"Wisdom comes with winters," Oscar Wilde once stated. And the Prime Time 25, The Advocate's annual list of outstanding LGBT activists and influencers over the age of 65, is proving this adage correct.
In a seminal year for the LGBT community, our elders continue to be at the vanguard of this progress, distinguishing themselves in the spheres of politics, art, activism, business, and entertainment, while serving as role models for younger generations.
Take a look at the 25 extraordinary writers, athletes, artists, military veterans, and even a magician who are disproving stereotypes of their age demographic by actively contributing to the betterment of the world.
Earlier this year, writer Armistead Maupin released The Days of Anna Madrigal, the final novel in his celebrated Tales of the City series. The stories, which were first printed in a San Francisco area newspaper in 1974, chronicle the West Coast LGBT community through Mary Ann Singleton, a newcomer whose Heartland-born eyes are opened by the diverse, colorful characters in her new city, including her mysterious landlord Anna Madrigal. The series was first novelized in 1978, and has grown into nine books, several of which were adapted into television programs for PBS and Showtime. As a result, generations of media consumers from all walks of life have gotten to know the beautiful, queer characters of Maupin’s world.
Maupin’s influence on culture was recently recognized by the LGBT film organization Outfest, which honored the writer at its 2014 Legacy Awards. Speaking to The Advocate about his impact on a younger generation of readers, Maupin acknowledged that in terms of audience size, there are “not as many as I’d like, but a growing number, and they recognize the basic emotional content of the story. And the rest of it, the colorful period details, are interesting to them in another way.”
He spoke about the perennial themes of the story — the search for love, acceptance, and individuality — that have given Tales life throughout the decades. And while the LGBT community has made great strides in making the world a better place for youth, there is still much work to be done, he says, and still a great need for voices that provide hope and support.
“Sadly, there’s still young people who need to know that they have a place in the world where they can live their lives as freely as they want. And that’s the simple message of Tales. Find your own family. Find your logical family if your biological family is not accepting you,” he said, in a nod to a saying from Anna Madrigal, one of the most prominent transgender characters in LGBT literature.
Maupin is married to a younger man — Christopher Turner, a photographer and the owner of DaddyHunt.com. Their relationship, as well as his past friendships and mentorships by older gay men, has given him an acute understanding of the importance of encouraging dialogue between gay men of different age groups.
“I live with a man who has celebrated older gay men in his own work, so perhaps I have a rosier vision of things than others do,” he says. “But we gay elders have a place in the world, and sometimes, it’s even sexual! And people need to know how to step forward and claim that.”
“We’ve learned things in the struggle that are useful,” he adds about the role of older men in a youth-obsessed culture. “When I was a young gay man, Christopher Isherwood was my mentor. And he and his partner, Don Bachardy, who was 30 years his junior, held dinner parties at their house in L.A. Almost every week, I find some instance where, OK, now you’re in the position of the 70-year-old gay man with a younger partner, and how do you behave toward these younger people who are here with you today? How do you represent for them?”
Maupin, who is famous for telling stories of ’70s San Francisco, revealed he has continued this tradition of mentorship with a group of men who are bringing tales to a new generation.
“We got together for a movie night with the cast of Looking the other night,” he confided.
“Oh, wow,” this reporter exclaimed. “That’s what I said!” he said with a laugh.
Decades after helping the Allied Forces win World War II, Robina Asti came away with another important victory: she won the legal right to benefits owed her through the Social Security Administration after her husband, Norwood Patton, died in 2012.
After her husband's death at the age of 97, Asti filed with the SSA for survivor benefits — and was promptly denied because she happens to be transgender. Despite the fact that Asti had legal documentation — including a driver's license, passport, and Federal Aviation Administration pilot's licence — identifying her as female, the federal agency claimed that Asti was legally male at the time she married her husband in 2004. Asti transitioned in 1976 and had been living as the woman she is for more than three decades when her husband died.
After SSA denied Asti's request for benefits that amounted to an estimated $500 a month, LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal got involved in January.
"I am so insulted that the Social Security Administration refused to recognize me as a woman and treated my marriage to Norwood in such a disrespectful way," Asti said in a January statement released by Lambda Legal. "I have lived a very private life, but the SSA is forcing me to speak out. I don't want other people to have to experience this."
After the national press picked up Asti's story — including the powerful and critically acclaimed documentary short below — the Social Security Administration abruptly reversed its decision in February, suddenly depositing the regularly allotted benefits in Asti's bank account. At no point was she formally notified that the SSA had changed its position. The deposit first appeared on Valentine's Day.
"When I saw that the money was in my account, I was so happy," Asti said in February through Lambda Legal. "I felt like it was my husband Norwood's Valentine's Day gift to me. I'm glad that Social Security finally came to its senses. I hope this means that other people won't have to experience this."
Watch the award-winning short profiling Asti below:
Madelynn "Lee" Taylor courageously served her country for six years in the U.S. Navy, presumably earning the right to respect in life — and death — that all veterans and their spouses should be afforded.
But there was just one "problem" in the eyes of administrators of the Idaho Veterans Cemetery, where Taylor has reserved a cremation plot: Taylor was married to a woman and wanted to have her wife's ashes interred alongside her own. After 17 years together, Taylor's wife, Jean Mixner, died last year — and Taylor sought to bury her wife's ashes in the space Taylor will one day call her final resting place as well.
But because Taylor made that request this spring — before Idaho reluctantly embraced marriage equality — officials with the Division of Veterans Services denied Taylor's request. Although federal law allows same-sex couples to be buried together in all national cemeteries, the Veterans Cemetery in Boise is a state-run facility — which prompted officials to point to then-current state law that refused to recognize as legal marriages between people of the same-sex.
When Taylor first took her story to the media in April, she offered a pointed critique of the state's policy:
"I'm not surprised," Taylor told KBOI TV. "I've been discriminated against for 70 years, and they might as well discriminate against me in death as well as life. … It's not taking up any more space to have both of us in there, and I don't see where the ashes of a couple of old lesbians is going to hurt anybody."
Even if she wasn't successful in her lawsuit to have her wife's ashes alongside her own, Taylor was confident in the ultimate victory of equality.
"I’ll have the paperwork and both of our ashes in someone’s care," she said. "So they can put it in when we get laws changed."
And in October those laws did indeed change. Following a series of federal court rulings striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, Idaho began recognizing such unions performed in other jurisdictions — including Taylor's.
"Words can’t describe how incredibly grateful I am for all the work that went into making our wishes possible," Taylor said in an October press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "Idaho is where some of our best memories together are and it’s where I want to spend eternity with Jean."
Meet Taylor in the video below, produced by the NCLR, which represented the veteran in her federal lawsuit seeking to have her wife's ashes interred with her own:
The Englishman known for his vivid paintings of Southern California scenes, among many other works, is proof that age doesn’t have to erode one’s artistic gifts — or energy. “I am working on a roll now and can’t really stop,” he told London’s Telegraph earlier this year. The occasion for the Telegraph’s report, headlined “David Hockney Is Proof That Artists Improve With the Years,” was the London exhibition of “The Arrival of Spring,” featuring two series of Hockney drawings — one set done on an iPad, the other in charcoal on paper — portraying the beginning of spring in two different years and locales. “Hockney is as preoccupied as ever with picking apart different forms of representation,” wrote a critic for the paper, later adding that “Britain’s most popular artist is still playing games with the way we see the world.”
The Pace Gallery in New York City, which hosted “The Arrival of Spring” in September and October, now has another Hockney show, “Some New Painting (and Photography),” the first exhibition of works he’s completed since returning to Los Angeles from England, where he spent a decade creating art of the Yorkshire region, where he grew up. “Some New Painting (and Photography)” includes several portraits of individuals, a series of paintings that recall Henri Matisse’s masterpiece Dance, and other art of people posing in his L.A. studio, with some figures appearing more than once in the same work, as Hockney manipulates time and space.
Hockney’s work since 2005 represents “the fiercest, most joyous, most sustained, and most prolific bout of painting of his entire career,” said art historian Lawrence Weschler. Not that the artist hasn’t had some setbacks in this period. In the fall of 2012 he suffered a minor stroke, which left him temporarily unable to speak. Shortly thereafter, one of his favorite art subjects was vandalized — a tree stump in Yorkshire’s Woldgate Woods, as tall as a person and which Hockney called “the totem,” was cut down by someone wielding an ax. That sent him into a deep depression. “I felt about as bad as I had in many years,” he told the Telegraph. He recovered, he said, by making art, and he doesn’t plan to quit anytime soon.
“I’ll just go on until I’m bored, and I think it will be a long time,” he said of a portrait series he was doing at the time of the interview. “I might do 100. I work in series and sequences. I always need a project to get me going as this has got me going now. It’s something I can see is endlessly fascinating.”
The younger half of a 33-year-long coupling with author and diarist Christopher Isherwood, Bachardy has been a working artist for five decades. After the start of their controversial relationship (Isherwood was 48 to Bachardy’s 18) Don Bachardy, through force of will, found his own hard-won identity and became the portraitist of note in Southern California.
Bachardy and Isherwood moved the needle forward for acceptance and understanding of same-sex relationships by simply living their lives openly and continuing to create works of art, both individually and collaboratively. To understand the bravery of these acts may only be possible in the context of the extremely homophobic atmosphere of the times.
Bachardy’s book Stars in My Eyes (2000) was a collection of his celebrity portraits, often searing and unapologetic. His haunting and unflinching Last Drawings of Christopher Isherwood, assembled in 1990, is an elegy to his long-term partner, made up of drawings and paintings he created in a frenzy of activity as Isherwood lay dying, and some even after Isherwood was dead.
He has appeared in a number of documentaries about himself and Isherwood, including the acclaimed Chris & Don: A Love Story, released in 2008. And he had a cameo role in A Single Man, the film by Tom Ford based on Isherwood’s novel about what his life might have been like without Don.
His latest book, Hollywood, published in November of this year, includes over 300 works, from his subtle pencil-on-paper explorations to his bold-stroked, fauvist color paintings. Included is a galaxy of stars and cultural icons from the last century as well as some new millennium personalities. Interspersed like palate cleansers are his delightful abstracts, which come as a Zen-like surprise. The sheer number of famous people Bachardy has painted is hard to believe. And he has been gathering these portraits and autographs for 50 years.
One of England’s most prominent thespians, Sir Derek George Jacobi is a shining example that out LGBT actors can not only have successful careers in their field, but can also become masters of their craft.
Jacobi’s body of work is nothing short of legendary. He has brought the works of Shakespeare to life in dozens of productions around the world. He has also starred in numerous television and feature film adaptations of the master playwright’s classics, and he was a founding member of the Royal National Theatre, which has become one of the United Kingdom’s most prominent performing arts troupes.
His filmography boasts an impressive number of roles in a wide variety of projects ranging from animated classics such as The Secret of NIMH and sword-and-sandals epics like Gladiator to Academy Award-winning masterpieces such as The King’s Speech and sci-fi favorites like Doctor Who.
His long list of accolades include being knighted by three separate organizations, two Primetime Emmy Awards, and the Helen Hayes Tribute for Lifetime Achievement for excellence in theatre achievement.
In addition to his exemplary work as an actor, Jacobi became an inspiration for LGBT people around the world by living his life openly and entering into a registered partnership with Richard Clifford in March 2006, a few months after same-sex civil partnerships became legally recognized in the United Kingdom.
Today, he continues to blaze a trail with his role in the new British sitcom Vicious, in which he and out costar Ian McKellen play gay partners of 50 years. Having already been renewed for a second season, the series ups the visibility of aging LGBT characters in entertainment and reinforces the message that gay men can lead fulfilling lives long after the age of 29. It’s a message Jacobi embodies every day living life as his most authentic self.
Considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, Sir Ian Murray McKellen is a trailblazer in every sense of the word. After spending several years building his reputation in British theater, McKellen came out of the closet to the general public during an interview on BBC Radio 3 in 1988, spurred to action by the British Parliament’s consideration and eventual passing of Section 28, a bill that prevented local authorities from “promoting homosexuality.”
Despite the common belief that such an admission would be career suicide, McKellen’s star continued to rise higher in his home country, where he was knighted in 1991 for his dedication to the arts, and in the United States, where his film career took off with critically acclaimed performances in And the Band Played On, Six Degrees of Separation, and Gods and Monsters.
With his reputation as a master thespian well secured, McKellen began to venture into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy movies, gaining mainstream popularity thanks to his portrayal of Magneto in the X-Men films and the wizard Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. His part in these successful franchises proved broad audiences would not only embrace a gay actor in an action role, but view them as the living embodiment of popular characters.
Today, McKellen continues his unwavering dedication to furthering LGBT equality around the world. He cofounded Stonewall, an LGBT activist group in the U.K., and has worked with several other LGBT organizations, including the Lesbian and Gay Foundation and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
With his role in the new British TV series Vicious, McKellen continues to break down barriers for LGBT people onscreen as well. The sitcom is the first of its kind to hit the small screen, telling the story of partners Freddie (McKellen) and Stuart (played by out actor Derek Jacobi) who have lived together for nearly 50 years in a small flat in central London. The series provides much-needed visibility for aging gay men on TV while simultaneously showing LGBT youth that a long, fulfilling life can be lived as a queer person.
“I suppose I’m making up for those early years, the first half of my life, when I didn’t talk about it,” McKellen recently told The Advocate about his passion for being an out gay man in show business. “We have to come out whether we live in Russia or Africa, the States or the United Kingdom. So I’m very happy to keep telling people I’m gay, because being out, that’s what changes the world.”
Jann Wenner was writing and editing stories on people like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin back in 1967 when he co-founded Rolling Stone, which he would turn into one of the biggest publications ever. Now, it’s more likely to be pieces on Taylor Swift that Wenner oversees, but even though the times have changed, Wenner’s influence has not.
As publisher, Wenner retains oversight of Rolling Stone, as well as Men’s Journal and Us Weekly, two other magazines that constitute Wenner Media. Wenner’s progressive bent is seen in 2014 stories like “In Defense of Obama,” “Sexual Assault on Campus,” “How the Wingnuts Took Over Texas,” and “Pope Frances: The Times They Are A-Changin.’” Out singer Sam Smith won coveted coverage this year in Rolling Stone, while Neil Patrick Harris snagged the cover, naked except for a precariously placed top hat.
Even though Wenner’s dramatic life — including divorce, fatherhood, and complicated working relationships with legends like Hunter S. Thompson and fellow Primetimer Annie Liebovitz — could be made into a miniseries, he manages to hold onto his privacy, much like his contemporary, Anna Wintour. Living quietly with his fashion director partner Matt Nye and their children, Wenner keeps the focus on his work and charities, including acting as chairman for the nonprofit Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. We may get a closer look at how this iconoclast ticks now that a biography is in the works on the journalist, set to be published in 2017, the same year Rolling Stone turns 50. We might not still be talking about Taylor Swift then, but Wenner will still be a subject worth exploring.
Diana Nyad's life is a lesson to anyone in perseverance, and pursuing ones dreams, even if people think you're insane.
Plenty of people try to swim fast, but Nyad swims long — longer than pretty much anyone. Before turning 30, Nyad swam the 28 miles around Manhattan island, the 102 miles from the Bahamas to Florida, and set the women's record for the 22-mile Bay of Naples race. But now, she's back in the water in her 60s, decades after plenty of athletes' glory days are long gone. Last year she swam 110 miles from Cuba to Florida after five dramatic attempts in shark- and jellyfish-infested waters.
This year Nyad was one of the inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports hall of Fame in Chicago, and she even slapped on her boogie shoes to compete in Dancing With The Stars. She didn't last very long on the show, but come on — this woman swam from Cuba to Key West in about 53 hours. Cut her some slack!
But why would she ever rest? Nyad's next Xtreme Dream, as she calls them, is to walk across the United States to raise awareness of the benefits of walking and to combat obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. And at some point she plans to stage a cross-country one-woman show, amid her TEDTalks, motivational speaking, documentaries, and writing.
Nyad may have turned 65 in 2014, but something tells us she'll never truly retire.
One of the foremost LGBT literary lions is Edmund White, who is perhaps best known for cowriting The Joy of Gay Sex as well as his bildungsroman A Boy’s Own Story (1982), one of a trio of novels based on his experiences as a gay man. Often compared to The Catcher in the Rye, A Boy’s Own Story has influenced generations of queer men, who, like White, had never before seen their experiences on the printed page.
From the initial pangs of unrequited love, to discovering a community of like minds, to sex (and more, and more sex), to the onset of the HIV crisis in New York, White has become the memory keeper of the gay experience for the past several decades. As an activist, he has also made a great impact. He was a cofounder of several important HIV organizations, including Gay Men’s Health Crisis in the U.S. and AIDES in France, and is an influential voice on the issue both in fiction and in real life.
Today, White is a creative writing professor at Princeton University and remains a prolific writer of memoirs and autobiographical novels, many of which are set in the gay glory days of pre-Stonewall New York and its tragic aftermath. His latest memoir, Inside a Pearl, which was released earlier this year, sees the writer in Paris in 1983, as he embarks on what would be 15-year love affair with the City of Light and its denizens. He would later write biographies of Jean Genet, Marcel Proust, and Arthur Rimbaud.
At 74, White has not lost his drive to bare his soul — and skin — within his novels, a reminder to his readers that passion never dies and the joy of gay sex need not be limited by age or time. As he astutely remarked in My Lives: “The most important things in our intimate lives can't be discussed with strangers, except in books.”
She shot an Obama family portrait in 2009. In fashion, Prada hired her to shoot both its Spring and Fall/Winter collection this year. Plus, Leibovitz is famous for her photos of famous people, including everyone from John Lennon to a controversial cover for Vogue of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. But she's incredibly versatile.
Leibovitz is a virtuoso of creating fantasy through her photography. To promote its upcoming Cinderella adaptation, directed by Kenneth Branagh, Disney of course turned to Leibovitz to create an image of the iconic moment when the glass slipper is lost on the staircase, for example.
And the New York Historical Society is hosting a series of her work, titled “Pilgrimage,” now through February 22 that pays homage in 78 images to the landscape style of Ansel Adams and other greats with images of places and items she found emotionally moving while traveling the world to cleanse her soul. The trip itself was a tribute of a kind to Sontag, and the resulting work will give you a renewed understanding of the range Leibovitz maintains as one of the world's best known living photographers.
George Takei, known best for portraying USS Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek, had an out-of-this-world year. The 77-year-old actor, who came out publicly in 2005, appeared in To Be Takei (a documentary on his acting career), earned GLAAD’s Vito Russo Award, and brought his musical, Allegiance, to Broadway. Since coming out, Takei has helped keep LGBT equality advancing and battled stereotypes.
In 2006, Takei went on a nationwide “Equality Trek” to share stories about his life as a gay Japanese-American and Star Trek icon. Whether marching in Pride parades or battling inequality via social media, Takei has proved he’s an LGBT juggernaut. The popularity of his online presence prompted the actor-activist to write a book about his experiences in the digital frontier, Oh Myyy! (There Goes The Internet), where he spills his secrets on such matters as making memes memorable and taming trolls.
Throughout 2014, he has emphasized the importance of diversity in the depiction of LGBT people in media. And in an interview with The Huffington Post, he said, “We are all human beings, we come with all of these different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds … but [being gay] is not something that is limited to whites or any other type of people. We're human beings and it's straight people that produce us.” With millions of followers who eagerly consume his unique mix of social commentary, comedic videos, and wacky Internet memes, Takei’s effect is irrefutable.
Lily Tomlin has been making us laugh, think, and feel for the better part of a century, but this past year may prove to be her most historic yet. After 42 years together, Tomlin and partner Jane Wagner literally rang in the arrival of 2014 — with a wedding ring, that is!
Tomlin and Wagner exchanged vows and became lawfully wedded wives on New Year's Eve, just months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Tomlin had hinted that wedding bells might be in her future when that court decision came down in August, telling E! Online's Marc Malkin, "You don't really need to get married, but marriage is awfully nice."
And that was just the start of yet another banner year for the tireless Tomlin. In May, Tomlin returned to the stage to delight audiences with An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin, a revue featuring the most beloved characters from Tomlin's five-decade career, created with her new wife and longtime writing partner. The show featured pivotal Tomlin creations like Edith Ann — who in this latest stage appearance discovered iPods and social media — Ernestine, and Trudy the Bag Lady, just to name a few. After a tour of Western playhouses, Tomlin took to the high seas to entertain guests aboard an Olivia cruise in May and June.
In September, it was announced that Tomlin would receive the the Kennedy Center Honors, making her the first openly lesbian recipient of the of the award, which recognizes living artists for lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts.
Tomlin rose to fame in the early 1970s on the innovative comedy show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, where she showcased signature characters such as Ernestine and Edith Ann. She has since made extensive stage and film appearances, winning Tony Awards for her one-woman Broadway shows Appearing Nitely and The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, both written by Wagner, who also received a Tony for The Search. Her film credits include Nashville, Nine to Five, All of Me, Flirting With Disaster, and I Heart Huckabees, and she has appeared on TV shows such as Will & Grace, The X-Files, The West Wing, Murphy Brown, Desperate Housewives, and Web Therapy.
She was involved with two adaptations of esteemed books dealing LGBT issues: She acted in the TV film And the Band Played On, based on Randy Shilts’s chronicle of the early days of AIDS, and narrated and executive-produced the documentary The Celluloid Closet, adapted from Vito Russo’s book about LGBT representation in movies.
And as one might expect, Tomlin shows no signs of slowing down in her 75th year in this universe. Tomlin is reuniting with Nine to Five costar Jane Fonda for the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, currently in production, which sees the actors portray women whose husbands fall in love with each other, forcing them to reexamine the lives they had assumed would be, at this stage, uneventful.
When Larry Kramer wrote Faggots in 1978, he ignited a firestorm of criticism from both the mainstream press and the New York gay community. Banned from bookstores at the time of its release, the novel, which portrays the vain and promiscuous lifestyles of Fire Island residents, is now considered a seminal work of LGBT literature. And today, decades later, it remains in print. In both his writing and activism, Kramer has never been afraid to cause controversy, assuring his perennial place as one of the most vocal and LGBT prominent advocates.
In addition to Faggots, one of Kramer’s most famous works is The Normal Heart, an essentially autobiographical play about the AIDS crisis in the United States. This year HBO aired an acclaimed film adaptation directed by Ryan Murphy, which won in the category of Outstanding Television Movie at the Primetime Emmy Awards. Kramer, who wrote the screenplay with Murphy, was also nominated, alongside cast members Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer, Joe Mantello, Alfred Molina, and Jim Parsons. Based on Kramer’s experiences as a cofounder of the health service organization Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the play tells the story of Ned Weeks and his dying lover during the early stages of the AIDS epidemic. Like the character of Weeks, Kramer has devoted much of his life to calling out political leaders, health organizations, and the gay community itself for turning a blind eye to the threat caused by HIV. This passion led him to found the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power in 1987, an international advocacy group that continues to criticize institutions and individuals whenever it sees fit.
At present, Kramer perseveres to weave together creativity and activism. Since 1980, Kramer has been writing his magnum opus The American People, a 4,000-page history of gay life in America from prehistory until present day. For Kramer, the book is an opportunity to give a voice to the gay people of the past who were forgotten by records or forced to be silent.
“It’s a history of a lot of things,” Kramer told the Toronto Star. “The most important fact is that gays have been here since day one. To say otherwise is a gross denial and stupidity. We played an enormous part in the history of America.”
He is also set to write a sequel to The Normal Heart, which Murphy will also direct.
In a hard-fought race of two progressive Southern California mainstays, Sheila Kuehl won a seat in one of the region's most powerful boards, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Her win over Bobby Shriver, makes her the first openly gay or lesbian person on the board. But her journey to one of the most powerful positions in Los Angeles started just after her work as a child actor. TV watchers may remember Kuehl as Zelda Gilroy, the nerd with an unrequited passion for the title character in the TV sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Dobie didn't quite get Zelda, but audiences did. Still, the show's cancellation in 1963 forced Kuehl to flip her career trajectory toward more serious matters.
She became an administrator at her alma mater, the University of California, Los Angeles, and then, having witnessed sex discrimination there, she enrolled in Harvard Law School, emerging as a lawyer specializing in women's rights. Eventually she went into politics, in 1994 becoming the first out gay or lesbian candidate elected to the California legislature. She served six years in the Assembly and eight in the state Senate before being term-limited out of office in 2008, and over her tenure she authored 171 bills that were signed into law. Her legislative priorities included women's and LGBT rights, family leave, environmental protection, and health care; now a political consultant, she continues to advocate for universal health care in California. Since leaving the legislature she's also been the founding director of the Public Policy Institute at Santa Monica College, plus she's worked with the Williams Institute, an LGBT-focused think tank at UCLA's law school, as well as Planned Parenthood and many other organizations.
Throughout his lifetime, magician James “The Amazing” Randi has dedicated his life to exposing phonies and frauds. From so-called psychics and spoon-benders like Uri Geller to faith healers like Peter Popoff, Randi has targeted those who have sought to swindle the public with moneymaking schemes that prey on their faith and belief in the supernatural. His work in this field even won him a MacArthur Fellowship in 1986. In his role as a skeptic, he has challenged charlatans for decades, and has even offered a cash reward to anyone who can prove him wrong. In 2003 he founded the Million Dollar Challenge, an annual invitation (and test) of paranormal activitiy. If a challenger could survive a series of scentific tests to prove supernatural or occult abilities, he or she would win $1 million. To date, not one has succeeded.
“They’re always rationalizing,” Randi told The New York Times in a recent profile. “There are always reasons prevailing why they can’t do it. They call it the resilience of the duped. It’s with intense regret that you watch them go down the tubes.”
A new documentary, An Honest Liar, which will be released in February, follows the magician-turned-skeptic from his beginnings as the heir to Houdini to present day, through archival footage and interviews with Randi and his contemporaries. But the emotional crux of the film turns around the illusions constructed by Randi, who, after a lifetime in the closet, came out in 2010 at the age of 81.
But the intrigue doesn't end there. In a surprise final act in the documentary, Randi's partner, Jose Alvarez, was revealed to have lived most of his life under an assumed name — he fled his mother country of Venezuela as a young man in order to escape persecution for being gay. Alvarez, whose birth name was Deyvi Orangel Pena, assumed the identity of a man who he believed was deceased. But the falsehood caught up with him, and he was arrested by the U.S. State Department in 2011.
The story of Randi and his longtime partner taps into the heart of a critical debate in the United States about immigration reform and the rights of members of LGBT from around the world who are seeking asylum. (Alvarez eventually wed his longtime partner in Washington, D.C., in 2013. Although he is currently undetained, he is unable to leave the United States without risk of being denied reentry.) As both magician and skeptic, Randi has mastered the art of concealing and revealing the truth over decades. He has demonstrated that he has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, and The Advocate can't wait to see his next act.
Andy Bey is that rare bird, an openly gay jazz musician. “Black, gay and HIV-positive — that’s kind of a heavy load!” the vocalist and pianist once told Jazz Times. “I always experienced some kind of phobia, that’s for sure!” He came out as gay and positive in interviews with NPR and Out in 1996. “I knew I had nothing to lose,” he said in the Jazz Times interview, which took place a few years later. “I knew I had talent whether I was straight or gay. It was liberating, because I didn’t have to hide anymore. Like I’ve often said, being HIV-positive was a blessing in disguise. It took this major crisis in my life to probably help me make some of the best music I’ve ever made in my life, just to feel like a freer human being.”
One of the musician’s most esteemed albums is Ballads, Blues & Bey, released the year of his coming-out; it “has been a kind of sacred space worth revisiting at intervals,” wrote Ben Ratliff in The New York Times last year. Over a career in which Bey has performed with his sisters and other jazz masters, such as Horace Silver and Gary Bartz, as well as solo, he has gone for some long stretches without releasing an album. He ended his most recent hiatus in 2013 with The World According to Andy Bey, a mix of standards and his original compositions. A one-man show — just Bey on vocals and piano — it was nominated for a Grammy Award.
He followed it up this year with Pages From an Imaginary Life, again with Bey soloing on originals as well as entries from the Great American Songbook, including “My Foolish Heart,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “How Long Has This Been Going On?” and “I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues.” Bey’s “spirited rendering” of the latter is “steeped in cathartic emotional release,” wrote Dusted Magazine critic Derek Taylor. “Being proudly gay throughout his career Bey has paid his dues; the track is a nearly six-minute affidavit attesting his credentials when it comes to expressing the idiom.” Matt Collar, reviewing the album on All Music, called Bey a “master of interpretation” who has only improved with time: “Bey has aged into a jazz oracle who doesn’t so much perform songs as conjure them from somewhere in the mystical ether of his psyche.”
Katherine V. Forrest’s lesbian detective Kate Delafield has been beloved by readers since she made her first appearance, in 1984’s Amateur City, and Forrest and Delafield are still going strong: The author’s latest Delafield novel, High Desert, won this year’s Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery. Delafield, fiction’s first lesbian detective, “remains the complex and engaging character she always was,” noted Victoria Brownworth in a review of High Desert for the Lambda Literary Foundation website. “This is solid detective fiction of the page-turning sort. If the early chapters feel too caught up in Kate’s personal turmoil, that’s essential to what comes next. As Kate takes on [Los Angeles police captain] Walcott’s mission, we see how her detective skills have not diminished one iota. She’s as keen as ever, even as she struggles with her very real demons.”
Besides the nine Delafield novels, Forrest has published love stories, such as the groundbreaking Curious Wine, and speculative fiction, including Daughters of a Coral Dawn, and she has also edited anthologies and other works. “In the 31 years since Curious Wine hit the bookshelves and became the best-selling lesbian novel of our era, Forrest has published 25 books, edited countless more for Naiad, Bella and Spinster’s Ink and has been a driving force in maintaining the Lambda Literary Foundation,” Brownworth commented in another piece on the foundation’s website. She also noted that Forrest’s “Canada nice prevents her from touting her achievements, even though they are myriad.”
But Forrest, now a Californian, is not shy about touting the achievements of other lesbian authors, and she sees a great future for lesbian literature. “I find it enormously exciting,” she told Brownworth. “The new technology has made it more accessible and easy to get. We’re writing about new areas of our lives. We have so much more to write about. The first wave was our coming out stories and now we are writing about so many other things. Ours are the only untold stories — it was true then, it’s true now. We’ve invented our lives. It’s just exciting to me, the books yet to be written.
“I want to read what we did, I want to read where we’re going. I find it all enormously wonderful. Our amazing community. We are so fortunate to have seen it grow and helped to grow it.”
Like many musicians who defy categorization, avant-garde pianist and poet Cecil Taylor avoids definition of his sexuality. Hardly less can be expected from the man who is one of the founders of the free jazz style.
Taylor works in a physical, muscular style that turns the 88 keys into a drum-like percussive instrument. Rythms collide and dissolve and his playing can feel like an aural attack. He began playing the piano at 6, and he recorded his first album in 1956.
His resistance to the standard form of jazz at the time, with his long, exploratory pieces, made it difficult to book gigs. His experimental form was often highly praised,but commercially less than successful. But he played for Jimmy Carter on the White House lawn, lectured as an in-residence artist at universities, and eventually was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973 and then a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991.
Like many of the more challenging musicians and composers, he found a greater, more dedicated audience in Europe. He has been featured in two documentaries: All the Notes, released on DVD in 2006, and Imagine the Sound in 1981, in which he discusses and performs his music, poetry and dance.
Cecil Taylor did not deny it when critic Stanley Crouch outed him as being gay in 1982. But in 1991, Taylor told Peter Watrous of The New York Times, "The love of and respect for the creative impulse everywhere is what I'm after. I'm of American, Indian, African and English heritage, and I follow all those paths. Someone once asked me if I was gay. I said, 'Do you think a three-letter word defines the complexity of my humanity?' I avoid the trap of easy definition."
Kate Bornstein has had some extraordinary life experiences. Born into a middle-class Jewish household in New Jersey in the late 1940s, Bornstein would go on to study theater at Brown University and then join the Church of Scientology, where the activist would become a high-ranking official until a split with the religious organization in 1981.
Identifying as neither a man nor a woman, Bornstein, who had gender reassignment surgery in 1985, pushed back against the gender binary throughout a lifetime of work, including the 1989 play Hidden: A Gender, which juxtaposed the events of Bornstein’s life to the experiences of Herculine Barvin, a French intersex person who lived in the 19th century. Bornstein also wrote Hello, Cruel World, a survival guide for suicidal youth.
Upon the 1995 release of Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, a coming-of-age tale and a groundbreaking manifesto on gender and sexuality, Bornstein was established as a leading voice in gender theory. “Never fuck anyone you wouldn’t want to be,” Bornstein wrote in the book, a statement that rings true as both practical advice and life philosophy.
A new documentary directed by Sam Feder, A Queer and Pleasant Danger, based on her memoir of the same name, reveals a new chapter of Bornstein’s life and reflections on activism and writing. The project chronicles Bornstein’s experiences as a former Scientologist, an ongoing battle with cancer, and a lifetime bridging the gender divide.
Bornstein, who currently lives with partner Barbara Carrellas in New York, has been long lauded for contributions to feminism and gender theory, as evidenced by her recent honor of the Pioneer Award at the 2014 Lambda Literary Awards. But Bornstein will be the first to say that no one is truly an authority when it comes to all the intricacies and complexities of gender.
“Let's stop pretending that we have all the answers, because when it comes to gender, none of us is fucking omniscient,” Bornstein wrote in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation.
Anne Fausto-Sterling, who retired from Brown University this summer after more than 40 years on the faculty, is one of the nation’s and the world’s preeminent scientists of gender and sexuality. Fausto-Sterling has countered the “nature versus nurture” debate over gender differences with her belief that both nature and nurture are responsible. She argues that masculinity and femininity are not dichotomous but part of a continuum. “Sex and gender are best conceptualized as points in a multidimensional space,” she wrote in one of her scholarly papers. She also contends that social and environmental factors can influence biological characteristics, and that everyone can learn much from the experiences of intersex people.
In her books Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, and Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World, Fausto-Sterling explores the complexity of gender in a manner accessible to both academics and general readers. She emphasizes that gender and sexual orientation should never be cause for discrimination, and that science cannot be separated from politics. “I am deeply committed to the ideas of the modern movements of gay and women’s liberation, which argue that the way we traditionally conceptualize gender and sexual identity narrows life’s possibilities while perpetuating gender inequality,” she has said. “In order to shift the politics of the body, one must change the politics of science itself.”
In her decades in academia, Fausto-Sterling has experienced gender discrimination and fought against it. Early in her career, “[Male] scientists were saying, ‘Well, women can’t do this because they menstruate every month, or they’re weak, or they just don’t have the aggressive personality it takes to succeed,’” she recalled to the Brown Daily Herald this year. “That sent me on a path of really looking [at] where those ideas come from in the biological literature.” Also, a male colleague once asserted there were no female scientists before her generation, and her research proved him wrong. When she was one of five women professors granted tenure at Brown in 1976, the number of tenured women on the faculty doubled. University administrators once told her that a bequest to Brown to endow a chair designated for a female professor amounted to discrimination against men; years later, she became the holder of that chair. At her retirement, Fausto-Sterling was the Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Biology and Gender Studies in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Biochemistry.
In addition to her activity in biology and gender studies, she helped establish a Brown’s Science and Technology Studies program. “She has always been the driving force behind getting it from a reading group to the program it is now,” history professor Tara Nummedal, who is replacing Fausto-Sterling as head of the program, told the Brown Daily Herald. Fausto-Sterling is leaving “big shoes to fill,” Nummedal added.
Fausto-Sterling may be leaving academia, but that does not mean she will be inactive. “After 42 years of teaching thousands of students about biology, and feminist theory and science studies, but also about social justice in academia and in the application of science on a world stage, some will say I deserve a rest,” she wrote in a blog post announcing her retirement. “And truth be told, I do plan to stop and smell the roses a little bit. But I also have big plans — to continue to publish my research on dynamic systems and gender development, to continue to advocate for those who are underrepresented in the scientific workplace, to continue to write and speak publicly about science for a broader audience. There are more research papers in my future, but also blogs, public speaking, books and even some short animations.”
The distinguished scientist will have an equally distinguished wife at her side — playwright Paula Vogel, the Pulitzer-winning author of How I Learned to Drive and numerous other acclaimed works. They met when Vogel was on the Brown faculty, and they were married in Massachusetts in 2004. A new Vogel play, Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq, had its world premiere in Philadelphia this year. And tonight BRIC House in Brooklyn will host a work-in-progress reading of the playwright’s current effort, Indecent, inspired by true events surrounding the 1922 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s controversial play God of Vengeance, about a Jewish brothel owner whose daughter has a lesbian relationship a prostitute. If you’re in the area, you can catch the show at 7 p.m.
At a time when some people of a certain age throw their cell phones into the air at the mere thought of tweeting, comedian Kate Clinton keeps her comedy fresh through her blog and social media. But while using the latest tech, she also commiserates with fellow human beings who feel a bit too plugged in these days. As the "broad in broadband," Clinton describes herself as being "where sane and zane meet."
In her three decades in comedy, Clinton has seen it all, which makes her exactly the right person you want to laugh with as America faces its next session of (a Republican-controlled) Congress. She's at the top of her game among progressive jokesters, with her ability to make you think and laugh. Clinton is the bridge between the digital world and an analog reaction: laughter.
When Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp met through Der Kreis (The Circle), an early gay organization in Zurich in the 1940s, homosexuality was legal in Switzerland, but there was virtually no social acceptance of LGBT people. Ostertag, a shy teacher, fell in love with Rapp as he watched Rapp perform in drag in a cabaret. Though similar in plot to The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich, this story has a happy ending. The are still a loving couple, and in the 1990s they became the first same-sex couple to have a registered partnership in Switzerland.
Ostertag and Rapp are also the subject of a new film directed by Stefan Haupt, The Circle, which is making the rounds of film festivals and won the Teddy Award at the 64th Berlinale. It is also Switzerland's official Oscar entry.
Watch the trailer below: