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‘Kinky’ Grand ‘Candelabra’

Here is our Top 10 countdown of the entertainment world’s gayest moments of the year:

Thomas Roberts, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Roberts (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

10. Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts draws criticism for hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Russia in November. Roberts and Miss Universe co-owner Donald Trump claimed it was a chance to make a positive impact in the country where anti-LGBT laws are abundant. “We are good, regular, hard-working people who come from solid families,” Roberts said. “So when I heard there was a chance at this assignment, I aggressively went after it.” Many gay rights activists criticized any work in Russia with some even calling for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

 

Steve Grand, NGLCC National Dinner, National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Building Museum, gay news, Washington Blade

Steve Grand (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

9. Gay country singer Steve Grand has a massive YouTube hit with his video “All-American Boy” in July. While many enjoyed the hot video,  some gay viewers objected to the storyline, which finds the friend ultimately rejecting Grand’s advances. Grand, who appeared at D.C.’s Town Danceboutique in November, said the video was more about “longing for someone” as opposed to “being gay.”

 

Frank Ocean, music, gay news, Washington Blade

Frank Ocean (Photo by Nabil Elderkin; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

8. Out hip-hop newcomer Frank Ocean won two Grammy Awards in February. His 2012 project “Channel Orange” won in the new category Best Urban Contemporary Album and he shared a joint award with Kanye West and Jay-Z in the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “No Church in the Wild.” He was nominated in four other categories. Ocean’s acceptance in the mainstream hip-hop world — where homophobic lyrics are not uncommon — was seen as a major sign of progress.

 

Kinky Boots, Broadway, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

The cast of ‘Kinky Boots.’ (Photo courtesy of Foresight Theatrical)

7. The hit Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” was a major triumph on Tony night in June when out actor Harvey Fierstein, ally Cyndi Lauper and out actor Billy Porter all won. The show, which tells the story of a struggling British shoe factory whose owner forms an unlikely partnership with drag queen Lola to save the business, was a critical and commercial success. Lauper performed one of the songs (“Sex is in the Heel”) in Washington in November at the Warner Theatre during her “She’s So Unusual 30th Anniversary Tour.”

 

6. However, gay themes can’t in and of themselves save a show, especially on TV. It was an uneven year for TV shows with gay characters. For every success, like Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” which features a lesbian lead character serving jail time, there were also high-profile failures such as the Ryan Murphy-helmed “The New Normal,” a sitcom about a gay couple that NBC cancelled in May, and “Partners,” the CBS sitcom cancelled at the end of 2012 before its remaining seven episodes were aired in the U.S.

 

5. MSNBC suspended Alec Baldwin from his weekly talk show in November two weeks after he used an anti-gay slur against a New York photographer. A TMZ-captured video appeared to show Baldwin calling a paparazzo who tried to take a photo of his wife and infant daughter a “cocksucking fag” though the actor claimed he said “fathead” and subsequently apologized. Baldwin has been in hot water before for similar comments. He apologized to GLAAD earlier in the year for calling British reporter George Stak a “toxic little queen.”

 

Matt Damon, Liberace, Scott Thorson, Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra, HBO, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Douglas, left, as Liberace, and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson in ‘Behind the Candelabra.’ (Photo courtesy HBO)

4. The HBO Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra” starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon is a critical and ratings success when it airs in May. It won three Emmys in September including Best Miniseries or Movie and Best Director for Steven Soderbergh who said earlier that he originally planned the film for theatrical release, but couldn’t get backing. “Nobody would make it,” the straight director told the New York Post. “We went to everybody in town. They all said it was too gay.”

 

Matthew Shepard, The Book of Matt, gay news, Washington Blade

Cover of ‘The Book of Matt’

3. “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard” creates major controversy when it’s released in September. Gay journalist Stephen Jiminez, publishing around the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s death, claims Shepard had a sexual relationship with convicted murderer Aaron McKinney and that Shepard’s death was not a hate crime so much as a crystal meth-fueled attack based on alleged conflicts over a drug deal at a time when the two were working for rival drug suppliers. Many LGBT activists including the Shepard Foundation dismissed the book as “attempts now to rewrite the story” based on “untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo.” Jiminez says he worked on the book for 13 years and interviewed more than 100 people on the record.

 

2. It was another big year for celebrities coming out. Among this year’s crop are “Prison Break” actor Wentworth Miller, “Cosby Show” vet Raven-Symone, Los Angeles Galaxy pro soccer player Robbie Rogers, Broadway vet Victor Garber, “Kyle XY” actor Matt Dallas and actress/singer Maria Bello. Perhaps most memorable — though hardly shocking — was Jodie Foster. While accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes in January, Foster she’d been out for years to her family and friends and though not ever using the word “lesbian,” acknowledged her former partner Cydney Bernard. In the political world, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) came out, making him the eighth openly LGB member of Congress.

 

Brendon Ayanbadejo, gay news, Washington Blade, Baltimore Ravens

Former Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo has been an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights since 2009 and served as guest editor of the Blade in August. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

1. If Hollywood seemed surprisingly squeamish about gays (see the “Candelebra” entry at No. 4), gay visibility in the sports world was unprecedented in 2013. Among the notables were basketball player Jason Collins who came out on the cover of Sports Illustrated in May; swimmer Diana Nyad, who swam from Cuba to Florida in August; British diver and Olympic Bronze medalist Tom Daley who came out in December; and Brendan Ayanbadejo who was part of the Super Bowl-XLVII-winning Baltimore Ravens in 2012 and has been a staunch advocate of same-sex marriage as a straight ally. Ayanbadejo guest edited the Aug. 30 edition of the Blade.

02
Jan
2014

Standing up to Putin’s anti-gay crusade

Vladimir Putin, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin is public enemy No. 1 for LGBT people as he continues an assault on gay Russians. (Photo courtesy of www.kremlin.ru)

The news from Russia keeps getting worse as gays flee the country fearing for their safety, just as hordes of international tourists prepare to descend on Sochi for the Winter Olympics next month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a de facto dictator, is cynically using anti-gay animus to distract the nation’s attention from his own domestic failures. Putin in June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors. The law is so vaguely written that in Russia it’s now illegal for gay couples to publicly display affection or even hold hands. The law can also be interpreted to bar broadcasting news stories about LGBT people, which could prove tricky for NBC as it gears up to cover the Olympics.

A second statute bans foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children. And LGBT advocacy groups are among those that face fines under a 2012 law that requires NGOs that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent.”

All of this amounts to an all-out assault on the liberty and safety of LGBT people in Russia and American corporations must act to avoid complicity in these atrocities — starting with NBC, which owns the U.S. broadcast rights to the Winter Games. The Olympics are so important to NBC’s fortunes that NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke went so far as to announce, “The soul of this company is the Olympics.”

That doesn’t bode well for a tough approach to covering the anti-gay push. Bob Costas, who will head NBC’s primetime coverage, said he wants to interview Putin and suggested that NBC would address the issue. But the media giant isn’t off to a good start, given MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts’ recent visit to Moscow as host of the Miss Universe pageant. Roberts is a stooge who was used by Putin; NBC’s actual journalists must do better next month in shining a bright light on Putin’s attacks on gays.

In this issue of the Blade, you’ll find the heartbreaking stories of several gay men forced to flee Russia. It’s not just the anti-gay law that’s the problem — it’s the hatred and violence that it encourages against anyone who publicly comes out.

Arkady Gyngazov, former manager of a Russian gay nightclub that has been attacked several times over the last few months, told the Blade last week he plans to seek asylum in the United States.

Arkady Gyngazov, Russia, Moscow, gay news, Washington Blade

Arkady Gyngazov arrived in D.C. last month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“I’m not going to go back to Russia because I feel my safety, even my life, is threatened,” he said.

President Obama has so far admirably stood up to Putin, canceling a planned September meeting with him and, more recently, boldly naming Billie Jean King and two other gay athletes to the U.S. delegation to Sochi. A host of world leaders is skipping the games at least partly in protest of the anti-gay crusade. And leaders from left and right, including Sen. John McCain, have assailed Putin’s actions.

But so far all the criticism hasn’t been enough to change the law. And that’s why it’s now incumbent on NBC to allow its journalists to do their jobs next month. Sunshine is the best antiseptic and NBC is in a unique position with its unfettered access to Sochi, to Russian public officials and to the athletes to expose what’s happening to gays under Putin’s dictatorship. American corporate interests and profits must not get in the way of covering the big story. The very lives of gay Russians likely depend on it.

17
Jan
2014

Mizeur finding momentum in Maryland

Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, momentum

Del. Heather Mizeurwith running mate Delman Coates. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

There’s something very exciting taking hold in my home state of Maryland. State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) has tapped into the same progressive energy that propelled Bill de Blasio to the mayor’s office in New York City and Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate.

Six months ago, Heather invited me to join her on probably the hottest August afternoon of the summer. She was speaking at a house party in Baltimore City. With the oppressive heat, I was expecting to meet a dozen or so interested voters. When we arrived we were greeted by over a hundred progressive activists eager to hear Heather’s vision for our state.

For nearly two hours Heather tackled tough issues – from marijuana decriminalization, to fighting for a fracking moratorium, slashing middle class taxes and campaigning against an unnecessary juvenile detention center in Baltimore City.

Heather has the momentum and her vision is resonating with voters. In a recent survey polling likely Baltimore City voters, Heather and her running mate, Pastor Delman Coates, scored a huge upset coming in second and only three percentage points behind frontrunner Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and his running mate, County Executive Ken Ulman (32 to 29 percent).

Maryland, despite being a progressive powerhouse, has never elected a female chief executive and no state in the nation has ever elected an openly LGBT governor. With the opportunity to shatter both of those barriers, national organizations are quickly coming to the aid of the Mizeur/Coates campaign.

In the last month alone, Heather earned the support of EMILY’s List, the National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority and was recently announced as one of the top “Women to Watch in 2014” by MSNBC.

Five months is an eternity in electoral politics and if Heather continues to tap into the same progressive energy that propelled de Blasio, Warren, Baldwin and others, we are going to witness a tremendous victory for our community in June.

Kevin Walling is a candidate for Maryland House of Delegates from Montgomery County.

28
Jan
2014

LGBT Media Journalists Converging

MSNBC reporter Andrea Mitchell gave the keynote address at the LGBT Media Journalists Converging conference on Friday at the AFL CIO headquarters. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) LGBT media 

01
Mar
2014

Levine seeks U.S. House seat from Va.

Mark Levine, Democratic Party, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Mark Levine (Photo courtesy of Levine for Congress)

Gay rights attorney and radio talk show host Mark Levine on March 9 officially launched his campaign for the U.S House seat in Northern Virginia being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D).

At a rally in his Old Town Alexandria townhouse packed with supporters and family members, including his parents, Levine described himself as an “aggressive progressive” who will fight for the progressive causes and policies that he said many fellow Democrats have shied away from.

As a staff attorney for gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Levine said LGBT rights and marriage equality would be an important part of his campaign platform and would be at the top of his agenda if elected to Congress.

“I think all too often Democrats take what they can get and maybe cast a vote but aren’t out there changing the course of the debate,” he said.

“So those of you who know me and even some of you that don’t know me that well know that I’m really not a quiet person,” he said, drawing laughter and applause. “I don’t think we need quiet people in Congress.”

Levine is one of 11 candidates running in the hotly contested Democratic primary in a heavily Democratic district where the winner of the primary is expected to win the general election in November.

Among the others running are gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), and State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), who came out as gay last month in a column in the Washington Post.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which raises money for out LGBT candidates, has endorsed Ebbin. The group called Ebbin a champion for progressive causes and LGBT equality during his nine years in the Virginia General Assembly, both as a senator and former delegate.

Levine said he hopes to distinguish himself from his rivals by drawing attention to his experience in legal and public policy work for more than 20 years. He pointed to his stint as a congressional staffer and his outspoken advocacy for progressive causes, including universal health care, in his regular appearances on radio and TV political talk shows such as those on Fox News and MSNBC.

12
Mar
2014

Thomas Roberts to co-host Miss Universe pageant in Moscow

Thomas Roberts, Gay, Russia,MSNBC, Washington Blade

Thomas Roberts (Photo courtesy of MSNBC)

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts on Thursday announced he will co-host next month’s 2012 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow amid ongoing concerns over Russia’s LGBT rights record.

“Courage is contagious,” Roberts wrote in a column his network posted to its website. “I have felt that way since coming out publicly in 2006. I’ve never regretted it.”

Roberts, who married his husband, Patrick Abner, in New York in 2012, further described his decision to co-host the pageant with singer Mel B as “a huge, visible opportunity for LGBT people” everywhere.

“I am not a special case. I am a good person, good spouse, good child, good sibling, good friend and hard worker. That is me,” he wrote. “I am just like millions of LGBT people around the world. We are good, regular, hard-working people who come from solid families. So when I heard there was a chance at this assignment I aggressively went after it. Lo and behold the Miss Universe team, NBC Entertainment and the Trump team agreed and offered it to me.”

Roberts’ announcement comes roughly two months after Andy Cohen told E! News he turned down a request to co-host the pageant, in part, because “he didn’t feel right as a gay man stepping foot into Russia.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin in June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

A second law that bans foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children took effect in July. The Family Equality Council and other LGBT advocacy groups have also criticized a proposal that seeks to allow authorities to deny parental custody based on their sexual orientation.

Author Dan Savage, playwright Harvey Fierstein and others have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Cher last month said she turned down a request to perform at the games over Russia’s gay propaganda law. LGBT rights advocates have criticized gay singer Elton John over two concerts at which he is scheduled to perform in Moscow and the Russian city of Kazan in December.

John Aravosis of AMERICAblog is among those who questioned Roberts’ decision to co-host the Miss Universe pageant that will take place in the Russian capital on Nov. 9.

“If Thomas Roberts thinks he can give gay Russians ‘hope’, then I’d implore him to do far more while he’s there than simply host the Miss Universe pageant and assume that everyone knows he’s gay and married to a man,” Aravosis wrote earlier on Friday. “The benefits of such a trip are still unclear, the risks however are not.”

The Miss Universe Organization in August criticized Russia’s gay propaganda law and the ongoing anti-LGBT crackdown in the country.

“The Miss Universe Organization believes in equality for all individuals and is deeply concerned by the laws recently enacted in Russia and currently in place in several other countries,” it said. “Both the law, as well as the violence experienced by the LGBT community in Russia, are diametrically opposed to the core values of our company. Our organization has always embodied a spirit of inclusion and is a celebration of people from all countries and walks of life.”

Donald Trump, who co-owns the Miss Universe Organization with NBC Universal, further criticized the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during an interview with Roberts on Friday.

“I don’t like what it’s all about,” Trump said. “We can go over there and make a difference.”

Roberts was unavailable to speak with the Washington Blade as of deadline, but the gay anchor on Friday further discussed his decision to co-host the pageant during an interview on “Morning Joe”.

“I’m openly gay; I’m happily married and I don’t think anybody’s going to tell me that I’m less than,” Roberts said. “And so for that very reason that’s why I wanted to go and accept this assignment. I think it’s a wonderful assignment because this is going to be seen by a billion people in over 190 countries and if they happen to find out that I’m gay and married and my husband Patrick’s going to be there with me, fantastic.”

18
Oct
2013

Russia’s LGBT rights record not discussed during Miss Universe pageant

Thomas Roberts, Gay, Russia,MSNBC, Washington Blade

Thomas Roberts (Photo courtesy of MSNBC)

Participants in the Miss Universe 2013 pageant that took place in Moscow on Saturday did not discuss Russia’s LGBT rights record during the broadcast of the event.

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, who co-hosted the pageant with singer Mel B, earlier on Saturday described Russia’s law banning gay propaganda to minors as a “discriminatory” statute that “condones the closet” during an interview with fellow MSNBC anchor Alex Witt from the Russian capital with Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo. The network said Roberts further criticized the statute during an interview on the red carpet at Crocus City Hall where the pageant took place.

“I know the law is very vague, and it’s still hard to interpret for many people,” the gay MSNBC anchor said. “It is discrimination and that’s definitive.”

Roberts further criticized the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during an interview with Agence France-Presse after he and his husband, Patrick Abner, arrived in Moscow.

“The Russian laws obviously are a dark time and a dark chapter in LGBT history here,” Roberts said. “They’re seeking a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist and meanwhile it causes new problems because it allows people to abuse and hurt and vilify the LGBT community under the guise of some propaganda law that’s just ridiculous.”

The pageant took place against the backdrop of growing outrage over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record that threatens to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Andy Cohen told E! News he turned down a request to co-host the pageant, in part, because “he didn’t feel right as a gay man stepping foot into Russia.”

The Miss Universe Organization in August criticized the gay propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed earlier this year and the ongoing anti-LGBT rights crackdown in the country. Donald Trump, who co-owns the pageant with NBC Universal, reiterated this position during an interview with Roberts last month.

“I don’t like what it’s all about,” Trump said. “We can go over there and make a difference.”

Roberts interviews gay Russian journalist in Moscow

John Aravosis of AMERICAblog and journalist Andrew Miller are among those who criticized Roberts’ decision to co-host the pageant.

“All kids — Russian, American or otherwise — need hope,” Roberts wrote in an MSNBC column that announced his decision to co-host the pageant. “I am a happy, healthy, gainfully employed, educated and married man. And yes, I am gay. These new Russian laws won’t stop Russians from being born LGBT and growing up to identify as such. Russia’s treatment of its LGBT citizens is unacceptable, unrealistic and only promotes homophobia and intolerance for a community that does and will continue to exist.”

Roberts on Nov. 6 interviewed Anton Krasovsky, the former editor-in-chief of a pro-Kremlin television station who said he lost his job in January after he came out during a segment on Russia’s gay propaganda law. Masha Gessen, a lesbian Russian American journalist, appeared on the MSNBC anchor’s program before he traveled to the country.

Roberts told “Today” show co-host Savannah Guthrie on Friday that he hasn’t “run into any discrimination so far since I’ve been here” in Russia.

“Visibility is really important,” Roberts told Guthrie. “I’m openly gay. I think it’s an interesting fact, but I’m certainly not embarrassed about it. I’m proud of my marriage. I’m proud of who I am.”

Oleg Klyuenkov of the Russian LGBT advocacy group Rakurs in the city of Arkhangelsk told the Washington Blade on Friday during an interview in D.C. that he feels most Russians will not watch the pageant. He nevertheless applauded Roberts’ decision to co-host it.

“It’s great,” Klyuenkov said.

10
Nov
2013

Baldwin finally faces consequences for hate speech

Alec Baldwin, gay news, Washington Blade

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that anti-gay slurs are a key line of attack against LGBT rights. (Photo by David Shankbone; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

“Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” my Mom would say after I, as a kid, once again did something wrong (calling my brother names or talking back to my teachers) for which I’d previously said “I’m sorry.”

This saying came to mind when I learned that on Nov. 15, MSNBC suspended actor and talk show host Alec Baldwin for two weeks after he used an anti-gay slur when confronting a photographer last Thursday. “Up Late,” Baldwin’s interview show wasn’t aired on Friday and it will not be shown this week. The confrontation was posted by TMZ in a video on its website. As Baldwin exits his New York City apartment, a photographer attempts to take pictures of him, his wife and their baby. It sounds as if Baldwin is calling the paparazzi a “cocksucking faggot.”  Baldwin said he had no idea that “cocksucker” was an anti-gay slur and that he didn’t say “faggot.”

Watching Baldwin spew this homophobic venom, I thought: here we go again. Last June, Baldwin was outraged when “Daily Mail” reporter George Stark wrongly reported that Baldwin’s wife tweeted about recipes during actor James Gandolfini’s funeral. The talented actor, who has supported marriage equality, vented his rage in a blast of homophobic tweets.  “I’m gonna find you, George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I’m gonna fuck…you…up,” Baldwin ranted.

Baldwin apologized for his homophobic tweets, though he told Gothamist that calling Stark a “toxic queen” hadn’t been an anti-gay slur. Other than going through the embarrassment of making an apology, Baldwin didn’t take a career hit for his homophobic slurs. Capital One kept him as its spokesman, and he continued to be a charismatic TV and film presence. At the time, some of us were skeptical about the sincerity of Baldwin’s apology and wondered if he hadn’t been given a pass because of his support for same-sex marriage.

Less than six months later, Baldwin is again sending out mixed signals – apologizing for using (anti-gay language) and then denying that he was being homophobic. “Words are important. I … will choose mine with great care going forward,” Baldwin said in a statement last Friday.  “What I said … as I was trying to protect my family, was offensive and unacceptable.  Behavior like this undermines hard-fought rights that I vigorously support.”

Yet, a day later, Baldwin denied being homophobic on his Huffington Poet blog. “I can assure you … that a direct homophobic slur (or indirect one for that matter) is not spoken,” Baldwin wrote referring to his encounter with the photographer. “In the wake of referring to a tabloid ‘journalist’ as a toxic-queen, I would never allow myself to make that mistake again. My friends who happen to be gay are baffled by this. They see me as one who … has been a supporter of gay rights for many years.”

Really? Yes, Baldwin has endorsed marriage equality. Yet, who, gay or straight, doesn’t know that “cocksucker” is an anti-gay epithet? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that anti-gay slurs are a key line of attack against LGBT rights. Homophobic language isn’t only demeaning, it can incite bullying and violence.

This time around, it looks like Baldwin isn’t getting a pass. Last week, GLAAD admonished Baldwin. “Mr. Baldwin can’t lend his support for equality on paper, while degrading gay people,” the group said. “It’s clearly time he listens to the calls of so many L.G.B.T. people and allies to end this pattern of anti-gay slurs.”

The future of Baldwin’s TV program is uncertain, according to Baldwin. “Whether the show comes back at all is at issue,” Baldwin said on his Huffington Post blog last week.

I don’t wish Baldwin or his family ill. Yet, I’m glad that he’s facing some consequences for his homophobic words, and hopeful that this will stop others from using hurtful anti-gay slurs.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

20
Nov
2013

Fire Island continues post-Sandy recovery

Fire Island, Pavilion nightclub, gay news, Washington Blade

Crews continue to reconstruct the Pavilion nightclub in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., after a Nov. 2011 fire destroyed it. (Photo courtesy of FIP Ventures)

More than four months after Superstorm Sandy devastated the New York and New Jersey coastline, residents and business owners on Fire Island continue to prepare for the upcoming season.

Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday the beachfront dunes that had been damaged during Sandy have begun to rebuild because of dune fencing the hamlet installed immediately after the storm.

The storm surge that reached nearly 14 feet in parts of New York City and Long Island flooded dozens of bay front homes, damaged a number of boardwalks and destroyed beach accesses. In spite of this damage, Romano stressed Cherry Grove weathered Sandy relatively well compared to other Fire Island communities.

“The people of Cherry Grove seem to be thankful and looking forward to a great season,” she said.

Jay Pagano, president of the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association, said “necessary repairs” to the harbor are underway. He said the resort’s marina will be “up and running” by April 15, and debris removal will be completed by the end of this month.

Construction on the Pavilion, a nightclub that burned to the ground during a November 2011 fire that destroyed several other businesses in the Fire Island Pines commercial district, continues. It is slated to open later this spring in time to commemorate the gay resort’s 60th anniversary.

“The new Pines Pavilion complies to a heightened [Federal Emergency Management Agency] sea level, and none of the crucial elements of the building were touched by water,” Matthias Hollwich of Hollwich Kushner Architects, which designed the building, said. “Thankfully the foundations are deep and strong enough to easily withstand Sandy. The only challenge that we experienced was a delay in construction.”

The storm washed several oceanfront homes in Davis Park, a hamlet that is roughly two miles east of Fire Island Pines, out to sea. Dozens of others along the 34-mile long barrier island east of New York City also suffered damage.

The surge also caused numerous overwashes and at least three breaches — including one on the eastern end of Fire Island through which water continues to flow between the ocean and the Great South Bay.

The debris removal process had been delayed because of controversy over the bidding process through which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the contract. The National Park Service’s announcement last month that it would begin to enforce a state law on some Fire Island beaches that bans public nudity, in part because Sandy destroyed the dunes that had obstructed nude sunbathers, sparked outrage among some. It does not, however, apply to Fire Island Pines or Cherry Grove.

‘We’re still kind of homeless’

Gay Staten Island residents with whom the Blade spoke roughly a month after Sandy made landfall continue to struggle to recover from the storm.

Up to six feet of water inundated Wayne Steinman and Sal Ianullo’s oceanfront townhouse on Father Capodanno Boulevard in the borough’s Midland Beach neighborhood during Sandy. The couple continues to live with Ianullo’s parents in Brooklyn as they try to repair their home.

Contractors have replaced the condominium’s back and side walls. A new furnace and hot water heater have been installed, but Steinman said he cannot begin the bulk of the needed structural repairs until he receives a payout from his insurance company.

“It’s really very, very frustrating,” Steinman said. “We’re still kind of homeless.”

Allison Galdorisi and Claire Watson fled their home in the Cedar Grove neighborhood of Staten Island during the height of the storm as several feet of water inundated the area.

Galdorisi told the Blade on Wednesday she and her wife “cleaned and dried the house out really quickly,” but the couple continues to rent an apartment in Midland Beach. The women are considering lifting their home to meet new FEMA flood standards, or even accepting a buyout that would take more than a year to complete.

“We’re just stuck,” Galdorisi said. “We’re pretty much out of shock and going into this new shock of not knowing what’s the best thing to do.”

Staten Island resident Michele Karlsberg, who is lesbian comedian Kate Clinton’s publicist, coordinated volunteer efforts in the borough in the weeks after Sandy.

She said her mother will move back into her apartment in the borough’s Ocean Breeze neighborhood that had eight feet of water inside it after the storm on March 15. Karlsberg added her sister has spent $30,000 so far to repair her home.

“The zone looks the same as if it was day one,” she said.

Sandy also inundated the Ali Forney Center’s drop-in center for homeless LGBT youth near the Hudson River in Manhattan’s West Chelsea neighborhood.

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts and his husband, Patrick Abner, were among those who helped the organization raise funds to recoup some of their losses and to help pay for some of the renovations to a second drop-in center that opened in Harlem less than two months after the storm. The new facility does not yet have showers or medical facilities for the 60 young people who access it each day, but Ali Forney Center Executive Director Carl Siciliano stressed he feels his organization has recovered well from the storm.

“Because of that really strong support, we were able to pretty quickly get back on our feet,” he said.

Hurricane Sandy, Washington Blade, gay news

Superstorm Sandy’s surge destroyed homes along Cedar Grove Avenue in Staten Island, N.Y. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

06
Mar
2013

Ben Carson’s same-sex marriage comments spark outrage

Ben Carson, gay news, Washington Blade

Dr. Ben Carson (Photo public domain)

A Baltimore neurosurgeon who is a rising star among Republican circles on Tuesday sparked outrage when he said gays, pedophiles and those who engage in bestiality cannot “change the definition” of marriage.

“My thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Dr. Ben Carson, director of Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery, said during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity. “It’s a well-established fundamental pillar of society. And no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association,) be they people who believe in bestiality — it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition.”

LGBT rights advocates were quick to criticize Carson for his comments.

“Ben Carson clearly has no concept of gay and lesbian people who have formed loving, committed couples and families,” GLAAD Director of News and Faith Initiatives Ross Murray told the Washington Blade, noting the media watchdog group has added him to its Commentator Accountability Project that documents public figures who have made anti-LGBT statements. “He’s not an expert, but merely an anti-gay uninformed talking head.”

Carson, who in 1987 became the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins, delivered the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast in D.C. in February. He also spoke at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual conference that took place at National Harbor earlier this month.

A group of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine students and faculty members have urged the university to replace Carson as this year’s commencement speaker over the controversy.

Carson told the Baltimore Sun on Friday he would be “happy to withdraw” if “they think me being there is going to be a problem.”

He also apologized for his comments to Hannity during his interview with the newspaper and other media outlets.

“You know, as a Christian, you know, I have a duty to love all people and that includes people who have other sexual orientations, and I certainly do, and never had any intention of offending anyone,” Carson told MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell. “If anybody was offended, I apologize to you. But what I was basically saying is that there is no group. I wasn’t equating those things, I don’t think they’re equal.”

29
Mar
2013