by MK Scott
It has been quite a year as I brought about 16 interviews (mostly exclusives) to Unite Seattle and Seattle Gay News. What tied many of these interviews together – from Broadway stars to Drag Stars to Gay Icons – were my questions related to the current political climate – from Trump to Choices to Career Highlights to “Straight” Pride – and those questions got each interview subject talking with such passion. Here are highlights from nine of my interviews with Leslie Jordan, Thelma Houston, Savion Glover, Derrick Barry, Mo Rocca, Judy Collins, Justin Vivian Bond, Steve Grand, and Annise Parker based on subject.
ON CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
MK: Actually, the first time I actually saw you was in an independent film in 2000 called Lost in Pershing Point Hotel.
Leslie Jordan: Hmm-hmm? I can’t believe you saw that. I wrote and shot that thing on a – I think we had less than $80,000 – and we ran it out of the old hotel in LA – What’s that hotel called? – The Ambassador, where Kennedy [Robert F. Kennedy] was shot. And it was in complete disarray and hadn’t been touched since the ’70s. It’s been boarded up. We didn’t have to do – it was, you know, it was ready for a movie that took place in the ’70s. And it was my journey, and it turned out pretty good. It’s hard, you know, to shoot a film on that amount of money, but it was – it won this big grant from the Los Angeles Film Festival out of 600 scripts. They gave us ten grand. And it was fun. I actually remember that. Not many people remember that.
MK: Because when you hear that song (“Don’t Leave Me This Way”) you remember the days of Studio 54.
Thelma Houston: Yeah, and it was the time of what was going on. I just did a show for the HRC Foundation in New Orleans. They had to put together this video… they were asking me questions about “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” And it’s true. I mean, it’s the song, and you’re absolutely right: that song reminds people of another time.
I think that’s why I’ve been able to have this longevity, because people can go back to another time, you know, where it was really sad at some point because we didn’t know what was going on with our young men and women dying, and you know, we didn’t know what that was about. But the other side of that was it was just such a – I don’t know… we seemed to be more understanding of each other. It was just another time, you know? Just a whole other time: fashion, you know, all of that.
MK: Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk and then Black and Blue. And I also heard that you did a huge, you had a huge part in the production of the, you know, of the retelling of The Shuffle musical. What were those experiences like for you? Those Broadway shows?
Savion Glover: I mean, they were, again, all of my experiences have been great. You know, I appreciate my collaborating partners, and our efforts towards allowing the dance to be the narrative, or allowing the dance to tell the story. My experiences, specifically with George Wolfe, through his directing efforts and my choreography, you know, he’s really allowed for there to be a space, or a platform, once again, for my dance, for my approach to the dance, to be used as a form of storytelling. So I’m happy whenever I have the opportunity to be involved specifically in something that might be on Broadway because it’s just another opportunity for the dance to be, you know, the lead vocalist; it gives opportunity to the dance. So I’m happy whenever that opportunity is in place, specifically for Broadway.
MK: I also heard that you are in a Poly relationship with the artist, Nick San Pedro and fellow queen, Nebraska Thunderfuck. How does it work?
Derrick Barry: Communication is key. Nick & I were together for 5 years & we met Mack at my exe’s house of all places. He was sexy, confident & ambitious. “Drag Race” reached out to my ex for the Season 5 veteran makeover challenge & he passed on it. Mack was pursuing modeling at the time & I convinced him that any TV is great for his resume. Alaska made him over & the rest is history. We’re a household of 3 that pushes each other to be our best & always strive for more. We call it a throuple because we’re just like any other traditional couple, there just happens to be three of us.
MK: On “Sunday Morning” you went from just doing the humor, the humor op-ed pieces. And then they moved you out into the field to do different stories, and even some hard-hitting stories as well, especially with the Confederate statue piece that was incredible. Now, have you enjoyed the change?
Mo Rocca: I really appreciate you asking this. I have. And I’ll tell you, you know, I had a shrink not long ago who told me when I started, when I was figuring out what I wanted to do next. And he said, you know, it’s okay to be smart. You don’t have to always – there doesn’t always have to be a punchline. There doesn’t always have to be a joke. It could just be smart, it could just be intelligent, which is, you know, and life isn’t divided into half-hour sitcoms and hour-long dramas. And I actually learned that, when I was on the “Daily Show”, from Jon Stewart that the show could go from something hopefully very funny to a really serious interview that he was doing. And I don’t, you know, that’s what I want to do is do different kinds of stories, sometimes a story on professional cuddlers, which is obviously kind of zany and it’s just for laughs for the most part. But then do stories on Confederate statues.
And better yet I like to do stories that seem like they’re just going to be funny and goofy but end up being substantive. And vice versa I like to do stories that people think: wow, this is a heavy topic. But then they end up being accessible, maybe even funny. So I really – that’s why I love being on “CBS Sunday Morning” because I don’t know where else I’d be able to do all these different kinds of stories. I’m also not interested, frankly, into doing breaking news. So I want to do something that’s at least a little bit of time to think about before it goes on the air. I admire the people who do breaking news but that’s nothing that I’m interested in. But yeah, so I was happy when I got moved into it. And I have an amazing boss, my executive producer at “CBS Sunday Morning'” And he told me the same thing my shrink did. I remember once he assigned, he said; do you want to do this story? I can’t remember what the topic was, and I thought, oh, I don’t know if I could make it funny. And he says, it doesn’t have to be. And, so anyway, it’s been a good growing experience for me.
ON MAKING AN IMPACT
MK: What has been the most rewarding experience about this journey in the last 40, 45 years?
Judy Collins: Well, the most exciting thing is that today I can go onstage and sing songs that I wrote – that has lasted 60 years – and it’s going strong and going forward. And I have no intention of ever stopping.
MK: You’re performing at the Pride party on Sunday. What does “pride” mean for you?
Thelma Houston: Well, pride, for me, is, oh, you mean generally and how it pertains… because I think everyone should be prideful of who you are. Have pride in who you are. And you can do that when your thoughts and motives and movements and all of your being are toward good toward everyone. So, to me, that’s prideful. And one can be proud of oneself in what one is contributing. As far as the gay community is concerned, you know, I’ve seen it grow. And I’ve seen it grow from, you know, the secrecy of & not being able to come out and say who you are. I’ve seen the effects of this up close from good friends of mine, and I’ve seen how [it makes] such a change when you let people know, when you’re proud of who you are – all of the parts of you – because, you know, we’re all the same, you know what I mean? … We’re human beings. And when human beings start to realize that, OK … then I think that’s great. And it goes out and it’s very contagious. When people see that, then I think it all comes to the point of good. So that’s what it means to me.
On “STRAIGHT PRIDE”:
MK: What is your response to the proposed straight Pride concept?
Justin Vivian Bond: Straight Pride? Are they really that organized? According to FOX News they can’t even manage to put the Christ back in Christmas and it’s right there in the spelling! What a bunch of dumb dumbs. Good luck kids.
ON PERSONAL CHALLENGES
MK: I had no idea until just recently that there were several years of where you were actually battling addiction to alcohol.
Steve Grand: Yeah. I usually don’t say things that will have such a strong connotation… I don’t know that I suffered to the degree that a lot of people that are called “addicts” experience. So I don’t want to give myself too much credit, but yes, I did completely stop drinking for three years. I finally have reintroduced alcohol in very limited quantities back into my life over the last couple of months. And it’s going really well, I mean… I’m in a much different place than I was, and it’s going a lot better now… One of my general rules is to not drink alone, and not more than one day a week. Yeah, it’s always interesting getting to that line, which is why I made the “Pink Champagne” video. Which is like, all right, alcohol is usually consumed when you’re having fun at a party, but at what point does this thing & that has this fun, positive connotation, when does that become something darker? And it can be a blurry line, as it was in my case.
So I’m just, you know, learning to spot out the different things that would indicate to me that it’s kind of turning over to the dark side. And I think I’ve noticed that drinking alone is one of those indications. So I’m trying my best to stay away from that.
ON DONALD TRUMP
MK: And what do you think of President Trump’s current policies in regard to…
Annise Parker: On just about anything? They’re atrocious! Well, again, we’re not a policy organization. So, but the only thing I can say, officially, for Victory, is that anyone who thinks that Trump has been good for the LGBT community is living in a fantasy land. He is actively targeting the trans community, both clearly in the military by forcing trans soldiers out. But his policies on transgender protections for students, his policies on protections for gay and lesbian students as well, or the rollback of those policies, is very detrimental.
And through his cabinet secretaries you also see an unwinding of general protections. When you then add to it that he’s an active supporter of the so-called RFRA Bills (Religious and Restoration Act Bills), that many of his appointees support things like conversion therapy, including his Vice President, you could see that he’s been not just indifferent to the LGBTQ community but actively hostile to the LGBTQ community.
MK: And so, you know, back to that again, what about … what is your take on all these people who are gay that are affiliated with Trump, who actually support him?
Annise Parker: … gay Trump supporters. There’ll never be any lesbian Trump supporters. (Laugh) When you become part of Mike Huckabee’s stump speech, and Ted Cruz’s stump speech, it’s a mixed blessing.
MK: Any message for Trump?
Derrick Barry: I was taught growing up that if I don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. I’ll reference Mariah Carey’s infamous quote, “I don’t know her.” I do believe that people can evolve & change if they’re willing. I know from watching myself on “Drag Race” that I could use some lessons in humility. Apologize when needed & accept an apology when necessary. If you treat others as you’d like to be treated, then we would all treat each other with much more respect.
ON MOVING ON
MK: When we spoke in 2014 you wanted to be taken seriously for your music and not sexualized. Did you have any challenges because the fans expect you to take your shirt off a lot?
Steve Grand: You know, I just tried to take myself less seriously, I think… You’re pulled in different directions in life, and I kind of just decided that, I am who I am, and how people interpret that, how that comes across to people, I don’t always have control over, I have control over what I do, obviously, but you don’t always have control about the way that people interpret you. So I just try to be myself, and I think my musical talent speaks for itself… Obviously like I have a lot of fun, taking my shirtless speedo Instagram pictures and that kind of stuff. So I try not to let it bother me, and I just have fun with it and move forward.
MK: Have we seen the last of your persona, Kiki, with Herb? Could a comeback happen?
Justin Vivian Bond: You never know when and where Kiki and Herb might turn up. When she wants to make an appearance she’ll let me know.
MK: You started at the age of 12 in this business, and you’re about 45 now, you’ve done so much with your life. What do you want to do that you have not done before?
Savion Glover: Hmm. That’s a loaded question. I guess the first thing I would say is be President.
MK: (Laugh) There you go. You want to get into politics?
Savion Glover: No, I don’t want to get into politics. That’s why I want to become the President. (Laugh) Sorry, man. I found that one quite funny myself. Oh, Lord. No, man, I don’t know, there’s so much to do. I’m happy with my distance. I’m happy to know that I am here and contributing to the evolution of our existence. I’m happy to know that I’m a part of this thing, this art form, this communication, this way to get people to respond emotionally. I’m happy that I am able to allow people a release, you know, and to be a part of this platform, the entertainment business that I am a part of, I feel, you know, honored. I feel secure. I feel that those of us who are in this field of contributing, you know, we should, you know, be happy, be happy to serve. So when it’s about what do I do next, or what do I do that I don’t want to do? I don’t know, man, I’m just so happy to be here and be able to share my gift and skills and time, and spark emotions in people and whatnot. So, hopefully, I’ll continue to do that more and more and more and more and more.
On to more incredible interviews in 2020!