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‘Define yourself’ — Ariadne Getty on family, philanthropy and queer activism

‘I encourage everybody who has any way of being part of a cause to make the time and become involved’

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‘I’ve never pretended that I made a penny in my life. I inherited this money and I’m a steward. I have to honor it,’ says philanthropist Ariadne Getty. (Photo courtesy of the Getty Foundation)

“Money is like manure,” said J. Paul Getty. “You have to spread it around or it smells.”  Getty himself was redolent of a rascally sort of rapaciousness. He was also a tough old coot with a tumescent appetite for beautiful women. But he had a soft spot for one particular beauty in his life: his granddaughter and godchild, Ariadne Getty, now 57, who has always been a bit of a rascal herself — one part punk, one part princess.  

“I’ve never taken any of this for granted,” the philanthropist tells me when she is read that quote from her grandfather. “I’ve never pretended that I made a penny in my life. I inherited this money and I’m a steward. I have to honor it. Actually, I have to honor my great-grandmother who set up the trust. She didn’t trust my grandfather because he was a womanizer,” she says, confirming this lede paragraph and letting loose a signature burst of laughter, a quick gale of it that can blow through a conversation like a gust of gumption. 

Such frankness is refreshing as she sits at a table in her Los Angeles home on this conference call as we converse in the disembodied way that such calls engender on top of the already stilted badinage of an interview’s back-and-forth, a kind of disembodied, distilled discourse all its own with which such wealthy patrons raised by the wolves of fame and fortune engage journalists after having been coached to do so by the experts they hire to smooth their heralded heredity into but a smattering of personality quirks and wisecracks. Call it the knowingness of the known. 

Getty has an expert publicist and the expert head of her charitable foundation there at the table with her at each of her elbows, which I imagine to be well-lotioned, even though she is unafraid to throw such elbows around a bit roughly if need be in the staid world of philanthropy. That is her charm: her ability, elbows ready, to challenge others to find their inner iconoclast even as they serve a higher purpose to better society as a whole. Yet there is nothing slippery about this iconoclastic woman even if the emollients of lotion and lavish privilege come to mind when speaking with her.  

Indeed, Ariadne Getty speaks haltingly — a bit shyly — and chooses her words quite carefully. This is not out of a fear of being misquoted so much as it is out of the seriousness with which she takes her philanthropic impulse.   

When she was first starting her charitable foundation, she came up with a one-line, two-word mission statement: “Unpopular Causes.” It has since expanded to the more generalized assertion that the goal of the Ariadne Getty Foundation is to “work with partners worldwide to improve the lives of individuals and communities through large-scale investments & hands-on advocacy.”  

The focus most recently at  the foundation has been shoring up LGBTQ organizations,  such as the Los Angeles LGBT Center and GLAAD. Getty joined the board of directors of the latter in 2016 and last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos she pledged $15 million to the organization, which focuses on media and how we as a culture can rewrite the script for LGBTQ acceptance. 

I ask her if maybe her daughter Nats Getty’s mission statement for her gender-fluid streetwear line, Strike Oil, might be an even better fit for her foundation. It reads, in part: “For the misfits and the outcasts, The unseen and the unheard, For anyone who dares to be different, Because different is dope.”  

She readily agrees and tells me that Nats and her brother August, also a fashion designer but one with a more high-end couture aesthetic focused on the female client, are her “beacons of information and light.” They are her only two children. August is gay. Nats is a lesbian and married to Gigi Gorgeous, the YouTube sensation and transgender activist. They are the kind of adults who still have a cool-kid vibe about them, as does their part punk/part princess mom.  They are quite a triple-treat as a close-knit family as well as a style council of creative spirits who straddle lots of worlds  — Getty runs both the fashion lines — and I’d wager some of that Getty wealth that when you use the term “grommet” around them they know it is not only something that can reinforce an eyelet sewn into a piece of clothing, but also a term for an inexperienced  skateboarder with scratched-up knees and no real scratch of his own.  

“Inexperienced” is not a term anyone would use for Ariadne Getty who grew up outside Siena, Italy, with her mother after her parents divorced. It was in many ways an idyllic setting for a childhood but anywhere would have been within reach of the tentacles of the family scandals that, as she grew up and realized what her last name meant to the larger world, strengthened her even as it all made her a bit wary — and, yes, for a time quite weary — of public attention. Her father J. Paul Getty II was a drug addict for much of his life (her stepmother died of a heroin overdose) and became a recluse in England in his later years, but one finally with a generous spirit which she seems to have inherited from him. She survived the actual narrative of the kidnapping of her older brother, J. Paul Getty III, and his subsequent heartbreaking health issues as well as the faux narratives made more noxious for their rather mercenary and monetary reasons.   

She bonded with her sister Aileen who is herself an activist and philanthropist, roles that were motivated by Aileen’s HIV-positive status. She lived in London and had a swinging time designing T-shirts and being a bit of dilettante who dallied in lots of sybaritic endeavors. She even had an academic interregnum at Bennington College in Vermont.   

Getty’s gust of laughter again blows through the conversation when I bring up her college days because of how few those days actually were.   

So she didn’t go for the whole four years?  

“I certainly did not.”   

Does she even remember her time at Bennington or was it basically one long, however brief, blackout?  

“It’s a little bit fuzzy to be honest,” she confesses. “But I did learn a lot there. I really did.  I had some fantastic people I was exposed to. It really was an environment that allows you to find your own personality without the restrictions of rules.  It’s almost like a Waldorf approach to college,” she tells me, citing the Rudolf Steiner holistic model of education. But I take it as another kind of cue. “A Waldorf salad approach?” I ask. Another gust of of laughter. “It does put nuts into your life,” she says.

Some would claim that her children and their circle of friends — many of them the misfits and outcasts cited in Nats’s mission statement for Strike Oil streetwear — are the latest nuts in her life with whom she has surrounded herself. She is a kind of den mother of the denizen of acceptance that her home has become for this extended LA family. They even call her Mama G.   Does she think she would be so viscerally focused on LGBTQ rights if she weren’t the mother of two gay children and seen as a mother figure for so many of their friends? There is a maternal aspect to her activism. “I always say I am here doing this mostly to support what my children have made me aware of … I’m not sure how the Mama G thing started, but it’s so sweet. I get texts to Mama G all the time from the friends of my children and my daughter-in-law Gigi. I am a fiercely loyal mother.  I will go to war for my children and their friends.”

“You’re like a polar bear,” I tell her.

“I can’t believe you said that. That’s my spirit animal. You got me there. They are my cubs — Nats and August. And all of their friends are, too.”

“Yet not all wealthy parents support their gay children in the way that you have chosen to support yours. Some of them even donate to Donald Trump. Would you meet with Trump if he invited you to the White House?”

“Oh, Kevin … Kevin …,” she says, moaning. No laughter is launched into the conversation at the thought of this. There is a long silence instead. “I would have to say, ‘I’m sorry. Under most other situations, I would be honored to be invited and I would love to go,’” she carefully begins. “But as Trump continues to stop people’s human rights and disregards the basic … ah … ah, ” she stops again. Time to throw some elbows, after all. “You know what, I would tell him in a heartbeat that under any other circumstances I would love to go but I actually wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I met with him in the Oval Office. I would probably even have a couple of rotten tomatoes in my pocket,” she says, that gust of laughter finally unleashed as she references her time in England and how the groundlings there would respond to their own vulgarians on their Elizabethan stages by throwing such weaponized fruit at them. 

“You could bring your children and daughter-in-law to bear visual witness to your meeting with him,” I suggest, knowing that Gigi is sort of Trump’s type and how disconcerting that would be for him to be turned on by her. 

“If he allowed me even to bring them with me,” says Getty. “Can you imagine? Or we could wear MAGA caps but install little mini-cams in them and tape his reaction when I introduced him to my daughter-in-law, ‘Mr. President, this is Gigi.  She’s transgender.’” 

We have been speaking on this conference call the same day that Ellen DeGeneres was getting media flak for her friendship with another president, George W. Bush. What does Ariadne think of Ellen’s response to the criticism?  

“I personally believe that if you have a platform no matter what it is — even if it is your single voice as a human — you have a responsibility to it. Ellen is extremely fortunate to have such a fan base and a platform. I personally believe that there is nothing wrong with being friendly in private, but going public with it and saying what she said sends a mixed message. It not only might confuse her fans but also those who aren’t necessarily her fans but use her as a sort of barometer. Since she is a comedian, she gets to tackle a lot of topics. I do think that this is a message that does not need to be so public. Yes, it’s important to respect and accept everyone for who they are. I haven’t read exactly what she said. But if she is using her platform but she is ignoring the facts that there were so many rollbacks with Bush and his administration and there were so many LGBTQ injustices passed, then I don’t agree with that. 

“She is not referencing that. She is not saying even though these things happened, we can affect a change if we approach those who have been against us in a fair and kind way in order to try and find a middle ground … After the election in 2016, I called Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO at GLAAD. I said I’m going to bed and closing my curtain and I’m going to stay here for a couple of weeks because I’m so very depressed. And she said, ‘I’m going to give you 24 hours to be depressed and then I want you to get out of bed, get dressed, brush your hair, and make 10 calls to talk about the changes you want to see happen. Get up and stand up and get to work.’ And that’s what I did.”  

“Here is another quote from your grandfather,” I say, winding down our conference call.  “’The rich are not born skeptical or cynical,’” he said. “They are made that way by events and circumstances.’And yet you, Ariadne, have had the opposite reactions to the events and circumstances of your life. They have made you less cynical and skeptical. They have given you a social conscience and spurred you to activism.” 

The laughter is no longer a gust of gumption. It is now more a lovely little breeze, a hum of humility underlying it here on the line.  

“You know what, life is too short,” she says. “I’ve had all the things happen to me that you can imagine — especially people taking advantage. There could be plenty of space in my life to just shut down and not interact and just basically be a victim, or what have you. But I love my life. It is really a privilege to be involved with the LGBT Center in LA, which has so many intergenerational programs there. I’m fortunate. I encourage everybody who has any way of being part of a cause to make the time and become involved.” She pauses. The breeze erupts into one last gust that carries more than itself forward. “Don’t let what other people do define you,” says Getty.  “Define yourself.”

(Editor’s note: Ariadne Getty is being honored with the Washington Blade Lifetime Achievement Award for LGBTQ Advocacy for her commitment to equality. The award is being presented to her at the Blade’s 50th anniversary gala on Oct. 18 in D.C.)

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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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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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