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‘Kinky’ Grand ‘Candelabra’

Our Top 10 countdown of the entertainment world’s gayest moments of the year

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Steve Grand, NGLCC National Dinner, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Building Museum, gay news, Washington Blade

Here is our Top 10 countdown of the entertainment world’s gayest moments of the year:

Thomas Roberts, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Roberts (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

10. Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts draws criticism for hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Russia in November. Roberts and Miss Universe co-owner Donald Trump claimed it was a chance to make a positive impact in the country where anti-LGBT laws are abundant. “We are good, regular, hard-working people who come from solid families,” Roberts said. “So when I heard there was a chance at this assignment, I aggressively went after it.” Many gay rights activists criticized any work in Russia with some even calling for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

 

Steve Grand, NGLCC National Dinner, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Building Museum, gay news, Washington Blade

Steve Grand (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

9. Gay country singer Steve Grand has a massive YouTube hit with his video “All-American Boy” in July. While many enjoyed the hot video,  some gay viewers objected to the storyline, which finds the friend ultimately rejecting Grand’s advances. Grand, who appeared at D.C.’s Town Danceboutique in November, said the video was more about “longing for someone” as opposed to “being gay.”

 

Frank Ocean, music, gay news, Washington Blade

Frank Ocean (Photo by Nabil Elderkin; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

8. Out hip-hop newcomer Frank Ocean won two Grammy Awards in February. His 2012 project “Channel Orange” won in the new category Best Urban Contemporary Album and he shared a joint award with Kanye West and Jay-Z in the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “No Church in the Wild.” He was nominated in four other categories. Ocean’s acceptance in the mainstream hip-hop world — where homophobic lyrics are not uncommon — was seen as a major sign of progress.

 

Kinky Boots, Broadway, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

The cast of ‘Kinky Boots.’ (Photo courtesy of Foresight Theatrical)

7. The hit Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” was a major triumph on Tony night in June when out actor Harvey Fierstein, ally Cyndi Lauper and out actor Billy Porter all won. The show, which tells the story of a struggling British shoe factory whose owner forms an unlikely partnership with drag queen Lola to save the business, was a critical and commercial success. Lauper performed one of the songs (“Sex is in the Heel”) in Washington in November at the Warner Theatre during her “She’s So Unusual 30th Anniversary Tour.”

 

6. However, gay themes can’t in and of themselves save a show, especially on TV. It was an uneven year for TV shows with gay characters. For every success, like Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” which features a lesbian lead character serving jail time, there were also high-profile failures such as the Ryan Murphy-helmed “The New Normal,” a sitcom about a gay couple that NBC cancelled in May, and “Partners,” the CBS sitcom cancelled at the end of 2012 before its remaining seven episodes were aired in the U.S.

 

5. MSNBC suspended Alec Baldwin from his weekly talk show in November two weeks after he used an anti-gay slur against a New York photographer. A TMZ-captured video appeared to show Baldwin calling a paparazzo who tried to take a photo of his wife and infant daughter a “cocksucking fag” though the actor claimed he said “fathead” and subsequently apologized. Baldwin has been in hot water before for similar comments. He apologized to GLAAD earlier in the year for calling British reporter George Stak a “toxic little queen.”

 

Matt Damon, Liberace, Scott Thorson, Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra, HBO, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Douglas, left, as Liberace, and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson in ‘Behind the Candelabra.’ (Photo courtesy HBO)

4. The HBO Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra” starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon is a critical and ratings success when it airs in May. It won three Emmys in September including Best Miniseries or Movie and Best Director for Steven Soderbergh who said earlier that he originally planned the film for theatrical release, but couldn’t get backing. “Nobody would make it,” the straight director told the New York Post. “We went to everybody in town. They all said it was too gay.”

 

Matthew Shepard, The Book of Matt, gay news, Washington Blade

Cover of ‘The Book of Matt’

3. “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard” creates major controversy when it’s released in September. Gay journalist Stephen Jiminez, publishing around the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s death, claims Shepard had a sexual relationship with convicted murderer Aaron McKinney and that Shepard’s death was not a hate crime so much as a crystal meth-fueled attack based on alleged conflicts over a drug deal at a time when the two were working for rival drug suppliers. Many LGBT activists including the Shepard Foundation dismissed the book as “attempts now to rewrite the story” based on “untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo.” Jiminez says he worked on the book for 13 years and interviewed more than 100 people on the record.

 

2. It was another big year for celebrities coming out. Among this year’s crop are “Prison Break” actor Wentworth Miller, “Cosby Show” vet Raven-Symone, Los Angeles Galaxy pro soccer player Robbie Rogers, Broadway vet Victor Garber, “Kyle XY” actor Matt Dallas and actress/singer Maria Bello. Perhaps most memorable — though hardly shocking — was Jodie Foster. While accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes in January, Foster she’d been out for years to her family and friends and though not ever using the word “lesbian,” acknowledged her former partner Cydney Bernard. In the political world, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) came out, making him the eighth openly LGB member of Congress.

 

Brendon Ayanbadejo, gay news, Washington Blade, Baltimore Ravens

Former Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo has been an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights since 2009 and served as guest editor of the Blade in August. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

1. If Hollywood seemed surprisingly squeamish about gays (see the “Candelebra” entry at No. 4), gay visibility in the sports world was unprecedented in 2013. Among the notables were basketball player Jason Collins who came out on the cover of Sports Illustrated in May; swimmer Diana Nyad, who swam from Cuba to Florida in August; British diver and Olympic Bronze medalist Tom Daley who came out in December; and Brendan Ayanbadejo who was part of the Super Bowl-XLVII-winning Baltimore Ravens in 2012 and has been a staunch advocate of same-sex marriage as a straight ally. Ayanbadejo guest edited the Aug. 30 edition of the Blade.

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Photos

PHOTOS: Superstar Drag Review

Bombalicious Eklaver leads the show at Selina Rooftop

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Superstar Drag Review (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bombalicious Eklaver held a Superstar Drag Review at the Selina Hotel Rooftop on Friday, Nov. 25. DJ Juba provided the music.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Books

Memoir reveals gay writer’s struggle with homelessness, rape

‘Place Called Home’ a powerful indictment of foster care system

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(Book cover image courtesy Legacy Lit/Hachette)

A Place Called Home: A Memoir
By David Ambroz
c. 2022, Legacy Lit/Hachette
$30/384 pages

For David Ambroz, 42, author of the stunning new memoir “A Place Called Home,” one of his childhood recollections is of himself and his siblings walking with Mary, their mother, on a freezing Christmas morning in New York City.

Today, Ambroz, who is gay and a foster parent, is a poverty and child welfare expert and the head of Community Engagement (West) for Amazon.

But, on that morning, Ambroz remembers, when he was five, he and his seven-year-old sister Jessica and six-year-old brother Alex were freezing. Mary, their mother was severely mentally ill. They were homeless.

Ambroz draws you into his searing memoir with his first sentence. “I’m hungry,” he writes in the simple, frightened, perceptive voice of a malnourished, shivering little boy.

As it got dark and colder, Ambroz recalls, he walked with his family, wearing “clownishly large” sneakers “plucked from the trash.” 

Five-year-old Ambroz remembers that the night before his family got lucky. They had dinner (mac and cheese) at a church “with a sermon on the side.”  

“We heard the story of the three kings bringing gifts to the baby Jesus,” Ambroz writes.

But the next day they’re still homeless and hungry. Talk about no room at the inn.

Young Ambroz doesn’t know the word “death,” but he (literally) worries that he and his family will die. Frozen, hungry and invisible to uncaring passersby.

Ambroz’s mom, a nurse, is occasionally employed and able to house her family in dilapidated apartments. But she’s soon ensnared by her mental illness, unable to work. Then, her family is homeless again.

Until, he was 12, Ambroz and his siblings were abused and neglected by their mother.

Ambroz doesn’t know as a young boy that he’s gay. But, he can tell he’s different. Instead of playing street games with the other kids, Ambroz likes to play “doctor” with another boy in the neighborhood.

Mary tells him being gay is sinful and that you’ll die from AIDS if you’re queer.

His mother, having decided that he’s Jewish, makes Ambroz undergo a badly botched circumcision. At one point, she beats him so badly that he falls down a flight of stairs.

At 12, Ambroz reports this abuse to the authorities and he’s placed into the foster care system.

If you think this country’s foster care system is a safe haven for our nation’s 450,000 kids in foster care, Ambroz will swiftly cut through that misperception.

From ages 12 to 17, Ambroz is ricocheted through a series of abusive, homophobic foster placements.

One set of foster parents try to make him more “macho,” rent him out to work for free for their friends and withhold food from him. At another placement, a counselor watches and does nothing as other kids beat him while hurling gay slurs.

Thankfully, Ambroz meets Holly and Steve who become fabulous foster parents. Ambroz has been abused and hungry for so long he finds it hard to understand that he can eat whatever he wants at their home.

Through grit, hard work and his intelligence, Ambroz earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, was an intern at the White House and graduated from the UCLA School of Law. Before obtaining his position at Amazon, he led Corporate Social Responsibility for Walt Disney Television.

But none of this came easily for him. Coming out was hard for many LGBTQ people in the 1990s. It was particularly difficult for Ambroz.

In college, Ambroz is deeply closeted. He’s ashamed to reveal anything about his past (growing up homeless and in foster care) and his sexuality. 

At one point, he’s watching TV, along with other appalled students, as the news comes on about Matthew Shepard being murdered because he was gay. Ambroz can see that everyone is enraged and terrified by this hate crime. Yet, he’s too ashamed to reveal anything of his sexuality.

Over Christmas vacation, Ambroz decides it’s time to explore his sexuality.

Telling no one, Ambroz takes a train to Miami. There, he goes home with a man (who he meets on a bus) who rapes him.

“I run in no particular direction just away from this monster,” he recalls. “When I get back to my hotel room, I’m bleeding…I order food delivered but can’t eat any of it.”

“A Place Called Home” has the power of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

Ambroz’s writing becomes less powerful when he delves into the weeds of policy. But this is a minor quibble.

Ambroz is a superb storyteller. Unless you lack a heartbeat, you can’t read “A Place Called Home” without wanting to do something to change our foster care system. 

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Books

New book explores impact of family secrets

Her father was hiding his sexual orientation

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(Book cover image courtesy HarperOne)

The Family Outing: A Memoir
By Jessi Hempel
c. 2022, HarperOne
$27.99/320 pages

Don’t tell the children.

For most families in America in the last century, that was the maxim to live by: the kids are on a need-to-know basis and since they’re kids, they don’t need to know. And so what did you miss? Did you know about familial philanthropy, rebellion, embarrassment, poverty? As in the new memoir, “The Family Outing” by Jessi Hempel, did secrets between parent and child run both ways?

“What happened to me?”

That’s the big question Jessi Hampel had after many therapy sessions to rid herself of a recurring nightmare. She had plenty of good memories. Her recollection of growing up in a secure family with two siblings was sharp, wasn’t it?

She thought so – until she started what she called “The Project.”

With permission from her parents and siblings, Hempel set up Skype and Zoom sessions and did one-on-one interviews with her family, to try to understand why her parents divorced, why her brother kept mostly to himself, how the family dynamics went awry, why her sister kept her distance, and how secrets messed everything up.

Hempel’s father had an inkling as a young man that he was gay, but his own father counseled him to hide it. When he met the woman who would eventually be his wife, he was delighted to become a husband and father, as long as he could sustain it.

Years before, Hempel’s mother was your typical 1960s teenager with a job at a local store, a crush on a slightly older co-worker and, coincidentally, a serial killer loose near her Michigan neighborhood. Just after the killer was caught, she realized that the co-worker she’d innocently flirted with might’ve been the killer’s accomplice.

For nearly the rest of her life, she watched her back.

One secret, one we-don’t-discuss-it, and a young-adult Hempel was holding something close herself. What else didn’t she know? Why did she and her siblings feel the need for distance? She was trying to figure things out when the family imploded.

Ever had a dream that won’t stop visiting every night? That’s where author Jessi Hempel starts this memoir, and it’s the perfect launching point for “The Family Outing.”

Just prepare yourself. The next step has Hempel telling her mother’s tale for which, at the risk of being a spoiler, you’ll want to leave the lights on. This account will leave readers good and well hooked, and ready for the rest of what turns out to be quite a detective story.

And yet, it’s a ways away from the Sherlockian. Readers know what’s ahead, we know the score before we get there, but the entwining of five separate lives in a fact-finding mission makes this book feel as though it has a surprise at every turn.

Sometimes, it’s a good surprise. Sometimes, it’s a bad one.

A happily minimized amount of profanity and a total lack of overtness make “The Family Outing” a book you can share with almost anyone, adult, or ally. Read it, and you’ll be wanting to tell everyone.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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