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Ring out Pride Month with a virtual bang, from ‘Pose,’ Revry, and more

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Tel Aviv Pride, 2019 (Image courtesy of Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, Guy Yechiel)

Let’s face it: Pride Month without the ability to celebrate in our traditional ways doesn’t feel very much like Pride.

For many of us, the festivals, concerts, parades and parties, where we gather with our friends to proudly proclaim our queerness to the world, are an annual rite of passage; being cheated of it by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is an undeniable disappointment.

Even so, Pride is more than just a party (even if it’s a really fabulous one), and while the usual festivities may be cancelled, the spirit behind them is not. The LGBTQ+ community has risen to the challenge of 2020 with inventive ways to re-channel the Pride Experience for the physically-distanced needs of our time, and although a virtual event can never deliver quite the same visceral thrills as an in-person celebration, it’s worth noting that this year’s proliferation of internet and broadcast events has made Pride accessible to millions of people who might otherwise never have had the opportunity to participate, or to hear the messages of hope and acceptance that queer people in oppressive social environments around the world need to be able to hear.

Chances are good you’ve already experienced one or more of these livestreamed or broadcasted extravaganzas, but if you are still looking to get your Pride on before the month slips away next week, there are still some big ones coming your way.

One of the biggest is sure to be “Live, Work, Pose-A-Thon!” As a part of Pride month, Disney Television Studios and FX are presenting a commercial-free one-hour virtual event, showcasing the cast and producers of “Pose” to raise awareness for GLSEN, Hetrick-Martin Institute, and Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, three notable organizations that work to support LGBTQ+ education, social change for sexual and gender minority people of color, and transgender equality through legal services and policy efforts.

The special will be emceed by Emmy, Grammy, and Tony-award winning actor and activist Billy Porter along with co-star Mj Rodriguez, and unites the voices behind the critically-acclaimed drama series “Pose.” Featured will be music and anecdotes from Porter, Rodriguez, Angel Bismark Curiel, Sandra Bernhard, Dyllón Burnside, Steven Canals, Dominique Jackson, Jeremy McClain, Janet Mock, Indya Moore, Our Lady J, Jason Rodriguez, Angelica Ross, Hailie Sahar, Ryan Jamaal Swain, Charlayne Woodard, and Patti LuPone.  “Pose” supervising producer Tanase Popa serves as producer of the special.

“I’m so proud of our cast and producers for coming together to present an uplifting hour of song and stories,” said co-creator, executive producer, writer, and director Steven Canals.  “In the spirit of ‘Pose,’ our goal is to celebrate joy, love and, of course, pride, from our family to yours.”

Executive producer, writer, and director Janet Mock added, “Since we’ve been unable to shoot the show we love, we jumped at the chance to reunite our ‘Pose’ family and partner with the studio and network to raise spirits and awareness about the plight of LGBTQ+ people of color during such a turbulent time.  This Pride month special is a commemoration of our forebears’ efforts, a memorial for trans lives lost, and a celebration of the life-saving work of LGBTQ+ organizations.”

“Pose-a-Thon!” will air Friday, June 26 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on FX and Freeform.  Viewers can also tune-in same day starting at 7:00 p.m. PT at www.poseathon.com.

If you’re someone who likes to make Pride an excuse for world travel, it goes without saying that this is not a good year for that – but you can at least grab a taste. Tel Aviv Pride takes place every year in June, with a surge of gay-friendly events taking place across the city and a Pride Parade that has become the largest one among all in the Middle East. In light of the Corona pandemic, that parade has been cancelled (or at least postponed), along with the rest of the four largest pride parades in Israel – Haifa, Jerusalem, Be’er Sheva and Tel Aviv-Yafo – but that doesn’t mean the whole celebration is shut down.

According to Ron Huldai, Mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo, “Even if we cannot hold the traditional pride parade this year, we will mark pride month with alternative events. Tel Aviv, which has already been acknowledged as the world’s most gay-friendly city, will continue to be a lighthouse city – spreading the values of freedom, tolerance and democracy to the world.”

Those “alternative events” taking place live in the city will involve over 100 drag queens and queer artists taking over the city’s streets in honor of pride month. Throughout the day on June 25, live shows will surprise passersby in central locations around the city, including open spaces, restaurants, local businesses and rooftops.

While it may not be possible for you to experience these pop-up Pride events in person, you can still experience Tel Aviv Pride vicariously through its Pride Month Virtual Tour, which will visit some of the city’s queerest landmarks and explore its queer history and culture, engaging with some of the local divas and discussing some of the open questions around LGBTQA life in Tel Aviv.

The tour takes place on Thursday June 25th at 8pm, and you can join it through this Zoom Link.

Finally, for an even more expansive experience of Pride around the world, you can join the festivities for Global Pride 2020, produced by Interpride and available through several streaming partners – including Revry, the first LGBTQ+ virtual cable network, which has teamed up with Littlstar (the livestreaming platform for PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR, and Android TV) to launch the first VR streaming channel for the queer community just in time for this season of Pride. You can join this spectacular worldwide event on June 27th and 28th, when Revry will livestream it for 24 hours on the Revry Now channel (available on the Revry apps) as well as on the Littlstar platform – creating a first-of-its-kind VR Pride Festival experience!

“Littlstar is excited to partner with Revry to redefine how LGBTQ+ audiences view content. Viewers can now interact with each other remotely in virtual reality, or if there is no VR headset available they can live stream it directly to their TV via PlayStation 4 which currently reaches over 100M homes,” said Tony Mugavero, CEO & Co-Founder of Littlstar.

“We’re thrilled to have Revry as one of our official streaming partners,” says Julian Sanjivan, Co-President of Interpride. “Partnering with Revry gives Global Pride 2020 an opportunity to access audiences and community members who may not otherwise be able to participate in the programming, especially where our other platforms are not accessible or allowed. Revry’s new live VR Channel on the Littlstar app brings our event live on PlayStations across the globe and universally available to anyone with an internet connection.”

More than 500 Pride organizations around the world have submitted more than 1,000 pieces of content for Global Pride which will include messages from former US Vice-President Joe Biden, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and artists Laverne Cox, Adam Lambert, Kesha and Todrick Hall amongst many more. You can see the full line-up here.

Viewers with a PlayStation VR will be able to watch the stream in a custom virtual world, and viewers without VR headsets can view the stream on billions of mobile device at live.littlstar.com. If you’d rather opt for a “normal” 2D livestream broadcast, you can do it on the Revry Now channel on the Revry network available online (watch.revry.tv) and in all major app stores.

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Arts & Entertainment

After COVID hiatus, John Waters resumes touring schedule

‘Every single thing is different after COVID’

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John Watersis on the road again. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

For the first time in nearly two years, writer and filmmaker John Waters will be appearing on stage this fall before live audiences in the Baltimore-Washington area, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Waters, who lives in Baltimore, is scheduled to bring his spoken-word holiday show, “A John Waters Christmas,” to The Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., on Dec. 15, and Baltimore Soundstage on Dec. 21. He’ll also be at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Nov. 29 and The Vermont Hollywood on Dec. 2.

Waters’ holiday shows were cancelled in 2020 due to the theater closings and travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some book signings for fans were converted to Zoom sessions. He last toured the country in November and December of 2019.

This year, with vaccinations on the rise, Waters has made a few in-person appearances, including a concert with gay country crooner Orville Peck in Colorado in July, where he was “special guest host”; a Q&A session with fans in Provincetown in August and a music festival last weekend in Oakland, Calif. He’s scheduled to visit another 18 cities between now and the end of the year, including a weekend in Wroclaw, Poland, where he’ll be honored during the American Film Festival there in November.

Waters said he has completely rewritten his spoken-word shows to reflect changes brought about by the COVID pandemic. “I haven’t done it in a year and a half,” he said in an interview with Town & Country magazine. “Every single thing is different after COVID. You cannot do the same show. Nothing’s the same.”

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Theater

‘Hadestown’ comes to the Kennedy Center

Levi Kreis discusses return to live theater

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Levi Kreis is an out actor who plays Hermes in the national tour of ‘Hadestown’ soon opening at the Kennedy Center. (Photo courtesy of Levi Kreis)

Hadestown
Through Oct. 31
The Kennedy Center
$45.00 – $175.00
Kennedy-center.org
For Covid-19 safety regulations go to Kennedy-center.org/visit/covid-safety/

Early in September at New York’s Walter Kerr Theatre, out singer/actor Levi Kreis was in the audience for the long-awaited Broadway reopening of “Hadestown,” Anaïs Mitchell’s rousing musical reimagining of the Orpheus myth in which the legendary Greek hero descends into the underworld to rescue his lover Eurydice. 

After almost 18 months of pandemic-induced closure, the Tony Award-winning folk opera was back and the house was full. In a recent phone interview, Kreis describes the evening as “love-filled, and electrifying and emotional after such a difficult time.” Now, Kreis is onstage in the national tour of “Hadestown,” currently launching at the Kennedy Center. As Hermes, the shape-shifting god of oratory, Kreis is both narrator and chaperone to the story’s young lovers. 

A Tennessee native, Kreis, 39, has triumphantly survived turbulent times including a harrowingly prolonged coming out experience that included six years of conversion therapy, education disruptions, and music contract losses. He officially came out through his acclaimed album “One of the Ones” (2006), which features a collection of piano vocals about past boyfriends. And four years later, he splendidly won a Tony Award for originating the role of rock and roll wild man Jerry Lee Lewis in the rockabilly musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” 

Throughout much of the pandemic, Kreis leaned into his own music and found ways to reconnect with his largely gay fan base. But he’s happy to now be touring, noting that all the “Hadestown” cast have been hungering to perform before a real live audience.

When not on the road, he’s based in New York City with his husband, classical-crossover recording artist Jason Antone. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Hermes is the same role for which André De Shields—the brilliant African American actor, also gay, and some decades your elder won a Tony and has resumed playing on Broadway, right?

LEVI KREIS: That’s right. It’s really a testament to the creative team. Rather than laying us over what Broadway created. They’re creating a tour that’s uniquely different; still true to the beauty of the story but with a different flavor. 

BLADE: What attracted you to the part?

KREIS: First, I fell in love with the show. My own musical sensibilities understand the origins of where this music comes from. It’s very bluesy and gospel. Southern and rootsy. And that’s everything I’ve created in my career as a singer/songwriter.

BLADE: With your life experience, do you feel called to mentor?

KREIS: The biggest effort I’ve given to this narrative is being a pioneer of the out-music movement starting in 2005 which was a moment when gay artists were not signed to major labels. I want through eight major labels—when they found out I was gay things always went south. 

It’s been amazing to be a voice in LGBTQ media when no one was speaking about these things. It’s popular now, but back when it mattered it was a lot harder to start my career as an openly gay artist and speak about these issues rather than keep quiet, cash in, and only then come out. 

BLADE: Where did that nerve come from?

KREIS: Less about nerve and more about being beaten down. How many things have to happen before you give up and decide to be honest?  

BLADE: For many theatergoers, “Hadestown” will be their return to live theater. Other than it being visionary and remarkably entertaining, why would you recommend it? 

KREIS: We need encouragement right now. But we also need art that facilitates a lot of important conversation about what’s happening in the world. This has both elements.  

“Hadestown” is not a piece of art that you easily forget. You’re going to walk out of the theater with a story that sticks with you. You’ll realized that your own voice matters. There’s a part in the show, Orpheus’ song, when the gods encourage him to get the balance of the world back again by telling him that his voice matters. 

BLADE: Is it timely?

KREIS: Art is here to change the world. And this piece of art hits the nail right on the head. I’m a purist when it comes to art and song. There’s a reason why we do it. people are listening now in a way they haven’t listened before. To miss that is to miss the role of society, I think. 

BLADE: And going forward? 

KREIS: It’s going to be interesting. We could double down on super commercialized theater or we may decide to really go the other direction and reclaim innovation. That remains to be seen. 

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Books

Book details fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Clinton-era policy was horrific for LGB servicemembers

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‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
By C. Dixon Osburn
c.2021, self-published $35 hardcover, paperback $25, Kindle $12.99 / 450 pages

When Senior Airman Brandi Grijalva was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, she talked with a chaplain’s assistant about some problems she had at home. The chaplain’s assistant said what she told him would be confidential. But when she revealed that she was a lesbian, the chaplain’s assistant no longer kept her conversation with him confidential. Grijalva, after being investigated was discharged.

Craig Haack was a corporal in the Marines serving in Okinawa, Japan. Haack, who had made it through boot camp, felt confident. Until investigators barged into his barracks. Looking for evidence “of homosexual conduct,” they ransacked everything from his computers to his platform shoes. Haack was too stunned to respond when asked if he was gay.

In 1996, Lt. Col. Steve Loomis’ house was burned down by an Army private. The Army discharged the private who torched Loomis’ house. You’d think the Army would have supported Loomis. But you’d be wrong. The army discharged Loomis for conduct unbecoming an officer because a fire marshal found a homemade sex tape in the ashes.

These are just a few of the enraging, poignant, at times absurd (platform shoes?), all-too-true stories told in “Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by C. Dixon Osburn.

As a rule, I don’t review self-published books. But “Mission Possible” is the stunning exception that proves that rules, on occasion, are made to be broken.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was the official U.S. policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the military. Former President Bill Clinton announced the policy on July 19, 1993. It took effect on Feb. 28, 1994.

Sexual orientation was covered by DADT. Gender identity was covered by separate Department of Defense regulations.

Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010 (the House on Dec. 15, 2010, and the Senate on Dec. 18, 2010). On Dec. 22, 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law. 

DADT banned gay, lesbian and bisexual people who were out from serving in the U.S. military. Under DADT, it was not permitted to ask if servicemembers were LGB. But, LGB servicemembers couldn’t be out. They couldn’t talk about their partners, carry photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends or list their same-sex partner as their emergency contract.

It took nearly a year for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go into effect. On Sept. 20, 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy {DADT} would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion or recruiting and retention,” Osburn writes.

Before DADT, out LGBT people weren’t permitted to serve in the military. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was intended to be a compromise—a policy that would be less onerous on LGB people, but that would pass muster with people who believed that gay servicemembers would destroy military readiness, morale and unit cohesion.

Like many in the queer community, I knew that DADT was a horror-show from the get-go. Over the 17 years that DADT was in effect, an estimated 14,000 LGB servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to the Veterans Administration.

But, I had no idea how horrific “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was until I read “Mission Possible.”              

In “Mission Possible,” Osburn, who with Michelle Benecke, co-founded the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), pulls off a nearly impossible hat trick.

In a clear, vivid, often spellbinding narrative, Osburn tells the complex history of the DADT-repeal effort as well as the stories of servicemembers who were pelted with gay slurs, assaulted and murdered under DADT.

Hats off to SLDN, now known as the Modern Military Association of America, for its heroic work to repeal DADT! (Other LGBTQ+ organizations worked on the repeal effort, but SLDN did the lion’s share of the work.)

You wouldn’t think a 450-pager about repealing a policy would keep you up all night reading. But, “Mission Possible” will keep you wide-awake. You won’t need the espresso.

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