The singer-actress speaks to The Advocate about pursuing her hot single “Put Your Graffiti On Me,” her obsession with drag queens, and her close ties to the transgender community.
By Josh Hinkle
Although best-known for her role as Bonnie Bennett on the CW’s hit series The Vampire Diaries, Kat Graham’s true love is music. With her stunning voice and sexy choreography, her new single “Put Your Graffiti On Me” has caught the attention of names like Perez Hilton and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Jiggly Caliente. And as an appropriate rite-of-passage for the rising actress-singer, she’s even been noticed by Sherry Vine, who has has already produced a naughty parody of the song. Graham speaks to The Advocate about pursuing her music career, her obsession with drag queens, and her close ties to the transgender community.
The Advocate: I know you’ve been acting for a while, but when did you find a passion for music?
Kat Graham: Well, I was a backup dancer when I was 14 or 15 years old. That’s when I started to dance for other acts. I was pretty young. I saw what they were doing and I saw myself in the background of it. I thought that I could do what they did. I actually got into music around that time. I started making mostly beats and making tracks in my bedroom. That eventually led to everything, from working with Will.I.Am to signing to A&M/Octone Records. So it’s been a natural process. It’s been a hustle and a struggle, but it’s been great.
You made the beats, you wrote the songs, you did all the choreography, you made the costumes, and I read that you were taking acting jobs to pay for your music. Where does this resourcefulness come from?
You have to do what you have to do with what you have. You can’t rely on someone else to stamp and say, “OK. This is great. Let me do everything for you.” Even to this day I still do a lot more stuff on my own than I ever have. It came by default. I had to; it wasn’t a choice. You have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and handle it if it’s something that you really want to do. The music industry right now is not something that I would recommend anyone getting into unless they would die doing it because they love it so much.
On that note, how did you go about booking yourself on a gay club tour just a couple of years ago?
You know, it’s so funny. It’s like you’re this little black girl walking into Fubar and talking to everyone saying, “Hey, I’d love to perform here for free if you would give me a chance.” That was the first step into everything that has become so much a part of who I am and so much a part of my performances and lifestyle in the gay community. I’ve been so completely influenced by performers in the community, drag queens especially. I feel like most of the world, or the mainstream, has the complete false perception of a drag queen or a transgender performer. There’s so much incredible beauty and style and ferociousness that goes into it. I feel like what I want to do, the more I grow as an artist and the more known I become, is to help raise that knowledge of how incredible these performers are. I feel like so many artists take different things from different queens and the originals never get any credit. For me, I’m like, “Listen, honey, I learned everything I know from a drag queen.” I’m part of a house in Atlanta, the House of Brooks, with Phoenix and Nicole Paige Brooks.
So a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants.
Yeah. [Laughs]. That’s so funny. So we’re all in Atlanta and we stay together. We’re all very much a family. We help each other with costumes, with ideas, and to have a family that is performers, I just feel so lucky. So for me, starting a gay club run was a first step. And I’m on one right now by the way. I came full circle.
You really did.
For me, no matter what show I’m on or whatever I’m doing in my career, whatever level I’ve been able to shove myself up on, I will always do a gay club run. I will always do a pride, if they’ll have me. I’ll always do a San Fran, or L.A. or ATL pride, because for me those dreams never change. My best audience and where I’m happiest is in the gay community. That’s where I feel the most accepted. It’s a community that appreciates pop culture like no other. For me, that’s where I’m home and I always want to come home.
Perez Hilton says “Put Your Graffiti On Me” could very well be the next drag anthem. What do you think about that?
That’s a really heavy quote because I’m in those clubs every night. I would be so flattered and honored if anyone performed my song. People should perform what they feel in their heart and what is a part of them. If “Put Your Graffiti On Me” has enough fierce sass for them then by all means go for it. It would be such an honor for me. A couple of my friends have told me that they perform my song. I actually met Jiggly Caliente at the airport randomly. We didn’t know each other but she recognized me and I recognized her immediately. She was like, “I performed your song.” I remember feeling so honored. I feel like drag queens are the fiercest, most fearless performers in the world.
Are you a big fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Are you kidding me? Like every morning after the show airs we rewatch it in hair and makeup at The Vampire Diaries. They know I’m a massive fan of RuPaul. In fact, Ru doesn’t know this, but I met her the first time at Perez’s birthday party and I was with my boyfriend. Ru was dancing on the floor, just like living, you know? I started to cry when I saw her. I finally got up the guts to meet her and introduce myself. For me, I have a deeper connection to everything. I sometimes feel that with my music people look at it like it just might be pop or they try to put me in a box, like it’s kind of Pussycat Dolls or whatever. In my mind, for me, Paris is always burning. I think I’m a drag queen and if somebody says I look like one, you don’t understand that you’re giving me a compliment because that’s where I live, that’s where my music flourishes and grows. My ideas grow from the gay community. That’s where I live mentally.
So where did your inspiration for “Put Your Graffiti On Me” come from?
Different places. One, I’ve always been about self-acceptance and self-love. I wanted to express that in sassy way, where it’s like if you want me come and get me. I wanted to put it in a song that had euphemisms. So when graffiti came about, it was perfect because I was singing about someone who I wanted, if they really wanted me, to come and put their name on it. It’s the attitude I have.
Who are some of your pop idols?
I feel like there isn’t that many in the era I grew up in. I’m 22 now, but when I was a kid in grade school it was all the Janet stuff. I would actually have to archive stuff from the early ‘90s and watch old Janet videos. It was always Janet for me. Right now I feel there’s a space missing where there aren’t a lot of the Madonnas or the Janets who are dancing. Having that element to your performance is a must, like the Paula Abduls. There aren’t that many now but I always look back to the ‘90s for my deepest inspiration.
Your best friend is transgender. Tell me about her.
Alissa Brooks is incredible. She actually was assisting me for like a month because after “Graffiti” came out it was insanity. We were just trying to keep up with everything and trying to take as many opportunities as possible. I perform with her sometimes and I go to her shows. I support her. I’ve literally done the lights for her show, pulled the curtains back, introduced her, everything. For me, it’s totally normal. She’s just Alissa. She’s my heart and a lot of my inspiration. She’s fearless and she’s strong. What we want to do is eventually change the perception of the world. I know it’s a lot and I know it’s going to take some time but for me, one, I’m on both sides. I’ve had discrimination from being Jewish to being African-American, and here I am fully waving the rainbow flag everywhere I go to whoever will listen to me. I’ve definitely been dealing with a lot, everything from racism to discrimination. So for me, it’s even more of a fight, and I will fight for any sort of inequality, especially for my team. My managers, my agents, my best friend, I mean everyone is in the LGBT community. I feel like I might as well be. It’s no different. I feel like I’m so out of the closet for not even being gay. But, you know, for Alissa, she’s not the only transgender friend I have, but she’s my best friend. I want to empower people that are different like me. I want it to be normal. I don’t want people to think that I’m forcing it down people’s throats. I want people to have a natural progression to understand that people are people regardless of their age, sex, color of their skin, race, religion, whatever. [They need to] really start looking at people as people and stop judging them because they might be transgender or gay or bi or straight or whatever. I hope I’m doing that. If my music doesn’t go further than where it’s at right now but the message that I have goes beyond me then I will have succeeded.
Purchase “Put Your Graffiti On Me” here. Watch the video below.
These budding powerhouses, leaders in media, politics, sports, and science, are facilitating our future. Meet the architects of the next decade.
Andy Marra • 27 (far left)
New York City
PR Manager, GLSEN
Andy Marra thanks her diverse identity for leading her to a life of activism. The Korean-American, born in Seoul and adopted by American parents, was bullied in middle school when she came out as transgender. But it was after the gay son of a family friend was assaulted that Marra was introduced to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. Now, as GLSEN’s public relations manager, Marra looks for innovative ways to make people aware of her organization’s efforts to keep LGBT students and their allies not only safe but inspired. In addition to her day job, Marra is an advocate for Korean reunification. She’d like to see LGBT Koreans recognized for their positive contributions to that effort.
“We all share a common stake in reunification,” Marra believes, “regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Lyssette Horne • 27 (center left)
New York City
Production Coordinator, In The Life Media
Lyssette Horne was one of many LGBT youth rejected by her parents and forced to leave home because of her orientation. At one point the homeless teen thought suicide might be her only way out, but mentors stepped in to help. Now, as a public speaker and TV producer at In the Life Media, behind the first and only national LGBT issues-oriented television program that airs on public television, Horne has become a mentor herself.
Horne’s stories have ranged from studies of LGBT youth homelessness to the criminalization of HIV. She also recently told her own story in the Emmy-nominated documentary Invisible: Diaries of New York’s Homeless Youth, which she coproduced. “I take the shame away, stand in my truth, and bridge a gap to create a family of socially aware and conscious youth who want more than what was given to them,” she says.
Toyce Francis • 38 (center right)
New York City
Toyce Francis grew up loving the kids’ show The Magic Garden, but “it was also the first time I realized that everyone doesn’t always get to see themselves in media. [When] they called the names of children watching at home, they never called ‘Toyce’ no matter how close I sat to the TV or how frantically I waved. Watching The Magic Garden was the first of many years of feeling that there was no one else out there like me.” Last year Francis decided to launch his ISeeGayPeople.TV, an online television network that features quality LGBT Web series and films all in one place.
“But it’s much more to me,” Frances says. “It’s a magic mirror that reflects those who are often neglected by mainstream media.” Next up is a Web show based on his life as a late gay bloomer: “I will finally be able to see myself reflected back at me, literally,” he says.
Zachary Barnett • 30 (far right)
New York City
Founder, Abzyme Research Foundation
Though Zachary Barnett is HIV-positive, his interest isn’t in finding a cure. As the founder-director of the Abzyme Research Foundation, Barnett is putting his energies into a vaccine. He believes abzymes, a type of antibody, can help lead to the end of AIDS. After becoming aware of the abzyme research by the University of Texas’s Sudhir Paul, Barnett used his experience in event planning and public relations to throw a fund-raiser for Paul’s work. That led to Barnett forming the nonprofit organization the following year. Today, Barnett is utilizing celebrity-driven PSAs and grassroots campaigns to raise money for the first human trials of an abzyme vaccine. “If we can just get to the first human trial and it reduces the viral load of an HIV-positive person, it will be such a breakthrough,” Barnett says.
Tico Almeida • 35
Founder, Freedom to Work
Tico Almeida is trying hard to put himself out of a job—a surprising ambition, given the self-perpetuation tendencies of Beltway insiders. But the employment attorney and founder of the new group Freedom to Work has a singular mission: to secure LGBT employment protections.
“We tell our potential funders that none of their donations will go to purchase a fancy office building or a bloated staff,” he says. “We’re lean, efficient, and aggressive in achieving our goal.”
Lead counsel on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for the House Committee on Education and Labor from 2007 to 2010, Almeida has been a key figure in pushing President Obama to issue an executive order that would ban the federal government from contracting with companies that discriminate. As he sees it, about 16 million workers could be protected with simply the stroke of a pen.
Mallory Wells • 26
Public Policy Director, Equality Florida
Mallory Wells knows the people of Florida. Born in Lakeland, raised in Orlando, now living in Gainesville, the 26-year-old bisexual is the only lobbyist in Tallahassee solely devoted to LGBT issues.
“The state legislature in Florida is a lot more conservative than the people of Florida are, and it can be difficult at times,” Wells says. “Four years ago people used to tell me they didn’t have any gay people in their district, and most legislators did not understand that LGBT Floridians can be fired from their jobs just because of who they are. Now every single legislator has had an LGBT person sit in their office and explain to them what it is like to be an LGBT Floridian.”
Mallory helped pass an LGBT-inclusive antibullying bill (“the first time the words ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity’ were uttered on the floor of the Florida House and Senate,” she says), and her next goal is helping to elect Florida’s first out legislator. She just needs to find a candidate first.
Matthew Baumgartner • 38
Owner, Bombers Burrito Bar
New York state senator Roy McDonald is one of only a handful of Republicans who voted in favor of marriage equality when the legislature approved it last year. When he was still wavering, a large billboard loomed over his drive to the capitol in Albany, which read, “To Senator McDonald. Please support marriage for ALL loving couples.” The message came from Bombers Burrito Bar and its gay owner, Matthew Baumgartner.
“A lot of my friends for the gay cause are unaware of how the local politicians vote,” he says. “When they saw a billboard about it, they got involved and called his office.” The billboard cost Baumgartner $5,000 to run for a week. And he wasn’t worried about losing business.
“People weren’t going to stop eating there because of a billboard,” he says. “And if they did, quite frankly, they’re not really the kind of customers I’d like there anyway.”
Christi Furnas • 39
When Christi Furnas was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 25, she found herself unable to hold a job and instead focused inward, deciding she wanted to define herself as an artist. Today, the Minneapolis-based painter, who’s been showing and selling her work locally for 15 years, uses her experience to help others with similar disabilities. As a peer support specialist at Spectrum ArtWorks, Furnas mentors adults with severe mental illness and encourages them to find the artist within themselves.
“I’ve seen a lot of people grow and realize they have talents they didn’t think they had,” says Furnas, who also helps her artists maintain portfolios and prepare for art submissions.
Most important to the queer-identified Furnas is leading by example.
“I live my life and speak my mind,” she says, “and I think that encourages others to do the same.”
John Campbell • 24
Treasurer, City of Harrisburg
Partying, landing a job, and dating are often priorities for 24-year-olds. John Campbell’s concern, saving the capital of Pennsylvania from financial collapse, is a bit weightier. Campbell was elected in November as the treasurer for Harrisburg, a city of 50,000 that’s $300 million in debt. Campbell, the executive director of the Historic Harrisburg Association and an economics student at Lebanon Valley College, is working with a state receiver to right Harrisburg’s books.
Campbell’s resistance to auctioning off city property puts him in opposition to Mayor Linda Thompson, who allegedly directed homophobic comments at another gay staffer. “The question isn’t the mayor’s opinion on gays,” Campbell says. “It’s whether she’s competent.”
Campbell doesn’t rule out running for higher office. “If there’s a need by the community, I’m willing to reevaluate my situation,” he says, sounding very wise.
Brian Sims • 33
Candidate, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
The state that spawned the political career of Rick Santorum may be seeking a little redemption on the national landscape. And Pennsylvania may find it in Democrat Brian Sims, who, in an April 24 primary, is attempting to unseat a Democratic incumbent in the state House. There’s no Republican challenger in the race, so the victor will likely take office. If that’s Sims, he’ll be the state’s first openly gay legislator.
The son of two retired Army lieutenant colonels, Sims is widely credited with turning around Equality Pennsylvania, a once-floundering LGBT group that has since pushed successfully for municipal LGBT protections around the state.
But Pennsylvania woefully lacks comprehensive LGBT rights laws. Sims is fighting to change that. “Pennsylvania is not an archaic state,” he says.
Charlie Brown • 33
Social Media Activist
After Joplin, Mo., was struck by a devastating tornado last year, the city found an unlikely hero in a young gay man named Charlie Brown. However improbably, the Westboro Baptist Church played a big role in igniting Brown’s activism. The notoriously antigay congregation announced their intention to protest in Joplin just days after more than 150 people were killed by the storm. Brown quickly launched a Facebook page and organized a 7,000-person counterprotest that not only demonstrated Joplin’s unity against Westboro but inspired donations of water, diapers, and toiletries. Brown set up another Facebook page seeking money for rebuilding efforts that’s brought in tens of thousands of dollars for repairs.
Currently serving as the press officer for Homes of Hope Joplin, a nonprofit that builds energy-efficient homes, Brown is warmly embraced by his community.
“I’ve never had an issue with anyone I work with regarding my sexual orientation,” Brown says. “And I’m very open about who I am.”
Jazz • 11
Cofounder, TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation
If Jazz looks familiar, that’s because in addition to starring in her own documentary, I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition, which debuted on OWN last year, she has also discussed being transgender on CNN, 20/20, and Good Morning America.
A preteen who likes to sing and dance, Jazz (whose parents keep their last name and exact location private for safety reasons) uses her newfound fame to help other gender-variant kids. With her parents’ help she’s launched the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, a nonprofit that supports trans kids and their families, even offering grants for medical needs not covered by insurance.
“I want to help other transgender people be true to themselves,” says Jazz, who is the youngest person ever to be honored in our Forty Under 40. “A lot of transgender kids don’t have the support of a family like I do, and I just wanted to share that it’s OK to step out of their shadows and tell their parents how they really feel inside. You can still be loved if you are transgender.”
Blake Stuerman • 20 (left)
Imagineer, The Walt Disney Co.
Blake Stuerman knows about a high-stakes work environment. “There’s an enormous pressure when you’re working on a show for a Disney park,” he says. “What you create will be seen by millions of people and, hopefully, inspire them.”
By 16, the Ohio native was living on his own in Chicago, having secured internships with prestigious artistic groups, which let him shadow the stage manager on Jersey Boys and Wicked. A year later he left for New York to pursue a design career. “I was suddenly working next to these people who I’d read about in textbooks, and they had their Tony Awards on the shelf. I was only 17 and my parents had to sign a release so I could use the sharp tools in the studio.”
A chance encounter with director Bryan Singer encouraged Stuerman—who generated buzz with his Mad Men–esque screenplay about Disney—to move to Los Angeles, becoming a Disney Imagineer. “I write treatments for the park spectaculars,” he says. “Using emotions and visuals, it’s like putting on a movie in a theatrical setting.”
Bianca Wilson • 36 (center)
Sr. Scholar, Public Policy, Williams Institute
An American and French-Canadian biracial black lesbian, Bianca Wilson has a line-straddling identity that helps her better understand all the LGBT community. Former psychology prof Wilson’s job at the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, advances law and public policy around sexual orientation and gender identity. Her latest project is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she says, initiated by the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center and funded through the Children Bureau’s Permanency Innovations Initiative. “It’s a federally funded project focused on improving the lives of LGBTQ children and adolescents in foster care, especially one that explicitly acknowledges the importance of decreasing heterosexism and antitransgender bias as a project objective,” she says, adding that she hopes to study lesbian sexual health and how young gay women are affected by sex education.
She’s no armchair researcher, though: “I think the most important questions to examine are those that may directly address societal problems.”
Galen Dodd • 15 (right)
Student Athlete, Palisades Charter High
When high school volleyball player Galen Dodd came across Outsports.com, a resource for LGBT sports fans and athletes on every level, he instantly felt a connection. Dodd, who plays for the Palisades Charter High School team and on another at the Southern California Volleyball Club, figured out he was gay in middle school. First he came out to his sister, but before he could tell everyone he knew on Facebook, he had to deliver the news to his parents.
“I didn’t want to tell them about it,” he says. After his sister relayed the news to them, he was still reluctant to talk to them about it. Dodd has since grown closer to his parents, and he turned to them for help in writing his story for Outsports. In October 2011, Dodd became the youngest person to come out on the site, and he has received a complete embrace from his team. “My coaches told me that halfway through the fall season, after I came out, they saw a tremendous growth in me as a player and that my team really rallied together,” he says. As Dodd now knows, it’s all about the team.
Mike Halterman • 26
Founder, Out on the Town magazine
Little did Mike Halterman know that Arkansas school board member Clint McCance’s 2010 Facebook rant about a “purple fag day” would help further his dreams. Spurred by a vacuum of LGBT responses in the Deep South, readers flocked to Halterman’s then month-old magazine, Out on the Town, for a response to McCance. Today, Halterman distributes 10,000 copies everywhere from Pensacola, Fla., to Shreveport, La.
“People [here] never had a voice of their own in their own media before this,” he says. “It was always, ‘Here, read this magazine from Atlanta, Dallas, etc., that doesn’t cater to you at all and doesn’t have anything relevant to how you live your life over here.’ A lot of us live rural lives and…things are a little slower here. The communities are more tight-knit.”
Leaving the South was never an option, he says. “So many…like Ellen DeGeneres, Cat Cora, Lance Bass…have left the South and made an impact nationally, but my goal was to always make a difference at home.”
Desiree Buford • 33
Director of Programming, Frameline
When Desiree Buford became the new director of exhibition and programming at Frameline, the nation’s only nonprofit organization solely dedicated to the funding, exhibition, distribution, and promotion of LGBT film and media arts, it was hardly a surprise. She had been working behind the scenes there since 2003. But now Buford shares curatorial oversight of the Frameline-sponsored San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, the longest-running and largest LGBT film exhibition event in the world. With an annual attendance of over 55,000, the festival is the most prominent and well-attended LGBT arts program in the Bay Area.
“There is something uniquely transformative about seeing images of one’s experience and identity reflected on the screen,” Buford says. Still, she finds time to play—as drag king Delicio Del Toro. “I love messing with gender and gay male masculinities using camp, male archetypes, uniforms, tear-away pants, and choreography.”
Kyle Hernandez • 28
Kyle Hernandez is striving to solve the world’s energy problems by helping increase the sustainability of biofuels and food crops. But another goal of the Texas-based biologist is to show underrepresented groups that there are people just like them doing amazing things with science.
After he completed his Ph.D., Hernandez’s work was honored by the National Science Foundation with a prestigious postdoctoral research fellowship that focuses on broadening participation in biology. In addition to his work in the lab, Hernandez speaks at a local community college hoping to inspire minority students interested in transitioning to a four-year college in pursuit of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees.
“It’s a great opportunity to encourage a wide range of talented students from extremely diverse backgrounds to follow their dreams,” he says.
Micah Kellner • 33
New York City
Member, New York State Assembly
Before New York State assemblyman Micah Kellner could hear wedding bells, he wanted every New Yorker to have the same right to marry. The first time he spoke on the Assembly floor was to support a marriage bill in June 2007, two weeks into his first term. It failed, but four years later the state, the nation, and Kellner’s girlfriend rejoiced when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law.
In December, Kellner exchanged vows with his sweetheart and campaign adviser, Marie Ternes. Kellner, who has cerebral palsy, is the first openly bisexual person to be elected to the New York legislature, and he wears all of his labels with pride. “I can only be me, and I just try to own the title, because I think so many folks choose either to ignore [bisexuality] or are disdainful of it,” he says. “I like to point out that it is LGBT, and we rise as a community, we fall as a community.”
Christopher Dibble • 33
Christopher Dibble believes it’s important to recognize the contributions made by LGBT people who came before him. A photographer with much editorial and commercial work to his credit, he’s begun a series of still photos and short video documentaries called “Grow,” focusing on people over 50.
“Everything they did allowed me to walk down the street and hold my husband’s hand,” says Dibble, who has so far photographed 15 people in Los Angeles and San Francisco and plans to add those from other cities. He envisions making the images available in a variety of venues—in galleries, on T-shirts, in a book, and in a documentary film. He hopes to get the number to at least 100, but hasn’t set a limit.
“If I could photograph people in the elder community for the rest of my life, I would,” he says.
Ricardo Lara • 37
Bell Gardens, Calif.
Member, California State Assembly
One of the California state legislature’s great achievements for LGBTs is now under attack. The FAIR Education Act, which passed last year and mandates inclusion of historic LGBT accomplishments in public school curricula, may be the subject of an odious antigay ballot measure come November, but Assemblyman Ricardo Lara is fighting to thwart such a move. His argument to constituents in a heavily Democratic Los Angeles–area district transcends communities.
“I relate back to our immigrant experience, of how we’ve been treated,” says Lara, whose parents were born in Mexico. “As a Chicano, I cannot pick and choose what oppressed group I’m going to support. Oppression is oppression.”
Lara is currently running unopposed to become the first LGBT person of color in the state Senate. Such a milestone would be a welcome victory for the state’s highly diverse LGBT population.
Ernesto Dominguez • 23
Youth Technology Specialist, Cascade AIDS Project
Holding hands in public should be an act of affection. But for same-sex couples, it’s also often one of bravery, even in liberal Portland, Ore. Two men there were enjoying the view from the city’s Hawthorne Bridge last year when they were jumped and beaten by a group of as-yet unidentified attackers.
Resident Ernesto Dominguez quickly organized a solidarity rally on Facebook. “Let’s take back our bridge and show the community we won’t stand for this hatred,” he recalls of the event’s impetus.
Dominguez works as the youth technology specialist for the Cascade AIDS Project and drew on that experience, using social media to bring more than 4,000 people back to the bridge a week later, where they all joined hands. Appreciation for Dominguez’s efforts spread beyond Portland—in March the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force presented Dominguez with its Paul A. Anderson Youth Leadership Award. His thank-you speech, in which he talked about being both a gay man and an undocumented immigrant, was widely shared among activists.
Malkia Cyril • 34
Founder, Center for Media Justice
For the last decade, Malkia Cyril’s to-do list included ending racism, solving poverty, and raising the voices of those seeking social justice. Lofty objectives, but she is determined to cross those items off her list.
In 2002 she launched the Center for Media Justice, an organization that trains social justice organizers to communicate their causes more effectively. She also founded the Media Action Grassroots Network, which ensures people aren’t left out of the national conversation just because they’re technology-deficient. The group lobbied against a proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile and helped establish “a minimal version of network neutrality—the first free speech rules to govern the Internet.” Cyril says there is still much to be done, especially online. She’s focused on preserving the Internet as a knowledge tool for citizens and discouraging its use as a marketing instrument for corporate America.
“I want media change I can measure, media leaders that rock, and media rules that protect our basic human rights,” she says. “Is that too much too ask?”
Erin Greenwell • 39
Filmmaker, My Best Day
Erin Greenwell grew up in Missouri in the kind of place that changes “from rural to suburban to urban based on which highway ramp you exit,” she says. But she hopes her movie, My Best Day, helps bring all those areas closer. The subversively comedic story that she wrote and directed is about small-town people handling life’s big issues, including when it’s OK to question if the guy sleeping on your single father’s couch is actually his lover, not just a guy who can’t afford his own rent.
The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival to four sold-out audiences and earned a glowing review in Variety. Greenwell says getting the call that you are invited to Sundance is like hearing “Will you marry me?”
But what impressed her most was her director of photography’s conservative Republican father-in-law slowly uncrossing his arms at a screening and chuckling happily.
Brittany McMillan • 17
Founder, Spirit Day
If you wore purple on October 20—as did Cher, the Jersey Shore cast, Raising Hope star Martha Plimpton, Conan O’Brien, the ladies of The View, and some of the White House staff—you can thank Brittany McMillan.
McMillan, a Canadian high school student, is making a huge impact in the U.S. with Spirit Day, when teenagers and adults wear purple to show solidarity against anti-LGBT bullying. Compelled to do something after the high-profile LGBT suicides of 2010, McMillan began the initiative as a grassroots effort, but after the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation encouraged celebrities to join in, millions of people wore purple and altered their Facebook and Twitter profiles in solidarity.
“Spirit Day only takes place one day out of the year, but homophobia happens every day,” McMillan says.
Mike Munich • 25
“I want to blur the line of gender roles and sexuality and prove that there is no box one must force oneself to fit inside,” Mike Munich says.
The desire to provoke comes naturally to the singer-dancer, who also has an extensive portfolio as an underwear model. It might also have rubbed off from his association with another pair of rule-breakers he’s worked alongside recently: Adam Lambert at his controversial 2009 American Music Awards performance and Lady Gaga in her “Born This Way” video. Munich also helped carry Gaga’s famous egg vessel when she arrived at the Grammy Awards last year.
Munich hopes to soon generate his own headlines when he completes the album he’s working on, having already released two singles, “Beat the Beat” and “Referee.” The performer thinks back on his childhood, when he was bullied so mercilessly he had to change high schools.
“I want to encourage people, especially kids, to explore, discover, and be true to themselves and not be afraid of what they find inside,” he says.
Faith Cheltenham • 32
President, BiNet USA
Faith Cheltenham’s been trying to accentuate the B in LGBT for almost 15 years now. “In college I pushed for acknowledgement that bisexuals existed,” she says. “But [our existence] would seemingly be invisible within the organizations I was involved with.”
A social media producer by day (Duchess Sarah Ferguson is one client), Cheltenham now promotes bisexual visibility as president of BiNet USA, a nonprofit volunteer organization. Through its website, the umbrella organization promotes visibility for a group often marginalized—even among the L, G, and T communities—by disseminating articles, history lessons, links to local groups, and a calendar of bisexual-themed events around the globe.
Cheltenham, a new mom, sees BiNet USA as her contribution to the equality struggle: “[I’m just] one piece in a tapestry of people fighting for freedom.”
John Carroll • 30s
New York City
“I felt like Nomi Malone in Showgirls watching Goddess,” dancer John Carroll says, recalling the moment he first saw the provocative posters for Broadway Bares, the annual striptease event in New York that raises money for HIV/AIDS organizations. “I couldn’t believe my eyes and I was determined to be a part of this organization.”
Although he grew up an hour from Manhattan, it seemed like a long journey to Broadway for Carroll, who battled both spinal meningitis and relentless bullies as a child.
“My career has taken me far beyond my childhood dreams,” says Carroll, who has shared the Broadway stage with legends including Patti LuPone in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Bernadette Peters in Follies.
Carroll also never dreamed he and longtime boyfriend Michael Gallagher would became one of the first same-sex couples to legally wed in New York last summer. “From being run out of school for being gay to standing hand in hand with the man I love, being part of LGBT history was a full circle blessing for me.”
Vincent Pompei • 35
Conference Chair, Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership (CESCaL)
When Vincent Pompei became a schoolteacher, he designated his classroom a safe space for LGBT students. But when another teacher in his conservative public school found out Pompei was gay, there was no safe space for the teacher to hide from bullying at the hands of fellow educators and the school’s administration. So he filed a formal complaint with the district. The administrator in charge was subsequently removed, and Pompei started conducting LGBT awareness training for teachers across the district. That experience empowered him to get involved in the Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership, which just held its Supporting Students—Saving Lives Conference (CESCAL.org), attended by 500 educators from 29 states, sponsored by Southwest Airlines, and endorsed by President Obama.
“There are a lot of kids for whom it hasn’t gotten better yet,” says Pompei, who was also a victim of bullying as a child and who is now the Supporting Students—Saving Lives conference chair. “We don’t want to just prevent suicide, we want children to know that the people around them are going to love them, protect them, and welcome them for who they are.”
The next conference is Feb. 15-17, 2012 in San Diego.
Martin Rawlings-Fein • 34
Filmmaker, Choosing to Be Chosen
As a bisexual transgender Jewish man, Martin Rawlings-Fein is a member of three sometimes-marginalized segments of the LGBT community. “People like to box us in and put us in places where we don’t really fit,” he says. “It can be overcome if we talk to each other.”
Rawlings-Fein is filming LGBT people who’ve converted to Judaism for what will become a feature-length documentary, Choosing to Be Chosen, and he’s created several short films showcasing trans people’s diversity. He contributed to the Lambda Award–winning anthology Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, and on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s LGBT Advisory Committee he headed up groundbreaking research on the impact of bisexual invisibility. An information technology professional and married father of two, he’s now running for San Francisco school board.
Jose Lugaro • 35
New York City
Development Director, NY LGBT Center
While nearing graduation at Penn State University, Jose Lugaro discovered the business side of nonprofits, which he says changed the course of his life. Since then, he’s worked as a fund-raiser for LGBT organizations—on staff and as a volunteer—helping to raise millions for causes he believes in.
As deputy director of development at Chicago’s Center on Halsted he secured a $1 million donation, its largest gift ever from an individual, and now, as the director of development for New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center, he oversees all fund-raising that supports the center’s $7.5 million annual budget. Among the rewards is witnessing firsthand the impact of his efforts.
“I see it in the eyes of the people who walk through our doors. Each and every one of them is at different stage in their journey and they have one thing in common. The center is there for them, whatever their need.”
Justin Torres • 32
Author, We the Animals
Justin Torres unflinchingly describes growing up the youngest and smallest of three brothers and the son of a strict father in his new book, We the Animals. Torres’s first novel is already a critical success, with a mention in O, The Oprah Magazine and an NAACP image award nomination.
The story’s unnamed narrator is a queer boy “looking at his family from that perspective,” Torres says. He’s a peacekeeper, as Torres writes, “which sometimes meant nothing more than falling down to my knees and covering my head with my arms,” while his brothers swung away, “until they got tired, or bored, or remorseful.”
The protagonist’s mother knew even while pregnant with her first son that what grew inside her belly was a “heart ticking like a time bomb.” None of that messy view of family stops Torres and his partner from dreaming about starting their own, he says.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs & Julia Wallace • 29 & 32
Historians, Mobile Homecoming
In 2009, Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Julia Wallace were at a conference in North Carolina, attended primarily by black lesbians, and realized they were the youngest people there. Listening to the older women, “it became very obvious that the choices they had made and the things they had done had made things better for us,” Gumbs says. Adds Wallace: “We became very excited about the experiences they had.” That led the partners in life and work to get on the road and seek out African-American LGBT elders (basically, anyone older than they are) around the nation for a project called Mobile Homecoming. Gumbs and Wallace are documenting their subjects’ lives through video and audio interviews that they plan to assemble into a documentary film by the end of next year, and they are also holding intergenerational events and collecting photos, manuscripts, and other artifacts for an archive of black LGBT life.
The effort “has been affirming and sometimes overwhelming,” Gumbs says. In some cases, “people have been waiting all their life for someone to listen to them.” Wallace says the project made her realize “we have a responsibility to our elders and our ancestors to take care of each other.” In addition to Mobile Homecoming, Gumbs’s projects include BrokenBeautiful Press, a website where activists can share resources, and Brilliance Remastered, which offers online seminars, individual coaching, and other assistance for scholars. Wallace is founder of Queer Renaissance, which uses the Internet and other media to connect artists, activists, entrepreneurs, and others. Soon the busy duo will be collaborating on a children’s book as well.
Amelia Roskin-Frazee • 16
Founder, Make It Safe Project
Though she’s only a freshman in high school, Amelia Roskin-Frazee’s résumé of activism is hefty. She established her middle school’s GSA, she’s one of 18 student ambassadors for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, and she founded her own LGBT organization.
“I was going to my current school’s library and I found that there were pretty much no books about sexual orientation or gender expression,” Roskin-Frazee says. The dearth of LGBT literature inspired her to establish the Make It Safe Project, which provides schools with queer literature. Through her fund-raising efforts, she’s purchased books like It Gets Better and Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens and distributed them to school libraries.
“I’ve given around 20 boxes of books to schools and youth homeless shelters that otherwise didn’t have these resources,” she says. While she sees herself eventually being an “underpaid writer-teacher,” Roskin-Frazee says LGBT advocacy will always be part of her life.
Kevin Hauswirth • 28
Social Media Director, Office of the Mayor
Not long ago, if you had opinions about how your city should be run, you visited your alderman, wrote letters, or perhaps just grumbled to yourself. Now you can also share your input online, and you might hear back from the mayor, at least in Chicago. With social media director Kevin Hauswirth and two other technology team members, Mayor Rahm Emanuel aims to make city operations “transparent like never before,” Hauswirth says. He facilitates communications between citizens and the mayor through Facebook, Foursquare, Google+, and other platforms, including a website where Chicagoans can offer suggestions for budget priorities.
Thanks to Hauswirth, some citizens saw their ideas reflected in the most recent budget, and some received a call from the mayor. Whatever the next social media platform is, “we’ll be there too,” says Hauswirth, who adds that the mayor is not only tech-savvy but LGBT-friendly as well. Emanuel has officiated at civil unions (“It’s really inspiring to see your boss up there,” Hauswirth says) and supports full marriage equality.
Liz Feldman • 34
TV Writer, 2 Broke Girls
Liz Feldman’s been accomplishing great things since she was well under 40, under 20 even. At 18 the Brooklyn native was plucked from a New York City comedy club to become a regular on Nickelodeon’s All That. According to Feldman, she has been in “the right place, right time” ever since.
A writing gig on Blue Collar TV—“admittedly, a strange fit for a Jewish lesbian from New York”—led to a job on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which earned Feldman four Emmys. Since leaving that post, she’s been doing some old-fashioned sitcom writing, on Hot in Cleveland and now CBS’s hit 2 Broke Girls. It’s all part of Feldman’s master plan to someday make a TV series with a lesbian lead. In the meantime she’s still doing her scrappy Web series, This Just Out, on TheLizFeldman.com because, she says, “I wouldn’t feel complete if I weren’t interviewing lesbians in my kitchen.”
Jason Franklin • 32
New York City
Executive Director, Bolder Giving
Jason Franklin’s selfless spirit developed early. As a high school student he decried cuts to Oregon’s education system, in college he volunteered for the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, and later, while getting his Ph.D. at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, he worked to rebuild arts organizations in 9/11’s wake.
So it was a pretty seamless transition to his current job as head of Bolder Giving, a New York–based philanthropic organization with a singular mission. “We are the only organization in the country that focuses on how much to give,” Franklin says.
Through workshops and seminars, Bolder Giving shows philanthropists-in-training how much charity is possible for them and shares inspirational stories of people—from the super wealthy to the middle class—who’ve dug deeper in their pockets for causes important to them, including many LGBT causes. “Giving back will actually take care of you longer,” Franklin argues, “because if your community is doing better, so will you.”
Tucky Williams • 26
Producer, Girl/Girl Scene
With over a million views, Tucky Williams has much to celebrate with her show, Girl/Girl Scene. In what she describes as a “Web television drama series,” Williams tells the story of lesbians living and loving in Louisville, Ky. Williams is the creator, executive producer, and writer, and she also plays the protagonist, Evan, in the series. “I wanted to show what my life was like as a young lesbian having fun,” Williams said. “All the characters really enjoy being gay.”
Williams is a role model for many young Girl/Girl Scene fans—90% of her fan mail consists of gracious letters thanking her for producing a relatable show, while the other 10% asks Williams’s advice on coming out.
The first season recently wrapped, and Williams is working on season 2 with new cast members and a new directing team. As far as what fans can expect, she simply says, “We are going to explore deeper, darker emotions. And we’re also going to have a lot more flashy, trashy fun.”
Rachel Tiven • 36
New York City
Exec. Director, Immigration Equality
The Obama administration’s announcement more than a year ago that the antigay Defense of Marriage Act is indefensible raises many unresolved questions regarding immigration for same-sex couples. As executive director of Immigration Equality, Rachel Tiven has been on the front lines in pushing the White House for action on behalf of thousands of binational couples faced with deportation or denied marriage-based green card privileges that straight married couples are afforded. A growing number of gay couples have seen their cases dropped and their futures brightened with the help of the organization.
“The je ne sais quoi, the ‘it’ that makes us so magically unique as a nation, is that so many people from all over the world want to come here,” Tiven says. “Diminishing, denying, or disrespecting this wellspring of our collective creativity is a threat to who we are as a nation.”
Social conservatives are searching for a hero, and Rick Santorum’s antigay views have helped him claim the mantle of religious freedom fighter.
By Lucas Grindley
From the May 2012 issue of The Advocate
For months before the Iowa caucus in early January, MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow had dismissed former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum as the one GOP presidential candidate who would never experience 15 minutes of glory as the front-runner. The leader status had already been conferred upon every passing non-Romney fad from Donald Trump to Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain. But “front-runner Rick Santorum” was too absurd a notion to contemplate. Then the Iowa result was a virtual tie. Two weeks after the caucus, Santorum was declared the winner in that state by 34 votes.
In a wave of spending that led to Romney accounting for 61% of all ads during the primary season’s first eight contests, according to a count by Kantar Media, his campaign regained the lead after back-to-back wins in Florida and Nevada. Once again the former Massachusetts governor appeared to be a lock for the nomination until Santorum shocked the political establishment by winning all three races February 7 in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. MSNBC hadn’t even staffed the night with live coverage.
“Shhh! Don’t interrupt the Republicans. Don’t make a sound,” Maddow joked days later in a mocking whisper. “They’re about to nominate Rick Santorum! Don’t move a muscle!”
Maddow, like many on the left, saw Santorum as a weak opponent against President Obama. In theory, Santorum has so remote a chance of even winning the Republican nomination for president that Markos Moulitsas called on the millions of liberals who read his influential website, Daily Kos, to vote for the antigay ex-senator. He declared the campaign to cause mayhem in open primaries “Operation Hilarity.” A vote for Santorum, Moulitsas calculated, actually meant more time for Republican infighting, and for the candidates to beat up Mitt Romney, the presumed real front runner. “I mean, Rick Santorum? Really? The Republicans have offered up this big, slow, juicy softball,” Moulitsas wrote gleefully. “Let’s have fun whacking the heck out of it.”
Moulitsas wasn’t alone in his evaluation of Santorum. Exit polls in Michigan found a larger than usual percentage of voters were Democrats, and they broke overwhelmingly for Santorum, 53%, compared with 18% for Romney. Santorum lost the popular vote so narrowly that he took half the delegates in the state where Romney was born and raised and where his father had been governor. No one predicted that the man who once compared gay sex to bestiality and pedophilia, who had lost reelection to the U.S. Senate by 18 points in 2006, would be striking fear in the monied, juggernaut Romney campaign. Many LGBT activists still doubt Santorum could ever beat Romney. What is most shocking to them aren’t his chances of winning the nomination, it’s that he can win anything at all.
“You could knock me over with a drop of Santorum. I am completely blown away by this,” says Dan Savage, the mastermind of the Google-bomb that forever redefined Rick’s last name. Like everyone else, Savage had at first dismissed Santorum’s triumph in Iowa as a chance for more moderate voters in other states to prove his views are big political losers. Instead, Santorum kept winning. His success, and by extension the success of the religious prism through which he views the world, is due to either divine intervention, dumb luck as the last candidate to get his surge, or real political support—or all three, depending on who you ask. “Whatever it is, it’s terrifying,” Savage now says.
“Oh, my God, it should absolutely scare people,” agrees Joe Solmonese, outgoing president of the Human Rights Campaign. The specter of a Santorum vice presidency was first raised by the HRC in an email to supporters after Iowa. At that time, not even the most imaginative of activists foresaw the nearly 2 million votes Santorum had pocketed by the Super Tuesday primaries, when he added Oklahoma, Tennessee, and North Dakota to his total. Solmonese, who is now a cochair of the Obama reelection campaign, has since grown only more worried by Santorum and what his success already means.
“He absolutely represents people,” Solmonese says. “The problem with him is, he is true to his convictions. He means what he says, and that should give us reason to be deeply concerned and afraid about the prospect of Rick Santorum.”
[Photo Illustration by Scott McPherson]
Sincerity matters in politics. When politicians such as Democratic New York governor Andrew Cuomo step out in favor of marriage equality, or even when Republican state lawmakers buck their party to do the same, the leadership they demonstrate impresses voters on both sides. Or so goes the argument made privately by pro-marriage conservatives in triumphant lobbying efforts from New York to Washington State. What those lobbyists are less eager to point out is that while being pro-marriage is usually a net positive in general elections, it depends on the state. Certainly, it’s not helpful in Republican primaries.
A high-level Republican strategist with experience in big campaigns sees Santorum winning leadership points in the inverse. The self-proclaimed “courageous conservative” has a long and monotonous record on social issues, including an opposition to LGBT rights, that stands in contrast to Romney, about whose fuzzy political views rank-and-file voters remain unsure. In a race in search of the anti-Romney, the antigay views of Santorum are a sign of his authenticity and consistency. Now he’s built a campaign on that reputation, and it’s proved a solid foundation in Republican primaries—and instead of offending voters, it makes many see Santorum as truthful.
No one believes the race is being decided only on LGBT rights issues. But that is what’s so worrisome. Santorum’s views have not disqualified him as politically untenable. A look at his public statements shows that Santorum goes further than any Republican contender in campaigning against LGBT people. All of it fits under a banner of “religious freedom” that the rest of the party is now scrambling to pick up and claim as its own.
The candidate’s wife, Karen Santorum, was asked in February by commentator Glenn Beck why she agreed to put their family under the microscope of a presidential campaign. The mother of seven described a “mission” that her husband is on “to make the culture a better culture, more pleasing to God.”
Santorum twice signed pledges that, if elected, he would ban same-sex marriage via an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. One of those pledges, from the Iowa group Family Leader, was deemed too extreme by Romney, who refused to sign.
While campaigning in South Carolina, Santorum bragged that he’s one of the original authors of the Federal Marriage Amendment. He’s also the only candidate to claim that amending the Constitution would retroactively invalidate marriages of same-sex couples. He’s the only one to say the amendment would simultaneously bar same-sex couples from adopting. (Although, he’s never said whether anything happens retroactively to separate children from their adoptive mothers and fathers.)
By contrast, when Romney explains why he opposes adoption by same-sex couples, he even avoids using the word “gay.” Twice during a debate in Arizona, Romney highlighted an incident in 2006 when, as governor of Massachusetts, he supported the Catholic Church even as it failed in attempts to get a legal exemption that would let it discriminate against same-sex couples who wanted to adopt.
Santorum’s explanation goes many steps beyond the bounds of the typical “religious freedom” arguments. During a campaign stop at the Community Christian Academy in Stuart, Fla., a mother asked why her gay son doesn’t deserve the same rights as Santorum. His answer divulged the religious doctrine underlying his belief system. It pops up even when explaining why he opposes what the right calls “Obamacare,” the president’s landmark health care law, which Santorum claims created government-issued rights that could one day just as easily be taken away.
“Everyone in America should have rights that are endowed to them by the Creator, those are unalienable rights. And your son, just like everyone else here, has those unalienable rights,” Santorum said, according to The Palm Beach Post, before explaining the difference between God-given rights and government-given rights.
“There are certain things that government does that gives people privileges in order to promote activity that are healthy for society and are best for society,” he said. “And those things we promote would give people advantages or benefits, government benefits, because we think that is healthy activity.”
In Rick Santorum’s view of the world, God has not given gay, bisexual, or transgender people any rights. Instead, Obama and the liberal Democrats have extended those rights, in violation of both God’s law and the religious beliefs of people like Santorum. In Santorum’s mind, Obama and the Democrats have played God. And that’s why they shouldn’t be reelected. It’s why they are to blame for the downfall of society.
Unlike Romney, Santorum has said he would seek to reinstate the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. His reason, that gays serving openly is a kind of “social experimentation,” underscores the vantage point from which he views American culture.
“How close do you think we are to losing the republic?” Glenn Beck casually asked Karen Santorum during that same interview on his Internet television show.
“Oh, it’s such a concern,” she said. “I just really believe so strongly, and this is why we are making the sacrifice we are as a family…. Because I do believe if the president is elected again, I do believe we are going to lose our nation as we know it.”
This mix of faith and fear first earned attention for the Santorum campaign, which declined to comment for this article, in Iowa from a consolidation of evangelical voters who helped upset straw-poll winner Michele Bachmann. A sign of things to come was his first big endorsement, from Family Leader president and CEO Bob Vander Plaats, the architect of a successful effort to unseat three state judges who had ruled in favor of marriage equality.
In the lead-up to the South Carolina primary, where former House speaker Newt Gingrich pulled off a surprise win, it was Santorum who was endorsed by a gathering of more than 150 major evangelical leaders. All of them traveled to Texas for a much-hyped confab where they gave speeches and endured several rounds of voting as they decided whether it would be Santorum, Gingrich, or Rick Perry who was their best chance of beating both Romney and Obama.
The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said afterward that Santorum “consistently articulated the issues that are of concern” to social conservatives and praised him for a “record of stability.” Evangelical Christians regularly say their faith is under attack, and so they prefer someone trusted to stick by them and fight.
The National Organization for Marriage’s former chairman, Maggie Gallagher, campaigned alongside Santorum in Ohio, where he lost so narrowly to Romney that much of the media declared it a political tie. Gallagher now runs a group whose purpose it is to argue that religious Americans need defending. NOM’s pledge, which Santorum and Romney both signed, commits these potential world leaders to launching a “presidential commission on religious liberty.” The commission would “investigate and document reports of Americans who have been harassed or threatened” for supporting marriage bans. The commission might even “propose new protections.”
If there is a war on religion, and even if there isn’t, then Santorum is one side’s pick to marshal a counteroffensive. An attack on Santorum is an attack on all Christians, or so Christian conservatives have spun it. Santorum has worn his battle scars proudly because each addition rallies a religious conservative base to his side. The glitter-bombings that followed Santorum before he got his Secret Service detail were a visual representation of LGBT disapproval, but they also fed a narrative that antigay leaders see as helpful.
“The left, which thought it had buried Santorum years ago, is going after him with a hatred unmatched,” said Gallagher in her endorsement. “They hate him with that special ire reserved for a man’s virtues, not his vices.”
Coincidence or not, the trio of wins that propelled Santorum back into the media spotlight came moments after a great victory for LGBT rights made national headlines. As the candidate and his supporters celebrated in Minnesota, so did gays and lesbians at rallies all over California in reaction to a federal appeals court ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. News reports noted that Washington, Maryland, and New Jersey were all on the verge on votes to legalize same-sex marriage. It wasn’t long before Santorum headed to Washington State, arriving the very same day marriage equality was signed into law by Gov. Christine Gregoire.
“Thank you for standing strong with us and for the values that made this country great,” he said to a crowd in Tacoma, shouting over a chorus of protesters angry that he was marring what was supposed to be a momentous day for LGBT rights. “I think it’s really important for you to understand what this radical element represents,” he said of the protesters, “because what they represent is true intolerance.”
The crowd roared in response. And then Santorum broadened the picture while painting himself and his followers as the victim.
“That’s what the Ninth Circuit said when they handed down the decision striking down Proposition 8. What they said was that anybody who disagreed with them were irrational, and that the only reason they could possibly disagree was if they were a hater or a bigot. I got to tell you, I don’t agree with these people, but I respect them. I respect their opportunity to be able to have a different point of view. And I don’t think that they’re a hater or a bigot because they disagree with me.”
Even if LGBT rights activists don’t see the fight as a war on religion, they do have ballot fights on their hands in Maine, North Carolina, and Minnesota. And opponents want to add repeals of marriage equality laws to general election ballots in Washington and Maryland. LGBT rights wins won’t come from attacks on Santorum or his values, though. Not if you ask Richard Carlbom, the campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families. Carlbom is fighting for Minnesota to be the second state to defeat an antigay constitutional amendment.
“We are the ones who are defining this as a religious, moral issue for voters,” he says of the pro-LGBT strategy in Minnesota. In March, Edina Community Lutheran Church became the 40th faith-based partner to join the coalition. Carlbom points to his stable of religious supporters as his own argument for religious freedom. “Our goal isn’t to win them over,” he says of Santorum supporters. “Our goal is making sure the people of Minnesota know that the way mainline denominations are defining marriage is love and commitment.”
Religious leaders are credited almost everywhere with making a difference in fights for marriage. HRC praised the testimony of clergy, for example, as instrumental in passing marriage equality in Maryland. Carlbom points out that in the Minnesota primary, Santorum won 21,000 votes in a state with millions of voters. He and other activists, while alarmed that anyone still sides with a staunchly antigay candidate, are confident in the fairness of the larger pool of Americans.
If Santorum were to be nominated atop the GOP ticket or as vice president, his presence would continue shifting debate into social issues. Some Republicans worry that it distracts from their message on the economy and jobs, not only at the presidential level but also in down-ballot races.
Solmonese says Santorum’s “influence over the race to date has already done significant damage.” Romney is a calculating politician who sees what Santorum accomplished and has become more “mindful,” Solmonese says, of Santorum’s issues and voters, perhaps taking a harder line than he would have if allowed to focus only on wooing independents.
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director for the gay conservative group GOProud, says a Santorum nomination would be “disastrous” for his party. “If he is the nominee,” LaSalvia predicts with alarm, “the Obama-Santorum outcome will make Reagan-Mondale look like a squeaker.” Walter Mondale, the former Democratic vice president, was a strong liberal who overcame a close primary fight only to lose 49 of 50 states in the 1984 election. For LaSalvia, who is a loyal Republican and supports Romney, it’s almost heretical to compare a Republican to a left-winger such as Mondale. But he doesn’t mince words except when asked whether GOProud could endorse a ticket that included Santorum’s name. “It would be a referendum,” he says, “on the most outdated and wrong beliefs of some conservatives.”
Mientras se prepara para aportar toda su autenticidad latina y su carisma al nuevo montaje de Evita en Broadway, la superestrella Ricky Martin nos habla de las demás pasiones de su vida.
Por Jeremy Kinser
“La locura y la fama me sedujeron”, asegura Ricky mientras suelta aire con fuerza y se acomoda en un sofá de un estudio fotográfico del barrio neoyorquino de Chelsea, en pleno Manhattan. A los 40 años, el seductor rostro que en su día lo catapultó a la MTV sigue reflejando un atractivo juvenil, pero también una merecida madurez que no se apreciaba cuando alcanzó la fama mundial. “La oportunidad de apartarme de los focos y fundar una familia fue perfecta para encontrar la estabilidad.”
Tras instalarse con su pareja y sus dos hijos en Nueva York este invierno, Martin ha conseguido ese equilibrio que al parecer le faltaba cuando alcanzó el estrellato en Estados Unidos hace más de doce años. Se ha liberado en muchos sentidos, entre otras cosas por haber salido del armario en el que ocultaba su orientación sexual. Quizá el mejor adjetivo que puede aplicársele es el que utilizó él mismo el año pasado al aceptar un premio de la Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD): se siente libre.
Puede que disfrute de libertad, pero en estos momentos el cantante está ocupadísimo y tiene que cumplir un horario muy estricto. Llega al estudio donde van a realizarse la entrevista y la sesión fotográfica acompañado de John Reilly, que es su jefe de prensa desde hace muchos años, y de José Vega, su mánager, que está con él desde que a los doce años entró a formar parte del famoso grupo puertorriqueño Menudo. Viene de una prueba de vestuario para Evita, el célebre musical de temática política de Andrew Lloyd Webber, que va a reponerse en Broadway y que es precisamente el motivo de que se haya mudado a Nueva York. Aunque asegura que se muere de ganas de llegar a casa para ver a sus hijos, los mellizos Matteo y Valentino, Martin no se olvida de sonreír con simpatía y de estrechar con ímpetu la mano de todos los miembros del reducido equipo que se ha reunido para la sesión de fotos. Es viernes por la tarde y hace un frío brutal en Manhattan, pero Martin se muestra sociable y atento.
Su carisma se manifiesta sin esfuerzo y con sinceridad, y no reserva su magnetismo para las cámaras. Los miembros del equipo, en su mayoría gays, se miran como diciendo que la tarde va a ser apasionante. Hasta la directora del estudio, que es lesbiana y ha estado en unas cuantas sesiones de fotos con superestrellas, se dedica a rondar la sala, claramente fascinada por él.
A estas alturas, su atractivo para todo tipo de públicos es casi legendario.
Nacido Enrique Martín Morales en una familia católica de San Juan de Puerto Rico, Martin empezó ya a volver locos a mujeres y gays cuando estaba en la boy band Menudo, que lo fichó en 1984 para sustituir a otro miembro. Se quedaría cinco años. En Menudo lo enseñaron a derretir a las fans y llegó a ser todo un ídolo adolescente: cantaba ante enormes multitudes, salía en portadas de revistas, grabó montones de discos (a veces hasta cuatro por año) e incuso hizo anuncios de refrescos para la televisión estadounidense.
En 1989 abandonó Menudo porque sentía que no podía expresar su creatividad e inició una carrera en solitario que lo llevó a sacar cuatro exitosos álbumes en español, a interpretar a un camarero durante un año en el culebrón Hospital general y a participar en Los miserables en Broadway, antes de que llegara la actuación que cambiaría el curso tanto de su carrera como de la música contemporánea. En 1999, cuando aún era relativamente desconocido en Estados Unidos, Martin cantó La copa de la vida agitando con brío las caderas en los premios Grammy y el público se puso en pie. Meses después, el gran éxito del álbum en inglés Ricky Martin, que llegó al número uno en varios países, y de su sencillo más conocido, Livin’ la vida loca, propició la explosión del pop latino y contribuyó a preparar el lucrativo mercado estadounidense para intérpretes como Jennifer López y Enrique Iglesias. Martin estaba hasta en la sopa: MTV, Saturday Night Live, docenas de artículos en revistas e incluso la portada de The Advocate, que en 1999 publicó un reportaje que analizaba la “Ricky Fever.” El estrellato lo había llevado a vivir de verdad la vida loca.
“Hay que ir con cuidado”, dice hoy en referencia a los conciertos en estadios de todo el mundo llenos hasta la bandera. “Sobrellevar la fama no resulta fácil. Yo tengo mucha suerte porque cuento con gente maravillosa que es sincera y natural, que me avisa si me equivoco y también me felicita cuando toca.”
Da la impresión de que Martin se toma con calma la popularidad y el poder que comporta. En marzo de 2010 dio por terminada una década de especulaciones sobre su vida privada con un sencillo mensaje que colgó en su página web y en su Twitter: “Hoy acepto mi homosexualidad como un regalo que me da la vida”. Recuerda un tuit que recibió más tarde, de un padre latino heterosexual que le daba las gracias por salir del armario, porque eso le había permitido entender mejor a su hijo gay. Martin se emocionó tanto que le escribió directamente. “Le dije: ‘Acaba de hacerme muy feliz. Vaya a darle un abrazo a su hijo.’”
En otoño de ese mismo año, apenas unos meses después de esa declaración, Martin publicó Yo, una autobiografía en la que repasaba su variada carrera y la vida reservada que había llevado hasta el momento de anunciar públicamente que era gay. En el libro contaba sus relaciones románticas tanto con hombres como con mujeres y recordaba la desafortunada entrevista televisiva con Barbara Walters en la que se negó a responder a preguntas sobre su orientación sexual. Martin asegura que no ha releído Yo desde que apareció.
“Hace exactamente una semana lo tenía abierto en la computadora, me puse a leer un párrafo y tuve que dejarlo”, dice con un hilo de voz y lágrimas en los ojos. “Tuve que dejarlo. Me acordé de cómo me sentía cuando lo escribí.” Calla un momento, recupera la compostura y sonríe.
“Cuando saqué el libro, la gente que conocía al ir a firmar a las librerías me decía: ‘Déjame que te dé un abrazo. No tienes ni idea de lo mucho que me has ayudado’. Ni me imaginaba que pasaría algo así”, afirma. “Me puse a escribirlo sencillamente porque quería soltar un montón de cosas que llevaba dentro.”
* * *
Hasta su aparición especial en un capítulo de Glee este mismo año, Martin llevaba mucho tiempo sin actuar, desde Los miserables. Ryan Murphy, uno de los creadores de Glee, es seguidor suyo, decidió contar con él y escribió el episodio especialmente. “Ricky es una estrella de pies a cabeza”, asegura. “Hasta los actores heteros de la serie se quedaron alucinados por la seguridad en sí mismo que demostró. Decían que si un día cambiaban de acera sería por Ricky Martin.”
Según Murphy, Martin estaba nervioso ante la perspectiva de actuar, pero clavó todas las tomas. De hecho, el productor se quedó tan impresionado con su profesionalidad que le ha propuesto protagonizar su propia serie de televisión. “Si se viniera a vivir a Los Ángeles, le escribiría una sin pensármelo dos veces.”
Tras la buena experiencia de Glee, Martin se lamenta por haber tardado tanto en regresar a la interpretación. “Estaba muy ocupado con muchísimas cosas y ni me di cuenta de que echaba en falta actuar”, asegura, antes de añadir entre carcajadas: “Ha tenido que pasar precisamente esto”.
Se refiere a la reposición de Evita, que se estrena este mes. El artista, que debutó en Broadway hace unos catorce años (en el papel del enamoradísimo Marius de Los miserables), será el cabeza de cartel de este nuevo montaje, al parecer más sexy que los anteriores, donde dará vida al Che, la voz rebelde del pueblo que se las ve con la primera dama argentina, Eva Perón.
No es insólito que un actor icónico encarne a un personaje también icónico, pero en este caso, como sucedió cuando Madonna fue la Evita de la versión cinematográfica de 1996, que Martin interprete al Che es una decisión acertadísima. Lloyd Webber predice que estará “fabuloso” en el papel y, de hecho, Martin tiene la impresión de que lleva toda la vida preparándose para el personaje, un revolucionario inspirado en el Che Guevara que se siente cautivado por Evita pero al mismo tiempo la desprecia por su existencia aburguesada.
Para Martin, las emociones encontrada del Che resultan atractivas. “Tengo la oportunidad de sentir muchas cosas. Puedo pasar de la rabia al amor y luego a la incertidumbre en menos de treinta minutos sobre el escenario”, explica. “Es maravilloso, porque en eso se ha centrado mi vida en los últimos tres años: en los sentimientos. En no sabotear ningún tipo de emoción, en dejar que todo se canalizara a través de mí y en verbalizarlo. Es un ejercicio muy espiritual que hago todas las noches.”
Sin embargo, lo que de verdad le sirve de inspiración es la causa que comparte con su personaje, el deseo de acabar con las injusticias sociales. “El hombre al que doy vida está entregado al pueblo y a los derechos humanos”, resume. A través de la Fundación Ricky Martin, que tiene como objetivo acabar con el tráfico de seres humanos y la explotación infantil, el cantante ha tenido asimismo oportunidad de luchar por los derechos humanos. “Además, desde que salí del armario también he expresado la importancia de la igualdad y he dicho lo que hay que decir. Y ésa es la esencia del Che. Ésa va a ser mi inspiración, mi motivación todas las noches.”
Ser testigo de casos de brutalidad y explotación por todo el mundo lo empujó a actuar. Recuerda en especial un viaje a Camboya en el que vio fotos de la explotación sexual de una niña.
“Ante aquellas imágenes me desmoroné”, afirma, enrojecido y con rabia en la voz. “Me dije: ‘Joder, me largo de aquí’. Ver a aquel hombre seducir a una niña pequeña fue horroroso. Horroroso.”
Martin cuenta que uno de sus mentores lo agarró de la mano para tranquilizarlo: “Me dijo, ‘Ricky, no te muevas de aquí y piensa con calma. Si consigues salvar una sola vida de la explotación sexual, habrás ganado mucho. Habrá valido la pena’”.
A partir de entonces se puso a investigar sobre la epidemia que supone el tráfico de seres humanos y su fundación incluso logró que por primera vez se realizara en Puerto Rico un estudio sobre el tema. “La delincuencia está muy bien organizada y pasa desapercibida”, explica. “Se manifiesta de muchas formas distintas. El tráfico de seres humanos puede concretarse en la explotación sexual, el trabajo infantil o el tráfico de órganos. Me di cuenta de que, aunque en su mayoría el tráfico de personas tiene que ver con la venta de drogas, en ese mundo también hay explotación sexual. Si un niño ha sido víctima de algún tipo de tráfico hay muchas probabilidades de que también haya sufrido otro tipo de explotación.”
Martin tiene previsto construir una serie de centros de desarrollo y prevención para chicos en situación de peligro. El primero estará en la localidad puertorriqueña de Loiza. “Hay críos de trece y catorce años, tanto chicos como chicas, que venden drogas”, cuenta. “Estamos montando un centro holístico que tendrá las puertas abiertas a todos los jóvenes. También queremos proteger a las madres.”
* * *
Aunque dedica mucho esfuerzo a la reposición de Evita y a su fundación, esos dos proyectos pasan a un segundo lugar ante la pasión que siente por los mellizos Matteo y Valentino, nacidos gracias a una madre de alquiler en 2008. Precisamente lo que lo llevó a hacer público que era gay dos años después, tras evitar hablar de su orientación sexual durante mucho tiempo, fue el deseo de vivir con sus hijos sin falsedades. “No quiero que mi familia se base en una mentira”, declaró ante Oprah Winfrey en 2010, en su primera entrevista tras salir del armario. “Quiero ser transparente con ellos.”
“Todas las decisiones que tomo y todo lo que hago parte de sus necesidades”, señala, en referencia a sus hijos, que ya han cumplido tres años. “No quiero soltar ningún tópico, pero todos los días me enseñan algo nuevo.”
“Valentino es todo paz y amor”, dice Martin. “Le encantan las flores y la naturaleza. Si lo buscas, lo encuentras detrás de los matorrales cubierto de barro. Está en sintonía con la naturaleza.” Hace una breve pausa y luego decide continuar. “Sé que parece una locura, pero creo que medita. Se sumerge.” Martin imita a una persona bajo el agua. “Y yo digo: ‘Está en su mundo. Está en pleno viaje’. Es muy zen y muy noble.” En cambio, parece que Matteo exige más atención. “Es más alfa, un líder nato. Es de los que dicen: ‘No hagas eso, sino esto’. Le dice a su hermano lo que tiene que hacer y lo que no.”
Martin está muy implicado en la crianza de sus hijos, para lo que cuenta con la ayuda de su madre, que viaja con él a menudo, y de Rose, la niñera. Su esperma se combinó con los óvulos de una donante que seleccionó en un catálogo; una vez fecundados, se implantaron en otra mujer, el vientre de alquiler. Ninguna de las dos se enteró de que él era el padre. Cuando le dicen que sus hijos han heredado su atractivo se sonríe. “Comí muchas proteínas”, replica, entre carcajadas. “No sé si sirvió para algo, pero llevé una vida muy saludable durante todo un mes, tanto en las comidas como en el descanso, antes de que me dieran el botecito.”
Los niños ya se han acostumbrado a viajar con frecuencia. Martin se tomó un año sabático a partir de su nacimiento y luego pasó mucho tiempo en casa mientras escribía Yo y grababa su último disco, Música + Alma + Sexo, que apareció en 2011 y funcionó muy bien. Cuando salió de gira para promocionarlo se llevó a sus hijos.
“Nos subíamos a una avión día sí, día no”, recuerda, pero enseguida se organizó una gran familia en torno a los mellizos. “Era impresionante, porque se paseaban por el recinto donde íbamos a actuar y los técnicos que estaban montando el escenario dejaban el trabajo para sonreír y saludarlos: ‘Hola, Valentino. Hola, Matteo’”. Martin se detiene de nuevo y suspira antes de añadir: “Esos dos son entes de sanación, de amor. Los técnicos seguían concentrados en su trabajo y en la tensión que comporta, pero esos cinco segundos con los niños les daban un gran alivio”.
A pesar del caos que suponen los viajes, Martin mantiene una buena estructura en la familia. “La cantidad de cariño que reciben los críos es tremenda”, reconoce. “Carlos y yo, mi madre, Rose, los bailarines, los técnicos de sonido…” La voz de Martin se apaga.
El Carlos al que se refiere es su novio desde hace casi cinco años, Carlos González Abella, analista financiero y corredor de Bolsa. En otras ocasiones Martin ha preferido no hablar de él, pero hoy sonríe brevemente con todos los dientes y se inclina un poco hacia delante para decir en un susurro: “Me parece muy sexy. Es elegantísimo. Eso me pone mucho”. Se ríe. “Sale de casa todos los días con traje y corbata, lo cual es muy sexy. Su mundo y el mío son completamente distintos. Yo sé tanto del suyo como él del mío, cosa que está muy bien.”
Martin reconoce que a Abella, poco amigo de salir en los medios de comunicación, le cuesta sobrellevar la atención constante de los periodistas y del público. Salvo en alguna fotografía de paparazzi, pocas veces se los ve juntos. Al recibir el galardón de GLAAD el año pasado, Martin dio las gracias a su novio desde el escenario. “Se toma las cosas poco a poco”, asegura el artista. “Y mi mundo, nuestro mundo, no deja de estar lleno de sorpresas a diario, incluso para mí. Nos complementamos a la perfección en muchos sentidos.”
Su pareja también vive entregado a Matteo y a Valentino y a conseguir su estabilidad, afirma Martin. “Hay mucho amor y mucha comunicación. Su modelo es el planteamiento que sigo yo con los niños, lo imita espléndidamente.”
Martin insiste en que no buscaba tener pareja cuando un amigo los presentó en 2007. “Fue una de esas cosas que pasan sin más”, recuerda. “Yo pensaba: ‘No tiene sentido que aparezcas en este momento. ¿Me haces el favor de permitir que siga mi trayecto?’”.
“Dicen que a veces los deseos se hacen realidad cuando menos lo esperamos. El otro día…” Se detiene otra vez. Va con cuidado para no decir demasiado de su compañero. “Me da igual: voy a contarlo. El otro día me dijo: ‘Yo buscaba novio y Dios me dio una familia’. Y le contesté: ‘Qué bonito, pero en realidad buscabas a un hombre de verdad con una familia y eso fue lo que encontraste’”.
Entrevista traducida por Carlos Mayor, traductor y periodista radicado en Barcelona. Carlos está viajando en estos momentos por Centroamérica y escribirá sobre ello en Out Traveler. No dejen de visitar su página web, www.carlosmayor.com.
The English version of this interview can bee seen at: The Interview: Oh Ricky!
As he prepares to bring sizzling Latin authenticity to his role in the Broadway revival of Evita, megastar Ricky Martin reveals the other passions in his life.
By Jeremy Kinser
Photography by David Needleman
"I was seduced by the madness and the fame," Ricky Martin says, letting out a deep breath as he leans back on a sofa in a studio in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The 40-year-old superstar’s chiseled features, which once made him an MTV fixture, ensure he’s still boyishly handsome, but there’s also a well-earned maturity that wasn’t evident when Martin became a household name. "Once I took a moment to step out of the spotlight and create my family, I thought it was the perfect moment to have this stability."
Having settled down with his partner and two children in New York this winter, Martin has found a constancy that seemed to be missing when he first became a superstar more than a dozen years ago. The singer is in many ways liberated, certainly from the closet in which he hid his sexual orientation. Perhaps the best word for Martin is one he used to describe himself last year while accepting an award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation: free.
He may be free, but today Martin is a very busy man and on a rigid schedule. Martin arrives at the studio for this interview and photo shoot accompanied by his longtime publicist, John Reilly, and his manager, Jose Vega, who’s been with him since he joined the wildly popular Puerto Rican singing group Menudo when he was 12 years old. He’s just come from a wardrobe fitting for Evita, a Broadway revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s celebrated political-themed musical; it’s the reason for his move to New York. And though he says he’s eager to get home to see his twin sons, Matteo and Valentino, Martin takes time to offer a friendly smile and firm handshake to everyone on the small crew assembled for the photo shoot. Although it’s a brutally chilly Friday afternoon in Manhattan, Martin is gregarious and warm.
Martin’s charisma appears effortless and genuine, and his magnetism isn’t reserved for the cameras. The crew, most of whom are gay men, exchange glances to signify that this will be an exciting afternoon. Even the lesbian studio manager—no stranger to superstar photo sessions—is hovering about, clearly smitten with Martin.
His crossover appeal is, by now, almost legendary.
Born Enrique Martin Morales to a Roman Catholic family in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he began driving women and gay men wild as a member of the boy band Menudo. In 1984, Martin was recruited into the group to replace a departing member, and he would remain with Menudo for five years. In Menudo he was trained to make fans swoon, and he achieved teen idol status, selling out huge venues, appearing on magazine covers, recording dozens of albums—sometimes up to four per year—and starring in Pepsi and McDonald’s commercials and appearing on television shows including The Love Boat.
Feeling stifled creatively, he left Menudo in 1989 and began a solo career that yielded four hit Spanish-language albums, a year-long stint as a bartender on the daytime drama General Hospital, and a turn in Les Misérables on Broadway, before a performance that would alter the course of both his career and contemporary music. In 1999, while still relatively unknown in the U.S., Martin performed a pelvis-gyrating version of “La Copa de la Vida” (“The Cup of Life)” to a standing ovation at the Grammy Awards. Months later the international chart-topping success of his self-titled English-language album and its inescapable lead single, “Livin’ la Vida Loca,” would usher in the Latin pop explosion, helping to prepare the lucrative U.S. market for Latin entertainers Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias. Martin was everywhere: MTV, Saturday Night Live, dozens of magazine profiles, even on the cover of The Advocate as the subject of a 1999 article that examined “Ricky fever.” His level of stardom made a literal truth out of the title of his loca hit song.
"You have to be careful," he says now about playing to sold-out stadium crowds around the world. "It’s not easy to deal with fame. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by amazing people who are raw and honest, who will say I’m wrong, and who will also congratulate me."
Martin seems to take his own celebrity and the accompanying power in stride. In March 2010 he ended more than a decade of speculation about his personal life with a simple message he posted on his website and linked to on Twitter. It read, “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man.”
He remembers a tweet he received after that, from a straight Latino father thanking him for coming out, saying it allowed him to better understand his own gay son. Martin was so touched that he sent the man a direct message back. “I wrote, ‚’Sir, you just made my day. Go and hug your child.’”
In the fall of 2010, just months after he came out, Martin published Me, a best-selling memoir that examined his colorful career and the secretive private life that led up to his decision to come out. Me explored Martin’s romantic relationships with both men and women, and it addressed the infamous interview with Barbara Walters in which he refused to answer her questions about his sexual orientation. Martin says he hasn’t read the book since it was published.
"Exactly a week ago I had it open on my computer and I started reading a paragraph and had to stop," he says, his voice cracking and his eyes tearing up. "I had to stop. It reminded me of the place I was when I was writing it." Martin stops, regains his composure, and smiles.
"When I released the book, the people I met doing the in-store signings were like, ‘Please allow me to give you a hug. You have no idea what you’ve done for me.’ I had no idea it was going to be like that," he says. "When I started writing this book I just wanted to let go of a lot of things I was holding within."
Until this year’s guest appearance on Glee, Martin hadn’t acted since Les Misérables. Glee cocreator Ryan Murphy, a fan of Martin’s, had pursued the singer and wrote the episode specifically for him. “He has such star power,” Murphy says. “Even the straight boys in the cast were just gob-smacked by his confidence and said if they ever turned, it would be for Ricky Martin.”
Murphy says Martin was nervous about the acting but nailed every take. In fact, he was so taken with the star’s professionalism that he has spoken with Martin about starring in his own series. “If he’d relocate to L.A., I’d write a TV show for him in a heartbeat.”
The pleasant experience Martin had on Glee makes him wonder why he’d waited so long to return to acting. “I was very busy with so many things that I didn’t realize I missed acting,” he says, before adding with a laugh, “This had to happen.”
Martin is referring to the Broadway revival of Evita, which will open this month. The performer, who made his debut on the Great White Way nearly 16 years ago (as the love-struck Marius in Les Misérables), will headline this reportedly sexier restaging of Evita as Che, the rebellious voice of the people and antagonist to Argentinean first lady Eva Perón.
It’s not uncommon to pair an iconic performer with an iconic character, but as with Madonna, who played the title role in the 1996 film version, Martin as Che is particularly cleverly cast. Webber predicts that Martin will be “fabulous” in the role, and the character—a revolutionary inspired by Che Guevara—who finds Evita seductive, yet is horrified by her opulent lifestyle, is someone Martin feels he’s been preparing to play his entire life.
Che’s conflicting emotions are appealing to Martin. “I get to feel many things. I can go from anger to love to uncertainty within 30 minutes of the show,” he says. “That’s amazing because that’s what my life has been about for the last three years—feeling. Not sabotaging any kind of emotions. Letting everything just come through me and verbalize it. It’s a very spiritual exercise that I’ll do every night.”
But it’s the common cause Martin finds in his character’s desire to correct social injustices that really inspires him. “The man I’m portraying is all about the people and working for human rights,” Martin says. With the Ricky Martin Foundation, an organization committed to ending human trafficking and the exploitation of children, Martin too has been working for human rights. “And since I came out, I’ve been verbal about the importance of equality and what needs to be said. That’s what Che is about too. That is going to be my inspiration, my motivation every night.”
Witnessing brutality and exploitation around the globe spurred Martin to action. He recalls in particular a trip to Cambodia, during which he saw photos of a young girl being sexually exploited.
"I had a breakdown when I saw those images," he recalls; his face is now flushed, and there’s anger in his voice. "I was like, ‘Fuck, I’m out of here.’ I hate seeing that man seducing that little girl. I just hate that."
Martin says one of his mentors grabbed his hand to calm him. “He said, ‘Ricky, please hold on tight and focus. If you can just save one life from the sexual exploitation, you will have won. It will have been worth it.’”
Martin continued to educate himself about the human trafficking epidemic, his foundation even spearheading the first research on the subject ever conducted in Puerto Rico. “Crime is so organized and under the radar,” he says. “It manifests in so many ways. Human trafficking can be sexual exploitation or child labor or organ trafficking. I realized that while the majority of human trafficking is through selling drugs, there’s also sexual exploitation within the world of drug trafficking. With every child that is a victim of one type of trafficking, there’s a big chance that he’s been a victim of another kind.”
Martin plans to build a series of child development and prevention centers for at-risk youth, beginning with one in Loíza, Puerto Rico. “There are 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls selling drugs,” he says. “We’re creating this holistic center to open the doors to all the kids. We also want to protect the mothers.”
Though his commitment to the Evita redo and his foundation are significant, they pale next to his devotion to his twin sons, Matteo and Valentino. The boys were born via a surrogate mother in 2008. It was Martin’s desire, after years of avoiding discussion of his sexual orientation, to live an honest life with his children that led him to come out two years later. “I don’t want my family to be based on lies,” Martin told Oprah Winfrey in 2010, during his first interview after coming out. “I want to be transparent to them.”
"Every decision I make and everything I do is based on their needs," Martin says about his sons, now age 3. "I don’t want to sound cliché, but they teach me new things every day."
"Valentino is mister peace and love," Martin says. "He loves flowers and nature. If I ever wonder where he is, he’ll be somewhere behind the bushes covered in mud. He’s just at one with nature." Martin pauses briefly, then decides to continue. "I know this sounds crazy, but I think he meditates. He goes under the water." Martin imitates being submerged in a tub of water. "I’m like, He’s gone. He’s traveling right now. He’s very Zen and noble." Matteo, Martin says, is a little more demanding. "He’s more alpha and a leader. He’s like, ‘You don’t do that, this is what you do.’ He tells his brother what to do and what not to do."
Martin is very much a hands-on father and raises his sons with the help of his mother, who frequently travels with him, and Rose, their nanny. Martin’s sperm was joined with eggs from a donor he selected from a book; the fertilized eggs were then implanted into a different surrogate mother. Neither woman knew Martin was the father. When it’s suggested that his sons have inherited his good looks, he smiles. “I ate a lot of protein,” he says, laughing. “I don’t know if that worked, but I was very healthy-eating and resting for a whole month before I got the cup.”
The boys have already become accustomed to life on the road. Martin took a sabbatical from touring during their first year and maintained a stable home life while he wrote Me and recorded his most recent album, 2011’s Música + Alma + Sexo. When Martin went back on the road to support the hit album, he took his sons along.
"Every other night we were on a plane," he recalls. But the two boys quickly developed a large surrogate family while on the road. "It was amazing because they’d walk through the venue or arena. The crew was building the sets and they’d stop what they were doing and smile and say, ‘Hi Valentino, hi Matteo.’" Martin pauses again and lets out a breath before adding, "They are tools of healing, of love, these two. The crew would go back to focusing on their work and dealing with their stress, but those five seconds with the kids were very beautiful for them."
Even within the chaos of traveling, Martin maintains a structure for his family. “The amount of love these kids have is crazy,” he says. “Me and Carlos, my mother, Rose, the dancers, the sound engineers…” Martin’s voice trails off.
Above: Martin’s guest appearance on Glee, including cast members Dianna Agron, Vanessa Lengies, and Naya Rivera.
The Carlos he refers to is Martin’s boyfriend of nearly four years, Carlos Gonzalez Abella, a financial analyst/stockbroker. Martin has been hesitant to discuss his boyfriend in the past, but now he flashes a toothy smile and leans in a bit, his voice growing softer. “I think he’s so sexy. He’s very smart. That is such a turn-on,” Martin laughs. “He leaves the house every day in a suit and tie and that is so sexy. It’s two different worlds—his and mine. I know as much about his world as he knows about my world, which makes it really cool.”
Martin acknowledges that dealing with media and public scrutiny isn’t easy for the press-shy Abella. Except for occasional paparazzi shots, the two are rarely photographed together. While being honored at the GLAAD Media Awards last year, Martin thanked his boyfriend from the podium. “He takes it one step at a time,” Martin says. “And still my world—our world—is full of surprises every day, even for me. We complement each other beautifully in many ways.”
His partner is also equally dedicated to providing stability for Matteo and Valentino, Martin says. “There’s a lot of love and a lot of communication. He’s guided by the approach I take with the kids, he imitates it perfectly.”
Martin insists he wasn’t looking for a relationship when a mutual friend introduced the two men in 2008. “It was just one of those things that just happened,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘You’re not supposed to be here right now. Would you please allow me to just go on my journey?’”
"People say be careful what you wish for. The other day—" Martin pauses again. He’s cautious of saying too much about his partner. "I don’t care. I’m going to say it. The other day he said, ‘I was looking for a boyfriend and God gave me a family.’ I said, ‘That’s beautiful, but you were looking for a real man with a family and you got it.’"
The Spanish-language version of this interview, translated by Carlos Mayor, can be found at http://news.advocate.com/post/19162397373/ay-ricky. A Barcelona-based translator and journalist, Carlos is currently traveling around Central America and will write about his trip for Out Traveler. Be sure to check out his web site at www.carlosmayor.com.
When a California appeals court ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, Twitter unloaded a torrent of reaction from marriage equality supporters — and opponents. Here are just a few.
The court has rendered a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry. I applaud the wisdom and courage of this decision.— Jerry Brown (@JerryBrownGov) February 7, 2012
With our beautiful plaintiffs now. Hugs and cheers as the 9th circuit court of appeals affirmed that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional!— Dustin Lance Black (@DLanceBlack) February 7, 2012
V plsd the 9th Circuit has upheld ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional! We shld all be able to marry the person we love #marriageequality— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) February 7, 2012
Court of Appeals overturning CA’s Prop 8 another example of an out of control judiciary. Let’s end judicial supremacy bit.ly/nyblQ7— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) February 7, 2012
Prop 8 architects:Every civil rights battle is eventually won by the oppressed party.Save your hundred mil and buy some Bud platinum.— Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane) February 7, 2012
Prop 8 overturned!Huzzah!And justice for all.— Pandora Boxx (@ThePandoraBoxx) February 7, 2012
My feed right now:Celebration on Prop 8 unconstitutionality and outrage over no muppets singing at Oscars.I love you, Twitter.— Damon Lindelof (@DamonLindelof) February 7, 2012
Prop 8, sashay away.logo.to/wpZBQA— RuPaul’s Drag Race (@RuPaulsDragRace) February 7, 2012
BREAKING : Michelle Bachmann’s gay marriage now legal in California.— Alec Mapa (@AlecMapa) February 7, 2012
We won!!— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) February 7, 2012
I am a gay American and it’s my Constitution too. #NOH8— Chely Wright (@chelywright) February 7, 2012
NOH8 NOH8 NOH8 NOH8!!!!! My dogs think im nuts for the NOH8 happy dance im doing right now.— Audra McDonald (@AudraEqualityMc) February 7, 2012
FEDERAL COURT: PROP 8 UNCONSTITUTIONAL.OUT: Komen Official Quits Amid Planned Parenthood Dispute.a winning day!— Sandra Bernhard (@SandraBernhard) February 7, 2012
Verdict: Love wins! #prop8— Dan Choi (@ltdanchoi) February 7, 2012
Prop 8 overturned + emergency contraception fight + Komen vs. Planned Parenthood = so much for economy-only 2012— Alex Burns (@aburnspolitico) February 7, 2012
Woohoo!! Die Prop 8 Die!!!! 9th Circuit just ruled you unconstitutional. Next step Supreme Court!— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) February 7, 2012
Prop 8 Verdict JUST in!!! The Ninth Circuit has ruled that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional!!!!!! perez.ly/zrVPi5 Yes!!!— Perez Hilton (@PerezHilton) February 7, 2012
I’d like to thank Madonna and Smash for this Prop 8 ruling this week.— Jami Smith (@jamismithcomic) February 7, 2012
In a 2-1 vote, an appeals court panel rules that the 2008 ballot measure “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”
By ANDREW HARMON
A federal appeals court has ruled California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional, upholding retired U.S. district judge Vaughn Walker’s 2010 decision in the high-profile case and setting up what could be an eventual showdown over the ballot measure at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nearly three years after two gay couples filed suit when state officials denied them marriage licenses, a three-judge panel with the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday that by stripping gay Californians of the right to marry, Prop. 8 violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in an opinion that social conservatives have already slammed as textbook judicial activism and led GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to assert in a Tuesday afternoon statement that as president he would only appoint judges who would "interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own politics and prejudices."
But Reinhardt reasoned that Prop. 8 had a clear, discriminatory, and blatantly unconstitutional aim: to strip gay couples of a right “they previously possessed from the State … the right to obtain and use the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their relationships.”
The ballot measure, he concluded, “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”
Weddings of same-sex couples will not resume immediately in California, however. The court notes that a stay pending appeal remains in effect. Prop. 8 supporters have 14 days to decide whether they will seek what’s known as en banc review by the Ninth Circuit; or the legal team could directly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court within 90 days.
The court decided the case on narrow grounds, ruling that the specific circumstances regarding California and the passage of Prop. 8 created a unique situation. It’s therefore unknown whether the Supreme Court would accept review of the Prop. 8 case or decline to do so, which would allow the Ninth Circuit ruling to remain in place but would apply only to California. Attorneys challenging the ballot measure said Tuesday that the reasoning behind the ruling is much broader than its narrower practical effect, and thus could be accepted for a high court review.
Arguments long employed by anti-gay marriage groups — namely, that excluding gay couples from the institution is essential to encourage “responsible procreation,” as attorneys argued at trial in January 2010 — were quickly rejected by Reinhardt, because Prop. 8 “had no effect on the rights of same-sex couples to raise children or on the procreative practices of other couples.”
Ted Olson, co-lead attorney for plaintiffs Kristin Perry, Sandra Stier, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarrillo, said on a conference call with reporters, “The district court and the Ninth Circuit have both ringingly affirmed the right to equality — that marriage cannot be denied to individuals on the basis of sexual orientation.”
As with a federal case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in Massachusetts, the Ninth Circuit applied a rational basis review, the lowest standard of judicial review, in the Prop. 8 case, as the Supreme Court also did in the landmark Colorado gay rights case Romer v. Evans, which Reinhardt drew from extensively in his opinion.
Jennifer Pizer, legal director at the Williams Institute, said the decision marks the first time a federal appeals court has struck down a state’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. But because the opinion so closely applies the analysis used by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in Romer, the Supreme Court may be unlikely to hear a case that doesn’t break legal ground, she said.
"Today’s bottom line is that this decision is written about as narrowly as it could be and offers as little reason as possible for the Supreme Court to want to grant review," Pizer said. "Even so, given California’s size and national influence, the immense public interest in the marriage question, and the implications of the decision for other states, means there’s still plenty of reason to think the Justices may find the case irresistible."
The Ninth Circuit panel also upheld a district court ruling denying a request to vacate Judge Walker’s decision in the case because he is gay and in a long-term relationship — an open secret during the trial, though one that was not raised publicly until a San Francisco Chronicle article appeared a few weeks after testimony in the case concluded more than two years ago. U.S. district judge James Ware, who has handled matters involving the case, Perry v. Brown, since Judge Walker retired last year, summarily dismissed those arguments.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that Walker was not obligated to recuse himself, and
that “his resolution of the issue on the basis of facts was not illogical, implausible, or
without support in inferences that may be drawn from the facts in the record.”
The National Picture
Since Prop. 8 passed in 2008, several states across the country have established
marriage equality, either via the legislative process, as was the case in New York last
year and New Hampshire in 2009, or after state supreme court rulings in states such
as Iowa and Connecticut.
In 2009, Maine lawmakers passed a same-sex marriage bill, though voters
overturned that legislation by a small margin via referendum. Late last month
a coalition of marriage equality advocates in the state announced that they had collected enough signatures to return the issue to the ballot in November. Polling
shows increased support for marriage rights among Maine voters.
But another raft of antigay ballot measures reminiscent of Prop. 8, and in
one case far more draconian, is slated for the November election in Minnesota,
North Carolina, and possibly in Washington, where the legislature is poised to pass
a marriage bill that Gov. Chris Gregoire has thrown her support behind. Passage of a
marriage equality bill in Maryland, where lawmakers are currently considering such
legislation, will almost certainly lead to a voter initiative on the matter.
North Carolina’s Amendment 1, which voters will decide in the May state primary,
would constitutionally bar gay couples from the right to marry (state law already
prohibits them) and also denies them any other form of relationship recognition,
which can affect medical decision-making, child custody, and other fundamental
On Monday the Ninth Circuit panel denied an attempt by officials in California’s
Imperial County, where Prop. 8 passed by an overwhelming margin, to intervene in
the case. The officials, represented by the social conservative legal group Advocates
for Faith and Freedom, were denied their request by Judge Walker in his 2010
The Ninth Circuit panel also ruled last week that recordings of the Prop. 8 trial
cannot be made public.
However, because current court rules mandate that documents filed under seal
become public 10 years after a decision in a case, which means that the recordings
could be released August 4, 2020 — a decade after Walker’s landmark decision.
(RELATED: Reaction in pictures to the court’s ruling)
Federal legal challenges to marriage discrimination include several cases against the
1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage to the exclusion of same-
sex couples for the purposes of federal benefits, are progressing through federal
courts in multiple circuits. The Obama administration’s Justice Department has
declined to defend the statute, calling it unconstitutional and subject to heightened
judicial scrutiny a year ago (House Republicans have tapped former George W. Bush
solicitor general Paul Clement to defend the law).
Unlike those suits, which focus more narrowly on the constitutionality of
a section of DOMA, attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson have argued in the
Prop. 8 suit that marriage is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution,
that it should be interpreted to include same-sex couples, and that after Prop.
8, “California relegates same-sex unions to the separate-but-unequal institution of
domestic partnership,” Olson wrote in the team’s 2009 legal complaint on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Tuesday’s ruling drew immediate reaction from national LGBT groups and lawmakers from across the political spectrum.
California governor Jerry Brown, who is the named defendant in the suit but has uniformly spoken out against the ballot measure, praised the court for its decision.
“The court has rendered a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry,” he said in a statement. “I applaud the wisdom and courage of this decision.”
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation interpreted the “historic decision” as a sign of a shift in political opinion, with its acting president, Mike Thompson, claiming it “reflects the growing support for marriage equality among a majority of Americans who believe all couples should have the same opportunity to take care of and be responsible for each other.”
But the National Organization for Marriage, which has campaigned against same-sex marriage all across the country, said it welcomed the possibility of a Supreme Court fight.
"Never before has a federal appeals court — or any federal court for that matter — found a right to gay marriage under the U.S. Constitution," said John Eastman, chairman of NOM, in a statement. "Today’s ruling is a perfect setup for this case to be taken by the U.S. Supreme Court, where I am confident it will be reversed. This issue is the Roe v. Wade of the current generation, and I sincerely doubt the Court has the stomach for preempting the policy judgments of the states on such a contentious matter, knowing the lingering harm it caused by that ruling.”
Meanwhile, gay conservatives slammed Romney’s denunciation of the ruling. R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, called the candidate’s statement “an unfortunate kneejerk opposition to expanding liberty and a poorly calculated effort to appeal to a shrinking base of primary voters opposed to marriage equality.”
Nearly 30 years into her reign as the greatest gay icon, Madonna is back in a big way with her new film, W.E., and her first studio album in four years, reminding us why so many adore her.
By ARI KARPEL
The temptation to apply layers of meaning to the story Madonna tells in her new film, the cryptically titled W.E., is irresistible.
The pop superstar’s second feature film as a director, W.E. is a tale of two women, two cultures, and two eras. Wallis Simpson was a real-life American socialite of the 1930s who was vilified for falling in love with England’s King Edward VIII; he abdicated the throne to marry the divorcée. Madonna’s movie attempts to reclaim Wallis’s image by turning a polarizing woman often perceived as a villain into a sympathetic figure.
And then there’s Wally Winthrop, the other woman — this one fictional — in New York City in the late 1990s, at a time when Simpson’s jewels and other possessions were being auctioned off for charity. Trapped in an abusive marriage that appeared to be fairy-tale perfect, Wally obsesses over Wallis, her bygone namesake, and turns to her for support.
Like Madonna’s best videos and music, W.E. is a pastiche of eras past and present, with a heavy emphasis on style, fashion, and design. Her presence is clearly felt. More oblique is the connection to Madonna’s own life. The movie depicts Wallis as a dramatically different person than she was in her private, tortured reality. Wally’s fantasy facade, concealing a darker truth, invites comparison to Madonna’s now-dissolved marriage to filmmaker Guy Ritchie and raises the question of whether Madonna feels as vilified as Wallis.
"I was intrigued," Madonna says of the royals. She had a vague awareness of Wallis but only really got to know her story when she moved to England. "Like Wallis Simpson, I felt like an outsider. I thought, Life is so different here, and I’m used to being a New Yorker, and I have to learn how to drive on the other side of the road. Suddenly, I found myself living out in an English country house and trying to find my way in this world, so I decided to really take it on and do research and find out about English history and learn about the royal family.”
Madonna read every book she could find about Simpson and her time. She became obsessed with the tragic notion that a woman then was only as good as the man she would marry. “The idea of making a choice for love wasn’t really part of their world,” says Madonna. “The fact that they eventually found each other and were willing to jump into this fishbowl of scandal and rile people up, even though Wallis knew, as she says in the film, that she would become the most hated woman in the world” — that’s what captivated Madonna.
While she doesn’t claim the title “most hated” for herself, she feels a connection to Simpson. “I mean, I certainly don’t engage [with the media] as much as I did,” she says. “When people are writing about you in the beginning and they’re saying nice things, you’re like, ‘Oh!’ You feel this lift of energy. Then they say bad things, and of course, you’re affected by that too.”
Madonna spent a lot of time caring about the bad, but she claims to have moved on. “I don’t really dwell on it anymore. I used to be kind of fixated on it and think, It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair, but it is what it is, and I just have to get on with my life.”
But Madonna’s passion for this topic belies that resolute attitude: “If you are threatened by me as a female or you think I’m doing too much or saying too much or being too much of a provocateur, then no matter how great of a song I write or how amazing of a film I make, you’re not going to allow yourself to enjoy it, because you’re going to be too entrenched in being angry with me or putting me in my place or punishing me.”
Meeting Madonna in person can be a little jarring. For someone so larger-than-life, she’s surprisingly petite. Sitting down and launching into conversation, she is disarmingly engaged, and she slouches a bit, like any mere mortal. But she’s not, of course. A burly man is guarding the door of the suite at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where she has settled in for the afternoon. And she’s dressed eccentrically — black leather fingerless Chanel gloves cover her hands, silver bracelets of varying shapes run up both forearms (and, predictably, a red kabbalah string), and a royal blue asymmetrical shift hugs her taut figure.
Her experience of feeling burned by the press has made her particularly deft at dodging questions, discussing what she wants to discuss. But after a few tangential monologues about duchesses and dowagers, the most famous woman in the world offers a bit of insight into the connection she feels to Wallis Simpson. “It’s intriguing because we are raised to believe in the fairy-tale kind of love, that we are going to be swept off our feet by … you know, in both of our cases, Mr. Right, and our knight in shining armor is going to come along and save us, pick us up, and put us on the back of his beautiful steed, and we’re going to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.” She pauses. “God knows, that doesn’t happen.”
Now she’s on a roll. “There are so many things about her. The fact that she said he left his prison” — Madonna’s talking about King Edward feeling imprisoned by the monarchy — “only to incarcerate me in a prison of my own.” And with that, Madonna answers the question. And doesn’t. “In spite of it all, I think she lived her life in a very dignified manner. And she wasn’t a victim.”
King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) whirls Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) around a dance floor.
When Madonna first became famous, almost 30 years ago, she was defined by that very quality: She was no victim.
For the gay men who were there in the beginning, when she was shaking it on the dance floors of New York City, the men who reveled in her early hits, Madonna was the ultimate expression of in-your-face sexuality. She was self-possessed and uninhibited. She dressed up for the party, and she took it all off for the after-party.
Her impact wasn’t limited to gay men. Madonna boldly toyed with transgender imagery on a grand stage: She co-opted the Harlem drag balls for the “Vogue” video, she featured trans people and cross-dressers of all stripes in her banned “Justify My Love” video, and her coffee-table tome, Sex, posited couples in all sorts of configurations. Her high profile are-they-or-aren’t-they friendships with such queer women as Sandra Bernhard, Rosie O’Donnell, and Ingrid Casares as well as her promotion of bisexual artists like Meshell Ndegeocello helped to take queer sensibility into the mainstream.
In the midst of the AIDS crisis, when fear was rampant and gay men were dying at a horrifying rate, Madonna was among the first to take a stand, to say, as she did in the tour documentary Truth or Dare, that it’s OK to be a gay man who is openly sexual.
"That it’s OK to be gay, period,” Madonna says emphatically before launching into an impassioned recounting of her experience of the AIDS onslaught. “I was extremely affected by it. I remember lying on a bed with a friend of mine who was a musician, and he had been diagnosed with this kind of cancer, but nobody knew what it was. He was this beautiful man, and I watched him kind of waste away, and then another gay friend, and then another gay friend, and then another gay friend. They were all artists and all truly special and dear to me.”
In retrospect, Madonna sees that as the moment when her sense of self became entangled with that of gay men. “I saw how people treated them differently,” she says. “I saw the prejudices, and I think probably I got that confused with, intertwined with, you know, maybe things that…ways that people treated me differently.”
As Madonna reinvented herself, gay fans hung on through thick and thin, through Who’s That Girl and Body of Evidence, weathering reported flings with Dennis Rodman and Vanilla Ice. Fans bowed down at the sight of her as Evita and shored up support upon hearing Ray of Light, only to have to endure Swept Away and American Life and that British accent. It’s been a bumpy ride for Madonna fans.
Perhaps Madonna wasn’t the only one to “confuse” her personal treatment with that of gay men. The feeling was mutual. As she exploded in popularity Madonna became identified with the collective gay male sense of self. So when she moved on, devoting less and less time to her gay compatriots, many felt a twinge of abandonment. That’s when bitching about Madonna became the great gay pastime.
"I never left them," insists Madonna, echoing a lyric from Evita. “When you’re single, you certainly have more time to socialize and hang out with your gay friends, but then you get married and you have a husband and you have children, and your husband wants you to spend time with him. I’m not married anymore, but I have four kids, and I don’t have a lot of time for socializing.” She’s been back in New York for two years, after splitting with Ritchie.
"I hope nobody’s taking that personally. It certainly was not a conscious decision. As it stands, most of my friends in England are gay. But I’m back," she says, adding reassuringly, "Never fear."
Madonna is most certainly back. And love her or hate her (or love her, then hate her, then love her again) one thing is for sure: The world-renowned provocateur, boundary-pushing mother of reinvention still makes news. Tidbits about her latest film and MDNA, her first album in four years, even her high-dollar, three-record deal with Interscope have sparked a host of headlines. As did the announcement of her Super Bowl halftime show. You can’t get more all-American than that. (And, yes, she was warned to avoid a repeat of Janet Jackson’s Nipplegate.)
Indeed, who hasn’t already seen Madonna’s nipples? Whether she was writhing in a wedding dress at the Video Music Awards or photographed while hitchhiking naked, when she rose to fame Madonna was all about pushing sexual boundaries. But sex is old news. Madonna paved the way, and everyone since — including Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj, both of whom she’s smooched — has walked that path.
One such successor speaks to a new generation of LGBT fans. Recently Time magazine referred to Madonna as “the Lady Gaga of the ’80s.” When I ask about this, a bit of a chill sweeps over the room.
"I have no thoughts," she says. "What’s the question?" So I ask it a different way: What do you think of how Gaga connects with her fans, and is it parallel to the relationship you had with gay fans early on?
Madonna pauses for a moment, composing herself. “It seems genuine,” she says, also seeming genuine. “It seems natural, and I can see why she has a young gay following. I can see that they connect to her kind of not fitting into the conventional norm. I mean, she’s not Britney Spears. She’s not built like a brick shithouse. She seems to have had a challenging upbringing, and so I can see where she would also have that kind of connection, a symbiotic relationship with gay men.”
To many fans, that symbiosis has the outward appearance of the relationship Madonna had with her gay fans earlier in her career. Gaga has an intertwined dependence in which her fans’ pain and alienation are bound up with her own. Perhaps every generation gets the gay icon it needs. For today’s wave of queer youth, it’s Gaga, who is spreading the antibullying gospel. But she has undoubtedly taken cues from the Madonna playbook. Whether she’s singing the “Express Yourself” — reminiscent “Born This Way” or producing her Truth or Dare-like HBO concert film, Gaga is following a trail that Madonna blazed.
"I’m magnificent!" Madonna says initially when asked what she’s like as a director. Then she gets serious. "I don’t know — I’m pretty methodical and detail-oriented, very specific with everybody from the camera crew to the actors to the costume designer to the hair and makeup people. I was very specific with everybody all the time. I love giving actors as much information as possible and helping them as much as I can and then leaving them alone if they want me to."
She learned that she is resilient, which one would think Madonna already knows. “Yeah, but now I really know that,” she says, pointing out that she wrote a script that takes place on two continents and in two time periods with two sets of actors. It’s a pretty complicated undertaking for a novice director.
Making a movie is never an easy process, and yet Madonna keeps at it, sometimes with little success. Early press releases for W.E. touted it as “Madonna’s directorial debut,” a misrepresentation that has since been corrected. But for most of the world, it may as well be. Hardly anyone saw the last one she directed, 2008’s Filth and Wisdom.
"Madonna is self-aware enough to know that there are people who actively dislike her, who don’t know her and yet presume that they do and pass vitriolic judgments against her," says Alek Keshishian, who ought to know. He directed Truth or Dare 21 years ago and teamed up with Madonna again on W.E., for which they’re co-screenwriters.
"I was like 23 years old when she called me to do Truth or Dare,” says Keshishian, who went on to direct the film With Honors as well as numerous commercials. “We always remained in touch.”
Though he’s used to being in the director’s chair himself, Keshishian recognized that in this situation Madonna’s in charge. It’s a characterization she doesn’t attempt to dispute. “Yeah, yeah, for sure,” she says, shedding a bit of light on their method. “We’re like two schoolchildren. I would look away, and then I would look up at the screen and he would have typed something completely X-rated and pornographic.”
But Madonna would never participate in that, right? “No, no,” she says, grinning broadly. “Well, he would drag me into it. And then I would be like, ‘OK, OK, let’s stop this, we have to get back to work.’ And then he would get on his BlackBerry and I’d scream at him, and then I would have to go and do something with one of my kids and he would scream at me, and we would accuse each other of being unprofessional.”
Madonna is even more firm as a parent. “I’m a strict mother,” she says. “My daughter doesn’t know why I won’t allow her to get everything pierced or a tattoo or dye her hair blond on the tips and pink at the roots.” Lourdes, 15 now, can do any of those things once she’s 18. “But from now until then…”
Like most mothers, Madonna can be more than a bit embarrassing. “They just really want me to just be Mom and be normal, and don’t show up dressed in any outlandish way,” says the woman who’s not accustomed to deflecting attention. “Just come to school, do the parent-teacher meetings. I can’t even wear a tracksuit. That attracts attention too. You know, they don’t really want to see me as a famous person or a celebrity or somebody. They don’t get it right now. They think I’m a little quirky.”
Recently she’s found herself wistful for the old days. “Reading Patti Smith’s book Just Kids really helped me,” says Madonna, reminded of her early days in New York, that magical time when being creative and innocent and free was everything. “It’s important to remember that and bring that forward into your life and to have spontaneous moments.” She decided to reclaim a bit of that lost impulsiveness recently. “On Sunday, I squeezed my four kids into the car and [went] shopping in East Hampton. It was very weird. The people in Ralph Lauren were not prepared. I never go shopping. And my daughter was looking like” — Madonna scrunches up her nose, as if in disbelief — “because she’s always trying to get me to go shopping, and I never will. That was fun.”
It seems that Madonna is still enjoying what she’s doing. She even seems to have mellowed a bit. Reinvention? Maybe, at 53, she’s had enough of that. “Is making a film reinventing myself?” she asks. “I don’t think so. I’m just telling stories with different clothes on.”