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‘Gossip Girl’ creator says he regrets lack of gay storylines, diversity

the teen show celebrates its 10-year anniversary

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(Ed Westwick as Chuck Bass on ‘Gossip Girl.’ Screenshot via YouTube.)

“Gossip Girl,” the steamy CW series that followed the lives of Manhattan’s elite teenagers, celebrates its 10-year anniversary this week. While the series became a cultural teen phenomenon, out creator Joshua Safran told Vulture he had two regrets about the show.

“When I look back on ‘Gossip Girl,’ the only things I regret were not as much representation for people of color and gay storylines,” Safran says. “Those are the two things I think we probably could have delved into more deeply.”

The show was known for its sexually charged scenes, including sex in a limo and a threesome with guest star Hillary Duff, but all of the main characters were white and heterosexual.

Serena van der Woodsen’s younger brother Eric (Connor Paolo) was gay but his romance storylines were much shorter than his straight counterparts. Bad boy Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) was bisexual in the book series, but spent the show involved in a tumultuous relationship with Queen B, Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester).

A scene in season three did hint at Chuck’s possible attraction to both genders. However, the scene was written more as a game with Blair, and his sexuality was not fully explored.

One thing Safran doesn’t regret is the cameo of  Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump in the season four episode, “Easy J.” But he admits it’s because the couple fit in perfectly with the elite environment of the show.

“They are socialites in New York and they do fit the world of ‘Gossip Girl,’” Safran says. “I’m sure Lily van der Woodsen knows Trump and would have been on the board of charities with him or Melania. That’s the world of Gossip Girl, so to deny it would be wrong. I think it was literally an Observer party.”

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Out & About

Orioles to host Pride night on June 27

Baltimore faces off against reigning World Series champion

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The Baltimore Orioles host the annual Pride night Thursday, June 27. (Washington Blade file photo by Kevin Majoros)

The Baltimore Orioles will host “LGBTQ+ Pride Night” on Thursday, June 27. There will be a live DJ at Legends Park before the 6:35 p.m. game against the reigning World Series champion Texas Rangers.

The event, co-sponsored by the Washington Blade, will feature Pride-themed activities such as Pride face painting, a 360 photo booth, Pride temporary tattoos, and more. All these events will be in the Bullpen Picnic Area. In addition, the first 10,000 attendees receive a free Pride jersey.

For more details, visit the Orioles’ website

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Calendar

Calendar: June 21-27

LGBTQ events in the days to come

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Friday, June 21

Center Aging Friday Tea Time will be at 2 p.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ+ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of choice. For more information, email [email protected]

“LGBTQ+ Pride Comedy Series” will be at 8:30 p.m. at DC Comedy Clubhouse. Get ready to celebrate love, diversity and unity through comedy. Tickets cost $15 and are available on Eventbrite.

Saturday, June 22

Go Gay DC will host “Pride Month Brunch” at 11 a.m. at Freddie’s Beach Bar & Restaurant. This fun weekly event brings the DMV area LGBTQ+ community, including allies, together for delicious food and conversation. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Pride Month Social in the City” at 7 p.m. at Hotel Zena. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

Sunday, June 23

Go Gay DC will host “LGBTQ+ Pride Month Funday Social and Games” at 3 p.m. at Moxy. There will be monopoly, chess, checkers, Jenga and many other games. Attendance is free and more details are available on Eventbrite.

AfroCode DC will be at 4 p.m. at Decades DC. This event will be an experience of non-stop music, dancing, and good vibes and a crossover of genres and a fusion of cultures. Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

Monday, June 24

Center Aging: Monday Coffee & Conversation will be at 10 a.m. on Zoom. This is a social hour for older LGBTQ+ adults. Guests are encouraged to bring a beverage of their choice. For more details, email [email protected]

“Queer Book Club” will be at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom. This month’s reading is “Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World that Wouldn’t Die.” For more details, email [email protected]

Tuesday, June 25

Pride on the Patio Events will host “LGBTQ Social Mixer” at 5:30 p.m. at Showroom. Dress is casual, fancy, or comfortable. Guests are encouraged to bring their most authentic self to chat, laugh, and get a little crazy. Admission is free and more details are on Eventbrite.

Coming Out Discussion Group will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a peer-facilitated discussion group and a safe space to share experiences about coming out and discuss topics as it relates to doing so. For more details, visit the group’s Facebook page. 

Wednesday, June 26

Job Club will be at 6 p.m. on Zoom. This is a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking — allowing participants to move away from being merely “applicants” toward being “candidates.” For more information, email [email protected] or visit thedccenter.org/careers.

Thursday, June 27

The DC Center’s Fresh Produce Program will be held all day at the DC Center for the LGBT Community. No proof of residency or income is required. For more information, email [email protected] or call 202-682-2245. 

Virtual Yoga with Charles M. will be at 7 p.m. on Zoom. This is a free weekly class focusing on yoga, breathwork, and meditation. For more details, visit the DC Center for the LGBT Community’s website.

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Television

PBS ‘Disco’ is a Pride party you don’t want to miss

Rich collection of footage highlighting the music and fashion of the time

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Studio 54 in 1977. (Photo by Bill Bernstein; courtesy BBC Studios)

Anyone who was alive and old enough to listen to the radio in the 1970s knows that disco wasn’t just a genre of music. It was an entire lifestyle, centered around dancing in nightclubs to music that meshed R&B with new electronic sounds and an infectiously up-tempo beat – and at the height of its popularity, it had bled into the entire American culture. Every TV theme or movie soundtrack was flavored with a disco vibe, every musician seeking a comeback recorded a disco record, and every would-be dance dandy dreamed of sporting a pair of “angel flight” slacks to the disco every Saturday night.

If you didn’t live through it yourself, most of what you might know about this era is likely gleaned from its popular culture – the hot radio singles, the popular movies like “Saturday Night Fever,” the kitschy crossovers like “Hooked On Classics” and parodies like “Disco Duck” – after the skyrocketing popularity of the phenomenon had made it a golden ticket for anyone who wanted to capitalize on it. They were crossovers into the homogenizing mainstream, intended to commercialize the disco frenzy for consumers beyond the record stores and nightclubs, which became cultural touchstones, for better or for worse; but because their campy shadows still loom so large, anyone whose understanding of the “disco craze” has been gleaned only from TV or the movies is likely to remember it as a little more than a fun-but-silly footnote in late 20th-century American history.

Fortunately, PBS and BBC Studios have unveiled a new docuseries that sets the record straight – or perhaps we should say it “queers” the record, because it offers a detailed and savvy chronicle that illuminates the ties that bind the story of disco inextricably with an essential chapter of modern queer history, revealing its link to the liberation movement that blossomed in the ‘70s and continues to weave its thread through American society today.

Produced and directed by Louise Lockwood and Shianne Brown, “Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution” – which broadcast its first episode on June 18, and is available for streaming in its entirety for subscribers via the PBS website – charts disco’s origins, success, and demise across a trio of episodes for a comprehensive look at the whirlwind of forces that surrounded and catapulted it into American consciousness. It explores the phenomenon as a vibrant and thrillingly inclusive cultural wave that originated within a blended underground of marginalized communities in New York City, at private loft parties and underground dance clubs, and grew until it had saturated the world – carrying with it a sense of empowerment, tangible in the opportunity and elevation it offered to artists who were queer, female or people of color, yet welcoming anybody who wanted to join the dance with open arms. It was a chance to celebrate, to feel good and have fun after an intense period of social strife in America, which meant it went hand-in-hand with the sexual liberation that was also exploding across society, and it came with a laid-back vibe that gave you permission to let loose in ways that would have shocked your parents; in retrospect, it’s hard to imagine how anybody could resist.

Yet of course, there were people who did; and when the juggernaut that was disco inevitably began to lose steam as a result of its ubiquity in pop culture and the perceived decadence of its hedonistic lifestyle, it was their voices that emerged to tell us all that “Disco Sucks” – a catch phrase that is perhaps almost as much a cultural touchstone as some of the genre’s biggest hit records.

That’s the broad overview that most people who remember the disco era already know, but “Soundtrack of a Revolution” gets much more granular than that. Much of the enlightening detail is provided, as one might expect, through a rich collection of contemporary footage highlighting the sights and sounds – the people, the parties, the music, the clubs, the fashion – of the time. Counterpoint to that material, however, comes through modern day interviews with key figures who were present for it all, whose memories help connect the dots between the evolution of disco and the societal environment in which it took place.

Of course, most audiences who are drawn to a documentary about disco will likely be coming – at least partly – for the music, and fortunately, this one gives us plenty of that, too. Better still, it gives us deep dives into some of the most iconic tracks of the seventies, not just spotlighting the artists who recorded them, but the DJs and tastemakers whose ideas and innovations built the very sound that fueled it all. Some of these pioneers may be gone, but they are represented via archival footage, and many who are still among us offer up their insider perspectives through candid filmed interviews that are woven throughout the series. There’s a first-person reliability that comes from allowing these participants in the history to tell their own part of it for themselves, and it gives the series an atmosphere of authenticity – not to mention an influx of free-wheeling, colorful personality – that can’t be achieved through the observations and analysis of expert “talking head” commentators. 

It’s these voices that also help to impress upon us the feeling of freedom and acceptance that developed in those early disco clubs, where people from minority cultures could come together and feel safe as they danced to music that came from others like them, and the frustration of watching as it was co-opted by a (mostly white and heterosexual) mainstream and watered down into a pale mockery of itself – something that “killed” disco long before hate-fueled backlash from a racist, misogynistic, homophobic culminated in the infamous anti-disco rally at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, as documented in the series’ final episode.

Yet although it stops short of blaming homophobia and bigotry for the genre’s collapse, “Soundtrack of a Revolution” leaves no doubt of its influence over the environment that surrounded it, nor of the impact of the subsequent AIDS crisis on stopping the advance of queer liberation that was at the heart of the disco movement in its tracks – and in an election year that might make the difference between preserving or dismantling the ideal of Equality in America, the story of disco’s audacious rise and ignoble fall feels like a particularly apt warning message from the past.

Even so, one of the many gifts of the series is that it reveals a continuing creative lineage that, far from being cut off with the “death” of disco, has gone on to evolve and expand into new genres of dance and musical expression. Disco, it seems, never really died; it just went undercover and continued to develop, reinventing itself to meet the taste and match the needs of new generations along the way.

We could all take a lesson from that.

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