Always take your colouring book with you

Archive: Oct 2016

My Gay Agenda: Disney, New York queens and HIV Monologues


Every week I’m going to review the books, plays, gigs and any more queer culture I’ve devoured. And my first week has been a busy one! Two plays, one concert and one bookshop.

Disney’s Broadway Hits

Last year, after I met Lorraine Kelly, a friend asked me ‘who could you meet to top that!’. Only two people came to mind and one of them was on stage at the Royal Albert Hall last Sunday for Disney’s Broadway Hits. Make no mistake, this was a grown-up concert not a walk in a Disney park, stripping back the West End sparkle to just those incredible songs from almost a dozen shows, including big hitters Mary Poppins and The Lion King alongside the lesser-known Aida and King David. John Barrowman compered and sang a little, but let five sensational Disney leads own the stage: Ashley Brown, Merle Dandridge, Alton Fitzgerald White, Scarlett Strallen and Josh Strickland, accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

There were two highlights for me. Strickland’s vocal range made my heart leap, melt and love him all in one go as he sang Beauty and The Beast, followed by his duet partner Brown performing A Change in Me from the same show. Throughout both acts the orchestral arrangements, the singing and of course the unrivalled splendour of the Royal Albert Hall gave me goosebumps. And then the composer who wrote so much of what we heard, the ultimate Disney Legend Alan Menken came on stage. Of course he received a standing ovation, a unequivocal cultural hero to all the audience. With or without  Menken’s guest appearance, I’d still go see the whole show again tomorrow.

The Boys in the Band and The HIV Monologues

Later on in the week I went to see two plays which perfectly speak to gay life today, even more so as one of them premiered 50 years ago. The Boys in Band opened off-Broadway in 1968, telling the story of a New York queen’s birthday party. The core theme of Mart Crowley’s play, gay men’s self-presentation and closeting remain huge questions today, more likely asked on Grindr, The Guardian and Soho bars rather than behind apartment doors. There’s humour right next to cutting commentary on 8 men’s lives, written before the Stonewall Riots and modern gay rights movement. The show, complete with 60s style and soundtrack, was a joy to watch and keep contemplating on the train home. If you can’t catch it on tour in Brighton, Manchester or Leeds, the 1970 feature film is available on DVD.

Last year, writer Patrick Cash brought the steamy, sexual and scary world of saunas and chillouts vividly to stage in The Chemsex Monologues. His follow-up, The HIV Monologues, has just completed a three-night opening run at Miranda in Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel. Cash’s commentary on HIV/Aids stigma in the UK and the lives affected throughout the 1980 and 90s as well as today was played out perfectly in four monologues by Denholm Spurr, Sena Hart, Charley Flyte and veteran campaigner Jonathan Blake. Enabled by Luke Davies’ directing, the four strong characters take you vividly across London and their lives to uncover and address their own self-worth. I was naively worried it was heading to a sweetly happy-ending at one point, but as with The Boys in the Band, the twists of real relationships and desires keeps the intrigue going.

Gay’s the Word

Jonathan Blake’s from the cast of The HIV Monologues was one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed with HIV. His story has been shared a little before in Pride. One of the film’s settings is Gay’s the Word on Marchmont Street, three minutes walk from Russell Square tube. It remains Britain’s only specialist queer bookshop and like all good bookshops, I popped in for one purchase but left with four. The bookseller shared his thoughts on one of my new books, Love Notes to Men Who Don’t Read by North Morgan, who’d recently been in-store for a book signing. With plenty of author events and an unrivalled selection to browse and buy, I could suggest you make a detour whenever you’re next changing trains at Euston or King’s Cross but the obvious truth is it’s worth a visit by itself.

The books i bought this week


This Week’s #LGBTQProgress (Friday 28th October)


Welcome to a brand new weekly round-up! I’ve just started sharing stories with the hashtag #LGBTQProgress every weekday on Twitter, highlighting progress to make, celebrate and ask questions about. Every weekend, I’ll be blogging about the biggest stories and hopefully making a bit more sense of what it all means. Here’s five stories from this week to get you angry, excited and thinking.

Would you welcome a gay player to your team?
On Wednesday, BBC 5Live released an in-depth sports supporters survey. The overwhelming majority of fans, 82%, have no issue with gay players. Yet an extreme 8% of football fans claim they’d stop watching their team if it included a gay player. Former footballers Chris Sutton and Graham Le Saux are among those making it clear that homophobia is not welcome in the game. Yet with contradictory views on how quickly progress is being made, it sadly seems we’re a long way off having an openly gay footballer play professionally in the UK.

No Safe Refuge
Also on Wednesday, Stonewall and the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group shared harrowing stories of LGBT asylum seekers. The 22 in-depth interviews show the out-right suspicion, discrimination and harassment felt by those detained in the UK. On the same day, Justine Greening, Education and Equalities Minister recognised her public coming out as a lesbian would make her a criminal in many countries. So why does it read like our government continues to criminalise those needing safety in the UK?

Pardon me? The Turing Bill
Homosexuality and criminalisation was already on the UK political agenda, when last Friday John Nicolson MP’s ‘Turing Bill’ was filibusted by Justice Minister Sam Gyimah. The bill would have automatically overturned the out-dated homosexuality convictions of gay men living today. Gyimah defended his action by claiming it would incorrectly pardon those with still-illegal sexual assault convictions. The SNP responded by introducing the bill in Scotland. It’s another example of partisan politics playing with real lives and makes me question this Conservative government’s genuine commitment to the LGBTQ community. For more on that, see the reaction to Pink News naming David Cameron ‘Ally of the Year’ at their annual awards.

Welcome in church?
A YouGov poll commissioned by Church of England Synod member and campaigner Jayne Ozanne this week showed a split in opinion as to whether UK churches are welcoming to LGBTI communities. The 30% who believe they are welcoming were generally older than the 33% who think churches aren’t welcoming. Perhaps the split comes from different understandings of ‘welcoming’ and ‘inclusion’, which my friend Claire has blogged about before. You can find churches that are guaranteed to be welcoming and inclusive in the Inclusive Church directory.

Orlando Magic remember Pulse
And finally, ahead of their first game of the NBA season, basketball team Orlando Magic paid tribute to the 49 victims killed two miles away from their stadium in the Pulse Nightclub massacre.

For more #LGBTQProgress stories throughout the week, follow me on Twitter @JoeyKnock