On Saturday, April 27, just days after Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk testified before Congress about the need for more funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, actress and Creative Coalition member Sharon Stone was making the rounds at the White House Correspondents’ gala sharing how profoundly arts education had impacted her life as a child. At the same time in West Hollywood, the Lambda Literary Foundation was honoring the lifetime achievement of five Los Angeles-based LGBT literary pioneers whose work and personal authenticity not only impacted but may well have saved millions of lives.
The Lambda Literary Foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary with an historic OUTWRITE! event at the West Hollywood Public Library honoring author Rev. Malcolm Boyd, historian and professor Lillian Faderman, novelist Katherine V. Forrest, author and professor John Rechy and author and columnist Patricia Nell Warren. The well-produced event featured presenters who cited personal experiences about the honorees, followed by either a reading or song or film clip to underscore how indelible their artistic contributions have been on the consciousness of LGBT America at a time when telling their truth was desperately needed and dangerous.
Lambda Literary Executive Director Tony Valenzuela, OUTWRITE! Co-Chair Terry DeCrescenzo and newly installed West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land, who is also the CEO of the Trevor Project, welcomed the audience. “A lot of LGBT youth don’t always see pioneers,” Land said, thanking the honorees for “nurturing the new pioneers” and inspiring them to “pick up a pen or type on the computer – whatever they do now. Thank you.”
The pioneers sat back and let the historic night of tributes wash over them, wave upon powerful wave recalling the work and the necessity of self-expression, despite the cost. Trans artist Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, who was nominated for a 2007 Tony Award and is the author of the Lambda Literary Award winning memoir TANGO: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels, kicked off the event with an acapella performance and reading.
The Rt. Rev. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, then took the podium and shared how Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd, author of more than 30 books – including Are You Running With Me Jesus – had transformed his life. Bruno has known Boyd since he was 17 – he’s now coming on 67 as Boyd marks his 90th birthday this June. “He taught me to be free,” Bruno said, and how to love people “until they were transformed….I could look at and through him to see the power of God.” Bruno said that he and his diocese of 70,000 “give thanks to Malcolm Boyd.”
Asked about the apparent impending split between the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church that seems to be more and more dominated by antigay conservatives since Bishop Gene Robinson came out and Bruno officially blessed the union of Boyd and author/therapist Mark Thompson in 2004, Bruno said, “We’ve had a split” and all the people who support bigotry “went away.” What had once been considered a disaster has proven just the opposite. “We have a stronger quality of life together,” he said, adding that the experience prompted people to become more inclusive and to open up to each other, “to hold our hearts in our hands and share them with the world.”
After Bruno’s tribute, a clip was shown from filmmaker Andrew Thomas’ upcoming documentary on Boyd’s life – Disturber of the Peace. In it Boyd is shown participating in the Bus Boycott during the civil rights marches and at a Jazz Mass in 1965. NBC News correspondent asks him: “Why did you have to announce (that you are gay) in the newspaper?” Boyd replies: “Where else are you going to announce it?” The audience cracked up when Boyd was at the Playboy Mansion and Hugh Hefner pulled out a copy of “Are You Running With Me, Jesus?” from his library.
Multimedia performing artist Jason Jenn then sang an acapella original song taken from Are You Running With Me, Jesus?
Lambda Literary Award winner and USC professor Chris Freeman cracked up the audience noting that distinguished scholar Lillian Faderman was once a “pin up girl.” Reading from Faderman’s Naked in the Promised Land: A Memoir, he noted how she studied the works of Sappho and Virginia Woolfe looking for literature “that would help explain me to myself.” Freeman also cited her more recent work, Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, And Lipstick Lesbians, co-authored with Stuart Timmons. “Lillian thinks big. She asks important questions,” Freeman said.
But in the most moving segment of the evening, Freeman talked about Faderman’s Scotch Verdict : Miss Pirie and Miss Woods v. Dame Cumming Gordon – her personal investigation into the lives of the real life teachers whose story became the basis for the famous Lillian Hellman 1934 play, The Children’s Hour. “They were teachers, as I am,” Faderman said. A clip from the famous 1961 film was shown – the section in which a desperate and anguished Shirley MacLaine confesses to Audrey Hepburn that she’s “guilty” of the kind of despicable love they’ve been accused of. “One night a little girl gets bored and lies” – and there it is. “I swear, I didn’t know!” says MacLaine. The last shot shows a horrified Hepburn discovering MacLaine hanging from a beam in her room.
While the film clip reminded the audience of the profoundly painful past when lesbian love was perverted, the extraordinary performance by the Red Car Trolley quartet (with William V. Malpede on piano) brought the issue home – LGBT kids are still hanging themselves today – with the song “Don’t give up on yourself….because you are loved.”
Longtime LGBT and feminist organizer Torie Osborn, a deputy mayor for LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, shifted the mood with her energetic appreciation for author Katherine V. Forrest. “She changed my life forever,” said Osborn, noting that she’s a voracious reader with a lifelong addiction to mysteries. “And then along came Kate Delafield, the first lesbian detective” who seemed like a “real person…solving problems and struggling with life,” especially as a lesbian homicide detective in the LAPD with an erotic love life in the 1970s. “Kate made my life whole,” Osborn said.
Osborn also noted that Forrest has written about “the LGBT riots of 1991” in which she wrote sympathetically about Queer Nation. “It’s our life,” Osborn said,” the backdrop of how the movement has struggled.” Forrest is also “one of the most generous people on the planet” in helping and nurturing other writers, Osborn added.
Forrest was treated to a reading by East L.A. performance artist Pat Alderete about “the perfect woman cop…Everyone can respect my work and still be contemptuous.”
A very pregnant Pixie Revolution sang “Love Shines:” “When we open our minds, live shines on the other side.”
An In Memoriam video – with William V. Malpede on piano – celebrated West Coast Pioneers Paula Gunn Allen, Betty Berzon, Tee Corinne (a cover of her “Cunt Color Book” got a big laugh), Joseph Hansen, Gerald Heard, Christopher Isherwoood, Jim Kepner, Dan Luckenbill, Del Martin, Paul Monetter, James Carroll Pickett and Jean Swallow.
Joseph R. Hawkins, President of the ONE Archives Board of Directors and lecturer at USC, came to the podium next to appreciate John Rechy, a “titan” in literature (Rechy is an NEA Fellow) “who forged a new path forward for writers.” In his 1963 novel City of Night and in the 1977 non-fiction The Sexual Outlaw, in particular, Rechy “wrote with courage about an unseen forbidden world” inviting the reader on a “journey of discovery filled with empathy, honesty, humor and courage.” Rechy influenced other artists in other genres – including singer Jim Morrison, director Gus Van Sant, and painter David Hockney.
Rechy smiled broadly listening to performers Ian MacKinnon and Michael Kearns read from his work, especially as Kearns added some humorous flare as the protagonist in The Sexual Outlaw attempted some self-reflection: He was “convinced that through sheer determination, he’ll never age.”
Viva Vinson was equally dramatic singing “Love for Sale.” Apparently Vinson was trained in the art of performance at the age of seven by world-famous drag queens Divine and Sylvester, who shared the stage with her mother.
Writer, filmmaker Gregory Hinton, who curates an educational series “Out West,” said he and Patricia Nell Warren “have the same mother – Montana.” They met in July, 2009 at the Museum of the American West when The Autry National Center installed the iconic intertwined shirts from Brokeback Mountain. “Many of us have scarificed in telling the stories of our lives,” Hinton said, noting that Warren, now 75, had to sell her home and move to Glendale – but she kept her imprint Wild Cat Press. “Thank you for changing my life with The Front Runner,” he said, noting how the book that has inspired so many around the world.
Ryland Shelton read excerpts from The Front Runner. “ I don’t dance….”, Shelton said coming to the podium. Martin Matamoros closed the appreciation of Patricia Nell Warren with the song, “What I Did For Love,” leaving many in tears as event Co-Chair Mark Thompson closed out the night.
“I didn’t make it to the end without crying,” Malcolm Boyd said afterwards. “I did do everything for love. We went through a lot of unnecessary hell – but we grew through that suffering. I’m very grateful for it all. And tonight there was absolutely incredible diversity. We are, indeed, all under one roof and we’re letting a lot of healing happen. Tonight was a spiritual experience.”
From The Lambda Literary Foundation press release:
The five legendary authors being honored are:
Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd – memoirist, essayist and editor has charted his life in over 30 works, coming out as a gay man in light of his religious beliefs and work as a priest after a career in Hollywood. His works have shed light on the search for religious meaning by gay men, both his contemporaries and those who have come after. He is also known as an activist in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 1960′s. Boyd will observe his 90th birthday in June.
Lillian Faderman- a scholar whose works on lesbian history have won numerous awards. She is best known for her works, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America (1991) and Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present (1981). Faderman has held professorships at Cal State Fresno and UCLA, following her education at UC Berkley and UCLA.
Katherine V. Forrest – novelist and editor, best known for her popular Kate Delafield mysteries and her Daughters of a Coral Dawn series of novels, as well as her tireless work at Naiad Press as an editor of lesbian fiction anthologies. Forrest is currently acquisitions editor at Spinsters Ink and supervising editor at Bella Books. Forrest is also President Emeritus of the Lambda Literary Foundation.
John Rechy – groundbreaking gay fiction author and award-winning memoirist and playwright. Best known for his novel City of Night and the non-fiction book, The Sexual Outlaw, Rechy has received much acclaim for his work, and has lectured widely in addition to teaching at the graduate writing program at USC. Rechy is generally acknowledged as one of the LGBT community’s most famous and important authors.
Patricia Nell Warren – prodigious author, activist and journalist, known best for her novels The Front Runner, The Fancy Dancer and The Beauty Queen, the first of which inspired the gay and lesbian running clubs entitled FrontRunners across the nation. Warren has served as a constant inspiration to generations of LGBT writers.
Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, The Lambda Literary Foundation nurtures, celebrates and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility and encourage development of emerging writers. Learn more by visiting www.lambdaliterary.org.
Proceeds benefit the Foundation’s work which includes its annual summer Emerging Writers Retreat for aspiring young LGBT writers.