Tag Archives: drag

Alabama drag queen is suspended chief justice’s nightmare (and that’s good)

Wearing big hair, loads of makeup and high heels, small-town drag queen Ambrosia Starling is the new worst nightmare of suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Moore has called out Starling twice by name in recent days while defending himself against allegations of violating judicial canons with his opposition to same-sex marriage.

During a news conference and in a written statement, Moore cited the entertainer as a reason he’s at risk of losing his job for the second time since 2003.

That’s fine with Starling, who helped lead an anti-Moore rally on the steps of the Alabama Supreme Court building in January. Opponents that day filled out more than 40 complaints against Moore, who already was the subject of other complaints and now faces removal from office if convicted of violating judicial ethics.

“If it takes a drag queen to remind you that liberty and justice is for all, here I am,” Starling said on a recent Tuesday between sips of coffee.

Moore contends the effort to oust him is unfounded and politically motivated.

Starling, born and raised in the southeast Alabama city of Dothan, referred to Moore as a bigot and has encouraged people to submit complaints against Moore to the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, which accused the Republican Moore of wrongdoing in mid-May, resulting in his suspension.

The complaint filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission accuses Moore of willfully failing to respect the authority of federal court decisions that cleared the way for gay marriage, which Moore opposes on the basis of faith and the law. He issued an administrative order to state probate judges in January that said state laws against gay marriage remained in place months after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.

An attorney for Moore, Mat Staver, said Moore issued the order because probate judges were asking questions about how to proceed.

Staver said Moore will file a response within 30 days asking the Alabama Court of the Judiciary to dismiss charges against him.

Moore has been tossed once before from the office of chief justice. Thirteen years ago, Moore refused to abide by a federal judge’s order to remove a Ten Commandments monument Moore had erected in the rotunda of the state judicial building, resulting in judicial ethics charges and his removal by the Court of Judiciary.

During a news conference in May, Moore said Starling and similar people would have been classified as having a “mental disorder” just a few years ago.

He also accused Starling of performing a “mock wedding” in violation of a state court order against same-sex marriage, a claim Starling dismissed as untrue.

Starling doesn’t mind being singled out by Moore.

“I’ll take the hit for the entire LGBT community if it gets the message across,” Starling said.

Music Theatre of Madison brings the beloved ‘La Cage’ to Five Nightclub

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Music Theatre of Madison brings you La Cage aux Folles, the musical comedy about a gay nightclub owner and his flamboyant partner — who has to play straight.

“It’s a love story about two people who have been married a long time and the challenges that come with that,” says director Catie O’Donnell. “It’s a love story about parents and their children, and about families coming together. It’s romantic and it’s funny and it’s sweet.”

The cabaret production will be staged at Madison’s LGBTQ-friendly Five Nightclub, with food and drinks available. 

“You don’t have to drive around town,” says the company’s founder and artistic director, Meghan Randolph. “You can do it all in one place. You can come, have dinner and drinks, see the show and then stay for dancing.”

Leading the cast will be Robert Goderich, a former Milwaukeean whose credits include work with the San Francisco Opera, Sunset Playhouse, Madison Opera and Four Seasons Theatre. He plays Albin, a colorful drag queen who sets the farce in motion.

“With my character in the show, I have the amazing opportunity to play a character within the character,” he says. “I get to be over the top as well show my true, honest heart. It’s really the best challenge I may have encountered working on a role.”

La Cage aux Folles has been wildly successful since its premiere, and has been adapted several times. It began as a French play in 1973 and, five years later, became a popular French-Italian film. In 1984, the staged musical premiered on Broadway, winning six Tony Awards. A 2005 Broadway revival of the musical starred Kelsey Grammer, formerly the star of TV’s Frasier.

Goderich already loved the American movie version (titled The Birdcage), made in 1996. “Robin Williams and Nathan Lane were spectacular, as well as the rest of the cast,” he says. “The musical (adaptation) I wasn’t as versed in, but when I started researching it I knew this was a conversation that I wanted to be having.”

It’s been a decade since La Cage was produced in Madison. Since then, a new generation has grown up unfamiliar with the musical.

“I’ve actually run into more people than I thought I would who don’t know what it is,” says Randolph. “It’s just a fabulous celebration of love. With the Supreme Court ruling about gay marriage, we thought it would be a good time to do it.”

In the 10 seasons Music Theatre of Madison has produced shows, the company has focused largely on lesser-known or seldom-performed pieces, making La Cage an anomaly. 

“We get a lot of sh*t because people always die in our shows,” says Randolph. “For our anniversary season, we’re only doing stuff that’s not depressing!”

The unusual venue is another change. “With the staging, we’re able to bring some of the scenes and the actors further into the audience’s space,” says O’Donnell. “There will be a few key scenes where audiences will be brought in to feel a part of the show. We completely drop the fourth wall, and the actors are going to be singing and talking directly to the audience.”

Music Theatre of Madison has presented 10 Wisconsin premieres of musicals such as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens; and Hostage Song, as well as the Midwest premiere of 35MM. The company also produces readings of new musicals from authors across the country.

Its anniversary season will continue with the Midwest premiere of Arlington, a one-woman performance about an army wife, April 29-May 7, and will conclude with A New Brain, the story of a composer’s fight to produce the perfect legacy, July 8-16.


La Cage aux Folles will be presented Feb. 4 to Feb. 13, at Five Nightclub, 5 Applegate Court, Madison. Tickets are $25. For more information or to purchase, visit mtmadison.com or call 800-838-3006.

Mother, son don habits for Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

They call each other “Sister” when they don their habits. In their street clothes, Sister Causa de Change calls Sister Mae Nora by a different name: Mom.

As members of the gleefully over-the-top Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Joshua Shumaker and Lynne Stiglitz are believed to be the only mother-son combo in this global order that spans 32 North American cities and 17 other locations around the world. The two are active in the Milwaukee chapter, the Abbey of the Brew City Sisters, which was founded in 2008 and has a membership of 12. 

When they are “manifesting,” they and their fellow sisters are easily recognizable in their whiteface, brassy makeup and nun garb. (To top off this eye-catching ensemble, each chapter designs its own distinctive “coronet.” In honor of its Wisconsin roots, the Milwaukee group’s are made from cheesehead hats wrapped in cloth.) 

Although they are best known for passing out condoms at gay bars to promote safer sex, the sisters also raise funds, make small grants and provide volunteer support for a range of LGBT-related causes. Since the first chapter was founded in San Francisco in 1979, the SPI has raised and distributed more than $1 million. 

“We call ourselves a 21st-century order of queer nuns who work within our communities to bring joy and rid people of guilt,” said Shumaker, 35, who serves as secretary and Mistress of Propaganda for the Abbey. 

Shumaker entered the order in 2011 after meeting two of the Milwaukee chapter’s founding members, Sister Anita Nutter Cocktail and Sister Truly Fierce, at a memorial service for James Marr, who had owned the Triangle Bar. “I was at the bar having a good time, when all of a sudden I turned around and saw these two amazing creatures.” They struck up a conversation and the order’s combination of AIDS prevention work and flamboyant fun hooked him.

Stiglitz, 59, signed on in 2013. She was drawn to the order by Shumaker’s enthusiasm, the warmth of the other sisters and the fact that SPI gives away 100 percent of the funds it raises. She joined as an “aspirant,” the first step toward membership. 

Aspirants wear secular clothing, with no whiteface or showy makeup allowed. Their job is to accompany sisters on “mission work” to listen and learn. 

Stiglitz is now a postulant, dressing in full regalia but wearing a black eye band. Postulants can talk about their own journeys but cannot speak about the order. One of the next steps for postulants is to choose a “vocation” as either a sister (vivacious female persona) or guard (more subdued male persona who plays a protective role). 

Each step has its own requirements related to meeting attendance and event participation. (“It’s not all fun,” said Shumaker. “You can’t just throw on a pound and a half of greasepaint and glitter and call it a night.”) When interviewed for this story, Stiglitz was organizing a fundraiser for the Pathfinder organization, which provides shelter and other support to homeless LGBT youths. 

The event’s successful completion will pave the way for Stiglitz to become a full member of the Abbey, which prides itself on being open to any adult committed to its mission. 

While some are surprised to see a heterosexual woman in habit and whiteface, Stiglitz said she has been warmly received by other SPI members and the LGBTQ community at large.

“I get a lot of young people who, when they find out I’m his mother, they start crying,” Stiglitz said. “They’re so happy to see there’s a parent who supports her child to this extent.”

Added Shumaker, “Every time she runs into a disenfranchised youth, she does this open and accepting and loving thing … which ties into the love she has for me. It’s a very powerful thing.”

“We’re there,” Shumaker said, “in whatever capacity the community needs us to be.” 

Facebook apologizes to drag queens for names policy

Facebook is apologizing to drag queens and the transgender community for deleting accounts that used drag names like Lil Miss Hot Mess rather than legal names such as Bob Smith.

The world’s biggest online social network caught heat recently when it deleted several hundred accounts belonging to self-described drag queens, other performers and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Facebook has long required its users to go by their “real names” on the site for security purposes, to stand out from other social networks and so it can better target advertising to people. Now, the company says the spirit of its policy doesn’t mean a person’s legal name but “the authentic name they use in real life.”

“For Sister Roma, that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess,” Chris Cox, Facebook’s vice president of product wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

Though the real names policy isn’t changing, the way Facebook enforces it might.

Last month, the company suggested that performers such as drag queens have other ways of maintaining their stage identities on the site, such as creating pages that are meant for businesses and public figures. But a fan page is not the same as a regular Facebook account and users were not happy with the suggestion.

While standing by the real names policy on Wednesday, Cox said “we see through this event that there’s lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanisms, tools for understanding who’s real and who’s not, and the customer service for anyone who’s affected.”

The Transgender Law Center, a San Francisco based transgender rights advocacy group that met with Facebook over the issue on Wednesday, said it is “excited to work in good faith with Facebook to address all the concerns raised in today’s meeting.”

“What was made clear today is that Facebook is ready to collaborate with our communities and shares our values of making sure everyone is able to safely be their authentic self online,” the group said in an e-mailed statement.

Cox also shed some light on why so many accounts with drag names and other stage names suddenly started getting deleted.

“An individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake,” he wrote. “These reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things: impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams, hate speech, and more – so we didn’t notice the pattern.”

On the Web…

Facebook’s blog post: http://on.fb.me/10lE5I1 

Big Freedia vows to release your wiggle and bounce

Long before Miley Cyrus and twerking — that frenzied, pelvic-thrusting move that looks like an obscene case of St. Vitus dance — became a distinguishing feature of bounce music, there was Big Freedia (pronounced Free-duh), the so-called “Queen of Bounce.” Her dancers, dubbed “The Divas,” specialize in rapid-fire twerking to music that combines the free spirit of New Orleans with hip-hop tradition. The act’s intense energy is sure to fire up the crowd when Big Freedia takes the stage at Milwaukee PrideFest on Sat., June 7.

Bounce music began when hip hop made its way south to New Orleans in the late 1980s. A sub-genre of hip hop, it’s characterized by call- and response-style vocals and repetitive up-tempo melodies set to fast beats. With the success of the New Orleans rap label Cash Money in the late 1990s, bounce music gained wider national attention.

But Hurricane Katrina in 2005 devastated neighborhoods in New Orleans that were strongholds of bounce. Big Freedia was forced to flee the city for Texas. When Caesar’s became the first club to reopen in New Orleans after Katrina, Big Freedia was invited back to perform “FEMA Fridays.”

Bounce music was back.

The free spirit days of FEMA Fridays came full circle on May 2, when Big Freedia and his fellow bounce performers closed down the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival with a dance-off between them and New York underground vogue stars at the New Orleans Wax Museum.

In recent yeas, Big Freedia has performed coast to coast, including at Bonnaroo, SXSW and on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Born Freddie Ross, Big Freedia was born and raised in New Orleans. Artists such as Patti LaBelle, Sylvester and Gladys Knight were big influences. Like so many artists before, he was raised singing in the Baptist church choir. By the time Ross was 18, he had become the choir’s director.

In 1991, Ross heard the track “Where Dey At” by MC T Tucker, considered by many to be the first recorded bounce song. For Ross, it was a life-changing moment. He became a backup dancer for Katey Red, the first “sissy bounce” performer, and his career was on its way.  

“Sissy bounce” is a queer variant of bounce music, but Big Freedia rejects being pigeonholed into the category. Although he has often performed with Sissy Nobby and his transgender mentor Katey Red, Big Freedia stressed in an interview: “I wear women’s hair and carry a purse, but I am a man.”

In his publicity bio he says, “Bounce is bounce. There’s no need to separate it out. All types of people, gay, straight, rich, poor, black, white come to my shows. People just wanna get out and shake their azzzz and have a good time!”

Big Freedia’s national career kicked into high gear in 2010 with extensive touring and an appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly. In addition to releasing his own music, he sang on recordings with RuPaul. In 2012, he appeared at Austin’s SXSW festival and in 2013 his reality TV show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce debuted on the Fuse network. The program received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program, defeating Project Runway. The show begins its second season in June.

In recent weeks, Big Freedia released the new single “Explode.” In his inimitable style, he implores listeners to “release your wiggle.” The idea behind the song is that he feels like he is about to “explode” after the stresses of being on the road while sustaining a relationship, he said. 

The next Big Freedia album Just Be Free is due for release June 17, to coincide with the kick-off of his reality TV show’s second season. Producer Thomas McElroy, best known for helping launch the R&B girl group En Vogue, worked on the album. 

Big Freedia’s live show takes a few minutes of adjustment for the audience. The energy is high, the music is loud, and the twerking dancers filling the stage can overload the senses. But once you free your mind and “release your wiggle,” you just might find Big Freedia taking your booty and mind to a new place of joy and expression. 

On stage

Big Freedia performs on the PrideFest Mainstage at 8:30 p.m., Sat., June 7.

Stonewall activist dies at 93

Storme DeLarverie, a lesbian activist who took part in the New York Stonewall riots in 1969 that started the gay rights movement in the United States, has died. She was 93.

DeLarverie died on May 24 at a Brooklyn nursing home, said Lisa Cannistraci, a longtime friend and one of her legal guardians.

Born in New Orleans in 1920 to a black mother and a white father, DeLarverie “was born into adversity and lived in adversity her whole life,” Cannistraci said.

In the 1950s, she was part of a traveling drag show called the Jewel Box Revue, where she performed as a male impersonator. In the 1969 riots, she was among those who fought against a police raid at a Greenwich Village bar called the Stonewall.

“She was a very serious woman when it came to protecting people she loved,” Cannistraci said, adding that DeLarverie “just lived to be of service.”

Well into her later years, she worked as a bouncer at bars, including the one where she and Cannistraci met in 1985.

In recent years, DeLarverie suffered from dementia, but was still able to appreciate milestones including the advent of same-sex marriage in New York state and the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Cannistraci said.

Peter Frank of the Bronx LGBTQ Community Services Center called DeLarverie “a fierce woman who stood up for our community on countless occasions.”

A funeral service is planned for May 29.

Rainbow streamers: Netflix celebrates LGBT Pride Month

Netflix is celebrating LGBT Pride Month with a series of films and TV shows with an LGBT theme or LGBT characters or available for streaming.

The video-streaming service also will make Season 2 of “Orange is the New Black” available beginning June 6.

A sampling of what’s on:

• “Pit Stop.”

• “Yossi.”

• “Beyond the Walls.”

• “Bear City.”

• “Interior Leather Bar.”

• “GBF.”

• “COG.”

• “Dawson’s Creek.”

• “Glee.”

• “Clueless.”

• “Torchwood.”

• “Xena.”

• “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

• “The Venture Bros.”

• “The Boondock Saints.”

• “Stranger by the Lake.”

• “Jack and Diane.”

• “Heavenly Creatures.”

• “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2.”

• “Queer as Folk.”

• “Brothers & Sisters.”

• “Grey’s Anatomy.”

• “Paris is Burning.”

• “Rent.”

• “The Crying Game.”

• “Camp.”

• “Pageant.”

• “The Kids are all Right.”

• “Brokeback Mountain.”

• “Blue is the Warmest Color.”

• “Bridegroom.”

• “Boys Don’t Cry.”

• “Mulan.”

• “Just One of the Guys.”

• “Shakespeare in Love.”

Egyptian court sentences men to 8 years in prison for homosexuality

A judicial official says an Egyptian court has convicted four men of committing homosexual acts and sentenced them to up to eight years in prison.

The Nasr City misdemeanor court issued its ruling on April 7. Police arrested the men for holding parties they say involved homosexual acts and where they found in what was characterized as women’s clothes and makeup.

Three of the four received eight years while one received three years with hard labor.

In 2011, a high profile trial of 52 men accused of being gay caught international attention and drew criticism from rights groups.

Twenty-three of them were sentenced to up to five years in prison while the rest were acquitted.

Egyptian law does not explicitly refer to homosexuality, and prosecutors usually level charges that include terms such as “debauchery.”

Editorial: Sheriff Clarke’s indecent exposure

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is a hot mess. If he performed in female drag rather than country-western, he’d be known as the Miss Mess of Milwaukee politics.

Clarke’s public tirades have become another kind of drag. In recent months, he’s suggested that Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele suffers from penis envy and uses heroin. He’s urged Milwaukee County citizens to become armed vigilantes and help his deputies enforce the law.

He tried arresting House of Correction superintendent Michael Hafemann for not following his orders, even though Hafemann had broken no law and doesn’t even report to Clarke.

Yes, Clarke’s giving Toronto Mayor Rob Ford a run for his money.

We have right-wing hate radio frauds Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling to thank for enabling the narcissistic Clarke’s madness by rewarding it with airtime. Clarke’s a favored guest on Sykes’ daily Scott Walker infomercial. Clarke is a living Sykes’ wet dream in color — an African-American, closeted Republican in a 10-galloon hat who was named sheriff of the year by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. That’s a group that says sheriffs have a constitutional duty to protect citizens from the federal government.

Clarke’s latest bout of madness appears to have manifest in a sting operation targeting gay men in Milwaukee parks. The Milwaukee Ddistrict Aattorney’s office is currently reviewing seven cases of men who’ve been arrested for soliciting sex from plainclothes deputies in the parks.

We strongly disapprove of people using public facilities to engage in sexual activities, especially since we’ve fought so hard to achieve the right to integrate those activities respectfully into our lives. Once upon a time, gay men had reasons for seeking out anonymous public sex. They were forced to live in the shadows out of fear of discovery.

But today two men can get a room together in a respectable hotel. They can go home together without fear of being seen by neighbors and generating gossip that could ruin their careers. One-third of American gays live in jurisdictions where they can get legally hitched.

We fear this current rash of arrests is the result of entrapment, not people being caught having sex in public. It’s an age-old form of anti-gay harassment, a holdover from the pre-Stonewall Era: Plainclothes officers pretend to be interested in gay men cruising around parks and then arrest them for taking the bait. Or not even taking the bait. After all, it’s the officer’s word against the gay’s, and the officer might have a quota to fill.   

We’ve requested information from the Sheriff’s office to help determine what’s going on in the parks. We’ll report the facts surrounding these incidents as they emerge, and we’ll take whatever steps are necessary if Clarke’s office refuses to provide the information we’ve requested.

If it turns out that the sheriff, who’s been wailing that funding cuts to his office have compromised public safety, is throwing taxpayer dollars into a lurid program to sexually ensnare gay men, then he’ll be exposed for indecency.

Japanese artist puts himself into iconic images

Yasumasa Morimura’s art may enter your subliminal space before you begin to consciously question what’s disturbing about it. That’s because he starts with visual imagery already burned into the viewer’s psyche and tweaks it in a way that challenges comfortable norms.

“Yasumasa Morimura: Theater of the Self” comprises work from three major ongoing series: “Art History,” “Requiem” and “Actresses.” In each, Morimura has substituted his image for the original. The large captivating exhibition at The Andy Warhol Museum reveals the breadth of the Japanese artist’s output over three decades and also makes a strong argument for his claim to being Warhol’s “conceptual son.”

His interest in self-portrait, art history, popular culture, gay and transgender life and celebrity align him with Warhol, said Nicholas Chambers, museum and exhibition curator.

The show is not only a thorough look at an acclaimed contemporary international artist but one with an anchor in Japanese culture and its interrelationship with the West. This is a welcome dip into dialogue initiated on the far side of the Pacific Rim that may be credited to museum director Eric Shiner, who studied in Japan, speaks fluent Japanese and wrote his master’s thesis on Morimura.

When the artist steps into the frame where one expects to find Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” (“Vermeer Study: Looking Back (Mirror)”) or Manet’s “Olympia” (“Portrait (Futago)”), he raises issues of identity and gender, a now somewhat commonplace practice in contemporary art. But as a Japanese he intensifies these, layering in race and cultural influences that have traded on waxing and waning historical exchanges.

He winks as he titles “To My Little Sister: for Cindy Sherman,” a work based on the famed American artist’s “Untitled (hash)96” of 1981 from her centerfolds series. Morimura and Sherman were unaware of one another’s practice when each began to deconstruct image, but they have since met, Chambers said. She visited The Warhol exhibition during opening week.

Morimura’s medium is photography, but such works begin with extensive research as he studies for the character, he said through a translator when here for the exhibition opening. The performative aspect is enhanced by very detailed sets, makeup, costume and complementary artifact.

“It’s quite important to have imagination as well as reality,” Morimura said. “The artist lives on the border of imagination and reality.”

The artist’s “relationship to the canon was always through reproductions,” Chambers said, but the viewer’s relationship “is always mediated through photography. There are other disciplines involved … but in the end it’s all about the photograph.”

As a photographer Morimura is technically, as well as aesthetically and conceptually, accomplished, so adept at the craft that he’s able to push boundaries to believable if unlikely effect. Evolving digital applications have helped this along, but “Daughter of Art History (Princess A)” was an analog production. The background to the figure inspired by Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” was painted on drywall. The artist made the dress and attached it to the drywall into which he cut a hole to stick his head through. Where Warhol comes from the surface, Chambers observed, Morimura is “about tactility … understanding in the nuts and bolts way.”

The “Requiem” art, drawn from photographic images, contrasts with the “Art History” section as much in source medium as in subject. “It’s a dividing line between the 20th century and the centuries before,” said Chambers, “when the preeminent mode of representing the world shifts from painting to photography.”

Representative and timely is “A Requiem: Oswald,” a remake of the harrowing photojournalistic image of when President Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald is shot. Morimura subs for all of the players.

“A Requiem: Mishima” is a video in which the artist performs as Yukio Mishima, a right-wing activist who in 1970 made an impassioned speech decrying foreign influence and his country’s abdication of traditional Japanese values. Afterward, he committed ritual suicide. Morimura substitutes a critique of the Japanese artworld slavishly following international trends.

The most enigmatic, vulnerable and thus beautiful images are the “Actresses,” modeled upon noted film stars or scenes. They are also self-portraits wherein Morimura is his most naked (sometimes literally), and the characteristic introspection exudes a searching pain.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishments of this body of work are its challenge to the ways humans construct social states — rituals, standards of beauty and power, who’s in and who’s out — and its confrontation of comfortable notions of time and space.

His re-representation of seemingly fixed imagery conveys approval to those similarly inclined to question rather than automatically accept, whether image or dictum.

More profound is the idea of the perpetually evasive image _ that rather than being dated and fixed in place, living and even inanimate matter exists within flickering frames of simultaneous truth and illusion, ultimately beyond eye of camera or of man.

On the Web …


Photo: M’s self-portrait No. 56/B 9 or “as Marilyn Monroe” at The Andy Warhol Museum.