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Local gay couple proceeds with wedding plans despite lockdown

Family and friends gather virtually to celebrate same-sex nuptials

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pandemic gay wedding, gay news, Washington Blade
Harry Fox (left) and Brian Lee exchange vows last weekend. (Photo courtesy the couple)

When Harry met Brian in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court had just legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Five years later around their kitchen table they agreed they were going to be damned if a pandemic stopped them from exercising that right. 

“I played a lot of weddings,” says D. Brian Lee, a 58-year-old musician and definitely the feistier of the two, having been out since he was a teen. “I felt so down on the institution because it was never going to be me, but now we’ve won.”

“It was most important to us for people to honor and witness our wedding,” says Harry Fox, a 62-year-old health care administrator who had been married previously to a woman for 20 years. He had to overcome his own internalized homophobia to find strength and happiness. 

On Saturday, April 25 Lee and Fox held their wedding virtually and became one of many couples around the world who didn’t let COVID-19-induced stay-at-home orders lockdown their love. 

Internationally, the Singapore parliament is even considering a bill to further legalize virtual marriages during the crisis, according to The Straits Times

In the U.S., virtual weddings via YouTube, Zoom and other conferencing platforms are becoming so prevalent that The Wedding Spot blog gives a detailed how-to for planning one. 

NPR also reports New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order on April 18 that allows clerks to perform wedding ceremonies via video conferencing platforms and for couples to get their marriage licenses remotely. And a quick Twitter search of the #ZoomWedding hashtag will find other creative couples taking advantage of similar marriage expansions in their areas. 

Aaron Tax of SAGE, an LGBTQ senior advocacy organization, is not surprised that many choose the legal protections of marriage during a health crisis. 

“Marriage may provide psychological benefits and more tangible benefits like economic security and certain legal rights to couples,” he says. “There really is no shorthand for saying ‘my wife’ or ‘my husband’ when an emergency arises and you want to explain the nature of your relationship.”

Fox agrees. When he was separated from his wife and had begun dating Lee, she became stricken with cancer. He admitted when he went to the hospital with their son, now 23, to visit her there was a certain legitimacy and “straight privilege” that made things easier for them during a difficult time. 

“I think there’s a tremendous difference in the eyes of the world between a married couple and those who are living together,” Fox says. “And it plays out in the hospital room. There are significant rights in this culture that marriage confers and (Brian and I) want to be there for each other without anyone questioning that we have a right to be there.”

Lee also remembers seeing “unmarried partners being locked out of hospital rooms” of dying loved ones during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. He recalled this as a dark time filled with “some very inhumane treatment,” and this moved him to respect the institution of marriage. 

That’s why he insisted that Fox divorce his wife before moving in with him. 

“That was a trying and difficult time,” Fox says. “It was important for me to help my wife, but Brian was clear that I needed to be divorced before we moved in together.”

Fox’s wife eventually died, though she did get a chance to meet Lee before she died. The two of them had a quiet conversation while Fox made dinner in the other room. Later they moved together into the rented house they enjoy now in Potomac, Md., and their traditions of kitchen table conversations began. 

“We meet every morning and every evening at this table to talk,” Fox says. “When you think about being with someone for the rest of your life, if it’s not fun to talk to the other person, you shouldn’t be with them.”

Lee was more impassioned in his agreement. 

“I don’t want to have to pry the book open with a partner,” he says. “But with Harry, it’s very easy.” 

However, it wasn’t so easy in the beginning as Fox was still struggling with his sexuality. Unlike Lee, he came out in his 50s and there were a few conditioned beliefs he had to lay to rest. 

“In the beginning of our relationship, there was my own internalized homophobia,” Fox says. Sure, he had been married before, but that was in a traditional Jewish ceremony. “Did I see myself married to another man? Do I see myself kissing another man in public?”

As a musician, Lee calls Fox’s anxieties a form of “stage fright” which he still sees in his partner time and again. 

“There have been times when I feel that if Harry is feeling a little anxious about something, I’ll say, ‘Ah, he’ll get through it.’ It just takes time and talking.”

And talking is something they’ve done plenty of over the years. As the two of them continued to date and their bond grew, Fox came out to more family and friends. 

“But I felt I needed to come out at work,” he says. “Since work was such a large part of my life, in order to feel like an integrated human being and to get rid of the internal compartments I had maintained throughout my adult life.”

This was a difficult decision for him since at the time Fox was the chief information officer for a large health care insurance provider and responsible for over 2,500 employees. And from a legal standpoint, the U.S. Supreme Court is still weighing whether or not it is unconstitutional for employers to fire workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Still, he knew then that he wanted Lee to be a part of his life. All of it. 

“After I came out at work, I took Brian as my date to a dinner event with work colleagues,” Fox says, still sounding a little surprised that everything worked out so well. “I was also invited to join the board of Whitman-Walker Health.”

Fox says coming out fully swept away a lot of his remaining internalized homophobia and became a “very powerful life-changing experience.”

Fox and Lee felt their shared experiences together strengthened their resolve to get married, not just as an act of social justice but because they loved one another and were growing together. Then COVID-19 hit. 

It was time for another discussion around the kitchen table. 

“We talked about cancelling the physical wedding, but it took such a long road to get here,” Fox says. “In the real world the restrictions will ease up slowly, and there probably wouldn’t be another time to get people to fly in until later next year.”

Both he and Lee had already lost older family members and feared more wouldn’t last long enough to see them married. Lee added that when you hit your middle years, you just don’t know how much time older family members have left. Finally, they decided, “there will never be a perfect time … let’s just do it.”

“And I know people in our social circles love our parties,” Lee says. “And this was going to be the ultimate party.”

Fox and Lee have IT backgrounds and were familiar with the technology needed to pull off a virtual wedding. They decided to live-stream the ceremony on YouTube and hold the virtual receiving line via Zoom while sending out wedding cupcakes to family and friends. 

“We did a butt-load of tests,” Lee says. “We had a dry run to make sure everyone could connect and with sound. I set up YouTube lives before at my other job. I still kept praying the internet keeps working.”

They had gotten their marriage license prior to the pandemic and its social distancing restrictions and business closures. They looked into Maryland marriage laws and found a confusing passage they reasoned meant the officiant needed to be physically “in the county in which” the marriage license is issued. 

So their officiant, Hanna Nielsen-Jones, arranged for another officiant to marry them an hour before their virtual wedding, in their driveway — and six feet away. 

The ceremony was posted on YouTube which used multiple layers of technology, to include the Nielsen-Jones officiating via video to the couple who then projected themselves via video for their guests to view. The virtual receiving line followed where family and friends expressed their warm wishes via Zoom and toasts were shared. 

“I liked it all. With all of the things we were afraid could go wrong, nothing went wrong,” Fox says. “My son spoke and it was really lovely.”

“Most of the people dressed up like they were going to a real wedding,” Lee says. “And it looked fabulous. We drank a lot of champaign on this end also.” 

Despite all of the fear and the obstacles, the newlyweds said it was worth it to be creative and have their wedding rather than cancel it. Right now their “honeymoon” consists of their nightly walk through their diverse neighborhood as their permitted lockdown activity. They agree it feels a little different with the rings on their fingers though they don’t advertise their new status with their neighbors. 

But Lee holds out hope for a two-week trip to Spain. 

“We hope to get our butts back to Barcelona,” he says, though he knows it probably wouldn’t be this summer. 

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Movies

The ‘Spoiler’ is you’re going to cry

Love is worth it even when you know it’s going to end badly

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Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge star in ‘Spoiler Alert.’ (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

It’s been a refreshing year for LGBTQ love stories on the screen. From “Fire Island” to “Bros,” from “Crush” to “Anything’s Possible,” we’ve seen narratives that offer up hopeful and positive alternatives to the gloomy outcomes presented by movies of the past. Instead of stories that reinforce the tired trope of doomed queer romance, we’re finally seeing ourselves get the same chance at a happily-ever-after ending as everybody else. 

It’s been a welcome change – but just when Hollywood finally seems to have finally figured out that all our relationships don’t have to end in tragedy, “Spoiler Alert” has come along to remind us that sometimes they still do.

Based on the best-selling memoir by Michael Ausiello (“Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies”) and directed by Michael Showalter from a screenplay by David Marshall Grant and gay blogger/author/pundit Dan Savage, it’s the true story of a couple (Ausiello and his eventual husband, photographer Kit Cowan) who find love and build a relationship over the course of more than a decade only to face the heartbreak of Kit’s diagnosis of – and his (SPOILER ALERT, hence the title) premature passing from – a rare form of terminal cancer. Though It’s not exactly a rom-com, it does try to keep things light-hearted, and it aims for the uplift despite its foregone tragic conclusion.

That’s a tough tightrope to walk. The book, penned by veteran television and entertainment journalist Ausiello, pulled it off successfully, becoming a bestseller – and not just among queer readers – with its warts-and-all celebration of what it truly means to commit to love. After all, we may adore our fairy tale fantasies, but we all know that even a couple’s best-case scenario is guaranteed a sad ending; Ausiello’s first-person written narrative managed to get the point across that it’s all worth it, anyway.

Sometimes, though, a literary device that works on the page doesn’t translate easily to the screen, and on film, Ausiello’s “we-already-know-the-outcome” approach faces a more resistant challenge.

In the first act of the film, which details the meeting and early romance of its two lead characters (Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge as Michael and Kit, respectively), our knowledge of the ending becomes an obstacle. This may be particularly true for more jaded viewers, who are apt to be keenly aware of the emotional payoffs being set up in advance. Heartwarming moments can easily come off as deliberate, even manufactured, and one might sense an obvious bid to force our identification with the characters in the movie’s deployment of all the standard “new gay relationship” tropes. In reading, it’s easy to personalize such universal moments through our own imaginations, which can fill in the spaces (and the faces) in a way that rings true for us. On film (this film, at least), such communally identifiable experiences run the risk of feeling manipulative: a little too perfect, a little too pat, a little too “meet-cute,“ and a little too… well, precious.

The dissonance between formulaic fantasy and genuine lived experience is sometimes made even more obtrusive by occasional flashbacks to Michael’s childhood, framed as excerpts from an imagined ‘90s sitcom, which distance us further from the story – a stylistic ploy that seems intended to keep the tone of the narrative as far from tragic as possible.

When it’s time to get real, however, Showalter’s film lands on more solid ground. Once the blissful “happy-ever-after” couple-hood of the two men is established, the movie takes us into deeper, more mature – and therefore, less predictable – territory. Things don’t end up being perfect in Michael and Kit’s ostensible lover’s paradise: jealousies, self-esteem issues, and the inevitable individual growth that sometimes drives wedges between us in our relationships take their toll. As any successful long-term couple – queer or otherwise – is bound to discover, relationships take a lot of work, and seeing the two protagonists confront that seldom-told part of the story goes a long way toward making their experience more relatable for those who are looking for more than mere aspirational fantasy.

So, too, does the acting from the two leads. Parsons, who struggles against the obvious artificiality of playing against being two-decades-too-old in the film’s earlier scenes, blossoms once the story moves ahead in time to deliver an emotionally brave and affectingly authentic portrait of a man overcoming the baggage of his awkward and socially isolated youth (there’s a Smurf addiction involved, need we say more?) and finding the resilience to weather a battle for his lover’s life. Aldridge, a Brit flawlessly playing American, is perhaps even better – not that it needs to be a competition – as Kit, whose easy-going self-esteem masks a world of unresolved insecurities and makes an almost-too-good-to-be-true character endearingly real; perhaps more importantly, the emotional journey he’s tasked with portraying requires an absolute dedication to unornamented truth, and he delivers it impeccably.

It helps that the two actors, who carry most of the movie’s running time, have a convincingly natural chemistry together that gradually persuades us to invest in these characters even if we had resisted becoming invested in them before. Bolstering the emotional solidity even further is the presence of seasoned pros Sally Field and Bill Irwin as Kit’s parents, who deepen this not-as-clueless-as-they-seem pair beyond the familiar stereotype they represent and raise them above the easy sentimentality they might otherwise have carried into the story’s already-poignant mix. 

These considerable advantages are enough to help us forgive the movie’s contrived expository beginnings, though its ongoing sitcom conceit for childhood flashbacks – as well as its occasional fourth-wall-breaking interruptions from Michael’s TV obsessed imagination – continue to feel a little gimmicky, especially after the plot has passed the point where such amusements are welcome or even necessary.

Still, the movie’s fortunate choice to play against its tearjerker underpinnings – such as when it undercuts a particularly histrionic scene of hospital drama by calling itself out on its own shameless nod (which any gay movie buff will surely already recognize) to an iconic moment from a cinema classic – keeps the tears which finally come from feeling as though they’ve been shamelessly manipulated out of us. It’s this quality that marks the best entries in the tearjerker genre; the thing that movies like “Terms of Endearment” and “Steel Magnolia” have in common (besides Shirley MacLaine) is their ability to lean fully into the artifice of their own weepy, sentimental style without sacrificing the sincerity of their emotional payoffs. Films like these don’t play their big moments for drama, or even for laughs, to keep us involved – they play those moments for truth. “Spoiler Alert” clearly aspires to the same standard.

It mostly succeeds, after an awkward start; though some viewers might find its quirkier narrative conceits to be an overcompensation for its weepy ending, its characters are real enough to get past all that and win us over. And though it’s hard to deny that it’s ultimately another tragic gay love story, it manages to remind us that love is worth it even when you know it’s going to end badly.

After all, just because a romance is doomed doesn’t mean it has to be a downer.

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Sports

Protester with Pride flag disrupts World Cup game

Protest took place during match between Portugal and Uruguay

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(Al Jazeera screenshot)

During a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay Monday, a lone protester ran across the field waving a Pride flag moments after the second half kickoff.

Video and still images show the man wearing a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the Superman symbol and the phrase “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect for Iranian Woman” on the back.

Screenshot of news coverage at the World Cup 2022 games from Al Jazeera

Qatari security personnel chased him down and then marched him off the playing field. Israeli Public Radio correspondent Amichai Stein tweeted video clips of the incident:

FIFA had no immediate comment on the incident, the Associated Press noted reporting that in the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

Qatar’s laws against homosexuality and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

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Celebrity News

The death of Irene Cara and the broken promise

Singer inspired a generation of gay men

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Irene Cara (Photo courtesy of Judith A. Moose/JM Media)

As I walked down the dark alley towards the glowing light, the opening bridge of the song called to me. “Baby, look at me and tell me what you see, You ain’t seen the best of me yet, Give me time, I’ll make you forget all the rest, I got more in me…” 

The movie “Fame” had just come out and its anthem theme song was HOT. The glowing light that night was a gay disco, tucked away from heterosexual view, while gay bashers circled in trucks a few blocks away. That safe haven in the dark alley allowed me, a 20-year old youth, a path out of the closet in which I emotionally and sexually had residence. To me, the words of the song “Fame,” and its overwhelming delivery, was my inner drive and conviction that I could be me, and my own personal superstar.

The young woman delivering the song was barely an adult herself. Irene Cara had been a child performer and was now breaking into the fame she was singing about. She was “instantly” famous thanks to “Fame.” Amongst other accolades, she was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy. The song itself won the Oscar that year.

The Grammy nomination put a public trapping on what we all knew: She was a star, and had all the makings to become a superstar, an icon.

For LGBTQ people, her work that year spoke to our souls and our optimism. As “Randy 503” shared on the Joe.My.God site, “I was a deeply closeted and lonely kid in my early 20s. Not lonely because I didn’t have friends (had tons of them,) but lonely because I refused to admit I was gay and kept away from all that. I saw the movie and was transfixed. Bought the album and played it all the time, especially her songs. Her voice was so strong, and so expressive, it really touched me.” 

Cara’s second song in the movie also resonated with the gay audience. While “Fame” spoke to the sassy optimism of embracing our outstanding selves and taking the world by storm, “Out Here On My Own” spoke to the dark loneliness of the closet. “Sometimes I wonder where I’ve been, who I am, do I fit in … when I’m down and feeling blue, I close my eyes so I can be strong and be with you … I dry the tears I’ve never shown, Out here on my own.”

Randy points out, “Out here on my own always left me in tears. It hit so close to home, and I could feel sadness on it. It’s a great song sung by one of the best.”

After the success of “Fame,” Cara ventured into a sitcom pilot and a freshman album, “Anyone Can See.” Neither caught the world on fire, as apparently only some of us could actually “see” her real worth.

It was not long after however, where Cara’s apparent life mission to deliver culture changing anthems, came calling again. She was recruited to help out with the new “Flashdance” movie, and to work with iconic gay producer Giorgio Moroder for its theme song. Cara was reportedly reluctant. She had already been criticized as a second tier Donna Summer with “Fame,” and was hesitant to get into that musical lane. Later she would work with John Farrar whom she credited as being responsible for ALL of Olivia Newton John’s hits. It seems that her superstar aspirations were more to be Pop Princess than another Queen of Disco.

She did sign on board with Moroder and “Flashdance,” and made history. Her song “Flashdance… What a Feeling” went to #1 for six straight weeks. It affected American culture in style, attitude and substance. On Academy Awards night, Cara made history again. (She had already made history in a minor way a few years before as the first person to ever perform two nominated songs in one evening.) This time, she became the second African American woman to win an Oscar – the first being “Gone With the Wind”’s Hattie McDaniels. 

Cara was the first African American woman to ever win a non-acting Oscar ever.

The anthem “Flashdance…What a Feeling” spoke to LGBTQ audiences of the 80s, in a way that “Fame” had. “First when there’s nothing but a slow glowing dream that your fear seems to hide deep inside your mind. All alone, I have cried silent tears full of pride in a world made of steel, made of stone, Well, I hear the music, close my eyes, feel the rhythm wrap around, take hold of my heart. What a feeling, being is believing I can have it all..”

Online, Joe.My.God reader BearlvrFl shared, “LUV the song “Out Here On My Own” I call ‘Flashdance: What A Feeling’ my coming out song, popular on the dance floor very close to the time I finally came out at the age of 22. I could relate to “Take your passion/And make it happen.” Super simple lyric, but it’s timing was everything for me, having been closeted for so long.”

This time, AIDS had brought a very dark cloud over the community, however. Its ravage was starting to take widespread hold. It made the line in the song “now I’m dancing for my life” even more poignant and relevant.

The darkness that was falling over the LGBT world was on a parallel track in Cara’s own life. As she picked up Oscars and Grammys, there was a sadness in her eyes above the smile on her face. She shared later that the public glory was matched with a behind-the-scenes horror story. Her record company was keeping her from garnering any success from her accomplishments. Columnist Liz Smith stated in a 1993 piece that Cara earned only $183 in royalties.

Cara inspired women of her generation. Patti Piatt shared on Twitter, “I am from a generation of women who thought anything was possible because of Irene Cara. She gave us so much joy. We all danced to her songs, didn’t matter if we could dance, we danced because she made us want to dance.” 

In spite of singing THE anthem of women empowerment, Cara became an example of a woman destroyed by the male dominated music industry. As she fought back for earnings due her, she became black-listed, and her trek to superstardom halted. They made her all but disappear. A decade later, she won, but by that time, the damage had been done. 

Her final solo album subconsciously called out her professional demise with songs titled “Now That It’s Over,” “Get a Grip” and the ultimate defeatist title “Say Goodnight Irene.”

“I know well enough this is going nowhere … Might as well say goodnight, Say Goodnight, Irene.”

In the end, she seemed to find peace. Her final professional projects were gifts to other women musicians of color. She comfortably settled into what she called “semi-retirement” and her Florida home with a steady stream of funds from her hard-earned residuals.

The promise of becoming a superstar eluded her, but she busted the ceiling so it might not elude others. Painfully for fans, the promise from the song “Fame,” “I’m gonna live forever” also did not come true. 

Let’s instead, think of her making “it to heaven” and lighting “up the sky like a flame.”

For those trying to find final meaning from her life, and the un-fulfilled promise of what could have been for her and for us, may do so in the words from her lesser-known anthem. Here we swap out a promise instead for “The Dream”: 

“We can all be free, we hold the key, if we can see what we want to be. Life is never easy, you get no guarantees, why not give your all and see what you can find?”

And, yes.

Irene Cara, we will always remember your name.

“The Dream”

*************************

Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more.

He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine.

He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

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