Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Defying Inequality: The Dream - Fierstein Challenges Obama

I am a woman, and an African American. I've often joked with friends that, had I also been Jewish or a lesbian, I would have hit the trifecta of discrimination.

Growing up with the echoes of King and Kennedy and Chavez ringing in my ears, with Gloria Steinem giving the lie to the stereotype of feminist and with a man named Harvey Milk still deeply loved and missed among friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, there simply was no way I was going to look down on another human being.

Not even Republicans. ;)

When Proposition 8 passed in my home state of California, I was doing one of my typical soapbox numbers when someone I (thought I) knew cut me off with "You're straight. What's it to you?"

What's it to ME?

Here come those words again:

"If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?"
- Rabbi Hillel

Monday night in New York City, the Defying Inequality benefit concert raised $400,000 for a consortium of equal rights organizations. Though I could only be there in spirit and witness the evening in my mind's eye, there are two things I'd like to share from the event.

The first is "The Dream," a performance created by Steven Skeels and choreographed by Brian Thomas. Elegant and touching, it communicates the dream through a group of dancers, singers, words and images ("The Dream" features lead dancer Reed Kelly, a member of the cast of "Wicked," and singer Marty Thomas --- I'll edit to add additional credits.)

If you'd like to comment, go to

For more on the event, go to

Reading the benefit coverage at (and checking for photos of actor Christopher Sieber ["Shrek," "Monty Python's Spamalot"], who I freaking love), I was dumbstruck by the poetry and passion of Harvey Fierstein's open letter to President Barack Obama, a man I voted for and very much admire. If I could write my heart like this, well... I suppose I'd be a Tony-winner.

Please pass this on to everyone you know who cares about equal rights for all.

Dear President Obama.

While fighting for the abolition of slavery, one politician qualified his stance, "I have never been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people."

That politician was Abraham Lincoln. Obviously time and experience brought Mr Lincoln to what would have been called the extremist view; that freedom cannot be compromised just to appease the majority.

And so he made a grander gesture reminding us of "...a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". Passing a law would change the course of slavery, but those words changed the course of the history.

Mr Obama, I have heard you speak eloquently in favor of inclusion for gays and lesbians. But then you sternly state your opposition to marriage rights. It leaves me wondering if you are straining to be politic or, if like Lincoln, your views still need maturing.

Days after your historic election an aide of yours told me that you plan to do away with the military's DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL. I applaud the gesture. But don't kid yourself. Redefining that policy will do little to end discrimination against us.

With or without the Pentagon's permission gays and lesbians have been serving in the military since the birth of this nation.

We may have served in silence.

We may have fought in secret.

But a complete ban of gays did not stop us from fighting and dying for our country.

Abolishing DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL won't bring us into the military or end discrimination against us.

Legalizing gay adoption won't end discrimination against our children in the playground.

Even legalizing gay marriage won't bring about the whole cloth change our nation needs.

When you, leader of the free world, accept, tolerate and even invite bigots into your fold changing a policy is not enough.

In any case, we don't need you to fight our small battles for us.

We will eventually win these on our own. Property matters, adoption rights, and even gay marriage will be won in courts of law as they are now being won in courts of public opinion.

Given time, our constitution, and the American values of fair play and justice, will prevail. We will win equal rights.

But what only you can give us is the grand gesture.

Mr President, we need you to be more than another reasonable voice.

We need you to raise yourself up out of the mire of majority opinion.

We need you to rise above the daily politics of compromise.

We need you to mount that bully pulpit our blood, sweat and tears have erected, and speak to the greater ideal.

America needs to hear you say, "We will no longer tolerate the oppression of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles. They are our family. They are we and we are they."

The nation needs to hear you say, "We must prove ourselves worthy of the title Americans; protectors of the weak, standard bearers of freedom, and guarantors of equal rights for all."

Mr President, history will record the day you say, "From this day forward no amendment, statute or law that seeks to deny full rights of citizenship on the basis of sexual preference will be tolerated. Hatred and bigotry are here forth banished to the dark recesses of small minds.

Let the Pledge of Allegiance light our way to tomorrow as " nation, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.'"

That, dear son of Lincoln, is the grand gesture we need from you.

We need a hero, and you have been elected.


Harvey Fierstein

If not now, when?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Defying Gravity... and Inequality

"Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I'm through with playing by the rules
Of someone else's game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap

It's time to try
Defying gravity
I think I'll try
Defying gravity
And you can't pull me down..."

"DEFYING INEQUALITY: The Broadway Concert -- A Celebrity Benefit for Equal Rights" tonight at the Gershwin Theatre, hosted by the cast of "Wicked," stars some of the brightest lights on Broadway. This show benefits marriage equality, because every loving couple should have the right to marry.

No more second class citizenship.

No more legislated fear and hatred.

No more limits on any American's equal rights.

Come celebrate love.

"I'm through accepting limits
'Cause someone says they're so
Some things I cannot change
But 'till I try, I'll never know
Too long I've been afraid of
Losing love - I guess I have lost
Well, if that's love
It comes at much too high a cost

I'd sooner be
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I'm defying gravity
And you can't pull me down..."

- Lyrics from "Defying Gravity" by Stephen Schwartz, from the acclaimed musical "Wicked"

For more information, go to

Jai Ho --- The 2008 Oscar and Spirit Award Victors

"Jai Ho," the exuberant song performed over the closing credits of this year's Academy Award-winning Best Picture, "Slumdog Millionaire." The song's Oscar-winning composer and performer, A.R. Rahman, told Oprah Winfrey that "Jai Ho" means "May victory be yours."

For "Slumdog Millionaire," victory was theirs --- eight times. Go see this film!

Here is a complete list of the 2008 Oscar winners from (primarily mainstream films, through some indies are included in the winners), followed by the winners from the Spirit Awards, give to independent films:


Actor in a Leading Role - Sean Penn, MILK

Actress in a Leading Role - Kate Winslet, THE READER

Directing - Danny Boyle, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Foreign Language Fim - Departures (Japan)





Sound Editing - THE DARK KNIGHT


Documentary Short - SMILE PINKI

Documentary Feature - MAN ON WIRE

Actor in a Supporting Role - Heath Ledger, THE DARK KNIGHT

Short Film (Live Action) - SPIELZEUGLAND (TOYLAND)



Costume Design - THE DUCHESS


Short Film (Animated)- La Maison en Petits Cubes

Animated Feature - WALL-E

Writing (Adapted Screenplay) -SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Writing (Original Screenplay) - Dustin Lance Black, MILK

Actress in a Supporting Role - Penelope Cruz, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

Now go see these films the way they are meant to be viewed --- in a movie theater!

And check out full credits, acceptances speeches, photos and video from this year's winners and nominees at

2008 Spirit Award Winnrs:

For movies that are outside of the mainstream, be sure to see some of the independent films featured at

Best Feature
The Wrestler
Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin

Best Director
Thomas McCarthy, The Visitor

Best First Feature
Synecdoche, New York
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Sidney Kimmel

John Cassavetes Award (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000)
In Search of a Midnight Kiss
Writer/Director: Alex Holdridge
Producers: Seth Caplan and Scoot McNairy

Best First Screenplay
Dustin Lance Black, Milk

Best Screenplay
Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Female Lead
Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Best Male Lead
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Best Supporting Female
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Supporting Male
James Franco, Milk

Best Cinematography
Maryse Alberti, The Wrestler

Best Documentary
Man on Wire
Director: James Marsh

Best Foreign Film
The Class (France)
Director: Laurent Cantet

Robert Altman Award (Given to one film's director, casting director and ensemble cast)
Synecdoche, New York
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Casting Director: Jeanne McCarthy
Ensemble Cast: Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Dianne Wiest, Michelle Williams

Someone to Watch Award
Lynn Shelton, My Effortless Brilliance

Truer Than Fiction Award
Margaret Brown, The Order of Myths

Producers Award
Heather Rae, Frozen River and Ibid