Happy Memorial Day!

30 May

To all the troops — gay, straight, and bi — thank you.

YouTube Sunday: Stand Up

22 May

James Dean: Gay Icon?

19 May

“It was very hard for men who wanted to come out of the closet in those days. The men that I knew — Monty and Jimmy [Dean] and Rock — if anything, I helped them get out of the closet. I didn’t even know I was doing it. I didn’t know that I was more advanced than most people in this town. It just never occurred to me.”
Elizabeth Taylor

Who was James Dean? A shining beacon of talent whose bright light was extinguished far too early, Dean lived with a privacy that would be unheard of in today’s celebrity culture. “He was very afraid of being hurt,” costar Elizabeth Taylor said of Dean. “He was afraid of opening up in case it was turned around and used against him.”

The young actor, who starred in only three films before his fatal joy ride, became a bona fide icon after his death. His skill as an on-screen force was heralded by the best. He worked and walked with the rich and famous. Yet during his brief moment in the spotlight, Dean offered little insight into the man behind some of cinema’s most cherished characters. He had his demons, this is no secret, but the mystery that surrounded him during his life became nothing short of legend with his passing.

Rumored to have been the object of affection from men and women alike, Dean’s elusive sexuality has left many searching for answers. A screenwriter and theater student from UCLA, William Bast and James Dean lived together as roommates for a number of years. It would be more than fifty years after Dean’s death that William finally disclosed what many had already speculated: that his relationship with James was more than platonic.

Known for a ‘live and let live’ demeanor, Dean never seemed to go through life with restraints. He was even the subject of a well-known bet between Giant stars Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. “Elizabeth and Rock took bets on who could get James into bed first,” recounted Giant co-star Noreen Nash. Word got around.

So, who was James Dean? Was he a man open to new experiences, without regard to labels and gender? Or do we crave the fantasy of an icon of Dean’s stature – the image of sex, masculinity, and rebellion – as gay? Dean’s ambiguous relationship with Sal Mineo in the angst-ridden Rebel Without A Cause has led many to speculate and view this golden age film as years ahead of its time. Many, including Rebel director Nicholas Ray, have gone on the record to say Dean was gay and had knowledge of gay bars. Dean, unfortunately, isn’t here to settle the curiosity.

Perhaps, an extremely guarded individual, Dean learned early on to shield himself from the scrutiny of the public eye. We may never know who James Dean truly was, but we are left with some parting insight from the man of the hour: “I’m certainly not going through life with one hand tied behind my back.”

As for the bet, the Dame is said to have come up short.

A Remarkable Weekend

17 May

Seven years ago today, Massachusetts sparked a fire that has yet to be extinguished when it became the first state in the Union to allow gay marriage.

Since 2004, 25 percent of states in our nation (including the District of Columbia) have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in the form of civil unions or marriage.

The balance of power over the struggle for gay rights has teetered in years since. Both sides have invested precious time and money in their cause, and both sides have celebrated victory and suffered defeat. And while the outcome of our civil rights movement has at times seemed permanently stuck in limbo, something’s happened over the past two years. The game has changed. The seesaw has tilted once more.

This weekend, something happened. Something big.

Following an increase in coverage regarding homophobia in sports after Kobe Bryant’s “faggot” heard round the world and a number of prominent sports figures stepping up and speaking out against bullying and discrimination, Rick Welts did something no active sports figure has ever done in America. He came out as a gay man.

You may not have known his name before his announcement, but you will now. President and CEO of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, Rick Welts spent 40 years in sports before deciding to come out. “This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” Welts said in an interview with the New York Times. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”

His decision to come out at the age of 58 didn’t shock many of his friends and colleagues, but it stands as a significant step towards shedding a dark shadow that has plagued the world of sports for years.

The timing of Welts’ announcement corresponded with the surprising retirement of rugby icon Ben Cohen. And while he may be walking off the green, he takes up a new challenge with the formation of The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation, an organization focused on combating bullying and homophobia.

“As athletes, it’s not enough just to have strong bodies. We must have strong characters and use our voices to support those in need and deserve it.”

The weekend concluded when Don Lemon, a prominent news anchor on CNN who chronicled his life and career in his new book “Transparent,” directed his Twitter followers to a New York Times article where he came out as gay.

“I’m scared. I’m talking about something that people might shun me for, ostracize me for,” he said. “It’s quite different for an African-American male. It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture.”

But Lemon realized that coming out was bigger than himself. When Tyler Clementi took his own life after being bullied for being gay, Lemon resisted the urge to remove his sexual orientation as a topic of his book. “I think if I had seen more people like me who are out in proud, it wouldn’t have taken me 45 years to say it, to walk in the truth.”

Appearing on Joy Behar’s HLN news program last night, Lemon said, “I was born gay, just as I was born black.”

Thank you, to all of you. Your courage to live with purpose will change minds and save lives.

There is no shame in being who you are. There is no sorrow in embracing your own unique self. We all have a story to share, a journey we have traveled. Your tears and inner pain are not in vein. Until you feel strong and proud enough to share your light with the world, we’re reminded every day by these remarkable stories that it does get better.

It was also 57 years ago today that the Supreme Court ruled that separate can never be equal.

YouTube Sunday: Empire State of Mind

15 May