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Gay Party Boat Sinks Amid Pandemic

Plus “The Prophet” debuts, gay artists on AIDS, a new Cary Grant bio, David Bowie and the making of “Hunky Dory,” and RIP Pierre Cardin...

With COVID case numbers more than six times their spring peak—and a new, more contagious variant on the loose—gay revelers traveled to Mexico for a New Year’s extravaganza organized by Jeffrey Sanker’s White Party Entertainment. While it is too early to know whether the event will become a superspreader, as the Los Angeles Blade called it, not all went according to plan: An afternoon cruise on the PV Delice (“men only” and “clothing optional”) turned to mayhem when the boat capsized and sank; all passengers and crew are believed to have been rescued uninjured. (It is unclear whether the cruise was part of the White Party or was a separate event.) Details were revealed on the Instagram account @GaysOverCovid, which has also published social media screenshots showing medical professionals partying in defiance of coronavirus restrictions.

Gay Books, Arts, and Culture

Robert Jones Jr.’s well reviewed debut novel The Prophets is out today [ Buy @ Bookshop ]. The New York Times described it as a love story about “two enslaved young men on a cotton plantation in antebellum Mississippi, and the consequences of their relationship for everyone else in their world.” A fan of James Baldwin, Jones blogs at Son of Baldwin and has written for the Times, Essence, and the Paris Review.

In this year of COVID, many are reflecting on AIDS. A&U recently interviewed Eric Rhein about his new book, Lifelines [ Buy @ Bookshop ], which chronicles the artist’s long battle with HIV, from sickness to undetectability and health, through lyrical black-and-white photographs and shadow-box sculptures of paper, wire, and found objects. WGBH released an hourlong documentary about 1980s artist and AIDS casualty Keith Haring as part of its American Masters series. And Russell T. Davies, creator of Queer as Folk, has authored a new show about AIDS called It’s a Sin, which will debut in the United Kingdom later this month. Davies recently wrote about the disease, his feelings of guilt, and the show in The Guardian: “Finally, I came to write a show with AIDS centre stage. I think I had to wait till now, to find what I wanted to say.”

Cary Grant’s “friendship with Randolph Scott…fueled rumors for decades of a homosexual relationship,” writes Chris Yogerst in his review of Scott Eyman’s Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise [ Buy @ Bookshop ]. The book’s title refers to the persona of Cary Grant, worn like a disguise by the man Archibald Leach. “The biography does not dwell on Grant’s sexuality,” wrote Yogerst, “because, after all, it doesn’t matter.” We may never know. And the debate about what is an is not appropriate in the depiction of gay characters in media bubbles along: On CBR, E.L. Meszaros accused the new Netflix show Bridgerton of “queerbaiting,” while NBC News asked, “Should straight actors still play gay characters?” The answer, according to them? “It’s complicated.”

The Los Angeles Review of Books recently covered Mark Gevisser’s The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World’s Queer Frontiers [ Buy @ Bookshop ]. Titled after the imaginary line that, in the author’s conception, demarcates “those regions of the world where queer people have gained legal protections and a level of acceptance and those where they remain powerless and persecuted,” The Pink Line offers a global view of issues that we too often see from a predominantly American viewpoint.

Meanwhile, the holiday issue of The Economist retells the story of Welsh member of parliament Leo Abse and his quixotic, yet ultimately succesful, quest to decriminalize sodomy in the United Kingdom in the late 1960s. In The Gay & Lesbian Review, David Bergman interviews Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, and Felice Picano—the three remaining members of the famous Violet Quill Club, “a mixture of gay male friends and lovers and enemies who came briefly together forty years ago…to enjoy literary cameraderie.”

And on Louder Sound, Bill DeMain writes about David Bowie and the making of 1971’s Hunky Doryan album that, while not at all new when I first encountered it, was very close to my teenage heart. “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes; turn and face the strange…” See also 2019’s David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music, by Darryl W. Bullock [ Buy @ Bookshop ].

Gay News

The biggest news this week is not gay. As the world waits anxiously for Congress to certify Joe Biden’s victory tomorrow, President Trump was caught on tape threatening Georgia’s secretary of state with unspecified criminal charges if he didn’t “find 11,780 votes” to swing the state Trump’s way. Neither this extraordinary (and very possibly criminal) action nor the objections expected from a subset of Republican legislators tomorrow has more than a sliver of a chance of changing the outcome.

In the same contest that Mr. Trump lost, a record 334 LGBTQ candidates were elected to office nationwide, according to the Victory Fund. This brings the total to 919 known queer elected officeholders nationwide, also a record but far short of the 23,000+ needed to “achieve equitable representation.” Of course, not all gay politicians are out. In “Lindsey Graham Is Not a Lady,” James Finn explains why it is fair game to out closeted politicians who promote anti-LGBTQ policies but not (even for us) to “attack” them with “sexist, homophobic slurs.”

More than 125 advocacy and health organizations have signed onto a letter urging state health officials to build LGBTQ outreach into vaccination plans. According to statistics cited in letter, LGBTQ people are more likely to face coronavirus exposure at work, to live in “environments that may make it harder to maintain social distancing,” to suffer from underlying conditions that increase risk of complications and death, and to distrust medical professionals.

In China, where homosexuality has been legal since 1997, the LGBTQ population is facing increasing government pressure. Last August, Shanghai Pride announced that it was “cancelling all upcoming activities and taking a break from scheduling any future events”; no reason was given. In October in Chengdu, a cosmopolitan city with a reputation for tolerance, “gay bars…were temporarily shut down, ostensibly to control” an HIV outbreak, according to the South China Morning Post. “Then, an activist said, all of the city’s LGBTQ organisations were suddenly investigated.” Meanwhile, gay Chinese artists continue to find ways to tell their stories. Among them is 19-year-old film student Ran Yinxiao, who recently made Forbidden Love in Heaven about a gay couple and their adopted child; gay couples are not permitted to marry or adopt in China, and the movie was released on Chinese streaming sites only after editing to comply with censorship requirements.

In Uganda, where homosexuality remains a crime punishable by long prison sentences, prominent lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, who advocates for LGBTQ rights, was arrested recently on money laundering charges. Opiyo is executive director of human rights organization Chapter Four Uganda, which released a statement calling the charges “fabricated and malicious.”

Finally, Pierre Cardin has died at the age of 98. “In his personal life, [Cardin] identified primarily as gay and had a long romantic relationship with André Oliver, who was his partner in design as well as life,” writes the Advocate. “Oliver died in 1993.”

Art Note

Oil on glass folk art by an unknown artist depicts the sinking of the White Star liner Titanic after colliding with an iceberg on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, April 14–15, 1912. Credit: Smithsonian Institution.

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