Monthly Archives: March 2013

Moment of Zen: Anticipation and the Kiss


Well-Strung

The four boys of “Well-Strung: The Singing String Quartet” know their chiseled torsos and matinee idol faces make them seem like an inspired novelty act. In fact, second violinist Chris Marchant says he has lost track of the number of times the all-male string quartet turned down offers to perform nude during their 2012 summer stint in Provincetown, Mass.
But moments after the hunky group took the stage of Manhattan’s Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater in the West Side Y last week, the audience’s initial catcalls gave way to enthusiastic applause -– a response that Marchant believes is indicative of Well-Strung’s fanbase, which he hopes will listen as closely as they’re looking.
“One of our aims is to blur the line between high and low art,” he says.
An evening with Well-Strung is anything but typical. Along with Marchant, first violinist Edmund Bagnell, violist Trevor Wadleigh and cellist Daniel Shevlin tear through a set list that includes Mozart and Dvořák compositions alongside string arrangements of recent pop hits by Adele, Britney Spears and Ke$ha, during which the boys provide vocals. In addition, each of the handsome stars offers up winking anecdotes of growing up gay in between numbers, lending much of the act the breezy feel of cabaret with a hint of vaudeville.
The final result is, according to Bagnell, “not quite a concert and a little bit more than a cabaret performance.”
“Plus, we’re not just giving you idle chatter in between songs with a cocktail, we actually want to say something about ourselves,” he says. A Well-Strung show’s heightened theatricality should come as no surprise given that Bagnell, Marchant and Shevlin all have theater credits, while director Donna Drake was among the original cast of Broadway’s “A Chorus Line” in 1975.
It’s difficult not to fall for Well-Strung’s undeniable charms, even if some of their jokes feel canned. In one particularly adorable moment, Wadleigh reveals he spent much of his childhood idolizing Martha Stewart, while Marchant’s transformation from scrawny adolescent to his current buff self, as depicted in a retrospective photo slideshow, prompts sighs from the crowd. Still, despite the group’s classically-trained chops, a Well-Strung show is ultimately better suited for fans of musical comedy than those who’d seek out a chamber ensemble at Carnegie Hall –- not that the boys mind one bit, of course.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to play music as entertainment,” Wadleigh, who had been pursuing a career in musical academia prior to joining the group, notes. “Some people have a very serious attitude [when it comes to classical music] about protecting an ancient art, whereas we can just have fun doing it.”
Adds Shevlin: “I think that really excites people about our interactions with each other. They’re not used to seeing what physicality goes on in between four players.”
Audiences who missed out on Well-Strung’s three-week New York run needn’t fret, as the group is now booked to play the city’s Highline Ballroom on May 5. A summer return to Provincetown’s Art House is currently in the works, just ahead of a European debut at London’s Leicester Square Theatre in September; the group’s producer and manager Mark Cortale says that future dates in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Sydney are also being planned.
And those who’ve been dreaming of taking Well-Strung home can also do so, at least figuratively — their debut CD features 11 of their pop and classical tracks.
What lies beyond that for Well-Strung is anybody’s guess, and although Marchant says he’s been tinkering with material for the group’s forthcoming sets, there will undoubtedly be one constant.
“Ke$ha will always be in the show; she’s our artist-in-residence,” he quips.


The Biggest Loser

I don’t normally watch NBC’s The Biggest Loser, but a friend of mine was telling me about one of the contestants and suggested that I write about him on my blog.  From what she said and what I’ve read about Jackson Carter, I have to agree.  If you’ve been watching the current season of The Biggest Loser, you’re probably a little in love with Jackson Carter. The adorable 21-year-old from Utah is the reality show’s first openly gay contestant, and a regular wellspring of good-old-fashioned positivity. 

Jackson says that his primary motivation for going on “The Biggest Loser” is the kids he mentors as a volunteer coordinator and board member for an LGBT youth outreach center.  “I want to be a role model for those kids so that they grow up to lead successful, healthy lives,” says Jackson.  He was born in Roosevelt, Utah, a small town on a Ute Indian reservation, and raised there with his two younger siblings before moving at age seven to Layton, Utah. Except for a brief period in high school when he was very fit, he has always been overweight and experienced bullying both for his weight and his sexuality after coming out at age 14.   Now 21 years old and 328 pounds, Jackson is a student at Weber State University, where he is majoring in theater education with a minor in social work, while also working and volunteering.  His busy schedule has left him little time to plan nutritious meals or follow an exercise routine, and the convenience of fast food and tendency to eat when stressed haven’t helped. Once he loses weight, Jackson looks forward to participating in physical activities with his OUTreach kids,  being able to go to the beach and take his shirt off, and changing the lives of those around him who are also struggling with their weight.

So many young gay men, and people in general, find a substitute for happiness in their life.  Some people drink, some end abusing prescription or illegal drugs, others eat.  Those who turn to food often find it as a substitute for happiness or as a defense mechanism.  Food offers them comfort. That was the situation Jackson found himself in.  Jackson said, that the bullying started very young. First for his race; he was a white kid on an Indian reservation. He says he remembers going home from preschool every day crying because he didn’t have any friends. And even though he had loving, supportive parents, they weren’t the best at dealing with emotions either. They solved everything with food and laughter. This taught him that eating would make all those bad feelings go away, which led to weight gain. Then he got picked on for being fat. That’s when my family moved to the city. If he thought it was hard being white in an Indian school, he found it even harder to be a gay, fat, white kid who thought he was Indian. He had a mullet, which, while it was all the rage on the reservation, was not stylish in conservative, northern Utah, and he spoke with reservation slang. Ironically, he wasn’t really bullied for his orientation [then]. By the time his sexuality became public knowledge, he had transferred to an arts school where sexuality was a non-issue and became an attendee of Ogden OUTreach. So, with the exception of a few jerks, his coming out experience was pretty good.
When asked what were some of the obstacles he faced being gay and overweight and whether he found the LGBTQ community supportive, he answered:

Being overweight and gay is very difficult. It feels like there’s a uniform you have to fit into: You have to have washboard abs and wear the tight clothes, and I didn’t have any of that. I felt very uncomfortable going out to the clubs and meeting guys, because I wasn’t comfortable with myself. A lot of times people wouldn’t even give me a second glance, because everyone is expected to fit that image. It was definitely rough and there weren’t a lot of places where I felt romantically accepted.

As a volunteer at an LGBT youth program at home in Utah, Jackson initially cited the kids he mentors as the reason he wanted to lose the weight. But as viewers watched Jackson sacrifice himself for his fellow “Biggest Loser” contestants throughout the season, Jillian Michaels and the other trainers had the difficult task of making him see his own value. It seems to have finally set in because after the confetti dropped at the live finale Monday night (March 18), Jackson was singing a brand new tune.

“My life has just started. I am going to hit the ground running; I’m going to do things that I never thought I was good enough to do — that I was able to do,” says Jackson, who couldn’t help but get emotional. “I’m going to go out and get into whatever school I apply for. I’m going to be able to pay for it because I can get any scholarship I apply for, because I am good enough. I’ve never believed that before in my life, and that’s better than any prize money.”

So, will his newfound confidence revolutionize his love life? “Oh, my God yes. I’m gonna be up on that table, giving a little shake,” Jackson says with a laugh. And though he doesn’t have anyone special at home just now, Jackson says he’s “sure that’s going to change.”

Jackson is an inspiration in so many fantastic ways.  You’ve just got to love him.

Wrongly Jailed: Bernard Baran’s Story

Bernard Baran was released from jail after nearly 22 years, but now waits for his record to be expunged

Since late 1984 when the first accusation of sexual misconduct of a child fell upon a then 19-year-old gay high school dropout, Bernard F. Baran, the now 47-year-old has adamantly maintained his innocence. Because of mass hysteria of the ’80s surrounding homosexuality, Baran was arrested, convicted and sentenced in 1985 to two concurrent life terms in prison. Twenty-nine years later, he is out of prison, but still branded with a dark stigma.


“I could have pled guilty and served a lesser sentence but as a gay, proud man I wasn’t going to do it,” Baran told EDGE in a recent interview.

After spending 21 years in constant fear for his life, being beaten, raped, verbally assaulted and shuffled from penitentiary to penitentiary, Baran was conditionally released in 2006 (monitor restriction, barred from leaving the state, home curfew) when hidden evidence and inflammatory misconduct came to light, overturning his conviction. While he regained his freedom seven years ago, Bernie continues working to wipe the slate clean.

There were so many days, weeks, months when minute to minute he felt nothing but his life ticking away, evoking suicidal thoughts, Baran confessed, saying, “What got me through it all was the love and support of my mother and family, but most importantly was knowing in my heart the truth would come out.”

The truth did come out, but without amends. The accusations were a witch hunt. The trial was a mockery. The assistant district attorney Daniel Ford’s actions throughout the trial were questionable.

Baran was a teacher’s aide at the Early Childhood Development Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Allegations of sexual abuse surfaced as parents learned of his sexual orientation. By the time of his trial, six alleged victims, both boys and girls, had come forth with accusations goaded by their parents, psychologists and the prosecution. Refuted interview techniques, such as using puppets to emulate abuse, were used to lead false testimony. Though several of the children’s accusations were either recanted or unconfirmed in court, the jury was not swayed, finding Baran guilty on all counts.

The courtroom was closed during testimonies of the children, violating the rights of their accused to a public trial. According to Baran, an “expert” witness for the prosecution, a child psychologist, was years later learned to be unqualified to testify for not holding a doctorate in her professional field.

Bernard Baran was a 19-year-old gay high school dropout when he was accused of child abuse  
Ford, now a sitting superior court judge, withheld unedited interview tapes in which some alleged victims denied Baran’s involvement in any molestation taken upon them. Those same tapes apparently went missing for years, finally resurfacing in 2004. Ford’s bias, anti-gay and purposely-misplaced rhetoric during the trial exploited the jurors’ fears surrounding homosexuality.

After Baran’s conviction was overturned, questions arose regarding legal retribution against Ford. But Eric Tennen, an attorney for Baran, told EDGE earlier this month that there will not be any legal repercussions for Ford’s apparent misconduct.

“There is no litigation planned against Daniel Ford because prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity for their conduct as prosecutors,” Tennen said. “With some small exceptions — none applicable here — we would have no ability to sue him for anything he did in the prosecution of Mr. Baran.”

Baran was released from prison pending the appeal of his motion for a new trial. The appeals court did not ultimately decide his case until 2009. Only then could he file a civil lawsuit seeking compensation, in which he did so, agreeing to a settlement with the Commonwealth in 2012 in the sum of $400,000.

Though Baran settled, he also stipulated with the court to exercise the right to file for expungement, which he also did in late 2012. The Commonwealth strictly opposed his motion, saying Baran chose to waive his right to have a jury reach a “judgment in his favor,” instead, voluntarily settling for money.

This opposition is being upheld by Attorney General Martha Coakley, and on Feb. 26, 2013, a hearing was held at the Suffolk Superior Court as to the matter of Expungement of Records.

“The judge did not decide anything on the 26th,” Tennen told EDGE. “She took the matter under advisement. Baran settled the matter with the state. Typically, when that happens, you jointly dismiss the case because there is nothing left to do. However, we specifically left open the issue of expungement. And now we are raising it.”

Tennen said that the Commonwealth has argued that they first need a judgment in Baran’s favor (according to the statute) and since that is not possible without a trial, they cannot ask for expungement.

“It seems like a horrible rule as a matter of fairness and policy,” said Tennen. “We argued the judge had the inherent authority to enter that limited judgment now ordering expungement.”

Baran is fearful the decision will not end up in his favor. “This is a new judge on the bench and they [new judges] don’t like to make big decisions,” Bernie said. “They [the system] took everything from me. They could at least show some humanity and common sense.”

Baran is currently living in Woburn, suffering from chronic pancreatitis that hinders his ability to work. He occasionally speaks at Suffolk College about wrongful convictions. And though he calls the past behavior of those that contributed to his incarceration “disgusting,” he also said this tragedy is kind of a blessing. It brought powerful people such as John Swomley, Harvey Silverglate, Bob Chatelle and the National Center for Justice and Reason to become advocates for innocent men who happen to be gay.

by Tony Hobday
EDGE Contributor

The Morning After

The Morning After
By Benjamin Andrews

Awaking in the glow
the post coital bliss
your arms around me
wrapped in warmth
kisses on your whiskers

wishing i didn’t have to go to work
your back arched
hands occupied
morning delights
waking up next to you
is something I’ll never get used to
like a sunrise
its beautiful every time
Benjamin Andrews shares his writing on his Tumblr blog Voice of the Writer.  I came across this poem and really loved the imagery.  I hope you do as well.  Also, check out some of Benjamin’s poetry and writings.

A Dad’s Note To His Gay Son

Coming out may not always be easy. One father, who overheard his son on the phone discussing his intentions to reveal his sexuality, eased his child’s worries by writing him the best note ever.
FCKH8.com, an equal rights organization, first posted the touching letter to Facebook on Friday morning. In the note, the father explains he overheard his son, Nate, talking on the phone about coming out. But the father tells him there is no need — he already knew, and he never cared.
“I’ve known you were gay since you were six,” the father writes. “I’ve loved you since you were born.”
He also added a sweet postscript, “Your mom and I think you and Mike make a cute couple.”
Also in the news Friday was an announcement from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) about his gay son’s coming out and how it changed his opinion on marriage equality.
The conservative Portman revealed he changed his opinion of same-sex marriage two years ago when his son, Will, came out to him and his wife. “It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have — to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years,” Portman said during an interview with Ohio reporters.
These aren’t the only moving coming out stories to make headlines recently.
In January, a 15-year-old girl named Laurel used a cake to come out to her parents. Along with a message in icing that read “I’m gay,” the girl left a note asking for her parents’ acceptance. Not only did she get it, but they all got to enjoy her baked dish.
That same month, Jacob Rudolph, a New Jersey teen, came out to his parents, along with his entire class, as LGBT at his high school graduation. After being named “Class Actor,” Rudolph delivered a speech to his family and peers, saying, “So take me, leave me or move me out of the way, because I am what I am, and that’s how I’m going to act from now on.”

St. Patrick and the Trinity

According to legend, Saint Patrick used a shamrock to explain about God. The shamrock, which looks like clover, has three leaves on each stem.  Saint Patrick told the people that the shamrock was like the idea of the Trinity, that in the one God there are three divine beings: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The shamrock was sacred to the Druids, so Saint Patrick’s use of it in explaining the trinity was very wise.

This is one of the many examples in the history of Christianity in which our religion has been flexible and used sacred symbols of other faiths to adopt/adapt to Christian beliefs.  Too many Christians believe that Christianity cannot be flexible, open to different interpretations, or, heaven forbid, should be all inclusive.  If early Christians had not adapted, then the loving religion that I have faith in would have never spread as it did.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


St. Patrick’s Place in Gay History

Saint Patrick’s Day is a time for grand celebration in many parts of the world, with green beer and shamrocks sprouting in the most unlikely places. So what do you do, if you want to join in the fun, but cannot find a trace of green blood in your ancestry, no matter how far back you go?

You claim a direct family connection, that’s what – your extensive, extended queer family. Yes, good old St Patrick is one of a surprising number of queer saints and martyrs in Christian history, giving us all an excuse to enjoy his day. 

In his book on Irish gay history, Terrible Queer Creatures, Brian Lacey presents some evidence that Patrick may have had a long term intimate relationship with a man:
St. Patrick himself may have had a relationship tinged with homoeroticism. Tirechan, a late seventh century cleric who wrote about St. Patrick, tells the story of a man Patrick visited and converted to Christianity, who had a son to whom Patrick took a strong liking. Tirechan wrote that “he gave him the name Benignus, because he took Patrick’s feet between his hands and would not sleep with his father and mother, but wept unless he would be allowed to sleep with Patrick.” Patrick baptized the boy and made him his close lifelong companion, so much so that Benignus succeeded Patrick as bishop of Armagh.
This is a rather tenuous basis for a claim that Patrick was gay, but there is more from his youth. He was originally brought to Ireland as a Roman slave – and they were freely used for sexual purposes. Later, he escaped, but returned to undertake the evangelizing of Ireland that he’s famed for. To pay his way back, there is a claim that he worked as a prostitute.

This is still short of really hard evidence – but hagiography is not history. The most famous popular belief about St Patrick, that he chased the snakes out of Ireland, is certainly not true (there never were any), but that doesn’t deter anybody from repeating it, regardless. Why should we allow the absence of definite proof keep us from joining in the fun?

Irrespective of our view on the historic Patrick, there’s a deeper, serious reason for thinking about him. For too long, Christianity has been badly abused as a weapon against sexual minorities, but there are undoubtedly a large number of people in church history that in today’s terminology, would be considered queer, but who nevertheless achieved high office in the Church, as bishops, abbesses and popes, or honored as Christian saints and martyrs. There are bishops who wrote frankly erotic poetry and love letters addressed to each other, bishops who secured appointments to vacant sees for their boyfriends, and popes who slept with men, or commissioned homoerotic paintings from the great Renaissance artists. There are even the forerunners of our modern transmen – biological females, who lived as males in men-only monasteries.

This article was originally posted on the Bilerico Project and written by Terence Weldon, a UK based gay Catholic activist, one of the organizers of the London Soho Masses for LGBT Catholics. He is currently researching a book on queer church history, and writes on general matters of faith and sexuality at Queering the Church, and on LGBT church history at Queer Saints and Martyrs.

I also saw this on SteveXS ‘s .All Natural and More.


Moment of Zen: Purr-fection


Pope Francis

First of all, let me say that I am not Catholic.  In many ways I respect the Catholic Church and have attended a mass conducted by Pope Benedict.  I also find the idea of papal elections to be fascinating and I have followed the events since Pope Benedict announced his retirement.  But I have to wonder like so many people, what will Pope Francis do about some of the most pressing issues surrounding the Catholic Church?
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a 76-year-old Argentinean, was chosen as the first Latin American pope on Wednesday. He will lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics as Pope Francis. While his selection may be historic, it may also mean more of the same when it comes to gay rights in the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis is a conservative who is anti-gay marriage and anti-gay adoption. He has described same-sex marriage as the work of the devil and a “destructive attack on God’s plan.” He has also said that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children.

In 2010, Francis championed against a bill for same-sex marriage and gay adoption, according to the National Catholic Register.

“[T]he Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family,” he wrote to the four monasteries in Argentina. “At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

He went on to describe it as a “‘move’ of the Father of Lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God” and asked for lawmakers to “not act in error.” In John 8:44, the Father of Lies is the devil.

Argentina approved same-sex marriage in 2010, making it the first Latin American country to legalize the union, the New York Times previously reported. The country is also progressive when it comes to contraception. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has promoted free contraception and artificial insemination, the Associated Press notes. In the past, Francis has clashed with the Argentinean government over his stance on these issues.

GLAAD President Herndon Graddick responded to the election of the new pope in a statement obtained by The Huffington Post.

For decades the Catholic hierarchy has been in need of desperate reform. In his life, Jesus condemned gays zero times. In Pope Benedict’s short time in the papacy, he made a priority of condemning gay people routinely. This, in spite of the fact, that the Catholic hierarchy had been in collusion to cover up the widespread abuse of children within its care. We hope this Pope will trade in his red shoes for a pair of sandals and spend a lot less time condemning and a lot more time foot-washing.

Graddick also specifically addressed Francis’ previous comments about gay adoption being a “discrimination against children.”

“The real discrimination against children is the pedophilia that has run rampant in the Catholic Church with little more than collusion from the Vatican,” he said.

Along with GLAAD, Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill responded to the new pope’s election, saying: ‘We hope Pope Francis shows more Christian love and charity to the world’s 420 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people than his predecessor.”

Despite the pope’s prior anti-gay sentiments, Francis’ official biographer, Sergio Rubin, defended him as a noble man.

“Is Bergoglio a progressive – a liberation theologist even? No,” he told the AP. “He’s no third-world priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes.”

In 2001, he visited a hospice and washed the feet of AIDS patients, according to The National Catholic Register. That same year he spoke out in defense of those less fortunate, contrasting “poor people who are persecuted for demanding work, and rich people who are applauded for fleeing from justice.”

Some people believe that his choice of “Francis” is seen as a gesture of what kind of pope he will be.  Bergogloi is the first Jesuit to become pope, and Francis is a gesture toward the Franciscans. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi has confirmed that the name refers to St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order, often seen as the Jesuits’ traditional rivals.

A Jesuit pope who chooses the name Francis seeks to be “the people’s pope, a pope who cares about the poor, who wants to have solidarity with the people of the world,” Chad Pecknold, an assistant professor of theology at The Catholic University of America, tells Melissa Block on All Things Considered.

At the Whispers in the Loggia blog , Vatican expert Rocco Palmo says that Pope Francis’ name reflects “his desire to be a force of unity in a polarized fold, a heart for the poor, and his intent to ‘repair God’s house, which has fallen into ruin’ … that is, to rebuild the church.”

That final phrase is a reference to St. Francis of Assisi, who legendarily heard a voice coming from a crucifix that commanded him to rebuild the deteriorating chapel of San Damiano.

St. Francis was also known for his strict stances against greed and wealth, and in favor of inclusion — an idea symbolized by the embrace of a leper that famously led Francis to reject the privileges he had been born into as the son of a cloth merchant in Assisi.

Pecknold says that for him, the name brings up two themes: social justice and a new evangelism. And he sees Francis leading the church into regions where Catholicism is on the rise, such as Africa, Latin America and Asia.