I really should stop addressing everyone as “readers” considering the fact that we now offer so much video content. Followers? Viewers? (You do technically watch and read by viewing. Right?). Ah, well. I digress. The reason we’re planting this note to all of you is to let you know that some very special friends of ours need your help. If you’ve been paying attention lately, you may know that we at About Magazine have an earnest infatuation with another LGBTQ magazine here in Houston. While we love all our friends at all the queer publications that cohabitate here in Houston — OutSmart and The Montrose Star are two large staples of this community without which many LGBTQ Houstonians might suffer a great loss of information — we have a very special place in our hearts for a magazine that shares the same vision About does and that never ceases to impress us.
That magazine — as you may have guessed from my other blushing, giddy notes about them — is Spectrum South.
If you actually do read these notes I drop from time-to-time, you’re probably asking, “Yo, Anthony. Why do you like Spectrum South so much? Are you trying to Single White Female them? Why are you so obsessed?”
Truthfully, these are all actually very valid questions; and I worry about it myself a little bit, as the idea of starting to dress like Kelsey Gledhill — chief creative officer of Spectrum — does cross my mind quite often. But the truth of the matter is that Spectrum South (led and co-founded by Gledhill and editor-in-chief, Megan Smith) is just really freaking awesome. Like … I sometimes cannot believe the fact that I never tire of boasting about these two young women and their publication, as well as their entire talented staff. It may sound silly (and even bordering stalker-esque), but Spectrum South has a huge impact on all of the decisions that I make for the future and betterment of About.
That isn’t to say that we’re here to copy their every move, learn how they think, gain their trust, infiltrate their business, and initiate a coup. (Was that too specific? Shit just got weird). It’s just that they are literally the utmost forward-thinking, diverse, and inclusive queer publication in this city, which is a road I takes steps down every single day in order to improve About. But what’s impressive isn’t the fact that they want to be inclusive or that they want to give something from their publication to every part of the LGBTQIA spectrum in all its many beautiful colors. It’s that they’re actually doing it. Strange as that may sound, this sort of triumph isn’t easy.
In my time at About Magazine, it has proven difficult over-and-over again to truly bring representation to everyone in this community. Whether they be Black, lesbian, Latino, asexual, bisexual, gay, queer, nonbinary, trans, woman, Asian, or any other marginalized person, finding the right way to execute the desire to do so can be sometimes fruitless and exhausting. It’s like I said before, this is a road that I take About down every single day (not without the help of our own lovely staff). Only, sometimes that road is unlit, and it winds, and it takes sharp turns, and it goes up-and-down hills you aren’t expecting because you’re traveling it in the dark. So imagine that blindness and loss of direction coupled with the fact that, oh, hey, your power steering fluid has just run out.
To give a little background on Kelsey and Megan — at least as best as I understand it — both these queer women worked in Houston’s LGBTQ journalism scene before Spectrum but found themselves longing for something that really spoke to the corners of the community into which people avoiding shining their flashlights. So they took it upon themselves to create a publication for the community that might better serve our LGBTQIA siblings that are often more marginalized than even the co-founders themselves — queer, white women — or myself — a gay Latino. And with a team of some of Houston’s most incredible writers and photographers that includes (but is not limited to) Crimson Jordan, Barrett White, Yvonne Marquez, and many more, Spectrum has been able to really slip into those creases and cracks to present pieces about some of the Queer South’s most prominent LGBTQ people and businesses, while also discussing topics queer people need a space to read about — from sex to politics to gender affirmation to consent and much, much more.
That’s why when Spectrum South shared with us that they’d be starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for what has turned into their second year in business, we were more than delighted not just to write this letter, but to also invite them to be guests on Wineding Down with Anthonynext week and to help get all of our fans, viewers, followers, and readers (oh, look! I got it right!) to pitch into their campaign so that they can continue to bring to you some of the finest content available to queer folks in the South.
And after just three short, impressive days (with still 34 left to go), friends of Spectrum have already contributed $2,749 dollars — more than half of their $5000 goal. Just think what a great excess we could help them obtain if About followers (which summate on social media to over twelve thousand people) could donate as little as a dollar a piece. Sure, not everyone can do it. And that’s understandable. But if you can, I implore of you to donate so that Spectrum can continue to bring Houston (and far beyond) the amazing content they’ve been generating for a little over a year now. With that said, if you can’t, keep reading their pieces, watching their videos, and sharing their content with your loved ones.
It is important to have a publication like Spectrum South in our LGBTQ community — one that hands megaphones to those that have long gone unheard — for the sake of continued progress in a world that maybe lately has seemed more apt to regress. Spectrum, Kelsey, and Megan inspire us at About to care more, do more, and want more for and about our people, all the while reminding us that while it may be difficult to see at first glance, there is goodness in this daunting world.
I harp on about a lot of things in this magazine. From boys to social justice issues to inclusion to representation to the importance of community, I have a lot of opinions. Mind you, those opinions aren’t always terribly popular. Earlier this year, I wrote an opinion piece about my distaste for Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus endorsing Andrew White over Lupe Valdez for Governor of Texas. It was a tough pill for me to swallow watching a qualified, lesbian Latina get passed up for the endorsement over the white, straight, cis man, Andrew White, who — while very much accomplished and well-meaning — was a born and bred politician that didn’t have the experiences of people of color and LGBTQIA folks. While Valdez later went on to win the primary elections and is now running up against incumbent Greg Abbott, my opinions about my disappointment were not well-received by Houston’s LGBTQ community.
But here’s an opinion that I think many of can agree upon: Houston’s LGBTQ community is incredibly diverse. It is made up of people of all skin colors, all religious affiliations, all gender identifications, all sexual orientations, all body types, all nationalities, all hand-capabilities, and all political affiliations. We’re Black, Latinx, Jewish, Christian, lesbian, gay, asexual, Native American, transgender, nonbinary, Asian, Islamic, and everything in between. Unfortunately, what many of us fail to realize is that not all of those marginalized peoples are equally represented in several facets of the community. Whether it in the media, in our entertainment, in politics, or just out in the bars and at brunches, people of color and the trans/nonbinary people have not always ever been represented the way that cis, white, gay men have in this community. Hell, even About Magazine — which will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year — was not always historically diverse. When I took over, we had a very small staff that consisted mostly of males. And as a queer Latino, the responsibility of making sure my staff reflected the beautiful spectrum of people in our community was important to me. I took to the task of seeking out talent from all marginalized people, even working with Ian Syder-Blake to bring about the first strictly-trans content section of any Houston magazine last winter.
And for the last forty years, Pride Houston, Inc. has not has always been inclusive of all people. While everyone of every kind showed up to the volunteer during Pride Week each year, the Board of Directors and Production Team were historically white-washed and cis-managed. But then around this time last year, something wonderful happened at Pride Houston. For the first time in forty years, a Black, queer woman took the reigns of the organization.
Her name is Lo Roberts, and she is the sitting president and CEO of Pride Houston. I know her personally, having worked with her personally for two straight years as Pride Houston’s volunteer committee chair before stepping down to devote my time strictly to About. And if there is one thing that I’ve known about Lo since the first time we met closer to three years ago, it’s this: she cares about the needs of community — the entire community. As a woman, Lo has faced her fair share of adversity, but as a queer, Black woman, Lo has broken more than just the glass ceiling by rising to what is arguably the highest-ranking LGBTQ office of any queer Houston organization. And it didn’t come without cost. Last year, I bore witness first hand and suffered through alongside the Board of Directors to have Frankie Quijano — Lo’s predecessor — expelled from Pride Houston when he refused to step down as president and CEO after Roberts was elected and sworn-in as president of the organization. It was a lengthy legal battle that garnered the attention of Houstonian’s and queer people internationally. Many of us working with Pride at the time — which included current sitting board members such as Jeremy Fain and Dan Cato — didn’t sleep much, were constantly bombarded with emails notifications, and walked around on eggshells for several months. I mean, at one point Quijano and his husband (who was also elected to the Board of Directors and later removed) put out a cease and desist order against About Magazine to stop writing any articles relating to Pride Houston in spite of the fact that we hadn’t written anything about Pride Houston at all. We were tired; we were exasperated; but we were never defeated. And that’s simply because there was a communal knowledge that in order for this community to be best served in all its many and various facets, we needed the representation of a a queer Black woman at the organization’s helm.
And while my time with Pride Houston was not without its ups-and-downs — that’s something any committed volunteer will eventually have to learn to handle when working with a group of other strong-minded and passionate individuals — it was overall one of the most rewarding experience of my life. And it wasn’t because the role was glitzy and glamorous. It most certainly was not. Working as a volunteer year-round and running a committee is a thankless job and one that is met with refute no matter what decisions you make. Rather, the job was overwhelmingly positive — even at the worst of times — because of the volunteers from the community — as many as 600 at a time — with whom I had the privilege to work.
These volunteers give up their time and their energy to make Pride happen because they believe in it. They do it — just like I did when I got involved almost three years ago — because they want to make a difference and they want to see themselves and people like them represented. This Pride isn’t a white, gay, male Pride. At least, it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a Pride for everyone in one of the most diverse cities in our nation — in the world. It’s the fourth largest Pride in the United States and it’s one that has a responsibility to represent and listen to the needs of all its community members — Black, trans, nonbinary, lesbian, Asian, or otherwise. It’s not what the community can do to serve Pride Houston, but what Pride Houston can do to serve the community. And I — as cognizant as I am about the lack in years past — am certain that this is a matter that is of great importance to President Lo Roberts.
The reason I bring this up to you, Houstonians, is because I would like to present you with a challenge. Right now, Pride Houston, Inc. is taking applications for their Board of Directors — the folks who call the shots and who make the decisions as to how to best serve the community. And I challenge you — all of you and mostly those of you who feel like you aren’t being represented in the community and that want to make a change — to follow this link and throw your hat into the ring to be a part of the change to Houston’s LGBTQIA community, as well as to the newly envisioned Pride Houston that Roberts and her team are blueprinting for the years to come. It may be a thankless job, it may be one that seems hopeless, but here’s the thing: nothing in the world ever changes until we make the effort to change it. Nothing in the world is bigger than us if we are a part of it. Nothing is impossible if we sweep the dirt off the path just a little bit further. But most importantly, nothing serves our community better than when the community is represented by people who have suffered the similar unique adversities that the community has. And that starts with representation. And Pride Houston not only needs but wants to be representative right now.
So, please. I implore of you that you take this step. Whatever issues any of us may have had with Pride Houston in the past may still be sore spots. Pride Houston needs trans, nonbinary, women, and POC representatives right now in order to be the Pride it should be. But this is the opportunity for us to rejuvenate Pride Houston and to make it the thing that everyone wants it to be. And with a president and CEO like Lo Roberts steering the ship, that dream is nothing short of possible.
The internal conflict of an LGBTQ Latino stemming from the original Charmed‘s importance to queer people and representation of POC in the new.
On 7 October 1998, the world was introduced to a trio of sisters. Prudence, Piper, and Phoebe Halliwell graced the screen (respectively portrayed by Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, and Alyssa Milano) on the then-WB Network’s Wednesday night line-up. For the twenty-something years that the Halliwell sisters had existed prior to our introduction to them, they were just like any other adult siblings. Prue, the eldest, was a hard-working museum auction expert with unwavering focus, set and achieved goals, sharp leadership skills, and a belief in only what could be seen and held. Piper, the middle child, played the mediator between her other two sisters, a chef-turned-club owner longing to succeed and show her skills (and later the fierce, sharp-tongued eldest sister after Prue’s death in 2001). Phoebe, the youngest Halliwell (or so we thought for three years), was the directionless little sister whose spats with Prue often put Piper in awkward situations. Her curiosity and imagination led her not only to be a renowned magazine columnist, but also led to the discovery of the sisters’ centuries-old heritage as witches, descended from their great-great-great-great-great-great-something grandmother straight out of Salem, Melinda Warren. Of course, then there was Paige Matthews, the true youngest Halliwell sister given up at birth for fear the girls may not inherit their Charmed powers (more on this below), and reunited with Phoebe and Piper after Prue’s death.
Charmed was a modern take on the novel idea of witchcraft, but was truly the first of its class to incorporate not only mythological magic and creatures from all spectrums of folklore — from Romanian gypsy magic to Greek gods and titans — but also modern day Wicca with an emphasized magical v. magickal twist. The story followed the three sisters (in both groupings) as they discovered their supernatural powers (Prue’s telekinesis and astral projection, Piper’s ability to freeze time and blow things up, Paige’s ability to teleport herself and objects, and Phoebe’s foresight and seven hundred other powers she gained and lost over the eight years Charmed ran). But they, of course, were not just any witches. No, no. The trio of sisters congregated to become the Charmed Ones — the most powerful witches to ever exist destined to rid the world of evil.
That’s right. This feminist powerhouse of a show led by three women at a time portrayed a world in which demons from literally Hell (or, the Underworld) got their asses kicked every week for roughly twenty weeks out of the year and banished to oblivion. But that was one part of the beauty of Charmed, it’s feminism. The other part that seemed so genuine was just how involved their magic was in their real lives. Because, as show producer E. Duke Vincent once put it, this was not a show that was about three witches who happened to be sisters. This was a show about three sisters who just so happened to be witches. Charmed succeeded because — while fantastical, and in later seasons even a little cartoonish with the monsters — the loglines of each episode were rooted in the lives of the sisters, not in the battles of the witches. For eight years, four leading ladies and countless writers, producers, directors, and crew members challenged the status quo of super-heroism all the while making sure not to lose sight of the core value: a group of sisters who meant more to one another than anything. Women who fight for women. Bad ass women, to boot.
The show, which ran from 1998 until 2006, went on to become one of the most successful female-led series in television history, at one time even earning the trophy for longest-running hour-long TV series led by a female ensemble cast over its 178 episode run, not beat out until six years later in 2012 when Marc Cherry’s Desperate Housewives ended with 180 episodes over its own eight seasons. Although, over the course of its history, Charmed, its cast, and its crew were nominated for Saturn Awards, TV Guide Awards, and more — albeit never an Emmy, which many believe was due in part to the networks (first the WB before it became the CW) lack of promotional advertising. But Charmed did so much more than just break the glass ceiling — which there is no doubt that it did. It also inspired a sort of renaissance of witch-centric shows that came for years after, each following Charmed‘s structure that sort of became the formula for many witch shows, novels, and movies to follow. While Charmed, Practical Magic, and The Craft of the 90s were all very different in formula — their ideas and runs were novel even for the time — witch media that followed were not quite as original. The Secret Circle (although written originally as a series of novels by Vampire Diaries author L. J. Smith in 1992) followed the same formula, straying from its basis book of the same name; Witches of East End (also first a book before a Lifetime television series) bore striking similarities is the sister-witch formula and also strayed from its source material greatly; and even American Horror Story: Coven (though a fan favorite) struggled to present anything that hadn’t already been done by boy wizard Harry Potter or the Charmed Ones first. All these shows began to incorporate mythology, or books of shadows and other Wiccan traditions, and the storylines soon followed suit. But that’s what has kept Charmed so popular, even as newer generations who did not grow up with it the way that many of us in our 20s and 30s did: it as the OG. (OW?)
Fast-forward to the present day when Hollywood is constantly running out ideas for television series that are original (witch-related or not) and is rebooting literally everything. From the still-hilarious and successful Will & Grace to the less successful and canceled X-Files reboot, no old favorites are sacred any longer. And in this age of reboots, Charmed was not going to get away without at least a try. Sure enough in 2013, CBS Television Studios (the company which owns the Charmed franchise) tried to reboot the show as a retelling of the original featuring four sisters (sound familiar?) who discover their witchcraft and have to kick demon ass and … well … you know the rest. But that version never came to fruition on film; and in 2017, it was announced that Jane the Virgin creator Jennie Snyder Urman had been tapped to pen yet another reboot script — this version following a trio of sister witches in 1970s New England for the CW. The network passed on this version of the script, as well, but kept Snyder Urman on board to executive produce and retool the show in the present day.
And in January of 2018, that version got the greenlight for a pilot — eventually becoming a story about three sister witches of color (two having grown up together and one long-lost) who discover their magic after their mother dies and use it to fight not only demons, but the injustices and evils of the #MeToo era (which stars newcomers Madeleine Mantock, Melonie Diaz, and Sarah Jeffrey as sisters Macy, Mel, and Maggie). And at just that, it sounds like a truly amazing show. What more could we ask for in 2018 when the President of the United States is still holding office after admitting on tape to grabbing women “by the pussy” and when men in all fields of work are slowly but surely being brought to justice for rape and other sexual misconduct in the workplace?
The answer? The only thing more that Charmed fans new and old could ask for is the one thing the show will not feature: its original cast.
Here lies the dichotomy of the situation, at least as it pertains to me and some friends I’ve discussed this with more in-depth. On the one hand, Charmed was and remains to be the success that it is today because it has always had such a loyal fan base. To this day, stars Holly Marie Combs, Shannen Doherty, and Brian Krause make rounds at Comic-Con conventions around the world talking about the show they created and starred in for nearly a decade. And Charmed fans are nothing if not loyal. They came to the aid of Doherty when the media smeared her as “hard to work with” and a drug addict after her departure from the show in 2001, but still stuck around to watch Rose McGowan step into to fill her shoes. They have kept up-to-date with the ventures of Alyssa Milano (from the sometimes unpleasant ABC drama Mistresses to her newest work Insatiable), not to mention even tuning into the then-ABC Family drama Pretty Little Liars just to catch glimpses of the never-aging Combs throughout the series’ run. And let’s not forget standing up beside both Milano and McGowan as they’ve fought tirelessly in the #MeToo movement to free women everywhere from the shackles of sexual assault and rape.
But on the opposite side of that token, and in a time where the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, and POC have never been more important or closer to the precipice of being lost, isn’t it time that we see a show about ass-kicking women of color? One of them even a lesbian! I don’t think any of the original fans would disagree. But still, therein lies a hesitancy. And there certainly has been a similar reaction from the cast of the original series, as well. While Shannen Doherty has done her best to be supportive, she couldn’t help but point out that part of what makes the reboot so problematic lay within its marketing. The original show, which was nothing if not a feminist manifesto and call-to-action, has been unintentionally smeared by the new version in its PR moves, as the new production earlier touted itself as a “feminist reboot” of the original.
Doherty, however, did carry out a constructive conversation with followers of herself. She pointed out how important it was to create more jobs for women, asked fans their thoughts about the reboot, and postulated how everyone would feel if the show had similar elements under a different name. She even said:
But Combs was not so taken with this description, at first. Upon reading a headline on Twitter about the not-so-newfound feminism of the production, Combs took to Twitter to say:
And finally offered this nugget of information regarding her opinions of the reboot:
“Let me say first that I appreciate the jobs and opportunities the Charmed reboot has created. But I will never understand what is fierce, funny, or feminist in creating a show that basically says the original actresses are too old to do a job they did 12 years ago. I hope the new show is far better than the marketing so the true legacy does remain.”
So, the question remains: are Combs’ frustrations founded?
… Yeah. I think so.
For me, as a Latino, gay man, I began watching Charmed when I was four-years-old in 1998. I’d always been fascinated with the idea of magic, specifically that of witches, and Charmed was one of the few shows that presented it in a brand new, modern, real life sort of way. And for a very long time, it was unclear to even me why I’d been so obsessed with the show — even hoping I’d inherit my own magical powers after my mother gave birth to her third child. Although, as I grew up, it began to make a helluva lot more sense to me.
I identified with the Halliwell sisters. Weird, right? A child, then teenager, than adult male understanding the Halliwells and relating my life to theirs? It sounds silly, but when you take into account that I grew up Latino and knew that I was gay from a very young age, it’s not that hard to wrap your head around. And, if I’m not being presumptuous, I think it may be similar to many queer people’s connection to the show, even those who don’t realize it. You see, one of the center struggles of the Charmed Ones was that which pertained to their sense of identity. It started out the way it does for a lot of LGBTQIA people when they’re young (and if you think about it, the Charmed girls had to start their lives over when they realized they were witches, like children who have to learn everything for the first time). It was the question of: why am I this way? Why am I the one who has to be different? And in the throes of trying to understand all of that came the fact that the sisters were made to feel by society that they had to hide their witchiness from the world — a stark parallel to the expectations set up in the real lives of queer people, both those raised liberally and conservatively. And as the years progressed, and the witches were able to reconcile this within themselves and accept who they were (another queer parallel), they finally became capable of sharing their secret with the people they loved. But even still, there was a hesitancy for them to be completely … well … out.
The Halliwells, though accepting of themselves, still struggled to exist in a world that wasn’t entirely accepting of them. And look at where queer people are today. Pride parades across the country are plagued with protestors, trans murder rates are at an all-time high, and the sitting Vice President and many Washington big-wigs are staunchly against queerness and the rights of LGBTQ people. Is that not a clear parallel? Then let’s discuss how the sisters had to struggle with their identity even further — trying not to be defined by the fact that they were witches. Yes, they knew it was a part of them and that it always would be, but Piper was not just a witch, but a chef and business owner! Phoebe became a famous magazine columnist; Paige juggled being a healer and a teacher. These weren’t just witches — they were women and sisters, at that. They had lives, children, spouses, families, jobs, and purposes outside of saving the world. And haven’t we all felt that way to some extent as queer people? Yeah, we might be gay or trans or nonbinary or asexual … but haven’t we always wanted to escape the label? To be known as writers and soldiers and activists and doctors and chefs as an aside of the labels of our sexual orientations or gender identities? That’s how these characters felt. Even after trying — and failing — to give up their witchhood (as I’m sure many LGBTQ people have tried to do with their identities) and then finally accepting it, they still wanted to be remembered not as Witches #1, 2, 3, and 4, but as just Piper, Prue, Phoebe, and Paige. And isn’t that something we’ve all struggled with at Thanksgiving dinner when our obnoxious aunt has made some gay joke in poor taste, even if just trying to relate to you? Or what children thrown from their homes have been through because their parents could no longer believe that they were still their children, simply because of who they fell in love with or which gender they identified with?
And sure, for a lot of us (as well as for the Halliwells) we get to a place of acceptance. Certainly not all of us, mind you, but a some of us. Still, there’s an outrageous number of queer people who take their own lives, who are murdered by bigots, and who hide in closets their entire lives because acceptances in this world are few and far between. Queer people have historically been (and continue to be all around the world) the subject of witch hunts. And that was the struggle of the Halliwells, too, albeit a bit more literally. But the Halliwells were a beacon of hope for us over those eight years. Because, by the end of it all, the sisters hadn’t just accepted being witches and fought against being witches and struggled through being witches, they’d learned to have pride in being witches. Certainly it was not their only identifier. But at least at the end of it all, as they learned and as they taught their children to do after them, the witches of the Halliwell line reveled in who they were so as to be able to begin to normalize something the world didn’t understand.
That, my friends, was the true magic of Charmed.
And for those of us who are true and loyal fans of the original, seeing that legacy replicated without those women who felt like our very own sisters is difficult. Charmed — at least for me — got me through my coming out, through my identity crisis, and through a lot of nights of feeling like no one understood me, that no one accepted me, that no one would ever love me, and that no one cared. And we have Doherty, Combs, Milano, McGowan, and the entire talented team behind Charmed to thank for that. Sure, it was a sometimes silly show about witches and magic; but at its core it was a show about family — and family, especially chosen family, is what we queer folk call our fellow queer friends. Isn’t it?
But with all of that in mind, I do think that we have to extend that opportunity to the new batch of witches, as well. Do we have to watch it? No. Will we? Maybe yes, maybe no. But herein lies the opportunity for a new generation to get to tell that story all over again for people younger than many of us that need to hear it. And, sure, they could just as easily hear it by rewatching the show on Netflix. But if there’s a chance to extend that message to we people of color by representing us on screen, as well as we queer people by representing us on screen, I think it might just be worth the try. Do I wish they weren’t using the Charmed brand to do this? Yeah. I seriously do. And I seriously hurt for the show’s original stars and crew who put so much into a show and to not be given the option to return for a second go-round, especially when it seems like every other show in the world of its time is being resurrected with its original casts. But more so it hurts because I think that the original leading ladies could really tackle these issues of the #MeToo era in a really beautiful way — especially when two of the former stars commit so much time to fighting such injustices — while also incorporating into the program people of color and who identify as LGBTQ. But if nothing else, and I think that all the original Charmed Ones would agree, we should at least hope for the successes of the new, some queer and some POC Charmed Ones and hope that they spread the same kind of message to their incoming fans that Doherty, Combs, Milano, and McGowan spread to us from 1998 to 2006 and well beyond.
Nevertheless, I am grateful for the Charmed that was, as I’m sure many queer people are. And though I want to see both the new and old continue to succeed, this is my love letter to the original Charmed — specifically to Holly Marie Combs, whose Piper I identified and continue to identify with daily. I’ve watched the series a dozen times through, own all eight seasons on DVD, and have on my list on Netflix forever. The show even inspired my second novel, Witches of the Deep South (which you can preorder by following this link). It’s my love letter for all of those reasons and one more: because those sisters of the Halliwell coven made queer people feel not only less alone, but magical in our very own way.
Last night (Monday, 30 July 2018) QFest held its annual queer film festival’s closing night presented by another queer Houston magazine, Spectrum South. And I have some thoughts.
I’m not going to lie to you. Until I was editor of this magazine, I wasn’t that highly involved in the LGBTQIA community here in Houston. Sure, I served as the volunteer chair for Pride Houston, Inc. for a year and a half before. But even then I wasn’t going out to support community events very often, because most of my time was absorbed with work and school and running my committee for Pride. Besides, the way I saw it, working in such a large capacity for the fourth largest LGBTQ Pride parade and festival in the country seemed like I was doing more than my part. But over the last nine months that I’ve served in my capacity as editor-in-chief of About, I’ve learned that just working for organizations in the community isn’t quite enough to make effective change. In order to really make a difference, to really see our community thrive and succeed, to really normalize LGBTQIA people in our community, we have to work not only behind the scenes and in the stage’s spotlight. We have to show up in the audience to cheer on other queer people, their businesses, and their organizations.
That’s why it meant so much to me to get to be in the audience of the closing night of QFest this year. QFest Houston, which just closed out its 22nd annual film festival, is dedicated to the promotion of LGBTQ artists and artwork, led by artistic director Kristian Salinas, and co-artistic director, Michael Robinson. Their closing night film, a Yen Tan picture entitled 1985, told the heart-wrenching story of a young man named Adrian visiting his Ft. Worth family from Manhattan at what would likely be his last Christmas in 1985 while living with HIV/AIDS. We’ll have a full review of the film available tomorrow, but for now, just take my word (and tears) for it — it was amazing.
But even if the film hadn’t been my favorite, it told a story that many LGBTQ people of my generation need to see. I’m 24. I’m young to be doing what I do. And as someone just becoming involved in the community over the last year, I still have so much to learn about the history of our people and how close to the brink we are politically of falling into the places from which we (read: the older LGBTQ generations) have worked so hard to remove us. But films like 1985, and organizations like QFest whose mission it is to promote and share them serve as a stark reminder that when it comes to the trans people in our community, the nonbinary people in our community, the bisexuals in our community, and the people of color in our community, we still have so much work to do before we truly attain equality for all queer people. The road has gotten easier for gay men and women (especially those who are white). It’s not perfect, but it’s gotten easier, and then backslid some since around … I don’t know … November 8th, 2016? But the aforementioned members of our community who don’t have the privilege that the white gay/lesbian members do are traversing a much more difficult road. And it is our responsibility to see to it that they are getting the equal representation, support, and advocacy that we are given. Moreover, it isn’t just our responsibility to take on, but it should be our privilege to do this for them.
Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. Because they’re our people, too. Because they are people, too. Because we can’t preach that love is love if we don’t show our love for everyone that it takes to make up this beautiful, variant, individualistic community.
And Salinas, Robinson, and QFest’s other staff, supporters, and fans seem to take both that responsibility and privilege quite seriously. Year-after-year, the festival brings to the screen for Houstonians films that speak to, about, and for the LGBTQIA communities of past and present. This year was no exception, and its films were powerful, poignant, and penetrative of our hearts and minds.
Following the awards ceremony (full list of winners at the end of the article) and the screening of 1985, guests were invited to join both QFest and LGBTQIA magazine Spectrum South down the hall of the Rice Cinema building for a night of entertainment courtesy of the lovely staff at Spectrum. And let me tell you … Spectrum South sure does know how to throw a helluva party. Bradley David Janacek showed up to rock the DJ booth, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio spilled into glasses, a step-and-repeat sporting Spectrum South’s logo dropped against the back of a GIF-creating photo booth, blue and purple floor lights illuminated the walls and ceilings, and a great number of supporters, sponsors, enthusiasts, and artists tiled something of a mosaic throughout the venue. Spectrum South (with the help of their sponsors Bradley David Entertainment, Morena Roas Da Artist, the Catastrophic Theatre, Stages Repertory Theatre, Mystiq, the Orchard Films, Pearl Bar Houston, and the Houston Film Commission) brought the five-day film festival to a climactic end and brought together people from all over our community.
I’d be remiss, however, if I were to pigeonhole Spectrum South to just being incredible party planners, because what they did was so much more than that.
By partnering with QFest, Spectrum South opened the door and laid out a welcome mat for young LGBTQIA people to enter into the world of queer film culture. In its 22 years serving the community of queer artists and supporters, QFest’s biggest supporters are of the generation of the time from whence it began. And while that generation is just as important in the normalization of queer people — more so, maybe, considering that they were the ones who fought for our rights, who rioted at Stonewall, who marched in Pride marches before they were parades and when the world wasn’t accepting of us — its up to the new generation to make sure that this legacy continues on throughout our lives and those to follow. And we can’t carry it to the next generation if we don’t participate in it ourselves. It’s easy to shrug off politics and say that everything is corrupt or that our votes don’t make a difference. Apathy is always easier. But the easy road isn’t always the best road to travel. It’s a shorter road, true; but it’s a road that ends in a bleak, lifeless field of disparity for queer people. Our crops can’t grow there if we, the people, are not watering and tending to them. And while we have many amazing cis and straight allies, we cannot rely solely on them to make the difference to better our future.
Spectrum South does not take this responsibility lightly. Its co-founders (editor-in-chief Megan Smith and creative director Kelsey Gledhill) put on a sort of proverbial armor every day to bring to the Southern queer people groundbreaking information, thoughtful opinion pieces, lovely community and individual spotlights, and a monumental effort (and a successful one, if I do say so myself) to homogenize queer people into the ranks of straight, white, cis people (read: men). They humbly state that their mission and vision are “to bring visibility to the diverse and resilient individuals, groups, and personalities of the ever-growing queer South,” but I for one think that Spectrum South‘s leading ladies and extraordinary staff aren’t giving themselves the credit they deserve. They aren’t just bringing our visibility to the eyes of straight, white, cis people; and they aren’t just normalizing queer people of all kind to straight, white, cis people; they’re teaching all people (gay, straight, trans, white, black, and/or otherwise) that queer people are making contributions to this world that have gone for too long unrecognized and unappreciated without standing on a soap box or shouting to be heard over the masses.
And that’s the magic of Spectrum South. Any other magazine or newspaper or media outlet of any kind might not show up to support OutSmart, and the Montrose Star, and even our very own About Magazine — businesses that many might view to be their competitors. But you know who would?
Captaining their ship are two queer women who have worked in the journalistic market (and beyond) and who have faced hardships and adversities of their own. Yet, here they are, over a year after opening their doors, still kicking ass and celebrating our people. They aren’t just breaking the glass ceiling, they’re sweeping up the floor beneath it and making sure that no shards are left behind to gash the women and queer people who follow in their footsteps. Because at the end of the day, their vision isn’t one of self-importance or making truckloads of money or even just having the chance to write and do what they love.
Their vision is that of a beautiful, adversity- and homo/transphobic-free future in which people are just people, but where queer people match cis/straight people in renown. And here at About Magazine, that’s our vision for the future, too. And that’s why it is so easy for us to also show up and support them, to share their work, and to cheer them on. More importantly, that’s why it is so easy for us at About to be inspired to do more, to do better, and to help them and all queer people and businesses be successful in whatever way we can.
As long as their are organizations like QFest and companies like Spectrum South, the queer community in the South (and all around the world) can only get better. But they can only make things better if the community shows up. To learn. To support. To fight.
QFest 2018 was a massive success; and we are so humbled by the opportunity to be there, and so excited that our friends at Spectrum South saw the importance of the organization and took the initiative to do something to increase its visibility so that our generation and the generations to follow will still be able to experience and create the kind of beautiful art that QFest provides to Houston’s LGBTQIA community.
Congratulations, QFest and Spectrum South. I speak for everyone at About Magazine and our subsidiaries when I say that we are so proud of the work you’re doing and that we will always support your endeavors.
Anthony Ramirez, Editor-in-Chief
2018 QFest Winner’s List
Audience Award: Señorita Maria, la Falda de la Montaña (directed & written by Rubén Mendoza)
Houston Film Critics Society Award: Dear Fredy (directed & written by Rubi Gat)
Fundamental Jury Prize for Best Screenplay:Kill the Monsters (directed & written by Ryan Lonegran)
Reinventing Marvin Jury Prize for Best Dramatic Performance or Most Inspiring Living Subject of a Documentary: Señorita Maria, la Falda de la Montaña (starring Maria Luisa Fuentes)
Special Jury Prize for Best Cinematography: He Loves Me (directed & written by Konstantinos Menelaou with cinematography by Kostis Fokas)
Grand Jury Prize:Dear Fredy (directed by Rubi Gat)
Freedom of Vision Award: Air (directed by Anatol Schuster & written by Schuster & Britta Schwem)