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‘Boy Erased’ director wasn’t sure he was qualified to make new gay movie

Joel Edgerton says source memoir captivated him immediately

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Boy Erased, Joel Edgerton, gay news, Washington Blade

Director Joel Edgerton, center, with actor LUCAS HEDGES filming ‘Boy Erased.’ (Photo by Kyle Kaplan; courtesy Focus Features)

Boy Erased” director Joel Edgerton was so smitten by the book the new movie is based on, he hunkered down during a vacation and started crafting the script before the movie rights had been secured.

To say it went well would be an understatement; the project quickly jelled with the kind of heat creative types know can’t be forced.

“In the quiet of a hotel room in Budapest where I had gone on holiday, I sort of secretly started working on the script,” Edgerton says during a break two weeks ago at Virginia’s Middleburg Film Festival where “Boy Erased” was screened. I thought I was going to write a couple of scenes. Two weeks after that, I had a rough draft, and two weeks later, after careful polishing, I had a finished draft.”

“Boy Erased,” based on the horrors of gay conversion therapy camps, opens in D.C. theaters Nov. 9.

A recent study by the Williams Institute concluded that nearly 700,000 Americans have been subjected to conversion therapy. Half were adolescents.

Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy or “pray away the gay,” is a pseudoscientific intervention to change a person’s sexual orientation through medical or spiritual interventions. Although the practice has been discredited by every major medical association, conversion therapy is still legal in 36 states (only 14 states and the District of Columbia have outlawed the practice).

One of the survivors of conversion therapy is Garrard Conley. As a 19-year-old college student in Arkansas, he was outed to his parents by a closeted classmate. His mother and his father, a Baptist minister and car salesman, gave him an ultimatum: He could either attend “Love In Action,” a conversion therapy program, or be shunned by his family, friends and community. Under duress, Conley enrolled.

Conley eventually wrote a memoir about his experiences called “Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith and Family,” published by Penguin Random House in 2016.

“I didn’t write a word of the memoir for 10 years,” says Conley, who also spoke to the Blade at the film festival. “I was too angry or too upset or totally in denial about what had happened to me. It felt like something to be really embarrassed about. It was incredibly hard to write the real truth and not rely on tricks or overly intellectualizing the experience and to show myself as someone who was susceptible to those ideas.”

Like other survivors of conversion therapy, Conley was also dealing with the effects of his experience on his long-term psychological health. “I was looking at some blogs of survivors of conversion therapy. People were describing instances of not being able to touch their partner for several months or having a sudden loss of sex drive because they feel ashamed. Those were all the things I’d been experiencing over the years. They definitely contributed to a lot of break-ups.”

Author Garrard Conley and his mother Martha on the set of ‘Boy Erased.’ (Photo by Kyle Kaplan; courtesy Focus Features)

One of the early fans of the book was Kerry Roberts-Kohansky, who eventually became a producer of the film. She passed the book along to Edgerton, an Australian actor and filmmaker, who was instantly smitten by the book.

“From the moment I put the book down, I knew that somebody had to make it into a movie,” Edgerton says.

Eventually, Edgerton would write the screenplay, direct the movie and play Victor Sykes, the leader of the Love in Action program. At first, the writer/director/actor was reluctant to get involved with adapting the memoir into a screenplay.

“I didn’t feel qualified quite simply because I’m not a member of the LGBT community,” he says.

But Edgerton had strong ties to the community through his work as a straight ally. He says his political awakening came when he starred as Richard Loving in the film “Loving” (2016). Richard and Mildred Loving were arrested in 1958 for violating Virginia’s law against interracial marriage. They appealed all the way to the Supreme Court and the 1967 ruling in their favor struck down all state laws banning interracial marriages.

The Loving decision served as a precedent in the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges decision which legalized same-sex marriages in the United States.

Edgerton says working on that film “impregnated me with the idea of fighting injustice. It got under my skin and I found myself getting political. I got in touch with LGBT organizations and individuals and became involved in the fight for marriage equality in Australia.” (Same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia in 2017.)

“Joel is now an honorary member of the community,” Conley says.

Edgerton finally met with Conley in a Brooklyn café on a cold afternoon in February 2017.

“I thought it was important to share every draft with Garrard,” Edgerton says. “I asked him about casting. I needed his permission and approval and his eyes on everything during shooting and during the editing process as well.”

“We felt connected every step of the way,” Conley says.

Garrard Conley with actor Lucas Hedges, who plays him in ‘Boy Erased.’ (Photo by Kyle Kaplan; courtesy Focus Features)

Edgerton and Conley also thought their collaboration would help “Boy Erased” reach a wider audience.

“It felt like Joel was the person to drive the story of conversion therapy into the mainstream and to target the people around LGBT people,” Conley says. “I didn’t see that as incompatible with the project of my book. Because it’s memoir, by its very nature it’s a queer narrative. It’s from me. The fact that Joel is straight helped us in many ways to think about how this would affect people like my parents who need to hear things in a language they’ll understand.”

Edgerton says working on the screenplay gave him important insights into both Conley’s parents and the staff at Love in Action.

“I had come to the book assuming that the people that sent their kids there were hateful people, that the people that worked at the facility were hateful, profiteering people,” Edgerton says. “But I realized that they were actually doing what they were doing out of love. Given the information they had and the belief system that they lived within, they thought they were trying to help. Everyone was trying to help. The perfect irony of the situation was that Garrard didn’t need any help.”

Edgerton and Conley also wanted to include members and supporters of the LGBT community in the film. Lucas Hedges, who plays “Jared Eamons” has recently publicly discussed his same-sex attractions. Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, who play Jared’s parents, are LGBT allies and both have played queer characters during their long careers. Tony Award-winning actress Cherry Jones plays a doctor who assures Jared that he is perfectly normal and discusses her own struggle to balance her religious beliefs and her scientific beliefs.

Gay Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan and out singer Troye Sivan play two of the members of Jared’s therapy group and Sivan also wrote the moving song “Resurrection” for the soundtrack. Other members of the support group are played by conversion therapy survivors who used their own narratives as backgrounds for their characters.

Finally, gay producer David Joseph Craig also plays one of the Love in Action staff members.

Conley and Craig have also created a new podcast that will be released in conjunction with the movie. “UnErased” will tell the full story of the conversion therapy movement in the United States though interviews with its creators, critics and survivors.

 “Boy Erased” tells a deeply personal story,” Conley says. “‘UnErased’ tells the whole story. ‘UnErased’ will usher our queer stories into the permanent archive of American history where they have always belonged.”

Director Joel Edgerton as Victor in ‘Boy Erased.’ (Photo by Kyle Kaplan; courtesy Focus Features)

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Baltimore DJ on using music as a bridge to combat discrimination

Deezy brings high-energy show to the Admiral on Jan. 28

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DJ Deezy has hosted multiple events in D.C. and Baltimore. (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)

A Baltimore DJ will conclude a month of performances in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. clubs this Friday, Jan. 28, according to the artist’s management. DJ Deezy is set to perform at the Admiral in D.C. at 9 p.m. 

Since the year began, Deezy has hosted electric events at clubs such as Hawthorne DC, DuPont and the Baltimore Eagle Bar & Nightclub. 

The Washington Blade sat down with the DJ to discuss the course of her career. 

The beginning of DJ Deezy’s infatuation with music dates back to her childhood spent between her mother’s house in Baltimore City and her father’s house in the suburbs. 

In Baltimore, Deezy was exposed to the local rap and raw hip-hop scene that inspired her to embark on a rap career in high school. 

Concurrently, she was entrenched in Motown and classic rock by virtue of her singer, songwriter, and guitarist father Ron Daughton’s involvement in a classic rock band. He is a member of “The Dalton Gang” and was inducted into the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Before I embarked on my DJ journey, my father let me record ‘a little 16’ on his tape recorder,” said Deezy. “Eventually, he bought me a wireless microphone that I carried around with me to performances.”

Between her experience as a rapper and watching her father maneuver the classic rock music scene, Deezy acquired varying tastes in music that have influenced how she curates her sets today. 

She “specializes in open format vibes with spins from multiple genres including hip-hop, rap, circuit, and top 40s hits,” according to a summer 2021 press release from her management.

Deezy is also a proud member of the LGBTQ community — she identifies as a lesbian — and this also informs her approach to her work.

“I’m easily able to transition and rock the crowd because I can relate to many different backgrounds,” said Deezy. “I can DJ in places that are predominantly white, Black, or gay [and still do my job effortlessly].”

Centering community

Deezy values representation. Not only because she exists in a field dominated by men, but also because DJs who inhabit other identities aside from being men are less common in the industry. 

The scarcity of Black and lesbian DJs has prompted her to use her career as evidence that people who are different can attract audiences and succeed.

“I want to put us out there especially for Baltimore,” said Deezy. “I know that there’s Black lesbians out there doing the same thing as me, but why aren’t we getting [recognized]?”

In 2018, Deezy rented out a “Lez” lot at the Baltimore Pride block party where she set up a tent and played a set for the crowds tailgating around her. While entertaining them, she distributed her business cards — an act she believes yielded her the contact who eventually got her booked for a residency at the Baltimore Eagle.

While this was a step forward in her career, Deezy acknowledges that it wasn’t without challenges. She likened entering the Baltimore Eagle — traditionally a leather bar frequented predominantly by men —to navigating foreign territory. 

“When I first got there, I got funny looks,” she said. “There’s a lot of these guys who are like, ‘Why are you bringing a lesbian DJ to a gay bar?’”

But Deezy powered through her performance, lifted the crowd from its seats and “rocked the house [so that] no one will ever ask any questions again.” 

She admits that she’s an acquired taste but believes in her ability to play music infectious enough to draw anyone to the dance floor.  

“Feel how you want to feel about a Black lesbian DJ being in the gay bar,” said Deezy. “But music is a bridge that [will] connect us all, and you’ll forget about your original discrimination when you [experience] me.”

While Deezy has mostly performed in the DMV, she has also made appearances in Arizona where she hosted a family event and also in clubs in Atlanta and New York City. 

Her work has also attracted international attention and she was the cover star of  French publication Gmaro Magazine’s October 2021 issue

Looking to the future, Deezy’s goal is to be a tour DJ and play her sets around the world.

“I had a dream that Tamar Braxton approached me backstage at one of her concerts and asked me to be her tour DJ,” she said. “So, I’m manifesting this for myself.” 

In the meantime, Deezy will continue to liven up audiences in bars and clubs around the country while playing sets for musicians like Crystal Waters and RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrity drag queens like Alyssa Edwards, Plastique Tiara, La La Ri, Joey Jay and Eureka O’Hara — all of whom she has entertained alongside in the past. 

Outside the club, Deezy’s music can be heard in Shoe City where she created an eight-hour music mix split evenly between deep house and hip-hop and R&B. 

DJ Deezy (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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