any of these characters would identify? 

My objective is to cram as much humanity in the character as I can. The play is deeply considered with questions about who gets to play what roles. And I try to bring as much of myself to each role regardless of their gender.

BLADE: Charles is very far from who you are?

AYRES-BROWN: For me, the work of playing a character like this is derived largely from the racist lessons all Americans learn. The stereotypes are things that I’ve been exposed to as someone who grew up white in America. There’s the initial desire to distance and highlight contrasts, but ultimately you must mine your own experience even if it’s uncomfortable.

BLADE: How is it to be working in live theater again?

AYRES-BROWN: Like Christmas morning! It’s my first play in five years, and still my training kicks in. I re-balance on my bike and it’s like I’ve never stopped riding. But mostly, I’m trying to have as much fun as I can. 

BLADE: And how was working with young director Jade King Carroll? 

AYRES-BROWN: Wonderful! The play deals with some difficult moments, harmful language and ideas.  Jade created a space in our rehearsal room where people could be playful while engaging with that. Dealing with concepts of history requires the seriousness it demands, but there’s also a need for humor and lightness, and Jade made that possible.

BLADE:  Any thoughts on “Red Velvet” being stuck in time? 

AYRES-BORWN: No, I think this play is a shockingly contemporary telling of a lost history that feels overwhelmingly resonant as it’s related to identity politics and the push for representation. I hope the audience sees a period but appreciates the present-day dynamics, discussions, and language. It’s also surprisingly human and very entertaining. To me it’s a very funny show. Anyone interested in laughing at posh British folks being stupid might agree.

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