Of all the astounding sights in NYC's Pride Parade, one of the most melting is that of pint-sized nine-year-old Desmond Napoles, marching in full drag as thousands cheer. Of course, there's been a down side--right-wing commentators trot out their typical phobias and call this exploitation--but Desmond's mom, Wendylou, has been supportive and strong, noting that she's thrilled to see Desmond live his dream and express himself. I just talked to both Desmond and mom for a peek into his premature fabulousness.
Hi, Desmond. Why do you go to the parade?
Desmond: Because it feels very nice and I love all the cheering. It shows that you can be who you are.
Do you only dress for the parade?
Desmond: I dress up all the time. I make the outfits or my mommy orders them.
Wendylou: I usually get them from Amazon. He'll show me sketches of ideas and I'll try to interpret them. It usually involves getting different pieces and sewing them together.
When did he start marching?
Wendylou: 2015 was the first time he marched, but it wasn't the first time he went. Since he was four or five, he's been going.
How does your husband feel about all this?
Wendylou: He's fine with it.
Desmond, do you get celebrated at school for all the attention you get?
Is there ever any bullying?
Desmond: Most of the time not. Only a little bit of the time. But mostly never, because the teachers don't accept that. I go to P.S. 257 in Brooklyn and the neighborhood is Bushwick.
That's a very cool neighborhood. What do you study at school?
Desmond: There's a boring science class that's coming up.
School is boring?
Well, every day can't be a parade. School is important. What do you think of our current world situation, with Trump as President?
Desmond: I hate Trump because he's against people like me, gays, for no reason, because of who they are. They're nice.
Do you consider yourself gay?
Desmond: Yes, very.
Might it be too soon to know?
Wendylou: I don't think so. I've known for a long time.
Wendylou, are you like Cher, who takes some time to come around to things, or were you instantly accepting?
Wendylou: I came around a long time ago. I had an uncle who was gay and an aunt who was a lesbian but never came out of the closet, so I had exposure since I was a very young girl to gay people, and it's a natural thing. We were never told it was wrong or anything. I learned to accept that there are different people in the world.
What would you do if one day Desmond brought home a girlfriend?
Wendylou: I would die of shock. [laughs] He just said girls are gross.
Desmond: Except my mom.
Desmond, who's your favorite drag queen?
Desmond: RuPaul. I'd love to meet him because I'd be in paradise if I met him.
Maybe he'll be at the parade. So you consider yourself a drag queen?
Desmond: Yes. Sometimes I don't wear wigs, but sometimes I do. It depends.
Wendylou, you've been criticized by right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh. Do you learn to just ignore all that?
Wendylou: It's hard to. I like to make a joke of it now because I tell people I've survived Rush Limbaugh twice. How many people can say that? It's really hard because when somebody like that is making fun of a kid, first of all, and second of all is saying how wrong it is, and all his followers also chime in, and it becomes this whole mass attack. It's really scary and you have to keep going on and ignore it.
What is your profession?
Wendylou: A Human Resources manager, recently unemployed.
Desmond, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Desmond: I want to be a drag queen and a writer.
LORNA LUFT: "I WILL STAND BY LGBTS THROUGHOUT EVERYTHING!"
There's another famous offspring on our team: The supremely talented Lorna Luft is all too perfectly on the Advisory Board of the new Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, and she's thrilled about the chance to help reach out to LGBTQ people, especially ones who may be troubled because of less than accepting situations. (Bushwick is far from the norm). Lorna--who is the late legend Judy Garland's daughter and half sister of Liza Minnelli--talked to me about her involvement in this cause.
Hello, Lorna. What does Stonewall mean to you?
I didn't know about Stonewall for many, many years. I had lost a parent and didn't know about the riots, the bar...I didn't know anything. I was doing Guys and Dolls in Washington D.C. and I did an interview for the Advocate. They said, "We'd like to talk to you about Stonewall." I looked at them and said, "Jackson?" They looked at me like, "Are you nuts?" They went on to tell me what happened. Then I started realizing what had happened, and how [Judy's passing] was part of the catalyst, and I thought, "How great is the fact that my family heritage is attached to an event that my mother would have been so proud to be a part of because of the way she was so adamant about treating everyone equal, and that's how we were brought up." For a long time, I didn't understand it and I started to do history and learn about it. I went to Stonewall Inn for the very first time last year. It was so emotionally difficult for me because I literally got to the front door and I burst into tears because we had just gone through the horror of Pulse. I thought, "Either we're gonna crumble or pick ourselves up and go on for those wonderful people who aren't here anymore." We're going to march and wear that rainbow flag and make sure they are never forgotten and we'll never put the car in reverse. We need to go forward. When they asked me to be on the board, I was so honored because it was a wonderful institution of giving back. That's what my mother was about--giving back. For 47 years, she gave to an audience. That's what this is about. Giving to the community--not only in New York, but around the country. It is so vital for us to make people understand we're not gonna hurt you. All we want to do is you have to listen to tolerance and treating one another the way you want to be treated. And to have an open discussion. Homosexuality still scares people, and we have to have the open conversation about why. I always thought through education comes knowledge and knowledge overrides fear. But we need to get that word out. Today [June 11, when I talked to Lorna] is Pride in Los Angeles. Last year, I was honored to ride the Jet Blue float in New York, and for Pride in San Francisco, I'll do a show at Feinstein's there. I do a show that talks a lot about pride in all of our lives and how important it is to have pride within yourself. If you don't have pride within yourself, you can't help another person to have pride. It's a whole show about celebration and how it's OK to be who we are and how we can never go backwards.
What's your message to LGBTQs?
I will stand by you throughout everything, because of what my mother instilled in me, which is always be kind, and if you don't understand it, try to and get your information and then it will move you forward. You'll enjoy this, Michael. When my son Jesse was seven or eight and we were living in Los Angeles, it was Halloween, we were going to West Hollywood, and my husband said, "I think you have to have that talk with him." I sat him down and said, "Jess, listen, we're gonna go down to the parade in West Hollywood. And we may see..." And he looked at me and said, "People dressed up as members of our family?" I said, "You're gonna be just fine."
Hilarious. What happened when you got there?
We go to West Hollywood and this guy comes up to me and says, "That's good! You're the best Lorna!"
That's better than saying, "But Lorna would never wear that dress." [laughter] A few weeks ago, you were at Stonewall Inn again for an event promoting the Initiative. Chelsea Clinton was there too. Did you bond as second generation icons?
Chelsea was so personable and so open. She had a lot of people around her, but she herself was so gracious and really incredibly smart and beautiful and lovely. There's a very small club of us. There's a big number of people who are children of celebrities, but a very small club of children of legends. She's a card carrying member. I'm going to always err on the side of the kid. Her parents did an extraordinary job raising her. I say bravo, Bill and Madame Secretary Hillary. Chelsea's divine.
CRAZY RIGHT NOW
Stonewall was in our consciousness once again when the Stonewall Community Foundation presented its Vision Awards last Thursday in a gala dinner at the Tribeca Rooftop. Memorably, the Foundation's Jarrett Lucas made a speech, saying that instead of declaring that June is Pride month, President Trump said that it's African American Music Appreciation Month. "Sure," said Lucas, wryly. "So, in honor of African American Music Appreciation Month, I thought I'd share an excerpt from Beyonce's song 'Sorry:' 'Middle fingers up, put them hands high/Wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye... I ain't thinking 'bout you.'" The crowd laughed and applauded, then Lucas added, "Pride is here. Pride is now. Presidents, however, by design, are temporary." Boy, bye!
Trump was extra temporary in the most recent Shakespeare in the Park production. In fact, it felt like Kathy Griffin all over again when a characterization molded on the Prez ended up dead and bloodied in the just-wrapped Oskar-Eustis production of Julius Caesar. In the boldly updated revival, Gregg Henry was styled and directed to play the power-craving Roman leader Julius Caesar just like Trump, to the point of grabbing Melania's (I mean Calpurnia's) vagina, trying to touch her hand (which she impulsively pulled away), and texting naked in a bathtub. A line was even added about killing someone on Fifth Avenue--but it's Caesar who is actually knifed to death, destroyed by a band of conspirators who were afraid he'd turn into a tyrant. He tragically failed to beware the ides of March.
David Rockwell's movable set included images of Lincoln, Washington, and the Constitution, as well as a posting wall for hopes, mourning, and protests, and the manipulative Marc Anthony was played by a woman (Elizabeth Marvel)--as a woman--adding an extra significant layer to the title character's doom.
The Trump-like references seemed heavy handed at times, but the production also had power, especially in scenes where actors who'd been planted all around the theater started shouting and forming a gigantic rally. With her stylized crying and declaiming, Marvel was charismatic, whereas scenes not concerning her machinations didn't always have the same fire. The result was a mixed bag that was definitely nervy. If Trump is bigly upset by the production, this would no doubt be the first time Shakespeare in the Park--or anywhere--was on his radar. But after some right-wing media reports and Trump Jr.'s outrage, sponsors like Delta Airlines and Bank of America not only pulled their hands away, they yanked their sponsorship. That's a shame--especially since, as critics pointed out, the play is hardly in favor of the assassination--though a more coded retelling of Julius Caesar might have worked better all the way around. Whatever the case, the last people I want to tell me when something's in bad taste are those who run a bank. Aren't they the ones who knowingly screwed Americans over and helped prompt the horrific crash of 2008? They should be in jail, not on a pulpit.
GAY DANCERS DO A REAL-LIFE PAS DE DEUX
But it's time for some officiating: Two Alvin Ailey dancers, Michael Francis McBride and Samuel Lee Roberts, recently got engaged and are planning their wedding. They definitely have great chemistry, as witnessed by the Ailey troupe's run at the David H. Koch Theater last week. The whole ensemble shined in pieces like the shimmering The Winter in Lisbon (choreography by Billy Wilson), the percussively moody Mass (choreography by Robert Battle), and Ella (another Battle work, with two guys--McBride and Renaldo Maurice--physically mirroring the vocal pyrotechnics of Ella Fitzgerald's scat classic "Airmail Special"). As always, this was one of those parades worth cheering.