Friday, June 28, 2013

Celebrating Stonewall & The Fighters

44 years ago today, I was 2 months old and starting my life.
Fighters in 1969

44 years ago, an amazing group of people  at the Stonewall bar in the NYC village decided 'enough was enough' and fought back in a raid against the LGBT community starting the gay rights movement - and doing so much for my life.

Sometimes it is hard to think about what it was like for those that came before us. I can recall growing up closeted in Texas in the 80s, but once I moved to NYC, I suddenly felt 'free'. It has taken a long time and a long fight, but more and more people are feeling that freedom without having to move to one of the larger cities in the country. I notice it when I travel. Gays no longer must go to the four or five major spots in the country where they all congregate for vacations - now you can find them EVERYWHERE.

We cannot forget the good fight of those present in 1969 in NYC. I was so lucky to be able to speak to one of them and interview him for Huffington Post this month. And I knew the significance of Stonewall when I was honored enough to have my book launch party there in 2011 for my debut novel. People continue to fight constantly. We saw it this week when the Supreme Court ruled on amazing cases because there are people willing to stand up and say "this is not right". 

Fighters in 2013
I've been with my partner for 13 years and five years ago this summer had a civil union in our state (because NJ does not allow marriage). Yet there are still places that I have to check 'single' on a form when filling it out. Our union is not considered the same as everyone else's. In many eyes, it is as if we are just 'playing pretend' while the rest of the world can celebrate their marriages.

I knew I was nervous waiting for the results to come back on Wednesday morning from SCOTUS, but I had no idea the amount of pride that would fill my chest and cause the tears to fall when it came across my computer. (And I got to share it with my sister as we happened to be on the phone at that exact moment.) Suddenly, people in power were noticing that my life, my partnership, my 'being' mattered just as much as my straight counterparts. It's a feeling I find hard to put into words, but there are many people across the country that had that same reaction.

And now we go into gay pride weekend in New York as the community remembers those people from 1969 and all the hard work that has happened since. It is an exciting time for our country and for those that support equality for all. If you still think the LGBT community is asking for too much: remember it is not special rights; just equal.

And for the haters out there - just go ahead and get your congress men and women to vote marriage equality through. Look at it this way: you'll get your June back as we won't need to celebrate "Pride" in one month any longer.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Americans Respond to Racism, Media & Paula Deen

Well, Paula Deen can't stay out of the news. From networks and corporations dropping her to panels discussing her Today Show appearance, people have strong opinions. In a media started fire that was fueled by social media (where tweets try to outwit each other with humor), I decided to reach out to people across the country to hear their thoughts. I submitted this to Huffington Post where I have been blogging the past 8 months, and for the first time my piece was rejected. Maybe it was too controversial to have such different opinions or maybe Huff Po was saturated with stories. In any case, I wanted to share the opinions from a cross section of Americans from those working in healthcare, teachers, and the arts. People from different ethnicities, genders, and educational backgrounds. Basically -- people that make up our country and are not simply hired to give sound bytes in the media.

I appreciate each of them for taking the time to respond to me and wanted to make these opinions heard. 
"I remember being younger and cringing when I heard "that word". Growing up in the South, you hear it. I vowed that I would not pass that to my children. I found myself in a class Sunday morning at church taught by a black man who I have known the past 5 years. When he mentioned Paula Deen briefly, you could see pain in his eyes. I heard him say "we hear people say, 'get over it, you were slaves "400" years ago, move on!' But, every time you see movies, re-runs on TV, songs - it's like you can't get away from it". Seeing it from a 60 year-old grown man's eyes made it clearer. It is about putting another down to elevate self. It makes me want to really evaluate what I say more. Would I want what I say in private to be broadcasted, tweeted, face booked, and talked about on talk shows all day? So it has made me look at what I say, and think about another." - Julie Ann Potts - Preschool Teacher, AL
"I've always been a tad bit suspicious of Paula Deen because she has often struck me as being inauthentic, despite her story: abused wife, single mother, had to raise two boys, sold bag lunches. But I admired her story and so I gave her the benefit of the doubt. But I also liked John Edwards' story too. People in leadership positions have more accountability but Americans have short memories." - Stephen Kitsakos - Professor/Writer, NY/FL
"2002. Paula Deen and I were new Food Network hosts meeting TV critics in Los Angeles. Mark Fuhrman was also in the building to meet press. We say the term "the N-word" because of his testimony in the OJ Simpson trial. Paula said the N-word. She apologized. So did former "Seinfeld" actor Michael Richards after he was caught using the N-word. Don Imus apologized for calling female college athletes "nappy-headed hos" on his show. Paula was afflicted with the blindness of privilege and definitely showed racial insensitivity, an insensitivity that should've been checked earlier. In a 2012 New York Times Talk interview, she defended her great grandfather who was devastated after losing the Civil War. He lost 30 of his "workers" who'd been on his books. He couldn't take care of the plantation by himself. Had I been the on-camera interviewer, I would've interjected that "workers" meant slaves. Had I worked in the Food Network press department, I would've told Paula to quit talking like that in public while under contract. I think she'll have a new gig in six months to a year. Mark Fuhrman used racial slurs. He went on to TV news and radio work. Michael Richards will be on a sitcom this fall. Don Imus is still making big money. Paula? Heck, I was angrier at Donald Trump for racially disrespecting President Obama -- and Trump remained a prime time NBC reality show host. It seems like privileged people who make racially or sexually insensitive comments can bounce back and eventually move on to new privileges." - Bobby Rivers - TV Host/Actor, CA
"Yesterday I watched a performance of "Hairspray" the musical that deals with racial integration in 1962. The villain Velma, doesn't consider herself as a racist, she only wants to keep her television show pure by not allowing white and blacks to dance together; while the heroine Tracy wants all kids to be able to dance together every day. While watching it one can easily feel that things have changed a lot in 50 years, but the recent stories about Paula Deen prove that we haven't come as far as we want to believe we have. As a Southern transplant to the Northwest I have seen racism in many forms: the casual, blatant racism of the South and the hidden, equally harmful racism in the Northwest. Paula Deen may want to sugarcoat her racist words and deeds the way that she sugarcoats her food, but like Velma, she can't hide her truth. I don't want to vilify Paula Deen, but like Tracy I want everyone of all races to enjoy the same opportunities. No one should have to work in an environment which demeans them. All the butter in the world won't make the "N word" be something I can swallow." - Dayna Childs - Admissions Officer, WA
"Why are we so quick to judge a person based on sound bytes of a media we don't trust? Do I think some of the ideals in regard to Ms. Deen's restaurant absurd and insensitive? ABSOLUTELY! But that, in my mind, doesn't make you a racist. Mind you, I'm not defending her because I DON'T KNOW HER! Black folk, I have heard the 'cracker' conversations from some and you know that if judged based on answers to the SAME QUESTIONS Paula was asked, some of us would not only lose our jobs but be in jail. And white folks, please stop apologizing for the actions of Ms. Deen and for any other white person you feel is embarrassing the white race. You don't see me apologize for Flava Flav! Is Paula Deen a racist? If she is, she'll have to live with it. But if she's not, what damage has been done to this woman? Think for a minute...if I got to select 2 sound bytes from your life, would you want to be judged by that? And would people be surprised? I deal with closeted racist every day. Those are the ones I worry about." - Denise Lee - Actress, TX
"What is most interesting to me with the Paula Deen situation is how significant social media played a role. From Twitter comments to Facebook posts to Deen herself apologizing for her actions on Youtube, it wasn't traditional, but social media sites that were the go-to places for breaking news, conversations and updates on the issue. If there was any doubt in the minds of celebrities, agents, producers and the public about how important a role social media plays in the lives of everyone, and anyone, this should be the textbook example. Whereas just a few short years ago, this story would have been broken by print days, even weeks later, thereby slowing down the onslaught of anger and surprise of viewers. Now it catapulted around the globe in mere minutes. Because of this instant accessibility, a career can be made from one brief action or performance ~ as in the case of Susan Boyle ~ or destroyed, as we've witnessed this past weekend." - Elizabeth J. Musgrave - Columnist, IN
"I absolutely abhor racism. I have no tolerance for hatred. I do not knowingly associate with people who do. That being said, I am bothered by the manner in which Paula Deen has been treated by the media in the days since she confessed to having once used a racial slur. She stated she did so after she'd been robbed at gunpoint: a time she would likely have not been in her usual frame of mind. I don't believe this constitutes labeling her a racist. I think her biggest obstacle here is being Southern. People still rather freely apply the term 'racist' to Southerners and I find that unfair. Racism is indeed still alive and well in this country but it's not exclusively Southern. Dehumanizing Paula Deen for one mistake is akin to condemning her without a trial. It's just not the right thing to do." - Carey Parrish - Healthcare Professional, GA

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Take a Book on a Test Drive

It's been a few weeks since I've blogged, but life has kept me busy with some travels and reading some manuscripts for other indie authors. That second part really got my mind going. We hear and read so much about how indie authors (or self-pub'd authors) are ruining the literary landscape. As if they come in and take a giant poo on the major publishers in New York.

As someone who reads all the time, I can usually tell within the first chapter if I'm going to be able to get into a book or not. Sometimes it's the writing - sometimes it's the story. And sometimes I'm just not in the mood to read. This has nothing to do with the author. I don't look them up to see what their credentials are to have written the book. I don't think about who their agent is or if <insert big time publisher here> has them on a world book tour. 

But when I see reviews on Amazon that gives 1 star ratings based on "terribly misspelled words and bad editing", I often think that is someone that has a personal grudge against the author. Just the same that several 5 star reviews usually means everyone in that person's family has gone online (for the first time) to write a review.

Try this. Kindle allows you to "look inside" before purchasing. So use it! Read that first chapter and see if it grabs you. If it doesn't, why bother buying the book? Just so you can write a nasty review after you've forced yourself to read through the entire thing?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tony Sunday Makes Me Stop and Think

It's Tony time and I have to admit as I child - I was a freak at this time of year. The house had to be quiet while I dreamed in front of the TV of winning a Tony award...someday. Those were big dreams for a young kid from Texas, but one I always hoped would occur.

Well, that never happened...but a friend recently told me I need to stop and look at my successes and not simply think about what I have NOT achieved.

So taking her advice, I thought I'd not only 'think' of those, but share them on my blog with others. (You never know if something you do might inspire someone else to look at their achievements too!)

~I just returned from a very successful school tour for my kids book Chicken Boy and always have such a wonderful time talking to the students. It's amazing when they get the message of the book and share their own connections to autism.

~Last week, I heard from a teacher at my high school alma mater that my book Proud Pants has been added as a Psychology IB Summer Reading Assignment. Sweet!

Patinkin '89 Broadway
~In the summer of 1989 I got to see Mandy Patinkin perform his one man show at the Helen Hayes Theatre and actually jumped up on stage with him. Who knew 25 years later I would be interviewing him about his career and that very same concert. Thrilled that I got to do that for Broadway World.

~Theatre is in my blood and as much as I love writing, I still also enjoy performing and directing. I'm returning to directing a musical in the fall and the exciting thing's a musical about WRITING a musical!

~In 1995, I attended the Paper Mill Playhouse with a well known reviewer (who has always been so encouraging about my writing career) as he reviewed The Secret Garden. If only he would have told that young man that 18 years later, they would pass in that same lobby again and this time I'd be there to review The Little Mermaid

So maybe I never won that Tony. That's not to say I still don't enjoy watching the awards on television, but thanks to people around me - I can still feel like a success even if I never got that little silver award. Do yourself a favor...view that glass 1/2 full. Write down the accomplishments you do each day no matter how big or small they may seem to you. We all do things in which we can take great pride!