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Clare Mulroy

LGBTQ Black History: Remembering Trailblazer Pauli Murray

Black and white photo of Pauli Murray sitting at a desk in a library.

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published February 16, 2021 in Tagg Magazine here.

Pauli Murray was a Black, nonbinary, queer poet, writer, lawyer and priest whose legacy carries on through law and activism. Born in Baltimore, MD in 1910, Murray moved to New York City after graduating high school and attended Hunter College to pursue a degree in English Literature. Murray was an avid writer and gained national media attention after campaigning to attend the University of North Carolina, which at the time was exclusively white. Murray studied law at Howard University and continued to write civil rights essays and poems.

Murray’s work was influential for decades — former President John F. Kennedy appointed Murray to the Committee on Civil and Political Rights, where Murray worked with civil rights activists like A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King.

In the world of legal reform, Murray influenced both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall. Marshall used Murray’s senior thesis from Howard, “Should the Civil Rights Cases and Plessy be Overruled?” to successfully argue Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In an interview with Time Magazine, Ginsburg credited Murray for the idea to interpret the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which states that it’s unconstitutional to deprive “any person” of equal protections. This interpretation, which appeared in Murray’s 1965 article “Jane Crow and the Law” helped Ginsburg win Reed v. Reed. Murray’s name is credited on the brief as an honorary writer.

Murray’s legacy lasts as a pioneer breaking sexuality and gender norms. Struggles with gender identity lasted Murray’s entire life. After being rejected from Harvard because the school only accepted male applicants, Murray wrote back that “I would gladly change my sex to meet your requirements, but…the way to such change has not been revealed to me.”

Murray sought hormone therapy unsuccessfully for years and even persuaded doctors to perform tests to see if Murray was born with hidden male genitalia or hormones. The Pauli Murray Center reports that Murray used the phrase “he/she personality” with family members . They chose “Pauli” as a gender neutral name over their birth name, Anna Pauline. Murray also had two significant romances in their life with women, one of which was described as Murray’s life partner.

Murray is also notable for breaking yet another barrier by becoming the first Black woman to become an Episcopal priest. They became the first woman to give the Eucharist in the Episcopal Church in North Carolina.

Remembered today as the silent warrior behind some of the country’s most crucial civil rights cases, Pauli Murray is a hero to many and one to be especially remembered during Black History Month.

Love Wins: Travel Style Company Unveils Black LGBTQ Beach Towel

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published January 9, 2021 in Tagg Magazine here.

Kinyatta Gray, founder of FlightsInStilettos, has a vision for the future of travel — accessories that look and feel representative of her customers.

Her latest endeavor is the first ever LGBTQ beach towel that features a Black lesbian couple. Gray released the latest design, the “Love Wins” beach towel, as part of her 2021 Glam Girl Beach Towels collection. The “Love Wins” towel features a Black queer couple holding hands on the beach.

“You don’t see a lot of these images on beach towels at all, and then to drill down even deeper, you definitely don’t see a lot of images of people of color,” says Gray. “Go even deeper, [images of] Black lesbians…it does not exist.”

The design is inspired by Gray and her wife, who got married in 2017. Gray’s motivation was to create a towel that featured images of a lesbian couple, opposed to the typical pride colors or designs. The microfiber beach towel is also in response to the lack of images of people of color in travel accessories.

Since the release of the “Love Wins” towel, Gray says she is impressed by the outpouring of support from the community. Women who have similar hair or tattoos see themselves in the images represented in the new beach towels. The entire 2021 Glam Girl Collection features women of different races and body types sporting unique beach outfits.

“I’m very confident that it may really be one of the first beach towels that has that kind of image on it,” she says. “It’s almost shocking, and it’s surprising. [Customers] are like, ‘Gosh, someone is thinking about us.’” According to Gray, she even submitted the towel to the Guiness Book of World Records to confirm the “Love Wins” towel as the first ever Black LGBTQ beach towel.

Not only does Gray incorporate representation in the images of women, she also tries to weave it throughout her entire business. FlightsInStiletto originally started as a travel blog but quickly turned into a brand once Gray realized that she didn’t see a lot of accessories that represented her or reflected her personal style.

She began designing products in mid 2018. Now in 2020, FlightsInStilettos has appeared in New York Fashion Week and has a growing presence online. Between customizable luggage sets and the “Traveling Tiaras” children’s travel accessories with images of young jet-setting girls of color, Gray’s mission is to incorporate representation of her customer base and her own travel style.

Ultimately, Gray believes there is an opportunity for the entire fashion and travel industry to step up and increase representation.

“I think there are a lot of organizations that are really stepping up to the forefront. [We need] to see advertising, and clothing and all kinds of travel destinations that really speak to you and let you know, ‘Hey, you are welcome,’” says Gray. “It’s something that we’re seeing more and more, but we can always do better.”

A League of Her Own Hosts Virtual New Year’s Eve Bash

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published December 28, 2020 in Tagg Magazine here.

For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, Jo McDaniel will be bartending without a mask on.

McDaniel, the manager of Washington, D.C. queer bar A League of Her Own (ALOHO) will host a virtual New Year’s Eve bash. ALOHO’s virtual party will feature live music from DJ MIM and special guests throughout the night.

“Our bartenders are going to be dancing and making cocktails. We’re going to have a good time,”  McDaniel says. “Everybody can feel connected and we can be safe in our homes.”

Like many bars and restaurants, ALOHO has been working to maintain some sense of normalcy amid pandemic restrictions. The bar opened a “streatery” from June to October but was unable to accommodate space heaters for outdoor dining as the weather got colder. Now, McDaniel is trying to take advantage of virtual community events.

“When we brought things inside and it got really slow and less busy, that was when I was able to focus more on how we can still serve our community, still stay afloat, and really keep people connected, which is absolutely the mission of ALOHO,” she explains.

This paved the way for ALOHO to experiment with more online events. McDaniel says she was inspired by the Lesbian Bar Project comedy show hosted by podcast Dyking Out, which she appeared on as a guest in November.

When D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a shutdown of bars and restaurants at 10 p.m., McDaniel knew it wasn’t realistic to try to host an in-person NYE event.

With the help of Boiscouts DC, a marketing group aiming to create community awareness of local events for queer women, McDaniel began putting together the “Bring On 2021” event. The party will stream live on YouTube and feature commercials from local organizations and businesses. McDaniel says the planning process is exciting because she gets to collaborate with bartenders she hasn’t seen in a while. She’s also excited to see the community’s reaction.

“I’m just excited to give everybody a highlight of the D.C. community as well as our staff,” she says, “And just have a good time that feels reminiscent of the ALOHO we all miss so much.”

The ALOHO virtual NYE bash takes place on December 31 from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m on January 1. Tickets are for sale on Eventbrite. General admission is $20. The $50 ticket level gets you a cocktail kit swag bag from Republic Restoratives and ALOHO. The “Plus Swag for the Party Pod” tickets are $100 and include enough supplies for 10 cocktails.

OML’s New Series Dating ‘In’ Place Explores Romance in the Age of Covid

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published November 20, 2020 in Tagg Magazine here.

While many film and TV productions are halting due to the coronavirus pandemic, OML’s Dating ‘In’ Place incorporates the pandemic into the central storyline. The 10-episode comedy series, which debuted on Revry on November 1, follows two women exploring long-distance dating as the coronavirus pandemic turns their worlds upside down.

Dating ‘In’ Place was created by actress and producer Shantell “Yaz” Abeydeera and Marina Rice Bader. The cast and crew filmed and produced the entire series remotely, with meetings and rehearsal done over Zoom and filming done individually on HD smartphone cameras.

According to Abeydeera, the process was challenging as both an actor and producer. Post-production file transfers sometimes had to be done standing in the street with masks on, passing drives back and forth.

“As the actor, we had to do everything: setting up the lighting, the audio, all that kind of stuff,” Abeydeera says. “Some of the shots took almost two hours to set up and then the other actor would call in…and you would act for seven minutes.”

Still, the payoff was big. Abeydeera had never even been in the same room as her co-star, Emily Goss, when the two played characters falling in love. Despite the physical distance and virtual acting, Abeydeera says that she loves the energy the cast created and the chemistry they were able to find.

The content creator says she is grateful for the chance to get to tell queer stories during such an unprecedented time. The reason for making it a comedy and love story was simple — to show how connection was possible amid seemingly impossible circumstances.

“At the beginning of the pandemic I felt like everyone was really scared and everyone was spending an exorbitant amount of time online,” Abeydeera says. “What I saw was that people really needed a distraction…something else that they can hold onto that felt positive within the negative.”

Writing the series amid a pandemic also gave Abeydeera a chance to reflect on her own life. She knows living with her wife in Los Angeles means that they have the privilege of walking down the street holding hands without fear of harassment. Others don’t have the same opportunity.

“I understand that there are people all over the world that go to digital platforms to find content like this, to find answers,” she says. “And also so that they don’t feel alone.”

Queer representation is “everything” she says, but being able to tell those stories on a platform like Revry, which is ad supported by companies that support the LGBTQ community is equally important.

Abeydeera also serves as director of content and partnerships at OML, which provides free, accessible LGBTQ content to 186 different countries worldwide. According to OML’s website, its mission is to aggregate quality LGBTQ content in one place for the community to find and enjoy.

“This is specifically what I want to be doing,” she says. “I want to be making queer content and I want to be serving my community and making the stuff that I didn’t get to see when I was younger.”

I Put the Bi in Bitter is a Light-Hearted Portrayal of LGBTQ Teen Experiences

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published October 26, 2020 in Tagg Magazine here.

As a high schooler, filmmaker Marin Lepore wished she saw someone like herself on screen — LGBTQ characters with normal teen experiences. Now as the co-founder of Sad Girl Productions and writer and director of the web series I Put the Bi in Bitter, she is creating those characters for others.

I Put the Bi in Bitter is a coming-of-age comedy series following bisexual high schooler Sam (played by Rhema Srihartiti) as she navigates high school, friendships, and first relationships. Lepore wrote the series as a personal project in summer 2018 and was filming the first season by September of the same year. Kelley Zincone co-wrote and produced it. The series, which concluded after the season three finale, is available for streaming on Tello Films and YouTube.

Lepore says she wrote the series to fill in gaps she saw in the LGBTQ film category.

“A lot of the LGBT media we have right now [is] dramatic or tragic, or if they are comedies, then they rely on R-rated language or sexual humor,” she says. “A lot of the [LGBT] content we have right now isn’t really accessible to kids, so I wanted to make something that was light-hearted and cute.”

The series incorporates playful emojis into its production, which appear above the character’s heads in moments of expression and gives the series a truly Gen-Z feel.

Lepore’s ultimate goal is to normalize gay youth on TV and film. Like the character Sam, Lepore hopes other LGBTQ teenagers watching the show understand that you don’t have to have a “big, dramatic” coming out moment if you don’t want to.

What’s more important is representation. The majority of cast and crew are women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community. The three leads are played by women of color, which is especially important to Lepore, a woman of color herself. It’s made by people in the community, for the community, she says.

“If you have a gay story but it’s completely filtered through the lens of heterosexual people, cisgender people, people who aren’t in the community, that’s doesn’t do anything to change the film industry,” she says. “The representation won’t be authentic or relatable.”

After its debut, the series appeared at various festivals around Colorado like SeriesFest and the Colorado Short Circuit Film Festival, where the team won Best Comedy and Best Screenwriting in March 2019 and the Women in Film Award in February. The series also appeared at ClexaCon in both 2019 and 2020, a media and entertainment convention for LGBTQ women, trans and non-binary fans and creators.

Though I Put the Bi in Bitter is no longer in production, Lepore hopes to pitch the concept as a 22-minute TV show in the future. This would give her a chance to expand on the characters and storyline, she says.

For the time being, Lepore is balancing finishing her Film/TV BFA at the University of Colorado, Denver and making “as many [films] as she can” to satisfy her goal of empowering marginalized groups both on screen and behind the scenes.

Lez Hang Out Announces New LGBTQ Romantic Comedy Musical

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published October 12, 2020 in Tagg Magazine here.

There’s not much in the category of musical theater podcasts, but Leigh Holmes Foster and Ellie Brigida of the Lez Hang Out podcast are determined to become a name in the genre.

The two are using their background in theater and music to write and produce “The Flame,” a queer romantic comedy musical podcast that will be released summer 2021. According to a press release, the eight episode series follows two women: Jamie, a queer bar owner, and Sam, the woman selling the building that the bar inhabits, and the relationship that sparks between them.

The idea came from their podcast Lez Hang Out, where Foster and Brigida regularly write original songs based on lesbian and queer movies. When they realized they were enjoying the music side of their production, they created a plan to branch out into new opportunities.

So what is a queer romantic comedy musical podcast? Foster and Brigida don’t exactly know — but they’re quickly finding out.

“There’s not a set answer for what that means yet, we’re kind of getting to invent it a little bit as we go,” says Foster. “It’s been this really fun game to say, ‘What are the things we love about musical theater, and how do you re-envision them or adapt them or capture that same thing in an audio-only setting?’”

The core production team is Brigida (Scoring and Music Producer) and Foster (Composer), joined by Caitlyn Clear (Screenwriter) and Valerie Rose Lohman (Executive Producer). The two brought in Clear, who Brigida said has a “knack for comedy” to help write the eight episode arc. They’ve written nearly 20 songs to accompany the storyline, which will be split between two four-episode acts.

As for recording the podcast, Lohman is going to work with the actors through guided Zoom sessions, an adaptation made by the voiceover community during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The arts are hurting, and especially the theater world is hurting right now, so it’s a great opportunity for us to be able to hire actors to do something that is theater, but that is safe, that they can do from home,” Foster explains.

With recording a fictional podcast comes uncharted territory for the pair, like hiring a paid team of actors. Foster says their team has been “blown away” by the support on their recently launched crowdfunding campaign. The team also recently announced two of their cast members: Chilina Kennedy as “Rachel” and Jesse Nowack as “Harold.”

“We’re not network produced, we do everything ourselves, the team is us, we’ve learned everything as we go,” says Brigida. “Now we’re venturing into this whole other world of doing a SAG project, we’ve never worked with the union before.”

One of their priorities is maintaining queer representation. According to Foster, the whole production team—including the actors—are part of the queer community. They’re placing an emphasis on paying queer talent, she said. The storyline itself will also make waves in such a new category of podcast production; Brigida is excited for audiences to hear a “positive queer love story.”

“There’s something about that type of Broadway music that just hits you immediately,” says Foster. “I think for queer people, we’ve had so few of those songs where we actually feel represented.”

Pride and Less Prejudice Brings LGBTQ Representation to Young Students

By Clare Mulroy

This article was first published October 5, 2020 in Tagg Magazine here.

When Lisa Forman began to reflect on the lack of LGBTQ representation her queer daughter Rebecca had growing up, she asked herself a question: “What can I do to make a difference?”

It was that question that pushed her to create Pride and Less Prejudice (PLP) — a non-profit organization that raises money to donate books featuring LGBTQ characters to preschool through third grade classrooms. Since its creation in November 2019, PLP has received requests from 36 states.

A music therapist and a preschool teacher from Massachusetts, Forman understands the impact that early education has on children and the way they see the world. After her daughter came out as queer, Forman noticed she was drawn to LGBTQ storylines on TV.

“That seemed to make a huge difference for her, when she saw those people represented,” she explains. “It must be true for so many other kids out there — what a big hole it was in her childhood.”

In its origin, Forman gathered 14 books with LGBTQ representation to donate to classrooms with young children. She first reached out to friends that were teachers and her daughter utilized her connections from internships and Smith College. According to Forman, the books are “age appropriate” for preschool through third grade audiences.

“This is when they’re learning to discriminate, and we need to teach acceptance and inclusion and community,” she says. “From that very young age we need to normalize it.”

What “age appropriate” looks like is a variety of stories about acceptance and understanding, Forman says. There are books where LGBTQ issues are not the central storyline, like “A Plan for Pops,” a book about a child’s adventures with their two grandfathers. There are also history books like “Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution” which illustrates the story of the Stonewall Inn Riots and the start of the LGBTQ rights movement.

When PLP reached a point where they were getting more requests than they had donation money, the team launched a celebrity campaign to boost awareness.

The campaign, #ReadOutProud featured 13 celebrities from Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon to Hairspray actress Nikki Blonsky.

“If I would’ve had books with LGBTQ characters or themes in classrooms while I was growing up, I think maybe I would’ve felt a little bit at home maybe a little sooner,” Blonsky says in the video.

Noah’s Arc actor Darryl Stephens also contributed to the campaign. “Seeing characters whose experiences reflect our own affirms that our feelings are valid, and that we too, deserve to be loved,” Stephens explains.

The organization is hosting a professional development workshop with music educator Mia Ibrahim on October 12. “Combating Prejudice Perpetuated by Normativity: Creating an Inclusive Classroom Environment” will facilitate conversations around intersectionality and the perception of “normal.”

Forman and her team are determined to reach their goal of $10,000 and continue to donate books to classrooms across the country. More than that, they are confident in their ability to create a sustainable donation stream to pursue their mission of inclusivity in young classrooms.

“If I can’t change the minds of some people whose minds are already very set, let’s start with the new generation and see if we can start it out right,” says Forman.