1. (Photos by Albert H. Fulcher)
By Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
Representing their inner rock stars, attendees at Diversionary Theatre’s Rock n’ Roll Rebellion Ball rocked the red carpet and the evening with a massive celebration of the country’s third-oldest LGBT committed theater. On April 26, at the US Grant Hotel, the gala filled the room with impressive speeches, amazing performances and provided several ways to serve Diversionary’s programs through donations. This year’s gala was more than just a fun time though: With a theme flaunting the right to be your authentic self, the program went much deeper with empowering speeches and honoring those that make a difference in the community, theater and beyond.
Matt Morrow, Diversionary Theatre executive artistic director, said that the staff at Diversionary is small but mighty and was thankful for the many volunteers that make the theater a success.
“We need to remind ourselves of our inner rock gods right now,” Morrow said. “Every morning, you turn on the daily news with trepidation and terror. The culture war has reunited with fury. It is vital that we find our core of strength and our veracity to face down, once again, what is trying to tear our community apart.”
Morrow said that so much is happening at Diversionary now that it was hard to know where to start. Diversionary’s 20th anniversary run of “Hedwig and The Angry Inch” announced another extension. The show has already broke all records in Diversionary’s history.
“This story about a gender queer outsider shines more powerfully in our intimate production,” Morrow said. “And their story certainly renewed the fight in my heart for another 20 years.”
Morrow said Diversionary’s Arts Evolution program has served everyone from elementary students to senior citizens and has “absolutely blossomed” all over San Diego. Additionally, this year, a record six programs, in partnership with the San Diego Unified School District, will tour an LGBT-themed show in the public school system.
“In this wild, uncertain time, one thing is certain,” Morrow said. “Diversionary’s not only finding growth, we will not be intimidated by the bullies fighting the cultural war. Our voices, as swords, will be heard. And by the way, if you mess with our trans and gender-nonconforming community, you mess with all of us. Look around the room tonight. This is what community looks like. This is what family looks like. And this is certainly what fearlessness looks like.”
The Fritz Klein Award is presented to individuals in the community who demonstrate fearlessness, pioneering leadership and vision. Dr. Klein, a passionate Diversionary supporter and LGBT advocate was known to say, “I’ll work if you work.” His namesake award honors his contributions to the community and the hard work he embodied throughout life, which serves as an inspiration to all to continue.
Receiving the Fritz Klein Award, honorees Dea and Osborn Hurston are longtime advocates, leaders and philanthropists for the arts in San Diego. With their commitment and involvement in all venues of art in San Diego, they’ve contributed countless hours of time, talent, and money — making them a driving force that has helped shape the San Diego arts landscape.
Osborn Hurston reminded everyone that Diversionary just turned 36 and is the third-oldest LGBT theater in the country.
“Diversionary Theatre is one of San Diego’s best theaters. Period, end of discussion,” Osborn Hurston said. “The word ‘diversionary’ means to draw attention away from the principal concern and when I think about Diversionary, I think the opposite. I think Diversionary draws attention to the idea that people, irrespective of their race, color or sexual orientation, both make up and contribute to the rich and diverse community that we all enjoy here.”
Dea Hurston said she always had an adamant pride for diversity and although San Diego has a very diverse community, she claimed that it is not a very inclusive community, and that is where work still needs to be done.
“When I met Matt, and we had lunch, I know that he was not expecting a straight black woman to talk to him about being inclusive in his community,” Dea Hurston said. “I want to thank him so much for listening. Because I think that since Matt has been here, Diversionary has been much more inclusive.”
Dea Hurston said she met her first lesbian in 1967. From a very small town, until that time, all Girl Scout troops had been segregated. There was a black troop, a white troop, a Jewish troop and a Catholic troop. In 1967, they became one troop.
“We know that there were black, white and Christian Girl Scouts, but we didn’t know there were lesbians,” she said. “A girl came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I’m Connie and I’m a lesbian.’ I said, ‘Hi, I’m Dea and I’m a Democrat.’ I didn’t know what a lesbian was. Connie gave me a good education.”
She said her friend Connie was out when no one was. Because of her small town, there were no gay people. There were sweet men and banished women. Connie being out was a great distress to her parents.
“What happened to her is that her parents deemed her incorrigible,” Dea Hurston said. “They sent her to a receiving hospital where she was given electric shock treatments. And after the third treatment, the doctor looked at her and said, ‘You no longer like girls.’ That was 52 years ago and thanks to me receiving this award, [until now] I had not talked to Connie in 52 years. I was able to find her over Facebook.”
After all the years, Dea Hurston said those were difficult times for her, but that there is a happy ending to this story..
“The electric shock treatments didn’t work, and she’s been married to the same woman for 35 years,” she said. “But there still is a need for our youths so please donate to the important services that Diversionary extends to these communities. There still is a need. It is not electric shock treatments, but it is still mind control and we all know that. So we still have a fight out there.”
Actress, singer, author, teacher and activist Alexandra Billings earned the Fritz Klein National Award. Although growing up was not easy for her, Billings has starred on Broadway, is currently playing Davina on Amazon’s Emmy and Golden Globe-winning show “Transparent.” Her roles include transgender and non-transgender characters and her involvement in LGBT rights has taken her across the country, earning many awards and recognition for her LGBT activism and her career. Staying true to form, Billings had some funny, poignant and compelling words for those attending the gala.
“This is the most fabulous gay event I have been to. This is gayer than Elton John singing ‘Rose’s Turn’ in Cher’s bedroom,” Billings said. “I’m 57 years old, I’m a mixed-race gender female, I’ve been living with AIDS for 30 years. I’m a former heroin addict, pill-popping alcoholic and I also survived living on the streets of Chicago at a time when I had no home and I made my money and my livelihood as a sex worker.”
She said now she is on an award-winning show and also a professor at University of California, considering herself blessed and very, very grateful.
“I believe that all of us have a divine path,” Billings said. “We also have a mission and a responsibility. I believe that all of us come equipped with compassion, empathy and intelligence and the weight of our own history. But if you are sitting around waiting for others to make change, my friend, you are wasting your gift. That is not only a crime, it is a damn shame. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of humans waiting, literally waiting for you to speak — to say something that is true, that is devout and that reverberates.”
Billings said that President Donald Trump does not frighten her and that she believes that he doesn’t hate the LGBT community.
“He has no idea who we are,” Billings continued. “I know it feels like he hates us. Ronald Reagan hated us. Let’s be clear who our enemies are. I lived through that. And I buried every friend I had when I was in my 20s. Donald Trump is not a cruel human being. Donald Trump is a misguided buffoon who has happened to get extremely lucky for a couple of minutes and has surrounded himself with human beings that believe his rhetoric.”
She said those people don’t scare her either because they don’t know her. Billings said what frightens her the most are the people that voted Trump into office.
“You know those people,” Billings said. “You work with them, you shop with them, you teach them, they babysit your children, they walk your dogs, they check you out at the grocery store, they sell you clothing. And let me tell you something else that they are doing. They teach your children. Those are the people that scare me because they know what they are doing. They have infiltrated our community.”
Billings said, as a community, we’ve got to be clever. Not about what we are, but about what we do.
“Your theater is a miracle. It is a drop of water in a desert,” she continued. “This is a war. This is a battle. This isn’t about taking sides because all of us are all humans. All of us. It’s so easy for us all to sit in our fabulous outfits in this room because we all agree with each other. But it really doesn’t do anything, does it? It doesn’t really change much, does it? And we are certainly not talking to the people that voted these people into office [and] who want to take away my right to teach.”
Billings said that we have to talk to those people who disagree with us the most. We have to find those people that despise us, hate who we are, that think that we are an abomination of God, that believe that we are ruining this country, and believe that we are anti-American and unpatriotic.
“Those are the people that we have to get to sit down, invite into our homes, break bread with and speak to,” Billings said. “Because if we don’t, we are going to be stuck in this room forever. The way you all reach out to the youth is extraordinary and now we have to do something more. We have to reach out to their parents, and their grandparents because those are the people that are under the misguided notion that what they’ve been taught, not what they believe, is true. It’s not. But they don’t know that. And they are not going to know that until they know you.”
Billings said to take all of our fabulousness and bring it out into the center of the universe.
“You can still be fantastic and talk to each other, just do it out there,” she said. “Twenty-five steps to the elevator. That is how close we are to freedom. Ignorance is not hatred. Ignorance is a lack of education. We have to tell people who we are, and we have to show them that we are Americans and that we are humanists. Whether you are a Republican, liberal, Democrat, conservative or Independent, whatever container you decide to put your political ideals in, all of us fit in the arms of God. Our divine sense is inbred. We are a part of something so much greater than anyone could possibly imagine. This is everybody’s job.”
— Albert Fulcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.