How L.A.'s Arts Community Is Doing Its Part for Orlando (and So Can You)

Tito Soto performing a tribute to the Orlando shooting victims at last Friday's Queen KongEXPAND
Tito Soto performing a tribute to the Orlando shooting victims at last Friday's Queen Kong
Jeremy Lucido

Since its inception, Gay Pride has been inextricably linked to violence. Observed in nearly every major city in the developed world, these annual events commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots, where members of New York’s LGBT community stood up to their city’s homophobic and abusive police force. In the years since, Pride has become symbolic of peace and unity. Then on June 12, Omar Mateen walked into an Orlando gay bar and murdered 49 patrons with a legally obtained assault rifle. While the GOP-strangled Senate has refused to tighten the United States’ abysmally lax gun-control laws, L.A.’s artistic community has been quick to express its support for victims of the tragedy and their families.

“This unbelievable catastrophe has reminded us of our roots — uniting and standing up as a community, despite the hatred and fear that surrounds us,” read a press statement issued by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles shortly after the attack. The 37-year-old LGBT institution, whose members famously covered Cyndi Lauper’s "True Colors" as part of the It Gets Better campaign, is dedicating this weekend's summer concert, Hear My Song (Oye Mi Canto), “to the lives that were tragically lost and the voices that will no longer be heard.” Additionally, a portion of the concert’s proceeds will be donated to the Orlando Victims Fund, a crowdfunding campaign for victims and families of the shooting. OVF has already raised more than $5.7 million through, more than doubling the site’s previous record.

Celebration Theatre co-artistic director Michael Shepperd, top left, with the cast of The Boy From Oz, who donated money raised through concessions for victims of the Orlando shooting and their familiesEXPAND
Celebration Theatre co-artistic director Michael Shepperd, top left, with the cast of The Boy From Oz, who donated money raised through concessions for victims of the Orlando shooting and their families
Casey Kringlen

This sentiment is echoed by another of Los Angeles’ queer institutions, Celebration Theatre. The city’s premier LGBT theater company donated the proceeds from concessions from this past weekend’s performances of The Boy From Oz, raising more than $1,400.

“We at Celebration were absolutely heartbroken over the events that transpired in Orlando,” said the troupe’s co-artistic director, Michael Shepperd. “Not being close enough to physically help, we felt it necessary to contribute in some way. We also provided an outlet for people to donate that may or may not have known where they could help. We as a community have to stick together. We are stronger than hate.”

This solidarity even permeated L.A’.s artistic underground. The Boulet Brothers, queer L.A.’s alt-drag power couple, have pledged half the door profits from this month’s  gender-bending beauty pageant Dragula to the victims and their families. In addition to generating funds, the Boulets want to use their event as a political statement.

“We're going to give our friends, lovers and peers the biggest, faggiest experience of their lives so that they may go forth with that energy and remind the world that we're here, we're queer, and we're only going to get louder and gayer,” said Dracmorda Boulet, the more Amazonian of the two.

“We literally want guys marching around in pink panties with giant dick flags at the party,” added his consort, Swanthula. “We feel it's important to come together, activate and remind the world that we are here, we are defiant and we're not going away. In all honesty, I think this tragedy has awakened a humongous, sleeping pink giant. She just woke up and she's looking at the world like, ‘I'm awake, motherfuckers — now what? Bring it on.’"

Their moxie was evidenced during last Friday's Queen Kong: Neon Jungle, a queer cabaret and dance party at DTLA's Precinct Bar, co-hosted by L.A.'s alpha-gay Burning Man tribe the Glamcocks. The Boulets took to the stage to address the tragedy in Orlando. 

"You can hear so many different things on the news," Swanthula said to a crowd clad in glow-in-the-dark leggings and loincloths, "and the way the media floods our minds with what they want you to know,  but this was a hate crime against gay people. Period."

"We're not telling you that to bring you down," clarified Dracmorda, "We're telling you that so we can all come together, which is happening already." 

Then, performance artist-designer Tito Soto, dressed as a goth majorette, climbed onto the tiny proscenium stage and led the party in a sing-along of My Chemical Romance's "Black Parade," eventually shucking his jacket to reveal his chest inked with the words "We Are Orlando."

But, the massacre hasn't just been a cause for L.A.'s gay artists. On Saturday night, at a fundraising event at a private residence for the upcoming teen homelessness documentary Lost in America, local chanteuse Allie Gonino dedicated the performance of her single "Vamp" to the victims of the Pulse attack.

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"We’re all the same people, we’re all connected, we’re all humans. It's all the same family," said Gonino, who identifies as straight. "It's important for humans to at least be aware of what's going on, especially in regards to gun control. It's such a huge part of why this happened in the first place. Why is it so easy to get an assault rifle, and it's not even that easy to get a drivers license? Why wouldn’t we have the same regulations as it would be to drive a car, which essentially can be used as a weapon?"

The tragedy also hit close to home for another artist in attendance that evening. Mike Manning, who is co-producing the doc with his business partner Vinny Chibber, had spent his summers working in Orlando.

"I worked in Disney World," said Manning. "A friend of mine that worked with me, I woke up to a text message [from him] that said, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ I turned on CNN and saw everything and went into shock. I watched the news for hours and cried. I called all my friends there to make sure they were OK. Pulse is a club I’ve been to before. It could have been me on a different night."

A multihyphenate artist, Manning stars in the upcoming movie  Love Is All You Need. Directed by Rocco Shields, the film depicts a homo-normative dystopia where heterosexuals are persecuted for their sexual orientation. This inverse of expectation serves to dissect the learned behavior of bigotry. Last Thursday, in response to the tragedy, Shields flew to Orlando with Manning, along with his co-stars Briana Evigan and Blake Cooper Griffin, to screen the film. All the proceeds of the impromptu event were donated to Safe Schools North Carolina, a nonprofit intended to create healthy educational environments within the state, as well as to combat HB2, aka the Bathroom Bill, which is currently used to marginalize the trans community. 

Shields' act of charity highlights the interconnectivity of the LGBT community, despite geographical separation. Attacks against gays in North Carolina affect their brethren in Orlando, New York, San Francisco and even Los Angeles. A little after 5 a.m. on the Sunday of L.A. Pride, six hours after Mateen fired his first bullet, Santa Monica police arrested a 20-year-old man named James Wesley Howell who was armed with three assault rifles, high-capacity ammunition and explosive-making materials. He allegedly claimed he wanted "to harm Gay Pride." To Manning, these threats of violence necessitate even more action from our artist caste.

"What happened in Orlando could happen anywhere. It's our responsibility as storytellers to tell stories that leave an impact and matter. In response to Orlando, stories about equality and love over hate are more important than ever."

Actor Mike Manning and director Rocco Shields during a Q&A for Love Is All You NeedEXPAND
Actor Mike Manning and director Rocco Shields during a Q&A for Love Is All You Need
Courtesy of Love Is All You Need

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