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Being “in between” was both a curse and blessing for Pauli Murray, born Anna Pauline Murray, in 1910. Growing up in a segregated North Carolina, Murray displayed at an early age an artistic mind and a preference for the boys’ section of the clothing store. Variously tormented and buoyed in her life by her status as a woman, being of mixed race, and as a self-professed “boy-girl” who believed in her bones that she was really a man, Murray endured to become a journalist, an activist, a professor, a priest, and a lawyer who made monumental contributions to civil rights and women’s rights.
Bullies roamed his high-school gym class, so Cleve Jones feigned a chronic lung ailment and retreated to the library. It was on one such occasion that he flipped through the magazine that likely saved his life. A headline piqued Jones’ interest: “Homosexuals in Revolt!” It topped a Life report on the nascent gay liberation movement that was taking root in New York and California. The year was 1971.
“I’m pretty sure that was the exact moment I stopped planning to kill myself,” Jones, 62, says in his new memoir, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement. “I took the pills I had been hoarding from their hiding place and flushed them down the toilet.” Until then, Jones says, he had thought there was no one else like him on the planet.
When she was 3, Elissa Altman tasted the sweetness of rebellion, which she describes in her second and latest memoir, Treyf: My Life as an Unorthodox Outlaw. “Disgusted with being shoehorned into a pink leotard and ballet slippers—I wanted to be Ken, not Barbie,” Altman packs up her tutu and flees dance class. Once outside, she hands her mother her ballet tote and says, “I quit.”
“Inside,” the opening track to Chely Wright’s new release, I Am the Rain, beckons listeners with its gentle undertow. It’s a meditative life-affirming lullaby that Wright wrote to herself as she prepared to come out back in 2010. “You are small, and you are big at the same time,” she sings, an acknowledgement of how powerful and how inconsequential that act can seem in the world. Her widely reported coming out, captured in the 2011 documentary Wish Me Away, was both liberating and immensely difficult for Wright, a major player in country music who was raised by conservative parents in Wellsville, Kansas.
A furtive acknowledgement—a man’s nod, to be precise—ultimately landed Brian Samuel Epstein, the gay, eldest son of a prominent Jewish family in Liverpool, England, in jail. He was the victim of garden-variety police entrapment at a time and place when two men holding hands in public was enough for a cop to arrest them on suspicion and take them in for questioning. In his own written account of the incident, which occurred in 1957 and was included in Debbie Geller’s book of oral history, In My Life: The Brian Epstein Story, Epstein, then 23, enumerated the charge: “For persistently importuning various men for immoral purposes.”
March 8 marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. release of The Birdcage, the iconic Mike Nichols remake of La Cage aux Folles starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane about an openly, joyously gay couple from South Beach, Florida and the complicated marriage of their son to the daughter of a conservative politician.
What made this movie such a blockbuster in 1996? Was that because its light-in-the-loafers, limp-wristed protagonists were neutered enough to be non-threatening to the masses? It certainly didn’t hurt that the cast was packed with big-name actors who infused their roles with hilarity and warmth. Some say the movie reinforced tired stereotypes. Others suggest it offered positive images that ultimately helped move the needle on marriage equality. Twenty years later, one thing is certain: The Birdcage took gay representation to bold new places at a pivotal moment in the struggle for LGBTQ visibility and civil equality—and for that, it deserves to be celebrated.
It was with some trepidation that Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls stepped onto the set of the Amazon series Transparent. Creator Jill Soloway had invited Ray, along with her folk-rock act’s other half, Emily Saliers, to play themselves, performing their fan-favorite “Hammer and a Nail” in an episode largely set at an all-women music festival, which the show’s central character, transgender woman Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor), attends with her two daughters.
When Dar Williams first wrote the song “The Christians and the Pagans,” about a solstice-celebrating lesbian couple who visit devout Christian relatives during Yuletide, she intended the folk-pop tune to be a humorous respite from tortured holiday gatherings. “The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch/ Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, ‘Is it true that you’re a witch?’”
Nestled alongside an idyllic lake, the Ravensbrück concentration camp, 50 miles north of Berlin, was constructed in 1939 specifically to house women. By the end of the war, 130,000 women from 20 European countries had been led through its entrance, often unaware of the danger inside.
Most of the camp’s inhabitants weren’t Jewish; rather, they were considered inferior because they were prostitutes, lesbians, political resisters, “work-shy,” or “asocial.”
“It cannot wait,” says the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movie Selma, which opened nationwide last Friday. King is pleading with President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act. It’s a trenchant scene whose message is not lost on Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who is also depicted in the film. Lewis, now 75, is still an idealistic agitator whose sense of urgency for dismantling discrimination has long extended to gay rights.
On their new release, One Lost Day, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, otherwise known as the acoustic-guitar-based duo Indigo Girls, take listeners to rural towns with expansive skies and throttled dreams. Flavored with Tom Petty-esque riffs and enfolded in heartland poetry and stately balladry, the songs feature the simmering politics of race and poverty. There are a fair number of mortalities—a dying marriage, the death of childhood innocence, and the passing of a family elder. The feel is mercurial, unsettled, as if to say that after more than three decades of socially conscious musicianship, Saliers and Ray, who began performing folk-rock as high-schoolers in Decatur, Georgia, are still pricked and prodded by inequity in its various incarnations.