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Baby Boomer Doc Explores Aids and Homophobia During the '70s & '80s

Baby Boomer Doc Explores Aids and Homophobia During the '70s & '80s


David LaChapelle, Peter Staley & Rosie O'Donnell share their stories

Last year, filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and HBO premiered The Out List, which profiled prominent figures in the LGBT community. Now, Greenfield-Sanders has returned with American Masters: The Boomer List. Partnering with PBS, his latest entry in the List series follows famous Baby Boomers as they recount their own experiences growing up in the 1950s through the '80s. Featuring celebrities ranging from Samuel L. Jackson to Tommy Hilfiger, the Boomer List also addresses the formative years of gay figures David LaChapelle, Peter Staley, and Rosie O'Donnell.

"Going to public high school was horrendous for me, getting milk cartons thrown at me," LaChapelle shares, speaking about being bullied for being gay. "I just dropped out of school." He adds:

"In Connecticut, it was a big huge issue that I was different...and that I was gay, but when I came to New York, it wasn't an issue at all." He then talks about meeting Andy Warhol and how his mother's art inspired him to become a photographer. Celebrating beauty and condemning the taboo on sexuality, he insists "What's shocking is cruelty and torture, and that's become our entertainment. Kids can play violent video games, but God forbid they look at a naked woman. That's pornography, that's perverse."

Talking about her family growing up, Rosie O'Donnell (who is joining The View once again) delves into her Irish-Catholic roots and the death of her mother four days before her 11th birthday. Growing up in a relatively cold environment, O'Donnell talks about how she would visit her Jewish friends growing up and how their mothers would come up to her and pinch her cheeks and show her love she didn't even know was a possibility. Speaking about support from her teachers, she adds:

"Public school teachers in Long Island, New York saved my life in the '70s. They were involved and invested and helpful. One took me into her family and loved me back to life. She taught me that love is not formed and families are not formed by blood. That love makes a family."

She explains that her experiences with being gay were completely open, because "When you have something like the death of a parent as a child, everything else feels like a speed bump." Therefore, when she knew she was gay, she would drive around in her car saying out loud "I am gay. I'm a gay person."

"AIDS forced the gay community out of the closet. It's one of the great American civil disobedience movements," proclaims HIV activist Peter Staley. Originally planning to get a job on Wall Street despite not being allowed to be open about his sexuality, Peter found out he was HIV positive in 1985. "I got lucky," he shares, talking about his family's reaction to learning about him being gay and infected with HIV. "They rallied, and I didn't face the rejection that a lot of my friends faced." He then explains how he saw the Reagan administration change a policy in response to demonstrations from anti-AIDS group ACT UP and how it drove him to take action. Since then, he's appeared in demonstrations, on news segments, as well as in last year's Out 100.

Watch the documentary when it airs Sept. 23 at 9-10:30 p.m. on PBS. Watch the trailer below:

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Michelle Ehrhardt