Gay man seeks city
by Eric Resnick
Warren, Ohio-A gay bar owner is seeking a seat on the city council of Warren.
Openly gay Tristan Hand, 55, owner of the Queen of Hearts, one of the city’s three gay bars, is running for the fourth ward seat as a Democrat.
There are three candidates in the May 8 primary race, including Hand, Robert Holmes, and the incumbent Ron White.
White is currently under investigation by the Warren police for allegedly accepting cash contributions to the Fire and Police for a Safer City levy campaign and failing to turn the money over to the campaign.
The investigation led White to resign as chair of the police and fire committee of city council, and has helped make Hand the front runner in the race.
A straw poll conducted by WarrenPages.com has Hand leading the race with 80.6% of the votes.
Warren, just northwest of Youngstown, is a Democratic Party stronghold. There will be no Republican in the general election in November, so the primary winner will most likely be the next Ward 4 council member.
Hand says the biggest theme of his campaign is to make the city of Warren become more proactive in dealing with issues, than reactive.
"Warren is facing a loss in census," said Hand. "We are having a hard time keeping the police and fire departments staffed, and there are parks closing."
Hand was born in Liverpool, England, where his father was a pastor. His family later moved to Warren. Hand was in the Air Force from 1966 to 1970, and returned to attend college at Kent State.
Hand served as Portage County deputy auditor of from 1976 to 79, and has worked in radio and TV broadcasting.
He and his partner of 12 years, Robert Fott, operate the Queen of Hearts.
This is Hand's first run at elected office, but he has been active in the community for many years, serving on the board of the downtown business association.
Hand was responsible for organizing community activities countering the Ku Klux Klan's 1998 Warren march.
"My father always said you can't fight over ice cream," said Hand, "so I organized an ice cream social, and that also turned into a unity day to bring the community together."
Hand also gained community prominence when he led a campaign to tie yellow ribbons around trees at the courthouse to show support for the Trumbull County servicemembers who fought in Bosnia.
Hand says that little has been made of him being openly gay.
"I am out, and everyone knows what business I own," said Hand.
Hand says he has support from his patrons and from the members of the GLBT community in his ward. One of the residents of his ward is Barry Tenney, the General Electric employee who suing the company and some of its employees for harassment and discrimination because he is gay.
Hand realizes that his campaign is historic for the city of Warren, but is keeping focused on the issues.
"I try not to just be a gay candidate, and it has not been an issue," said Hand. "The issues I am running on concern all of us."
Hand said the same is true of his opponent. "White is African-American, and his race is not an issue, either."
Hand says he would consider introducing ordinances giving GLBT Warren city employees protection at the workplace, and possibly, domestic partner benefits. He would also try to pass hate crime legislation that includes sexual orientation.
"But I am a businessman first, a resident of Warren, and I happen to be gay," said Hand, "and I am humbled by how I am accepted by so much of the establishment."
If elected, Hand expects political opponents to attempt to use sexual orientation to try to distract him.
"I see my self as under more scrutiny [than a non-gay council member], especially owning a tavern," he said.
Hand is joined by two other Ohio openly gay city council candidates running in the May 8 primary.
James Moore-McDermott seeks a seat on the Bucyrus City Council and Joe Santiago is running for a council seat in Cleveland.
Both of Ohio’s two out elected officials are city council members whose terms end this year, Mary Wiseman of Dayton and Louis Escobar of Toledo. Wiseman said in January that she is not seeking re-election, and Escobar’s Toledo primary is in September.
Karen Anders, left, and Dorrie Mills were named co-chairs of Ohio Freedom to Marry. Photo by Eric Resnick
by Eric Resnick
Columbus--A recently formed organization seeking to gain same-sex marriage rights in Ohio will join other LGBT activist groups in an effort to defeat Ohio’s so-called "Defense of Marriage Act."
State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, says he will introduce the marriage ban in the Ohio House next week. It would outlaw recognition of same-sex marriages or civil unions made in other states and also void local domestic partner benefits, according to a draft now being circulated in the Statehouse.
Ohio Freedom to Marry, which was organized in February for the purpose of including same-sex couples in the state’s marriage laws, has resolved to fight Seitz’s measure through education.
Twenty-three members met April 17 at Stonewall Columbus and elected Dorrie Mills and Karen Anders of Columbus co-chairs.
Anders and Mills traveled to Vermont on July 1, 2000 and formalized their commitment to each other in a legal civil union. That civil union is not recognized by the state of Ohio.
The young group heard a presentation by Chad Foust on the status and details of Seitz’s proposed bill.
Foust is an openly gay aide to State Sen. Eric Fingerhut, D-Cleveland, and has declared his candidacy for the Ohio House in 2002. He will choose the Columbus-area district he runs in once the reapportionment of Ohio is approved in October.
Foust told the group that the proposed bill is redundant and a waste of the legislature’s time, given that Ohio marriage law is already clear to recognize only marriages between a man and a woman.
Foust also warned the group that term limits gave Ohio 50 new House members out of 99 in the last election, and that "it is the most conservative Ohio House in history."
Foust said if the bill passes the House and is sent to the Senate, it might be able to be stopped there.
"The Senate is a smaller body and much more deliberative," he said.
But Foust also warned that two former House members, Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, and Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, who sponsored marriage bans in 1997 and 1999, are now senators.
"But so far," said Foust, "I don’t know of any senator waiting to introduce this bill in the Senate."
Foust told the group that House Civil and Commercial Law Committee Chair John Willamowski, R-Lima, told him he has not yet seen the proposed bill, but that it would get a fair hearing in his committee.
Willamowski is not a co-sponsor of Seitz’s marriage ban bill, but he did co-sponsor the 1999 and 1997 versions.
"I know that [Willamowski] supports the idea of not recognizing same-sex unions," said Foust.
Seitz says the bill currently has 35 co-sponsors, compared to the 1997 bill with 13 and the 1999 bill with 11.
"Willamowski also told me that the Republican caucus wanted this bill and looked for someone to co-sponsor it," Foust told the group.
The group agreed to join the effort with other groups who are organizing to oppose Seitz’s bill.
"If we don’t stand up and be counted, it is not going to matter," said Anders, to the issue of eventually achieving equality in Ohio for same-sex couples.
by Eric Resnick
Akron--A Brittain Road couple says they were gay-bashed in their home following a break-in April 13.
Gary Morris and Danny Gaul were in their home with guests at 9:30 pm that night, when two men came through their open kitchen door carrying bricks taken from their neighbor’s back yard.
The intruders threw the bricks, leaving holes in the walls and breaking windows and antique cookie jars.
Morris confronted the attackers, who threw him to the ground and kicked him repeatedly before running out of the house.
Gaul was hit in the knee by one of the thrown bricks, and one of the guests, Morris’ mother, was pushed against a wall.
Morris reported that the attackers yelled "Pervert!" at him, and "We’re going to get you!"
Morris and Gaul have lived without incident at their home for five years and frequently fly a rainbow flag.
The damage to the home and property was listed in excess of $2,500. No one was seriously hurt.
Gaul and Morris say they didn’t recognize either man. They describe one of the attackers as a white male, 20 to 25 years old, with short, black hair; 5’9" tall, and weighing 170 pounds. The other was also a white male in his 20s, 5’7," 170 lbs, with short blonde hair and blue eyes.
The case is being investigated as a burglary by the Akron police. Neither Akron nor Ohio include anti-gay crimes in their hate crime laws.
Lt. Ken Ball of the Akron police burglary unit said he believes the crime was "not random" and "not a hate crime," but declined to give additional information with the investigation pending.
Ball further indicated that police believe they have identified suspects, and will continue to conduct interviews that may lead to an arrest.
Buckeye Region anti Violence Organization director Gloria McCauley,
by Andy Scahill
Columbus-Anti-gay hate crime decreased slightly in central Ohio last year but the level of violence increased, says a report released this week.
The Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization released its hate crime statistics on anti-gay violence April 17, in concert with the 11th annual report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. BRAVO has been a contributor to the national report since its inception.
In the central Ohio area, reported crimes decreased slightly from 214 in 1999 to 205 in 2000, but incidents involving multiple offenders and sexual assaults increased. The report also found an increase in the number of victims requiring hospitalization.
"We’ve found that the offenders are getting bolder," explained BRAVO executive director Gloria McCauley. "Most don’t start out with assault or murder; they start with crimes such as verbal harassment, graffiti and arson. These crimes escalate when they go unchallenged."
The national coalition’s report cited an increase of 8% nationally in reported anti-gay crimes, growing from 1,992 to 2,151.
Columbus rated fourth in the country in reported hate crimes this year, but McCauley said that the majority of hate crimes go unreported.
"Most hate crime victims still cannot and will not report," said McCauley.
"They’re afraid of losing their jobs, open identification or revictimization." Of the 205 hate crimes reported to BRAVO in 2000, only 41 incidents were reported to the police.
Other Ohio cities lack funds for reports
Hate crime statistics from Cincinnati and were not included in this year’s national report, and Cleveland figures were incomplete, due to a drop in funding.
The Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center centered their efforts on gathering statistics for domestic violence after the first half of last year, according to Clarence Patton, director of community organizing and public advocacy for New York’s Anti-Violence Program, one of the central members of the national coalition.
"Figures for Cleveland are included in the report," he said. "The Cleveland section starts on page 51."
"We noticed a dramatic decrease in data, so we called the [Cleveland] center," Patton continued. "They said they had such limited resources that they dropped bias statistics halfway, and focused on domestic violence."
"Their problem was emblematic of what’s facing member groups across the country."
Andy Scahill is editor of OutinColumbus.com.
by Anthony Glassman
Upper Arlington, Ohio—Controversy erupted in this affluent Columbus suburb during an April 10 school board meeting, surrounding the high school’s newspaper.
The Arlingtonian, the student publication at Upper Arlington High School, focused its April 6 issue on discrimination, including bias against gay men and lesbians.
Several parents at the packed school board meeting came forward to complain about it.
"I feel strongly the subject is inappropriate in the school agenda," parent Susan Miller told the Columbus Dispatch.
"Race discrimination—yeah, it seems there is general consensus on that," Miller said. "But when we lump in there that there’s discrimination against homosexuals and my kids start asking me what that means, it’s difficult not to be graphic."
Miller has two children, neither one in the high school. One attends Barrington Elementary School and the other is in St. Charles Preparatory School, operated by the Catholic diocese.
Colette Menhart, another parent who was at the meeting, spoke with the Gay People’s Chronicle about her objections to the student newspaper story.
"I don’t care that they ran the article," she said. "My objection was that we have this politically-charged issue, and they only gave one side of it. It could have been copied right from a homosexual rights group’s manual."
Part of the issue was a story on Adam Baghat, a gay high school student who attempted suicide and was kicked out of his father’s house.
"I think he was exploited and when he grows up, he’ll regret it," Menhart said of the biographical piece on Baghat.
Elizabeth Waring, the student who wrote the piece on Baghat, said that repeated attempts to contact Exodus International, the ex-gay umbrella group whose former director John Paulk was photographed in a gay bar last year, went unanswered.
It was not clear whether the school paper tried to contact Exodus’ national office or the five branches Menhart said are currently active in Columbus.
The articles did include information about Exodus, both a reference to Paulk’s embarrassing incident and a quote from the Advocate, a national gay weekly.
"We had no choice but to use secondary sources," said Waring, referring to the Advocate quotes from an "ex-gay" supporting Exodus.
The school board and the paper’s adult advisers have the authority to review articles before they see print. But this is unlikely to happen, according to school board vice president Christopher Widing.
"We’re not going to tell them what they can and can’t write," said board president Tom Wilson. "All we say is: When you’re going to write an article, get the facts."
Upper Arlington High School principal Kip Greenhill backed his students in the meeting.
"I do not believe in any prior review. I don’t believe in it, and we don’t practice it here," he said, indicating that the student editorial board and their faculty advisor had his complete trust in the selection of articles and topics.
Four days before the April 10 meeting, Arlingtonian staffers attended another school board meeting in which changes to the Students’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook were discussed.
The students’ main concern was about the "Expression in Writing" section of the handbook, to which an additional sentence was added to one of the paragraphs regarding freedom of school press.
"The Board of Education may regulate written expression that would cause material and substantial disruption to the educational process, is vulgar and offensive or is inconsistent with the basic educational mission of the school district," the new text reads.
Other changes put full responsibility for material published in the paper in the hands of the editorial board and the faculty advisor. The advisor had not been previously included in the section.
The students and some of the board argued that it put them on a slippery slope to censorship; other board member maintained that it was necessary to have an adult be ultimately responsible for legal purposes.
The school board assured the students, however, that they were not asking to see what was going to be published beforehand, and had no intention of pulling stories they found inappropriate.
"We want to encourage them to make sure they have the facts straight," Wilson said. "We said we clearly did not want prior review or censorship."
Previous cases in which students sued school districts for freedom of the press did not turn out well for the students. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1988 ruled that student newspapers are not protected under the First Amendment, and that schools may cut articles from them if it is deemed appropriate.
by Anthony Glassman
Washington, D.C.—The Surgeon General’s report on the health effects of smoking in women also shows an increased risk of health problems for lesbians.
The report was presented to anti-smoking and health organizations in an April 11 briefing. Among the participants in the event were representatives from the Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer.
The report illustrates the increased risks for certain illnesses, primarily emphysema and lung cancer, for women who smoke over those who do not. Studies have shown that lesbians smoke more per capita than heterosexual women.
Dr. Susan Cochran, in an analysis in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health, backs up the analysis of lesbians using more tobacco products than non-lesbians.
"After standardization, both the current and previous smoking rates among lesbians greatly exceeded national norms for women," the report says.
"Smoking is a major health hazard in the lesbian community," warned Mautner Project executive director Kathleen DeBold. "The Surgeon General’s report concludes that women now account for a horrifying 39% of all smoking-related deaths in the United States. Research shows that lesbians smoke much more than straight women."
"You do the math," she concluded.
In the past, women accounted for a small percentage of the reported smoking-related deaths. The sharp rise in the number of women versus men in the statistics is setting off alarms in the medical community.
One of the focuses of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2010 report was the incidence of substance abuse, to a great extent tobacco and alcohol, among gay men and lesbians.
According to National Cancer Institute statistics from 1990, 33% of women will have some form of cancer in their lifetimes, and lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women. Further, one in nine women will develop breast cancer.
Part of the reason for the concern sparked by the report is that, in addition to causing lung cancer, smoking also increases the risk of other types of cancer.
Added to these facts are the realities of lesbian life that are also contributing factors to developing cancer. Lesbians, because of issues relating to coming out to medical care providers, are less likely to have regular medical care than their heterosexual counterparts. The societal stresses placed on lesbians by their marginalization in American society also contribute, as is also the case with gay men, to the abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs, many of which are also contributing factors to the risk of cancer.
Further, nulliparity, or not having had children, increases the risk of having cancer.
Worse, lesbians are less likely to be covered under a partner’s health insurance than a heterosexual woman, making regular health care even less accessible to them.
Lesbians also have a statistical tendency to be overweight, another risk factor increasing the chance of developing cancer. This factor is also mentioned in the Healthy People 2010 report.
"My appeal to you is that as you begin to develop educational campaigns, and begin advocacy work, that you include this population," Mautner Project health education director Cheryl Fields implored those gathered for the release of the Surgeon General’s report.
Among the participants in the event were representatives from the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Medical Women’s Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
According to the Mautner Project, women in general and lesbians in particular can cut their risk of cancer by quitting smoking, establishing a healthy diet, having annual pap smears, breast and pelvic exams and mammograms, avoiding excessive exposure to the sun. Additionally, lesbians should see their doctors regularly, since cancer caught in its early stages has a far better chance at responding to treatment than if left until later in its development.
by Bob Roehr
Washington, D.C.--Two vocal homophobes, the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition and former pro football player Rev. Reggie White, have been named as participants in a congressional Republican "faith-based" leadership summit that will take place April 24-25.
House Republican Conference Committee chair Rep J.C. Watts, Jr. of Oklahoma made the announcement on April10.
The meeting is to "explore public/private partnerships and models of faith-based community renewal initiatives." Similar meetings, organized by both parties as well as bipartisan issue caucuses, occur frequently on the Hill.
The announcement prompted an April 16 letter to Watts from Reps Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. In it the pair outlined the antigay records of Sheldon and White and asked Watt "to reconsider your decision to include in your advisory group people who have been so willing to foster hatred against us personally, and millions of others as well."
They acknowledged that Sheldon and White "are obviously entitled to their opinions, and the First Amendment gives them a right to propagate them." But the representatives still thought that "a record of bigoted attacks" should preclude the duo from being invited to the meeting.
It was an echo of arguments used by Sheldon and other social conservatives to oppose gays and lesbians. They maintain that "sinful" behavior should preclude gays and lesbians from appointments such as that of Scott Evertz to head up the Office of National AIDS Policy.
Frank and Baldwin also sent a copy of the letter to RichTafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, asking him to "join us in trying to persuade Representative Watts to reverse this decision."
"The fact that I read Barney’s request on the Internet before I received his letter indicates to me that he is more interested in press than in resolving the issue," said Tafel. "If a congressman really cares about something, they speak privately with the other congressman, they don’t issue a press release."
Tafel said Log Cabin would raise the matter with Watts.
Spielberg quits Boy Scout board
Los Angeles—Director Steven Spielberg announced April 16 that he is leaving his post on the advisory board of the Boy Scouts of America because the youth group excludes gay members and leaders.
The Oscar-winning producer and director, who gained the Scout’s highest honor of Eagle Scout, has been a member of the group’s advisory board for about 10 years, said his publicist Marvin Levy.
Although he was on the advisory board, Spielberg did not currently have an active, direct role with the Scouts, Levy said. Spielberg, who earned a Scout badge for photography in his youth, previously convinced the organization to adopt a badge for cinematography, Levy said.
Spielberg, who has made past financial contributions to the Scouts, said that he will continue to encourage the group to "end this intolerance and discrimination once and for all."
Anti-gay leader had child sex charge
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.—The head of a group leading the charge against Broward County’s gay civil rights ordinance resigned his post April 10, after the Miami Herald published a story revealing that he had been charged in 1999 for sexually abusing a teenaged girl.
Joel A. Hawksley’s trial was cancelled and charges were dropped last year when prosecutors in Maryland thought the girl would be unable to handle the trial.
Her stepfather was convicted of having sex with the girl. The stepfather was a close friend of Hawksley’s.
Hawksley was the executive director of Equal Rights Not Special Rights, a group formed to strike down Broward’s anti-discrimination ordinance. The group formed after the county’s financial relationship with the Boy Scouts became an issue.
Candy-heart teacher to retire
Crown Point, Ind.—A history teacher accused of giving a student a candy Valentine heart with an anti-gay slur written on it will not return to the classroom prior to his planned retirement.
Superintendent H. Steve Sprunger said April 13 that Donald E. Miller has ended his teaching duties and will not be returning to Taft Middle School during the remainder of this school year.
Miller, a 34-year teaching veteran, was placed on administrative leave with pay in mid-March after a lawsuit was filed against him by the eighth-grade boy’s family. He was already set to retire at the end of this school year.
The lawsuit claims that Miller scratched an inoffensive Valentine message off of a candy heart and wrote the word fag on it before giving it to the boy in front of his fellow students.
Pro-marriage editorials win Pulitzer
Rutland, Vermont—Rutland Herald editorial writer David Moats was awarded a Pulitzer Prize April 16, recognized with journalism’s highest honor for the editorials he wrote in support of civil unions for same-sex couples.
The Herald, a family-owned newspaper in Vermont’s second largest city with a circulation of 22,000, was a consistent supporter of gay marriage, which metamorphosed in the legislature into civil unions.
Moats and the newspaper backed the civl unions law despite months of debate and opposition that seemed to capture the entire state’s attention like no other in generations.
Moats’ newspaper was filled day after day with strongly worded letters to the editor and opinion columns denouncing both the Herald and lawmakers who supported the law.
Although the newspaper endorsed broad rights for gay and lesbian couples, it also recognized what it described as the political realities that Vermont might not be ready for including same-sex couples into the state’s marriage statutes.
Moats went to lengths throughout the contentious months of debate to acknowledge the concerns of opponents.
Texas high court to hear sodomy case
Austin, Texas—Two men asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on April 16 to hear their case in an attempt to overturn the state’s gay-only sodomy law.
The court is the state’s highest one for criminal matters. The law was recently upheld by the Court of Appeals.
The case stems from a September 17, 1998, incident. Sheriff’s deputies, responding to a fraudulent report of an armed intruder, burst into a private apartment where they found John Lawrence and Tyron Garner having sex.
The deputies arrested the men. The two were in jail for over 24 hours before being released on $200 bonds. They were convicted of a class C misdemeanor, carrying up to a $500 fine.
Last June, a panel of the appeals court ruled that the statute violates the Texas constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment. The state appealed the ruling to the full appeals court, which found in favor of the state.
Egypt commutes Internet sentences
Cairo, Egypt—An appeals court on April 12 commuted prison sentences received by two men found guilty of touting themselves on the Internet as sex partners to interested males, court officials said.
Sami Gamal, a 27-year-old engineer, had his three-year sentence reduced to three months, while accountant Gameel Gebreel, 32, will pay a fine of 100 Egyptian pounds (about $26) instead of serving a 15-month jail term.
The two were arrested in February and were later found guilty by a lower court of committing an indecent act. The court said at the time that advertising for gay sex was "unprecedented" in Egypt.
Gamal got the harsher sentence because it was his home page that posted sexually explicit photographs of himself and Gebreel, urging interested men to have paid or unpaid sex with them, said the court officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Illicit sex is frowned upon in Egypt, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation of some 65 million that has grown more conservative over recent decades. Homosexuality among Egyptians is a taboo and is met with public intolerance.
Steve May leaves Army on schedule
Phoenix-Arizona State Rep. Steve May, who as a gay reservist successfully fought the Army’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" rule, completed his normal term of duty on April 21.
He faced some final paperwork that day, but had already served his last training period during weekend drills.
The Paradise Valley Republican said he sat thinking about the fact that he was leaving the Army and "about the effort it took just to stay to this last day."
He first donned an Army uniform on Aug. 18, 1989.
May, 29, became a subject of national attention when the Army attempted to force him out because he had publicly come out during a floor debate in the Arizona House. He was a civilian at the time, but was called back during the Kosovo crisis.
Ultimately, the Army dropped its attempt to force May out, a decision that allowed May to finish his term of military service as planned.
May said that despite his differences with the Army, he holds no hard feelings.
"It’s Congress," May told the Arizona Republic. "I don’t hold anything against anyone in the Army. Congress passed this law."
May discounted rumors that he is considering a run for Congress, noting that he has two more terms before term limits force him out of his current post.
High court upholds partner benefits
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.--A Broward County ordinance that allows gay and straight unmarried couples to formalize their relationships has withstood another challenge.
The Florida Supreme Court refused April 6 to consider an appeal by a conservative legal group asking it to declare the ordinance in violation of the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. That law prohibits legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
Lawyers for Northstar Legal Center in Virginia said they would not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ordinance has allowed more than 1,000 unmarried gay and straight couples to receive some marriage benefits. It also granted health benefits to the partners of county workers.
Conservative activists recently started a petition drive to challenge Broward County’s ban on discrimination against gays and lesbians. Leaders of the drive had no comment on the ruling.
Hate crime bill fails
Charleston, W.Va.—A measure to add gays and lesbians to the state’s hate crime law died as the legislature adjourned on April 14.
House Judiciary Committee chair Jon Amores, D-Kanawha, said there wasn’t enough support in his committee to consider the bill. It was passed, for the second year in a row, by the state senate on February 23.
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.
‘Full Monty’ writer’s latest film is set in the world of hairdressing
by Kaizaad Kotwal
From the writer of the surprise hit The Full Monty comes a new film about the cutthroat world of--you guessed it--hair dressing. Blow Dry is a small yet precious film that uses the British National Hair Dressing Championship as a backdrop to assess the role of family and the value of reconciliation in the face of impending tragedy.
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Simon Beaufoy brings to bear some of the same strengths of comedy and drama as he did in The Full Monty to Blow Dry. Beaufoy explores the world of clipping and coifing, using it as a rather flashy canvass against which to paint a really intimate story about a family trying to find its original magic in the direct stare of a mother dying of cancer.
The Allen family is the unit at the center of this sweetly comic and poignantly dramatic film. These are regular people, living in the small town of Keighley in Yorkshire in Northern England, where the British National Hair Dressing Championships are to be held.
In The Full Monty, Beaufoy turned a group of overweight, underpaid and misunderstood steelworkers into the hottest male burlesque act in all of England.
In Blow Dry, he uses the same conceit to test the waters of what it means to be family in a topsy-turvy world. Like most of the successful British films of the past decade or so, like Beautiful Thing, Saving Ned Devine, Saving Grace, and most recently, the amazing Billy Elliot, Blow Dry is also set against the bucolic charms of small-town England where issues of class and familial bonds are always strong.
The Allen family patriarch is Phil, Keighley's local barber and a single dad who is teaching his son Brian the tricks of the trade. Phil used to be one of the greatest hairdressing champions. However, ten years earlier, Phil abandoned his sparkling creativity when his wife ran off with their gorgeous hairdressing model on the eve of the championships.
In The Full Monty, one of the surprising elements of the films came when two of the male strippers ended up falling in love with each other. In Blow Dry, Beaufoy turns his gaze on a lesbian relationship. Phil's wife Shelley lives in the same town with her girlfriend Sandra and together they run a salon named "A Cut Above."
Shelley's recurring cancer is back and the prognosis is grim. She decides to keep the new cancer a secret from Sandra, while Phil and her son Brian have never known that under that bobbing blonde hair lies a scalp ravaged by chemotherapy.
Shelley realizes, when the competition comes to town, that this is her last chance at reconciling old wounds and bringing together a very non-traditional family to learn to love again, to learn to forgive for the first time and to learn to build for the future together once she is gone.
The film is cluttered with a kaleidoscopic menagerie of townspeople and visiting stylists, models and hangers-on. Alan Rickman who has starred in Die Hard, Sense and Sensibility and Michael Collins, plays Phil Allen, a misanthropic barber who has a lesson or two to learn in forgiveness and humility.
Natasha Richardson, who revived the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret on Broadway plays Shelley, the cancer-stricken mother who must reunite her ex-husband with her lover and reestablish a relationship with her estranged son Brian.
American heartthrob Josh Hartnett, of the recent Virgin Suicides, plays the awkward Brian, who is coming into his own as a man and secretly longs for his family to be reunited. Australian actress Rachel Griffiths plays Sandra, the wild-spirited model who split the family asunder.
The arch-villain of the story is Ray, a scheming, maniacal hairdresser who will try to win at all costs.
His daughter Christina falls in love with Brian as the story unfolds. Supermodel Heidi Klum makes her feature film debut as a super-sexed model who is coiffed above and below the belt by a pair of crazy hairdresser brothers.
The film and its director Paddy Breathnach have a challenge in blending the high camp and laugh-riot shenanigans of the hairdressing competition with the deeply real and immensely human story of a family at a tumultuous crossroads. For the most part that challenge is well met and the two disparate moods never seem forced or clumsy. But Beaufoy's writing here is not as strong as it was in The Full Monty, and sometimes he slips into character clichés and simplistic resolutions.
It is the cast here that saves the weaknesses in the script. Rickman takes misanthropy to new heights as he struggles to forgive his ex-wife and her lover for having stopped him in his tracks ten years ago. But sometimes Rickman seems too harsh and inflexible, making him somewhat unlikable.
Natasha Richardson, who is increasingly getting to resemble the other great actress in her family, Vanessa Redgrave, gives Shelley a deep humanity and a soulful poignancy without ever succumbing to maudlin over-acting, so common in actors playing cancer victims. As she struggles, initially without any success to get to know her son and to get her two families to reconcile, Richardson's subtle emotions and physical grace adds layers to a character that might have been more one-dimensional in lesser hands.
Richardson displays an enormous amount of love for her family and ultimately it is this all-encompassing love that allows her to triumph at the end, both in the contest and in her personal affairs.
Josh Hartnett, the only American playing a Brit, pulls off his accent convincingly for the most part.
With his brunette dyed hair, looking something like a relative of the Munsters, Hartnett turns in a subtle and quiet performance as the awkward son who is trying to find his own footing as a hairdresser and as a man in a topsy-turvy world. Hartnett, who is one to watch for in the future, is both funny and extremely endearing and blends in beautifully with this extremely talented and experienced cast of a few Brits and one Aussie.
Australian Rachel Griffiths, who has never turned in a bad or even mediocre performance, is brilliant once again. Griffiths came to critical acclaim in the indubitably funny Muriel's Wedding where she played a cancer patient. As Sandra, she adds a humanity to the film that sweetly compliments Shelley's love and compassion.
Griffiths has a real knack for blending ridiculous comedy with heart-breaking drama, moving between the two, effortlessly and powerfully. And when she emerges at the end of the final round of the competition as some sort of ethereal, futuristic baroque angel, it is an image that will be hard to forget.
Griffiths and Richardson are totally believable as lovers who have shared much in ten long years together. Like The Full Monty’s gay relationship, this one is presented maturely, without any comment, any politics or any agenda. There is no small-town over-reaction, no wink-wink, nudge-nudge subtext to their presence.
In a profession where gay stereotypes abound, it is nice that the filmmakers don't make a big deal about gay men, but rather focus in on a lesbian pair of hairdressers.
One of the grand dames of British acting, Rosemary Harris, turns in a sweet and affecting portrayal as a blind woman who befriends Shelley and shows her how to see more clearly her own mission in her remaining time on earth. Harris is simply magnificent in the few scenes that she does have and when Shelley uses her as a model in one of the rounds of the competition, the end result is gorgeous and profoundly touching.
The grand finale of the British National Hairdressing Championship is stunning, particularly for the look that Phil creates for Sandra. After 45 minutes under Phil's nimble fingers and magical scissors, Sandra emerges like some post-modern angel, a combination of gilded gothic beauty blended with a contemporary scalp tattoo and full-body paint adorned by a pair of large lamé wings.
Jenny Shircore has created a brilliant collection of coifed looks for the film from the sublime to the ridiculous. Shircore won an Academy Award for her work on Elizabeth two years ago and Blow Dry may just get her a second statuette, if only for her stunning transformation of Rachel Griffiths at the end of the film.
The film's flaws in the somewhat simplistic writing are amply overcome by a unique set of circumstances and a cast that turns in quietly powerful and poignant performances. So get to the theatre, drag yourself there by your hair if you have to, and revel in the warmth and style of this blow dry.
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