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Few Watch "When We Rise", ABC's Mini-Series About the Gay Rights Movement

When we rise


In the winter of 1977 ABC aired the eight-part mini-series, Roots, which told of the black experience in America.  It drew a huge audience, reaching an estimated 60% of the population.  40 years later ABC aired a four-part mini-series about the rise of the gay rights movement, called When We Rise, but unlike Roots, few watched it.  The first episode had only 3 million viewers and the three episodes that followed barely drew 2 million.  This was despite the fact that it had quite a creative pedigree, with Dustin Lance Black the executive producer and Gus Van Sant the director (who also paired up for the 2008 movie Milk).  By comparison, 50-60 million viewers tuned in for each installment of Roots (when there were 100 million fewer people living in the US). 


Of course, today's viewing landscape is much different from what it was 40 years ago, but it doesn't fully explain the pitiful level of viewership.  Was it also because non-gay viewers weren't interested, so the audience potential was limited?  Was it because of a lack of promotion (although numerous tune-in ads aired during the Academy Awards)?  Was it because, with all of the media attention in the past ten years given to several major pieces of pro-gay legislation, we've already learned a great deal gay history?  Was it apathy among young people?  Or, perhaps, avoidance by older LGBT persons who lived through the AIDS crisis and didn't wish to relive it?  (As I watched I was tense knowing that some of the characters I grew to like would succumb.)


AIDS panic scene

 When we rise bed scene


A clear sign of how times have changed was the warning at the beginning of each episode, cautioning viewers about strong "adult" language, but there was no such warning about "adult" content, such as amorous scenes between men or lesbians.  25 years ago very few mainstream advertisers would have risked placing commercials in a program with this type of content, but this time a long list of mainstream advertisers aired commercials, including Oreo, Special-K, Lysol, Bounty, Chevrolet, Perdue chickens, McDonald's, JC Penney, Downy, Red Lobster, and Little Caesar's.  However, I spotted just one ad with a gay sensibility, for the Lexus RX.  Also, L'Oreal featured trans model, Hari Nef, in its ad.


Lexus gay ad
Lexus RX


Loreal transexual


I was startled by a quick scene in Episode 3 when the fellow walking out of the offices of the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) in DC bore a striking resemblance to Vice President Mike Pence.


Mike pence


At the end of Episode 3 I found it curious when a comment by Cleve Jones about President George W. Bush's endorsement of a Constitutional amendment making marriage only between a man and a woman, was immediately followed by a voiceover during the credits telling viewers that Bush would be on Jimmy Kimmel's show later that night.   


When interviewed about the mini-series, Dustin Lance Black said that, "Young LGBT people deserve to know we have a rich history."  However, with such tepid viewer response his quote made me think of the well-worn phrase, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."  Hopefully, additional viewers will see this ambitious, and well-done, series via On Demand or delayed viewing from DVR recording.






































Andrew Sullivan Passes Torch to New Generation of Gay Intelligentsia

Andrewsullivan.bear At the start of 2015 political pundit Andrew Sullivan announced that he had stopped blogging, put an end to his social media presence and would no longer make appearances on current affairs shows, saying that the rigors of blogging nearly killed him (he felt working all day long, i.e. a full-time job, was too demanding).  The need to constantly produce content for the 40,000 readers of his blog, The Dish, wasn't worth sacrificing his health (physical and mental).  Reading this I pondered whether his "retirement" was more of a tacit admission by the 52-year-old Brit that he had been crowded off the stage by a new generation of young, smart, gay political pundits.


The fair-haired boy, circa 1990


25 years ago, in a world that was non-digital and where being out in the workplace was rare, Sullivan pretty much had the stage to himself (activist Michelangelo Signorile, who wrote for Out Week, also drew attention).  As the youthful editor of The New Republic, he peppered his opinion pieces with lyrics from the Pet Shop Boys;   Sullivan also regularly wrote of the challenges he faced as a practicing Catholic trying to reconcile his sexual orientation with the Church's homophobic teachings.  His gay cachet likely drew Calvin Klein to the pages of the magazine as the company advertised on the back cover of the publication, with ads featuring sexy Antonio Sabato, Jr. (news/current affairs magazine weren't a typical place to see homoerotic underwear ads).  As part of an ad campaign by Gap featuring young movers and shakers, he was photographed by Annie Leibovitz.





And although he was pilloried by some in the gay community for his conservative political leanings, and for defending George W. Bush's policies, his legacy will likely be his foresight when it came to the issue of same-sex marriage.  Way back in 1989 he wrote a cover story for The New Republic in which he posited that same-sex marriage was a way for gay men and lesbians to gain mainstream acceptance, since the desire to "settle down" would please family values conservatives and put the lie to the religious right's contention that gay men were condemned to lives of  anonymous sex and AIDS.  (In 2009 Sullivan married his partner.)




Although there are more than a dozen gay pundits today, it was Josh Barro of the NY Times who was the inspiration for this post.  The 31-year-old Barro, who is gay, Harvard educated, cute and has conservative political leanings, brought to mind an Andrew Sullivan of the 21st century.  (And who knows, like Sullivan, perhaps he'll embrace "bear" culture when he gets older).




Barro is the youngest of seventeen personalities I think of as today's gay "intelligentsia", providing thoughtful commentary to LGBT followers as well as the general public.  Their median age is 44.  The best-known are Rachel Maddow and Nate Silver, both of whom have more than one million Twitter followers.  (Despite no longer being active on Twitter, Andrew Sullivan still has 110,000 followers.)  However, Chris Geidner, despite having considerably less followers, has by far the most tweets, with 157,000.








Republican Versus Democratic Eye Candy

BeefcakeRepublicans control both Houses of Congress - and they also seem to have an edge when it comes to handsome men (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is an exception).  From the Ronald Reagan school of politics, they engage with their dazzling smiles and Hollywood good looks.  But although their faces may be chiseled and handsome, their misguided political beliefs nullify these physical attributes.  As the narrator in Into the Woods observed about Cinderella's step sisters, "They were beautiful of face, but vile and black of heart."  Handsome Democrats, on the other hand, follow the George Clooney playbook, using their animal magnetism to draw attention to causes that benefit the nation's welfare.  They may be outnumbered by Republicans but the team they field is on the side of the angels.




Mayor of miami francis suarez
Miami mayor, Francis Suarez
Marco Rubio, baby-faced US Senator from Florida and 2016 presidential candidate; looks like baldness is in his future (and his ears are unusually prominent for someone so young).



David Jolly
Yet another Floridian, David Jolly was briefly a congressman in the 2010s and is now a prominent critic of Trump who eventually left the Republican party. 
Rick Perry, the former benighted governor of Texas later became Trump's benighted Secretary of Energy


Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and 2012 presidential candidate; too sensible to be a Republican 


Scott Brown, former Massachusetts senator and one-time Playgirl centerfold


Vice President Mike Pence first received national attention as governor of Indiana for his misguided Freedom of Religion act


Aaron Schock, better known for appearing shirtless on the cover of Men's Health than for anything he accomplished in the House of Representatives while representing Illinois. He was forced to resign after spending $50K to redecorate his DC office, at taxpayer expense, to resemble the decor of Downton Abbey.  In 2020 he decided to come out.


JC Watts, former Oklahoma Sooner football player and a former Congressman from Oklahoma


Ted Haggard, former leader of The New Life Church, was brought low after his relationship with a male escort was made public by the escort.


Eric Cantor, sexy in a nerdy way, but I always  wanted to smack the smirk off his face - something his Virginia constituents accomplished when they voted him out of office in 2014.


Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor who introduced the nation to mandatory health coverage and his belief that 47% of voters are moochers. Lost to Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election


Jeff Flake, one-term Senator from Arizona (thru 2019) who decided not to run for re-election because it would have required him to fight to win.  This photo looks like it was torn out of the LL Bean catalog


Cory Gardner, newly elected senator from Colorado


David Vitter, US senator from Louisiana. His admission to patronizing prostitutes didn't keep his constituents from re-electing him.


Brian Sandoval, former two-term governor of Nevada (2011-2019)


Adam Kinzinger, another hottie congressman from Illinois


Sean Duffy, former  congressman from Wisconsin, resembles late actor Cory Monteigh  ("Glee")



They may be fewer in number but the stable of sexy Democrats still pack a punch (sorry, Anthony Weiner, you did not make this list) ...


Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts. Sexy as hell with a great name to boot.


Antonio Villaraigosa, former mayor of Los Angeles
Martin O'Malley, former governor of Maryland
Pennsylvania representative Brian Sims. What can be said except, WOW (or perhaps, woof!).


Gavin Newsom, governor of California and former lieutenant governor and mayor of San Francisco


Jack Conway, attorney general of Kentucky


Martin Heinrich, senator from New Mexico


Sam Adams, former gay mayor of Portland, OR.


Cedric Richmond, congressman from Louisiana


Eric Swalwell, congressman from California and briefly threw his hat in the ring during the 2020 presidential campaign


Juan Castro, mayor of San Antonio. His identical twin brother, Joaquin, is a congressman from Texas.  Like Swalwell, he too pursued the Democratic nomination for president.



Landmark Supreme Court Decision Strikes Down US Sodomy Laws (June 26, 2003)

Lawrence_v_texasOn June 26, 2003 the US Supreme Court ruled that Texas' same-sex sodomy law was unconstitutional. The landmark Lawrence v Texas ruling was decided by a 6-3 vote, with Justices Scalia, Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist the dissenting votes.  (Pictured are John Geddes Lawrence, far right, with fellow plaintiff Tyron Power.  Both have died since the decision.)  The ruling voided the remaining sodomy laws in twelve other states as well (including Florida and Michigan). This decision came 42 years after Illinois became the first state to strike down its sodomy law.


Supremecourt_building This ruling reversed the Court's infamous 1986 decision upholding Georgia's sodomy law (Bowers v Hardwick). Many legal scholars consider Lawrence v Texas one of the Court's most important rulings. Once same-sex relations were made legal it opened the way for making same-sex marriage possible - and the state of Massachusetts followed suit the following year.


The Surprising, Sudden Downfall of Christine Quinn




Nearly a year has passed and yet it's still hard to believe how quickly New York City politician Christine Quinn fell from her ivory tower.  During the first half of 2013 she was the clear favorite to replace Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York.  But despite receiving countless endorsements, she steadily lost ground to underdog Bill de Blasio, and when voters pulled their levers during September's primary, she finished a distant third.  And although polls had indicated this result, they seemed too unbelievable to give them much credence.  This was the scenario of a nightmare you might expect Quinn to have had in her sleep during the campaign - but it unfolded in her waking life. 


There have been other gay politicians who have fallen, but their troubles were caused by sex scandals (e.g., Gerry Studds, Jim McGreevey, Mark Foley, Barney Frank, Sam Adams).  That wasn't the case with Quinn.  Instead, she fell out of favor because of policy matters: 1) She had a reputation for being overly deferential to real estate interests (a mini-Bloomberg); 2) She infuriated many residents of Greenwich Village for not going to bat for St. Vincent's Hospital; 3) She was instrumental in overturning term limits for the office of mayor, something voters had approved just a few years earlier, thus enabling Michael Bloomberg to run for a third term; and 4) As part of the Bloomberg administration, many voters may have wanted a clean break after 12 years.




When asked about these issues it was puzzling that Quinn didn't have good answers ready.  It suggested that her campaign staff was unconcerned about voter discontent and exemplified Quinn's imperious manner.  (Reminiscent of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.)  However, the fact that she was a lesbian didn't appear to be a big issue.  Perhaps it would have been an issue for some Republicans, but they never got the chance to vote against her in the general election.


We also discovered the limits of Neil Patrick Harris's charms as his endorsement didn't provide any boost whatsoever.  (Cynthia Nixon and Alan Cumming were two gay celebrities who supported de Blasio.)









The A+ List of Well-Known Gay & Lesbian Celebrities

Neil.patrick.harris NeilPatrickHarrisTonyAwardsShow2011_article_story_main Nph_motherAs I perceive it, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper, Ryan Murphy and Rachel Maddow are today's most overexposed gay personalities (or, as Barbara Walters might refer to them as, the most fascinating).  However, a Google search I did on more than 300 gay celebs turned up many others who seem equally high profile (the top 50 can be found at the end of this post).



Harvey.fierstein Melissa.etheridge20 years ago there were very few "out" celebrities so it made sense that the token few, e.g., Harvey Fierstein, Melissa Etheridge and kd lang, received extensive media coverage.  Since then there's been a proliferation of openly gay celebs (a good thing), but an inordinate amount of attention still goes to a rather select group. 



Calvinklein Steve.kmetkoOf the 300+ included in this analysis, the typical celeb had 500,000 search results.  They ranged from 16,000 (for Steve Kmetko - remember him?) to 19 million (Calvin Klein).  There were thirteen well-known LGBTs whose names each generated more than 5 million search results - I guess you can call them the gay A+ List.  At the other end of the spectrum, there were 50 celebs/former celebs with fewer than 100,000 mentions.  (For some perspective, I, a mere gay mortal, had 5,000).



Natesilver TomdaleyNaturally, some of the names among the top 50 have been in the news of late, including newly out actress Ellen Page, figure skater Johnny Weir and stats guru Nate Silver (pictured, far left).  (Surprisingly, neither Michael Sam or Jason Collins were in this select group, ranking 59th and 61st).  By age, six of the top 50 were older than 65, with Giorgio Armani, at 78, the oldest.  Seven were younger than 30, with Tom Daley (pictured) being the youngest, at 19.  Ellen DeGeneres had the most search results for lesbians, but only ten others joined her.



Tim.cook.apple Annie.leibovitzActors, singers and fashion designers dominate the upper echelons of gaydom, comprising two-thirds of the top 50.  (The designers were, no doubt, boosted by their eponymous clothing labels.)  Outside of these fields we have  statistician Nate Silver; personal trainer Jillian Michaels; Apple CEO Tim Cook; photographer Annie Leibovitz; blogger Perez Hilton; interior designer Nate Berkus; and drag performer Ru Paul



Rachel.maddow Anderson.cooper.vanity.fair EllenshowAnd where do the five I thought were most overexposed rank?  Neil Patrick Harris is second; Ellen is fifth and Anderson Cooper, 30th.  Rachel Maddow and Ryan Murphy, however, are further down the list at 65th and 68th, respectively.  Still respectable but not nearly as high as I expected.



Robbie.williams Jason.wu JakeshearsWho was I surprised to see among the elite 50?  Besides Calvin Klein at #1, I was also taken aback by the inclusion of singers Robbie Williams (pictured, far right), George Michael, Mika, Tracy Chapman and Boy George; Jillian Michaels fom Biggest Loser; fashion designers Alexander Wang, Jason Wu (pictured) and Zac Posen; and British actor Steven Fry.  And those who I was surprised to see lower than the top 100 include ABC's Robin Roberts (#112); fashion guru Tim Gunn (#142); sexy Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters (#164, pictured near right); diving legend Greg Louganis (#177) and gay blogger Andy Towle (#294).


(Ranked by # of Google Search Results)
    Search Results
  Profession (In Millions)
Calvin Klein Fashion Designer 19.1
Neil Patrick Harris Actor 14.6
Elton John Singer/Songwriter 12.7
Marc Jacobs Fashion Designer 11.0
Ellen DeGeneres Talk Show Host 10.8
Michael Kors Fashion Designer 10.6
Robbie Williams Singer 10.0
Ricky Martin Singer   9.8
Tom Ford Fashion Designer   9.4
Mika Singer   7.1
George Michael Singer/Songwriter   6.7
Pet Shop Boys Pop Music Duo   5.8
Adam Lambert Singer   5.4
Giorgio Armani Fashion Designer   4.6
Tegan & Sara Pop Music Duo   4.5
Rosie O'Donnell TV Personality   4.3
Alexander Wang Fashion Designer   4.3
Ellen Page Actress   4.2
Frank Ocean Rap Singer   3.6
Portia de Rossi Actress   3.4
Tim Cook Business Executive   3.0
Johnny Weir Figure Skater   2.5
Jillian Michaels Trainer   2.4
Jason Wu Fashion Designer   2.4
Zachary Quinto Actor   2.3
Don Lemon News Anchor   2.3
Jodie Foster Actress   2.3
Tracy Chapman Singer/Songwriter   2.2
Perez Hilton Blogger   2.2
Anderson Cooper News Anchor   2.2
Jean Paul Gaultier Fashon Designer   2.1
Zac Posen Fashion Designer   2.0
Lily Tomlin Actress   2.0
Nate Silver Statistician   2.0
Andy Cohen Cable TV Executive   2.0
Ian McKellen Actor   1.9
Annie Leibovitz Photographer   1.8
Jesse Tyler Ferguson Actor   1.7
RuPaul Drag Performer   1.7
Boy George Singer/Songwriter   1.7
John Galliano Fashion Designer   1.7
George Takei Actor   1.7
Nate Berkus Interior Designer   1.6
Graham Norton Talk Show Host   1.6
Matt Bomer Actor   1.6
Wentworth Miller Actor   1.6
Stephen Fry Actor   1.6
Diana Nyad Swimmer   1.6
Tom Daley Diver   1.5
Chris Colfer Actor   1.5
(For period 3/20-24/2014)    


Anita Bryant's Anti-Gay Crusade Turns Back Gay Rights in Florida (June 7, 1977)

Anitabryant_newsweek Anita Bryant made her name as a singer of easy listening music (Paper Roses was her big hit), but she was probably most famous as the spokesperson for the Florida Orange Growers Association (she sang the National Anthem at the 1969 Super Bowl in Miami).  However, she became notorious in 1977 when she spearheaded a campaign that was successful in getting voters to repeal a law protecting gay residents of Dade County from job and housing discrimination.  This contentious referendum, which took place on June 7, received national attention. 


I'll never forget reading the following passage from an article in TIME Magazine reporting on the heated campaign:

Bryant told one interviewer that God does not like homosexuals because "the male homosexual eats another man's sperm.  Sperm is the most concentrated form of blood.  The homosexual is eating life".  During a debate with Gay Rights Activist Bob Kunst she startled the audience by breaking into a stirring rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic. 


Although a stinging blow to the gay community, it was the first time gay men and lesbians actively fought to keep their rights.  And the following year, led by Harvey Milk, gays in California successfully fought back the Briggs Initiative, a proposed law that would have banned gay men and lesbians from being teachers in the state. 



First Same-Sex Marriages In U.S. Begin in Massachusetts (May 17, 2004)

Samesexmarriage The first same-sex marriages in the US took place in Massachusetts on May 17, 2004.  This was six months after the state's Supreme Court ruled that a ban on such unions was unconstitutional.  Since then, thirty-six other states and Washington, DC have also made gay marriage legal.  (The Netherlands was the first country to legalize gay unions in 2001.)  Many of these states came on board after the Supreme Court struck down the 1996's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June 2013.  Its ruling made federal marriage benefits available to married same-sex couples throughout the nation - even if couples lived in states that didn't allow gay marriage.    


Prop8 For three months in 2008, the state of California also allowed same-sex marriages, until voters narrowly voted against them later that year.  However, any marriages that were performed in those months are still valid.  In August 2010 a Federal District Court in San Francisco overturned Proposition 8 but resumption of marriages was put on hold until the US Supreme Court overturned Prop 8 in June 2013 (when it also overturned DOMA). 


Samesexmarriage_massachusetts The latest marriage figures for Massachusetts (from a Pew Research study) are through 2013 and they show that nearly 27,000 same-sex couples had gotten hitched there, the most of any state.  In 2014 the US Census Bureau for the first time released figures on married same-sex couples.  and these figures showed that, nationwide, there were 252,000 legally married same-sex couples.  And a Gallup survey conducted in the first quarter of 2015 estimated that there were 390,000 such couples.       


Paris Elects a Gay Mayor (March 18, 2001)

Klaus_wowereit_gay_berlin_mayor Bertrand_delanoe_gay_mayor_parisBack in 2001, in the space of just three months, two openly gay candidates were elected mayors of "world class" European cities.  First, 50-year-old Bertrand Delanoe (pictured, near right) was elected mayor of Paris on March 18.  This made Paris (with a population of 2.1 million) the largest city in the world with a gay mayor.  Then in June voters in Berlin (population 3.4 million) took that distinction away from Paris when it also elected a gay mayor, 47-year-old Klaus Wowereit .  (Coincidentally, the German city of Hamburg also elected a gay mayor that very same year.)  Delanoe remained mayor through the spring of 2014 when he was replaced by his deputy mayor, Anne Hidalgo, who became the first woman to hold the office in Paris.  


18 months after his election Delanoe was stabbed in the stomach as he walked through a street festival by a Muslim immigrant with homophobic views.  After surgery he remained in the hospital nearly two weeks.  (This happened a week before I arrived in Paris for my first visit.)


1213-annise-parker-houston-mayor_full_600 And then in 2009 Houston became the first U.S. city with 1 million+ residents to elect a gay mayor, lesbian Anisse Parker.  Before that, the largest U.S. cities with gay mayors had been Portland, Oregon and Providence, Rhode Island.




Billionaire Malcolm Forbes Outed by Outweek Magazine (March 11, 1990)

Malcolm_forbesBesides his financial acumen, high-profile billionaire Malcolm Forbes was also well known for his hobbies of motorcycling and hot air ballooning, as well as his much publicized friendship with Elizabeth Taylor.  He died on February 24, 1990 at the age of 70, and two weeks later the fledgling weekly gay magazine Outweek ran a cover story outing him (cover date of March 18).  It was written by gay journalist, and rabble-rouser, Michelangelo Signorile.  (Although the cause of Forbes' death is listed as "heart attack", it is rumored that he actually committed suicide upon learning that he was HIV-positive.)




OutingThe story about Forbes was actually just part of the story as the thrust of the article was about the double standard used by the media when it came to reporting on the private lives of closeted gays and heterosexuals.  The act of "outing" was controversial not only with the general public but within the gay community as well.  Because of its potential negative ramifications a debate raged about how ethical it was to reveal a person's sexual orientaiton before they were prepared to do so themselves.  Twenty years later it seems to be reserved mostly for closeted politicians who support anti-gay legislation. 


Outweek_final_issueOutweek_first_issueAs for Outweek it lasted for just two years.  Both its first (near right) and last issue (far right) were published during Gay Pride Week.