Community Palette

Human Rights Campaign Celebrates the New Congress

January 7, 2019

January 3, 2019 was a historic day. Nancy Pelosi regained the Speakership of the House of Representatives and more than 100 women took the oath of office in the House and twenty-three in the Senate. Progress is being made but there is still a long way to go. 

Within the new class being sworn in were members of the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, a Native American and the youngest African American woman ever elected. This is the most diverse Congress we have ever had and we must hope along with new representation will come some new ideas and the ability to move the nation forward. 

Mark Takano (D-CA) Chad Griffin, President, HRC (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Mark Takano (D-CA) Chad Griffin, President, HRC

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) invited members of Congress and their own supporters to a party to celebrate all the work they did to make this happen. HRC is the largest advocacy group for the LGBTQ+ community in the nation and while not everyone agrees with all they do or how they do it no one should question the success they had this past year. They do make a positive difference. 

While not all the new members of Congress attended many because of the scheduled late votes and others who were just exhausted from the excitement of the day, there was a good representation of the Congress there. Those attending included Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN); Members of the House Mark Takano (D-CA), Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) Donna Shalala (D-FL), and David Cicillline (D-RI). 

Among other elected officials seen in the crowd were Brian Sims state representative from Pennsylvania and Secretary of State – elect Katie Hobbs from Arizona. Chad Griffin outgoing President of HRC introduced the members of Congress who spoke for about two-minutes each, which might be a record for their shortest speeches. Mark Takano proudly reminded everyone he will shortly be referred to as Chairman Takano, as he will become Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, only the third openly gay Chair the first being Gerry Studds and the second being Barney Frank.

Surely celebrations like this show how far we have come in what is really a very short time. It was great to hear the Speaker of the House say from her podium the Equality Act is a priority for her. In today’s world of instant gratification it seems like it will have been a really long time in coming if it passes considering the first bill was introduced by Bella S. Abzug (D-NY) in 1974, a member of Congress I had the honor of working for. But to understand the timeframes of moving equality forward and gaining progress we only have to look to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) first introduced in the 1920s which is still not ratified. 

It was a pleasure to chat for a few moments with Chad Griffin who will be moving on once HRC hires a new President. He is staying to make sure there will be a smooth transition and he can be justifiably proud of what HRC has accomplished during his tenure. They have grown exponentially and have set up offices around the nation. They have come through the most successful year ever when it comes to having a winning ratio of the candidates they supported. He leaves a great legacy to the person who follows him to build on. He said he chose to leave now to give his successor the chance to start what will be an exciting and important run-up to the 2020 elections. Chad will be missed but as he himself said no one is indispensable and there are many people out there who will be able to lead HRC and our community to new heights. 

Amy Nelson, June Crenshaw (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Amy Nelson, June Crenshaw

The real heroes in many ways at the celebration were the supporters of HRC who gave money and endless volunteer hours so the newly elected LGBTQ+ members of Congress and those members of the community who won other races across the nation could succeed. As Hillary Clinton wrote, “It takes a village”, and the village of the LGBTQ+ community is strong and vocal. We don’t always agree with each other, we fight with each other as every family does, but we do share one goal; full equality both politically and economically for all. I saw many of the staunchest supporters of HRC and fighters for our community there including Amy Nelson and June Crenshaw, Christofer Horta now working as an LA for Donna Shalala, Steve Clemons Washington Editor for the Atlantic, Lt. Brett Parsons of the DCMPD, and Aaron Tax of SAGE among so many others. They represent the true heroes of our community’s success. 

One only hopes there will be many more such celebrations in the future. This column first appeared in the Washington Blade.


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'The Panties, The Partner and the Profit'

December 23, 2018

The Panties, The Partner and the Profit is the latest collaboration between playwright David Ives and director Michael Kahn at the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC). It is the fifth and Michael, who is retiring from STC at the end of July, says it’s the final collaboration between him and David. Who knows maybe there could be a sixth if the incoming artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre, Simon Godwin, invites Michael back as a treat for Washington DC theater goers and gives David Ives a chance to redeem himself. 

Michael Kahn and Tony Roach (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Michael Kahn and Tony Roach

I only say redeem himself because this play doesn’t seem quite as polished as their previous collaborations like the The Liar and Metromaniacs. Despite that there are plenty of laughs in the first two plays and the audience clearly enjoyed them but after the third play I left the theater feeling frustrated with the ending.   

In this play Ives takes on the works of German satirist Carl Sternheim and his series of plays on the Maske family. They were written as satires of the German middle class, tracing an arc from the Wilhelmine era up to the dawn of World War One. Ives takes these old plays and updates them and in his version, The Panties is set in Boston on July 4, 1950, The Partner is set in New York in 1987, during a pivotal time for Wall Street, and The Profit takes place in Malibu, tomorrow, and as Kahn has said, whatever that means.

Each of the three short plays, done without intermission, tells an individual story in farcical style but they are clearly woven together. But the point Ives seems to want to make at the end of the third play somehow gets lost. It’s as if he hasn’t quite figured out how to get his point across and has instead given the actors lines that seem to have them lecturing the audience. The last play has all six actors on stage together and it’s as if he struggled to find enough for each of them to say. I felt he could have cut fifteen minutes from the production and it would have gained something.  

Julia Coffey and Tony Roach (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Julia Coffey and Tony Roach

But this production is more than worth a night in the theater because whatever shortcomings the play may have the talent of each of the actors is showcased brilliantly. They are uniformly superb. Michael Kahn, as he does with all the actors he directs, brings out the best in each of them. They each assume multiple roles in the plays and make each character they inhabit eminently watchable. It is impossible to single out one as the best. Kimberly Gilbert is great as Louise Mask at all ages, making her STC debut. Carson Elrod is incredible as Joseph Mask and he has been at STC before in The Comedy of Errors and The Heir Apparent.  Kevin Isola is wonderful as Benjamin Mandelshtam, and Julia Coffee shines as Sybil Rittenhouse; we saw her at STC in The Merchant of Venice and Pericles. Turna Mete is memorable as Milly Hamilton and finally Tony Roach is great in all his roles believably aging as William Hamilton and showing off his awesome physique as Jack Revere; he has appeared in seven productions at STC including two Ives plays, The Liar and Metromaniacs.

The wonderful sets are the work of Alexander Dodge and are on a turntable so the action can move from one play to the next seamlessly and the costumes are great and designed by Frank Lebovitz. The Panties, The Partner and The Profit is at the Shakespeare Theatre until January 6th. 


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Thirteen Days on the Norwegian EPIC

December 5, 2018

Being spoiled for thirteen days on the Norwegian EPIC from Barcelona to Port Canaveral, FL can be considered decadent. Continental breakfast delivered to the room each morning; a friendly and efficient cabin steward, Charlton, replacing towels twice a day and leaving towel animals on the bed each evening; great meals including seven specialty restaurants; and fun entertainment in an abundance of outlets all coordinated by cruise director, André Gaffney. This all led by a top-notch hotel director Nelson Martins and his secretary Vina Alvarado. 

There is nothing like waking up to a beautiful sunrise and then enjoying a drink each evening watching a beautiful sunset. There were a host of talented performers on the ship none better than the cast of “Priscilla” the show based on the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert.  The three stars of the show, Rohan Seinor as Bernadette, Phillip Schnetler as Felicia and Joe Dinn as Tick were uniformly great. Other cast standouts were Darrel Blackburn as Bob and ensemble members Ashley “Ash” Roussety, Jacob Bivens and Adam Tabellija. Many of us went to see the show twice and were just as blown away the second time.

Going on this cruise was a last minute decision for me. At the Human Rights Campaign Gala in DC I bumped into Scott Moster and his husband Dustin Ruffatto. Scott is the travel agent who booked my cruise through the Panama Canal on the Norwegian Bliss. He said “Have I got a deal for you” and it turned out he did. A balcony cabin for two could be had for less than $2,000 including an unlimited drink package and all gratuities. For deals like this email him at scott@myluxcruise.com. He just about has me convinced to join him on a nine day Baltic cruise in June. 

On this cruise he twice invited all his clients, many like me have become friends, to sailaway parties in his suite including champagne and Hor d’oeuvres. On another evening he and Dustin lent their suite for the evening to two very sweet, handsome guys from Anschede, Netherlands. They did that so Siebren Mossel could surprise his boyfriend Arjan Bremer with a beautiful dinner where he then proposed to him. No surprise to anyone who knows them Arjan said yes. As it turned out they weren’t the only guys to get engaged on this cruise. Guess it is easy to feel romantic out in the middle of the Atlantic with champagne flowing and the stars shining overhead. The other charming and handsome Dutch couple who got engaged are Kevin Rietveld and Matthijs Hagedoorn. We all toasted both couples wishing them long happy, healthy, lives together. 

Cruising is often a form of escapism where you can forget the real world exists. On this cruise the real world did occasionally intervene. It surprised me how many people from around the world wanted to talk about the American midterm elections which occurred while we were at sea. Every American I met had voted before they left home. Some of the guys I met had been on a similar cruise when Hillary lost the Presidency in 2016. They like me were hoping not to repeat that depressing night. Since the time difference was four hours it was late night by the time we could get results either online or from the three news stations on the ship’s TV; BBC, MSNBC and FOX. 

So I and many others decided instead of staying up late we would wake up early to get the results. No sense possibly getting depressed and also going without sleep. So the morning of November 7th as we cruised into Madeira, Portugal, there was great excitement, and it wasn’t only among Americans, when it became clear Democrats had won big. The excitement and conversations continued over the next few days as the Democratic blue wave rolled on.  

The Captain handled a threatened tropical storm well when he decided to change one of our stops at the last moment from St. Maarten to Antigua and we ended up with great weather. Some members of the LGBTQ+ community on the ship shared information that sexual activity between same-sex partners is punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. Some wouldn’t go ashore while others made a point of going ashore and exploring the beautiful island.  

The next day we docked as scheduled in St. Thomas, the American Virgin Islands, where everyone went through immigration as it was the first American port we reached. It took a few hours to get nearly 4,000 passengers and 1700 crew processed but it went smoothly and the weather in St. Thomas was bright sunshine, hot and humid. There were two other mega-ships lined up at the dock along with the EPIC. Then it was two more days at sea to Port Canaveral. 

As my cruise came to an end I began to dream of my next one. As many have said, “Take your first cruise and you become addicted”. It happened to me. 


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