We are ‘greater than AIDS’

A LOOK BACK | Elton John, right, is joined by Ryan White, left, and Jason Robertson, both suffering from AIDS, as he performs at “For the Love of Children” benefit for children with AIDS and other serious illnesses in 1988. (Alan Greth/Associated Press)

As LGBT community grows more complacent, HIV infections in gay, bisexual men continues to rise

DAVID FURNISH  |  Special Contributor

This year marks 30 years since the discovery of the first case of what was later identified as AIDS. With that news, our lives and relationships as gay men were forever altered.

We witnessed an unthinkable tragedy that has taken the lives of more than a quarter million of our gay and bisexual friends and lovers.

In the face of this devastation, leaders emerged. The crisis helped to shape our community’s political agenda, and it provided a platform around which gay leaders could advocate for rights and equality. We realized that if we informed ourselves and acted on what we learned, we could be greater than the disease.

Thanks to the efforts of gay men and our allies, our community saw a dramatic decline in new infections by the late 1980s. Many of us can look back with immense pride at the collective response in those early years.

The availability of effective combination drug therapies in 1996 fundamentally changed how we thought about HIV. No longer was HIV the death sentence it had once been. We had new hope. For many, HIV was a manageable chronic disease.

Many of us turned our attention to marriage equality, adoption rights, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and other pressing issues facing our community. While we broadened our focus, AIDS did not.

When we become complacent, HIV thrives. New HIV infections among gay and bisexual men in the United States are on the rise. Yes, on the rise.

We are the only risk group for whom this is the case. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, one in five of us — that is, gay and bisexual men — in some of the largest U.S. cities today are living with HIV. And half of those who are positive do not know it.

Unless we act now, we will see these numbers rise even higher, and quickly.

My partner, Sir Elton John, often talks of his friend Ryan White, a boy whose tremendous courage in the face of AIDS forced our leaders to take action and inspired many of us. Today, Ryan’s story continues to remind us that just as HIV began one person at a time, it will end one person a time.

Elton and I recently had a baby boy. Becoming fathers has given us new perspective on what it means to take care of one another — as parents, as partners and as members of a community.

And, it reminds us that we cannot be complacent in helping to create the kind of society in which we want our son to grow up. In short, we must take responsibility and each do our part to create a future free of HIV, by being informed, using protection, getting tested and treated — and by getting involved.

And so, as we mark 30 years of this disease, Elton and I have recommitted ourselves to being greater than AIDS. As chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, I’m proud of the community organizations with which we are working to fight stigma and prevent the spread of the disease. And I’m proud that leading LGBT companies — like HERE Media, LOGO TV and Dallas Voice — are refocusing attention on this epidemic. And I hope more will join us.

As a community, we once showed that we could be greater than AIDS. Now is our time to do it again. Visit GreaterThan.org/pride to get started.

David Furnish is Chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF.org). The Elton John AIDS Foundation is a supporting partner of Greater Than AIDS (GreaterThan.org/pride), a national movement organized in response to AIDS in America with a focus on the most affected communities. Columnist photo courtesy Richard Leslie.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Your son’ll come out, tomorrow

SLEAZY STREET | Redneck Tenor Matthew Lord takes more potshots at the Bush Administration than gay people in his parody of ‘Annie.’

What’s a straight guy doing mocking a classic with the word ‘Trannie’? Making people laugh, that’s what

MARK LOWRY |  Contributing Writer
marklowry@theaterjones.com

It’s a beloved tale of musical theater: girl escapes orphanage, goes on quest for her parents, sings about tomorrow and ends up with a life of luxury and love — not to mention a spiffy red ’fro — with her new Daddy.

Make that two daddies. Trannie, a full-out parody of the aw-shucks family musical Annie, makes its world premiere this weekend in a tiny shed in the shadow of Grapevine’s squeaky-clean Main Street district.

The show follows the adventures of a transvestite (not transsexual) who leaves behind her prostitute pals and searches for the men who gave her up when gay couples were denied adoption rights. She sings in a nightclub called the Manhole, eventually discovering her dads, thanks to a cherished pearl necklace they once gave her.

Songs in the show include “I’m Gonna Come Out Tomorrow,” “It’s a Knocked-Up Life,” “S.T.D.” and “Sleazy Street,” which any musical queen will recognize as trash parodies of Annie hits. But despite being created by a heterosexual man, this is not a case of straight folks making fun of the T in LGBT. Nor of the G, L or B.

“I’ve been on the phone with my gay friends about this for a year, asking them ‘Can I write this?’” says Matthew Lord, the straight guy who created it. “I didn’t write this lightly. But I decided that if everybody wrote to whom they are, then nothing would ever get written.”

Lord grew up in San Francisco in the ’70s and ’80s, using his vocal talents to make a career of musical theater and opera. He has performed at the Met, originated a role in Andre Previn’s opera A Streetcar Named Desire and, as Nero, made out with three countertenors nightly in a production of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea. But he’s best known as a founding member of the locally based 3 Redneck Tenors. That group, which made it to the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent in 2007, performs opera, Broadway and popular as trailer-dwelling mullet-heads, so satire is in Lord’s veins.

As for credibility with the gay community, he knows he has nothing to worry about.

“I was one of two straight men in the San Francisco Opera chorus in the ’80s, I would go to their birthday parties at The Stud,” he says. “I grew to have this incredible understanding of not understanding why the rest of the world [didn’t accept] homosexuality. Except for the sex part, I’m as gay as they come.”

Trannie was born from a casual conversation after Ohlook, Lord’s theater company, had performed Annie. The theater is a school that performs more traditional musicals, but also does a late-night series with shows like Evil Dead the Musical, Reefer Madness and The Rocky Horror Show (Ohlook’s two-time Rocky was Jeff Walters, now Clay Aiken’s boyfriend).

For anyone upset about the use of the un-P.C. title, it’s all in good fun.

“Trannie is the most sane character in the show,” Lord says, adding that it addresses issues like prostitution, homelessness and closed-minded politicians. “It makes fun of everything and it makes fun of nothing, you know what I mean? There’s nothing hurtful in it.”

Well, there are slams at the Bush administration, with a parody of the Annie song “We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover,” substituting the lyrics for the policies of George W. Bush.

Will it be irreverent, filthy and touching? Yes, yes and that’s the plan. Will it be funny? Bet your bottom dollar.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25, 2011.

—  John Wright