Hello friends.... are you doing ok? Are you hanging in there? It's not safe out there for a lot of people. Well, in reality, it hasn't been safe for a lot of people for a really long time.... but recent events have proven just how unsafe it really is. I have been in LBGTQ spaces for a long time. I have been in African American and Latino spaces for along time. I have been going to gay bars since I was 16 years old and found out Zak's on 4th Ave and Pegasus had all ages nights. I started openly identifying as bisexual when I was still in high school. I got beat up by yinzers and neo Nazi skinheads back then too.... And while I have had more boyfriends than girlfriends, and I did eventually marry a hetro man who doubles as an Amoeba, I never ever forgot or ever wanted to be too far away from my LBGTQ bothers and sisters.
Image by Billy Hileman of Planet Queer, a Gay newspaper in the 90's in Pittsburgh, this photo from 1993
My first Pride march was 1993 when I marched with Ted Hoover and Art Manion of Pittsburgh Queer Theater and back then our Pittsburgh Pride parade was hundreds of people, marching for equality through Shadyside to a small community picnic in the park. Since then we have had so very many wonderful changes.... Gay marriage is legal in Pennsylvania. Anti discrimination laws are popping up all over, and it has been very easy to get lulled into a false sense of security. Pittsburgh Pride is now a celebration of thousands with food trucks and bars setting up disco parties in the middle of Liberty Ave with local eateries like Shiloh Grille offering "Big Gay Iced Teas"! Glitter beards and unicorn hats abound and the colors are brighter than ever and so our are the dreams and hopes of the all the beautiful Gaybies....10,000 Caftans is a movement and drag kings and trams men have their own floats in a real honest to goodness parade downtown right past Grant Street! Ru Paul is a household name, and well she should be!
But the stigma still exists and so does the ignorance and fear. HIV, especially in the Black community, is on the rise. Republicans keep passing anti gay legislation and spreading hateful lies about same sex marriage and trans people in the bathrooms while conveniently forgetting that straight men molest children all the time but no one is trying to keep them out of the stalls. They keep defending their right to military style assault weaponry and now 50 innocent people, most of whom were young and of color, possibly about to celebrate their own "Pride" for the first time in their tragically shortened lives, have lost their right to life. Their families are in mourning, their friends are devastated, the nation is in shock.... but we shouldn't be surprised.
This level of hate is nothing new.... we just didn't have snapchat when someone torched the Lesbian bar "Bloomer's" back in the South Side of Pittsburgh in 1990's. We didn't have twitter when popular LBGTQ bartender Jamie Stickle's burned body was found in her jeep in the Northside and cause of death is still "undetermined". We didn't have have instagram or facebook when the "Cross Dressers" (before we knew what a "Trans" community was) most of whom were not white, stood up to the New York City Police department in 1969 and refused to run away or be ashamed or pay off the bribes to have a semblance of a "safe space" in Greenwich Village at the now venerated Stonewall Inn.
One of my vocal students this week asked if I had had "fun" at Pride this weekend... she had seen the photos on my facebook wall.... and I said to her that it was intense, and yes I had had fun and got a terrible sun burn, but it was amazing to see how far we have come and yet still be horribly devastated to understand how very far we still have yet to go. She didn't know the birth of the Pride Celebration came about to commemorate the incredible bravery and courage of those early drag queens in 1969 at the Stonewall. She didn't know it used to be illegal just 40 years ago, to be gay, that it was considered a mental disorder and if too many congregated in one place, the gathering was deemed illegal and a place could be raided and all the patrons taken away to jail where they would be beaten, raped and brutalized by both the police and the inmates. They never saw the pictures from my friend Tracy's grandmother's secret stash of photos from her bridal studio, where she used to host after hours secret parties for men to come as ladies and have tea in secret with each other in her bridal shop basement.... So, did I have fun? I was deeply honored to be included in carrying the biggest rainbow flag I have ever seen, larger than a swimming pool, locally sourced and commissioned by my old friend Richard Parsakian, proprietor of Eon's Fashion Antique.
Image shot during the Pittsburgh Pride Parade 2016 just before we set the flag down and had a moment of silence to remember the victims of Pulse Orlando
He and 40 of our friends, some old ones like my friends Amy Kreger and Brother Strawberry and Sister Shortcake, whom I have known for decades, along with the Mayor Bill Peduto, Congressman Mike Doyle, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Police Chief McClay right behind the Dikes on Bikes..... I was honored to have the privilege to be among this incredibly beautiful, diverse, multi generational and beautiful community.... and I will admit, the glitter beards and the caftans got to me. I did have fun, but I also shed many tears.... We just have so far to go my friends.
In 1997, a beautiful drag queen named Carmella Marcella Garcia, who sang just like Loretta Lynn, from Sarasota, Florida, taught me how to create my glitter lip look at the Gay 90's in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The first person to ever put me on a stage outside of high school was Ted Hoover of Pittsburgh Queer Theater. The most incredible jazz standard ever penned was by Billy Strayhorn, a gay Black man from Pittsburgh who became Duke Ellington's right hand man and composed some of th most beautiful and complicated music ever written. So, if you ever loved any part of my performance, it is because a Gay person helped me get there. Please help stand up for the right to exist for our LBGTQ brothers, sisters and everyone in between. Donate some money to the GLCC, Dreams of Hope, Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, Shepherd Wellness Community or GLSEN. If you here someone say "Faggot" or "Dike" or "Tranny" or "Queer" and they are not LBGTQ themselves, slap those fools. Or at least don't let them think it's ok. It's not ok to say the "N" word is it? Well it's not ok for a straight person to say the "F" one or anything like it either. Call your law makers and make sure they are doing everything they can to prevent this from ever happening again. Request protections for LBGTQ people and defense against discrimination. Tell them we need to get assault weaponry off the streets. Get educated and be aware and let's make this world one we are proud to leave to all the children, no matter who they love or what the color of their skin is, which God they worship (or don't) and what land they are from. If you want to pray, that's amazing.... please do. But remember what Pastor Shanea Leonard of the Judah Fellowship in Pittsburgh said at the Pittsburgh Clergy Consotrium's rally earlier this week: "I pray with my hands when I write about discrimination, I pray with my feet as I march for justice and I pray with my mouth when I speak out against hate" she also said "Every time we let someone on the bus mutter an anti gay hate slur then Orlando is our fault." We can stop this, but we must fight this hate in person, every time. So did I have fun? I think I did, and though it was laced with much pain, there was also hope. I met a sister from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an order of nuns who believe that to sin is to be human, to celebrate it is divine and that we should expiate guilt in all it's forms so we can be as the universe created us without fear. Sister Tillie Screams has come to help Pittsburgh to set up a sister house here, so I still have hope. We just have to work for it.
Oh yeah, did you actually want to hear about the many shows I have lined up? Cuz, I do, have a bunch of gigs, lined up, like awesome ones, with great musicians, and entertainers and artists.... I am exhausted because I just got back from taking Liz Berlin's and our Creative Life Support's "We Rock Workshop" students to the Pocono Mountains to a resort to perform for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services conference on adoption.... it was wonderful and painful to ride a big yellow school bus all the way across the state.... but the show was worth it! So proud of them!
Me with the 2016 students of the We Rock Workshop with other teachers from Creative Life Support Mario Quinn and Shaunden Smith!
And the week before that I was in North Carolina singing to a sold out crowd at the 10th Annual Americana Burlesque and Sideshow Festival....
Image by Isaac Harrell at 10th Annual American Burlesque Sideshow Festival at the Orange Peel, waves by Ed Pinto
And now I have 3 gigs this weekend and a summers worth of incredible festivals coming up! NO REST FOR THE WICKED!
Friday June 17
Age Limit: 21+ Tickets: $12.50 advance, $15 at door, for Mt Washington and Allentown residents, $5 adv and $10 at door! I will emcee this event which features Beauty Slap, Gone south and local dj's, there will be an art show and enjoy the local cuisine from our Caribbean restaurant Leon's in Allentown and Kasvar in Mt Washington, the area's only Uzbeki restaurant and more!
Saturday June 18
All ages, noon - 4 p.m. N3D Saturday concert! I will sing at noon for in Grandview Park where Beltzhoover Ave meets Boggs! This beautiful park has a stunning view of the city and I will be singing with Dwayne Dolphin, Carlos Peña and other groups performing inlcuding Christiane Dolores and her group Amor Fati, in which I sing back up with Geña Musica, Stevee Wellons with Izzy Arlet (guitar), Chris Belin (drums), Justin Brown (bass) and Paul Cunningham (keys) as our super solid trance funk band.....as well as other spectacular performances by my husband's space rawk band Amoeba Knievel and Geña Musica's rebel salsa riot band, Machete Kisumontao! Seriously, don't miss this one. It's going to be off the chain and it's going to be a stunningly beautiful day of music in the park!
Tweet and Gram with us! Program Hashtags: #N3DPgh #DestinationHilltop
Sunday June 19
All Ages, 4 p.m. No entry fee, free will offering. Please join us on the Father's Day for "Hymns for Him"! The gospel choir with whom I sing is run by Pastor Deryck Tines, an openly same gender loving man, and his voice (just like his heart) is as big as the sun! He leads the Lemington Gospel Chorale and the median age of this group is somewhere on the later side of life. We sing classic old African American gospel and we invite you to be in the congregation at St andrews Episcopalian Church in Highland Park at 5801 Hampton St. All are welcome! More info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1744913045791026/
Saturday July 9 - the Lemington Chorale will be joining the Pittsburgh 200 Celebration and march through downtown for an event at Point State Park!
Saturday July 16 - In Sherman, NY, I will lead the Brushwood Folklore Center's Family Choir, a Pan Spiritual, Multi Lingual Psychedelic Gospel Experience at the closing Saturday night celebration of SanKofa! If you want to join the choir or just come out to camp with us at this sacred "Sanctuary for An Open Mind" get your camping gear in order! It is $20 just for the show, but if you want to camp out with us, the whole week is $150. There is a pool and a hot tub and classes and workshops and performances and vending all week long. For more info visit http://www.brushwood.com/sankofa/
Tuesday July 19 - In Sherman NY, still at Brushwood Folklore Center, at the Sirius Rising festival, I will perform with Pittsburgh's favorite sideshow and burlesque troupe "Kabarett Vulgare" on the MainStage. Tickets are $20 for just the show and up to $180 for the week of camping. More info: http://www.brushwood.com/sirius-rising/
Saturday July 23 - Oil City, Pa I am very excited to part of a parade to celebrate Oil City's rich heritage! I will be on a float with musicians from my band The Cultural District, riding through town during the Oil Heritage Festival Parade! We kick off at 5 pm at Mayer Street and I will sing all the way to State Street!
SAVE THE DATE!
Friday August 5 - Detroit, MI I am very excited to be invited to work collaboratively as a musician with the artists of Dark Passage and the Seafood Palace. Phat Man Dee shall be the vocal element to a riverfront spectacle at dusk celebrating the totems that make up a regions history and fables. More info shall be posted, as this event solidifies, which may be difficult as the theme for this performance is "phantom islands".
More info about the event we have been invited to participate in: http://www.totemsfestival.com
More info about the Seafoam Palace: http://seafoampalace.org
That's it for now..... go fight some injustice and enjoy the music and the dancing while you can. We have right now. Much love to you. We are stronger together.