June is Pride Month.
As an adolescent, Anita Berber was enrolled in traditional ballet classes in her native Berlin. She also learned acrobatics and gymnastics at the behest of her grandmother, by whom she was raised.
Before the age of 20, Anita was performing regularly in Berlin’s burgeoning cabaret scene, often dancing nude. She favored the color red and displayed a particularly bright shade in her hair, which became her trademark. Through social circles, she met and married a wealthy screenwriter only to divorce him when she fell in love with Susi Wanowski, a bar owner who became Anita’s manager and lover. Around this time, Anita was cast in the film Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others). Starring Conrad Veidt, just one year before his star-making turn in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Anders als die Andern is acknowledged as the first pro-gay film in history. Though popular in its time, it was later banned by the Nazis.
Anita was a constant subject of controversy in the German press. Her openly defiant bisexuality and gender-bending performances were shocking to the post-World War I public. She had a brief affair with a young Marlene Dietrich and it is speculated that Dietrich’s androgynous look in the 1930 film Morocco was inspired by Anita.
In 1922, Anita married fellow dancer Sebastian Droste. The couple toured in a decidedly risqué revue called Dances of Vice, Horror and Ecstasy. Performed under the influence of drugs and alcohol, the show was a point of public outrage. Anita was jailed for several weeks after her nude dancing offended the visiting King of Yugoslavia. Anita took her incarceration in stride, continuing to go out in public in a sable coat — with nothing on underneath. Droste left Anita, stealing her furs and jewels when he did. Unfettered, Anita moved on, coming to the United States and marrying another dancer just two weeks after meeting him.
In 1928, Anita collapsed on stage during a performance in Beirut. Within a few months, she died from tuberculosis, most likely brought on by years of substance abuse. She was 29 years old. Looking back on her storied career, she may have invented the concept of “performance artist” before the term existed.
In an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, broadcast on November 24, 1973, the perennially-arrogant and equally-dimwitted WJM news anchor “Ted Baxter” listed Kaboom and Cocoa Puffs as his favorite cereal.
I remember eating (and liking) Kaboom, as well… but I was a child.
June is Pride Month.
Charles Silverstein was a respected author, lecturer and psychologist. In 1973, his presentation before the American Psychiatric Association led to the declassification and eventual removal of homosexuality as a mental illness from the organization’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
In 1977, he and writer Edmund White, co-authored the groundbreaking The Joy of Gay Sex. They set out to create a book, not so much about sex, but more about community and relationships. Their goal was to write a book that they would have appreciated as adolescents. They succeeded, as The Joy of Gay Sex has had worldwide popularity and distribution. It has been translated into five languages.
Charles was the founding director of the Institute for Human Identity and Identity House in New York City. He became a member of the American Psychiatric Association, eventually being named a fellow in 1987.
He passed away in January of 2023 at the age of 87.
June is Pride Month.
Leelah Alcorn just wanted to be happy.
At 14, Leelah came out to her parent as transgender. Doug and Carla Alcorn, devout followers of the Church of Christ, were mortified. They refused to accept Leelah’s identity. Leelah pressed and stood firm, despite her parent’s denial. At 16, instead of supporting Leelah’s request for transition treatment, they enrolled her in their church’s conversion therapy program. They exacerbated the situation by removing her from public school and revoking her social media privileges. Leelah grew more alienated and lonely. She grew more frustrated with her parents as well as her own dead-end future.
Leelah was enrolled in an online school and at the end of the semester, her parents returned her cellphone. Leelah tried to rekindle friendships, but she found the task difficult. She took to Reddit to vent about her parents’ mental abuse. She explained that they spoke to her in a mocking tone, telling her things like: “You’ll never be a real girl!” and “God hates you and you don’t deserve to be alive.”
Just after Christmas 2014, Leelah used Tumblr’s timing option to publish a suicide note that would automatically “go live” just after Leelah’s plans to take her own life had transpired. She left her house with her computer and began to walk along Interstate 71 in Union Township, Ohio. At 2:30 in the morning, Leelah was stuck and killed by a semi-tractor-trailer, fulfilling her plan of suicide by vehicle.
In the wake of Leelah’s death, her parent’s public statement referred to Leelah by her dead name. They also campaigned to have her suicide note on Tumblr deleted, a request which was granted.
A petition bearing the name “Leelah’s Law,” was created in an effort to ban conversion therapy. By 2018, four cities in Ohio had passed the law, prompting one journalist to write: “the Buckeye State has become an unlikely leader in banning conversion therapy at the local level.”
This is Sabrina Ellis.
Sabrina is a ridiculously talented singer-songwriter-musician-dancer-performer from Austin, Texas. They are the singer for several bands, including Sweet Spirit and A Giant Dog. While performing with their bands, they are a bundle of pure energy. Jumping, dancing, twirling, singing, writhing — non-stop!
The first time I saw A Giant Dog was at a small club in Philadelphia. My son introduced me to Sabrina and they were kind enough to put me on the guest list for the show. Every time I saw Sabrina after that, they were sweet and friendly and even a little shy… in direct contrast to their on-stage persona.
Sabrina was the last person I hugged in public prior to the world shutting down for the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is Sabrina Ellis. And they’ve got the power.
June is Pride Month.
How could you not love Leslie Jordan?
He was a versatile actor, singer, writer, comedian… a jack of all trades. In reality, Leslie Jordan essentially portrayed one character and that character was Leslie Jordan. As an actor, he made guest appearances in a number of television series, stealing every scene with his trademark genial, folksy manner and his soft Southern drawl. He had a recurring role on the sitcom Will and Grace, as well as being a regular cast member on Hearts Afire and more recently Call Me Kat. He brought his character to both comedy and drama, proving that he was adept at both. He was awarded an Emmy in 2006 for his guest role on Will and Grace.
Displaying his musical prowess, Leslie released a gospel album in 2021. During the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, Leslie took to Instagram for regular posts and comedy performances, gaining nearly six million followers.
In addition to his stage and screen appearances, Leslie was a vocal and active advocate for LGBTQ rights, working with AIDS Project Los Angeles and even handling duties as a food deliveryman for Project Angel Food.
In late October 2022, Leslie was driving to a morning of filming for Call Me Kat, when he suffered a “sudden cardiac dysfunction.” He drove his car into a building on Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Leslie was 67. A one-time drug and alcohol abuser, Leslie was proudly sober for over two decades at the time of his death.
June is Pride Month.
Arizona-born Sue Hardesty began her budding writing career as an editor, refining books for other authors. She collaborated on her first book, a collection of recipes, punctuated by commentary on gender roles and identity, entitled The Butch Cook Book. The book was likened to the old-fashioned church-issued cookbooks, but for a new and decidedly different audience.
Sue published her first novel, The Truck Comes on Thursday: Book 1 in the Loni Wagner Crime Fiction Series in 2008. Primarily a crime novel, it was filled with plot twists, as well as romantic scenarios. The book proved so popular, it received two additional reprints. She ventured into the niche genre of Lesbian Young Adult with Panic in 2013, before returning to the “Loni Wagner” series for two more books.
Sue continued to serve as a book reviewer and critic for her fellow lesbian authors until her passing in December 2022 at the age of 89.