Chaz Bono is slotted to be the keynote speaker at Boston Spirit’s LGBT Executive Network Night on Wednesday, March 28 from 6-9 p.m. at the Boston Marriott Copley Place (for more information, visit www.bostonspiritmagazine.com. The following is an excerpt from a longer story in the March/April issue of Boston Spirit magazine.
All That Chaz
By Sam Baltrusis
In anticipation of his visit to Boston, Bono weighs in on his six-week run on Dancing With the Stars, his activism, the tabloids and, of course, his iconic mother
When Chaz Bono cha-cha’d his way back into the public eye last year during his stint on ABC’s Dancing With The Stars, he courageously waltzed into a hornet’s nest of controversy by sparking a national debate on gender identity and transphobia. While Bono admits that he expected to raise a few eyebrows when he signed on to compete in the 13th season of the celebrity ballroom TV show, he had no idea it would generate so much initial buzz. Bono just wanted to dance.
“I was a little surprised by the magnitude of the controversy,” the 43-year-old recalls, chatting with Boston Spirit from his home in West Hollywood. “But, I was also equally more surprised by the amount of people who were supporting me. It started to feel bigger than it actually was.”
For those out of the pop culture loop, Bono became a target of online hate messages from right-wing watchdog groups like the Culture and Media Institute after joining the cast last September. Dan Gainor, who unsuccessfully lobbied fans to boycott the show, said Bono’s participation on Dancing With The Stars was a “ridiculous, agenda-driven move” by the producers and was “the latest example of the networks trying to push a sexual agenda on American families.”
Bono’s iconic mother, Cher, blasted the so-called haters via Twitter calling them “angry bigots” and urged fans to rally for her son. “I support him no matter what he chooses to do. It took courage to do DWTS! Thank God Chaz has an unlimited supply,” she tweeted. Apparently, Cher’s legions of fans listened. Bono and his partner, Lacey Schwimmer, had a six-week run lasting until October 25, 2011.
“Obviously, I expected some backlash,” Bono remarks. “There was the initial controversy and it was bigger than I expected. Equally, I was more blown away by the backlash going the other way. The support that I was getting from people was tremendous and spurred me on through the experience.”
Bono says the barrage of support he received while competing on Dancing With The Stars reflects a cultural shift in public perception. “Things have changed a lot over the years,” he says. “Even with all of the initial heat I got from doing Dancing With The Stars, the progress I saw was that Carson Kressley, an openly gay and somewhat flamboyant man, got so little heat. No one really cared. I thought that was great. This is progress. Because, 20 years ago if he was on the show, people would be pulling their hair out. And a guy like me would never have been on it.”
As the celebrity offspring of Cher and Sonny Bono and a camera-shy regular on the’70s variety show Sonny & Cher, Bono was thrust into the media spotlight at an early age. When it comes to living a public life, he says it’s been an ongoing exercise in acceptance. “It’s the reality of my life,” he adds. “To fight against it would be an exercise in futility.”
In April 1995, Bono came out as a lesbian in an interview with The Advocate and published a book in 1998 called Public Outing, chronicling his coming-out story which began at 18. In 2008, Bono started the female-to-male transition process and came out as transgender publicly in May 2010, when a California court granted his request for a gender and name change.
“The difficult time for me was before I transitioned,” Bono says, adding that his documentary Becoming Chaz, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011, helped him through the transition process. “I knew it was something I needed to do but I was afraid to do it. It was difficult and painful. Once I finally got past all of my fears, it’s been amazing.”
Bono continues, “It’s not the decision I probably would have made if I had a choice about things. If I was an average person, I would have done this a long time ago. Knowing that I would have to do it publicly really made it a lot harder for me to come to the decision to transition. Once I got there, I knew I wanted to tell my story myself and try to help people in the process. So far, I achieved that.”
In addition to his television, film and print work, Bono has been a die-hard activist for the LGBT community, dating back to his coming-out days in the mid-’90s. “It’s interesting because there’s a new generation of people in our community who think I just started doing this when I came out as trans, but I’ve been an activist for a very long time. It really hasn’t changed that much, just the focus has changed a bit.”
As far as his famous mother, Bono says he’s carving his own niche in the pop culture landscape “We’re such different people and our popularity within the LGBT community is very different,” he says about Cher. “Although there may be some crossover, we kind of appeal to totally different people for different reasons.”
NOTE: In light of the news of yesterday's federal court appeals ruling that California's ban on civil marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional, we are posting an article from Boston Spirit from November/December 2010, which reveals the extent to which Massachusetts residents have rallied to support marriage equality in California. Up until at least October of 2010, Bay Staters' average per capita contributions to the campaign to defeat Proposition 8 were only surpassed by those of The Golden State.
OUT-OF-STATE DONATIONS PER CAPITA TO DEFEAT PROP 8
Proportional relation of average per capita donations by state for defeating Proposition 8—supporting equal marriage—through October 2010. (Massachusetts' average per capita donation reaches nearly .023%.) (Source: Data gathered from publicly available sources as accessed and compared from projects.latimes.com/prop8 and www.sfgate.com/webdb/prop8 and analyzed by Boston Spirit.)
Only California Claims More Anti-Prop 8 Donors Per Capita
The Bay State boasts more out-of-state citizens donating to repeal Prop. 8 than any other state; though at least one prominent Bay Stater defies that trend, Michelle Ainge, wife of Celtics president Danny Ainge
Proposition 8 has been one of the biggest gay stories since equal marriage became law in Massachusetts.
In 2008, this California initiative to amend the state’s constitution to ban civil marriage for same-sex couples, shattered local and national finance records and attracted more money on both sides than any other campaign that year, with the exception of the presidency.
The initiative passed, and same-sex couples were banned from getting married. Then, this August, a federal judge ruled the amendment unconstitutional, and with appeals in motion, the legal battle could be decided by the Supreme Court. Or a referendum for repeal could be passed.
Either way, money has been pouring in from adherents on both sides of the battle. And except for Californians, more Massachusetts residents, per capita, are putting up money to ensure Golden State same-sex couples the right to marry than residents of any other state.
The largest AIDS service organizations in Boston and New York really want to help their clients.
With the slew of friendly wagers being made between mayors and fans on Super Bowl XLVI, the leaders of New England’s AIDS Action Committee (AAC) and New York’s GMHC saw an opportunity to join in the good-natured rivalry and possibly boost fundraising.
AAC President and CEO Rebecca Haag believes the Patriots will have no trouble defeating the Giants.
GMHC CEO Marjorie Hill thinks different. She, naturally, stands behind the Giants.
So each put a grand on the line. If the New England Patriots win, then AIDS Action Committee’s annual AIDS Walk will receive a $1,000 donation from the GMHC contingent. If the New York Giants defeat the Patriots, then GMHC’s AIDS Walk will receive $1,000 from AIDS Action donors.
“I have a lot of confidence in Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Vince Wilfork. So I’m pretty sure we’re going to win on Sunday,” said Haag. “But regardless of the game’s outcome, services for people with HIV and AIDS will win out with a donation to this critical work.”
In 2008, E. Denise Simmons became the first black, out lesbian mayor in the country. Today she sits on Cambridge City Council.
To commemorate February as Black History month, we asked three locals—Cambridge City Council’s E. Denise Simmons, Multicultural AIDS Coalition’s Gary Daffin, and Hispanic Black Gay Coalition’s Corey Yarborough—to share what it means to straddle two minority communities
By Sam Baltrusis
When E. Denise Simmons became the first gay, African-American female mayor in the country in 2008, she not only opened the door for an entire generation of young, LGBT politicos … she bulldozed it down with a quiet intensity.
“Not only was I the mayor of the city of Cambridge, but I sort of became the mayor of the citizens across the country who were openly gay and realized that they too could rise to the highest of highest because someone like them has done it before,” she says, recently re-elected for her sixth term on the Cambridge City Council and chatting from her daytime gig as owner of the Cambridgeport Insurance Agency. “I’m proud to be in an elected office. I’m proud to be able serve. But, I’m also proud in that capacity because I’m not just a role model, I’m a real model.”
The 60-year-old politician continues, “Recently, a young lady [who was coming out] came up to me and told me she was proud of me for being out. It was important to her that there was someone that she could reach out to, touch and identify with that was openly gay. I’m proud to be that representative.”
E. Denise Simmons
Cambridge City Council
During her mayoral stint in 2009, Simmons became a national public figure of sorts and was catapulted into the media spotlight due to the arrest of Harvard University Professor Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. As the race-and-class debate hit the mainstream, she was the voice of Cambridge appearing on a bevy of news outlets ranging from ABC’s Good Morning America to CNN. Meanwhile, Simmons spearheaded a slew of projects to assist Cambridge’s thriving gay community, including the implementation of the Cambridge Public School system’s first LGBT family liaison, someone who works in the school district to help gay-and-lesbian families find schools that will support them as well as their children.
However, when she was first elected to the City Council in 2001, Simmons says she was navigating through uncharted territory. “Before I came into elected office and during my tenure, there weren’t many role models,” she recalls. “At the time, there was no place to go, particularly for women, to see how to negotiate about being openly gay. It was on-the-job training.”