Entertainment LGBTQ

Strike a Prose

A friend of mine and I always joke that if you get more than two gay men of a certain age — over about forty-two, forty-three — in a room, the conversation has turned to Madonna within half an hour, sometimes within ten minutes, every time. What she has meant to us, what she meant to us growing up on a kind of fundamental, primal, existential level, is impossible to exaggerate.

Matt Cain, British writer

I should have known I was gay in 1986. I’d sit in my room for hours, playing Madonna’s “True Blue” album over and over. (This was before CDs and streaming. After the last song on Side A, “Live to Tell,” I’d have to physically remove, flip over, and reinsert the cassette. You kids get off my lawn!)

I knew not to discuss Madonna with friends and family. For reasons I couldn’t articulate at the time, I sensed that admitting my admiration would say something about me that I didn’t want others to know.

I’m thinking back to those days because I’ve just devoured “Madonna: A Rebel Life,” the new biography by Mary Gabriel. It’s hardly Pulitzer material (I’m struggling to come up with a Material Girl pun here), but I found it fascinating because, by exploring the effect Madonna had on culture and society, it helped illuminate the effect Madonna had on me.

I’ll start by sharing my thoughts on the book, then dig deeper into Madonna the Gay Icon.

To get you in the mood for this blog post, here’s a playlist I’ve created with the songs from every Madonna album, the new music from the compilation albums, and the tracks released one-off.

Just Some Tome to Celebrate

As befits a meticulously researched, 800-page book about a cultural icon, “Madonna: A Rebel Life” has garnered a lot of attention from book critics. The best brief description of the book is the subhead of Alexandra Jacobs’ review in The New York Times (paywall): “Mary Gabriel’s biography is as thorough as its subject is disciplined. But in relentlessly defending the superstar, where’s the party?”

In my non-professional opinion, the book’s biggest strength is also its primary weakness: Gabriel sympathizes with her subject. It’s a difficult balancing act: Is she humanizing or idolizing Madonna? Is she Madonna’s advocate or apologist?

Here’s how this plays out:

When Madonna thrives, it’s because of her drive, creativity, and openness to collaboration. She isn’t afraid of risk. She seeks out what’s new instead of repeating what’s been done.

When Madonna fails, it’s because the cards are stacked against her. It’s because of resistance in the music and film industries. It’s because she’s ahead of her time. It’s because of political and social resistance.

This doesn’t make the book any less powerful or insightful. What Gabriel does best is contextualize Madonna’s story. It’s not just about her; it’s also about the culture that created Madonna (and, in return, the culture that Madonna helped shape). Remove Madonna from the book and you end up with a fascinating, well-researched piece about the evolution of music and art in New York in the 1980s, the rise of the Religious Right in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the push for LGBTQ rights, and even the politics of Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump.

“I Am a Gay Man”

Madonna has been a gay icon and advocate for LGBTQ equality since, well, forever. This book, more than anything else I’ve read, explains why and how Madonna the artist can’t be separated from Madonna the ally, or Madonna the activist.

Madonna said her first visit to a gay club was the first time she felt empowered to be authentic:

I felt like such an outsider, a misfit, a weirdo. And suddenly when I went to the gay club, I didn’t feel that way anymore. I just felt at home. I had a whole new sense of myself… Until that point, I kept seeing myself through macho heterosexual eyes… When Christopher introduced me to this life, I suddenly thought, “That’s not the only way that I have to be.”

Madonna, quoted in “Madonna: A Rebel Life” by Mary Gabriel

This meant, I think, that Madonna appreciated and understood LGBTQ people on a personal level. She didn’t wink at them like previous artists did. She spoke to them directly, openly, and inclusively.

When an interviewer asked her, “If you were a gay man, would you be a top or a bottom?” she replied, “I am a gay man.” (Italics mine.)

What makes this even more important and meaningful is that Madonna didn’t shy away from LGBTQ issues when speaking to the general public — especially about the AIDS health crisis. In fact, each copy of “Like a Prayer” included a pamphlet about AIDS and safe sex. Remember, this is a time when people didn’t discuss AIDS, or described it as divine retribution against LGBTQ people. Now, from Manhattan, New York, to Manhattan, Kansas, anyone buying her album would get the facts they need.

I’m Not Your Bitch. Don’t Hang Your Shit on Me.

The most important thing about Madonna to me is that, through her words and actions, she empowered LGBTQ people to be bold and proud when everyone else wanted them to be silent and ashamed. Her attitude: If other people want to shame me for what I say, what I do, or what I represent, fuck ’em!

You’re trying to put me down because of this? I’m not going to let public opinion dictate my own feelings about myself. I’m not going to apologize for anything I’ve done.

Madonna, quoted in “Madonna: A Rebel Life” by Mary Gabriel

Madonna showered us with love and visibility long before anyone in mainstream popular culture did. As far as examples go, “Vogue” is a gimme. So is her inclusion of LGBTQ people in “Truth or Dare” and the “Justify My Love” video in the early ’90s. Knowing Madonna was an unabashed ally gave her other songs deeper meaning and more resonance. “Express Yourself” isn’t just about demanding more from a partner — it’s about self-respect and -love in a society that expects you to put up with less than you deserve.

While “Human Nature” is based on Madonna’s experiences after “Erotica” and the “Sex” book, the lyrics are a rallying cry to everyone who doesn’t fit the tiny box that white, straight, cisgender, Christian men want to force everyone into.1

Wouldn’t let me say the words I longed to say
You didn’t want to see life through my eyes

Express yourself don’t repress yourself

You tried to shove me back inside your narrow room
And silence me with bitterness and lies

Express yourself don’t repress yourself

Did I say something wrong?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex
I must’ve been crazy

Did I stay too long?
Oops, I didn’t know I couldn’t speak my mind
What was I thinking?

And I’m not sorry
I’m not sorry
It’s human nature

And I’m not sorry
I’m not sorry
I’m not your bitch don’t hang your shit on me

“Human Nature,” Madonna

You’ll See

In 1990, after the success of “Vogue” and “Dick Tracy,” and before the blowback from Sex and “Erotica,” Madonna embarked on her Blond Ambition tour. She captured everything — good and bad, on stage and off — in “Truth or Dare.” Anyone who saw the documentary will remember the tension between Madonna and her boyfriend at the time, Warren Beatty:

Warren Beatty would say that Madonna didn’t want to live off camera. Christopher said he was wrong: Madonna didn’t want to live offstage. She agreed. “I love reaching out to people and I love the expressions in people’s eyes and just the ecstasy and the thrill.”

“Madonna: A Rebel Life” by Mary Gabriel

Why do I bring this up? Because I need a segue to introduce some of the videos I took when the Complimentary Spouse and I saw Madonna in Washington D.C. in 2015!

This is the end of my long post, but I hope we’re nowhere near the end of Madonna’s long career. Britt and I will see her on stage next year. I might be a middle-aged curmudgeon, but when it comes to Madonna, I’ll always let my body groove to the music … let my body go with the flow …

Don’t just stand there.

Let’s get to it.

Strike a pose.

There’s nothing to it.

1 Check out the box imagery in the “Human Nature” video:


🏳️‍🌈 Gayskool: The Big, Boring Impact of Obergefell

This polite tirade started as a really short LinkedIn post but just kept growing.

Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which made marriage equality the law of the United States. Looking back at the joyous media coverage in 2015, you’d think the issue was about cake, confetti, and matching tuxedos.

Well, it was. But it really wasn’t. The real legacy of Obergefell is more meaningful — and less exciting — than you can imagine.

Yes, less exciting. Let me explain why:

My husband and I had been married seven years before Obergefell, but our marriage was only recognized in a few states. In our home state, just like at the national level, we had the legal status of roommates. It was confusing and degrading — and also unfair from an economic perspective.

For example, when we tried to add me as a second driver for a rental car in Las Vegas in 2011, the agent said there would be an additional charge. This rental company didn’t charge for spouses, so I said, “We’re married.” Loud enough for everyone to hear, she cruelly clapped back with, “Married? Not in Nevada, the hell you’re not.”1

I bring this up for two reasons:

  • That indignation haunts me to this day.
  • Being charged $10 or $15 a day for an additional driver is an example of the countless economic benefits we were denied but opposite-sex married couples could take for granted.

The economic inequality same-sex couples faced was especially prominent and painful at tax time. Even though we were married, my husband and I couldn’t take advantage of hundreds of federal benefits for married people filing jointly.

For example, as the husband of a university professor, my MBA and other master’s degree should have cost nothing: Free tuition was a perk for spouses of employees. But even though I didn’t have to pay the school a penny for anything except books and parking, I had to pay federal income tax on the full imputed value of the courses I took. That added up to thousands of dollars that an opposite-sex spouse wouldn’t have to pay.

We also had to pay taxes on the healthcare benefits I received when I needed to switch to my husband’s plan. Opposite-sex spouses didn’t have to pay taxes on their healthcare benefits.

The Obergefell decision was about dignity and equality. It’s easy to remember the parties, champagne, and wedding gifts, but I am most grateful for how Obergefell made our lives better in millions of small, mundane ways.

We feel the impact of Obergefell when we file taxes, sign paperwork, and apply for loans. We feel it when we go through customs and immigration at the airport and present our passports together, like any other married couple. We feel it when we’re shopping for auto insurance.

And trust me, we feel it every time we’re at the car rental counter in Las Vegas. Are we married in Nevada? Hell yes we are!

1 I’m using a skosh of artistic license here. What she said probably wasn’t as loud or nasty, but it certainly made me feel terrible.


🏳️‍🌈 Gayskool: What the Doctor Ordered

On a flight from Tampa to Chicago in 2011, the Complimentary Spouse and I sat in front of two men lamenting political correctness and the decline of religion in public life. 

One said he hoped Michelle Bachman would enter the presidential race soon to put an end to this nonsense.

“Yeah, it’s getting bad,” the other guy agreed. “Kids can’t even play ‘smear the queer’ on the playground anymore.”

I snapped. I stood up (as much as one can stand up in seat 3E), turned around, and let them know in no uncertain terms that their bigotry robbed people of their dignity and deprived them of equal rights. 

I also told them they were complicit in creating an environment so toxic that kids would rather kill themselves than endure the pain and humiliation. I quoted suicide statistics as proof. 

Addressing the lack of religion, I said the man sitting next to me was raised in a Southern Baptist household in a religious community and knew more about the Bible than both of them combined.1 And he is my husband.

They shut up. I sat down. They didn’t say a word for the rest of the flight and wouldn’t make eye contact with us as we deplaned.2

I don’t know if Dr. Betty Berzon would applaud my behavior or be aghast at it.

Doctor Who?

Dr. Betty Berzon was a lesbian psychotherapist and activist who began fighting against discrimination and stigmatization in the medical community when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness. She’s also the author of “Setting Them Straight,” a handbook for confronting bigots and homophobes in personal and public interactions.3

“Setting Them Straight” was published in 1996, when discourse about LGBTQ issues was shifting away from the AIDS crisis and toward social issues like marriage equality and the military. In the ’90s:

  • We got DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Boo!
  • People like Melissa Etheridge, Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, and Greg Louganis came out of the closet.
  • LGBTQ representation in entertainment improved — sometimes problematically — with movies and TV shows like “Ellen,” “The Birdcage,” “Will & Grace,” and the absolutely delightful “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

I read “Setting Them Straight” in 1996. Berzon said the best way to confront bigots is not to try to reply tit-for-tat with whatever points they make. Instead, ask them why they feel that way. When you do that:

  • You get to the root of their hatred: It’s probably based on things like myths, misinformation, discomfort, or religious indoctrination. 
  • It puts the burden of proof on them: You’re no longer on the defense. They are the ones that need to justify their beliefs, statements, and actions.

A Pro-LGBTQ Force in an Anti-LGBTQ World

Berzon, a psychotherapist, came out in 1968 and began working with LGBTQ clients. She told people to be proud of their identity — nothing was wrong with them. It was a revolutionary message at the time. She pushed for the American Psychological Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness — and, in 1973, they did.

I care about who you are, who you have been, who you want to be. I open myself to you to listen and learn about you. I cherish you, not just my fantasy of who you are, not just who I need you to be, but who you really are…

Betty Berzon

So, let’s return to that encounter on the plane. If Berzon were there, I think she’d be proud that I called out bigotry but unhappy that I took a confrontational approach.

The next time I’m in 3E — or anywhere else I hear bigotry — I’ll remember to do better. Thanks, Betty.


1 This is an exaggeration. I know many LGBTQ people who had to overcome strict religious backgrounds, but they weren’t on the flight, so I used their experiences to pump up Britt’s religious resume. It’s easier to hit a point home when you have a living, breathing example of it sitting next to you.

2 Britt remembers this differently. He says:

  • I didn’t say anything until the flight was over.
  • I was more reserved in my comments than I recall.

Britt’s memory tends to be better than mine, but I’ll stick with my story because it makes me feel like more of a superhero. But Britt also takes poetic license in his retelling — he says it happened in 2008 as we were flying to San Francisco to get married.

3 This is actually one of her lesser-known books. She’s best known for “Positively Gay” (1979), “Permanent Partners” (1988), “The Intimacy Dance” (1996), and her autobiography, “Surviving Madness, a Therapist’s Own Story” (2002).4

4 So, why am I writing a whole blog post about this book and not one of the more famous ones? Well, it’s the only one I’ve read. I haven’t written about books I’ve not read since middle school.5

5 OK, high school.6

6 Fine, college. Are you happy now?


🏳️‍🌈 Gayskool: Selling Out

Depending on which expert you talk to, Americans see between 3,000 and 10,000 ads daily. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed a shift in the way these ads — well, some of them — speak to and interact with LGBTQ people.

That’s certainly true during Pride Month when pinkwashing is out of control. But it’s also evident year-round. Sometimes, LGBTQ inclusion is subtle — like a blink-and-you’ve-missed-it scene of a gay couple in a mainstream ad. At other times, it’s more overt.

Big Sea, a local advertising and marketing agency, has done a deep dive into LGBTQ history and its effect on advertising. Look here: “A History of LGBTQIA+ and Pride Month Marketing.”

As an amateur LGBTQ historian, I was really impressed with the blog post. I reposted it on LinkedIn and shared my thoughts. Here’s what I wrote:

Big Sea — a great agency here in the Tampa Bay area — has done a tremendous job here of guiding readers through LGBTQ history and showing how marketing messages evolved in response to cultural and political changes. 

These types of campaigns and ads are only successful when there are LGBTQ people involved at all levels — leadership, creative, research, media buying, human resources, and so on. Market reserarch and audience data is no match for the experience, input, and insight of LGBTQ people on your team. 

Consider the Subaru ads in the ‘90s that winked at lesbian buyers. Market research may have identified or validated the the market opportunity, but only a lesbian would know themes, language, and cultural references that would resonate with the audience. Who else would think to sneak a reference to Xena the Warrior Princess into the ads? I assure you it wasn’t a straight cisgender guy! 

Companies that build meaningful and profitable relationships with LGBTQ customers don’t just slap a rainbow on their logos in June. They hire, empower, and listen to LGBTQ professionals. They have LGBTQ people in leadership roles. They provide development and advancement opportunities.

We’re seeing some pushback now against LGBTQ marketing, but I hope it’s just a blip and we’re back on the path to progress soon. 

David Simanoff on LinkedIn

Thanks for the great history lesson and insight, Big Sea!

By the way, I posted something else on LinkedIn a while ago about Subaru’s LGBTQ outreach. Check it out here.


🏳️‍🌈 Gayskool: History’s a Drag

Drag was around for a long, long time before RuPaul smeared some Vaseline on a low-resolution camera and launched Drag Race in 2009.1

Men have been dressing as women for entertainment for centuries — what, you didn’t learn about Shakespeare? And women have been dressing as men for just as long — the most famous “trouser role” in opera is Cheribino from The Marriage of Figaro, which I forced the Complementary Spouse to endure in 2018 and will be his Exhibit A if he files for divorce. (Calm down, sweetie. A little culture never hurts anyone.)

Drag, as we think of it today, has existed for more than a century. “Legendary Children,” a 2020 book by Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez, explains how the conventions of Drag Race (reading, celebrity impersonations, fashion, comedy, singing) have deep cultural, societal, and entertainment roots.

Like all drag queens backstage, the queens on Drag Race share tips and techniques from time to time — when they’re not engaging in that age-old drag technique of simply stealing from or copying each other. Drag is an old art form, and quite a bit of what you see the queens do in that Werk Room is born out of decades of men and women perfecting the form and passing on their technical expertise to the next generation.

— “Legendary Children” by Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez

Here in the Tampa Bay area, drag has been around for 125 years. As the Tampa Bay Times reports, the shows were considered family entertainment, drew large crowds, and even offered discounts for children’s tickets.

How is drag both timely and timeless? How is drag both part of our culture and a commentary on it? It’s because it’s all about invention and re-invention. Just ask Mama Ru:

Drag really is all about dipping into pop culture and then reshaping it into something else.


1 Go watch that first season. You’d think it was shot through cheesecloth in an abandoned shack with a ten-dollar decorating budget. The production values were terrible.


🏳️‍🌈 Gayskool: Thank You for the Music

Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.

Jimi Hendrix

Yesterday, I wrote about dance music. Today, let’s talk about music in general.

For LGBTQ people, music reflects the full spectrum of our experiences, from angst, loneliness, and anger to exuberance and celebration.

Luke Howard, a DJ in London, told Gay Times:1

Maybe as children we feel a little isolated, so we find listening to music a way of connecting with the wider world. So when we discover clubs and we’re in a room of like-minded people, we start to feel safe and we don’t feel so anxious about being who we are. That’s a wonderful way to experience freedom.”

Luke Howard

I created a Super Pride Playlist a few years ago and update it yearly for Pride Month. Check it out:

A few songs you might not know:

  • “I Know a Place” by MUNA is about having a safe place for LGBTQ people to express themselves. It took on new meaning after the Pulse massacre.
  • “Glad to Be Gay” by the Tom Robinson Band is a British song from 1976. It references many of the anti-LGBTQ legislation and policies from that time.
  • “Snug Slacks” by John Grant is a wry take on love lust at first sight. It’s got some bizarre references: “But I do love me some Angie Dickinson / Let’s be clear, Joan Baez makes GG Allin look like Charlene Tilton.”
  • “Momentary” by Jake Wesley Rogers mentions Marsha P. Johnson and Harvey Milk, two LGBTQ icons. I’ve been a fan of Rogers since I saw him as a guest host on Legendary. He’s the living reincarnation2 of Elton John.
  • “Black Me Out” by Against Me! is a trans woman’s angry reply to those who want to demean and dehumanize her. It’s 100% vitriol.

Enjoy the music!

Pink in concert at Amalie Arena
Pink in concert at Amalie Arena
Indigo Girls in concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall

1 This would have been a good article to cite yesterday, as it’s primarily about dance music.
2 I don’t know if “living reincarnation” is a thing, but it should be.


🏳️‍🌈 Gayskool: Dancing Queens

What do gay men enjoy more than a dance song? The extended dance remix of the same dance song!

OK, there’s a bit of stereotyping going on there, but lots of gay men go gaga for Gaga, wanna be Madonna1, and are crazy for Kylie. 

My theory — more like an informed guess — is that this love for dance music goes back to the days of disco. Here’s why:

  • Disco didn’t have prescribed gender roles — that is, no one leads.
  • It emerged in the early days of gay liberation, when people took their first steps out of the closet and were ready to celebrate.
  • It winked at gay fans with songs like “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” “Y.M.C.A.,” and “I’m Coming Out.”
  • It’s pretty darn fun to listen to. Even sad songs like “Band of Gold” had awesome hooks and incredible beats. We even turned Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” into a disco hit!

Disco got gay men on the dance floor, and we’ve been shaking our groove things ever since. Just ask the Complementary Spouse and me:


1 Here’s Madonna’s “Finally Enough Love,” a collection of 50 remixes. I have played this album, approximately, 1,000 times.

Current Events LGBTQ

🏳️‍🌈 Gayskool: Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves

Let’s jump into a recent controversy to kick off Gayskool ’23.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have been in the news because they were invited, disinvited, and re-invited to the L.A. Dodgers Pride Night planned for June 16. (As Daily Dave readers know, the Dodgers were one of the first baseball teams to have a Pride event, although it wasn’t official.)

The New York Times has the story here: Groups Return to Pride Night After Dodgers Reverse Course. If you can’t get past the paid firewall, here’s what the Dodgers said:

After much thoughtful feedback from our diverse communities, honest conversations within the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and generous discussions with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Los Angeles Dodgers would like to offer our sincerest apologies to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, members of the LGBTQ+ community and their friends and families.

I’ve seen the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence somewhere. They roller-skated past the Complementary Spouse and me on roller skates — a blur of nuns’ habits, white face paint, and glitter. I can’t remember where this happened, but if I were a betting man, I’d say it was the Russian River Valley near San Francisco. Britt believes it was Provincetown. It may have been the Castro. One thing is certain, though: It wasn’t Branson, Mo.

The Sisters describe themselves as a “leading edge Order of queer and trans nuns” who “believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty.” According to their website:

We use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.

So, who went apoplectic when the Dodgers asked the Sisters to join the festivities at Dodgers Stadium? Well, let’s ask Homer:

Homer says "you see, there are some crybabies out there, religious types mostly, who might be offended."

The Dodgers’ knee-jerk reaction was to disinvite the Sisters, and the response from the LGBTQ community was swift and forceful. Many groups, including LA Pride and the ACLU, backed out of the event. Forced to decide between caving to bigots or standing by their commitment to diversity and inclusion, the Dodgers decided to do the right thing.

Here is the Sisters’ statement:

A full apology and explanation was given to us by the Dodgers staff which we accept. We believe the apology is sincere because the Dodgers have worked for 10 years with our community and as well they have asked us to continue an ongoing relationship with them. In the future, if similar pressures from outside our community arise, our two organizations will consult and assist each other in responding, alongside our colleagues at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and others from the LGBTOIA2S community, now more closely tied with the LA Dodgers than ever before.

Someone asked me yesterday what I thought about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I said I thought of them as a protest group: They fight against oppression by assuming their oppressors’ language, garb, and traditions. Creativity is one of the most powerful tools LGBTQ people have to fight bigotry.

As for the people who feel offended? Let me be direct: These bigots have used their twisted interpretation of religion to ostracize, demonize, and dehumanize LGBTQ people for millennia. They have done serious harm — it’s not hyperbole to say their actions have a body count. How has a bunch of men wearing makeup and nuns’ habits affected their lives in any real way? Their feelings are hurt? World’s tiniest violin. They’re not victims.

I asked Siri to summarize that last paragraph. Her response: “Duck them.”

Sadly, I think we’ll see many more stories like this in the news. Organizations committed to LGBTQ equality and inclusion are under attack from increasingly rabid and empowered extremists.1

We’ll soon learn which organizations have been paying us lip service and which ones will live up to their word. 

1 Cf. Target and Bud Light


My Out at Office Message

When my boss, Ben, signed into our Teams meeting yesterday, he didn’t see me. He saw a limited edition RuPaul teddy bear (thank you Build-A-Bear) sitting where I should be.

He cracked up. I moved the bear. Being gay men, we were legally obligated to discuss this season of Drag Race. And then we got down to work (email drips and ABM campaigns, if you’re interested).

I waited decades for that moment.

I was a journalist when I came out professionally in the mid-1990s, and my editors told me to keep my mouth shut — usually subtly, but occasionally overtly. Once, I pinned a postcard-sized rainbow flag to my cubicle wall. The publisher took it down and told me it was inappropriate.

Even though leadership didn’t like me being out, many of my coworkers expressed their support and became allies. (Special shout-out to Carolyn, who remembers more about my coming out at work than I do!) I realized how healthy and reaffirming it was to be my authentic self in the office.

An aside: Over dinner a few days ago, Carolyn reminded me how I came out to her. “You told me, ‘After many years of trying to deny the truth with Ben & Jerry’s and Oreos, I have realized I’m gay.’” I had forgotten that.

Stepping Into No One’s Shoes

Since I didn’t know any out LGBTQ people in the workplace, I had no mentors to help me navigate my challenges and celebrate my successes. I recently came across this quote from Richie Jackson that captures what I felt: “Each place where you look and fail to find yourself reinforces the fact that you don’t exist, that you aren’t worthy, that you don’t belong.” 

I committed to becoming the type of role model I wished I had — someone visible and honest. I wanted to show others they could bring their whole selves to work. It was a risk, and there’s no doubt it held me back professionally. But I’ve helped many other LGBTQ people gain the confidence, support, and strength to come out at work — sometimes by talking to me, and other times through my example. That’s more valuable than a dozen promotions and a fat paycheck. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Moving Up and Speaking Out

At my next job — a major metropolitan daily — most of my coworkers were supportive, but a few of the editors were not. I still remember how I came out to my fellow reporters. We were trading stories about terrible first dates, and mine was about a guy named Marty who asked to borrow my car. There was a brief moment of confusion, followed by years of inclusion and allyship.

Covering the Florida legislative session in 2002. Gay adoption was a big issue that year.

By not hiding, I could advocate for LGBTQ people in our newsroom and our coverage. Not only was I the first person from our paper to attend an NLGJA conference, but the paper paid for it, and my presentation to the reporters and editors after was well-attended and well-received.

Dave and the Kinsey Sicks.
The Kinsey Sicks, America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet, performed at my first NLGJA conference in 2002, in Philadelphia.
Britt, Ted Allen, and me at the NLGJA conference in 2003.
The Complimentary Spouse and I met Ted Allen in 2003 at my second NLGJA conference, in Los Angeles.

But even though the newsroom became more accepting, the rest of the company did not. Every year, we employees shuffled into a big meeting room to learn about our benefits. I raised my hand one year and asked about domestic partner benefits. I was shot down and told they would be too expensive.

The following year, I was prepared. I asked again about domestic partner benefits and got the same response. I then pulled out reports showing that the costs were negligible, based on years of research. I also listed our competitors with domestic partner benefits, cited reports about how the benefits helped recruit and retain talented employees, and shared the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. They were caught off guard but, alas, didn’t budge.

Every year, I pushed more forcefully. Every year, they dismissed me. But I never gave up.

A Mixed Bag

Since leaving journalism, I’ve worked for companies with various levels of support for LGBTQ employees. Without naming names, here are some examples:

  • The good: At one firm, my team threw a wedding shower for the Complimentary Spouse and me. One of our gifts was a pair of Ken dolls. (They are stashed away in a closet, and the irony of that is not lost on me.) The firm also had a well-organized LGBTQ employee resource group, and sent me to attend the Out & Equal conference one year.
  • The bad: One company regularly treated the staff to free lunches. Frequently, they were catered by Chick-fil-A.
  • The ugly: At one company, leadership celebrated Pride Month despite having no protection for LGBTQ employees. When I saw the head of HR wearing a T-shirt saying “ally” in an all-hands meeting, I spoke with him afterward and called him out on his hypocrisy. He committed to updating the policies, but I left before any changes were made. In addition, the company participated in the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program each year. I had to point out to the HR director that the Salvation Army has a long and wellknown history of anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

The Payoff: A Workplace Where I’m Valued and Validated

My career path took me to my current employer last year. This is the first place I’ve felt that equity and inclusion are written into the organization’s DNA — it’s an organic part of our culture, not an afterthought or marketing ploy. A lot of the credit goes to the CEO, Felipe.

Dave's "Sounds Gay, I'm In" mug.
This is my work mug. Look closely in the background and you’ll see the custom “Marriage Is so Gay” print my friend Jon Selikoff made for Britt and me in 2010.

This is the first time I’ve worked for a gay boss. In one way, it’s just like working for a straight boss. In another way, it’s validating, affirming, and inspiring. He’s younger than me, and I’d like to think that, in some minuscule way, my coming out at work all those years ago paved the way for him.

And not just for him. For lots of professionals.

I often reflect on what Sir Ian McKellen told an interviewer 30 years after he came out: “I’ve never met a gay person who regretted coming out – including myself. Life at last begins to make sense, when you are open and honest.”

Can I get an amen up in here?

Current Events LGBTQ

This Book Is Gay. This Ban Is Grievous.

A week ago, the cowards at the Hillsborough County School Board banned “This Book Is Gay” from middle schools. It was only available at Pierce Middle School, and had been challenged by a single parent who didn’t have a child at that school — and was vetted by two committees before being put in the school library — but the school board saw fit to ban it not just from Pierce, but 121 schools serving more than 80,000 students.

Advocates for banning books said it wasn’t an attack on LGBTQ people, and they were just trying to keep inappropriate materials out of kids’ hands. But bullshit disguised as parental outrage is bullshit nonetheless.

Helen Lovejoy says "Oh, won't somebody think about the children?"

I couldn’t go to the school board meeting to voice my opinion, but I emailed all the board members the day before. Here is what I wrote:

I encourage all board members to reject any action that would prevent students from reading or accessing “This Book Is Gay.” There are young LGBTQ students in every school — a fact that some people do not wish to recognize — and denying them of materials that validate their existence and speak to their life experiences is harmful and stunts their educational and personal development.

As someone who grew up without books like this, I know firsthand what is it like to grow up without seeing positive representations of yourself. Banning this book and others like it will cause real harm, psychological trauma, and self-hatred for many students, making schools not a place of education but isolation — a place where students will suffer, not succeed. You have a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to not let that happen.

Be brave, be principled, and be a board that does not bow down to bullies or bigots. 

LGBTQ people are under attack here in Florida, and nowhere is this more evident — or appalling — than in our public schools. The “Don’t Say Gay” law and other initiatives demean and discredit LGBTQ youth and erase our existence. The book ban here isn’t an isolated incident. It’s the latest step in a campaign of hate and degradation.

Why This Matters to Me

What’s happening now hits me at a visceral level, not just an intellectual one. When I was growing up, there was no discussion of LGBTQ people — certainly not in middle school or high school. All I heard were crude jokes and a sense of disgust. In the news, gay men were dying from AIDS. Politically, LGBTQ people were punching bags. In movies and on TV, LGBTQ people were either considered jokes or made out to be wicked.

That really takes a toll on you.

In 2015, I took the Complimentary Spouse on a tour of my elementary and middle school in London, and when we turned a corner, I saw this:


I was choked up, and I’m still emotional when I think about it today. There was no overt effort to exclude LGBTQ people from schools when I was there, but there was also no recognition that we existed.

Seeing that flag years ago filled me with hope. I know it’s still there today.1 It shows children at my elementary and middle school that they’re welcome, accepted, and loved.

Sadly, children in my county will never see a symbol as important as this one. And, in a way, that’s worse. As a kid, I didn’t know what it would mean to be recognized. These kids will know what it means — and see that they’re being deprived of it.

1 Here’s my former school’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion statement. Florida is dismantling DEI initiatives at schools statewide.