Stories of Pride: Cheyenne Jackson, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Lea DeLaria, Gavin Creel, Terrence McNally and More Celebrate
By Adam Hetrick
LGBT Americans have had much to celebrate in the past several years, with the passage of Marriage Equality in New York and other states around the country, as well as the Supreme Court's landmark decisions this week on DOMA and Prop 8.
As Pride Month culminates this weekend in New York City, Playbill.com reached out to LGBT members of the theatre community to share their personal stories of love, self-acceptance and pride in their lives and in their work.
Click through to read their stories.
Bryan Batt, performer and original cast member of Jeffrey, Cats and the AMC series "Mad Men."
I have had the good fortune of having several pivotal moments where I was completely overwhelmed with pride and joy: The Supreme Court's decision on June 26, Obama's inaugural speech, being a part of the play and film Jeffrey, standing center stage on Broadway singing "I Am What I Am" in La Cage aux Folles, or when I helped a very troubled teen with coming to terms with his sexuality despite his religiously confused parents.
But the most wonderful moment I can recall is something someone else did. I was riding with the cast on the Jeffrey float in my first Gay Pride Parade, and I had just officially told my mom and brother of my sexuality, although my conservative brother had suspected all along and said, "Thank God, I thought you weren't getting any!" Anyway, I still had many questions. Marriage, same-sex benefits, or even equal rights had never even been a part of the equation – a new world was opening up – to be completely free, you must be honest. My parents had not raised me to be a liar, so out I went. Although the parade passed the haters across from St. Patrick's Cathedral, when we got further into the Village, I saw this elderly lady who reminded me of my late grandmother holding a big sign that read "Love, however expressed, is a beautiful thing."
I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of peace and contentment and pride. It was almost as if she was giving me her blessing from above. I knew then that I would be just fine.
Tony Award nominee Douglas Carter Beane, playwright of The Nance, The Little Dog Laughed, Xanadu and Cinderella.
I have had nothing but an unending parade of days of being proud to be gay. I never had a moment I hated myself for being gay. Truly, and kids, I was a teenager when Harvey Milk was shot and Anita Bryant was in full swing. I blame my overdeveloped sense of self-worth to that double album set in the Wyomissing Public Library of Nöel Coward singing his songs in New York and in Vegas. It was known at that point that Coward was gay. So I had a listen, fell in love with the talent and figured being queer was not all so bad. I began to devour everything he wrote and that was written about him. I still do.
Then when I was older, I watched Tennessee Williams on "The Today Show" selling his autobiography and the interviewer asked if he were homosexual. And I remember sly Tennessee drawling out with, "Some boys like girls, I'm a boy that likes boys." It was so simple, so true and the interviewer was so startled there was no need for a follow-up question. I quickly began a Tennessee devouring then-and-there that also continues to this day. I heartily encourage all the kindergays to read these writers and to know our history.
So what can I tell you? The theatre has always been a beacon to the world of what acceptance and celebration of gay lives can be. How lovely to watch, in my lifetime, the rest of the world catch on.
Tony Award nominee Hunter Bell, writer and star of [title of show], Now. Here. This. Member of Broadway Impact.
My writing partner Jeff Bowen and I were waiting to board a plane to go to Lincoln, NE, for the International Thespian Society's Summer High School Theatre Conference where we were to teach and see a high school production of [title of show] when we got word regarding the DOMA/Prop 8 decisions. We had an incredible flood of emotions. It seemed fitting to be going to a theatre conference dedicated to young people and knowing how their future just got better. I am so proud to now have equality I wasn't sure I'd see in my lifetime.
The decision also gave me reason to celebrate my connection with the incredible work of Broadway Impact. Working with Jenny Kanelos, Gavin Creel, and Rory O'Malley inspired me to make my voice heard and fight for my equal rights. That association eventually led to me performing in Dustin Lance Black's incredible play 8 in Philadelphia, and then helping produce the show at my alma mater Webster University in St. Louis, MO. Art making impact. Yes, there is more work to be done, but I'm so happy and proud of this moment, not just for my LGBTQ community, but also for us all in America.
Tony Award nominee Justin Vivian Bond, performer and writer of "Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels," whose hit show Summer Camp recently wrapped at 54 Below.
After being told I wasn't "butch" enough in my college theatre program, I was thrilled for myself and other young theatre queens when my very queer and outrageous show Kiki and Herb: Alive on Broadway was nominated for a Tony. I thought, "Hopefully this will help today's up and coming LGBTTIQQ2SAA performers to know it's okay to let their authenticity shine in this wonderful business."
Tony Award nominee Charles Busch, playwright of The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, The Divine Sister, Die Mommie Die! and book writer of Taboo.
We opened Vampire Lesbians of Sodom Off-Broadway in 1985 when the AIDS crisis was at full force and hysteria was rampant. People would bring their friends who were dying and in wheelchairs. They would come backstage afterwards, and I felt exactly as if were in the USO and this was my war and my little theatre company had a job to do. We were there to entertain our "troops." I was so proud to be there. I had long enjoyed the sexual freedom that the brave veterans of Stonewall and the Gay Liberation Movement had made possible but only now did I feel a part of a true community.
Allison Case, performer and cast member of Hair and Hands on a Hardbody.
My proud moment is really ongoing moments of inspiration from our community. It's a collective coming together for gay marriage, for human rights, non-bullying, kindness and equality. The community is diverse, and the support flows out to everyone – a group, a community, a family, an individual. Voices are heard, people rise to the occasion, fight the good fight, find strength in downfalls and spread love with victories. These moments of inspiration fill me up! To be part of such an alive, supportive and loving community is inspiring. I am free to be me – love who I love. I am PROUD of who I am and the amazing girl I love. And every time I feel the love and support of my friends, family, Broadway community, mentors and teachers, is the moment I feel proud. And in those moments I am inspired to rise to the occasion, fight the good fight, find strength in downfalls and spread love. We are all in this together, and the only way for it to work is by our continuous support of each other through open hearts and open minds. Mo matter who you are - you are perfect and you are loved. Stand up for that! Love always, always, ALWAYS wins!
Tony Award nominee Ann Hampton Callaway, singer-songwriter and cast member of Swing!
One of the most liberating moments of my life was when I came out on 8/3/9, the same day my CD – dedicated to my partner, Kari Strand – called "At Last," came out. I had been open with family and friends for years about who I was, but never to the public, for a variety of personal reasons. Finding Kari and coming out have been events that have opened both my heart and my art in ways I could never have anticipated. And now, when I try to encourage people to be who they are, which is one of my passions, I am walking the walk not just talking the talk. My deepest gratitude goes to all the gutsy artists and trailblazers who've made it easier for us in this community. On a person level, Harvey Fierstein was a good friend and inspiration through the process and Sir Ian McKellen talked some sense into me one day at the BBC during a radio show we were doing. Now, when I stand in front of an audience, I own who I am and I hope it helps other people, whoever they are, to own themselves, too.
Jenn Colella, performer and star of Chaplin, Closer Than Ever revival, Beebo Brinker Chronicles and High Fidelity.
I've been fortunate enough to experience many great feelings of pride as a gay artist just within this past year. I felt especially proud the moment I presented Richard Maltby with the possibility of changing the pronoun "he" to "she" in "The March of Time" for the Closer Than Ever revival. He grinned and said simply, "Well, I don't see why not."
I got many feelings of pride as the entire women's ensemble of Chaplin ran butt-naked into my dressing room for my birthday. (Thanks again, ladies.)
And last night, my girlfriend and I went down to Stonewall to celebrate with our people. The first face I saw was that of the handsome Jim Newman. We instantly grabbed ahold and exclaimed how much we loved one another. Then I slipped into Marie's Crisis and surreptitiously sang show tunes from a dark corner in the back of the bar.
Tony Award nominee Gavin Creel, star of London's The Book of Mormon and Broadway's Hair and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Co-founder Broadway Impact.
I am so proud to be an American, a Democrat and Gay at this time in our nation's history. These decisions that the Supreme Court handed down have lit the fuse for the final turn in our fight for full, equal protection for gay and lesbian citizens. It is more important now than ever that we keep going and bring our message to the states where these freedoms are blocked by constitutional amendments, bigotry, hate or just plain misunderstanding. Broadway Impact will continue to tour our play 8 across the country in the coming year to help more people see how the freedom to marry the person you love is everyone's American right and how standing up for LGBT citizens is a worthy fight that can make its way to the Supreme Court to conquer injustice. It is such a great time to be alive!
Lea DeLaria, performer, recording artist and stand-up comedian known for The Rocky Horror Show, On the Town and numerous recordings.
Being the first openly gay comic to perform on American television ("The Arsenio Hall Show" March 1993) is probably the thing I am most proud of. That and knowing I have played gay and straight roles on and off Broadway, created male as well as female characters for stage, film and TV, and have five records out on a major label (Warner Jazz) without once being in the closet.
Tim Federle, Broadway performer and author of "Better Nate Than Ever" and the forthcoming "Five, Six, Seven, Nate!"
When I'd just turned 20, I went to Philadelphia for the summer to sublet an un-air-conditioned apartment and appear in the non-equity chorus of Grand Hotel at the Walnut Street Theater, where I was paid approximately $17 and one can of Coke per week. One of the older guys in the cast, Frankie Leusner, had been non-equity himself, once, and, knowing I could barely afford lunch (let alone rent), he took me under his wing that summer. I think he bought me a salad every single day. Shortly after that show closed, I came out to my family – bolstered in part by the safety and pride I felt, knowing I'd finally found a community that takes care of its own. Even if I still don't consider salad to be "food."
Emmy Award nominee Jesse Tyler Ferguson, star of "Modern Family," and currently Shakespeare in the Park's The Comedy of Errors.
I am truly blessed with a great job right now on "Modern Family." The only drawback is that it has taken me away from my first love: live theatre!
I didn't have a role model on TV when I was a kid, but it means the world to me that I might be a role model for someone else. Eric Stonestreet (the actor who plays my partner on "Modern Family") and I hear from people every day about how our relationship has started a safe dialogue in their family about what it means to be gay. Parents have accepted their children and kids have been able to come out to their parents because it's not such a foreign thing anymore. That's the power of television. I can't even tell you how much it means to me to be a part of that.
Robyn Goodman, producer of Cinderella, In the Heights and Avenue Q.
I am most thankful to TV's Ellen Degeneres and Sean Hayes for helping my mother accept my sexual orientation. However, my proudest moment was four years ago when the LGBT Community Center honored me. Although it was Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum who really filled the hall, I was so moved by all the beautiful and accomplished women who surrounded me that night.
Cheyenne Jackson, original star of Xanadu, All Shook Up and "30 Rock," whose latest album "Blue Skies" was just released.
There have been so many moments where I've been overwhelmingly proud of my LGTB community, I would be hard pressed to name one, so I'd have to say yesterday [June 26]. I'm in San Francisco singing Tony in West Side Story with the Symphony, and I'm also a Grand Marshall in the Pride Parade (gay, much?). With the major decisions yesterday – watching the people celebrating and crying from joy in the Castro and the pride in their faces. What a wonderful time to be alive.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Broadway performer and Newsies star.
I feel really lucky to be a member of the Broadway community. Being out and accepted in the workplace is not something to be taken for granted. While it's easy to feel comfortable, what makes me the most proud of my community is that so many of my colleagues have taken action to find acceptance and support for the millions of gay Americans outside of New York City. LGBTQ rights were a huge reason my sister Celia and I started Broadway for Obama last fall. With gays making up a significant percentage of the Broadway workforce, we knew the majority of our friends already supported him. We wanted instead to reach the thousands of theatregoers and fans across the country who may have lived in red or swing states. What we witnessed was an incredible push from our community whether it be volunteering to phonebank, sharing information on social media or even wearing Obama swag every Saturday while signing autographs. It's easy as an actor to feel like you can't affect change and I'm so proud of the theatre community for realizing that we can use our voices to fight the good fight.
Telly Leung, Broadway performer from Godspell, Rent and "Glee" star.
I am proud. I am proud to be a member of the Broadway community. It is a family of crazy misfits. Like all families, this family can be (at times) a dysfunctional family - but a loving and accepting family nonetheless. It's a family of artists that happily make a living telling stories that need to be told, and spreading joy to audiences night after night.
I am proud to be in the LGBT community - and I can proudly say that my partner and I have been together for 8 years.
I am proud to be Asian, from loving Chinese immigrant parents that truly define the "American Dream." They came to NYC in the 1970s with nothing but their half-full suitcases, $200, and the hope for a better life for themselves and the child they desperately wanted to be born in America so he could be a citizen and inherit their dream.
And after this weeks repeal of DOMA and Prop 8 by SCOTUS, I can truly say that I am proud to be an American. I am proud to be living in a country that always strives for the ideals that define us as a nation: "We, the People...," "Liberty and justice FOR ALL," "All men are created EQUAL." That moment, on June 26th, showed me the true meaning of pride. Happy Pride, everyone - and be proud of WHO YOU ARE.
Bianca Leigh, performer Busted, The Lily's Revenge and the film "TransAmerica."
My proudest moment as a Trans actress was when I began writing and performing my own work. What began, simply, as a way to keep myself onstage between castings, has reignited my passion for theatre. It has afforded me the opportunity to write what I want to play, say what I think needs to be said, and collaborate with some of the most exciting artists around. These amazing, supportive "downtown" artists, many of whom are LGBT, give me the confidence to step out of the spotlight and get my hands dirty.
Tony Award nominee Andrew Lippa, composer-lyricist of Big Fish, The Wild Party, The Addams Family and I Am Harvey Milk.
I was recently ordained an Interfaith Minister. Last year, at a four-day seminary retreat, one of our teachers described her experience in the early 1970's when she was in seminary. Her teacher spoke about gay and lesbian members in their class, and how they endure hardships and persecution daily. The teacher then encouraged everyone in that room to, if they identified themselves as gay or lesbian, come to the front of the class and be acknowledged by their straight peers. My teacher, not out to her classmates, decided to stand and go to the front of the room. A monumental step. And remember, it was the early 1970's.
At our seminary retreat she told us this story and asked us to do the same. Come forward. Be recognized. Be loved.
Now, I'm out and have been for a long time. But somehow the call to come forward, to be publicly loved and encouraged by my straight peers, this all felt too much for me. I wept. Sobbed, actually. But I stood up - despite the voice in my head that loudly screamed not to (who are you, old voice in my head?) - and joined my gay brothers and lesbian sisters as our straight colleagues stood and cheered for us, wildly cheered for us. I had never felt so accepted and loved. It was deep and moving and I couldn't stop crying. But it truly made me feel loved and appreciated and wanted in a way I had never quite experienced.
I'll never forget it.
Jose Llana, performer and star of Here Lies Love, Spelling Bee and Flower Drum Song. Member of Broadway Impact.
On the eve of the SCOTUS rulings, I was giving a press interview for my show, Here Lies Love, to a Filipino magazine. I spoke openly of my partner, Erik, when they started asking questions about my personal life, essentially coming out to the interviewer who hadn't known I was gay. This made me think of how far we've come in the LGBTQ community. Early in my career I would've changed pronouns or omitted the fact that I had a partner. The work we do with Broadway Impact, like bringing the facts of the Prop 8 trial to as many people as we can, is so important in achieving LGBTQ equal rights. Simply living an out and proud life as a Broadway performer is part of that. That's what the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings meant to me.
Tony Award winner Terrence McNally, playwright of Love! Valour! Compassion!, The Ritz, Master Class and Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Getting married to Tom Kirdahy on the banks of the Potomac under a blossoming cherry tree in our nation's capitol was "the pursuit of happiness" defined, personified and finally legalized. It is unquestionably the most important moment of my life. It made the promises of the Constitution come true – promises that seemed impossible to keep to a gay man or woman in the United States I was born into. How could I be happy if I could not live in full protection of the law with the person I love? How could I be proud if our relationship had neither rights nor recognition?
Tom and I were happy before marriage; we are happier after. I think I know why. The vows are powerful. They mean something profound when they are spoken by the person who has chosen to spend the rest of their life with you and you are trembling with happiness as they repeat them to you. "For better and for worse, till death do us part." When it comes your turn, you are breathless at both the gravity and the exhilaration of those familiar words as you repeat them. No wonder it is a ritual that has endured. Is there a more beautiful pronoun than "we"? "We" as Tom and Terrence. "We" as a community of gay men and women – a community that is taking its seat at the table it was so long denied a place at.
Tom and I laugh a lot. We always did. But since we got married, we cry a little bit more than we used to, too. They are happy tears, to be sure, but I think we are also remembering how so many of our community did not live to see such a proud and significant day for themselves. I think we are wishing we could share our happiness retroactively. We will never forget our history and how profoundly shaped it was by AIDS and its relentless devastation. That is a promise. But we can look forward to a future that seems full of hope and healing now. Gay marriage, gay families, gay astronauts, gay everything – all this in one lifetime. I am a happy, happy man. Tom can speak for himself.
Tom Kirdahy, producer of Ragtime and the forthcoming After Midnight. McNally's husband.
What he said.
Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell, director-choreographer of Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde and Hairspray. Founder of Broadway Bares.
For me, it's got to be Broadway Bares. My pride. I came to New York in 1980, so by 1986, besides losing Michael Bennett who I was working for, I had already lost five of my best friends from college to AIDS. I remember the third Broadway Bares in 1993. At the time there were probably about 37 dancers who were going to be in it. Michael Graziano at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, had joined me for the first time as sort of the producer. I walked in on a Sunday morning for Broadway Bares III and there were eight people there before me. I'm always the person who arrives first! And when I saw those eight volunteers setting up the platforms for the runway, we had maybe four platforms, now we have a half a million dollar show – I started to bawl because I saw people who believe in my passion to do something for my community. It was life changing. I'll never forget it.
Then I look at this year's Broadway Bares, which broke fundraising records. If we had to pay to produce that show, it would cost millions of dollars, everything is donated. I stand upstairs during the show and I look at the sea of people watching, supporting, cheering-on these dancers who are exactly who I was in 1980, in 1990 – I was one of them – I still am. In 1993 I was on stage doing what they're doing. Now they're the ones who come together every year, believe in the passion, believe in the idea and raise an un-f*cking believable amount of money stripping! So, that's my pride.
Our Lady J, singer-songwriter and musical director, known for Lustre and her numerous solo engagements worldwide.
I know it seems silly to talk about plastic surgery in regards to LGBT pride, but my happiest moment as a Trans woman was when all of NYC came together for my fundraising concert to help me out with my breast augmentation surgeries. My greatest fear of transitioning from male to female was that I would be outcast by society and never love again, work again, or feel like a part of a community. But when I finally "braved up" and made the decision to become a woman, I was shown that not only was I going to be loved, I was going to be celebrated by my community for becoming who I am. When I'm feeling down by anti-trans aggressions towards me or the trans-community, I move through the fear by remembering the people who were the backbone of my "Boob-Aid" fundraiser: Dolly Parton, Rosie O'Donnell, Scissor Sisters, Taylor Mac, Murray Hill, Justin Vivian Bond, Ke$ha, Nico Muhly, Jeff Whitty, and countless others. We've got quite an army of allies there, and I’m proud to have them by my side.
Tony Award winner Denis O'Hare, performer in Take Me Out, Assassins, "American Horror Story" and "True Blood."
The thing that has made me most proud of my identity as a gay man was when I became that most basic of things: a father. The journey to becoming a parent was difficult for me because I had internalized a very pernicious form of homophobia. I didn't think that I was allowed to be, that society would allow me to be a parent because I was gay. But being a parent, a gay parent, has turned out to be my favorite role ever.
Tony Award nominee Rory O'Malley, performer in The Book of Mormon and co-founder of Broadway Impact.
When Prop 8 passed, Jenny Kanelos, Gavin Creel and I organized Broadway Impact. Many inspiring people and events have brought us to this day where we celebrate its end. Thank you to the theatre community for always leading the fight for progress in society. We are honored to have a front row seat to your passion and strength. Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we continue our work to bring equality to the remaining 37 states! Put on 8 the Play at your school or in your hometown to show people the case that won equality for California!
Tony Award nominee Benj Pasek, writer of A Christmas Story, Dogfight and James and the Giant Peach.
My 9th grade English teacher's name was Al Vernacchio. He was openly gay when I was in school and he had a Rent poster in his classroom. I remember walking in the room every day, right around the time my voice was beginning to change and as I was becoming aware of my sexuality. This guy was openly gay and championing Rent as a legitimate work and something that was important for young people to know. It was on the wall along with a poster of "The Grapes of Wrath" as part of the American canon of important work.
That was hugely influential for me. I had come to love Rent, and having a bond with an openly gay teacher over a show that was also about the gay identity, was very important because I was definitely the only gay kid in my class. It didn't treat their sexuality as "Oh my God, they're gay," they just happened to be people who were in love. That was monumental for me. That show became a huge symbol for accepting the gay identity. And now I have the chance to work with the original director of Rent, Michael Greif, on my new show with Justin Paul - that full-circle moment is huge for me.
Tony Award winner Billy Porter, star of Kinky Boots.
For me, it was the moment that gay marriage passed in New York in 2011. It was one of the first times in my life that I realized that I had taken on the characteristics of how the outside society viewed me and my love. In that moment, when I was free to marry, I realized that it was no longer okay for me to think of myself in that way. Until I respect myself and my love I can't require anybody else to do that. It was a very empowering moment that I didn't even know I needed.
Jonathan Tolins, playwright of Buyer & Cellar, Twilight of the Golds, The Last Sunday in June and "Queer As Folk."
My favorite pride experience happened in 2003. My play The Last Sunday in June was running Off-Broadway and we had a float for the cast and creative team in the parade. The play, which I had written while living in the West Village, was about a group of friends watching the Gay Pride Parade out a Christopher Street window. As we rode down the street, we looked up at gatherings of friends just like the one in the play. Many of the spectators had seen the show and were waving enthusiastically at us. It was a surreal, joyous moment. Life imitating art that began as an imitation of life. We all felt a deep connection to a shared experience.
Ben Rimalower, playwright-performer Patti Issues.
For me the moment was seeing Angels in America on Broadway in 1993. I was 17 years old, in New York for a pre-college summer program. I related to so much of what I saw on that stage and felt so many different emotions, but none as deeply as the sense of identification with the character Prior Walter, played by Stephen Spinella, as a fellow effeminate gay man. For the first time, in my life, I felt pride in that. The play as a whole felt so important and far-reaching, not just to gay people, but to our whole society, and it was quickly enjoying enormous mainstream success and acclaim. Yet, there at its heart was this man who was just like me. And only a man like us could have written this play. And another one directed it. After years of struggling to envision a happy, productive life for myself in a world that looked down on what I am, I was excited to grow up and be like Tony Kushner, George C. Wolfe and Stephen Spinella. Broadway gave me that.
Tony Award winner Jordan Roth, producer of Clybourne Park, Kinky Boots and president of Jujamcyn Theatres.
A theatre has always been a sacred space to me. The sacred act of standing in front of community and speaking your truth, speaking your story. That's what a wedding is. I understood that fully when Richie and I were married in a theatre nine months ago.
It was for me, an extension of Pride perhaps. Into Wholeness. All the parts of us – the personal, the professional, the familial, the communal, the sexual, our youth, our age, our past, our present, our future – all came together at that one moment in that one place to make something new. A new sense of self. A new pride.
Tony Award nominee Bill Russell, playwright and lyricist of Side Show and Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens.
Many years ago I was in the East Village and there was a guy sitting in his car who, it became clear, was pretty drunk. As I walked by I heard him mutter, "Faggot." I crossed over to him and said, "Hey, buddy, I'm proud to be gay. How do you feel about being an asshole?!" I grew up in cowboy country - the Black Hills of South Dakota - was always effeminate and took a lot of grief for it. That East Village incident is the first time I can recall talking back to a bully and it felt so good!
Justin Sayre, performer, activist and creator of The Meeting* and Night of a Thousand Judys.
Queens make me proud! I am talking out-there, glittery, gorgeous Queens, sparkling in the darkness of monochrome New York. They're the brave ones. They follow the line of Oscar Wilde and Quentin Crisp, more than I ever have. Seeing a fierce Queen done up from head to toe working the street like a runway, makes me prouder than any rally I've ever been to.
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