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Outright International honors queer cast and crew of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

Gala took place in New York on June 5

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(Photo courtesy of Stephanie Augello/Outright International)

NEW YORK — LGBTQ stars and allies came out for a celebration of the global human rights organization Outright last week, showering activists from the Caribbean, Google’s philanthropy division and the out stars of “Star Trek: Discovery” with awards and applause. 

“‘Star Trek: Discovery’ calls on us to do the hard thing: To remember who we are and commit ourselves to the work of realizing our collective mission of creating a multicultural and multiethnic world in which everyone’s humanity is respected, and everyone’s voice is heard, valued and needed,” said actor Wilson Cruz. 

Photo courtesy Stephanie Augello/Outright International

He joined Anthony Rap and Blu del Barrio on stage to accept this year’s Outspoken Award on behalf of their queer costars Mary Wiseman, Tig Notaro and Emily Coutts, executive producer Michelle Paradise and writer/director and producer Lee Rose. 

“The reason why we’re being honored tonight for our storyline is because ‘Star Trek’ is a franchise that reaches around the globe,” Wilson told the Washington Blade. “’Star Trek’ has been so successful in helping to inspire people to create a better world. And so, the fact that LGBTIQ people are a part of the stories now is why we’re here today.” 

“We’re honoring ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ because they have such an out and proud queer cast, and we think it links to what we do,” Maria Sjödin, executive director of Outright International, told the Blade. “Outright is all about promoting rights for people here on Earth, and what we see in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is taking that across the galaxy, and really building on coming together. We do a lot of work at the United Nations, and we think it’s important to get as many countries as we can to agree that rights for LGBTIQ people is important. And so we see that in ‘Star Trek: Discovery.’”

$1 million in one night

The 27th annual Celebration of Courage Gala, held June 5 at the swanky Pier 60 of Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, also served as a fundraiser that generated $1 million for Outright on a single night, as Gay City News reported. 

During the auction portion of the event, one attendee made a $50,000 donation; Another matched every $100 donation, dollar for dollar, with those proceeds specifically dedicated to helping activists in Uganda. 

Bebe Zahara Benet, the inaugural winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and star of TLC’s “Dragnificent” and the documentary “Being BeBe,” hosted the ceremony. “I found there is power and dignity in being able to live authentically, and most importantly, I found my community, my people,” she said. “This is why Outright is so important.”

Global outreach

The night’s focus was on the work Outright does around the world, especially in countries where LGBTQ rights are under attack, from Uganda to the Eastern Caribbean, as well as Pakistan, Russia and of course, here in the U.S., especially for transgender people. 

Rikki Nathanson (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

“There are so many issues that are facing trans people across the world and here in the United States,” said Rikki Nathanson, a refugee from Zimbabwe who is Outright’s senior advisor on trans issues. “And what’s happening in the United States is so heartbreaking because the United States is the first nation of the world, and we are the leaders on human rights, and to see everything that’s happening in the United States in regard to trans rights, to me, it’s disgraceful.”

Kenita Placide and Lysanne Charles of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, or ECADE, accepted the Felipa de Souza Award. ECADE has worked to advance the decriminalization of colonial-era sodomy laws in Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

“Where you come to vacation and where you come to visit is where I live. The realities will always be different, because what you see on your visits is not what I have to live with, 24 seven,” said Placide, who is ECADE’s executive director. She told the Blade she wishes Americans who want to help the LGBTQ communities outside the U.S. would first do their homework. “Understand the climates of where they would like to work, whether it be the Caribbean or Africa. Connect with people on the ground. So, change the mindsets in terms of approach, change the mindset in terms of how you like to connect with and what would you like to do.” 

Google.org was the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Award.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Augello/Outright International

When Trek worlds collide

Outright brought together not just actors from the Discovery show, but also three queer stars from “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” which has its second season premiere this week: Jess Bush, Celia Rose Gooding and Melissa Navia.

“’Star Trek’ has always had such a powerful cultural influence,” said Bush, an Australian actor who plays Nurse Christine Chapel. In this incarnation, Chapel is bisexual. “And at a time like this, when there is so much violence and separation and polarization and discrimination against members of the queer community, I think that ‘Star Trek’ has a responsibility to stand behind our friends.” 

“I grew up in a time in which Blackness and queerness were approached as two separate things,” Gooding told the Blade. She plays a young Ensign Uhura and is the first queer actor to do so. “I had no idea what I was feeling until I found the content and media that represented my community authentically. I went on Tumblr and found what things meant. To be a part of the representation that I was so hungry for as a kid, there isn’t a much better feeling than that! It means a lot to me to be able to represent young, Black queer people in any iteration.”

Melissa Navia, Jess Bush Celia and Rose Gooding
(Photo by Dawn Ennis)

“I have a phenomenal cast and crew and they deserve my absolute best,” Navia said, about how she worked through grief following the sudden death of her partner, Brian, just a few months before the first season of “Strange New Worlds” premiered “He was with me all throughout season one and he was with me all throughout season two. Every day I went to set, I was like, ‘I got to pull it together.’ And I did. And I think that speaks to “Star Trek.” It’s about overcoming adversity and it’s believing that you can, and then doing it.” 

Navia plays the pilot of the Enterprise, Erica Ortegas, and besides flying the ship, she promises fans of her androgynous character: “Even bigger things are coming!” 

Blu del Barrio came out as trans nonbinary after being cast as the nonbinary character Adira on “Discovery” in 2020. They told the Blade that since then, they have grown into their role as a role model for nonbinary viewers. 

“It’s been three years, but I feel like I’m starting to understand that more,” they said. “When I started this, I didn’t know, I didn’t feel like I was doing enough. And the longer I’ve been doing it, the more I realize, like, ‘Oh, I didn’t I start my transition until I saw somebody else on screen who was trans.’ We need to see ourselves reflected.”  

The fifth and final season of “Star Trek: Discovery” premieres on Paramount+ in 2024.

Celebrating queer families

“Gender identity has shifted immensely,” Julie Dorf told the Blade, reflecting on the three decades since she founded the organization that is now Outright, and how nonbinary people like del Barrio have helped bring about change in the LGBTQ community. “What’s amazing about watching queer identity shift is that it’s the young people who are actually moving us into a more expansive idea of gender. I myself have one nonbinary kid and one trans kid.”

Julie Dorf (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

“This new generation of ‘Star Trek’ reflects and contends with the challenges and opportunities of our time, and finds that the answers and solutions have only ever been found in each other,” Cruz said in his acceptance speech. “On ‘Discovery,’ we are the heroes of our own stories. No one saves us, we save our own lives.”

Although not a father in real life, Cruz is a mentor to del Barrio and plays one of their “space dads” alongside co-star Anthony Rapp, who is a new father with his husband, Ken Ithiphol. Their son, Rai, is now seven months old, and will be celebrating his first Pride on the West Coast. 

“We are taking Rai to meet his family in California,” Rapp told the Blade after a recent performance of his off-Broadway one-man musical, “Without You.” “We are having our queer family fully embraced in the fullness of his entire family and our extended family. And on the day of New York Pride, we will actually have a Trek family gathering.” 

This moment In history

The Blade asked Cruz about the challenges the community is facing this Pride month. 

“It’s very easy to be distracted by this moment in history, but when we remember the courage and the effort that it took to get us to this moment, we can’t help but be inspired to continue their work,” he said. “We have to take over for Frank Kameny, for Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and for all of those people who started our first Pride, who called it Pride, so we would stop being ashamed of who we are. We have to remember that work that led us to this moment. And it felt great to get the kind of result that we’ve had in the last 20 years, but that didn’t mean that the work was done. We expected this backlash. We knew this was going to happen. And so now we have to do the work of supporting all of those people who are doing the kind of work like Outright International.”

 
Find out more about Outright International by visiting their website here.

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Television

‘And Just Like That’ ditches preachiness to become addictive TV

Second season wraps Aug. 24 with Samantha Jones cameo

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The returning women of ‘And Just Like That.’ (Screen capture via HBO)

“Do you know where your children are?” New York TV station WNYW asks the parents in its audience every night.

This isn’t a worry for Charlotte York Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) or Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker) two of the main characters featured on season two of “And Just Like That,” (AJLT), the “Sex and the City” reboot, airing weekly on Max through Aug. 24. Their children (from elementary school kids to teens) are safely ensconced at a posh summer camp. While their off-spring are away, Charlotte, who back in the day ran an art gallery, is having sex so good it’s like fireworks on the Fourth of July with her husband Harry (Evan Handler), a highly successful divorce lawyer.

Lisa, a distinguished documentarian filmmaker, and her husband Herbert (Christopher Jackson), a wealthy investment banker who’s thinking about running for New York City comptroller, devote themselves to their work. And to enjoying the rare treat of having a drink at a swanky bar by themselves (sans children).

Meanwhile, corporate (turned human rights) lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) knows all too well where her son Brady (Niall Cunningham) is. He’s living with Steve (David Eigenberg), his dad, in their Brooklyn townhouse. Miranda’s relationship with Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez), a nonbinary, bisexual, Mexican, Irish comedian who’s making a TV sitcom pilot with Tony Danza (playing himself), has brought Miranda, Steve and Brady into therapy.

Carrie Bradshaw, writer, (Sarah Jessica Parker), Seema Patel, a hot real estate agent, (Sarita Choudhury) and Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), a Columbia Law School professor, are so busy grieving, having exit-out-of-grief sex and mourning stolen Birken bags that they wouldn’t have time for children. Nya is divorcing her musician husband Andre Rashad (LeRoy McClain) after many years of marriage because he wants kids and she doesn’t.

Yes! It’s summer in the city, “And Just Like That,” the fab ladies are back! With less sizzle than in “Sex and the City,” but still fun watch. No matter how hard the writers try, no amount of additional characters could make up for the absence of Samantha Jones, the utterly fabulous PR maven, who was an integral part of “Sex and the City.” Even the highly talented Samantha Irby, a bisexual producer and writer of AJLT, couldn’t create a character as captivating as Samantha, who is slated to make a cameo in the final episode.

But the sophomore season of “And Just Like That” has its share of style and juice. How can you resist a series that, in the seven episodes that have aired to date, has given us a (fictional) Met gala and a “cum slut?”

The first season of AJLT spent much time trying to make “Sex and the City” (SATC) more diverse.

It succeeded in many ways. Che, Seema, Lisa and Nya, the new featured characters of color, have intriguing stories. They have good chemistry with the original SATC characters. Yet, it sometimes felt heavy-handed and joyless.

The current season of the show, mostly, dispenses with the exposition and preachiness of season 1. In this season, sex and glam fashion are back in the city.

The episode of “AJLT,” when Charlotte becomes Harry’s Kegel coach to help him with his “dust balls” when he can’t ejaculate and Carrie talks of “Casper, the friendly cum,” is nearly as good as SATC’s “funky spunk” episode.

The women on AJLT are fab. But one of the most enjoyable characters is Anthony Marantino (Mario Cantone), who runs the Hot Fellas bakery. In one hilarious scene, he turns to his BFF Charlotte when he desperately needs to find a Hot Fella to appear with him on Drew Barrymore’s talk show. This being AJLT, Charlotte instantly finds a hot Italian poet who more than fits the bill. Dressed in his Hot Fellas uniform, the poet’s “package” is so great, that looking at him makes Barrymore sweat.

In another scene, Lisa, wearing a dress (designed by Valentino) with a huge train that won’t fit into a cab, has to walk 10 blocks to the Met Gala. “It’s not crazy,” she says to Herbert, who’s holding her train, “It’s Valentino.”

“And Just Like That” isn’t prestige TV. It’s more important: it’s addictive entertainment.

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Television

LGBTQ critics announce winners of Dorian TV Awards

Wanda Sykes, Jennifer Coolidge among honorees

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Jennifer Coolidge in ‘The White Lotus.’ (Photo courtesy of HBO)

They don’t get as much fanfare as the Emmys, but the Dorian TV Awards – presented annually by GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics – have been offering an important queer perspective on the best in the year’s television for a decade and a half, and they’ve just picked their latest round of champions.

On June 26, GALECA announced a slate of winners for the 15th Annual Dorian TV Awards that represented an even mix of high-profile hits and under-the-radar gems. HBO’s final season of “Succession” was a winner, taking the prize for Best Drama while series star Sarah Snook won Best Drama Performance. ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” star Quinta Brunson’s widely praised mockumentary following a clique of idealistic Philadelphia school teachers, took Best Comedy Series.

Less in line with mainstream Hollywood priorities, perhaps, many other awards went to an assortment of under-seen standouts. Amazon Freevee’s audacious prank show “Jury Duty” was named Best Reality Show, with Max’s absurdly snarky showbiz satire (and sadly, now-cancelled) “The Other Two” winning as Best LGBTQ TV Show and HBO comedies “Somebody, Somewhere” and “Los Espookys” taking Best Unsung TV Show and Best Non-English Language Show, respectively. Director Andrew Ahn’s cinematic “Fire Island,” Hulu’s smart queer spin on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” penned by star Joel Kim Booster, scored as Best TV Movie or Miniseries.

GALECA voters seemed to favor dry-but-witty women in most of the performance categories; Bridget Everett of “Somebody, Somewhere” was awarded Best Comedy Lead, Jennifer Coolidge for Best Supporting Drama performance for her instantly iconic return trip to “The White Lotus,” and Ayo Edebiri of FX on Hulu’s restaurant comedy “The Bear” for Best Supporting Comedy performance. The trend extended to the award for Best TV Musical Performance, which went to Ariana DeBose for her well-intentioned but controversial rap tribute to Angela Bassett and other nominees at the BAFTA Film Awards last March.

Other noteworthy wins: Satirist Ziwe Fumudoh’s (also recently cancelled) Showtime series “ZIWE,” a mix of commentary, sketch and topical interviews, received the Dorian for Best Current Affairs Show – its third win in the category; HBO Max’s female superhero series “Harley Quinn” was named Best Animated Program.

Horror was also a running theme, with Shudder’s documentary “Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror” (from TV mastermind Bryan Fuller) taking the Dorians for both Best TV Documentary and Best LGBTQ Documentary, and HBO’s apocalyptic limited series “The Last of Us” impressing GALECA voters as the year’s Most Visually Striking TV Show.

Season Two of Apple TV+’s musical spoof “Schmigadoon!” was named as Campiest TV Show, an award unique to the Dorians, though that might go without saying.

In other honors, the GALECA membership gave Coolidge another win by naming her as TV Icon of the Year, an award whose past recipients include Christine Baranski and Cassandra Peterson (a.k.a Elvira). Elliot Page, whose superhero character Viktor Hargreeves came out as trans in the most recent installment of Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy,” was named as the year’s LGBTQIA+ TV Trailblazer, an award given to entertainment figures who create “art that inspires empathy, truth and equity.” He joins the ranks of former winners Michaela Jaé Rodriguez and Jerrod Carmichael.

The Wilde Wit Award, designated by GALECA for “a performer, writer or commentator whose observations both challenge and amuse,” went to Wanda Sykes, the venerable comedian whose year has included memorable roles in “The Other Two,” Hulu’s “History of the World: Part II,” and Netflix’s “The Upshaws,” as well as voicing a charater in HBO Max’s “Velma.” After all those, she triumphed with a Netflix stand-up special – “Wanda Sykes: I’m an Entertainer,” featuring her takedowns of everyone from Kyrsten Sinema to MAGA conservatives afraid of Critical Race Theory.

It’s worth noting that out of the 18 programming categories, HBO (and Max) won nine, with Hulu (including FX on Hulu) and Shudder each grabbing two – a clear victory for streaming platforms over traditional network TV.

For those unfamiliar with the Dorians, in addition to its TV awards GALECA (originally founded in 2009) also honor the best in film and – starting this year – Broadway and Off-Broadway Theatre. They bring recognition to excellence in these three fields at separate times of the year, chosen from mainstream and queer+ content alike by a voting body of over 480 active critics and journalists. Via the Dorians, the group endeavors “to remind bullies, bigots and society’s currently beleaguered LGBTQ communities that the world has long appreciated the Q+ eye on everything entertainment—not only on hair and clothes.” The organization also advocates for better pay, access and respect for its members, especially those in its most underrepresented segments, and sponsors the Crimson Honors, a public college criticism contest for women or nonbinary students in the QTBIPOC rainbow that awards scholarship funds provided by film and TV review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes.

Entertainment and media fans can find out more and support the members and causes of GALECA by following @dorianawards on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – and of course, by visiting GALECA.org.

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‘Casa Susanna’ reveals 1950s underground safe haven for trans women

PBS doc tells story of LGBTQ history that has long been invisible

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(Image via PBS)

In the 1950s and 1960s, you could lose your job, scorned by your neighbors, arrested and/or institutionalized, if you were openly trans or cross-dressed in public.

Yet, during this draconian – anti-queer time, an underground network of transgender women and cross-dressing men found a safe haven in a modest house in the Catskills in New York. For a few days, they could live in this house, known as Casa Susanna. There, they could fulfill their dreams and discover their true selves. In a rare reprieve from hiding, they could meet other people like themselves; and live and dress as women.

“Casa Susanna,” an engrossing, moving documentary, which aired on June 27 on PBS’s “American Experience,” offers a revealing look into this underground network. The doc, directed by filmmaker Sebastian Lifshitz (“Wild Side,” “Little Girl), and executive produced by Cameo George, tells the story of a chapter of LGBTQ history that has long been invisible. “Casa Susanna” will stream on PBS platforms, including pbs.org and the PBS App, through July 26.

The documentary uses a trove of color photos of the people who sought refuge at Casa Susanna, archival footage and personal remembrances to tell its story.

The photos of life at Casa Susanna were found by collectors Michael Hurst and Robert Swope at a New York flea market. In 2005, Hurst and Swope published the photos in a book titled “Casa Susanna.”

Queer icon Harvey Fierstein wrote a play “Casa Valentina” that was inspired by Casa Susanna. The play was performed on Broadway in 2014.

In the documentary, we learn about what queer life was like at Casa Susanna from four people who were there in mid-century.

This isn’t a fast-paced, action-packed doc. But, it’s far from a “teachable moment. Watching “Casa Susanna” is like seeing photos of long-lost relatives.

The 137-minute doc’s slow pace is captivating. “Casa Susanna,” now, is just a few empty buildings. But in its heyday, it pulsed with queers.

In other places in the Catskills, hetero Borscht belt comedians entertained. At Casa Susanna, trans women and cross-dressing men performed. Not always as showbiz stars. Often, they dressed as who they wanted to be: ordinary women such as housewives.

The most moving story is that of nonagenarian Katherine Cummings. At the film’s beginning, Cummings, a trans woman, visits the old Casa Susanna buildings. Though, all that’s visible are the facades of empty buildings, she recognizes the theater where trans women and cross-dressing men performed decades earlier. Cummings was born in Scotland in 1935, and raised in Australia. Born as a man, she moved to Toronto. From there, she went to Casa Susanna to meet people like herself. While she lived as a man, she was named John. As John, she married and had three children. Cummings died in 2022. The documentary is dedicated to her.

“People used to love to be here,” Cummings says, “They had total freedom. A total chance to be themselves.”

Another elder, Diana Merry-Shapiro, a trans woman born in 1939, tells an engaging story. She was born in an Iowa farm town and later lived in California and New York. During her life as a man, Merry-Shapiro, then named David, married a woman and was a cross-dresser. After the marriage ended in divorce, she had gender affirmation surgery. She then married a man. After that marriage broke up, she was a computer programmer at Xerox. She married Carol, a woman, in the 1990s. The couple live in New York.

Another of the documentary’s storytellers, Betsy Wollheim, born in 1952, cisgender and president of Daw Books, is, at times, refreshingly angry. Donald Wollheim, the science fiction writer, was her father. A cross-dresser, he along with his wife (Betsy’s mother), went to Casa Susanna. This was kept secret until Betsy’s mother was dying. Betsy reveals that her father sometimes was abusive toward her. She believes this may have been because he had to be closeted about his cross-dressing.

The fourth storyteller, Gregory Bagarozy, a cisgender, hetero man, is personally connected to Casa Susanna. The (now-deceased) Marie Tonell, who co-owned Café Susanna with her spouse (the late) Tito Arriagada, was Bagarozy’s grandmother. Arriagada, first a cross-dresser, later lived as a trans woman named Susanna Valenti.

If you’re sensitive to language, be warned. Often, the people who tell their stories in “Casa Susanna” use terms that were said in the 1950s and 1960s. Words like “transvestite” and “transexual,” which aren’t used today, are used.

Though some of the storytellers in the doc, later, were in same-sex relationships, in mid-century, Casa Susanna didn’t welcome gay people. This is part of the extreme homophobia of the time of the Lavender Scare, Bagaroxy says.

“Casa Susanna” is a fascinating window into hidden queer history.

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