Champions of LGBTQ life and culture in Rochester, NY since 1973.
Wednesday March 22nd 2017



RAPA seeks to support the Rochester LGBTQ community

RAPA's Avenue Q production

RAPA’s Avenue Q production

By Susan Jordan

The Rochester Association of Performing Arts (RAPA) has collaborated for several years with the LGBTQ community and the Gay Alliance, partnering with the Alliance to do fundraisers for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, as well as marching in the Pride Parade.

RAPA, since 2013, has been located at what is now the Kodak Center for the Performing Arts, 200 W. Ridge Road. The non-profit branches into three opportunities to better serve the Rochester community.

Professional Theatre — In the restructure of RAPA over the last several years, Jim Vollertsen (RAPA’s CEO/President) has assembled a team of professional directors, designers, and actors to mount some of Rochester’s finest theatrical productions. Under Vollertsen’s leadership, RAPA continues to grow and expand each year with major Broadway style musical productions and events on the Kodak Center stage and in the Rochester community.

RAPA Family Theatre — In 2014, with the closing of the long-standing and well-respected Rochester Children Theatre, the RAPA Team recognized the need in the Rochester community for a new yearly series of shows to serve children and their families.

School for Performing Arts — Since 1978 RAPA’s School for Performing Arts has trained countless students in music, acting and dance. Many of the students in RAPA’s educational program have performed on Broadway, tours and in feature films. Others have gone on to prestigious performing arts colleges and conservatories. Still others have become playwrights, directors and founders of community theatre groups.

Eric Vaughan Johnson, RAPA program director and business manager, said, “We have received grants annually from the Rochester LGBT Giving Circle for productions of Bare, Spring Awakening and, this upcoming summer, The Wild Party. We have hosted talk-backs after performances to discuss developments in the community. For the last few years we have partnered with the Gay Alliance on doing a fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, as well as marching in the Pride Parade. Not to forget our productions of La Cage Aux Folles, Chorus Line and Avenue Q.”

Eric told The Empty Closet, “The first Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraiser we did was in 2014, with ‘Bare,’ about two kids in a Catholic boarding school who had to deal with relationships with God and each other, with the church, with drugs, etc. In ‘Bare’ the son comes out to his mother and a lot of local people were interested in that. My mother was one of the people on the talk-back panel. It was very moving.

“The talk-backs usually include Gay Alliance representatives and actors from the shows. The second fundraiser show was ‘Avenue Q’ – some of our community actors marched in the 2015 Pride Parade dressed as characters from ‘Avenue Q’. In 2016 we got a grant from the LGBT Giving Circle to do a fundraiser with ‘Spring Awakening’.”

The talk-back panel discussions are important not only to educate audiences, but also to help educate and support youth involved in RAPA’s School for Performing Arts. Eric said, “A lot of our students, especially at summer school, are going through identity issues. We create a safe space for them. We’re trained to work with both young kids and young adults on these issues, and help them see they’re not alone. Some of our adult actors also teach in summer school or the year-long classes, and they can bring back information from the talk-backs to the youth.”

The fundraiser show coming up this July is “The Wild Party”. Eric said, “We want to be a presence in the LGBTQ community each year with one or two shows that speak to the community. There will be a talk-back after the show. It’s a nice partnership we have going (with the Gay Alliance).”

An EMPTY CLOSET DISCOUNT is available: $7 off per ticket with using online code: EMPTY. Go to or call 585-254-0073.

The RAPA box office number is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 90 minutes before each performance. To learn more about upcoming RAPA shows, go to

Federal Court: Lesbian mom can sue anti-gay hate group for return of kidnapped daughter

Hate activist Mat Staver

Hate activist Mat Staver

Joe Jervis posts on We’ve been following this case here on JMG for many years. From the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Janet Jenkins has been fighting for years for the return of her daughter, Isabella, and to bring those responsible for Isabella’s kidnapping to justice. In 2002, Jenkins and Lisa Miller, her then-partner, had Isabella. But Miller later renounced her lesbianism and moved to Virginia with their daughter. With the help of Liberty Counsel – identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBT hate group – Miller resisted Jenkins’ efforts to maintain a relationship with her daughter, fighting a multi-state custody battle that lasted for years. When it became clear that a Vermont court might award custody to Jenkins, Miller – rather than complying with a court order – fled with Isabella to Nicaragua, where Miller and Isabella apparently remain in hiding to this day.

Jenkins filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Miller and others who had conspired to assist in the kidnapping, but the case was put on hold in favor of criminal prosecutions against some of the conspirators. This fall, Jenkins, represented by Sarah Star, Esq. as well as attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP, asked the federal court in Vermont to lift the stay, and, in light of new evidence adduced through the criminal prosecutions, to permit them to name Liberty Counsel, Liberty University, as well as Liberty Counsel lawyers Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, as defendants. On Monday, the court issued a 61-page order granting that request and lifting the stay.

“I’m pleased that the court today expressly confirmed that the kidnapping was an affront to our client’s rights not just as a mother, but also as a former member of a same-sex couple whose rights the Constitution protects,” said Sarah Star, Esq., who also served as Ms. Jenkins’ attorney during the custody dispute. “The court acknowledged its obligation to protect those rights and to ensure that we can pursue Ms. Jenkins’ claims expeditiously, which we intend to do.”

“The court has given the green light to a full exploration of Liberty Counsel’s role in the kidnapping of Isabella, as well as the role of the Liberty Counsel lawyers,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We are pleased the court recognized that our allegations suggested ‘significant wrongdoing’ by these lawyers, including Mat Staver, and we will move swiftly to learn more about their wrongdoing and to hold everyone involved in the kidnapping to account.” “We are gratified that we can now move this case forward on behalf of our client Janet,” said Fritz Langrock, partner at Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP.

Isabella’s whereabouts remain unknown. In February 2016 a federal appeals court upheld the conviction of Pastor Kenneth Miller (no relation to Lisa Miller) for his role in the kidnapping, sentencing him to 27 months in prison. Tomorrow Virginia businessman Philip Zodhiates will be sentenced for his role in the crime after being convicted in September 2016 of international parental kidnapping and conspiracy. He faces eight years in prison.


Commentary: Trump’s strategic methods for undoing abortion rights, marriage equality

trumps-different-methods-for-undoing-abortion-rights-marriage-equality-750x563Rebecca Hart Holder posts on The Advocate: By now, the country knows it’s hard to pin down our president. Tweets are walked back or deleted. Mockeries recast. Statements spun. What this president says is not necessarily what he means, or so his surrogates would have us believe.

What then are we to believe about President Trump’s intentions toward marriage equality and reproductive rights? These two issues have been a dividing line in American politics over the several decades but other than the anger they incite, the public — and politicians — have not necessarily seen the two issues as connected. If we are to understand the president’s true motivations, we must understand these issues together.

As a married woman in the LGBT community and a lawyer who has worked on the frontlines of the reproductive rights movement for nearly a decade, I understand  how these freedoms — the decision about who to love and the decision about if, and when, to become a parent — are fruit from the same tree. The right to marriage and the right to reproductive freedom both stand to remind us that that government should not be in the business of regulating sexuality.

Hospitals and doctors’ offices have for too long been some of the fiercest battlegrounds for both these issues. At the height of AIDS crisis, we saw nurses and doctors refusing to treat sick patients, hospital administrators denying visitation rights to partners, an administration that stayed silent and dragged its heels on supporting lifesaving research, all while the extreme Christian right used “morality” to stir up hate and discrimination. Marriage equality was, in part, a response aimed at providing our community with greater protections in the face of unequal treatment in health care.

In the 44 years since Roe v. Wade gave women across the United States the right to choose abortion, a battle has played out in hospitals and doctors’ offices that should feel familiar to LGBT people. Reproductive rights opponents across all 50 states have fought to restrict access to abortion in the name of “morality” and have succeeded in creating often insurmountable hurdles for women exercising the right to determine when and if to become a parent. They have enacted a patchwork of laws that inappropriately regulate interactions between patients and doctors, including 45 states with laws that allow healthcare providers to refuse to participate in abortion care if it is contrary to their conscience. Sound familiar? It should.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 17 states compel healthcare providers to provide patients with inaccurate information about the risk of abortion care, including five states that have laws requiring doctors tell patients there is a link between abortion and breast cancer—a myth debunked by the American Cancer Society. Twenty-seven states mandate women wait at least 24 hours before accessing abortion care and 14 of those states require two trips to the doctor’s office. The list of restrictions goes on and on. What does this mean? It means governmental interference in the most intimate decisions has been sanctioned. This interference reinforces stigma.

Just as refusing to grant marriage to LGBT people told us we were somehow less-than, creating legal hurdles to access basic health care tells people that there is something wrong with them for wanting to make decisions about our bodies.

Why do we fail to connect LGBT rights and reproductive rights? Legal successes in the fight for marriage equality have helped to erase some of the stigma surrounding our community. Still, you probably do not realize just how many people make the decision to have an abortion because these stories have stayed in the shadows. Amazing advocates are trying to change that with abortion storytelling projects, similar to work that brought to life the stories of marriage equality. Still, we have a long way to go before stigma is erased.

Of course, reproductive rights is not only about abortion access. It includes access to birth control, scientifically accurate sex education, ending pregnancy discrimination in employment, and paid family leave; issues that impact heterosexual people and LGBT people alike and all are subject to inappropriate governmental interference. Also, LGBT rights should not be reduced to advocating for marriage equality. They encompass the rights of transgender people and the right to be free from discrimination in all aspects of our lives.

So then, what about Trump?

Trump has been embraced by the extreme Christian right as a champion of the moral position, despite the fact that his own statements are often convoluted.  Asked about his views on same-sex marriage shortly after winning the election, Trump said on 60 Minutes: “These cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And I’m — I’m fine with that.” Asked about abortion and the Supreme Court in the very same interview he declared, “I’m pro-life. The judges will be pro-life.” And, for now, the nomination of arch-conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch won’t change much at the Supreme Court regarding LGBT rights or reproductive rights. Gorsuch is simply replacing arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, no friend of either movement.

Still, what gives with Trump’s statements? Marriage equality has something that abortion can not yet claim: wide public acceptance. The optics of Trump taking a firm public stance against marriage equality would not be good and he knows it. But do not mistake his claim that the issue is settled for the threat to have passed.

The bottom line is that groups in the administration and on the extreme Right are actively seeking to limit the kinds of decisions that people can make about their sexuality and the creation of families.

Take my home state of Massachusetts. In 2016, Freedom Massachusetts successfully led a coalition of groups (which my organization, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, supported) to advocate for an expansion of the Massachusetts Public Accommodations Law to include a prohibition on discrimination based on gender identity. So, for example, now LGB and T people cannot be refused service at healthcare facilities, hotels, and restaurants alike.

That doesn’t sit well with the Massachusetts Family Institute. They succeeded in getting a measure placed on the 2018 ballot that would rollback these critical protections. Don’t think they are limiting themselves to fighting against trans issues. They make no bones about targeting access to abortion, birth control, and sexuality education. Their mandate includes targeting both LGBT and reproductive rights because they have declared themselves the moral arbiters of who to have sex with, who to love, and who should start a family.

Attacks like these are happening all over the country. For many people, LGBT rights and reproductive rights might seem like strange bedfellows but they are attacked with the same sword: moral superiority.

Do not be fooled by Trump’s pronouncements. If abortion rights are in his sights, so too are same-sex marriage and many other LGBT protections, because fundamentally they are about the same thing — allowing everyone to make personal, private decisions about how to live one’s life.

REBECCA HART HOLDER is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, the political, grassroots arm of the pro-choice movement in Massachusetts.


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