Billy Porter: The gay interview

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With our Applause Edition coming out Friday, we thought we’d prime the pump a little with some Broadway glamour. And you don’t get much more glamorous nowadays that the sexy leather thigh-highs of Kinky Boots, which will be on tour in North Texas twice in 2015 (as you can read about Friday in Applause!).

For his first solo album since becoming a Tony and Grammy award-winner, Billy Porter — Broadway’s kinkiest drag queen — is taking off the corset and stepping out of those iconic heels. With Billy’s Back on Broadway, the crooner continues to honor his passion for musical theater, taking on songs made popular by some of the most revered legends: Liza Minnelli (“But the World Goes ’Round”), Judy Garland (“Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy”) and Barbra Streisand (“Don’t Rain On My Parade”).

With the Tony Award nominations just out this week, we decided to chat with last year’s toast of B’way. Porter talks with our Chris Azzopardi about his fondness for strong women, how he aspires to be Cyndi Lauper (whom he calls “one of the godmothers of individuality”) and the personal catharsis he’s experienced while transforming into a woman for Kinky Boots.

Dallas Voice: Was winning the Tony for best actor in a musical last year one of those surreal moments where you give your speech, and then walk away and it all becomes a haze and you wonder what the hell you just said?  Billy Porter: No — because I wrote it! I had to write it down. I have amazing people and friends, and my manager of 23 years, Bill Butler, and one of my dear friends Jordan Thaler, both said to me before it happened, “Look, you have a one in five chance of winning. Write something down. Write it down!” And they know I’m not the kind of person who wants to come across as being cocky or anything, so they both were like, “It’s not being cocky; it’s honoring the moment. It’s better to be prepared and to be able to look back at this time and, if it happens, have had said something intelligent.” I said what I wanted to say as opposed to getting up there and fooling around, so I’m glad that they made me write it.

You’re right, though: Some people think it comes off as cocky when people prepare a speech.  And it’s actually really not. Lemme write something down so I don’t look like Boo Boo the Clown up there.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Clay Aiken at Verizon Theatre last night


Last night we ventured out to the Clay Aiken show at Verizon Theatre. To be honest, I am not a big fan of his music, but I’m certainly a fan of him. We had a good interview for this piece in this week’s issue which started endearing me to him, but when he turned on the ‘tude last night and chatted up his elder audience, he had all the makings of a sassy queen. Several precious moments were to be had as he threw people under the bus, made fun of top 40 radio and took delight in the lack of men in the audience — or at least had fun with it when he cited only six men in the front rows.

“Did she drag you here?” he would ask. Pretty great.

My apologies to any people behind me as I tweeted the night away, but hey, I wasn’t holding my phone up videoing the guy. Here are my tweet-thoughts from the evening and current thoughts (in bold) the day after (after the jump) along with my colleague’s take on the evening.

—  Rich Lopez

National spotlight focuses on Burns

As Fort Worth councilman’s staff, volunteers continue to field e-mails, calls from bullied teens seeking help, Dallasites stage a 2nd vigil to remember teen suicide victims


DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

PROUD COUPLE  |  Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, right, and his partner, J.D. Angle, march with the city’s contingent in the Tarrant County Pride Parade earlier this month. Burns has garnered national attention with the “It Gets Better” speech he delivered during the Oct. 12 Fort Worth City Council meeting. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)
PROUD COUPLE | Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, right, and his partner, J.D. Angle, march with the city’s contingent in the Tarrant County Pride Parade earlier this month. Burns has garnered national attention with the “It Gets Better” speech he delivered during the Oct. 12 Fort Worth City Council meeting. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Joel Burns has been a familiar name and face in North Texas since 2007 when he was first elected to the Fort Worth City Council, becoming Cowtown’s first openly gay council member.

But in the last two weeks, thousands have learned Burns’ name and are hailing him as a hero of the LGBT community and the battle against bullying and teen suicide.

Fort Worth City Council’s Oct. 12 meeting started out as usual. But then Burns took his turn during that part of the meeting in which councilmembers routinely offer recognition to individuals and events in their own districts. But this time, Burns took on a national topic.

Struggling to choke back tears until finally giving up and letting the tears run down his face, Burns talked about several teenagers who were LGBT, or at least perceived to be LGBT, who had recently taken their own lives after enduring months, sometimes years, of anti-gay bullying and harassment.

And then the councilman told his own story, how he had himself been bullied as a teen and had contemplated suicide.

By the time he finished, everyone in the Council Chamber had risen to their feet to salute him with applause.

But it didn’t stop there. Burns posted the official  Fort Worth City Council video on YouTube as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign to encourage and reassure LGBT teens — and suddenly, Burns was an Internet sensation.

Newspapers around the world posted the video on their websites and it went viral on YouTube. Before he knew it, Burns was being asked to be on, first local and then national and international news programs, including The Today Show with Matt Lauer. On Wednesday, Oct. 20, Burns was a guest on Ellen DeGeneres’ television talk show.

During an appearance on Ellen, Burns said that the best part of the last two weeks has been the number of teens from around the world who have e-mailed him and contacted him on Facebook.

“The countless number of kids from around the world … who said, ‘I was in a really, really bad place and I was making plans to take my own life,’” he said. “The fact that they have reconsidered — that makes it worth me crying at City Council, the heartache for my mom and dad, worth every bit of all that because they’re still alive.”

While Burns has been traveling coast-to-coast speaking out against bullying on all of the network morning shows in New York, on cable news and on Ellen in Los Angeles, a team of volunteers has been sorting through thousands of messages pouring into his e-mail inbox at Fort Worth City Hall.

By Monday, Oct. 18, more than 20,000 e-mails had arrived after the video had been streamed 1.3 million times. On Thursday, Oct. 21, the number of YouTube hits passed 2 million, and the e-mail and Facebook messages continue to pour in.

The YouTube page has logged more than 27,000 comments.

Actually reaching Burns or his office this week has been almost impossible. His office phone switches to directly to voice mail.

The Fort Worth City Hall media office said they would pass a message to his office to contact Dallas Voice. But spokesman Bill Begley said he’d walk a message down to Burns’ office himself.

Will Trevino in Councilmember Kathleen Hicks’ office said that former staff and volunteers in Burns’ office had been working overtime trying to keep up with the flood of messages.

Remembering the lost ones
Wednesday was Spirit Day, designated to remember young people who have committed suicide as a result of bullying. Many wore purple to show solidarity for efforts to stop the bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the call for an end to bullying by releasing an “It Gets Better” video earlier this week and wearing purple on Spirit Day.

More than 200 people gathered in the Caven parking lot off Cedar Springs Road and held a candlelight vigil marching to the Legacy of Love monument at Oak Lawn Avenue.

Marchers carried purple signs that read “Hope” and “It Gets Better.”

At the monument, organizer Ivan Watson read the names of recent suicide victims and a moment of silence was observed for each one.

Watson said he was inspired to organize the vigil after hearing about Asher Brown, the recent Houston suicide victim.

Organizer Steve Weir of DallasGay-Agenda.com billed the event as a peace march and vigil in memory of those who died and a stand against bullying D/FW area. He said that school policies must change to make schools safe for LGBT youth.

Rafael McDonnell from Resource Center Dallas said he searched bullying policies of school districts across the state and found none that specifically addresses bullying based on sexual orientation. Austin’s comes closest, he said.

McDonnell also said that Philadelphia’s school system passed a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that specifically addresses sexual orientation and sexual identity.

“It’s in Lew Blackburn’s hands,” McDonnell said.

Blackburn is the DISD trustee who has shown the most interest in crafting a policy that will protect LGBT students and those perceived to be.

The “It Gets Better” campaign continues. Randy Potts is the grandson of evangelist Oral Roberts. His uncle was gay and committed suicide. He is recording an “It Gets Better” video this weekend.

To watch video from Wednesday’s vigil, go to DallasVoice.com/videos

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas