For Laughter

Today I am thankful for laughter.

A few days ago a friend of mine and I were discussing my Thanksgiving trip home to Michigan and he asked me to relay a message to my mom on his behalf. "Tell your mom I read her blog every day," he said. "And that I like it when she says fuck."

I delivered my friend's message when I arrived home earlier this week and my mom smiled and rolled her eyes, somewhat amused, I suspect, at the thought of a complete stranger quoting an early post, but also a little bit embarrassed about having an f-bomb on record in what has become such an oft-visited diary bearing her name.

"Tell him I said thank you for reading," she said sincerely.

The next morning while she and my dad and I were sitting at the counter having breakfast, one of the fifteen or so pills that my mom is now required to try and swallow each day got lodged in her throat and she started to choke. My dad and I tensed and waited for the spell to pass. When it lasted longer than either of us were comfortable with, we each grabbed one of her arms below the shoulder and hoisted her from her seat, trying to open her airway. We hovered over her for a long time, glancing at each other with panic in our eyes as she gasped for breath. After what felt like forever, my mom finally worked the pill loose and gulped for air and immediately began to cry. My dad and I followed suit.

The three of us stood there for quite a while feeling helpless and hopeless and bawling, our half-eaten bowls of oatmeal cooling on the counter, when my mom suddenly took a deep breath, looked me in the eye and mouthed "Fuck." A sly smile spread across her face and her sobbing turned to laughter. My dad and I started to laugh too and that's how we made it through breakfast that day.

In our house we've always had the good fortune of laughter. Lots of it. And even now, in the midst of what oftentimes feels more like a nightmare than a reality, we still laugh together, and it heals. Not in the way we all so desperately wish it would, but on some days it’s enough.

And for that, I’m thankful.

An Interview with Christine Quinn

In the spirit of LGBT Pride Weekend, I caught up with openly gay New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn for Towleroad to discuss how she'll celebrate, the recent Supreme Court victories and her plan to fight HIV/AIDS in New York City.

CL: What are your plans for Pride this year?

CQ: I always go to the breakfast given each year by GOAL, the NYPD's Gay Officers Action League, and then it's straight to the parade. I'll be with my wife and my father and our extended family, as well as close friends, colleagues and staff. It's a rush marching down Fifth Avenue. I try to do the route twice. My favorite part is walking along the barricades talking to people and meeting folks who are there for the first time.

CL: Do you have a favorite Pride memory?

CQ: I remember my first Pride like it was yesterday, even though it was over 20 years ago, and I will say that Pride 2011 was especially wonderful. Two nights before, New York had approved marriage equality, so there we were, about two million people lining Fifth Avenue and the streets of the Village, and the roar of pride and excitement was like nothing I had ever seen. This year's Pride is following the incredible wins at the Supreme Court, so I know we'll hear that roar again and that the roar will be heard across the country.

CL: Speaking of the recent Supreme Court victories, can you discuss the LGBTQ issues that are most important to you?

CQ: The fight against HIV/AIDS is not over and as mayor I will establish an office of HIV/AIDS policy because we need to wage the fight out of City Hall, not the Health Department, so we can coordinate among city agencies. And clearly the issue of hate crimes has affected our community in a profound way. Despite the advances we’ve made, our community often does not feel safe and that isn't acceptable. When I was the Executive Director of the Anti-Violence Project I learned that hate crimes must be met with an overwhelming community response to let the world know that this will not be accepted. As mayor this will be a priority for me.

CL: How do you think you've made a difference in the LGBTQ community?

CQ: From organizing against anti-LGBT violence as head of the Anti-Violence Project in the early 1990s to fighting to establish the HIV/AIDS Services Administration to playing an integral part in the fight for marriage equality and protecting funding for LGBT homeless and runaway youth as Speaker, I have delivered positive, affirming change for the community throughout my career in public life. But the work doesn't stop there. This week I'm releasing my LGBT policy plan detailing what my focus will be as mayor on behalf of the LGBT community. This includes eradicating anti-LGBT hate crimes, creating the first LGBT senior housing community, a focus on transgender civil rights, eliminating the waiting list for beds for LGBT homeless and runaway youth, the creation of the Mayor's Office for HIV/AIDS Policy and being a powerful presence in Albany and Washington. We also need to improve data collection as a city to ensure we are raising the level of community services for LGBT New Yorkers.

There's a saying that goes "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu." For LGBT New Yorkers, having a place at the table is key to ensuring that our issues are front and center. Standing up, being out, being visible and most importantly getting real results for the community you live in is how you make a difference.

CL: In the spirit of Pride, what do you hope for the LGBTQ community?

CQ: I hope that we continue to move forward as we collectively have over the past few years, but also that we realize that as a community the work is never done. It's true that we have made major strides on marriage, but we can't get complacent. We have seen a sickening spike in hate crimes and Albany still hasn't gotten it together and extended statewide basic civil rights to the transgender community. Each night thousands of LGBT homeless youth are without beds on the street, LGBT seniors often live in isolation and we are seeing an alarming rise in HIV and AIDS, especially in poor communities of color. We have a lot to do.

The marriage victory is an incredible accomplishment and a real milestone, but it's also just a milestone. It's not a signal to rest on your laurels. This is why as mayor I will push every day on issues like hate crimes, homeless and runaway youth, seniors and transgender rights, HIV/AIDS care and services.

CL: What member of the LGBT community has inspired you most?

CQ: Like many, I'm inspired every day by the advocacy of heroism of groundbreaking, larger-than-life figures. I put Edie Windsor and Robbie Kaplan in that category. Edie Windsor was just an everyday citizen. When she got that tax bill after her wife Thea died, she could have just paid the bill and given up, but she didn't. She took the United States of America to court and with Robbie handling her case, she won. These type of women not only inspire me but will inspire young women for generations to come.

To connect with Christine Quinn, follow her on Twitter or visit her website.

Previous interviewees in this series have included LGBTQ athletes, authors, businesspeople, entertainers and politicians. For a complete list, click here.

Note: This post was originally published on Towleroad on June 30, 2013.

An Interview with Demetre Daskalakis

Doctor and gay activist Demetre Daskalakis administers free meningitis vaccinations at gay bars and sex clubs in New York City. ( S  ource )

Doctor and gay activist Demetre Daskalakis administers free meningitis vaccinations at gay bars and sex clubs in New York City. (Source)

Earlier this year, after New York City health officials urged "men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have intimate contact with other men through a website, digital application ("App"), or at a bar or party" to get vaccinated against meningitis following a rise in deaths attributed to a particularly lethal strain, New York City-based doctor Demetre Daskalakis began holding free vaccination events at gay bars and sex clubs throughout the city.

"When I heard about the outbreak, I started putting together a plan about how I could help," Daskalakis told MSN News last month. "It's super easy. Once I set up, I end up vaccinating half of the people in the club. People are lining up at clubs to get vaccines. We get a lot of uninsured people, people of color and people who haven't disclosed that they are gay."

Inspired by his actions to ensure a healthier LGBTQ community, I reached out to Daskalakis recently to discuss his vaccination efforts, why Larry Kramer almost made him faint and Randy Shilts' book And the Band Played On.

CL: What are you up to these days?

DD: I am currently working hard to provide as much meningitis vaccine to men who have sex with men in New York City as possible. With the help of a lot of organizations like the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation and the Gay Men's Health Crisis, I have been able to bring vaccine to the people who need it most, completely free of charge. We have done vaccine events at sex clubs, bars and at the Gay Men's Health Crisis Testing Center and so far we have given out over 1,300 vaccines.

CL: How is what you're doing making a difference in the LGBTQ community?

DD: I believe as a gay doctor that does work in HIV and STDs, my job is part medical and part activist. Having heard many stories of people who could not afford vaccine, I felt that it was important to mobilize municipal and private efforts by syncing them with the underground nightlife in New York City to get vaccine to men who need it. We have been able to vaccinate a diverse group of uninsured and underinsured men in their social venues of choice as well as at a well-regarded community-based organization in the Gay Men's Health Crisis. I would like to believe that this effort and the attention I generated with my work has helped to control the outbreak of meningitis in New York City.

CL: What LGBTQ issue are you most passionate about?

DD: I'm passionate about HIV care and prevention as well as the prevention of sexually transmitted and related infection. I love public health in its rawest form. Like my colleagues that go to Africa or India to do public health service, my work in the clubs of New York City is my field work and my passion.

CL: Can you name the one person whose contribution to the LGBTQ community has inspired you most?

DD: Larry Kramer has inspired me most. Aside from being brilliant and controversial, he is a force for positive change and takes no prisoners. He recently told me he admired my work and I almost fainted.

CL: If you had to recommend one book, movie or song with an LGBTQ bent, what would your recommendation be?

DD: I'd recommend that young gay men read And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts. It's a bit sensational, but worth reading to get a sense of the history of HIV in our community.

CL: What do you hope for the LGBTQ community?

DD: I hope that the LGBTQ community stands strong to make it clear that their right to love who they want and access the services and healthcare needed to achieve the great things that LGBTQ people do are not debatable rights but part of being human.

I also hope that we use this meningitis scare in New York City to strengthen our political, financial and emotional support of the leaders and organizations that defend the health of our community.

To connect with Demetre Daskalakis, follow him on Twitter.

Previous interviewees in this series have included LGBTQ athletes, authors, businesspeople, entertainers and politicians. For a complete list, click here.

Note: A link to this post appeared on Towleroad on June 13, 2013.

An Interview with Greg Sherrell

Greg Sherrell makes up one-half of  Fernando and Greg in the Morning , the first morning show on American commercial radio to feature a pair of openly gay co-hosts.  (  Source  )

Greg Sherrell makes up one-half of Fernando and Greg in the Morning, the first morning show on American commercial radio to feature a pair of openly gay co-hosts. (Source)

In 2005, after spending 10 years on the promotional side of radio, Greg Sherrell, then a resident of Dallas, burst onto Bay Area airwaves when he called into the San Francisco morning show of longtime friend Fernando Ventura. Three weeks later, Greg sold everything that wouldn't fit into his car and drove from Texas to California to make his mark on Ventura's show as Greg the Gay Sportscaster. A short time later, he and Ventura began co-hosting Fernando and Greg in the Morning, now one of the most popular radio programs in the Bay Area.

My first experience with Fernando and Greg in the Morning came during a segment dubbed "Homo vs. Hetero," a twice-weekly contest pitting one gay player against one straight player in a trivia battle in which the gay player attempts to answer questions geared toward straight people, and vice versa. In the nearly two years since hearing them for the first time, I've come to value not only the humor Ventura and Sherrell bring to my morning, but the perspective they offer as the first openly gay co-hosts on American commercial radio.

Inspired by the energy and humor he exhibits during his morning show, I reached out to Sherrell this week to discuss what it's like to be gay on the radio, his admiration for Charles Barkley and his hope for the LGBTQ community.

CL: What are you up to these days? 

GS: Professionally, I've been part of Fernando and Greg in the Morning since 2006 and we're now in our fourth year on 99.7 Now, which covers the entire Bay Area. We also record a side show podcast twice a week.

CL: What's it like to be gay on the radio? 

GS: To be honest, I don't even think about it anymore. It's just Fernando and I coming in and doing the show. When we first started we were told not to be too gay. In fact, our first program director didn't want to put us on the air together at all because he thought it would turn people off, and he was a gay man. Luckily, the owner, who was straight, thought Fernando and I were great together, so he really pushed for it.

CL: How is what you're doing making a difference in the LGBTQ community?

GS: Growing up, I didn't think that there was anybody else in the world like me. All I knew was that being gay was considered wrong. Now, when a young gay kid is on their way to school and they turn on the radio, they can hear Fernando and I and know that there are other people like them out there and that they don't have to hide. I think our radio show gives us that voice in the LGBTQ community. Hopefully it gives others a positive perspective on being gay so they don't have to feel like the only gay person in the world like I did.

CL: What LGBTQ issue are you most passionate about?  

GS: Like a lot of people today, I'm most passionate about issues dealing with LGBTQ youth. There's a lot of great work being done, like the It Gets Better Project, which I admire, but I think my passion goes past bullying. The worst thing for us is that we can hide our sexuality, and if you can hide a problem, there's a chance that you'll never deal with it. I know I wasn't truly happy until I was living my true life, so I hope I can inspire young people to just be themselves.

CL: Can you name the one person whose contribution to the LGBTQ community has inspired you most?

GS: I wouldn't say there's one person who I look at and say, "Oh my god, look at what they're doing." I think what inspires me today is seeing gay and straight people working in unison for the same cause. They're working for equal rights because they know it's the right thing to do.

CL: As Greg the Gay Sportscaster, can you talk a bit about homosexuality in professional sports?

GS: When Jason Collins came out of the closet, sure his story touched me, but it was really the reaction of other athletes that got me most. Charles Barkley is one of them. He has been such a force in speaking for the gay community even before it was being talked about. His response has been amazing. One of the things he said is that as an African American he can't imagine discriminating against other people because he knows what it's like. Other players like Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker have been strong advocates and have supported the cause as well.

Tim Hardaway is another strong advocate. And if you look up Tim Hardaway, you'll see that he has said some horrible things about the gay community in the past, but he recanted on his own and apologized for what he said and now he works with transgender youth who have a higher suicide rate than everybody else. For someone to realize that they did or said something wrong and actually showed that they were sorry, that's the kind of stuff that truly inspires me.

CL: If you had to recommend one book, movie or song with an LGBTQ bent, what would your recommendation be?

GS: I would recommend a pair of books called One Teenager in Ten and Two Teenagers in 20 that were put together by a couple of therapists and feature personal stories of LGBTQ youth coming out. The story that I remember most from these books was written not by the person coming out, but by the mother of a young lesbian. Her daughter had tried to come out to her many times, but the mom just couldn't understand it or deal with it and her daughter ended up committing suicide. The toll that it took on the mother realizing what she did made her share her experience as a way to help others. It's an incredible story about how people's reactions to the differences of others can impact somebody to the point of suicide.

I would also recommend anything by David Sedaris. Me Talk Pretty One Day is a must-read if you're gay and grew up in the 60s or 70s or 80s. It's so easy to connect with and it assured me that there were others out there just like me. It was like Sedaris was telling my story. While I was reading it I thought, 'Oh my god, this is my life.'

CL: What do you hope for the LGBTQ community?

GS: To be honest, the strides we've already made are amazing. I remember the first person I knew who was an advocate for gay marriage. She drove us all freaking nuts because she was so into it when nobody else cared about that issue because we didn't think we deserved it or we weren't conditioned to the idea that it was even possible. And now it's so talked about. It's incredible that it's on the lips of everybody in America, from the President of the United States on down. In a way, she and the people like her were visionaries.

To answer your question, I guess my hope is that one day it won't be a big deal to come out anymore. I remember when I was a kid and I didn't know what gay was yet, I asked my mom why everybody was making such a big deal out of Billie Jean King. My mom told me it was because she was a lesbian. Not knowing what a lesbian was at the time, I asked my mom if it was illegal and when she told me it wasn't I said, "Then what's the big deal?" So I hope that people will just feel comfortable coming out and it won't be a very big deal.

To connect with Greg Sherrell, follow him on Twitter. For more info about Fernando and Greg in the Morning, visit their website.

Previous interviewees in this series have included LGBTQ athletes, authors, businesspeople, entertainers and politicians. For a complete list, click here.

Note: A link to this post appeared on Towleroad on May 20, 2013.

An Interview with Fred Sainz

Fred Sainz is the Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Human Rights Campaign. ( Source )

Fred Sainz is the Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Human Rights Campaign. (Source)

In 2010, Fred Sainz joined the Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, as its Vice President of Communications and Marketing. Earlier this year, Sainz' work made headlines when nearly three million Facebook users changed their profile pictures to a modified version of the HRC logo to show support for marriage equality in the days leading up to the Supreme Court hearings on cases affecting the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8.

"Red, which is the color of love, was selected, basically, to represent the fact that what we are looking for is for the Supreme Court to recognize long-term committed and loving relationships of gay people," Sainz said of the new-look logo, which received an estimated nine million views and 60,000 shares in the campaign's first 24 hours. "There's a lot of serious conversation going on and there's an awful lot of important concepts that the Supreme Court justices are discussing. What this logo going viral means is individuals have reduced it to a very straightforward concept. It shows the enthusiasm and the passion."

Inspired by the fact that his work is helping to unite people, both gay and straight, in the spirit of equality, I reached out to Sainz earlier this week to discuss his work with the Human Rights Campaign, how he's making a difference in the LGBTQ community and Alan Downs' book The Velvet Rage.

CL: What are you up to these days?

FS: Today I'm preparing for the mark-up of the immigration reform bill, working with reporters on the one-year anniversary of President Obama's support for marriage equality and getting ready for the Supreme Court decisions on the two marriage cases, DOMA and Prop 8. I'm also taking press calls and answering hundreds of emails.

CL: What role does the HRC play in assisting with issues like immigration reform and the Supreme Court's decisions on the two marriage cases?

FS: The Human Rights Campaign is a partner in the coalition effort aimed at LGBTQ inclusion in the immigration bill and my boss, Chad Griffin, the President of the Human Rights Campaign, was the founding president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the sponsor of the Prop 8 case, so my job is to lead the messaging efforts from the HRC's perspective on these issues.

CL: Speaking of messaging, can you share a bit about the movement back in March that saw millions of people change their profile pictures to a modified version of the HRC logo in support of marriage equality?

FS: First of all, I think the show of support went well beyond just marriage equality. It was a moment when people from all walks of life, not just LGBTQ people or even our straight allies, were looking for a way to show their support for equality. That event allowed everyone to have a role and to show their support. Supreme Court deliberations are so highbrow that I think the genius of the moment was giving people something to do that everyone could accomplish.

CL: How is what you're doing making a difference in the LGBTQ community?

FS: I don't think of it that way. I would like to think that I make a difference, and I certainly believe that the HRC's work is strategic and impactful, but I think things go horribly wrong when you are convinced that you are the difference. I think it's important to be respectful and inclusive of a broad array of perspectives and work plans. We're a social justice movement and it has and will continue to take the efforts of all of us to achieve full and legal equality for every LGBTQ American.

CL: What LGBTQ issue are you most passionate about? 

FS: All of them, really, because there's no one issue that solely guarantees us equality. We have to pursue multiple and simultaneous paths to make sure that we get it all. And that's why I love working for a multi-issue advocacy organization like the Human Rights Campaign.

If you nailed me to a wall and said I had to choose one, I would say issues that affect our youth are most important to me. I remember being a scared 13-year-old gay kid with feelings of isolation wondering when the cavalry would arrive and come to my rescue. I'm now that cavalry and it's a responsibility I don't take lightly.

CL: Can you name the one person whose contribution to the LGBTQ community has inspired you most? 

FS: I think about Harvey Milk virtually every day. Eight out of every 10 Americans know someone who is LGBTQ. In my opinion, we have come as far as we have because it's virtually impossible to continue to discriminate against us the more you know us, so I see the genius of Harvey's strategy and thinking every day.

CL: If you had to recommend one book, movie or song with an LGBTQ bent, what would your recommendation be?  

FS: It bears mentioning, and the author is very upfront about this, that it's a book intended solely for gay men, but I would recommend The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs. It should be required reading for every gay man in America. A friend of mine gave it to me two years ago and it has changed my life. I now understand so many of my actions as a gay man.

CL: What do you hope for the LGBTQ community?

FS: I hope for full and legal equality within my lifetime for all LGBTQ Americans. It's a tremendous privilege to be working on these issues at this point in history and I never forget that we stand on the shoulders of so many amazing people who paved the way for what is now possible.

To connect with Fred Sainz, follow him on TwitterFor more information about the Human Rights Campaign, visit

Previous interviewees in this series have included LGBTQ athletes, authors, businesspeople, entertainers and politicians. For a complete list, click here.