Eighth Annual Outer Banks Pridefest Has It Genesis In A 25-Year Old Grassroots Movement.

I moved to the Outer Banks in the early 1990s to take a job as Director of Marketing and Public relations at The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, and it was a dream come true in so many ways. Seriously, a job at the beach in theater marketing?

I was a 30 year-old out gay man. My family knew, my co-workers at The Lost Colony knew (90% of them were gay, too), and I had nothing to hide.

I simply assumed that the many gay locals I met were out as well. Surprisingly, that was not the case. The Outer Banks then was generally not an LGBT-friendly community, Lost Colony notwithstanding. My impression was that many of the locals considered the gay enclave clustered on the north end of Roanoke Island to be a necessary prerequisite for having a thriving and professional theater company.

But, boy, if you were a gay native of Dare County, you stayed deep in the closet.

There were no gay bars and social or support outlets in Dare County. When we wanted to go out on the town and dance with our people, we’d pile in someone’s car and make the two-hour (or sometimes three, depending on traffic) trip to Norfolk for the weekend. In the harsh winter months, it seems as if all we did was huddle up at someone’s house and drink ourselves silly.

Finally, a group of my Lost Colony friends and co-workers decided to create those missing social opportunities. The name of our fledgling group was the Outer Banks Gay and Lesbian Community (or GLC for short—because we had to have a secret code).

We began by approaching those few businesses we knew were gay owned. At the time, that was Sam and Omie’s in Nags Head and Art’s Place in Kitty Hawk. We asked and they enthusiastically agreed to host an occasional private party just for us: invitation  only, closed to the public. Plus you had to know the secret code to get in if we didn’t know you. Privacy was paramount. There were many prominent people who joined our group as long as we guaranteed it.

We also built a newsletter mailing list by quietly networking and spreading the word—quite an undertaking in the days before email. I wrote it on the computer in my office and printed copies on the company Xerox machine. I figured that was OK after all the gay community had done for The Lost Colony over the years. We funded the postage out of our own pockets.

We started holding GLC Beach Days during the warm months at Coquina Beach (we called it CoQueena). Those beach days were some of the best of my time on the Outer Banks. We flew a ginormous rainbow flag on the dune so that any weary gay travelers on Highway 12 would know where to find our safe spot.

We always had a big crowd. We held ocean kayaking races, fishing tournaments, and best tan competitions. Afterwards, we wrapped it up with a visit to the Oasis Restaurant on the Nags Head Causeway to hear Laura Martier wail the blues.

Eventually, we started collecting donations to fund the newsletter. We collected enough to take out classified ads in regional gay publications such as The Washington Blade and Our Own Community Press (in Hampton Roads) promoting our private parties and beach days to tourists. We often had vacationers join us as a result, and I made some great friends, many of whom I still count among my besties today.

I moved to Norfolk in 1998, and the group kept plowing away. Eventually, my new life took precedence, and I lost the pulse of what was happening with the GLC.

Then eight years ago, one of the GLC’s founding members, David Miller (who has been associated with The Lost Colony since the colony was lost) founded OBX Pride, Inc. and produced the first-ever OBX Pridefest.

Imagine that! A full on, in your face gay pride celebration on the Outer Banks. It was exciting and somewhat disconcerting at the same time. How would the community accept this public display? It had its challenging moments, but in the end all was for naught. The local norms had evolved in both attitudes and acceptance, and the timing was finally right.

Today, hundreds of visitors from Richmond and DC to Raleigh and Charlotte, both gay and straight, come to celebrate. The Dare County Tourist Bureau is our primary benefactor. The list of businesses that participate in the three-day event has grown impressively long. And I am involved once again as a board member and marketing director for Pridefest.

My husband and I are headed down to the eighth Annual Pridefest this weekend, and I’m excited to see my friends from the GLC days.

But most of all, I’m excited to be home again in a place I’ve loved for 50 years and know that our little grassroots underground movement helped change it for the better.

Burt Reynolds Was My Childhood Crush And Adulthood Role Model

When I was 12, in 1974, my parents started bidding me out as a babysitter for all their party animal friends with kids.

“Yes, Eric loves children,” I overheard my mother say to one of their Ice Party drinking buddies. “We’ll bring him over abound seven, and then you can ride with us.”

I hated it. But I loved the cash in my hand at the end of the night.

After I put their kids to bed, I also loved investigating their houses.

A German couple that I particularly enjoyed babysitting for had a wall full of self-help sex books, including the iconic Joy of Sex. I would inevitably be drawn to it, with its pen and ink illustrations of various sex acts: long haired women and mustached men getting it on in every form and fashion.

But artist renderings of heteronormative sex were not quite enough for my burgeoning libido. It wasn’t until my parents pimped me out to our neighbors, Bill and Stephanie, that I experienced the truth of my sexuality.

I discovered Burt Reynolds at their house.

On my first visit, I walk into their den and was greeted by a life-sized version of Burt’s famous Cosmopolitan nude centerfold displayed unabashedly above the sofa. My eyes grew wide as I slowly examined the length of the six-foot long poster, taking in every inch of his incredibly muscled, tanned, and hairy body. He was stretched out on a bear skin rug, one hand placed strategically between his legs, the other supporting his head of jet-black hair, and a mischievous smile that said, “I know what I’m depriving you of.”

After my parents left with Bill and Stephanie, I couldn’t wait to get their girls to bed so I could examine Burt more carefully. Once they were tucked in, I cued up “The Age of Aquarius” by the Fifth Dimension and hopped up on the sofa for a closer look.

Little did I know that what was turning me on had also turned on women all across the globe.

The 1972 photo — Cosmopolitan magazine’s first male centerfold — was a radical statement at the time. With its publication, Helen Gurley Brown put it out there that women had desires that deserved be acknowledged and catered to. Its publication sparked revolution a in women’s magazines.

Looking back after Reynolds’ death yesterday, the centerfold has a powerful legacy. It captivated readers, challenged ideas about sexuality and spawned a wave of new publications. And while it was the start of Reynolds’ legacy as a sex symbol for women, it was also the start of a longtime male crush for me.

From that moment on I was an uberfan. I saw all of his movies of the 1970s, from Smokey and the Bandit to The Longest Yard. I picked up any magazine that bore his face on the cover. And I fantasized that he would someday arrive on my doorstep to rescue me from my dysfunctional household and adopt me as his son.

As I matured, that obsession mellowed a bit, but never dimmed completely. I watched his movies that had been released before I was old enough to see them: Deliverance, White Lightning, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing. I kept my eyes out for old reruns of his episodes of Gunsmoke and his super-sexy lead role as police investigator Dan August.

When Boogie Nights was released in 1997, I was astounded by his performance as the creepy yet lovable porn filmmaker—a role that lead to an Academy Award nomination.

Much to my delight, he turned up in a hilarious cameo on The Golden Girls in 1986—still one of my favorite episodes. I watched Evening Star every week just to watch him chew up the scenery in a role that lead to numerous Golden Globe and Emmy nominations.

He possessed an incredible charisma on screen and off, and he delivered his performances with an infectious grin and twinkle is his eye. He was the complete package, my ultimate definition of strong masculinity and gentle kindness all in one.

And he is still one of the sexiest men in the world.

Here’s to Mr. Burt Reynolds (said in Blanche Devereaux voice) who passed away yesterday at the age of 82.

Here’s Why I Support Black Lives Matter: AIDS

In 1987, the American AIDS epidemic had ravaged the gay community for six years. Beginning with a smattering of mystifying cases in 1981, the number of reported deaths from the disease doubled every year afterwards. By the end of 1987, the deaths of 41,000 primarily gay men brought the toll nationwide to over 86,000.

Already stigmatized and mostly closeted, the LGBT community was horrified not only by the scope of death, but by the lack of action on the part of President Regan’s administration.

Regan’s policymakers routinely joked publicly about “queers deserving to die.” Misinformation regarding spread of the disease ran rampant without any attempt by the CDC or the administration to research or rectify it. And our president refused to acknowledge the crisis. Indeed, it was five years after the first deaths before he even mentioned the word “AIDS” in a policy speech.

By 1987, the gay community’s frustration had grown into outright anger, and legendary gay activist Larry Kramer had had enough. In March of that year, he stood in front of an agitated gay audience and asked, “Do we want to start a new organization devoted to political action?” The answer was a resounding “Yes!” Two days later, he founded ACT UP.

For those of us old enough to remember, ACT UP gave us the first glimmer of hope that maybe our voices would be heard. On my 25th birthday that year, I lived in Greensboro, NC, the heart of the conservative South. I was one of those disenfranchised gay men, angry, scared and sad. I had already lost one friend. I would lose four more before all was said and done. I had little hope for my future, and remained mostly closeted to all but my closest friends and family.

The evening, I watched a segment on the national news about ACT UP. That day, 250 members arrived on Wall Street in Manhattan and began to protest. Waving signs, including the historic slogan “SILENCE = DEATH,” and chanting “Act Up, Fight AIDS!”, they called attention to the inequitable alliance between the FDA and Burroughs-Wellcome that prevented drug research from moving forward–even though the drugs were somewhat effective in treating HIV. An effigy of the FDA commissioner, Frank Young, was hung. As the day progressed, the protestors sat in the street, stopping traffic and leading to 17 arrests.

Several weeks later, the FDA announced the speedup of other AIDS-fighting drugs. Many groups credited ACT-UP. I became an ardent fan of this revolutionary group, devouring everything I could find about them in the media. Chapters were confined to larger metropolitan areas, but amongst my inner circle of gay friends, talk began to turn towards ways we could join the fight. We took some small actions towards AIDS awareness in our red community, many of my friends came barreling out of the closet, and we began to feel hopeful.

In the years that followed, ACT UP’s membership increased in size and volume. Their urgent and disobedient protests became regular stories in the national media. In 1988, one such protest successfully shut down the Food & Drug Administration for a day. Media reported that it was the largest such demonstration since those against the Vietnam War.

They also took on the Catholic Church, the National Institute of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the public school system. They even disrupted a 1991 live broadcast of the CBS Evening News.

By the mid 1990s, their demand for a national dialogue about the AIDS epidemic was beginning to show results. Public opinion shifted in favor of the gay community and AIDS research. Government funding became available, first in trickle, then in a flood.

And ACT UP’s mission began to change. Today, they are still an active, albeit a much quieter, gentler organziation. Founder Larry Kramer is still alive and kicking in New York, still leading and challenging the LGBT community at every turn.

He believes (as do I) that the federal government basically murdered over 500,000 men due to their indifference towards the LGBT community. But he also believes that the gay community is partially responsible for those deaths because we took so long to speak up.

In 2007, Kramer wrote, “Our own country’s democratic process declares us to be unequal, which means, in a democracy, that our enemy is you. You treat us like crumbs. You hate us. And sadly, we let you.”

It took years, but ACT UP’s policy of civil disobedience did effect a fundamental change. In fact, their success proves that if any disenfranchised community is subject to the blatant and unfettered murder of its people with no adequate response from our lawmakers, it becomes a requirement.

If you have never felt the utter despair and anger, helplessness and hopelessness that comes from the avoidable death of someone you love simply because your leaders didn’t care, then you probably won’t agree with this statement: Black Lives Matter.

I fully support the African American community in their loud and proud dissent. Because the alternative is silence.

And silence equals death.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

va1

And a joyous one it is in Virginia. Yesterday, a Federal judge here in Norfolk ruled that Virginia’s 2006 ban on gay marriage in the Commonwealth is unconstitutional. It’s the latest in a house of cards of similar rulings across the country. The national news is treating it as an every day event. And that’s OK. These rulings *are* becoming commonplace events.  That’s a good thing.

But today, all the Virginia gays is losing they minds! No one I know (myself included) could have conceived as recently as a year ago that the capital of the Old Confederacy and a Southern bastion of prejudice and racism would ever come to this point. But here we are, and although the legal battle ahead is long, I know that ultimately Andrew and I will be able to get married in our adopted home state.

After all, we have two righteous principals on our side.

Remember Justice? She’s been around since our country’s founders (most of them from right here in the Old Dominion) created the world’s first pure democracy 250 years ago. As a student of American history and politics, I have always been incredulous that a group of thirteen totally dissimilar colonies and people could somehow pull together, throw off the yoke of an oppressive totalitarian government, and create a union based on equality for all.

When those intrepid souls created this new form of government, they knew that it would be an experiment with many challenges they couldn’t foresee. Right out of the gate, they couldn’t resolve the issue of slavery even though most agreed it was moral sin. They didn’t come close to addressing women’s rights in the new world order. And they certainly couldn’t foresee that a person’s sexuality would ever be an issue the government would need to address.

That’s why they framed the Constitution in fairly general terms with room to grow but governed by one overriding theme: individual rights would never be abridged by crown or church. The checks implemented by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches were designed to perpetually guarantee those rights.

So Justice has stood by during most of the past 250 years, allowing us mortals to work out our differences. And when we couldn’t agree on the definition of “individual rights,” she stepped in. After we murdered ourselves over slavery, she stopped the madness with passage of the 14th Amendment. That addition was a game changer and has become the legal precedent for all individual rights cases since. After women decided they had had enough, Justice stepped in, waving the 14th amendment, and they won their right to vote. When the future Mr. and Mrs. Loving, an interracial couple from (you guessed it) Virginia wanted to get married despite a state law banning it, the 14th was cited, and they won. And yesterday, after enough oppression by the religious right, Justice waved her 14th Amendment again and said, “Go away, you have no power here.”

Justice is indeed blind. But you don’t want to piss her off.

Justice didn’t do it alone. She joined hands with her same-sex partner, Love, who, as we well know, conquers all. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and every spiritual leader throughout history has labored to convince us of that concept. Why don’t we listen? Why do we continue to argue with Love? How can the closed minds in this world dare to impress their judgments on whether anyone’s love is right or wrong? They can’t. Not for long. And that’s why Justice and Love together are an invincible combination. They will always win.

Yesterday, these two ladies won again, and our magnificent political experiment was made stronger.

Some observations:

      • allenMeet Judge Arenda Wright-Allen, an Obama appointee, a former JAG attorney, and former public defender. Historically, she has been involved in criminal cases, and as far as I can see, this is her first social case. She also appears to be a fierce African-American woman on our side from day one. I can’t help but think that she intentionally waited until Valentine’s Eve to issue her decision. Talk about maximum impact on our community and the country. Plus, I think she knew that we would party our asses off because the next day was Friday. Well played, Your Honor.

 

      • Best line from her decision: “Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so. However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.”

 

      • Does anyone else wonder where Pat Robertson is right now? I thought for sure he’d  be the first of the right wing zealots to hit the media circuit. Maybe he’s  alone in his bathroom, crying and praying the gay away.

 

      • Read this article on how this whole issue may play out nationwide in the coming months.

 

    • Stay tuned for photos from our big gay party in downtown Norfolk tonight! It’s going to be off the hook because a) well, the decision, duh, b) it’s Valentine’s Day, and c) there’s a full moon. It doesn’t get any better than that.