A Tale of Two Gingers: How Jesse Tyler Ferguson stole my spotlight (but later melted my heart)

Just in time for Thanksgiving, here’s a remembrance by one of our contributors about his connection to recent Black Tie Dinner honoree Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Enjoy!

By Jef Tingley

Two looks for BTD: JTF, above, and JT, right.

Long before he was charming his way into living rooms nationwide as gay dad Mitchell Pritchett on Modern Family or originating the role of Leaf Coneybear in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Jesse Tyler Ferguson was cast as something else: My unwitting nemesis. See, Ferguson and I both grew up in Albuquerque, N.M. We were just your typical, fair skinned, sassy, red-headed boys pining away our post-pubescent years singing along to show tunes and dreaming of life on the Broadway stage.

Although we were the same age, we went to different schools so our paths didn’t officially cross until a fateful early 1990s production of the musical Peter Pan at the Albuquerque Civic Light Opera. (Fun fact: the ‘88 production of the show included our fellow gay New Mexican, Neil Patrick Harris, as John.) While Ferguson was cast as a pirate and other miscellaneous roles, I had a much more important, yet far less stripy-sock-wearing, job: Assistant stage manager. Truth be told, my heart ached that it was my Doppelganger who got to bask in the warmth of the spotlight on the very obscure, Day-Glo Neverland set complete with a neon-green pirate ship and fluorescent-orange Jolly Roger flag (it was the ‘90s, after all).

The show itself was haunted and filled with mishaps. The woman playing Peter Pan was stricken with laryngitis. After emergency rehearsals (arranged by a certain trusty assistant stage manager), Tiger Lily stepped into the lead role only to have the power go out in the middle of her very first performance, leaving the audience full of children in pitch black, screaming in horror. But the true tragedy of the show came during a cast and crew “lottery” where a few lucky Thespians were selected via name-draw to experience the thrill of being hoisted into the air and flying on stage just like Peter Pan. My name was chosen, but when it came time to suit up I was too big for the lithe flight harness. To my horror, Jesse’s name was called next and within minutes his slender frame was soaring in the air — a real-life Tinker Bell.

Peter Pan eventually ended, and so did my one-sided rivalry with JTF. Sure, I would see him perform musical medleys with jazz hands and sparkly vests as one of the entertainers at the local (albeit creepily named) amusement park, Uncle Cliff’s, but I figured that was his crowning glory on the road to fame. Meanwhile, I dabbled in acting and even worked seasonally renting Halloween costumes for the Civic Light Opera. But little by little, theater eventually became just a hobby and not a career.

A few years later, I was attending college in New York. While thumbing through Time Out magazine one day, I saw a site that’s still etched on my retinas. It was none other than carrot topped Jesse clad in a sailor suit and “shuffling off to Buffalo” next to lesbian chanteuse Lea DeLaria in a revival of On The Town. It was official: He was on Broadway, and I was twenty-something undetermined major. I had lost the battle and the war.

As time went on, I continued to Google-stalked Jesse. While one part of me cheered on his continued successes on stage and screen, another less admirable part of me wanted to pull a Jennifer Jason Leigh a la Single White Female and just steal his life. Jerrett, my partner of 13 years and also an Albuquerque native, can almost repeat verbatim my diatribe whenever someone would mention “that red-headed guy from Modern Family” and “Albuquerque” in the same sentence.

You can imagine my reaction when I found out the Ferguson would be coming to Dallas for Black Tie Dinner to receive an award. Clearly it was just his way of reminding me who really wore the Tinker Bell harness. To add insult to conspiracy, I had also opted to wear a freshly tailored vintage brocade-silk jacket to the event that had sat in my closet for years after being procured from either my high school drama department or my stint renting Halloween costumes. What are the odds? Even my clothing was teen angst!

When Ferguson took the stage, I was prepared for him to be pompous and arrogant. I expected a narcissist who would bore us for hours with stories of self-grandeur and unnecessary name-dropping as he described being Albuquerque’s first-and-only, ginger celeb. Instead, he was charming, funny, cute and humble telling stories about being embarrassed when the staff of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour in N.M. would sing to you on your birthday (another childhood memory we both shared).

In a moment of catharsis, I realized something very important: I was no longer green with envy about JTF, I was orange with pride. Sure, maybe it wasn’t me standing on that stage but I was sitting in the room surrounded by people I love as a crowd of 3,000 cheered on a ginger from the Land of Enchantment for breaking down barriers and making same-sex couples part of the social norm. I’m not even sure if Jesse remembers me, or my one-sided jealousy, but as it turns out it doesn’t matter. In our own special way, we’ve each been given our own chance to fly.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Putting the final touches on Black Tie

Co-chairs hoping for banner year as fundraiser marks its 30th year

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
With two weeks left to go before the annual Black Tie Dinner, organizers are busy putting the finishing touches on what BTD Co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis said this week will be one of the most outstanding events in the dinner’s 30-year history.

“We have a particularly good line up for the dinner this year,” Arnold said. “We are absolutely thrilled to have Marlee Matlin as our keynote speaker this year. And we have an emcee — Caroline Rhea — this year for the first time. I am sure our patrons will be glad they don’t have to listen to me and Chris all night!”

Award-winning actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of television’s Modern Family will be on hand to accept the 2011 Media Award, and singer Taylor Dayne will provide entertainment.

Gay Marine veteran Eric Alva, the first U.S. serviceman injured in the war in Iraq, will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award, and partners Chet Flake and the late Bud Knight will receive the Kuchling Humanitarian Award.

Arnold noted that tables at the dinner sold out in August, “before we even announced that Marlee Matlin would be our guest speaker. We were just ecstatic when we sold out that early. I think that is the earliest date we’ve ever sold out,” Arnold said.

But the co-chairs also pointed out that there is a waiting list available for regular and VIP individual tickets that might become available at the last minute. “Anyone who still wants to buy a ticket can go online to our website, BlackTie.org, and get on the waiting list. Or if you want to talk to someone directly, email Mitzi Lemons at mlemons@blacktie.org,” Kouvelis said.

Arnold added, “We will also accept cash donations from folks who want to support the organization but can’t attend the dinner.”

“Thirty years is a huge milestone, no doubt. But we had a huge retrospective for our 25th anniversary, bringing in past board members and honorees from out of town and looking back at the history of Black Tie, and that wasn’t that long ago,” Arnold said. “So we chose to focus on having a celebration, on looking ahead to 30 more great years. That’s why we chose ‘Shine’ as our theme this year, because we want to shine a light into the future.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Black Tie Dinner sells out

Individual tickets may still be available from beneficiaries

Last year’s Black Tie Dinner chairs Nan Faith Arnold and Ron Guillard

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

All tables for the 30th Black Tie Dinner — scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 12 — have been sold, Black Tie officials announced this week.

A wait list has started should any tables become available, and some tickets may still be available through individuals and beneficiary organizations that have paid for tables but not sold all of the seats.

“We are really thrilled to be more than two months out and already at capacity,” Black Tie Dinner Co-Chair Nan Arnold said this week. “It appears that all of the sponsors, supporters and volunteers — and the [members of the ] board of directors — are more excited than ever. We have an incredible line-up for the evening.”

Stand-up comedian and actress Caroline Rhea will be the emcee for the evening. Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin is the keynote speaker, and Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson will accept the Media Award.

Eric Alva, a gay man who was the first American soldier to be injured in Iraq, will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award. Local activists Chet Flake and his partner, the late Bud Knight, will receive the Ray Kuchling Humanitarian Award.

This year, 18 local organizations and the Human Rights Campaign will benefit from the dinner. Each local beneficiary must have a minimum of five affiliated tables, sell at least 25 raffle tickets and provide at least 50 volunteer hours.

The raffle is for a 2012 Mercedes Benz C300 Sport Coupe.

Since it was founded in 1982, Black Tie Dinner has grown into the largest annual seated dinner in the Southwest and is the largest LGBT fundraiser in the United States.

Black Tie Dinner takes place at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Dallas on Nov. 12. Tickets are $300 per seat. Anyone interested in individual tickets should contact Mitzi Lemons at mlemons@blacktie.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Marlee Matlin to keynote Black Tie Dinner

Eric Alva and Marlee Matlin

Decorated veteran Eric Alva tapped as Birch Award winner; special entertainment still to be announced

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor

Black Tie Dinner co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis this week rounded out their 2011 “dream team” with the announcement that award-winning actress Marlee Matlin will be keynote speaker at the November fundraising event, and that decorated Iraq War veteran Eric Alva will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.

“We are so thrilled to have both of them with us this year,” said Arnold. “This gives us a real ‘dream team’” of honorees and speakers this year.

Black Tie officials announced earlier this year that local activist Chet Flake and his partner, the late Bud Knight, will receive the 2011 Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award, and that Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson will receive the Media Award.

Comedian and Sordid Lives: The Series star Caroline Rhea will be emcee for the event.

Arnold and Kouvelis also hinted that more big announcements are yet to come, thanks to the involvement of dinner sponsor Diamond Jacks Casino and Resort of Shreveport.

“Diamond Jacks has stepped up from their previous Silver Sponsor level to become a Diamond Level sponsor, and that has been a huge deal for us,” Arnold said. “It lets us do even more than before.

“They have been super to work with,” she continued. “Diamond Jack’s played a huge role in helping us secure Marlee Matlin as our speaker, and they are playing a huge role in helping us bring in some other very special entertainment. We hope to be making that announcement soon.”

Matlin in 1986 became the youngest woman — and the only deaf person — ever to receive the Academy Award for best actress when she won the award at age 21 for her role in Children of a Lesser God. She also won a Golden Globe award for that role.

She went on to a successful career in both movies and television, including a role as Bette Porter’s partner, Jodi Lerner, in 29 episodes of Showtime’s lesbian drama The L Word, from 2007 to 2009.

Matlin has also been active in a number of charitable organizations, including Easter Seals, where she was named an honorary board member; the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, VSA arts and the Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet.

She was appointed by President Clinton in 1994 to the Corporation for National Service and served as chair of National Volunteer Week.
Arnold described Matlin as a vocal supporter of LGBT rights.

Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Alva, a San Antonio native, was the first American serviceman injured in the Iraq War, losing his right leg when he stepped on a land mine while leading a supply unit in March 2003.

In 2007, Alva came out publicly as a gay man and has been working with the Human Rights Campaign since then to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which has kept lesbians and gay men from serving openly.

Although Congress voted last December to repeal DADT, the policy has remained in effect while military leaders conducted training to prepare the military for open service by lesbians and gays. The president and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff certified repeal last month, and repeal takes effect, finally, on Sept. 20 — less than a month before Alva will accept the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award in Dallas.

“This is such an exciting time for him,” Kouvelis said of Alva. “He has been working tirelessly since he left the service and came out to get DADT repealed. Now it’s finally happening.

“We are just so thrilled with what he has done for our community, and so thrilled that he will be accepting this award. He is a real hero,” Kouvelis added.

Arnold added that when DADT repeal legislation last December, Alva was “standing there, right behind him, looking over the president’s shoulder as he signed it.” She also said that Alva, who is featured in the current issue of GQ Magazine, was a special guest a previous Black Tie Dinner.

“It is so wonderful to have him back with us, especially at such an exciting time,” Arnold said.

The Black Tie co-chairs this week also offered a preview of some of the items that will be included in the luxury auction at the dinner this year. Auction items include an eight-day trip to Rome and Malta, a complete bathroom remodel, a Scotland wedding package and a Puerto Vallarta vacation.

In addition, raffle tickets are still available, for $100 each, for a chance to win a 2012 Mercedes Benz C300 Sport Coupe, donated by Park Place Motorcars of Dallas. Raffle tickets are available online and from Black Tie board members and beneficiaries.

Sponsorships are still available, but only for a short time more, and table captain table sales are ongoing.

For information on becoming a table captain, email mlemons@blacktie.org. For information on becoming a Black Tie Dinner sponsor, email mmcquown@blacktie.org.

—  John Wright

Could the Emmys have been any gayer?

Jane Lynch

The first half hour of the Emmy Awards on Sunday night were gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. And lesbian.

Ryan Murphy, winner of best director of a comedy, kissed his boyfriend before running up on stage to accept his award.

Jane Lynch, who won best supporting actress in a comedy, kissed her wife and then thanked her on stage.

The controversy about ABC’s gay-friendly comedy “Modern Family” has been when will Cam and Mitchell kiss? They answered that question last night. Erik Stonestreet won best supporting actor in a comedy. He kissed his wife and then kissed his TV husband, Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Neil Patrick Harris won best guest appearance in a comedy by an actor. Golden Girl Betty White won best guest appearance by an actress. Harris thanked the Academy for allowing a gay man to host the show two years in a row. (Harris, who hosted last year, is gay. No one would be surprised if Jimmy Fallon, who hosted this year, came out.)

The show straightened up after the first awards, with a few more gay Emmys through the night. Aaron Paul, who won best supporting actor in a drama for his role in “Breaking Bad,” kissed his partner. The writers for the Tony Awards won best writing for a special and “Modern Family” won best comedy.

—  David Taffet