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TV’s queer explosion

Every new show it seems has at least one LGBTQ character as Gen Zs embrace fluidity, eschew labels

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queer television, gay news, Washington Blade

Although queer representation is down slightly on scripted TV shows this year with 70 (9.1 percent) of all 773 series regular characters out as some form of LGBTQ+, representation has been so vast in recent years, there’s still more queer TV content than any one person could possibly consume. Last year’s record was 10.2 percent according to January’s GLAAD annual report. 

Here’s what’s returning and upcoming. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a thorough start. 

Original dramedy “GENERA+ION” debuts this Friday on HBO Max with three episodes. Look for two more on March 25 and another on April 1. Eight more will drop later in the year. It’s being billed as a “dark yet playful half-hour series following a diverse group of high school students whose exploration of modern sexuality (devices and all) tests deeply entrenched beliefs about life, love, and the nature of family in their conservative community.” It explores sexuality and gender fluidity. Of its 15 writers, 11 are LGBTQ. 

Prisha (Shalini Bathina) came out last year on Apple TV+’s dramedy “Little Voice.”

The current fourth season of ABC’s “The Good Doctor” has introduced Dr. Asher Wolke (Noah Galvin), who’s gay. Not much storyline prominence thus far, though. Mondays at 10 p.m.

Search Party” on HBO Max is in its fourth season (a fifth has been announced) and features Elliott Goss (John Early), a gay narcissist. 

CBS’s “S.W.A.T.” is in its fourth season and features Chris Alonso (Lina Esco), who’s bi and has explored polyamory. It’s on Wednesday nights at 10. 

Josie Totah plays Lexi, a sharp-tongued trans cheerleader on the new “Saved by the Bell” reboot on Peacock. Premiering last November, it’s already been renewed for a second season. 

Netflix’s “Bridgerton,” a period drama, debuted in December and has already been renewed for a second season. Gay content has been minor thus far. Fans were expecting more when a brief gay sex scene was teased in a trailer but didn’t show up until the fifth episode and featured a minor character at that. 

The CW’s “Riverdale” (based on the Archie comics) was renewed last month for a sixth season. Season five is airing now. Despite many LGBTQ characters throughout its run, the show has been accused of queerbaiting by showing same-sex kisses in teasers that turned out to be larks or minor anomalies in the actual storylines. Fans have also balked at the limited attention same-sex couples on the show, such as Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) and Moose (Cody Kearsley) or Cheryl (Madelaine Peetsch) and Toni (Vanessa Morgan) (aka “Choni”) have received. 

Season two of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” on NBC is in the midst of its second season. It moves to Sunday nights at 9 when it returns March 28. Alex Newell (“Glee”) plays Mo, Zoey’s genderfluid neighbor, a DJ. 

The CW’s “Walker,” a reboot of “Walker, Texas Ranger,” debuted in January and has already been renewed for a second season. Keegan Allen plays Liam, the lead character’s gay brother. It airs Thursdays at 8 p.m.

The CW’s “Legacies,” a spin-off of “The Originals” that tells of the adventures of Hope Mikaelson (Danielle Rose Russell), airs Thursday nights at 9. It’s in the midst of its third season and has been renewed for a fourth. Character Josie Saltzman (Kaylee Bryant) is a bi witch. 

NBC’s neverending warhorse “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” continues on Thursday nights at 9 in its 22nd season (it’s been renewed for two more). It was revealed that Kat Azar Tamin (Jamie Gray Hyder) is bi in last season’s finale. It was a big deal for the franchise, which hadn’t featured a gay character in its regular cast (FBI psychiatrist George Huang) since season 12. 

Elite” continues on Netflix featuring the relationship of Omar (Omar Ayuso) and Ander (Aron Piper). This grisly Spanish teen drama has been renewed for fourth and fifth seasons. A Rolling Stone critic said the show “attempts to go places on the sexuality spectrum where few have dared to tread before.”

No date or title yet for season 10 of “American Horror Story” but look for it sometime this year on FX. Kathy Bates, Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd, Sarah Paulson and more are back. Macaulay Culkin will also be in the cast. The show has been renewed through a 13th season. The gay-helmed series (Ryan Murphy) always features LGBTQ characters. Past seasons “Murder House,” “Asylum” and “Hotel” are fan favorites. 

Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,” starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as friends whose husbands leave them for each other, was slated to resume shooting its farewell seventh season, postponed by COVID, in June. It’s Netflix’s oldest still-running series. No premiere date has been announced.

HBO’s “Euphoria” season two is in limbo. Cast and crew were ready to start shooting last spring when COVID hit. It’s slated to start shooting in Los Angeles on April 5. No premiere date has been announced. The show has been widely praised for its varied, nuanced portrayal of Gen Z queer life with eschewing of traditional LGBTQ identities and way more fluidity on the sexual orientation and gender identity spectrums. Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer, who’s trans) is a trans girl who becomes friends with lead character Rue Bennett (Zendaya). 

Look for the eighth season of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” later this year. The police procedural comedy has drawn fans for its queer characters such as Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) and Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher).

Anissa (Nafessa Williams) made history on “Black Lightning” as the first queer superhero of color on TV. Look for its fourth and final season this year.

Dear White People” wraps this year featuring Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton), a black queer man struggling with his identity. It’s adapted from gay director Justin Simien’s film of the same name.

Filming began last month for season 11 of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” with 24 episodes slated to air into next year. A spin-off featuring Daryl and Carol is slated to air in 2023. The show drew fan ire when it axed off two queer characters (Tara and Jesus) in season nine in 2019. Character Felix Carlucci (Nico Tortorella), head of security at the Campus Colony, was kicked out of his house for coming out. 

Pose” returns May 2 with the first two episodes of its abbreviated third season. There will be just seven total. This will be the final season for the groundbreaking show that follows the ballroom scene/queer nightlife in the early 1980s. It’s another fan hit from the Ryan Murphy omniverse. The finale is June 6.

Star Trek: Discovery’s” fourth season is slated for release on Paramount+ sometime this year. Filming started last November and is set to end in June. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) became the first openly gay characters in a “Star Trek” franchise series in 2017. Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Gray (Ian Alexander, who is trans in “real life”) were introduced as the first trans and non-binary characters in the show’s third season. It’s set a decade before the action of the original series. 

Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” returns with its fourth season on April 28. It’s also been renewed for a fifth season. Lesbian actress (and D.C. native) Samira Wiley is in the cast again as is Alexis Bledel, who plays lesbian character Emily Malek, an Emmy winner for her work on the show. 

Season five of Showtime’s “Billions” was suspended mid-season last year with five episodes left to air (production — you guessed it — was halted by COVID). Although a sixth season has been ordered, no air dates for the rest of season five has been announced. Asia Kate Dillon, non-binary in “real life” and on the show, stars as Taylor Mason. 

Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor, who’s non-binary, on ‘Billions.’ (Photo courtesy Showtime)

The Conners” is airing its third season now on ABC Wednesday nights at 9. Darlene’s (out actress Sara Gilbert) 13-year-old son Mark (Ames McNamara) is non-binary and likes boys. It evolved out of the “Roseanne” reboot. 

Fox’s “Call Me Kat” debuted in January and features out actor Leslie Jordan as Phil, a newly single gay man and head baker at Kat’s cafe, and out singer/actor Cheyenne Jackson playing straight as Max, Kat’s friend and former college love interest. The season wraps March 18. No word yet on a second season. It airs Thursday nights at 9. Reviews and ratings have been mixed. 

The five-part Brit miniseries “It’s a Sin” finished its run in February on the U.K.’s Channel 4. Olly Alexander (Years & Years) stars as Ritchie Tozer, one of a group of gay men who move to London in 1981. The series follows them through a decade. Creator Russell T. Davies is the auteur behind the original British “Queer as Folk.” It’s streaming in the U.S. on HBO Max. Reviews have been stellar.

Olly Alexander in ‘It’s a Sin.’ (Photo courtesy WarnerMedia)

Sarah Paulson plays the titular role on Netflix’s “Ratched” and Cynthia Nixon co-stars as Gwendolyn, her love interest. It’s a prequel to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the classic 1975 film. No date yet on when season two will be released. 

Amir Bageria plays “Sid” Pakam, a closeted gay Indian-American and high school senior on last fall’s teen Netflix drama “Grand Army.” It hasn’t been officially cancelled but no word yet on a second season either.

Also from last fall is the HBO drama “We Are Who We Are,” co-created and directed by Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”), a coming-of-age story set on a U.S. army base. Several of the teen characters are figuring out their sexuality and gender identity as the show unfolds. Chloe Sevigny and Alice Braga play same-sex moms to 14-year-old Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer). “Call Me” alums Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer make cameos. No word yet on a second season. 

No LGBT characters yet on “Emily in Paris,” the Netflix dramedy, but it’s from the “Sex and the City” creative team and has been renewed for a second season.

The Real Housewives of Orange County” finished its 15th season in January. Braunwyn Windham-Burke, who joined in the 14th season in 2019, came out as a lesbian in December. Look for season 16 this fall.

Punky’s (Soleil Moon Frye) BFF Cherie (Cherie Johnson) is a lesbian on Peacock’s “Punky Brewster” revival. Its 10-episode debut season is available now. 

The fourth and final season of Netflix’s “Atypical” will premiere sometime this year. It features lesbian duo Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Izzie (Fivel Stewart). 

Fivel Stewart (left) and Brigette Lundy Paine in ‘Atypical.’ (Photo by Beth Dubber, courtesy Netflix)

Peter (Brendan Scannell) is the gay best friend to Tiff (Zoe Levin), a dominatrix, on Netflix’s “Bonding.” Its second season dropped in January. 

Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” wraps this year and has featured a pan warlock romance and a trans character. Its fourth season dropped Dec. 31. 

David Berry plays Lord John Grey who’s secretly gay and has been called “one of the most complex and interesting” characters in the historical Starz “Outlander” books and show. A sixth season is expected. 

Netflix’s “The Haunting of Bly Manor” introduces Dani (Victoria Pedretti) and her girlfriend Jamie (Amelia Eve) against a gothic/thriller backdrop. No word yet on another season. 

Queer Eye” only had one season six episode in the can last year when COVID hit. Production has not resumed but the show will eventually return. 

On Netflix’s “The Politician,” Ben Platt stars as Payton Hobart, a presidential hopeful who finishes high school (season one) and is now a student at NYU (season two). Rahne Jones plays Skye Leighton, his black, gender-nonconforming former running mate now helping with his campaign. Jessica Lange, Gwyneth Paltrow, Judith Light and even Bette Midler are in the cast. Another Ryan Murphy production. No word yet on a third season. 

RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 13 airs its 10th episode (of a likely 14) March 12 at 8 p.m. on VH1. That means the finale is about a month away. “All Stars” season six is expected this summer at its new home on Paramount+. A second season of the U.K. edition is airing now on BBC iPlayer. 

Netflix British dramedy “Sex Education” will be back for a third season sometime this year. No date yet. Teen Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield) lives with his sex therapist mom (Gillian Anderson) and gay best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa). Anwar (Chaneil Kular) is another out student in the cast. Netflix has said it’s one of its most popular shows. 

Netflix’s “Special” is also in limbo it appears. In December, 2019 it was renewed for a second season but no updates since. It follows a gay man named Ryan Hayes (Ryan O’Connell; the series creator and star who based it on his memoir) with mild cerebral palsy who decides to go after the kind of life he wants. It has strong reviews and ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Tiny Pretty Things” debuted in December on Netflix and features two primary gay characters. Brennan Clost plays Shane, an openly gay ballet dancer having sex with his roommate, Oren (Barton). A second season is likely but hasn’t been confirmed. 

Several characters on the Netflix hit “The Umbrella Academy” are queer and it’s treated as mostly tangential. Klaus (Robert Sheehan), an addict who can commune with the dead, is pan, for one. The fantasy show is a comic book adaptation about a dysfunctional family who each possess superpowers. A third season is underway. 

Canadian sitcom “Letterkenny” just released its ninth season in December and 10th and 11th seasons are planned. It streams on Hulu and tells of residents of a small farming town. Several are LGBT but it’s never treated as a big deal. 

A second season of Hulu’s “Love, Victor” will premiere in June. Michael Cimino plays the title role, a hispanic gay teen. It’s a TV adaptation/spinoff of the hit 2018 gay teen dramedy “Love, Simon.” 

The 2017 “Dynasty” reboot is proving surprisingly resilient. It was renewed for a fifth season last month on The CW. Production on the fourth season resumed last October and will start airing May 7. Steven, the gay son played by James Mackay, will be back. He was written out of the third season. 

Hulu’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” from Aussie comedian Josh Thomas, features Matilda, a teen with high-functioning autism, exploring her fluid sexuality and her gay brother’s relationship failures. Its second season drops April 8. 

The CW’s “Legends of Tomorrow” returns for its sixth season on May 2. White Canary (Caity Lotz) is bi. She’s one of the heroines in the Arrow-verse based on characters from DC Comics. 

The CW’s “Batwoman” season two is airing now (regrouping with the absence of Ruby Rose in the title role) and a third season has been ordered. Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie)/Batwoman is now the central protagonist with Kate Kane/Batwoman presumed dead. The new Batwoman is also a lesbian.

Wynonna Earp” returned to finish its fourth and final season this month on Syfy/Netflix. Lesbian side couple WayHaught have become fan favorites. 

Good Trouble,” with multiple queer characters, is in the midst of its third season. It’s on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Freeform and is a spin-off of “The Fosters.” 

A “Gossip Girl” reboot on HBO Max promises “lots of queer content.” No date yet. 

This is Us” is in the middle of its fifth season. It airs Tuesday nights at 9 on NBC and features Tess Pearson (Eris Baker), who came out in season three. 

Good Girls” returned for its fourth season this month. It airs on NBC Mondays nights at 10 and features Isaiah Stannard as Ben Marks, a trans son of one of the main characters. 

NBC’s “New Amsterdam” is airing its third season now and two more have been ordered. Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) is gay. It’s on Tuesday nights at 9. 

Martin Scorsese interviews lesbian Fran Lebowitz on the seven-part Netflix documentary “Pretend It’s a City.” 

Max Baker (Sara Waisglass) is a lesbian teen on Netflix’s dramedy “Ginny & Georgia,” which has been generating buzz since its maiden season released on Feb. 24. 

Jesse James Keitel plays Jerrie Kennedy, a transfeminine/nonbinary sex worker on ABC’s crime/thriller “Big Sky.” It’s on hiatus but will return. 

Brian Michael Smith made history as the first out black trans man in a regular series role on network TV as Paul Strickland on Fox’s Ryan Murphy-created procedural drama “9-1-1- Lone Star,” a spin-off of “9-1-1.” Its second season is airing now on Monday nights at 9. There are also gay characters on both shows. 

Safiya Masry (Indira Varma), a warden on ABC’s legal drama “For Life” is a lesbian. It’s in its second season now airing Wednesday nights at 10. 

ABC’s new sitcom “Call Your Mother,” which debuted in January, features Lane (Austin Crute), Jackie’s (Racel Sennott) gay best friend and roommate. It’s on Wednesday nights at 9:30.

Son Ian (Cameron Monaghan) and daughter Debbie (Emma Kenney) are gay on Showtime’s longrunning dramedy “Shameless.” Its 11th season continues through April 11. 

Superstore” ends its sixth and final season on March 25. Mateo (Nico Santos) is gay on the NBC sitcom. It’s on Thursday nights at 8. 

Jackson West (Titus Makin Jr.) is a gay officer on ABC’s “The Rookie,” currently in its third season. It’s on Sunday nights at 10. 

Longrunning Brit soap “Hollyoaks” is teeming with LGBT characters presented multi-dimensionally. Gay character John Paul McQueen (James Sutton) has been on and off the front burner for a decade. Also worth checking out are “Emmerdale” and “EastEnders,” whose current Ben/Callum love story is a fan favorite. 

Also of note:

Tina,” a documentary on the life of rock icon Tina Turner, debuts on Sunday, March 28 at 8 p.m. on HBO and HBO Max. It promises “a wealth of never-before-seen footage, audio tapes … photos and new interviews.”

Aretha Franklin is the focus of the third season of National Geographic’s docudrama series “Genius.” Cynthia Erivo stars as the late soul legend. Its eight-episode arc debuts March 21. 

Other shows with LGBT characters whose networks have said are returning but for which no date has been announced: “Betty” (HBO); “Feel Good” (Netflix); “Gentleman Jack” (BBC One/HBO); “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” renewed in December for four more seasons, a sitcom record (FX); “Killing Eve” (BBC America); “The L Word: Generation Q” (Showtime); “Sex Education” (Netflix); “Twenties” (BET); “Supergirl” (The CW); “Never Have I Ever” (Netflix); “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX); “Motherland: Fort Salem” (Freeform); “Hightown” (Starz); “The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max); “Dead to Me,” whose upcoming third season will be its last (Netflix); and “Insecure” (HBO, for a fifth and final season).

Recently ended shows with LGBT characters include: “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix), “How to Get Away With Murder” (ABC), “One Day at a Time” (POP), “The Magicians” (Syfy), “Schitt’s Creek” (CBC/POP TV), “Vida” (Starz), “Work in Progress” (Showtime/Hulu), “Council of Dads” (NBC), “Someone Has to Die” (Netflix), “Trinkets” (Netflix), “Teenage Bounty Hunters” (Netflix), “Tales of the City” (Netflix), “Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts” (animated, Netflix) and “What/If” (Netflix). 

Want a succinct overview of the history of LGBT people on TV? Check out “Visible: Out on Television,” last year’s five-episode survey on Apple TV+ from Ryan White. 

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D.C. summer ablaze with events, concerts, art

A plethora of activity in wake of COVID restrictions loosening up

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After a year of public events being cancelled and residents staying cooped up in their homes due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the “outside” is finally open and D.C. is effervescing with events. Check out ways to make up for lost time during the remaining months of this year’s summer season:

The Baltimore Museum of Art will open Women Behaving Badly: 400 Years of Power & Protest, an exhibition dedicated to the women who rebelled on Sunday, July 18. The exhibition combines prints, photographs, and books to tell the stories of past heroines and modern trailblazers, celebrating women throughout history who broke rules, transgressed boundaries, and insisted upon recognition of their human rights. For more information, visit the BMA’s website

Tschabalala Self: By My Self is on view at the BMA through Sept. 19, 2021. Explore 13 paintings and two related sculptures curated by Cecilia Wichmann that reveal artist Tschabalala Self’s depth, intricacy, and singularity. The exhibition explores how the compositional process generates meaning in Self’s work, reflecting her theory of selfhood as a consciousness that is at once produced by external images and by an ongoing reworking and evolving of forms into a new whole. Self was born in Harlem, New York, in 1990 and is based in New Haven, Conn. For more information, visit the BMA’s website

The 1455 Summer Festival will begin on Thursday, July 15 at 4 p.m., featuring a stellar lineup of literary leaders and creatives (many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community) who will share their insights into the art of storytelling. The lineup will include literary superstar Brian Broome, author of “Punch Me Up to the Gods,” and Booker-Prize-winning author “Shuggie Bain” and fashion designer Douglas Stuart, among others. Some of the festival’s events include “What Makes a Successful (Queer) Narrative?” a panel that’ll dissect queer storytelling throughout the years. There will also be a teen poetry contest with a $5,000 grand prize. For more information, visit the festival’s website.

The National Museum of Asian Art will open Hokusai: Mad about Painting on Saturday, Aug. 28. The exhibition will feature work by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) best known for his iconic woodblock print, “The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa” and a breathtaking painting titled “Breaking Waves” that was created 15 years after Great Wave at the height of Hokusai’s career. Drawing on the museum’s impressive Hokusai collection, visitors have the opportunity to see a new presentation, with artworks being added throughout the summer. In addition to Breaking Waves, the exhibition includes works large and small, from folding screens and hanging scrolls to paintings and drawings. For more information, visit the NMAA’s website.

Awesome Con will be from Friday, Aug. 20 to Sunday, Aug. 22. The event is D.C.’s own Comic Con, a celebration of geek culture, bringing more than 70,000 fans together with their favorite stars from across comics, movies, television, toys, games, and more. Awesome Con is home to Science Fair, Book Fair, Awesome Con Jr, Pride Alley, a celebration of queer creators and fans curated by GeeksOUT, and Destination Cosplay. For more information, visit awesomecon.com. 

A scene from 2019’s Awesome Con. This year’s event is slated for the weekend of Aug. 20. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Maryland Renaissance Festival will begin on Saturday, Aug. 28 and runs Saturdays and Sundays and Labor Day Monday through Sunday, Oct. 24 for nine weekends of thrills, feasting, handmade crafts, entertainment and merriment in Crownsville, near Annapolis, Md. The 27-acre Village of Revel Grove comes to life each autumn with more than 200 professional performers on 10 stages, a 3,000 seat arena with armored jousting on magnificent steeds and streets filled with village characters. For more information, visit rennfest.com. 

The National Museum of Women in the Arts will be open for special evening hours from Thursday, Aug. 5 to Friday, Aug. 6 from 5-8 p.m. The featured exhibitions are Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood, which presents images photographer Mary Ellen Mark made throughout her career depicting girls and young women, and Selections from the Collection, which highlights historical and contemporary art by women around the world. Free timed tickets are required so that the museum can ensure the safety of patrons and their staff. Visit their website for more information. 

The 13th Annual Ukefest will begin on Friday, Aug. 13. Celebrating a decade dedicated to this small but mighty music maker, UkeFest Artistic Directors Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer return alongside extraordinary instructors like Peter Luongo, Kevin Carroll, Ginger Johnson and more. The program orientation will kick off on Friday night, followed by four days of classes and evening events. For those looking for more intensive skill development, Strathmore’s UkeFest is the only program of its kind that offers an advanced track. Admission is $225 and more information is available at Strathmore.org.

The Drive-In at Union Market will start at 7:30 p.m. every first Friday of the month through October. While watching films under the stars, enjoy dozens of local, regional, and international foods: Egyptian favorites by Fava Pot, night market noodles from Som Tam, ice cream locally churned by The Creamery, tasty takeout burgers from Lucky Buns and more. Movie audio will be transmitted through an FM transmitter on the radio and through speakers placed on Neal Place. All movies are shown with open captioning, and the movie plays rain or shine. Each showing costs $20 per car. For more information, visit unionmarketdc.com. 

Unwind with an hour-long vinyasa outdoor yoga session taught by District Flow Yoga every Tuesday and Thursday on District Pier and every Sunday morning on Recreation Pier at The Wharf. Enjoy waterfront views and fresh air as you shed the stress of the day or greet the new one. The outdoor yoga class on Sunday, July 25 is hosted on Recreation Pier from 9-10 a.m. and costs $10. Tickets must be purchased on Eventbrite. For more information, visit wharfdc.com. 

FUTURES, the first building-wide exploration of the future on the National Mall, will open in the late summer and run through summer 2022. This exhibition is your guide to a vast array of interactives, artworks, technologies, and ideas that are glimpses into humanity’s next chapter. Smell a molecule. Clean your clothes in a wetland. Meditate with an AI robot. Travel through space and time. Watch water being harvested from the air. Become an emoji. The FUTURES is yours to decide, debate, delight. Patrons are encouraged to dream big, and imagine not just one future, but many possible futures on the horizon—playful, sustainable, inclusive. Visit the Arts and Industries Building’s website for more information. 

The National Portrait Gallery will open “Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands” on Friday, Aug. 27. Hung Liu (b. 1948) is a contemporary Chinese American artist, whose multilayered paintings have established new frameworks for understanding portraiture in relation to time, memory, and history. Often sourcing her subjects from photographs, Liu elevates overlooked individuals by amplifying the stories of those who have historically been invisible or unheard. More information is available at the gallery’s website.

 After a long COVID drought, music is back! The 9:30 Club has a schedule of shows starting in September, notably the return of the Bob Mould Band on Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. (tickets are $25 and still available). Tinashe performs her “333Tour” on Oct. 3 (tickets on sale July 16). Visit 930.com for the full schedule and hurry, because many shows are already selling out. 

Bob Mould, gay news, Washington Blade
The Bob Mould Band plays 9:30 Club on Sept. 18.

Meanwhile, at I.M.P.’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, more shows are headed our way, including James Taylor and his All-Star Band on Aug. 10. Wilco and Sleater-Kinney perform Aug. 20. For more throwback fixes, New Kids on the Block are slated for Aug. 4 and Alanis Morissette with Garbage and Liz Phair play on Aug. 31. Visit merriweathermusic.com for the full lineup. 

Wolf Trap has a full schedule of events planned this summer as well. Highlights include Renee Fleming on Aug. 6, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on Aug. 12, and ABBA the Concert on Aug. 15. Visit wolftrap.org for the full schedule.

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Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington celebrates 40th anniversary with virtual concert, retrospective

Veteran choir soldiers undeterred through pandemic with Zoom rehearsals

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Members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington gather in front of the Supreme Court on Sept. 3, 2013. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GMCW Turns 40
Streaming begins Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m.
Available through June 20
Tickets: $25
gmcw.org

Discussion of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington quickly becomes emotional for its members both veteran and newbie(-ish). They’re the kind of strong feelings that only exist when one has sacrificed and invested in something.

“It’s an experience that touches our soul in a way that not that many LGBTQ+ people get to experience,” says tenor Javon Morris-Byam, a gay 28-year-old music teacher who joined three years ago. “We have music tying us together and in the end, we make a product that we can share with the public and that’s a humbling experience.”

Steve Herman, 79, is a founding member, though he doesn’t sing. One of a group of “non-singing members,” he joined in June 1981 and has helped over the decades painting scenery, designing ads, serving on the board and more. His partner at the time had joined the chorus as a singer.

A Gay Men’s Chorus performance in 1983. (Washington Blade archive photo by Leigh Mosley)

Now retired after 47 years in the federal government, he says the Chorus “has been a major centerpiece of my life.”

“This may sound corny, but I couldn’t imagine my life without the chorus,” Herman says.

The chorus is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend with a streaming concert simply dubbed “GMCW turns 40” that can be streamed starting Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m. and can be viewed until June 20.

Selections will include “From Now On” (from “The Greatest Showman”), “Rise Up,” “Make Them Hear You” (from “Ragtime”), “Truly Brave” and a new song called “Harmony’s Never Too Late!” written for the occasion by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, composers of “Ragtime.” Video clips of past performances will also be included in a montage. Tickets are $25 at gmcw.org.

Thea Kano, the Chorus’s artistic director since 2014 (she was associate director for a decade prior), says “Make Them Hear You” has “kind of become our anthem over the last 10 years,” so contacting its composers for a commission made sense. They premiered it last summer virtually at the Chorus’s Summer Soiree, a COVID-induced postponement of its usual Spring Affair.

Thea Kano, center, joins members of the Chorus at the United States Supreme Court on the day of the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality decision in June of 2015.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kano, a straight ally, directs the Chorus with aid from Associate Conductor C. Paul Heins, Assistant Conductor Joshua Sommerville and accompanist Teddy Guerrant. Justin Fyala has been the Chorus’s executive director since 2016. Staff also includes Craig Cipollini (director of marketing), Kirk Sobell (director of patron services) and Alex Tang (accompanist).

Under the main Chorus umbrella are five ensembles: 17th Street Dance, a 14-member performance troupe started in 2016; Rock Creek Singers, a 32-voice chamber ensemble; GenOUT Youth Chorus, a teen choir of about 25; Potomac Fever, a 14-member harmony pop ensemble; and Seasons of Love, a 24-voice gospel choir.

GenOUT Youth Chorus. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Musically, the Chorus’s repertoire is eclectic.

“(We sing) everything from spiritual to glam rock to punk to traditional classical, and everything in between,” Morris-Byam says. “I love when the chorus is all together and able to produce a big powerful sound.”

Kano says working with Fyala is “a dream” and says under his leadership the Chorus is “in a very healthy financial place, which is wonderful and a very humble thing to be able to say right now particularly given that we’re in a pandemic — that’s not the case with a lot of arts organizations.”

The D.C. Chorus is a quasi-unofficial spin off of its San Francisco counterpart. During an early ’80s national tour, the San Francisco group performed at Washington’s Kennedy Center and had a profound effect on local audiences. Marsha Pearson, a straight woman who lived in Dupont Circle at the time and enjoyed hanging out with gay men, was one such person.

“I couldn’t believe we didn’t have one of these,” she told the Blade 10 years ago for a story on the Chorus’s 30th anniversary. “I thought, ‘We’re the nation’s capital, how come we don’t have this?’”

The Chorus performs at the popular gay nightclub Tracks in 1984. (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

She hand wrote fliers — four to a sheet — had her sister photocopy them at her office, cut them up by hand and passed them out at Capital Pride in 1981. Accounts vary about how many showed up to the first practice at the long-defunct gay community center (no connection to the D.C. Center) on Church Street. Pearson remembers about 30. Others say it was more like 15-ish. It was June 28, 1981 and, by all accounts, an innocuous beginning.

Pearson never sang with the group — it was exclusively a men’s chorus. She asked if anybody had any conducting experience. The late Jim Richardson did and became the first director.

“I still remember the first chord,” Pearson told the Blade in 2011. “It was just a simple thing, you know, like do, mi, so, do, but I just got goosebumps. I was just elated that even one note came out, I was so excited. I got those same goosebumps at the anniversary concert last weekend. I put their CDs on and I get the same thing, especially on certain things they sing. You just can’t believe it sounds so great.”

Click here for more about the history of the group. A bio/history is also available at gmcw.org.

COVID has, of course, wreaked havoc on the operation. Thankfully, Kano says, no members have died from it, though a handful (she says fewer than 10 that she knows of), including Kano, have had it and recovered.

The Chorus continued its Sunday evening rehearsals via Zoom, which, because of the precision required for musical performance, was tougher to take online than, say, a business meeting. It never occurred to the Chorus leadership to take a hiatus.

“I look back now like, ‘Why didn’t we take some time off,’ but I think off the top of my head at the time it was like, “We sing and we’re a social justice organization and community is such a big part of who we are,’” Kano says. “And so for suddenly, with no notice, to have something that we love so much and are so passionate about …. to suddenly just turn the lights off, that wasn’t even an option.”

A GMCW rehearsal in 2007. (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

With the Chorus and dancers and GenOUT, there are about 200 current volunteer performers. It’s been slightly higher at times. Some were deterred by the thought of rehearsing via Zoom although some former members no longer in the D.C. area — even a few overseas — rejoined when virtual participation became possible.

The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement last summer and beyond was a galvanizing event. The Chorus responded with its “Let Freedom Sing” concert, which Kano says celebrated the intersection of Black and LGBTQ people.

Featured soloists perform in ‘Let Freedom Sing.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“It was our way of saying we raise our voice in solidarity with those facing injustice,” Kano says.

But does that get messy at times? Surely not everyone in a choir of this size is on the same page politically, even in a progressive city like D.C., right?

As a nonprofit, the Chorus avoids anything ostensibly political. Kano says the issue did arise when they were invited to sing at a Virginia-based gun-reform event last year. They participated, but carefully.

“So anytime you mentioned guns, it becomes political,” Kano says. “It’s not about whether or not we support the Second Amendment. It’s us standing in solidarity with those who have been victims of gun violence.”

Kano says there’s “a very good chance had this been a non-pandemic year,” they would have been invited to sing at the Biden-Harris inauguration, which she says they “absolutely” would have agreed to.

“We did wonder, though, a few years ago what we would have said if 45 were to ask us,” she says. “We didn’t spend a lot of time on it because we knew that wasn’t gonna happen,” she says with a chuckle.

The holiday shows for the Chorus often involve elaborate costumes, as in this scene in 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Herman says performing at big, pro-LGBTQ “statement”-type events is woven into the Chorus’s history and is understood.

“Every Christmas Eve, we’d sing for the patients at NIH,” he says. “We still do, only then it was primarily AIDS patients. We sang special concerts when the (AIDS) Quilt was first displayed and when there was a March on Washington. We did a lot of community work and outreach at a time when it was really needed.”

Morris-Byam says even today, with so much progress having been made, the Chorus still is needed. He, by the way, calls Kano “one of the most brilliant musicians I’ve ever met.”

“I believe the Chorus is a strong political statement in itself,” he says. “When we’re making a strong, joyful noise, it’s celebrating everything we are, what we can be, and everyone who has gotten us where we are.

The Chorus celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in a performance at Lincoln Theatre in 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There have been challenges over the years — finding new office space, patching together individual vocal parts for virtual performances — but no warring factions. Kano is, by most accounts, extremely well liked.

The future, Kano says, is bright. She hopes to resume in-person rehearsals in the fall. She spent a big chunk of early lockdown transcribing a Puccini “Gloria Mass” for tenor/bass chorus. She plans to program it with works by Cole Porter eventually.

Ultimately, Kano says, her goals for the Chorus are about making great art.

“Art comes first,” she says. “Because that’s how we deliver our mission. And if we put great art first, it’s going to attract great people. It’s going to both as members and as audience members and patrons, and therefore it’s going to attract great funding, and then all that goes right back into the arts we can further our expansion and our ability to get the mission out.”

Craig Cipollini leads the ‘Grease’ dance auditions in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
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Billy Porter talks about his HIV diagnosis and keeping secrets

The Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-Award winning actor revealed the secret he’s been keeping for 14 years in the Hollywood Reporter Wednesday

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Billy Porter appearing on Tamron Hall's show Wednesday (Screenshot via YouTube)

NEW YORK – Daytime talk show host Tamron Hall welcomed Broadway icon and star of the hit tv show “Pose,” Billy Porter on her show that aired Wednesday. The Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-Award winning actor revealed the secret he’s been keeping for 14 years that was made public in a piece for the Hollywood Reporter published Wednesday.

Porter discusses his HIV diagnosis from over a decade ago which the actor said he felt a sense of shame that compelled him to hide his condition from his castmates, collaborators and even his mother, and the responsibility that now has him speaking out. “The truth is the healing,” Porter said.

“I was on the precipice of obscurity for about a decade or so, but 2007 was the worst of it. By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive,” he wrote. “The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already [accumulated] in my life silenced me, and I have lived with that shame in silence for 14 years. HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment,” the actor wrote.

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