Captive audiences: The Lavender Tube on athlete controversies, funny pirates and taut thrillers

  • by Victoria A. Brownworth
  • Tuesday March 22, 2022
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Brittney Griner report on MSNBC
Brittney Griner report on MSNBC

When we started writing this column in 1994, we had a segment we called "news you're not seeing." It was comprised of major LGBTQ stories that never made the mainstream TV news. With the explosion of 24/7 cable news over lo these many years since, one would think that this was no longer relevant.

The story of Brittney Griner says otherwise. As you read this it will be five weeks since she's been detained in Russia. In our other news that we have written several stories about her for Philadelphia Gay News, and have been interviewed by both BBC and CBC on her story, about which we are somewhat of an expert because, well, we are reporting on her and others are not.

You may have seen Brittney Griner last summer at the Tokyo Olympics where she won her second gold medal. Or perhaps you have seen her as an All Star WNBA player for the Phoenix Mercury. Griner is arguably the greatest woman basketball player in history. But right now she is a political prisoner who has been denied consular access in Russia—despite working there since 2015 and leading the UMMC Ekaterinburg to victory in several championships.

On March 17, Russia's state-run TASS news agency announced that Griner would be held at least another two months —until mid-May— while Russia tries to make the ludicrous charges against her stick (MSNBC video)

As an out Black lesbian who has no embassy protection or intercession, Griner is in real danger in Vladimir Putin's virulently anti-gay Russia. If LeBron James or Steph Curry were being held in Russia, it would be a daily news story. It's disgraceful that CNN devoted only 90 seconds to Griner on March 18. It's up to us to keep her in the news. Do it.

Lia Thomas  

Caitlyn Jenner vs. Lia Thomas
In other sports news, NCAA University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas won an NCAA championship in the 500-yard freestyle on March 17, becoming the first trans woman competitor to do so. Thomas has been a lightning rod for those critiquing the inclusion of trans women in women's high school and collegiate sports.

The claim by GOP lawmakers and some feminists is that Thomas, who began her transition in 2018 and has been swimming since she was five, has an unfair physical advantage over cis women competitors. Conservative media, especially Fox News, has made Thomas their bête noire. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz has even made her part of his campaign against "men in women's sports."

Caitlyn Jenner, in her continuing efforts to prove she doesn't give a fuck about LGBTQ people, threw Thomas under the bus to Fox News on March 18, noting, "At least I had the balls to stand up for women and girls in sports."

Really? When was Caitlyn Jenner campaigning for equal pay for women in sports? Or equal time on TV news for women in sports? Or equal access to funding for women in sports? Or even less sexual abuse of women in sports by cis het male coaches and doctors like the notorious Dr. Larry Nasser?

Jenner thinks Thomas is an unfair competitor, telling Fox, "I don't see how you can be happy beating other girls under these circumstances. You have to have a sense of personal responsibility. You can still enjoy sports but not play at a competitive level, right?"

Olympic silver medalist Erica Sullivan, who lost to Thomas in that race, wrote about Thomas in Newsweek, saying: "Like anyone else in this sport, Lia has trained diligently to get to where she is and has followed all of the rules and guidelines put before her... she doesn't win every time. And when she does, she deserves, like anyone else in this sport, to be celebrated for her hard-won success, not labeled a cheater simply because of her identity."

Shepard Smith  

Gay History Made
CNBC host Shepard Smith filled in for Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News on March 18, making network broadcast history as the first openly gay man to anchor a network news broadcast. Smith currently hosts The News with Shepard Smith on CNBC at 7 p.m. on weeknights.

Smith joined NBC-Universal in June of 2020 after spending years as an anchor and reporter at Fox News, where he hosted The Fox Report with Shepard Smith from 1999 to 2013 and became managing editor of the network's breaking news division in 2013.

In 2017, the native Mississippian spoke at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism about being gay.

"A. You're going to hell for it, B. You'll never have any friends again," he said. "C. What are you going to tell your family? And by the way, you're on television on the craziest conservative network on Earth. That will probably put you in front of a brick wall. Of course none of that was true, but that's how it felt."

In a New York Daily News interview, Smith said, "I go to work. I manage a lot of people. I cover the news. I deal with holy hell around me. I go home to the man I'm in love with."

Leslie Jones, Nathan Foad and Rhys Darby in 'Our Flag Means Death'  

Our Flag Means Death
Not a period piece comedy about pirates and toxic masculinity with some side queerness and nonbinaryness and Leslie Jones as a pirate captain with 19 husbands? Our Flag Means Death, HBO MAX's new original series, is sheer fabulousness and just wildly, improbably funny.

HBO says the comedy series is "loosely based on the true adventures of Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), a pampered aristocrat who abandoned his life of privilege to become a pirate." The series also stars Academy Award-winner and Emmy-nominated Taika Waititi as Blackbeard, "history's most feared and revered pirate."

In addition to Darby and Waititi, the ensemble cast includes Nathan Foad, Kristian Nairn, nonbinary actor Vico Ortiz, Rory Kinnear, SNL alums Fred Armisen and Leslie Jones and Will Arnett. It's hilarious.

Pieces of Her
We love Netflix's taut new thriller series Pieces of Her, starring the always spectacular Toni Collette as Laura Oliver, a breast cancer survivor, speech pathologist who works with veterans and others and a generally lovely person. Bella Heathcote co-stars with Collette as Andrea Oliver, Laura's daughter, who has just turned 30 and can't get herself together.

Toni Collette and Bella Heathcote in 'Pieces of Her'  (Source: Mark Rogers/Netflix)

As Netflix describes it: "A woman pieces together her mother's dark past after a violent attack in their small town brings hidden threats and deadly secrets to light."

Purposefully, to avoid spoilers, we shall be differently vague and describe the series like this: What if everything you knew about your life turned out to be a lie? What if everyone you thought you knew, everyone you ever loved, suddenly became a suspect in a plot against you? What if the world —your small town world of Belle Isle, Georgia, that seemed so sleepy and safe— suddenly became dangerous and terrorizing? What if the world of politics and multinational corporations became suddenly more than just video clips on the evening news?

That's the lure of Pieces of Her: the slow unraveling and disentangling of a series of interlocking stories that are each compelling and possibly deadly. The opening scene of extreme violence is both portent and a canard.

With Omari Hardwwick, Terry O'Quinn, Gil Birmingham and Jessica Barden, and created by Homeland alum Charlotte Stoudt from the best-selling novel by Karin Slaughter, Pieces of Her is stellar and Collette is extraordinary.

Michelle Hurd and Jeri Ryan in 'Star Trek: Picard'  

Tid Bits
Queer favorites Better Call Saul (April 18), Bridgerton (March 25), Downton Abbey (March 18), Elite (April 8), Russian Doll (April 20), and The Umbrella Academy (June 22), are all returning, just in time for us to retreat to our homes for the new BA.2 variant.

Also, Paramount+'s Star Trek: Picard has a les-bi-fabulous relationship between beloved lesbian poster Borg Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Starfleet officer Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd). More of this, please.

Ryan told Pink News that there "had long been talks of making Seven gay or bi, even back in her Voyager days."

Ryan said, "I know that Jeri Taylor, who was one of the show runners at the time, was very interested in making Seven gay or bi or pansexual, and that was shut down. But it's the character that would have made perfect sense —absolute perfect sense— from the get-go because she didn't even grow up human. Why should she have any preconceived notions about sexuality or any of it? It's the perfect character to explore that storyline with."

Kit Connor and Joey Locke in 'Heartstopper'  

The first official teaser trailer for the new Netflix series Heartstopper is out where all the queer teen boys are peak adorableness and your heart will break with remembered gay adolescent longing. Netflix promotes Heartstopper as "Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love."

It continues: "When gentle Charlie and rugby-loving Nick meet at secondary school, they quickly discover that their unlikely friendship is blossoming into an unexpected romance. Charlie, Nick, and their circle of friends must navigate the ever-relatable journey of self-discovery and acceptance, supporting each other as they learn to find their most authentic selves." Heartstopper premieres April 22.

So for the relentless horror of the war in Ukraine, news of the looming next COVID surge and the much-needed self-care of scripted TV fare, you know you really must stay tuned.

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