Last week, Landry grabbed more headlines when he asked Dr. Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) to drop the school’s new sociology minor in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) studies, saying “it fails to provide an economic benefit to the participants or financial sense for the taxpayer.” (Savoie pointed out that the classes already existed before the minor was created and that adding the new minor to ULL’s 100-some other minors cost the university nothing.)
Landry’s stance on LGBT issues hit a nerve with one member of his family: New Orleans resident and event planner Nicholas Landry, who is gay. As first reported by Walter Pierce in the Lafayette weekly The Independent, Nicholas Landry posted an open letter to his brother on Facebook:
In this week's Gambit, I look at women's health organization Women with a Vision as it recovers from an arson at its office in Mid-City.
One of Women with a Vision's primary focuses is HIV education and prevention, and its executive director Deon Haywood is a guest at this year's International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. (July 22-27). It's the first time since 1990 the conference has been held in the U.S. Haywood will discuss the group's victory against the state's 200-year-old crimes against nature statutes, but Haywood also represents Louisiana and speaks to the international community on behalf of the state's battle with HIV/AIDS.
"My voice will be speaking about the experiences of poor women in the South, and I’ll be doing a satellite presentation to women who are experiencing the same things as we are in the U.S. south. That is big," she says. "The fact the state doesn’t invest any more into HIV prevention says a lot. Yet we rank — Baton Rouge and Louisiana are always in a race now for HIV rates."
Tonight on Dan Rather Reports, the veteran journalist presents "It's a Southern Thing," an in-depth look at the rates of HIV in the South, which continuously rank higher than anywhere else in the country.
More than half of all new HIV cases are in the South, and 53 percent of HIV-related deaths in the U.S. are in southern states — yet there's still little funding and education to combat it.
Also representing Louisiana at the conference is St. John No. 5/Camp ACE, which famously used billboard campaigns ("The HIV Prevention Mafia") to draw attention to HIV and STDs in New Orleans' African-American communities.
Dan Rather Reports: It’s A Southern Thing airs tonight at 7 p.m. on AXS TV.
New Orleans Pride Week kicks off today with the screening of Vito at the Contemporary Arts Center, sponsored by the New Orleans Film Society. The week-long celebration includes another film screening, book signings, parties, family events, including Family Day in Washington Square (1 p.m.-5 p.m. Saturday) and concludes with the Pride Parade, beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday. For a full list of events, visit the Pride website.
The New Orleans Film Society screens two films in conjunction with NOLA Pride Week. Vito screens at 7 p.m. Monday at the CAC. Jeffrey Schwarz's documentary about writer and activist Vito Russo is a very well made piece examining three periods of Russo's life, two of which coincide with crucial phases of the gay rights movement.
Russo was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey. As soon as he turned 18, he moved back to the city and was a familiar face in the downtown gay community pre-Stonewall. It was a similar police raid on a another bar (resulting in the death of Diego Venales) that politicized him. The film covers the formation of the Gay Activist Alliance in the early 1970s, and there's entertaining footage of its confrontation with New York's city clerk over remarks disparaging the prospect of gay marriage. But Russo also thought the movement should be cultural, and the alliance created a community center that became a vibrant social space, hosting dances, film screenings and more.
Russo had always loved film and he showed movies at the center, which helped guide him to his career as a film writer. Russo spent years chronicling homosexual characters in early films (before 1933). The project became known as The Celluloid Closet, which Russo presented as a lecture with film clips and later published as a book. For anyone unfamiliar with that work, the documentary offers a good overview with great clips of monstrous and clownish gay stereotypes from early films. The final phase of the film deals with the spread of AIDS and the resurrection of gay activism, and again Russo was at the center of it, working with Larry Kramer to found Act Up. Russo was both very charismatic and, when he developed into a political leader, quite insightful and elegant as a speaker. The film includes interviews with everyone from Russo's very supportive family to activists, friends and writers he influenced, including Lily Tomlin and Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City). It offers a great look at the gay rights movement from a very personal but vital perspective.
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same is a sci-fi spoof/romantic comedy. Bothered by troublesome emotions, a trio of aliens hears that Earth is the best place to lose all interest in romantic attachments, so they journey to New York City. It screens 7 p.m. Wednesday at the CAC.
We know about the reality show that aspires to be the real-life Will & Grace, and now another series wanting to be the unscripted version of a show about hilarious gay people is in the works. World of Wonder Productions, the same production company behind Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys (the aforementioned Will & Grace-esque series), is working on a show called My Modern Family that wants to be — you guessed it — the reality TV version of the ABC hit Modern Family. And they're looking for gay dads!
But don't worry, the company won't make you into a stock character. Besides having a few LGBT-centric shows under its belt — besides GWLBWLB (such a mouthful), they've produced The Fabulous Beekman Boys, Becoming Chaz, RuPaul's Drag Race, Drag U and the HBO doc Don't Ask Don't Tell — World of Wonder says they will "handle [the subjects] with care and make sure that the gay movement is moving forward." The company also claims to be run by "a multitude of gay dads."
If you're interested, email email@example.com with family photos, contact info and a description of your family, where you live and in which ways your life mirrors that depicted on the ABC show. In case you're not familiar with the show, you're gonna need: a sexy and funny (because of her crazy accent) Latin lady friend, Al Bundy and an adopted Vietnamese baby. You also better have funny stuff like this going down in your house on the regular:
Lesbian families, you're just going to have to wait until they make the real-life version of ... um ...
"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married."
On Sunday's Meet the Press, Vice President Joe Biden also expressed his support of both same-sex marriage and the sitcom Will and Grace.
In 2004, Louisiana voted to amend its Constitution to explicitly say marriage is "the union of one man and one woman." — a position consistently echoed by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. Other leading Republicans, including former First Lady Laura Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, have spoken in support of same-sex marriage.
Earlier this year, at the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, more than 80 mayors of U.S. cities signed the Freedom to Marry pledge in support of same-sex marriage rights. Democratic Mayor Mitch Landrieu was not among them. Asked by Gambit's Alex Woodward whether Landrieu supported same-sex marriage, administration spokesman Ryan Berni said Landrieu supported civil unions, but would not elaborate on Freedom to Marry.
The NO/AIDS Task force, a longtime presence in the fight against HIV/AIDS in southeast Louisiana, will open a new HIV prevention office, funded through a five-year, $1.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dubbed The Movement (4005 St. Claude Ave.), the community center will feature HIV prevention activities for young black gay/bisexual men between the ages of 13 and 29. It also will offer on- and off-site HIV counseling, testing and referrals, a young gay/bisexual men’s social networking program, one-on-one counseling, a "drop in safe space" and a Youth Advisory Board that oversees the center's development.
According to the task force, African-Americans in Louisiana account for 74 percent of all new HIV cases and 78 percent of all new AIDS cases. In 2010, of the new HIV diagnoses among African Americans in Louisiana, 47 precent are men who have sex with men — and within New Orleans, the rate is 57 percent. The state is the fourth highest in estimated state AIDS case rates (at 20 per 100,000).
State Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, sponsored House Bill 407, which proposed strengthening existing anti-bullying legislation for Louisiana schools. It included language meant to protect all children, with a clearer definition of bullying, and would require schools to train faculty to identify bullying in and out of the classroom.
The House Education Committee met this morning, and following the panel's major changes to the bill's language, Smith pulled the bill. “Rather than you degrade a bill that was meant for the safety of children, which is what you have just done, I am pulling the bill,” Smith said.
Smith's bill was inspired by statewide and national reports of bullying, and bullying-provoked suicides — including the recent deaths of Tesa Middlebrook of Pointe Coupee Parish, and Savannah Robinson of Slidell, among others. Last year, State Rep. Austin Badon's similar anti-bullying bill was rejected in the House, to which he remarked, "It’s a sad day in Louisiana. We have the authority and the power to address this issue. It’s a sad day when we won’t stand up and help the parents. For us to sit here and say that the conservative, religious right is going to dictate to us how we’re going to vote, I’m embarrassed by that."
In this week's Gambit, I look at proposed anti-bullying legislation — and speak with families of bullied teenagers, some who killed themselves after constant torment from classmates, in school and online. Most recently, 17-year-old Louisiana student Tesa Middlebrook was found hanging from her school's bleachers on March 2, a school day, hours after her death — her family insists she was driven to suicide from relentless bullying, and demands answers from the school and the authorities.
The controversial documentary Bully opens this week, but it will likely face a limited release. Petitions, filmmakers and producers demanded the Motion Picture Association of America lower its R rating to PG-13 in hopes that more kids can see the film. It's loaded with offensive slurs and F bombs — and the MPAA refused to budge (and, likely, the National Association of Theater Owners).
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