Evangeline Lilly, Katherine Moennig, Elizabeth Bunch, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, and more.
By Steven Foster
So, dear readers, it appears it’s time to fall in love with America again. And President Obama is just one of the many people who has us all aglow at the moment. So, in this month of romance, we now give you a list of other people who we’re, quite frankly, swooning over. None have the emotional heft of the first African-American president, but they’re damn appealing in their own right. They are our fellow Americans and we salute them. Besides, in this climate of bad news and constant political press coverage, it’s nice to remember there are other things going on in this great nation. In the spirit of inclusion, we tried to select one straight person in a field and one gay person, throwing in a couple of local heartthrobs for good measure. Not all of them may be remaking the country, but they’re fascinating fabric swatches in what our president called “the patchwork that is America.”
Plucked from obscurity to become one of the best actors in an amazing ensemble cast would seem to be enough to make the gamine Evangeline Lilly swoonworthy. But, no. It’s because this limelight-shunning actress breaks all the rules, and writes a few new ones. For starters, she’s a devout Christian, but that doesn’t stop her from drinking and cussing like a sailor. Very cool. And putting her faith where her beautiful mouth is, instead of taking crappy roles in awful rom-coms (we’re talking to you, Katherine Heigl) when Lost isn’t shooting, she heads off to Botswana or the Philippines to build houses for the homeless. How Obamaesque.
Why d o we love you? Because you drive us all crazy. Men, women, gay, straight,
everyone. A sexual cipher who has refused to be pinned down as to her sexuality, Moennig was quasi-outed when castmate Jennifer Beals grouped her together with the openly lesbian members of the L troop, Leisha Hailey, Illene Chaiken, and Rose Troche, despite one dubious claim to straighthood on Showtime’s website. And keeping in her unconventional role choices, Moennig played a pre-op transsexual in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She’s so cool, so smolderingly hot, we can’t even hold it against her that she’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s cousin.
Actress, Alley Theatre
Slim, sexy, tomboyishly cute , Bunch is the Alley Theatre’s most disarming minx. In Teresa Rebeck’s The Scene, she seductively stole the show as a smarter-than-she-seems airhead, delivering rambling dialogue with Valley girl vapidity before turning on a dime to reveal the character’s sadistically calculating, social ladder climbing, backstabbing homewrecker. Following that tour de force, Bunch chopped her brunette locks into a fiendish, butch pixie cut to play a maniacal Irish terrorist in the bloodbathy hit The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Currently taking time off to have her first child (with hot hubby Chris Hutchison), Bunch will return to the boards in April in the sinister comedy Mauritius. We can’t wait.
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson
Bishop, New Hampshire
He might not have been given the spotlight role Rick Warren received, but the bishop nonetheless stirred sufficient controversy among the right for being asked by the then-president-elect to deliver the prayer during the opening inaugural event on January 18. The first openly gay, non-celibate priest to be ordained in a major Christian denomination, Robinson held firm to his activist attributes, opening his prayer asking God to “bless us with tears” for the poor and those with AIDS, and to “bless us with anger at discrimination” against “people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.” He was the perfect counter for Warren’s side of the faith, and another example of Obama’s dedication to include many diverse counselors in his circle of influence and power.
Minister, United Methodist Church
Another inaugural star , the octogenarian orator delivered the ceremony’s inspiring benediction. Not surprising since this man was chosen by Martin Luther King Jr. to lead the Selma to Montgomery march. And during Coretta Scott King’s funeral he pretty much called out all the four presidents in attendance for spending billions on war but giving no money to the poor. So it shocked no one that Lowery would take the inauguration out in a blaze of rap-a-tap-tap fiery glory. His prayer’s hysterical (and to some, offensive) rhyming wrap-up had the million-plus crowd both laughing uproariously and shouting Amen! s in multicultural, multi-faith unison. It was a blessedly joyous denouement to a glorious day, one of the rare collisions of church and state that actually work.
The Rachel Maddow Show
The first openly gay anchor of a prime-time news show, Maddow was one of the few stocks that actually rose in 2008. Sublimely filling a void in the MSNBC lineup (and news talk slate in general), Maddow’s sharp wit, incisive-yet-friendly and accessible demeanor, and deliciously left-leaning slant made her a newstalk superstar. While demurring she is not “beauty pageant gorgeous” like most talking heads, she is nonetheless a lovely, striking woman who makes intellect undeniably sexy. She possesses a uniquely independent style that defies convention while redefining the standard talk-show desk-jockey persona.
Reporter, The CBS Evening News
Katie Couric might have saved her job with the infamous Palin-nailin’ interview, but if there’s any consistent reason to watch The CBS Evening News, it’s to marvel in Steve Hartman’s Assignment America. Every Friday Hartman travels the country, showing the primetime viewing audience stories they’d only see on CBS Sunday Morning, or hear on NPR. His puppy-cute demeanor is pure apple-pie Americana, and Harvey ventures into unheard-of zip codes in this patchwork nation to give stories that are often tearfully touching and deeply moving. He’s introduced us to a widow who, at 80 years of age, finally finds her life dance partner; a dog that helps rehabilitate hardened criminals; and other charming, idiosyncratic individuals who make this national family an honor to be a member of.
Mayor, Providence, Rhode Island
Can our out elected officals make headlines with just governing with respect and integrity? If Providence Mayor David Cicilline is any indicator, the answer is, thankfully, yes. In his tenure, Cicilline brought billions of investment dollars into the city, singlehandedly wiping out a crippling deficit. He invested significant funds into education, gave the city cultural focus, and polished the city’s downtown district, making P-town a travel destination worthy of our gay cash, winning accolades from even The Wall Street Journal. What’s more, Cicilline pushed for more transparency in city government. Obama would approve.
Lyda Ann Thomas
Mayor, Galveston, Texas
After just a year in office , Thomas had to weather the coming threat of Hurricane Rita in 2005. And while her declaration of a state of emergency caused massive evacuation congestion in a rush to get outta Dodge, she was nonetheless lauded for her action by the National Council on Readiness & Preparedness. Thomas was once again tested, this time more severely, with Ike, and this time her mandatory evac order saved countless lives as a killer tempest destroyed a coastline. Her measured, calm, almost folksy grandma-like demeanor is a refreshing, comforting voice in the usually nuts-o wail of Texas politics. What she lacks in Ann Richards-like fire, she more than makes up for with her matronly political warmth. If anyone can rebuild the storm-tossed island jewel, it’s this woman.
Dustin Shane Black
The story of Harvey Milk had been floating around Hollywood for decades. But it took an ex-Mormon, out gay man, and near-novice screenwriter to sieze the essence of the story more seasoned scribes had missed, and Black penned a screenplay that finally got the movie greenlit. Since then, Milk has become an Oscar-worthy epic that could snag a mantle’s worth of gold statues for director Gus Van Sant, star Sean Penn, and the young writer who made it all possible with his passion, talent, and sheer determination to tell the story of the gay community’s most celebrated, tragically slain leader.
Author, The Wordy Shipmates
Don’t let Vowell’s endearing little-girl lisp voice deceive you. This is one insightful author with a snide, sharp political gaze that examines our nation’s sometimes less-than-inspiring history. While her best-selling books are fascinating reads, it is her audio versions that are the true treats. The morbid but riotous Assassination Vacation pulled in guest vocals from A-list pals Jon Stewart, Conan O’Brien, Catherine Keener, and Stephen King. Her latest tome, The Wordy Shipmates, features Jill Clayburgh, Peter Dinklage, Bill Hader, and Campbell Scott voicing everyone from Sandra Day O’Connor to quasi-founding father John Winthrop. Shipmates hysterically reveals the often humiliating religious mania that led to this country’s founding. An unapologetic atheist, Vowell is a disarming voice that lends a valuable timbre to the wise choir that continually, needfully song-calls for separation of church and state.
Best known locally as deputy managing editor of The Houston Chronicle, O’Connor is more nationally recognized for her occasional paneling on NPR’s Peabody Award-winning Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me. She sent daily e-mails to the Chronicle staff, cluing them into corners of pop culture her reporter-gaze gleefully exposed, and opined on the political hoi polloi in droll fashion. These e-mails soon morphed into a daily blog that now delights tens of thousands of readers. And if Obama doesn’t need her for his cabinet, the First Lady should definitely enlist her as a design consultant. O’Connor cleverly criticized the choice to keep the giant eyesore of a mat in the Oval Office, a “fugly rug” that was partially designed by Laura Bush. Said O’Connor, “It’s like a cross between a bad state coin and a Grateful Dead album cover.” Blog on, Kyrie. Blog on.
The Airborne Toxic Event
Indie Rock Band,
CD: The Airborne Toxic Event
While penning a novel after the triple-whammy of (1) his mother’s death, (2) a devastating breakup, and (3) being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, writer-turned-rocker Mikel Jollet nuked the novel and put his angst to music. The result is a searing, heartwrenching portrait of love and loss that catapulted his rock group to rock fame. 2008 was a stellar year for great music in general, and Airborne’s eponymous LP was one of the standouts. Their appearance last month on David Letterman had the usually-cool host tripping over himself to congratulate the band on a performance that all but leveled the Ed Sullivan theater. Their performance was like a surging symphony, broadcast live from the center of a furious, shattered heart. The band will be airing their powerful aural poison in Houston on March 18. Don’t miss it.
Pop Duo, CD: Common Reaction
When Camila Grey, Austin bassist and keyboardist for the cult band Mellowdrone, met L Word actress and ex-Murmurs vocalist Leisha Hailey, it was musical love at first sight. Their debut album was a frothy, sexy synthesis of sparkling pop-rock with crystalline vocals that bared a seriously sonic bite and killer hooks. And the fact that both young women are searingly seductive only adds to their lesbian allure. (Grey is bi, and Hailey’s been out sine she was dating kd lang back in the day.) The duo had a brief stop in Houston last year where a lucky few were able to see them. Here’s hoping H-town gets another encore in the near future.
Journalist, The Score and Marketplace
Widely acknowledged as the greatest long-distance swimmer in the world, the intimidatingly intelligent and out lesbian journalist now navigates the choppier waters of our stormy economy. As host of KCRW’s The Score and frequent sports-business contributor on NPR’s Marketplace, Nyad brings an athlete’s focus and an economist’s élan to the murky financial issues facing America today. Her reporting from the Beijing Olympics was candid and touching, especially when addressing the dubious futures of so many athletes who train for years, only to realize too late that endorsement dollars are limited to a lucky few, and the chances of being featured on a Wheaties box are as slim as the fabric on a Nike Laser.
Radio Personality, KTRH
Well, Flecknoe was one of the brightest spots on KTRH’s morning show—that is until the moronic media hog Michael Berry gave Flecknoe and several other Clear Channel employees the ax. We’ll miss Flecknoe’s infectious laugh and lighthearted take on sports and entertainment. Here’s hoping some other, wiser station picks up the talented radio journalist before she leaves our city to surf the airwaves in some other market.
Comedienne, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Successfully hop-scotching from stage to screens large and small, the razor-tongued Sykes recently added another impressive accolade to her résumé—out lesbian activist. While in Vegas during the Prop 8 debacle, Sykes grabbed the microphone and came out with measured rage and partisan venom. No wonder she was nominated (again) for a NAACP Image Award. In addition to catching her on the CBS hit Christine as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ gal pal, Sykes will be touring the country this year. Dates are scarce, but let’s hope she graces our fair city with her unique brand of edgy, ribald comedy and scorching political critique.
Comic, Houston, Texas
Tommy Drake hit the road with Cher and now rules the comedy circuit on cruise ships. Mike MacRae hooked it to L.A. to join Frank TV. Paul Oddo took his intellectual humor to the Big Apple. That left Rob Mungle as Houston’s Last Comic Standing—even if his profanity-laced rants bar him entry from that abysmal television show. No matter, Mungle always wins when he appears onstage at The Laff Stop, slinging jokes and knocking back enough patron-purchased jägermeister shots to put all of Sigma Phi Epsilon in a coma. If you’re at Guava Lamp, walk around the corner and see if you can catch Mungle. Stalwartly straight, Mungle is adamantly gay-friendly because, as Mungle freely admits, gay men mean there are more women available to him. (His words on this subject are funnier, but way too racy for this pub. Still, don’t let that stop you from catching his side-splitting shows.)
Financial Guru, The Suze Orman Show
Even the most ardent Obama supporter can’t help but question the nomination of Timothy Geithner for Treasury Secretary. This man couldn’t even figure out his own taxes, how is he going to shepherd the Treasury Department? Our choice? Suze Orman. The out lesbian, bestselling author, and talk-show diva brings a firm hand to finances, both national and personal. Lately Orman has used her platform to give Washington a much-needed finger-wagging. We hope they listen to her as often as Orman’s frequently befuddled callers do. Orman is that rare advice giver—firm without being judgmental, fair without being coddling, and encouraging while never betraying her honest convictions about money’s power and pitfalls.
Steven Foster is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.