Photo 1: Len Rogers with Out singer/songwriters Tom Goss and Mara Levi
THIS JUNE, VIRGINIA IS FOR (QUEER MOVIE) LOVERS!
Len Rogers Talks About the Upcoming Pride In the Arts Film Fest and more!
Four hundred fifty-nine miles from the legendary Stonewall Inn in New York City, 721 miles from Boystown in Chicago, and 2,744 miles from The Castro district of San Francisco is Ronaoke, Virginia. The city is home to The Roanoke Weiner Stand, the oldest restaurant in town, which has been serving up some big weiners since 1926. (Just thought you’d like to know that…) The city is also the home base of The StoneWall Society, Rainbow World Radio, Pride in the Arts, and other lavender forces– of nature or otherwise! Meet Len Rogers, a true champion of GLBTI equality who’s behind it all. Originally from New Orleans, Rogers and his partner of 30 years, Chris, now call Roanoke their home. However, Len Rogers’ hard work and dedication is seen, heard, and felt way beyond the so-called Mother State. With forty years of activism under his belt (And oh, if that belt could talk!), Len has been a tireless and selfless fighter for the full equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and intersexed citizens. With an unparalleled sense of community, the drive of Harvey Milk, and the the fearlessness of a South-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line drag queen, he blends old-school political activism with all the resources that the age of high speed internet has brought us. His particular affinity is for GLBTI art in all its varieties: literature, poetry, visual art, music, and film. Rogers founded The StoneWall Society in 1999, an organization created to promote greater acceptance and tolerance of the worldwide GLBTI community within the GLBTI community. In other words, it’s all about respecting and accepting the diversity amongst ourselves– a notion which sometimes get sidetracked. The StoneWall Society’s expansive website has dozens of links to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and intersexed artists, as well as politically-oriented sites, reviews, photos, news, and StoneWall Society merchandise. SWS Award-winning singer-songwriter Terry Christopher says of Rogers, “Len Rogers is a true champion of the LGBT artistic community as a whole. Len tirelessly has provided visibility, and a platform that has worked as a voice for many, many artists who have gained exposure to a worldwide audience through the various programs stemming from StoneWall Society.”
And, that’s just the beginning. The StoneWall Society Network at large is a conglomerate of other websites, offering a seemingly infinite cornucopia of recources for our community and its allies. Len Rogers is creator of Rainbow World Radio, which features music by out ‘n’ proud GLBTI artists, CD giveaways, live interviews, and the influential voter-driven OutVoice Charts. The show has a large listener base not just in the States, but all over the world. In 2000, Len Rogers created Pride in the Arts, the mission of which is “building community by reaching minds and touching hearts, through the universal language of art.” Pride in the Arts Awards are given to GLBTI artists and projects which exemplify excellence in five categories (Music Art, Literary Art, Visual Art, Film, and Performance Art), with winners chosen solely by the artists’ supporters and fans. In March 2010, Pride In the Arts Awards Music Award Recipients included Tom Goss, Linq, Sugarbeach, Tret Fure, Georgie Jessup, Scott Free, and JD Doyle of Queer Music Heritage. This June will see a celebration of our community in the film arts: The Pride in the Arts International Film Festival. This highly-anticipated event, the first of its kind in Roanoke, is a cooperative effort between The StoneWall Society and The Shadowbox Cinema. The Festival will include feature films (including a World Premiere), shorts, music videos, and much more. Len Rogers spoke to Jed Ryan about the upcoming Film Fest and his many other endeavors. In case you haven’t guessed already, Len’s a busy man… but unlike so many of our activists and so-called spokespeople who take themselves WAY too seriously, Mr. Rogers is a really fun guy to talk to, as you’ll soon see:
JR: Hi Len! Greetings from New York City!
LR: Hey Jed! Greetings from the great hate State of Virginia, where we cover our boobs in art so the one in the Atty Gen’s office has no competition.
JR: (Laughs) I’ll remember to cover my own man-boobs when I come visit! So, Len, with all of the endeavors that you undertake with The StoneWall Society, and Rainbow World Radio, and the recent Pride In The Arts Awards, what made the timing right for the Pride In the Arts International GLBT Film Festival?
LR: Ah, how’s fate? Kind of a complicated story, but the good part and the one that matters is: the owner of Shadowbox, Jason Garnett, e-mailed me and asked me to do it and to hold it at his venue, The Shadowbox. Jason sees this as history. It is Roanoke’s first GLBT film festival. And, he also is a shining example of a bright, innovative business man and art supporter. So, I am proud and happy that the Pride in The Arts International Film festival is at Shadowbox. Jason had the real Pride weekend date, and we went from there. As our local Pride is in September, this adds something local for the calendar Pride period.
JR: How has the response been so far? Are people getting excited?
LR: The response has been very good. We get to use the word “International” because of wonderful artists like Norine Braun, Sugarbeach, and Anna Gutmanis. All are from Canada and submitted for the music video category. Some awesome talent there, too. We did have submissions from the United Kingdom, Italy, and Germany as well in the Feature Film category. However, there were some licensing issues and coding problems. So, we hope to have that corrected to include next year. Or, Jason at Shadowbox has said, he will gladly show films individually too. So I will be working with him to show films as solo features at Shadowbox. It’s really an ongoing, wonderful venue. Excited? Well to sound as un-Republican as I can, not “Yes!” but “Hell yes!” (Laughs)This is a first here in Roanoke. I have gotten e-mails from community members and non-community members wishing well and showing support. We have great films: five feature films, nine music videos, and three short films to screen, a live performance, and of course at least one party.
JR: Wow! That’s quite an itinerary. Now, a lot of people automatically believe that because Virginia is in the Bible Belt, that the people there are all homophobic. What would you like to say about that?
LR: Hmm… “in the Bible Belt?” I thought we were the buckle! We are sixty miles from Falwell Land or Lynchburg and Liberty University. Paula at “Lez Get Real” says I am in Ground Zero. But Soulforce is right across the street from Falwell Land, so I think Mel White and Gary Nixon own the Ground Zero title. All kidding aside, it is weird here. Most of the “on the street” everyday folks, are nice, well-mannered, and warm. But remember Southern Hospitality. So sometimes you don’t know. A few years back, a man whose last name was “Gay” walked into a gay bar and shot and killed people here in Roanoke. There is still a lingering reaction to that, in our community and the community at large. And this is the seat of liberalism in this area! So, there is a deliberate action on the part of many here to dispel the anti-gay myths. However, Virginia has the most restrictive and downright mean anti-same sex marriage amendment anywhere. And we cannot forget our dear AG and his current and recent actions. So it is homophobic. But I have seen both worse and better.
JR: Gotcha. What are some of the highlights of the Film Festival that you are particularly excited about?
LR: I am not in any of the films. We would need a bigger screen. Well, I am excited about that. (Laughs) But really, we have some excellent feature films. Tom Murray has two submissions screening (“Farm Family” and “Fish Can’t Fly”), we have Dr. Corvino’s “What’s Morally Wrong With Homosexuality?”, and we have “Pink Houses”– all exciting for me. The music videos are amazing too. There’s a wide diversity in styles, topics, and themes. The short films are fun and great examples of what is real GLBT independent film. We have some big names included and some big content. This is SWS’s first time organizing a film festival, so it is all exciting. As I said before, I also am very excited to work with Jason at Shadowbox. He has been very assistive, very supportive, and a genuine professional.
JR: And… there is a world premiere too, right?!
LR: Ah, the surprise! Yes, I am very proud to be screening the World Premiere of “Woman In A Man’s Suit”. It’s a documentary about award-winning StoneWall Society member Georgie Jessup. The film is compelling, interesting, and unique. But then, it is Georgie Jessup we are talking here, so “unique” is an understood. Georgie is very open and personal in the film– and very brave. And we are gonna have Georgie and the Director Anthony Greene here for a meet-and-greet on the opening night. Georgie is going to sing for us– always a treat– and then we have the opening party.
JR: While we are on the subject of movies, Len, what are some of your all-time GLBT-themed flicks?
LR: This will give a few a chuckle and a “Whaaat?”. I don’t usually say what my favorites are in any art field because of the StoneWall Society promotion and Pride in the Arts. The whole “favorites” game, you know what I mean. But…. I love Kathy Bates so I would have to say “Unconditional Love”. I know it didn’t get any awards. But it is amazingly funny. The scene with Kathy and Rupert Everett on the bike is hysterical. And as for Julie Andrews on the plane and especially at the funeral, it’s pure comic genius as far as I am concerned.
JR: I’ll have to put that on my Netflix queue! Now, on the other side, what do you think were the– let’s not say “Worst”– but “Most Overrated” queer movies? Unless, of course, you have one you’d like to name as the “Worst”!
LR: Well I don’t know about “worst” but definitely overrated for me is “Brokeback Mountain”. I know I can hear you all yelling from here. I didn’t like the changes made from the book. Those changes left the storyline flat and not real clear. The acting was good, but the script was not the greatest. I understand many liked it and it was the first real biggie gay movie so to speak. But that is very different from the best or worst. So I’m gonna leave it as “overrated”. That SWS initiated and stoked a campaign to have Mark Weigle’s “Two Cowboy Waltz” included in the film and it was not may help my more negative view.
JR: I agree, I think that “Brokeback Mountain” was overrated as well. Now, while we’re on the subject, there’s a new movie called “Stonewall Uprising” that’s opening this month. As someone who’s been involved in the gay rights movement for as long as you have been… oh, that didn’t sound right, did it?! Uhm…. you’ve mentioned in the past that you’ve had issues about the whole Stonewall phenomenon. Did you want to clarify that a little?
LR: What a nice way to call me old, hmph. (Laughs) But really, the weekend of the Film Festival, I will celebrate my 40th year celebrating Pride on that weekend. My first was in 1970, one year after Stonewall, in Columbus Ohio. I was sixteen. You all can you do the math. My problems arise from the fiction about the event and some of today’s attitudes. And I mean, our own community. Admittedly, I was not in NYC at the event. But everything I read, and people who were there, have stated the origins were a few queens, a few lesbians, a few hustlers, and scattered couples were the beginning. Today I see “queens” pushed to the side as embarrassing and the fringe group. We have never handled the “male-female get along” in our community well. And who knows why. It’s not like we will hit on each other. What have we learned, other than to repeat the same problems of the general society? I also don’t like the commercialization of Stonewall. Or the fact that other events, like the 1966 Comptons Cafeteria riot in San Francisco, is hardly known. I’m not taking anything from Stonewall at all, but there were other happenings in other areas. We need to know our history. See now you had to show me a soap box, Jed.
JR: My pleasure! As we enter yet another Pride Month, what else have you got in store for us with The StoneWall Society and Pride In the Arts the second half of this year?
LR: The opening of “Take Back Pride”, the dot com site. Not to be confused with the dot org site. “Take Back Pride” will address issues about Pride and GLBT events. Like, artists not being paid. Like, that our community artists are frequently over looked as headliners at these events in favor of straight entertainers. Nothing against straight people– my parents were straight ya know.
JR: Mine too! At least, I assume they were…
LR: If it were for, like, a Cyndi Lauper who is a champion for our community, fine. But that is also frequently not the case. I have already been told that it is discrimination not to hire straight entertainers for Pride and GLBT events. I say BULL! When you go to Oktoberfest, you expect to see German food, culture and yes entertainment. That is why you go, to experience the culture. But at ours we feature a different culture? What is that ”Closet Pride”? And all in the name of profit, not Pride. We also have several PITA awards coming up later this year: Literature (Your category, Jed!); Music again in October; Film; Visual Arts; and Performing Arts Awards all are later this year. And, another new site: “Artists For Equality”. This site is not GLBT-specific, but geared to create common ground between our community and the rest of the world… And, a few surprises! Now take away that damn soap box, please. (Laughs)
JR: (Laughs) I don’t think you ever met a soap box that didn’t suit you, Len! Now, I may have asked you this already– actually, many times before– but it’s always worth repeating over and over again! What is the one thing that every one of us GLBT’s and our allies can do, every day, to make life better for our community?
LR: Be active! Even if it is taking a poll online. Do one thing every day which says “I am as good as anyone.” Armchair activists make huge differences. If you reach one person, just one time a week, you have made a change and life better for someone. We have to start one at a time.
JR: Thanks Len!!! Happy Pride!
The Pride in The Arts International Film Festival takes place on June 25, 26, and 27 at The Shadowbox Cinema, 22 Kirk Ave. in Roanoke, Virginia. Complete schedule and advance tickets/reservations are at http://www.PrideintheArts.com/2010PITAGLBTfilmfestival. There will have a Festival Favorite Film and Festival Favorite Music Video as determined by festival attendee ratings, as well as an opening party and meet & greet with cash bar, on Friday June 25, 2010 at The Shadowbox after the film viewing. Visit The Shadowbox Cinema at: http://www.TheShadowboxCinema.com.
Visit Len Rogers’ network of equality. (I’m tempted to call it an “empire” but I suspect that Len’s natural modesty wouldn’t allow me to liken him to royalty!)
The StoneWall Society:
Rainbow World Radio:
The GLBT Hall of Fame:
The Pride in the Arts Festival: