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Black and gay in D.C.

Theater festival features two playwrights tackling sexuality, AIDS on stage

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DC Black Theatre Festival
June 23-July 1
‘Moments of Truth,’ June 30
9 p.m., Navy Memorial Theater
701 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.

‘11 x 8 ½ inches,’ June 29
9 p.m., Howard University Blackburn Center
2400 Sixth St., N.W.

Ticket prices vary.
dcblacktheatrefestival.com

A scene from ‘Moments of Truth’ (Photo courtesy D.C. Black Theatre Festival)

In the upcoming DC Black Theatre Festival, a commemoration of African-American culture and works, two playwrights seek to shine a spotlight on the black LGBT community.

Monte Wolfe and Alan Sharpe, both black D.C. playwrights, have focused their pieces on sexuality, love and dealing with the complications of HIV/AIDS. Their plays are being featured in the festival, which starts June 23 and runs through July 1 at various locations in the D.C. area.

“A problem is a lack in visibility,” says Sharpe. “Representations of black gays have been very limited, and in the past those characters were used as something to ridicule.”

Sharpe’s piece, “11 x 8 ½ inches,” is a series of short scenes that explores the lives of black gay men living in D.C. Each scene explores ideas of sex and sexuality, sometimes entering into the erotic, raunchy and romantic. The piece is being featured in the New Works Reading Series, a part of the festival that showcases new works by upcoming and established playwrights in the area.

Reginald Richards, a gay actor in Sharpe’s play, says the piece works to break stereotypes of the “typical gay man.”

“People expect us to be very flamboyant and really sexual,” he says. “It is important for people to see we come with all different personalities and different ethnic backgrounds.”

Wolfe’s play, “Moments of Truth,” is also a series of short scenes that show a variety of people dealing with the complications of HIV/AIDS and how it affects love and relationships. With a less than $1,000 budget, the minimalist style keeps the focus on the short but charged interactions between the characters.

“There is something for everybody in the show, whether you are black, white, gay or straight,” he says. “It is about connecting AIDS to sexuality and working through those problems.”

Wolfe was diagnosed with AIDS in late 2004. This helped trigger his interest in HIV/AIDS outreach, in which he created the Brave Soul Collective, a theater company, in 2006. The company focuses on plays with LGBT themes.

Sharpe has been writing plays with LGBT themes since 1992. Coincidentally, he was also diagnosed with AIDS the same year. He and Wolfe have collaborated on several works, and Wolfe is an actor in one of the scenes of Sharpe’s piece.

“Alan has always been a mentor to me,” says Wolfe. “He makes it clear to me the character I want to perform and what I want to write about in my plays.”

Sharpe says that the festival is a good opportunity to shed light on talent that might otherwise be overlooked.

“It is amazing to see artists travel from all over the country to join together for a few days,” he says. “It allows artists to reach a broader range of audience.”

Barbara Asare-Bediako, an actor in Wolfe’s piece, identifies as, “a woman who just loves a woman.”

“My ultimate goal is to make black theater and gay theater a normal thing,” she says. “I want it so we can turn on the TV and it would just be part of society.”

However she says it is still important to focus on talent coming from the African-American community, and doing HIV/AIDS outreach. Asare-Bediako has been involved with several outreach programs, including HIPS, to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“I had a cousin who passed,” she says. “I found out months after it happened. My uncle, his father, acts like he never had a son.”

Asare-Bediako also cites the high HIV/AIDS rate in the District as an important factor to consider when selecting themes for the festival. The newly infected HIV/AIDS rate among African-American women has nearly doubled in D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods in the past two years, according to a recent Washington Post report.

Despite their focus on LGBT themes, Sharpe and Wolfe work to keep all kinds of audience members involved.

“We focus on the universal elements and not on division,” says Wolfe. “We cry, we laugh, we dream just like everybody else.”

Jared Shamberger, an actor in Wolfe’s piece who also wrote some of the scenes, says the piece includes a little bit of everything and expresses that everyone experiences powerful moments of truth.

“Even though we do primarily focus on LGBT themes, LGBT people have heterosexual friends and vice versa,” he says. “I don’t think you could present the LGBT story without including the heterosexual experience as well.”

One of his scenes is about a heterosexual couple that just had unprotected sex for the first time before they even went on a first date. They talk about where they are as a couple and about getting tested.

Shamberger agrees that including themes that deal with the HIV/AIDS rate is important.

“The HIV infection is not making headlines anymore,” he says. “People are getting infected everyday still, and I think it is something that people should be made aware of.”

Both pieces develop their themes through short scenes rather than a longer narrative arc. Wolfe says this makes the piece more powerful.

“I think it keeps people on their toes,” he says. “I don’t think I want the audience to get married to one particular character. I want them to see some bits of themselves in all the characters.”

Sharpe and Wolfe say that including LGBT themes in the theater is a great way to make people aware of the LGBT community by drawing them into characters’ lives.

“Gay people go through the same thing, they fall in love and they get heartbroken,” says Bediako. “People need to see these stories, see that gay people live normal lives, whatever normal is.”

Shamberger says it is impossible to write a play about the African-American community without including the LGBT community.

“I think if we are trying to present the landscape of black experience we have to include LGBT people as well,” he says.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Monte J. Wolfe

    June 29, 2012 at 9:44 am

    First I’d like to publicly thank Erin Durkin for writing this story. I’m sure I speak for Alan, & all others involved when I say that we sincerely appreciate the coverage. One VERY IMPORTANT CORRECTION I feel I need to make about something said in this article however, is that I was not diagnosed with AIDS in 2004. I was diagnosed as HIV positive. There IS a distinction. It’s something that’s very important for people to understand about an HIV positive diagnosis, versus an AIDS diagnosis. I’m looking forward to interjecting more about the specifics and the difference between the two into future works that we present with Brave Soul Collective, in an attempt to educate people and if possible, help to eradicate the stigma oftentimes associated with living with HIV or AIDS.

  2. Scott G. Brown

    June 29, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Great Idea for a Play. The LGBT Community and Gay Rights Movement have advanced to legalized “Gay Marriage.” The Sky is the limit!! Much Success!!

  3. Greg

    June 29, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    I went to the film festival web site and these plays are in the schedule. What gives?

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Sports

IOC: ‘Trans Women Are Women’ Laurel Hubbard set to make sports history

Laurel Hubbard is set to make sports history on Monday and the International Olympic Committee clearly has her back

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Screenshot via CBS Sports

TOKYO – The director of medicine and science for the International Olympic Committee praised weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s “courage and tenacity” as she prepares for her upcoming competition as the world’s first out transgender woman Olympian. 

In speaking to reporters in Tokyo Thursday, Dr. Richard Budgett directly addressed those who have attacked and mocked the 43-year-old New Zealander and claimed she shouldn’t be competing with cisgender women, saying  “everyone agrees that trans women are women.”

“To put it in a nutshell,” he said, “the IOC had a scientific consensus back in 2015. There are no IOC rules or regulations around transgender participation. That depends on each international federation. So Laurel Hubbard is a woman, is competing under the rules of her federation and we have to pay tribute to her courage and tenacity in actually competing and qualifying for the Games.”

Hubbard herself has not made any public comments except for a statement following her qualifying for the Summer Games, saying she was “humbled” by the support which had helped her “through the darkness” following a near career-ending injury in Australia in 2018.

Reports around the world have claimed Hubbard is the first trans Olympic athlete, which is actually not the case. As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Quinn, a trans nonbinary soccer midfielder for Team Canada, last Wednesday became the first out trans athlete ever to complete in the Olympic Games. They posted about it on Instagram, saying, “I feel proud seeing ‘Quinn’ up on the lineup and on my accreditation. I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of the world.”

The IOC is expected to review and likely revise its policies on transgender participation following Tokyo. Trans athlete and researcher Joanna Harper, who has advised the organization and other sports policy groups, told the Los Angeles Blade her recommendation will be for the IOC to continue to regulate trans athletes sport-by-sport. “There shouldn’t be a one-size fits all policy,” said Harper. 

She also noted how the mainstream cisgender media is consumed with coverage of Hubbard and missing out on the bigger picture, and what it will mean for the next generation watching on TV and online. 
“The lack of attention paid to Quinn and to Chelsea Wolfe has been interesting,” said Harper.

“A few news outlets have commented on their presence in Tokyo and in Quinn’s case the comments have been mostly favorable. On the other hand, the storm of mostly negative press heaped on Laurel Hubbard has been disappointing, although predictable. I hope that the negative press that Laurel has gotten won’t dissuade young trans athletes from following their dreams. I think that the next trans woman to compete in the games will get less negative press, and eventually (although probably not in my life) there will come a time when trans women in sport generate little or no controversy.”

Hubbard issued a statement Friday via the New Zealand Olympic Committee in which she said: “The Olympic Games are a global celebration of our hopes, our ideals and our values. I commend the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible.”

According to a French news outlet, NZOC spokesperson Ashley Abbott told reporters the committee had seen a “particularly high level of interest” in Hubbard’s Olympic debut, and much of it has been negative.

“Certainly we have seen a groundswell of comment about it and a lot of it is inappropriate,” Abbott said. “Our view is that we’ve got a culture of manaaki (inclusion) and it’s our role to support all eligible athletes on our team. In terms of social media, we won’t be engaging in any kind of negative debate.”

Abbott reminded the media that the NZOC’s job was to support its athletes, including Hubbard. “We all need to remember that there’s a person behind all these technical questions,” she said. “As an organization we would look to shield our athlete, or any athlete, from anything negative in the social media space. We don’t condone cyberbullying in any way.”

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Arts & Entertainment

LGBTQ+ ally Jamie Lee Curtis reveals her 25-year-old child is Trans

Curtis and her husband Christopher Guest, British screenwriter, composer, musician, director, and actor have two daughters.

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Screenshot via Page 6 YouTube channel

LOS ANGELES – In a new interview with the American Association of Retired Persons’ magazine, Golden Globe and BAFTA winning actress Jamie Lee Curtis disclosed that her youngest child is transgender. In the interview Curtis reflected that she has “watched in wonder and pride as our son became our daughter Ruby.”

Curtis and her husband Christopher Guest, British screenwriter, composer, musician, director, and actor have two daughters. Ruby, 25, works as a computer gaming editor while Curtis and Guest’s 34-year-old daughter, Annie, is married and works as a dance instructor. Curtis also noted that Ruby and her fiancé are getting married next year in a wedding that Curtis will officiate.

The longtime Hollywood couple have been married for more than 36 years but have no grandchildren, “but I do hope to,” she told the magazine.

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Sports

Non-binary Olympian leaves games without a medal but still a winner

For the first time in my entire life, I’m proud of the person I’ve worked to become. I chose my happiness over medaling

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Alana Smith via Instagram

TOKYO – In a series of firsts for the Summer Olympic Games, Alana Smith left the Tokyo games with a sense of accomplishment and a couple of firsts. The 20-year-old non-binary skateboarder competing in the debut of their sport noted on their Instagram account, “My goal coming into this was to be happy and be a visual representation for humans like me.”

Smith wrote: ‘What a wild f***ing ride…My goal coming into this was to be happy and be a visual representation for humans like me. For the first time in my entire life, Im proud of the person I’ve worked to become. I chose my happiness over medaling. Out of everything I’ve done, I wanted to walk out of this knowing I UNAPOLOGETICALLY was myself and was genuinely smiling.

The feeling in my heart says I did that. Last night I had a moment on the balcony, I’m not religious or have anyone/anything I talk to. Last night I thanked whoever it was out there that gave me the chance to not leave this world the night I laid in the middle of the road. I feel happy to be alive and feel like I’m meant to be here for possibly the first time in a extremely long time. On or off day, I walked out of this happy and alive… Thats all I have ever asked for.

Thank you to all the incredible humans that have supported me through so many waves of life. I can’t wait to skate for the love of it again, not only for a contest. Which is wild considering a contest helped me find my love for it again. 💛🤍💜🖤”

Smith’s Olympic debut was slightly marred by their being misgendered during news coverage of their events by BBC commentators misgendering Smith discussing their performance, which led to protests from LGBTQ+ groups and allies including British LGBTQ+ advocacy group Stonewall UK.

 

During the competition, Smith proudly held up their skateboard, which featured their pronouns they/them written across the top. The misgendering was addressed by NBC Sports which issued an apology Tuesday for streaming coverage that misgendered Smith.

“NBC Sports is committed to—and understands the importance of—using correct pronouns for everyone across our platforms,” the network said. “While our commentators used the correct pronouns in our coverage, we streamed an international feed that was not produced by NBCUniversal which misgendered Olympian Alana Smith. We regret this error and apologize to Alana and our viewers.”

NBC also reported that this is the first Olympics in history that has featured skateboarding, with 16 athletes traveling to Tokyo to represent the United States. Smith qualified for the third Olympic spot in the women’s street category after competing at the World Skate World Championships in 2019, according to Dew Tour, which hosts international skateboarding competitions.

According to Outsports, the online LGBTQ+ Sports magazine and NBC Sports, Smith is one of more than 160 openly LGBTQ athletes competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics and one of at least three openly nonbinary or Trans athletes.

Quinn, a midfielder for the Canadian women’s soccer team who goes by only their first name, is the first openly Trans athlete and nonbinary athlete to compete in the games. Laurel Hubbard, a Trans woman from New Zealand will compete in the super heavyweight 87 kilogram-plus (192 pound-plus) weightlifting category on August 2.

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