Political power and a good time are Cleveland Pride�s message
Cleveland--The not so thinly veiled message of the 16th annual Cleveland Pride parade and festival is for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and allies to increase their consciousness, then take the power to the polls.
The message was as bright as the sunlight that held out throughout the day. It was personified by the selection of Plain Dealer columnist and television commentator Dick Feagler as the parade�s celebrity grand marshal.
Feagler, a self described �right-wing, stuck-in-my-tracks fuddy-duddy,� wrote two columns speaking of his increased consciousness and calling for equality for gays. Afterward many people, including his godmother whose two sons were gay and died of AIDS, have come out to him, increasing his consciousness even more.
�If you had told me five years ago that I would be a grand marshal in a gay-rights parade, I would have said you were nuts,� Feagler wrote. �But gays coming out of the closet changed me.�
�At first, I thought it was a broom closet,� Feagler told the Pride rally crowd. �Then it became a walk-in. Now I realize it was a warehouse. A lot of good people were sealed away, afraid to come out and tell us how they felt and who they are.�
Feagler called his participation in the parade �a queer high for a straight guy� before leaving with his wife to attend a commitment ceremony.
Joining Feagler as parade marshals were Cleveland Heights city council member Phyllis Evans, Trans Family founder and Sissy Show creator Kathy Harvey, and political activist John Farina.
In her third Pride appearance as Cleveland�s mayor, Jane Campbell praised Feagler for the power of coming out of his closet, too.
�We have made great progress when people like Dick Feagler who find out they have gay friends come out of their closets and say so, and the world doesn�t come to an end,� said Campbell, �He got flak for it, but he also got love for it.�
Campbell, after pointing to the rainbow flag flying atop City Hall, challenged the crowd not to rest until �George W. Bush and people like him who govern by hate� are moved aside.
Religious leaders who support of GLBT relationships demonstrated another kind of power--solidarity. Led by Rev. Alan Harris of the United Church of Christ, clergy representing a wide sweep of the religious community signed a proclamation for equality of same-sex couples.
�You should know that these religious traditions already recognize your relationships,� said Harris.
At the festival, in addition to the entertainment, people were asked to help defeat a proposed Ohio marriage ban constitutional amendment, and pledge to vote against Bush.
�We�re all ingredients in the Bush-hate stew,� said BlackOut Unlimited interim executive director Jon Everett. BlackOut�s booth was the largest it has ever been, and Everett believes the turnout of African-Americans was also unusually large this year.
�We were happy to see the large turnout,� he noted. �We told all our constituents to come out to Pride. It really was a family affair this year, and maybe the political climate has something to do with it.�
Elected officials joining Campbell in celebration of Pride included state senator and candidate for U.S. Senate Eric Fingerhut, State Reps. Mike Skindell and Dale Miller, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Bridgette McCafferty, and Cleveland City Council members Joe Cimperman, Jay Westbrook, and Merle Gordon.
Jeff Seemann, who is a candidate for U.S. Congress in the 16th District, which includes the counties of Stark, Wayne, Ashland, and Medina, marched the parade, as did Cuyahoga County judicial candidates John Russo and Peter Corrigan.
Cincinnati�s Queen City Rainbow Band and its fledgling Cleveland counterpart led the parade of 957 people through downtown toward Lake Erie, where it was greeted by thousands of well-wishers and eight protesters led by Tom Raddell of the Christian organization Lifelink.
Seeing the protesters, the band stopped, turned toward them, and as is their tradition, played �with added spirit� as a symbol of power.
This year marked the first time marching bands were included in the Cleveland Pride parade.
�Having the Flaggots [a Columbus gay flag corps] and the two marching bands were a good addition to the parade,� said Cleveland Pride president Brian Thornton. �We are enormously pleased at the attendance and the spirit of community at Pride.�
Thornton was also impressed at the increased attention paid by festivalgoers to the booths of community groups, as well as the scattered �get out the vote� booths.
An anonymous local donor supplied a large grant for the purpose of promoting political activism, increased consciousness, and turning out the LGBT vote in November.
Entertainment headliner Kate Clinton�s performance for the estimated 10,000 at the rally was also political, and aimed at Bush. She and the other main stage performers, including RuPaul, played before a rainbow flag of the original Gilbert Baker design that includes pink and indigo stripes with the familiar six-stripe rainbow.
�If you don�t want to marry, you can still be gay,� said Clinton.
�In our house, we call Dick Cheney the Bush whisperer,� said Clinton. �He has a gay daughter, but his wife doesn�t.�
Clinton said Bush is saddened by the news from Massachusetts. �He found out the Salem witch trials are over.�
Clinton said she appreciates audiences like Cleveland�s that can handle the political material.
�It has been an incredible year for us since Lawrence v. Texas, and it�s a chance to dialogue about marriage,� said Clinton. �So it�s really like a second coming out for all of us. This time, we need to ask our allies for help.�
Dinner and expo continue Dayton�s Pride celebrations
Dayton--The winter garden of the Shuster Center for the Performing Arts provided a new edge to the ambience for the annual Pride Dinner celebration. The sell-out crowd of 650 set a new-age tone to the 19th annual dinner, themed �Hometown Heroes.�
A gay business exposition lined the hallways with more than 50 exhibitors presenting an almost A to Z array ranging from AIDS health care to web design. The exposition was so popular this year, the organizers found it hard to get people flowing into the dining area for the dinner to begin.
Rob Austin began the dinner with a rousing rendition of the Lee Greenwood song, �I am proud to be an American� as attendees found their seats. The wait staff immediately began serving up salad and followed it with a chicken and vegetable entr�e.
Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin, Commissioner Dean Lovelace and former Commissioner Tony Capizzi were on hand, as well as members of the Montgomery County Commission for their first time at a Pride dinner.
�A new day in dawning,� McLin said, �that we are going accept and include tolerance of everyone. We have come a long way, and yet have further to go. Who would have thought 13 years ago, Dayton would build a 123 million dollar performance center, and yet we are all here today.�
McLin then introduced State Rep. Fred Strahorn, D-40 of northern Dayton.
�It is a shame that the gay community has fallen victim to playing a part in the design to capture power, political power, in this state and in the country,� Strahorn said.
He went on to say that just in case anyone was wondering, he voted no on the Ohio �defense of marriage� act passed last winter. Strahorn then encouraged the crowd to make their voices heard in the coming elections so as not to be victims.
After Strahorn spoke, it was announced that, after many long years together, Kenneth L. McLaughlin legally married William H. �Teddy� Tredick on June 6 in Provincetown, Mass. Their ceremony was performed by Rev. Raeanna Biddle, who was the pastor of Eternal Joy Metropolitan Community Church in Dayton until she retired earlier this year.
Biddle was in Provincetown combining a vacation with a church conference. She opted not to marry her partner because getting a marriage license requires the applicants to swear that they live in Massachusetts or are planning to move there.
Entertainment continued with Scarlett Fever, Ashley West, Hope Sexton, the infamous CoCo Vega and April Reign as they brought the crowd to their feet.
The featured entertainer for the Dayton Pride dinner was comedian Karen Williams, who is known for her quick repartee, insightful commentary and audience rapport.
�I am very happy to be here for the LGBT community and their allies, which is a lot to say,� shesaid. �I just hope no one else comes out, it is so much to say, that I have been out for so long that I am about ready to go back in.�
She noted that after all the politicians� remarks, many think the LGBT community wants special rights. �No we don�t--but I would like this house,� she joked as she looked around the room.
�I would like to go to the grocery and say: Hey, I am a black lesbian mom, bag �em up,� she continued. �I get interviewed all the time as they ask, what is it like being a lesbian mother, lesbian mom, lesbian mom!�
�Well, my kids don�t know I am a mom--they think I�m an ATM. Frankly, they don�t care if I care who I am sleeping with, they just want to know if I have some cash. You got any change?�
John Zimmerman of the Dayton Lesbian and Gay Center said that all the Pride events this year were a great success and helped the community to really grow. Next year, he noted, they want to also acknowledge Dignity Dayton�s 30th anniversary. Zimmerman hopes to honor the LGBT and allied Catholic organization�s anniversary by dimming the lights and serving baked Alaska, a flaming dessert.
Manager is confident that goal of 63,001 voters will be reached by Election Day
Cincinnati--�If every one of our 2,700 volunteers canvasses just two more times before Election Day, we will have enough voters identified to repeal Article 12,� said Citizens to Restore Fairness campaign manager Justin Turner.
CRF�s campaign to repeal the anti-gay section of the Cincinnati charter was highly visible during the Cincinnati Pride celebration June 12 and 13. The group identified 700 people that weekend who will vote to repeal the measure, as well as nine who are undecided.
The campaign has identified about 14,000 supportive voters so far. This includes the Pride Day ones and 255 more during a canvass the next weekend kicked off by former Cincinnati mayor Roxanne Qualls.
To repeal Article 12 in the November election will take 63,001 votes, half the number expected to vote plus one. Turner is confident they will reach that figure.
CRF also recruited more volunteers and team leaders at Pride, which Turner calls �the long term benefit� of the campaign.
�When this campaign is successful, there will be a group of trained community leaders who can go on to other things,� Turner said.
The campaign has three paid staffers in addition to Turner. They are responsible for fundraising and supervising the stream of volunteers who come to the office every day to work the phones and enter data into the computers.
The campaign has raised $340,000 of its $1 million goal. The average CRF contribution through its web site www.CitizenstoRestoreFairness.org is $48.
Turner was sure the method of having face-to-face conversations with voters would work when he first arrived in Cincinnati. That day, he struck up a conversation with a woman in line at a fast-food restaurant.
�She became one of our first and best volunteers,� said Turner.
The voter identification method used in Cincinnati is the same as the one used to create the Cleveland Heights domestic partner registry last year. Volunteers canvass neighborhoods to identify supportive voters, and these people are contacted just before Election Day to make sure they vote.
Turner said 70 percent of the money raised will support the canvassing operation, and 30 percent will purchase advertising, making it more efficient than a conventional media campaign.
Turner said the ratio of LGBT to non-LGBT volunteers is roughly 50 percent.
�Canvassing neighborhoods is very powerful for the LGBT volunteers,� said Turner, �because they return feeling like the city welcomes them, which is a different feeling from 11 years ago� when voters passed Issue 3, which became Article 12.
Turner said three quarters of voters canvassed support the repeal of Article 12 as soon as they find out what it is and what it does.
�We�re going to show the world that Cincinnati isn�t what everyone thinks Cincinnati is,� he said, adding that the campaign is helping the city heal from the wounds of racial inequality, class inequality, and the deceptive campaign used to pass Issue 3 initially.
That campaign was run by Equal Rights Not Special Rights, one of the enterprises of anti-gay activist Phil Burress, whose Citizens for Community Values has been at the center of every organized anti-gay action in Ohio over the past five years.
ERNSR told Cincinnatians that Issue 3 prevented homosexuals from getting �special rights� based on who their sex partners are.
The article prohibits the city council from passing any measure protecting gays, lesbians or bisexuals. It denies rights by stopping LGBT Cincinnatians from asking the city government to include them in laws against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
�People begin to feel guilty about what they passed 11 years ago,� said Turner. �Many social conservatives are with us as a matter of fairness, even if they do not support the LGBT community on other issues� such as same-sex marriage.
�Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk [of the Catholic diocese] is a good example of that,� said Turner.
Because of this narrow support by many in the coalition, Turner said, CRF is not able to broaden its scope to include defeating a Ohio marriage ban amendment which will possibly be on the same ballot.
�CRF supporters are not united on anything other than the repeal of Article 12,� said Turner. �It�s possible that we will see yard signs saying �Repeal Article 12� and �Support the Constitutional Amendment� in the same yard.�
The state constitutional amendment, which would ban same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships, is pushed by CCV and a new Burress enterprise, the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage.
Turner expects Burress will try to confuse voters into thinking the issues of Article 12 and same-sex marriage are linked.
�Never underestimate the voters,� said Turner. �Voters can read.�
Turner does not believe CRF will be competing for funds with the campaign to defeat the amendment, which is headed by Ohioans for Growth and Equality.
�Either you can take the pie and divide it up, or you can bake another pie,� said Turner. �In some ways, we all compete, but there are still ways to grow and expand the pies.�
Abby Jones, a Cincinnati resident and University of Cincinnati student, has volunteered with CRF since February.
Jones said her friends are supportive of the repeal, and some volunteer for the campaign.
�One of my moms is looking for a job,� said Jones, �and people cannot believe that it�s legal not to hire her because she�s a lesbian.�
UC student Jeremy Mullin, of nearby Green Township, also volunteers for CRF although he doesn�t vote in Cincinnati.
Mullin is dating Jones, and confessed that he needs the community service time for school. But he is offended by what Article 12 could do to hurt Jones� moms and other LGBT people.
CRF will team with the city�s Charter Party for a special canvass June 26.
New interim director takes helm of Cleveland center
Cleveland--The two people who have led the Lesbian-Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland since its executive director left last fall have stepped down, and the organization�s first vice president is taking charge until a new director is found.
The board of directors announced June 16 that Kathy Harvey has taken a leave of absence from her board position to serve as the center�s interim director.
She replaces co-interim directors Mary Zaller and Jack Hart, who have served in that capacity since former director David Smith resigned on October 5.
Zaller will continue her role as the center�s development director. Hart will leave the center and his former post as director of program development.
The move results from a drop in funds after the loss of a major program grant, center officials said, as well as large contributors donating to political campaigns this year instead of the center.
�There�s a general financial crisis in Cleveland,� said board chair Thom Rankin. �We carried the positions as long as we could.�
Rankin said that although contributions by individuals have increased slightly due to more contributors, many are giving less to the center and sending the rest to statewide political campaigns.
The Gund Foundation didn�t renew a $25,000 grant for the Safe Schools are for Everyone (SSAFE) program, which mostly funded salaries. The board chose to keep the SSAFE program, finding money for it elsewhere in the budget.
Rankin said the foundation did not lose faith in the center, but found itself with increased demands coming from the financially strapped Cleveland school system, and not enough money to go around.
Zaller said she is sad to see Hart leave, but is �relieved� to be back to doing one job.
�I never had the time to do [development] planning due to the interim executive director responsibilities,� said Zaller, adding, �I need to be focused on fundraising.�
She can now concentrate on the center�s next major fundraiser, the July 30 Garden Party.
Hart�s last day is July 15.
�I am so disappointed that I will not be with the center any longer,� he said. �I would so loved to have continued to be a part of the exceptional programming and other marvelous things that are going on here. It was a joy to have been a part of this exciting time at the center.�
Rankin said other major strategic changes have been positive to the center, such as expanding the board in February from eight to 22 members.
�The board needed to better reflect the community,� said Rankin, �and we have created a larger sphere of influence, a bigger volunteer base.�
Additionally, the center changed its tax-exempt status to one that still allows contributors to take tax deductions, but also allows the center to do more advocacy and political work.
The strategic plan calls for the center to move toward a more advocacy-centered role in the community.
�We�re not going to take anything away from existing programs,� said Harvey, �but we�re going to be more of an advocacy organization.�
�There are organizations to deal with LGBT issues at the national level and at the regional level,� said Harvey. �When it comes to dealing with local issues, we need to be one of the pairs of boots on the ground.�
Harvey said part of her mission as interim executive director is to find out what the changing needs of the center are.
�I�m getting under the hood to see what�s needed to give the [executive director] search committee a clearer picture of the critical attributes to look for.�
Rankin said the search committee has collected 30 r�sum�s of local talent interested in the position.
�We�re not going to hone in on any until the strategic planning is done,� said Rankin, �and that won�t be for another 30 to 45 days.�
Akron--Domestic partner benefits are one of the issues leading to a strike by registered nurses at the city�s largest hospital.
The 650 nurses represented by the Ohio Nurses Association struck Akron General Medical Center June 17 over salary, pension, and benefit packages that include domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples.
The partner benefits proposed by the union include health insurance, pension transfer on death and bereavement leave for same-sex couples who document their partnership and financial interdependency. The proposal also calls for coverage of the partner�s dependent children.
The partner benefits proposal came from the membership, said union co-chair Sandy Robinson, and has near unanimous support from the members.
Robinson said hospital negotiator Gary Spring told the union that the hospital is �politically opposed and philosophically opposed� to the partner benefits.
Spring declined to comment.
Thomas Cochrane, an attorney representing the Ohio Nurses Association, said domestic partner benefits are a �question of realities.�
�Even people who aren�t in same-sex relationships recognize their importance, especially among nurses, who are trained to take care of colleagues� needs as well as their patients� needs,� he said.
Cochrane said that employees of the ONA, which is in Columbus, �take their domestic partner benefits for granted.�
�The association has been interested in this issue for a long time,� said Cochrane.
ONA board member and Akron General nurse Johanna Edwards said she supports the domestic partner benefits, despite her personal and religious convictions.
�I put my personal feelings aside and make decisions good for the profession,� said Edwards. �My responsibility is to take care of all people from all walks of life.�
Union member Sherri Hamm helped research the domestic partner benefits, and said she would use them if offered.
�I was amazed at the support from the non-GLBT nurses,� said Hamm, �It was 100 percent on the negotiating team, and the one nurse who spoke against the benefits early on got jumped on by other nurses until he shut up.�
Hamm, a former military servicemember said being openly GLBT at Akron General reminds her of �don�t ask, don�t tell,� and she is not sure how many of her colleagues would step forward to use the benefits because that would mean coming out to the hospital.
Akron General does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in its non-discrimination policy.
Asked why the nurses didn�t also propose changing the policy, Robinson said, �No one thought of it.�
Robinson said she doesn�t know why the hospital is opposed to the benefits, since it is seeking national recognition as a magnet facility by the nursing profession and an �employer of choice,� both of which look favorably on domestic partner benefits.
Hospital human resources vice president Maureen Van Duser declined comment.
Prior to walking out, the nurses and the hospital reached a tentative agreement on the section of the proposal giving same-sex partners five days of paid bereavement leave.
�Under our rules, once there is a tentative agreement, we have it,� said Robinson, adding that when that agreement was made, the nurses took the insurance and pension sections off the table in an attempt to avoid a strike.
�Now that we�re walking, it�s back on,� said Robinson.
Hamm said no single issue would keep the nurses out, and she sees the salary and other benefits issues as larger than getting the rest of the domestic partner proposal.
Under the hospital�s plan, she added, her health insurance would go from costing nothing to $1,500 per year, which is more than the raise the hospital is offering.
�So it�s not clear that straight people would be willing to stay out over [domestic partner benefits],� said Hamm.
Hamm said she is happy that the proposal is on the table and that if they don�t get it, domestic partner benefits will be on the table again in three years when this contract expires.
Akron General�s nearest competitor, Summa Health Systems, is not unionized and does not offer domestic partner benefits either, reasoning that �less than a quarter of the national [hospital] market offers domestic partner benefits.�
A total of 62 Ohio employers offer the benefits, according to the Human Rights Campaign which tracks them on its Worknet web site. These include Nationwide and Progressive insurance, Procter & Gamble and Key Bank, but only one hospital: University Hospitals of Cleveland, which began offering partner benefits at its main facility in 2002.
with wire reports
Washington, D.C.--With the Federal Marriage Amendment set for a Senate vote next month, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the measure June 22, with conflicting testimony from two prominent Republicans.
It was the first Senate hearing on the measure, which has had three hearings in the House Judiciary Committee.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a marriage opponent, argued, �It is not possible for the issue to remain solely a Massachusetts issue, it must now be confronted on a national basis.�
Romney�s state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on May 17, six months after its high court ruled that barring them violated the state constitution.
Romney�s testimony was refuted by former Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican who authored the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
�Resisting the temptation to use the federal government to meddle in state matters is the test of this conservative principle,� said Barr, an opponent of same-sex marriage but a staunch supporter of states� rights. �To be frank, I do not appreciate their presumption to dictate morals to my fellow Georgians through misuse of the federal Constitution.�
On Romney�s testimony, Barr said, �Thus, the governor is pleading for this Congress and the federal government to protect him against the Massachusetts state constitution, the Massachusetts legislature, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and most ironically, the people of Massachusetts if they eventually ratify the proposed Massachusetts constitutional amendment,� which would ban same-sex marriage and create civil unions.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, asked Romney how he could support a state amendment creating civil unions while also supporting a federal amendment that would bar them. Romney said he would oppose the federal amendment if it prohibited civil unions.
Most experts believe it does, since it bars states from recognizing marriage �or the legal incidents thereof� for same-sex couples.
Committee chair Sen. Orrin Hatch, RUtah, was expected to introduce a new amendment which would specifically allow civil unions.
It is widely believed that the current, more restrictive amendment will not garner the two-thirds vote it needs to get out of the House and the Senate.
At the last moment, however, Hatch announced that he fully supports the current amendment.
Same-sex vows would add to treasury
Meanwhile, a report from the Congressional Budget Office, prepared at the request of Ohio�s conservative Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, dispelled anti-gay claims that same-sex marriage would cost the government millions.
The report instead says that the government would receive a $1 billion increase in revenue.
�In some cases, recognizing same-sex marriages would increase outlays and revenues; in other cases, it would have the opposite effect,� the report says. �The Congressional Budget Office estimates that on net, those impacts would improve the budget�s bottom line to a small extent; by less than $1 billion in each of the next ten years.�
Chabot chairs the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, which was slated to hold another hearing on the marriage amendment June 24. It was not known at press time whether he would still present the report to the committee.
So far, neither the House nor the Senate have voted on the Federal Marriage Amendment. Senate Republican leaders are pushing to have a roll-call vote the week of July 12. Democrats point out that, by forcing a vote shortly before the Democratic National Convention, they are simply attempting to force presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry to publicly vote on the matter so that President Bush can use the vote in his campaign.
Boston--Eight gay and lesbian couples and a dozen city clerks have sued to remove a law that Gov. Mitt Romney is using to stop out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying in Massachusetts.
The 1913 law bars out-of-staters from marrying if the union would not be allowed in their home state. It was originally passed to prevent interracial couples from coming to Massachusetts to marry when most states prohibited such unions, and has not been enforced in decades.
Both suits were filed June 18 in Suffolk County Court.
One was filed by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders on behalf of eight same-sex couples from New England and New York who were refused marriage licenses because of the law, known as Section 11.
�We believe that Section 11 violates both the liberty and equality provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution,� GLAD civil rights director Mary Bonauto said. �This was a law that clerks were instructed to ignore for decades, yet the governor pulled it off the shelves just to deny marriage to some gay and lesbian couples.�
�Plainly stated, the constitution trumps Section 11 under the Goodridge decision,� Bonauto said, referring to the November state supreme court ruling that struck down a ban on same-sex marriage.
The court ordered the state to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses on May 17. Romney, a Republican opposed to the marriages, told clerks not to grant licenses to same-sex couples from other states.
Romney interpreted Section 11 as barring any gay or lesbian couple from another state from marrying in Massachusetts, since no other state explicitly allows same-sex marriage.
Democratic Attorney General Tom Reilly, a likely opponent to Romney in the next gubernatorial election, interprets the law as meaning that couples from the 39 states with specific bans on same-sex marriage cannot marry in Massachusetts.
After the first marriages began, however, Reilly�s office issued a cease-and-desist order to several town clerks who had vocally disobeyed Romney�s edict.
The second suit was filed by a dozen of the clerks, led by the gay resort of Provincetown. The clerks argue that their towns will be illegally discriminating by refusing to grant licenses to gay and lesbian out-of-state couples.
Heterosexual couples are seldom held to the 1913 law. For instance, questions about whether they are first cousins, which would invalidate marriages in many states, have hardly ever been asked.
The state senate voted 28-3 in May to repeal the measure. The bill was an amendment to the state budget, however, and it was stripped from the final version by a conference committee.
Section 11 was part of an early 20th century effort to limit what it describes as �intermarriage.� Only five states passed such measures: Massachusetts, Vermont, Illinois, Wisconsin and Louisiana, which has since repealed it.
Out U.K. star debuts a new series on Comedy Central
Without a doubt, Graham Norton has altered the U.K.�s pop cultural landscape. Through Channel 4 his talk shows So Graham Norton and V(ery) Graham Norton, the openly gay comedian became a household name and garnered fans of every age, sexuality, and social standing across England, from gay teen boys to married housewives to sporty working class lads.
Not that all of these people would admit their fandom, of course.
�I get lots of straight guys coming up going, �Oh, my girlfriend loves your show�,� Norton says. �They never [like it themselves]. Or they�ll say it in a begrudging way, like, �I have to admit it�s quite funny, that show.� And the little [unspoken] end brackets are �despite you being a great big screaming faggot!� It�s weird because there is something odd in that I�m out and the show is quite campy and gay, but at the same time the show must work on some other level if they all like it.�
Norton brought his campy, screaming queerness to American households this month, when Comedy Central launched his first American series, The Graham Norton Effect, on June 24. Airing Thursdays at 10 pm, the show will echo the British incarnation�s format--celebrity interviews, elaborate pranks, skits, and loads of Norton�s saucy banter--albeit in hourly instead of 30-minute doses.
As for its potential cultural impact?
�I think it�s too late for my cultural effect here,� Norton muses with a laugh. �I think the cultural effect happened. There are enough gay people on TV now and there�s a wide range of them. So I just want to have fun and I hope people like the show.�
Today, Norton resides in an apartment located in Manhattan�s Murray Hill neighborhood, a convenient stroll from his show�s Chelsea studio (�Where else?� he quips). Having parted ways with Channel 4 back home, he�s freed up for the summer and Comedy Central�s 13 weekly tapings.
�Summer in New York and one show a week--look out liver!� he jokes. �It�s fantastic but worrying. In Britain the one thing that saved me is I learned how to drive essentially to cut down my drinking. And suddenly I�m in New York without a car. My car is like my A.A. sponsor. I�m unleashed. And the bars are open until 4! It�s good but I�m glad I�m leaving in September.�
New York is a place Norton�s visited quite frequently over the past couple of years for sold-out standup comedy engagements, some episodes of his U.K. program, and a cameo in the Absolutely Fabulous New York special. Unlike in London, however, Norton can walk around the city without being recognized at every turn. A blessing--and a drawback, depending on his mood.
�If I�m having a Sally Field in Soapdish moment I go to Times Square,� he proffers, �and there�s lots of tourists there to recognize me. I feel all good and loved and I can come home!�
Born Graham Walker in County Cork, Ireland, Norton admits he�s always--like most everybody--fostered childhood dreams of becoming a TV star. He sampled a first taste of public adoration during the 1990s through numerous Edinburgh Festival one-man shows, including The Karen Carpenter Bar and Grill and Charlie�s Angels Go to Hell. But it was an inadvertent coup that led to TV fame. When he guest-hosted talk show Not The Jack Docherty Show in 1997, both Norton and Docherty himself went head-to-head for �Best Newcomer� honors at the British Comedy Awards. Norton won.
�Isn�t that awful?� Norton laughs with a wee dash of remorse. �It was very All About Eve. At the awards I was sitting at the same table as him! I had to go on stage and when I came back my boyfriend told me, �It was really quiet�.�
Come 1999, Norton fulfilled his childhood ambition by landing his own television show on Channel 4, winning numerous additional comedy, TV and gay awards over the years, including a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award. In 2001, Norton famously turned down a �5 million ($9 million) contract from the BBC, fearing his show�s ribald and sometimes risqu� elements would be toned down. Keep in mind this is a man who brings out and shares items like �Microwavable Hot Cock� dildos and sex fetish personal ads with his highly amused guests and audiences.
Having interviewed such luminaries as Cher, Diana Ross, Heath Ledger, Shirley MacLaine, Lucy Lawless, Dustin Hoffman and Dolly Parton (one of his idols, he famously visited Dollywood for a special) over the years, Norton insists that his still elusive, ultimate dream guest would be Madonna, although he doesn�t have a single question in mind to ask her.
�I�d stare and go, �Ooh, you�re Madonna�.�
Queers have appeared in the hot seat as well, including Alan Cumming, Jean Paul Gaultier, Skin of Skunk Anansie, Boy George, and Dead or Alive�s Pete Burns.
Sometimes audience members find themselves in the spotlight. On one episode, Norton asked single audience members to stand up and, after weeding out who hadn�t dated in the longest time, a woman, he had her image and a phone number displayed on the huge screen at a soccer game going on. After a couple of minutes, someone rang up the studio and Norton tried to set them up (sadly, the woman declined a date). On another occasion, Norton had a young girl tell of a horrifically embarrassing incident--her father discovered her vibrator.
�I bumped into her sister about a year later and apparently her family hadn�t spoken to this girl since she told the story on TV,� Norton recalls. �And her sister had brokered a peace treaty, they were going to have a big dinner [and reconcile], and the night before the dinner they showed a Best of Graham Norton show and there she was again!�
Although professing a low tolerance for pranks in life, Norton (and his staff) is responsible for a share of tomfoolery on his show. After using a self-cleaning public restroom, a woman was tricked into going back inside before the door shut--then it promptly closed and began its machinations with her trapped inside. �Oh yeah she got cleaned,� he laughs. �It was funny though � she had a microphone on so we could hear.�
Yet while all of these delightful elements will be in place for Comedy Central�s incarnation, Norton admits that one British staple will be missing: Betty, an elderly woman who occupies a spot in the audience almost every night and has achieved her own fame as a result.
�We might have to recast,� Norton muses. �I had a weird dream about her last night where her mad friend came to me and told me how unhappy she was and she was trying to find other comedy work. And I was thinking, �Other comedy work? What other comedy work has she had?� She�s literally an audience member. We didn�t find her. She just shows up in the audience. But I wrote Betty a note before I went away. We�re due to have fish and chips supper when I get back.�
Norton will return to London come fall, at which point he will commence a new U.K. talk show on the BBC. (Americans have been able to sample Norton for a while through BBC America, which airs edited, compiled editions of his Channel 4 program, and The Best of Graham Norton is being released by BBC Video in the U.S. on August 10.) However, he is contracted by Comedy Central for two years of the show, plus his own hour-long standup special and hosting duties on four of the cable network�s Reel Comedy behind-the-scenes movie series.
�I think if this show is a disaster we�ll all just quietly forget about them,� he laughs of these additional commitments.
Perhaps he may even be able to squeeze in a little time for love. Openly gay throughout his career, Norton�s currently single, a status happily exploited for some while.
�The upside [of being a celebrity] is you get a higher quality of casual sex,� he notes. �The downside is the chances of actually getting a boyfriend are tiny.�
However, Norton admits to feeling �a little broody� lately and is itching for some steady loving from a more mature partner.
�What I�m desperately aiming for now is an age-appropriate boyfriend,� the 41-year-old confesses. �I�ve been through a rash of ridiculously young guys, and it�s just stupid. One wanted to take my picture with his car. I thought that . . . I don�t know what the fuck it was! I actually did refuse. Only because we already had sex--if it was part of foreplay, I was there!�