In the wake of sexual assault allegations surrounding husband and now-former CBS CEO Les Moonves, Julie Chen has voiced her support of his claims to innocence, having left one of her two CBS TV hosting gigs at The Talk while remaining onboard its reality game show, Big Brother. Columnist Rachel Abbott weighs in.
Sexual assault, rape, violence against women.
In the wake of sexual assault allegations against her husband (former CBS CEO, Les Moonves), TV host and personality Julie Chen announced that she will be stepping down from her position at CBS daytime talk show The Talk. Along with that announcement came the news that she will, however, retain her position as host of the reality game show Big Brother. Chen made a public note about her position on the issue. Stating the following:
“I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the mid-90s, and I have been married to him for almost 14 years,” Chen said in a July 27 statement. “Leslie is a good man and loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”
Chen continued on to announce via Twitter that she would be taking a brief hiatus from The Talk a few days ahead of its ninth season premiere to spend time with her family, but made splashes in the media by signing off from Big Brother for the first time in her eighteen year tenure as host not as just Julie Chen, but as Julie Chen-Moonves.
At the height of the #MeToo movement earlier this year, twelve women stepped forward and accused Les Moonves of sexual assault and harassment. Moonves was formerly a Chairman and CEO at CBS, as well as an executive at Showtime and the publishing house Simon & Schuster. His victims stand by their allegations of Moonves, which include an array of acts of sexual violence ranging from forced kissing to rape, all of which spanned over a series of decades from the eighties to the late aughts. He reportedly threatened to end women’s careers if they didn’t acquiesce to his advances; and more of these allegations against him can be read in Time Magazine and the New Yorker.
I have no doubt in my mind that Les Moonves is a predator and rapist. After all, a key component of the #MeToo movement is to believe women when they share their experiences, and I believe the twelve women who have spoken out against Moonves. They’ve demonstrated great bravery in speaking out against one of television’s most influential and profitable leaders. Moonves fiercely denied the allegations, saying that he may have made advances but never crossed a line of consent. He has since stepped down from his positions at CBS but remains employed in a limited capacity while they train his predecessor.
His wife, Julie Chen, lingers somewhere between neutral and supportive of her husband. As stated above, as host of Big Brother, she recently began greeting and signing off as Julie Chen-Moonves, a subtle but significant addition to her professional name. Watchers have taken this as a signal that she’s standing by her husband in light of his rape accusations. Logic follows that if she’s standing by her husband, she’s denying the validity of the accusations made against him. However, her exodus from The Talk, of which she was a founding employee since its inception 9 years ago, indicates that the accusations are taking a toll on their family and personal lives.
“Right now I need to spend more time at home, with my husband and our young son, so I’ve decided to leave The Talk,” she said in her farewell statement.
On a personal level, I find this entire situation difficult to grasp. My knee-jerk reaction is to be angry with Julie Chen. How can she so blatantly disregard the accusations of twelve women against her husband? Moreover, why would she want to? I can’t imagine aligning myself with a man accused of such monstrous and reprehensible behavior. I wouldn’t want that kind of human to be my husband. The logic to follow is worse, that being the thought that perhaps she knew all along. Perhaps she’d heard stories of him fondling his employees and chose to look the other way. But even that seems too evil. It’s easier for me to imagine that she didn’t know and learned of this news at the same time as the rest of us. Given the timeframe of the accusations, not only was he assaulting women in the workplace, but he was assaulting women in the workplace while married to Julie Chen. Sexually abusive, cheating, manipulative of the careers of a dozen young women—these signals should send Chen running — not walking — in the direction opposite her life partner.
And yet, we also must be cognizant of the fact that we do not have access to the Moonves-Chen household. We don’t have access to whatever surely painful conversations have occurred over the past few months. At the very least, we can guess that Chen is distressed by the news about her husband — whether that be because of the realization that her husband is, in fact, a sexual assailant, or due to the overwhelming coverage the press has given this issue. Given that Moonves has assaulted at least a dozen women in his life, Julie Chen could very likely be experiencing assault and manipulation herself. Leaving now, as Moonves grapples with his damaged career and reputation, could spell disaster for Chen and her son. It does not matter how wealthy, established, or accomplished Chen seems to us; serial abusers have highly developed tactics of manipulation that can bring even the most powerful woman to her knees. Indeed, many abusers get off on targeting powerful women in particular.
That’s not to say that Julie Chen is necessarily suffering from domestic abuse herself; we don’t know her life and cannot fairly draw conclusions based on the actions of her husband. And while the actions of her husband are not a reflection of Chen’s character, we must remember that she is sharing a household and a child with a rich, influential man with a track record of abusive and violent behaviors. Whether she had acknowledged it to herself or not, she is in a dangerous position.
I want to ask Julie Chen to be better. I want her to state that she believes the women who have accused her husband, that she’s ended her relationship with the man she thought she knew, that she and her son will be creating a beautiful life for themselves away from that evil man. I want her to remove all traces of this abusive monster’s influence in her life. I want her to apologize to the survivors of her husband’s abuse, as well as for not believing them sooner. I want least want her to stop using her husband’s fucking name on national TV. Maybe I want too much.
On the other hand, I must remind myself that wanting these things from Julie Chen is akin to making her atone for her husband’s crimes, which as mentioned a moment ago, we cannot do. Chen herself hasn’t done anything wrong, apart from being too publicly passive. Is it fair to ask that she apologize and uproot her entire life? It should be him of whom we ask for atonement, him that we ask to throw his life into uncertainty, not her. As someone who was recently making $70 million a year, he can certainly afford to put himself into intensive therapy and community service.
Julie Chen’s situation is complicated and precarious. Above all, I wish for her safety in the coming months as she and her husband deal with the allegations against him. However, I also wish for her to take a stand on the side of the abused — on the right side of history (or, in this case, herstory). I want her to live a life free from abuse and free from complicity. I hope she can find that.
Jamel Myles was a 9-year-old child from Colorado who committed suicide four days into the 2018-19 school year as a result of bullying at school after coming out as gay to his family and classmates. This is his story.
Suicide, bullying, death.
The following is a true story about the loss of an extremely young LGBTQ child that took place at the beginning of the current school year. About Magazine cautions readers who may have suffered from any of the above keywords in our content warning that this piece may be disturbing, unsettling, and triggering. Reader discretion is advised.
DENVER — There is no nice way to begin this article. A nine-year-old boy named Jamel Myles committed suicide at the beginning of this school year, and homophobia is to blame.
Over the summer Jamel, a young child who liked Pokemon and YouTube videos, came out to his family as gay. His family members responded well, particularly his mother who immediately affirmed her unconditional support of her young son, reassuring him “I still love you.” In terms of coming out at home, Jamel was actually quite lucky. Though coming out can be frightening and dangerous for most, matters at home continued satisfactorily. With the encouragement of his family bolstering him up, Jamel began the new school year with a tender flame of excitement. He was ready to start the fourth grade, and he was ready to come out to his classmates, too.
Jamel Myles was relentlessly bullied for four days before he took his own life. Within that short span of time before his death, Jamel had confided in his older sister about what was happening at school. The other kids at his Colorado elementary school had been mocking and insulting him for his sexuality, he told her, with some of his classmates even telling him that he should kill himself. Jamel did not share his bullying with his mother, which she now deeply regrets. She didn’t know that the bullying was taking place until it was too late.
The death of any child is particularly tragic. Children, with their tiny bodies and missing teeth, have not yet developed the cognition to understand the permanence of their actions, nor that of death. Indeed, their brains haven’t yet developed enough to comprehend the finality of their behavior and that of another’s life. They do not realize that there is not another chance, that there is no way to go back. Young boys are particularly in danger, perhaps because of poor impulse control or increased risk-taking behavior. Jamel is one part of an increasing percentage of youth suicides that are plaguing America.
By the same token, it can seem chilling that children so young can bully another student literally to death. Could the prepubescent bullies have truly encouraged a little boy to end his own life? Did they understand the consequences of their words? Perhaps most importantly, do they realize now what they have done wrong?
Although my initial reaction to the news of Jamel’s death was shock and horror, another part of me is now just angry. I am angry that this happened to a child in the year 2018. I am angry that so many adults around me believe that the struggle for LGBT rights ended in 2015 with marriage equality. I am angry that adults are so blind to how their behavior perpetuates despicable prejudice for the next generation. Although, even as I felt the shock of it all when I first learned of Jamel’s death, that same part of me that was so furious understood exactly how this happened.
All it takes are a few intolerant parents. Maybe one of his classmates came from a family of hellfire-and-brimstone Baptists, and that classmate heard every Sunday about how homosexuality is a moral failure that comes directly from Satan. I know that I certainly heard that enough times growing up not all that long ago. Or maybe one of Jamel’s classmates came from a family where the classmate’s dad, upon seeing two men holding hands, would mutter under his breath about how being gay just ‘ain’t right.’ I heard that growing up, too. Or maybe this classmate didn’t have particularly political parents and just heard it on a Christian radio station, or on a Fox News debate, or on some kind of “family values” advertisement, or driving by a protest. Our world drops reminders, both subtle and overt, that gay people are still very much *not* accepted by a large percentage of this country. There are infinite ways that a child can learn to hate.
So these children absorb tiny cues over and over again, about how to hold prejudice against LGBT individuals. Then these children actually meet a gay person. After nine or ten years of homophobic osmosis, they are ripe with insults and Bible verses and hate speech slogans. One or two children lead the charge, and the rest who don’t know any better but want to be popular and mean-spirited for a laugh join in, too. Four days later, a little boy dies.
People on the internet took to asking, “How could he even know he was gay? He was only 9.” Of course, they never ask that question of straight children, nor do they ask, “Who taught these children so much hate and prejudice?” exasperatedly followed by “They’re only 9.” The latter question is infinitely more pressing.
To address the death of Jamel Myles and to prevent future youth suicides, adults in America need to have a societal reckoning. This will come as no surprise to actual gay people — I’m preaching to the choir here. But the adults that are apolitical, the people who don’t necessarily agree or disagree with gay rights and don’t care enough to act either way: these are the adults that we need to be fighting. Apathy in the face of injustice is just another form of injustice.
It is not enough to feel indifferent about gay rights. It’s not enough to avoid voting because you believe that it doesn’t affect you. It is not enough to remain silent around homophobic people, even if you don’t agree with them. We each have a responsibility to stick up for LGBT people actively, every single day, every single time an injustice occurs, every single time we hear hate speech. We have a responsibility to teach that sort of love and support to the next generation, too.
If one or two students had stood up for Jamel, if just one of students had parents who had taught them to stick up LGBT people in the face of bullying … could things have ended differently? I think so. I really do think so.
September 11th, 2001 – the day of the terrorist attack that changed the United States of America forever.
Where were you on 9/11? That’s the question everyone asks. Every person alive that day remembers where they were 8:26 AM Eastern Time when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north-facing side of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
We will never forget.
At this time on September 11th, I was in California. My then-husband was in tech school in Port Hueneme just outside of LA, and my mother had called me to tell me to turn on the television. When I did so, my heart sank; I flipped it on just in time to discover a plane had hit the North Tower, and then watched as United Flight 175 hit the South Tower. Everything changed at that point. Instantly, the situation went from a tragic accident to the realization that the United States of America was under attack.
I jumped in the car and drove immediately to the naval base, where it took 2 ½ hours to get through security and onto the base that day. They searched every car that came through with mirrors and bomb-sniffing dogs. I learned that every military base was on high alert once I’d arrived, while also hearing a lot of terrifying talk about sending out troops before they’d even finished tech school. Already, we were at war. The air on base was thick and adherent with anger, fear, and excitement.
But my point in writing this isn’t about where we were when the planes hit those towers. My point in writing this is not one that explicitly relates to the number of lives that were lost (although this cannot and should not ever be forgotten or undermined), nor which politics landed us in that position in the first place, nor all of the conspiracy theories. It’s about who we were as a country on that fateful day.
My point in writing this is that September 11, 2001 is the last time I remember our country being united. Today, that makes me twice as sad.
I’d like to impress upon you, readers, a disclaimer here: I am well cognizant of the fact that a part of that unity from that day forward, came from a large, unnecessary, and xenophobic place toward the many Americans who identify as Islamic and Middle Eastern, as well as those from other areas of South Asia, such as India. Even just seventeen years ago, this was a time in which many caucasian Americans were not being held accountable for their white privilege. And although we are slowly but surely getting better about making sure that white privilege is being more carefully monitored and examined, we still have a very long way to go before it meets a necessary extinction. In no way do I condone that behavior, nor will I ever insinuate that it was right or just. But that isn’t the unity I’m placing my specifics on. The unity of which I speak is that in which neighbors checked on one another, picked up each other’s children from school, made phone calls to their friends and loved ones, held strangers as they cried in the deafeningly silent streets of Manhattan. The unity of which I speak is the compassion we showed one another — not the response from bigots and a presidential administration that targeted innocent people in countries overseas while using xenophobia to try to further unite the country. That part will always remain to be wrong.
The very thing that makes me proud to be an American is the legendary American spirit, the audacity that we have always had as a people to stand together or alone against the greatest odds. Nothing showed that American spirit more than on September 11th or in the weeks that followed. The unity, support, and compassion that we displayed toward our fellow American citizens in need that day was nothing short of inspiring.
Somehow, in the throes of the current political climate — one that daily rips further apart the left from the right, the upper from the lower class, the young and the old, the cis and the trans, the gay and the straight — we as Americans have forgotten that part. We, the People of the United States of America, have forgotten that we all play on the same team. And in that loss of cognizance, we have forgotten our neighbors, forgotten how to listen, and forgotten our common goals.
Yet we remember the tragedy. We remember the lives that were lost (as we should always). We remember the brave first responders and volunteers who died or are still dying slowly from complications that came following their insurmountably brave heroism. We remember our politicians that spoke and acted eloquently and strongly during that time, as well as the ones who could have done better in this aspect.
But we, the People, have forgotten ourselves.
Now is the time to remember. It’s time to remember who we are as Americans; to put aside our egos and our pride and remember that, as with any team, success is hollow if not all those working toward it can attain it. It is time for we as Americans to get back to our common goals — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness equally and for all.
When you remember September 11th, mourn our losses, love those who have sacrificed, and celebrate our nation’s resilience to being torn apart by a few bad people. Though it is important to bear in mind that the religion a terrorist claims to align with and the color of a terrorist’s skin does not make every person of that skin pigment or faith a terrorist. In fact, the vast majority are nothing like those terrorists. But I implore of you now, on the anniversary of one of our nation’s most tragic days, to not forget our compassion, to not forget who we are.
Update: Both Ryan Elkins and The Woodlands Pride issued statements and apologies to the Room Bar & Lounge this afternoon following this piece.
Let me start by saying that this is not going to be a gossipy piece about some silly Facebook argument. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s best to go and trot back along to Facebook. What this is is an opinion piece about the behavior of an individual high in the rankings of Texas’s newest Pride celebration that made remarks about something I hold near and dear to my heart, how it has the potential to negatively affect the LGBTQIA community, and why that’s not okay.
This past weekend, the Woodlands hosted its inaugural Pride celebration to mixed emotions when the news initially came out (no pun intended) many months ago. Many were excited and proud, and many were also curious as to why the Woodlands (which is only an approximate 40 minutes outside of Downtown Houston) needed its own Pride. I, personally, thought that the idea was lovely and wanted to support the Woodlands Pride in whatever way we could. While the Woodlands is considered by most to be a part of the Greater Houston Area, the cultures of LGBTQ Houston and LGBTQ Woodlands are quite different in many ways, which is something important to remember. The bars in North Houston for LGBTQ people are limited and there is no “gayborhood” proper like Houston has in Montrose. To add to that, and in a more general sense, life outside the loop is far different than life inside it. But what I’d like to focus on the most is that second point I made about the bars.
In The Woodlands — which is an independent township in Montgomery County lying partly in Spring, TX and partly in Shenandoah, TX (basically South Conroe) — there is only one gay bar, Ranch Hill Saloon. Ranch Hill is owned by Debbie Steele, a prominent member of the North Houston LGBTQ community that dedicates her life and bar to serving its people. And in the rest of North Houston, there is only one other gay bar for people of our community to flock to, the Room Bar & Lounge. The Room is owned by another important person of notoriety, Lorraine Crowne, who opened one of Spring’s first gay bars in 1997, the Rainbow Room (a separate entity). Both Ranch Hill and the Room are excellent bars in separate ways, and also in those that intermingle. They both have excellent staffs, small and hometown feels, and serve a community of LGBTQ people that don’t have a lot of other places within their niche to relax and be themselves on their side of town. That being said, they’re also very different bars. Ranch Hill serves a more rural, country feel to it that one might expect at a place such as Neon Boots in Houston, while the Room has a more go-with-the-flow vibe and sort of acclimates to whatever audience walks through the door.
But their aesthetic differences and similarities aren’t really the point here. The point, if I may, is that both are bars that serve an underserved community of people in a predominantly conservative area of Houston.Both, however, prove to get very busy on the weekends; and since they are so small, they often see a variety of patrons that cross over from the other’s side of the tracks. They’re both hosts of several events that support the community with fundraisers, drag shows, karaoke nights, and more. Neither is perfect, but both are pretty fantastic. And that ain’t easy, folks; and it certainly does not come without hardship.
That’s why it struck me as odd when I was directed to the Room Bar’s Facebook page this weekend and saw a negative review (which has since been deleted) about the Room Bar from board director of the Woodlands Pride, Ryan Elkins. The review read as follows:
This rubs me the wrong way for two reasons: one of which is a bit personal, and the other regards our social actions toward one another in the LGBTQIA community. I’ll start with the latter. I’ve also included some personal photos here to show just how much time I have spent at the Room Bar and why I love it (you’ll have to pardon some of them, as I’ve lost about 50lbs since they were taken).
Historically, gay bars were the only places in the world that LGBTQ people could go and be themselves. When Sodomy laws and the criminalization of homosexuality was prevalent, these bars were the only places to go and be around people like you. Moreover, they were some of the only places queer people could go to meet partners and friends that shared adversities, trials, tribulations, successes, and joys. In 2018, it may not seem as though queer bars hold quite as much significance, but the fact of the matter is that they still do. Being LGBTQIA is still illegal in many places around the world — some of which are even known for punishing these people by death. Gay bars are churches, homes, safe havens to people on the LGBTQIA spectrum. There are still many in the world who feel forced to remain in closets or fear coming out that seek out these places in order to let out a sigh of relief. It’s a bit like that cigarette you sneak at work when things get particularly overwhelming or that dance you do when you get out of the shower naked because no one can see you and you just need to feel a reprieve from real life. Granted, it is both of these things and much more on a greater scale. It is, however, a similar sensation.
And that’s what makes this review not just useless to our community, but degrading and regressive. Surely the board of directors at the Woodlands Pride has a partial attitude toward Ranch Hill, as Ranch was the official after party sponsor for the Woodlands Pride and the Room was not. Making Ranch Hill the official after party venue was a smart decision. It’s not only a great venue, but it is conveniently located to the site of the Woodlands Pride, and the visitors of the event were likely familiar fans of the bar. But what does it say about the attitude of at least one member of the board of directors of the Woodlands Pride about the community when one of those directors is publicly smearing a safe haven for queer people on social media? How is it progressing us toward equality and normalization if we are tearing one another apart rather than lifting one another up?
With that said, I don’t know what Elkins’ experience at the Room in late August was like before he posted that status update. I have a few details from sources close to the situation that say Elkins allegedly was served by a bartender who didn’t seem all that interested in customer service. I also am not completely cognizant of what exactly went down at the Woodlands Pride between them and the Room Bar. In a comment left on the original review, Elkins stated that there were comments being made about the after party at Ranch Hill that were unkind to both Ranch and Woodlands Pride. From my understanding, these comments, however, did not come from the staff of the Room Bar, and were unbeknownst to the staff until after the review was posted online.
And I’d like it to be said that if that was the case, I am in no way making excuses for the Room Bar’s staff or patrons. The issue here isn’t one on the side of the bar exclusively. It’s an issue of why we, as LGBTQIA people, feel the need to perpetuate infighting within our community rather than rising above snide remarks, regardless of who they come from. It’s also one of why higher-ups in Pride Celebrations don’t recognize that they have a responsibility to set that example. I, for one, worked as the volunteer coordinator for Pride Houston for two years, and was an occasional volunteer in the years that passed before that. What I learned in that time — and not without a lot of working on myself to make changes to my behavior — is that everything that we do is a perpetuation of the organization we represent. I had my ass handed to me more times than a few from our board directors about how I behaved and spoke on social media. And while I’m a staunch believer that everyone has a right to say and behave how they feel so long as it isn’t hurting anyone, I also understand that when affiliated with something, your words and actions not only impact your reputation, but that of the others around you. More importantly, I had to learn for myself as the volunteer coordinator then and as the editor-in-chief of one of Houston’s largest queer publications that our job as pillars of the community is not to put down one another or to react to silly commentaries that ultimately are trivial in the long run.
But as I said before, I have a personal connection to the Room Bar. While I (again) don’t know the experience in great specificity that Ryan Elkins had at the bar, I’d like to share with everyone my experience with the bar, its staff, and the community I became a part of there in order to reiterate that one bad day does not undo the good that a person or establishment does over many years. That statement is two-fold. This one bad Facebook review does not undo all the good that I know Ryan Elkins to have done and continue to do in the community, nor does it undo the good of the Room Bar.
The Room Bar has been open at 4915 Fm 2920 Road #148 for eight years now, the better part of a decade. Its owner, Lorraine Crown, may not be LGBTQ herself; but she has been in this community advocating for our rights and providing a safe space for queer people for over twenty years. Back in 1997, she opened one of the first gay bars in the area, The Rainbow Room located off of Ella and I-45. When the Rainbow Room shut down several years ago, Crown opened the Room Bar and Lounge on 2920, transforming what was once a bar named Uncle Sam’s.
The Room Bar was my very first gay bar. I wasn’t even out to anyone yet except for a handful of close friends, and I would sneak over to the Room when I had nothing else going on — scared and hoping I’d not run into anyone that I knew for fear they’d tell my mother. What I was met with was not a tension of anxiety, however, but a sigh of relief. From the moment I walked in and saw the flame-haired bartender Natalie Brackin standing on the other side of the bar, I was made to feel like I was a part of a family. Brackin introduced me to new friends, took the time to get to know me, and remains to be one of my closest friends to this day, some three years or so later. That bar was my reprieve for the next couple of years. I’d spend my time there after work to take solace in being around people like me after being overwhelmed by homophobia at work, met my first boyfriend there, hosted our first fundraiser for my forthcoming TV show there, released my American Library Association Award-nominated book there, and made some of my favorite memories there.
While I neither live on that side of town any longer nor make it out to the Room Bar as often as I’d like, I still spend a great deal of time with Brackin, as well as my other friends that I made there. My close friend Nick and I still get together for drinks and good music, my friend Ryan (Fuller) is the karaoke DJ there who goes to great lengths and key transpositions to let me sing any song I want, and some of my best friends and drag queens perform there on a weekly basis. The Room was even kind enough to let us film an episode of Wineding Down with Anthony there just a few weeks back. Brackin, in particular, has a way of making people feel special, and not because she’s looking for a fat tip. It’s because Natalie Brackin is genuinely invested in the bar and wants it to succeed; but this is more so because she is genuinely interested in the people that pass through its doors and wants to see them happy and well. That’s a rare thing to find amongst bartenders, who truly have some of the most chaotic and stressful jobs in the world. They’re friends of patrons, therapists of patrons, and sometimes even the only family patrons have, especially so in this community. It speaks not only to the Brackin’s work ethic that she behaves this way, but also to her heart. In the years that I’ve been patronizing the Room, I’ve never once seen or heard Natalie treat any new customer differently than the next or those that she’s been friends with for years. The bar’s manager, Chris Vega, is equally kind, which is what has made them such an effective team since Vega made his way to the Room Bar after leaving Ranch Hill a little over a year ago. When Brackin recruited him, he brought a new kind of life into the bar — not to mention many of Ranch Hill’s customers — and took it upon himself to aid in reinventing the bar’s aesthetic. He too is a genuinely kind person who speaks in a soft voice that he almost never raises and smiles and laughs with all his friends and customers. You couldn’t find two better bartenders.
It’s also fair to mention that they make excellent drinks.
The Room Bar — just as I’m sure Ranch Hill is to many — is a special place to me even after being out and moving into Houston where I quickly ingratiated myself into the LGBTQ community deeper than I ever had been with my role at Pride Houston and here at About. But there was a moment when I realized how special the bar was to me that I’m certain to never forget for as long as I live.
It was in the wee hours of the morning of June 12th, 2016 when I was at the Room Bar while another gay bar in Orlando, FL was being gunned down by a domestic terrorist. I was at the Room to see the Tatiana Mala-Niña perform in her monthly drag performance at their “Roomers” show, which also featured Veronica Strutts and since-retired Akira Sky and Estella Blow. Many other people like me were at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando that night having the same sort of fun we were, until a man entered the club and opened fire, killing 49 queer people of color simply because they identified as LGBTQ and dared to go out and celebrate themselves.
I remember waking up later that morning, seeing the news of the shooting, and crying like I’d never cried before. These people — while different from me, certainly — were like me in a lot of ways. Many of them were gay Latinx people like myself who had only gone out to have a good time with their friends. Some of them were out of the closet to their families and friends, but others — like me — were not. I couldn’t help but think about how real the violence against LGBTQIA people was and how that could have been any bar in the world, including that same night that I sat on a bar stool on the left side of the Room bar watching my soon-to-be friend Tatiana celebrate herself and her audience.
That evening, I made a trip to my mother’s house and deliberated all night long how to tell her that I was gay. We watched the coverage together as I working up the nerve to tell her during it, backing out, and trying again. I spent the night at her house because I couldn’t make myself do it then, and I went to bed sick at my stomach, never having felt before that I’d been lying so blatantly about something in life. But the next morning when I got up for work, I took a shower, caught my mother outside while she was smoking a cigarette, sat down with her and told her the truth about who I was and the life I’d begun to put my toes in the water of over the last year.
Once I said it, before I even saw how she was going to react, my whole life changed. Weights I’d been carrying around for twenty-two years flew off of me and I could finally move my extremities again because the chains and shackles had come off. I felt liberated, and I owed it in immense amounts to those poor souls that had lost their lives at Pulse Nightclub the morning before in a way I knew they’d never get to know. They changed my life, which is the least respect I could pay to them after they’d met such a tragic end. I wished they’d been around for me to thank them. And my mother was supportive, and she was kind, and we moved on with life as per the usual. She was raised a conservative Christian, but as a nurse knew that there was science emerging daily to prove that people are not making a choice to be gay. How could they? Who makes a choice to live a life of ridicule and adversity, all-too-often one that ends the way it did for those 49 people in Orlando. But she asked me that very same question I’d been asking myself all along through the coverage of the Pulse Massacre: what if it had been you?
And, you know, what’s funny about coming out is that even moments after you do it, you have these tiny, pocket-sized moments of clarity that just seem to make you go, “Oh. I’m not sure why I didn’t see that before.” I had one of those right then, thinking about how much fun I’d had the night before with my friends — new and old, gay and straight — as I danced and drank and took for granted the fact that I had been safe in my own safe haven.
“You know, I would never want to die,” I told my mother, “but if I were to have died last night, I can’t think of anywhere else I would have wanted to be or where I would have been happier.”
You don’t have to understand my story, Ryan Elkins; although I’m sure that if you look back in your own timeline as a gay man, you have a similar story relating to a similar establishment or person. Maybe for you that’s Ranch Hill. Maybe not. But if you don’t think that that’s something ‘unique’ or ‘special’ about the Room Bar, as stated in your review, I’m not quite sure what else is. Because, you see, LGBTQ bars are sometimes hit-or-miss. But the defining aspect of them is not one person’s snide opinion about the establishment; it’s the way they protect our people from the ugly, nasty world out there where we are not yet equal or normalized. And as leaders of our community, as you and I both are, it is our job to see to it that all LGBTQ businesses that are working toward goodwill, equality, intersectionality, and normalization are boasted rather than shot down.
This is not the part of this letter where I call for Ryan Elkins’ resignation or anything. Quite the contrary. I know Ryan through mutual friends, and I like him a great deal. Thanks to those mutual friends, we have had the opportunity to have spent time together. I have always and will always continue to support The Woodlands Pride, including in our forthcoming highlight of it on Wednesday that two reporters from About wrote up about the event. They were so impressed, and I was sad to have missed it due to having plans with a close friend of mine I’d had scheduled for several months. I think it is a lovely — and clearly successful — endeavor to have another Pride in our larger, spread out area of Texas. But I will say this to Ryan Elkins here publicly: Shame on you for posting a nasty review about a bar that paid to be an entry into your festival, that showed up and supported our community and your cause — as well as countless others throughout its near-10 year life, and that continues to do so inside its four walls in more ways than I think you realize. But more to the point: Shame on you for doing so while preaching about equality, diversity, intersectionality, and inclusion to the LGBTQIA community of North Houston. I know you enough to say that you are better than this.
And to the Room Bar, I say this: Get your people. If you hear something, saying something. I am not here to excuse any actions or words that may have been perpetuated, as they clearly upset Mr. Elkins and the staff of both the Woodlands Pride and Ranch Hill. We cannot, however and to both parties, continue infighting in the community if we want success and normalization of our people. We must set aside our differences and come together to continue to raise people up. The Room Bar has a responsibility to the community just as Mr. Elkins does. I do not, however, believe that anyone on its staff or any of its regulars were the speakers of the not-so-nice language, nor do I believe they have it in them to intentionally hurt anyone. They wanted to support the Woodlands Pride, and that’s what they were there — like so many others — to do.
This is, however, the part of the letter, where I call on not only Ryan Elkins, but the Woodlands Pride as a whole, to issue an apology to the Room Bar for Elkins’ commentary. While he is entitled to his opinion, just as I am here in this letter, it is important for all of us to be more accountable of the things we say and do. I for one am not innocent of behaving the same way. I often make jokes like, “Screw OutSmart!” as there is a misguided belief that OutSmart and About have some sort of rivalry going on. But anyone who knows me or my publication knows that I genuinely support OutSmart and all our other publishing partners in the community. We’re all hear with a similar goal (to spotlight and raise up our community) and we all do so in different, yet equally effective ways. And I know for fact that Mr. Elkins wants the same for Woodlands Pride. Unfortunately, words of inclusion and diversity and support are not enough when you perpetuate actions that speak louder than hollow words.
The Room Bar is small, and quaint, and it is sometimes dead as hell. But whether there is 1 patron in the bar or 100, the staff always does its very best to give the community — myself included — a place to call home.
Do better. Be better. Love each other.
About Magazine + About Media Group