100% me

Vocalosity a cappella concert takes cast, audience on a journey back, and a journey forward

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Nicole Weiss, left, tells her personal story as part of the Vocalosity performance.

TAMMY NASH  | Managing Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Even the longest journey starts with a single step. But perhaps, in this case, it’s more appropriate to say, with a single note.

Nicole Weiss and her fellow performers in Vocalosity spent some eight hours on a bus last Wednesday, headed to Greenville, N.C. It was just the latest leg in their journey, which launched in January and will wind up, some two months later, in Galveston, Texas in the first week in March — including a March 2 stop in Dallas for a concert at McFarlin Auditorium on the SMU campus.

“Luckily, we don’t have to perform tonight,” Weiss said in a phone interview from the bus. “Tonight, we get to just go to the hotel and relax.”

Vocalosity is the brainchild of Deke Sharon, vocal producer of the movie Pitch Perfect and musical director of the TV show The Sing-Off. The idea of the all-a cappella show is to put together 12 “all-star singers” into a group with would “go into people’s home towns, to sing and connect with people, to feel that joy of music and to inspire them to bring music back into their own lives.”

It was a concept that resonated deeply with Weiss.

Weiss is one of several — how to put it? — non-straight performers in the Vocalosity cast. She describes herself as “queer, bisexual, pansexual — any of the above,” and says that coming to terms with her identity has played a big role in her own journey.

Weiss says that when she first heard about Vocalosity and heard the names of Sharon and others who were involved in its creation, she knew right away she wanted to be a part of it. “I personally went to the open call in New York Center. I was the first person in line at the open call at 7 a.m., and I made it. That’s pretty rare, as far as my experience goes,” she notes.

The concert covers a “wide range of genres of music,” Weiss says. “But the journey of the show, the music, is so deliberate. Deke’s vision, his life’s work, he would say, is to get people to sing, whether they are singers are not. The point is not just for us to get to sing songs pretty, but to get the average person — someone who might have been told they can’t sing — to sing because they want to.

“There’s so much joy — in singing, in being part of a community that way,” she continues. “And we sing in the show, of course, but there’s also a section of the show where we tell her stories about how music has changed our lives, and made us who we are. We get such incredible feedback from the audience about how inspired they are by our stories.”

Weiss is one of four Vocalosity cast members who tell their stories during the show. Her story, she says, begins when she was born.

“I exited the womb singing, really,” she laughs. “I was always really confident about it. I sang all the time.”

And then came that one vocal teacher who “was not the kind of supportive person I needed, and I kind of shut down. Because of that, I started having a lot of insecurities around singing. And that bled into the rest of my life,” Weiss says. “I was afraid to be who I was. I so desperately wanted to fit in.”

And then came high school, and a show choir director who “was so kind to me, and who took me under his wing. He told me to sing like me, to be myself and to celebrate who I am.”

That choir director, she said, had her sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in a competition, and now, she gets to sing that same song at the end of her monologue in each performance of Vocalosity. And she gets to her from audience members who connect with her story and are empowered by it.

“When I was a teenager, I was bullied. I was made to feel I wasn’t enough,” she says. “So when I hear people who are like me, who went through those same things, telling me that hearing me tell my story inspires them to be themselves and live their lives — I can’t describe the feeling that gives me.”

While Weiss’s monologue in the show doesn’t reference her sexual orientation — another cast member does talk about being a gay man — that is a big part of her personal journey as well, she says.

“It’s just been in the past few years that I’ve really been able to own it,” she says of her sexual orientation and her identity as bi/pansexual. “I am really passionate now about having those conversations with people. There’s really a lot of bi-phobia out there. You’d think someone who is gay themselves would automatically understand. But it’s not that simple.”

Weiss says her personal journey helped her land her role in the musical journey that is Vocalosity. “I am who I am, and I am proud of that,” she declares. “There has definitely been a shift in the last few years in my confidence and I think that came through in my audition. I went into it with the mindset that I was going to be 100 percent myself, and if that was what they wanted then good. And if it wasn’t, I was going to be ok with that, too.”

“As it turned out, that’s what they wanted. They wanted people who were 100 percent themselves, people who would be that, own it.”

Weiss says that she hopes the Vocalosity concert — and the journey it represents — helps those who come to see it take the next steps in their own journeys, too. “I hope people leave wanting to go sing, feeling like they can go sing and do whatever else they want to do. I hope they leave knowing that they can go be themselves and that being themselves will make them the most successful person they can be.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 26, 2016.

—  Tammye Nash

UNT needs bisexual and/or transgender research participants

UNTThe University of North Texas Center for Psychosocial Health Research will soon complete its research study investigating quality of life and wellbeing among LGBT folks over 50.

The study is intended to advance research on health, social support and emotional happiness of the aging LGBT community (50+ years), an under-represented group in current research. Bisexual and/or transgender participants are needed. They already reached their goal for gay and lesbian participants.

The UNT research team seeks to identify needs for the community in the areas of mental health, healthcare, social services and legislation. All information collected is kept strictly confidential, and the results of the study are only published/presented in aggregate.

Participants in the study meet with research assistants from UNT’s Center for Psychosocial Health Research in public places appropriate for the task that are geographically convenient to participants.

You don’t have to go up to Denton to participate. Resource Center is providing use of their meeting rooms to conduct surveys, but researchers will are happy to meet you anywhere in the metroplex. Surveys are conducted in person on a laptop (provided), which usually takes about 2 hours complete. All participants receive a $25 cash incentive for their participation.

If you would like to help advance this important research, please contact: Center for Psychosocial Health Research, University of North Texas by email or call 214-699-7146.

—  David Taffet

HERO opponents air first ad, citing trans bathroom panic

Anti-HERO groups anti trans ad

A campaign image released by opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance reveals the group’s strategy for successful repeal.

Opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance aired their first radio ad yesterday, the first of what they promise to be a barrage of ads ahead of the Nov. 3 ballot referendum that will decide the ordinance’s fate.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Campaign for Houston‘s one-minute ad features a young woman concerned for her safety. She wants to get pregnant, she says, but is afraid because the ordinance “will allow men to freely go into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.

“That is filthy, that is disgusting and that is unsafe,” she states.

The nondiscrimination ordinance, which passed city council last year and has been mired in legal battles initiated by opponents since, includes protections for LGBT people, as well as other federally protected classes including sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, family, marital or military status. Violators could be fined up to $5,000.

Opponents, including conservative Christian leaders, immediately gathered signatures for a ballot referendum. The city ultimately threw the petitions out, but opponents scored a victory earlier this month when the Texas Supreme Court forced the council to either repeal the ordinance or put it before voters on the Nov. 3 ballot.

City council members voted to put it before the voters on 12-5 vote.

Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Houston Unites, which supports the ordinance, blasted the ad in a statement.

“The ad is grossly inaccurate. Nothing in the equal rights ordinance changes the fact that it is — and always will be — illegal to enter a restroom to harm or harass other people. The ad leaves out the fact that the law protects tens of thousands of Houstonians from job discrimination based upon their race, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability,” he said.

Houston Unites also plans to also broadcast media in support of the ordinance. But the campaign has not made any media buys yet, he told the Chronicle.

—  James Russell

Pro wrestler ‘Money’ Matt Cage comes out

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Matt “Money Matt Cage” Hullum: Out and proud

“This one is gonna be kinda long and kinda personal and very real.”

That’s how pro wrestler “Money” Matt Cage started off a recent post, titled “Here goes nothing …” on his Facebook page.

The wrestler, whose real name in Matt Hullum, goes on to talk about how rejection has always been one of his biggest fears, but that he has grown older and matured “I have discovered I truly don’t care as much about rejection anymore.” And knowing that his family and friends will love him “flaws and all” and that his peers respect him for his work, Hullum said he was ready to put aside all deception and be honest about himself:

“That being said,” he wrote, “it makes it much easier to post here publicly that I’m gay.”

Hullum lives in La Salle, Ill., and makes a living traveling the indie pro wrestling circuit. He told Outsports that he chose to share his story in hopes that it would inspire and motivate others.

Hullum wrote on Facebook that for a long time he claimed to be bisexual, and while he still thinks women are beautiful, “I have no real intentions of pursuing females at this stage of my life. … I don’t think that’ll ever change. But I think that to continue to claim something that’s not true is just continuing a streak of dishonesty, and I don’t want that. Sorry, ladies. I’m officially pulling myself off the market. Don’t hate me too bad.”

Although he believes that “private matters should stay just that,” Hullum acknowledged that the “constant speculation and discussion” about his orientation was beginning to wear on him, causing him stress and prompting bouts of depression.

“I spent the majority of my life lying, hiding and depressed because I felt like I couldn’t truly be who I wanted to be and live freely as I saw fit,” Hullum wrote. “I had to act and that’s not me. I, nor anyone else, should have to do that.”

In the wrestling ring, Hullum said, he has always conducted himself in a professional manner and will continue to do so. He said he doesn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable and doesn’t believe he has done anything so far that would do that.

“Hopefully nothing changes, but if any relationships change from this post, I’ll know that I didn’t need those people in my life anyway,” he said. “I hope that the fans, the promoters and everyone else don’t change their opinions of me. I was the same person yesterday as I am right now, just now, I have a bit more weight lifted off of my shoulders.

“The stress, depression and worrying that has always come from this is something nobody should have to deal with. Depression is a very real thing, and some people don’t understand that. People often times cannot empathize. But know this: we are all human beings. We all have our own way, traits, personalities and things that make us our own person. Keep that in mind.”

Hullum ended by thanking his supporters and “those who have my back,” and by apologizing to “anyone I lied to or had to keep this secret from.”

He concluded, “To anyone who has ever been scared of just being real and telling the truth, you shouldn’t be. Yes, I was. But if the people you care about, or even those you don’t, are good people, it won’t matter … the way it SHOULD be.”

Outsports notes that response so far on Facebook, including from Hullum’s fellow wrestlers, has been positive and supportive.

—  Tammye Nash

‘A landmark moment’ for trans Americans, but there’s so far left to go

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President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama made history Tuesday night (Jan. 20), when he actually said the words “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “transgender” during the his State of the Union speech. It was the first time those words had ever been uttered in a SOTU address.

President Obama said: “As Americans, we respect human dignity. … That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they are the right thing to do, but because ultimately they will make us safer.”

It was, I think, an especially sweet moment for the thousands and thousands of transgender Americans. We are making progress toward full equality every day, but still, our trans brothers and sisters are the ones still being left behind. So hearing the president of the United States truly acknowledge them had to be a great moment.

The press releases and written statements I found flooding my email inbox this morning reinforced what I already believed:

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said: “What President Obama said about trans people last night … he actually said it. …. His mention of us [last night] let’s us know that whenever he’s spoken of children, he has meant transgender children too. Or when he’s spoken out about immigrants, he’s meant transgender immigrants too. And when he’s talked about service members and veterans, he meant transgender service members too.”

A statement from the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund called the mention “a landmark moment,” adding: “This is a moment of promise for transgender people, who before now, had never been mentioned in a State of the Union address. We are grateful to President Obama for including our entire community in his speech, and for highlighting and condemning the persecution of LGBT people. Through his stirring and heartfelt words, the president has again demonstrated his commitment to creating a world where people are treated equally regardless of who we are or who we love.”

As uplifting and empowering as that moment was, though, my email inbox also provided ample proof that we still have a very long way to go, especially in protecting transgender Americans — their rights, their freedoms and their very lives.

A press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights notes that NCLR and the Human Rights Campaign on Tuesday filed a joint friend of the court brief in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, supporting a former Saks Fifth Avenue employee, Leyth Jamal, who says the company discriminated against her because she is trans.

Saks attorneys have asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers.

I also had an email from a group called Care2, “a community of 27 million standing together for good,” taking to task InTouch Weekly for its horrendous cover story speculating on the gender identity of Olympic champion Bruce Jenner.

I saw that cover while standing in the check-out line at the grocery store; it made me sick, and it made me angry. It depicts a heavily altered photo of Jenner to show what he would look like as a woman. I didn’t read the article — although Care2’s statement says it was full of speculation and nothing else. Us Magazine reports Jenner himself is “upset” with the cover and story.

According to the press release, there is a new Care2 petition by Julie Mastrine demanding that “David Perel, editorial director of InTouch Weekly, be more sensitive to the struggles that actual transgender people face and refrain from gossipy speculation about someone’s gender identity.”

Mastrine said: “Publicly speculating as to whether or not someone will be coming out as transgender illustrates a flippant lack of empathy toward people who actually struggle with making a gender transition. It robs Jenner of his right to identify as he wishes.”

BuzzFeed says the magazine likely imposed Jenner’s face over British actress Stephanie Beacham’s body, and even comedian/actor Russell Brand condemned InTouch, calling it “bullying.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Obama uses ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ ‘transgender’ in SOTU for the first time ever

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President Barack Obama

Tonight wasn’t the first time that President Barack Obama has mentioned LGBT rights in his State of the Union Address; last year he took a brief moment to reiterate his commitment to LGBT rights around the world. He was the first to use the word “gay” in a State of the Union Address in 2010 when he talked about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

But the 2015 State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, Jan. 20 did mark an historic event for the LGBT community: For the first time ever in a State of the Union Address, a U.S. president used the words “bisexual” and “transgender.” UPDATE: I just discovered this is apparently the first time the word “lesbian” has been used in a State of the Union speech, too.

The historic moment came near the end of the president’s speech, when he said that Americans “condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

The president on Tuesday also called the ongoing battle for marriage equality “a story of freedom across our country” and “a civil right.” And he said that Americans now “value the dignity and worth” of gay people.

—  Tammye Nash

PHOTOS: Creating Change 2014 in Houston

Nona Hendryx performs Sunday at Creating Change in Houston. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Nona Hendryx performs Sunday at Creating Change in Houston. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

 HOUSTON — Thousands of LGBT advocates departed from Houston Sunday as the 26th annual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change came to a close.

The annual five-day conference set records for the amount of attendees and workshops in its first year in Houston. And the inspiration of the weekend was all around during the conference, from Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s welcome to trans actress Laverne Cox’s keynote speech and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey’s State of the Movement address. (If you missed any of the speeches, you can watch them here.)

And, like any celebration in the LGBT community, it ended with a bang as bisexual singer Nona Hendryx rocked out on stage on Sunday after brunch.

More photos below.

—  Dallasvoice

Octogenarian Paul Taylor, still at it

Paul Taylor photo by Maxine HicksLegendary choreographer Paul Taylor is still going strong. The bisexual dance maven is 82, and has two eponymous companies, one of which comes into the Eisemann Center this weekend for the first time in more than two years.

When his company was last in town in 2010, I spoke with Taylor. You can read that interview here. And you should try to see the performance on Saturday, just to experience the legend while you still can.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Music mogul Clive Davis comes out

Clive_DavisYou know Clive Davis by name, if not face: Half of all Grammy winners and American Idol finalists seem to mention him. Not surprising — the music mogul has been a force for almost 50 years, variously leading Arista, Sony and RCA music groups, and discovering or nurturing such groups as Santana, Jennifer Hudson, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys and countless more.

Yesterday, Davis came out as bisexual on The Katie Couric Show, while promoting his new autobiography. Now, no one in the music business who admits to dabbling with same-sex sex surprises me, even though Davis was married twice for nearly 30 years total. But I’m not sure “bisexual” is the correct word for it — in his book, he admits to having been in a relationship with a man since 2004 … and that follows a relationship with another man for 14 years before that. By my count, that’s the last 23 years of the 80-year-old’s life with guys. That’s longer than me.

Anyway, call it what you like, I say mazel tov! Your toaster oven is on the way, Clive.

You can watch a clip from the show here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Azealia Banks’ “Liquorice”

Bixexual hip-hopster Azealia Banks is some kinda hot in her latest video release “Liquorice,” from her EP 1991. I’m not sure anyone else has made a hot dog or bomb pop look more sexy. Her raps go a pretty fast so you may not catch everything, but for the record, there is some explicit language in case that’s not your kind of thing. But otherwise, she’s winning in this kick ass track.

Watch “Liquorice” after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez