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Ocean County, New Jersey Police Lieutenant—and until now closeted lesbian—Laurel Hester is dying.
All she wants to do is leave her pension benefits to her life partner - Stacie, so Stacie can afford to keep their house which she is in desperate peril of loosing otherwise.
Laurel is told no; they are not husband and wife. After spending a lifetime fighting for justice for other people, Laurel - a veteran New Jersey detective - launches a final battle for justice with the eyes of an entire nation—and one remarkably determined filmmaker—focused steady on her plight.
In a little more than 40 minutes, documentarian Cynthia Wade brings into sharp focus an important and brilliantly powerful examination of a microcosm of the battle for equality for gay and lesbian equality. Considering the political environment we are facing heading into the 2008 Presidential Election when equal rights for GLBT partners nationwide will likely be fought more and more on a state level, “Freeheld” is perhaps one of the most important GLTB documentaries to make the independent film circuits this year.
The absolute absurdity of the situation is perfectly highlighted by the anachronistic title of the “Freeholders” who stood steadfast and stone-faced against Laurel Hester and her nationwide support as the story broke on national news. Any rational being who watches this documentary will be hard pressed to believe it was filmed in the liberal North Eastern United States in 2005.
By simply presenting the facts of the situation without trying to hype or spin the story, Cynthia Wade presents perhaps the single best, most coherent argument for GLBT equality in a number of years. Did I mention that Cynthia Wade is a heterosexually married mother of two? Who better to make the case?
No one, I say. In my not-so-humble opinion, if the already award winning (2007 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize) “Freeheld” isn’t Oscar-worthy material for Best Short Film, I don’t know what is!Recently, “Freeheld” filmmaker Cynthia Wade took time to chat with O&AN during a phone interview about her film and her remarkable subject matter: Lieutenant Laurel Hester.
For more information on Cynthia Wade and her documentary “Freeheld” visit www.freeheld.com and www.cynthiawade.com .
For exact screening times and more information on the NaFF, please visit www.nashvillefilmfestival.org.
I have read in previous interviews where you comment that had you not shown up to the Freeholders meeting when you did that the film would never had happened. How did you happen to become involved in Lt. Hester’s story at the fortuitous time that you did?
I read an article in a local newspaper in Brooklyn about Laurel Hester and her 25 year career ending with her being diagnosed with terminal cancer and then being turned down on her pension benefit request. The story in the paper piqued my interest so I decided to go down to a Freeholder meeting having no idea at all if they would even allow me to film. It turns out that there is a New Jersey law that anybody can film in a public meeting and there were a number of other cameras present. Within 15 minutes of beginning to film I was shocked. I could not believe what I was witnessing. I decided right then and there that this was going to be my next film.
At the time of your decision, were you in the process of looking for the subject for your next film or did you find yourself having to abandon other projects in order to pursue this one?
I was definitely in a place where I was looking for my next film at the time. It’s a long-term commitment when you take on a film project. You might go out on a few blind dates with subject matter here and there and see what happens, but if you are going to commit to a film it will become your life and it is very much like a marriage. I want to be careful about what kinds of film I commit to because once I commit that’s it. I’m eating, breathing, sleeping and living it full time. As a director this is the first project with GLBT subject matter I have worked on but it just seemed right to do. Controversial social issues told through the eyes of strong women tend to be my thing so this was a perfect fit for me. I was really taken with her story because there was so much at stake.
When I was watching the documentary, I was impressed by the attention to detail that you utilized in such a short amount of time. Laurel Hester was such a presence in the film without having to do anything but show her in frame. What were your first impressions upon coming into the presence of this remarkable woman?
I was stricken at first by Laurel herself. She had amazing poise for someone in her incredibly dire circumstances. At that point she only had 6 months left to live and had already been turned down multiple times by the Freeholders. She didn’t want to be out as a gay woman in her community when she was very quietly and most definitely in the closet. She was forced to come out due to the circumstances. I remember seeing her sit there with a quiet poise and incredible dignity despite the circumstances.
There are also a number of other rather unlikely voices that are featured on the film in support of Lt. Hester’s cause. Am I correct in assuming you seem to be making a point of highlighting these voices to drive home the message?
Yes. It was very revealing to me that there were all of these mostly male and some of them very macho police officers in this traditionally very heterosexual male dominated world that suddenly had become these sort of unlikely gay activists by standing up for her. For some of them it was the first time that the issue had ever hit home like that. It was very moving to me that these officers were going to stand by their partner and fight for her regardless.
As a documentarian, I know that you strive to be objective in your presentation. What was it like for you to find yourself in the center of this amazing story?
It was amazing to me that Stacy, her life-partner was very clearly poised to lose her house if the pension didn’t get approved and there just seemed to be this sort of flat denial in the room that if they just said no enough that it would just go away. There was this drama that had been set into motion and was unfolding so rapidly and it was incredibly moving and compelling to be in the middle of all of that. I live in Brooklyn so going to Ocean County and experiencing politics there was a new experience for me. At first I didn’t even know what a Freeholder was, which is pretty much everyone’s reaction when they first see the film because it’s such an archaic term from Colonial days. As I understood it from several sources, the Freeholders almost always vote together as a united front so I gather that even if there are differing opinions regarding the vote they would often help each other out and reach a decision in private and then come out with a united front and back each other up in public. I think that they were really caught off guard with how big this fight was going to get and how many supporters she was going to have not only in terms of the other counties in New Jersey but people across the nation were following this and they were getting calls and e-mails of support from as far away as Australia.
There seems to be a lot about Lt. Hester that is said without really saying anything in the film. She seems to have incredible resolve in the face of these ridiculously impossible circumstances. As you were filming “Freeheld” what were you trying to communicate about Lt. Hester as you focused your camera on her plight?
She was always very quiet and sometimes very unassuming but amazingly strong and as I talked to people around her I soon learned what that strength was truly born of. Many of her partners told me that it was a usual occurrence for her to have been the one that helped solve a crime and later on a male officer would come in and take responsibility for the collar. She was very quiet about it and never complained because to her it was always about the work and seeing that justice was served. She would always just quietly go back to what she did which was often very unglamorous work. She was the person who would sit in a freezing van late at night for hours on end waiting to take a surveillance photo of some guy who was up to no good. She was so committed to the work that when another person took the credit it was just in her personality to allow it and return to her quiet life and career. I think that for that reason she was often underestimated by the police department and as a result of that I think she was underestimated by the Freeholders. They didn’t seem to take into consideration her tenacity of sticking with that job for 25 years and in fact had tackled lots of bad guys and had solved murders and had nabbed the rapists only to have the credit given to someone else. That kind of tenacity was definitely going to serve her well in this fight.
Your passion for the story is evident in your delivery. What do you feel are the goals that you have with this film?
I really feel like it is important to bear witness to Laurel Hester’s life. If I had not shown up to that first Freeholder meeting, if I had blinked for just a second or thought about how I was going to pay for this or I had thought about how many commitments I would have to give up in my life in order to make this film, then this film would not have been made—her story would have been gone in a flash. It just happened that I showed up and got to be there for the last ten weeks of her life. As I got to know her better I felt a real responsibility to not only bear witness to her life but to show respect to her career.
In the DVD extras for the film I will include her memorial service where he minister said “If you would have blinked, you would have missed her.” I feel like that could be taken a number of ways when you apply it to her fight, her career and her life. I feel like I have to share her story with as many people as possible both gay and straight. There were many people who said that she would have moved much further in her career than the hard earned rank of Lieutenant had she not been a woman and certainly had she not been a closeted lesbian. This is a way to celebrate her life and accomplishments and it was something that she was very excited about.
In the final days of Lt. Hester’s life there were undoubtedly times that you questioned the ethics involved in filming a dying woman’s final moments. How did you navigate what I am sure was a delicate terrain?
My style as a filmmaker tends to be very unflinching in the face of difficult situations. I didn’t realize until I was editing this film but “Freeheld” is the third film I’ve written and directed that had death in it. It seems to be a theme that runs through my work without my actually realizing it until recently. They trusted me to tell the story and there were definitely moments where it felt way too intimate in which case I turned off the camera. She felt very committed to my presence, however. For instance, when her priest was there and the hospice workers were there she insisted that I be present. I tried to use those scenes powerfully but sparingly in the film. There were many times that she was very sick and I didn’t film because I would not have wanted that on record at the end of my life. I tried to use that as my benchmark for when I would and would not film. I would think “would I want this?” and if the answer were no then I wouldn’t do it.
There were several people close to Laurel who said that the film project helped to perk her up some because it gave her something to focus on. It was something to take her mind off the fact that she was dying. If we could go through pictures or get her to change clothes for an interview it was something that helped her through those final days.
It was a very difficult terrain to navigate because of the subject matter. Increasingly, it became difficult to remain objective as I watched this happen to these very normal everyday people. Stacey is very happy with the film now but it was a very scary thing to show her the final piece because I knew that she was just going to have to watch Laurel die again.
Was there any fear that people might perceive you as being someone trying to advance herself or profit off of the misfortune of this tragic tale?
There definitely was. I didn’t want to be in a position after Laurel’s death of having people doubting her belief in the project, so in the DVD there is a great deal of interviews with Laurel talking about what the project means to her and there is a whole section of interviews with friends and family members that will be included. We also are working on building a comprehensive website so that people can learn what their rights are in their community. I decided to make this a short film because I feel that most documentaries are too long and also as a short film it can be used as an education and advocacy tool particularly as we start going towards the 2008 elections where there will be many battles on the state level for domestic partnership rights and the other issues that are related.
As a heterosexually married mother of two, why is the story of someone as different from you as a closeted lesbian police officer so important to you?
That’s just the point. Lt. Laurel Hester wasn’t that different from me at all. She was just a normal woman who wanted to live her life and then die in peace. What else does anyone want? I just don’t think we will totally be free in this country until everybody is treated equally. We’ll look back on this fight for same-sex rights in the future and it will seem so archaic just like when women gained the right to vote or the idea of separate drinking fountains for black people. Laurel paid her taxes, served her community in her life and work while living very quietly and normally with her partner Stacey and it doesn’t violate or affect my marriage at all. How is her commitment to Stacey any different than mine to my husband and how is it invalidating m marriage at all? I don’t even understand the argument at all quite frankly.
For those with a thirst to celebrate, Red Bull Unlocked is the key. In city after city, the most exciting bars, clubs, mixologists, performing artists, and more take over a local landmark building to showcase their signature ambiance while also collaborating for a must-see mashup. And now it's Music City’s turn to seize the spotlight, as the event brings 10 bars together in East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood.
Fueled by the best of Nashville’s thriving music scene, Red Bull Unlocked has curated an eclectic night of show-stopping entertainment performances including a pop-up Whiskey Jam show, DJ sets, musicians, and more. The full lineup is here:
- Whiskey Jam (feat. Dozzi, Willie Shaw, and Johnny Hayes)
- A.B. Eastwood
- Daisha / Rap Girl
- Boom Bap (DJ Collective feat. DJ-Rate, Case Bloom)
- Whiskey Disco (DJ Collective feat. Coach, Jim O'Shea)
- Old Crow Medicine Show’s Jerry Pentercost (DJ Set)
- DJ Stretch
- DJ Griffin Green
- The Play Mates (Drag Show feat. Sasha, Vanity, Deception, Aura Mayari, Corlis Todd, and Carmin Triple C)
Counting down to the epic celebration, Daisha shares, “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to perform in so many of Nashville’s top spots all in the same night. Fans can expect a lot of bops and high energy. I want people to dance and have a good time.”
Ward Guenther, Whiskey Jam Founder, adds, “Red Bull has been enjoyed at Whiskey Jam since the very first night, so it's only fitting Whiskey Jam is enjoyed at Nashville's first Red Bull Unlocked. Looking forward to this!”
Red Bull Unlocked Istanbul
Photo courtesy of Red Bull
Local favorites including Pearl Diver, Tin Roof, Lipstick Lounge, White Limozeen, and more will join forces for one epic night. Full list of bars and partners below:
- The Dive Motel
- Lipstick Lounge
- Pearl Diver
- Play Dance Bar
- Rosemary & Beauty Queen
- The Stage
- Tin Roof
- Whiskey Jam
- White Limozeen
- Woolworth Theatre – Opening Fall 2022!
- Eleven Eleven - Opening 2023!
Date: August 21, 2022
Time: 6 PM – 11PM CT
Location: 1102 Forrest Ave, Nashville, TN 37206
Entrance: Ticked event
Rumble Boxing, the boxing-inspired group fitness studio, opened its doors for the first time in Nashville on June 20 at 609 Overton St, Nashville, TN. The hottest workout on the block is hosting its official grand opening from August 4th-7th with daily classes, membership specials, and prizes from local vendors. The new Rumble Boxing studio is currently offering a buy one class, get one free promotion for the Nashville community.
Rumble Boxing delivers 45-minute, 10-round, strength and conditioning group workouts, crafted around teardrop-style aqua boxing bags and high-intensity strength training circuits. This brings all fitness levels together to experience what Rumble is known for: combining the sweet science of boxing with high energy and positive vibes.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
This boutique fitness brand offers serious benefits like increased stamina and strength, with cardio that’s actually fun. The seasoned trainers at the new studio are thrilled to serve their local community while offering this fun, new modern approach to boxing and welcome members of all fitness levels to the Rumble family.
The new Rumble Boxing studio is owned and operated by Blake Baskin and Antonio Compton. With their background in the fitness industry, this dynamic duo is excited to bring their passion for boxing and group fitness to Nashville. As business and life partners, Blake and Antonio aim to create a strong community within their new Rumble Boxing studio and share their message of non-apologetic inclusivity.
Black and Gay-Owned Business
Rumble Boxing Store with Dolly Parton Mural
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“We own who we are, and this brand aligns with that perfectly,” said Antonio. “This is what we want to create and bring to this community: a fitness class that is designed for anyone and a place for people to be who they are. As a Black and gay-owned business, we want to help lower the division we see in the world right now. Our goal is to bring people together through Rumble, set everything aside, and have fun.”
To echo their message of acceptance and inclusion, Blake and Antonio commissioned a local Nashville artist to paint an 11 X 6-ft. mural of Nashville icon and philanthropist, Dolly Parton. The massive portrait features the country star in Rumble Boxing gear in the lobby of the studio.
The excitement and buzz around Rumble allowed Blake and Antonio to recruit top-tier trainers to head up the new studio, including Head Trainer Oronde Jones, a well-known celebrity trainer in the Nashville market.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“Compared to other fitness classes, Rumble is a class you can truly get lost in for 45 minutes. With the dark room, you don’t have to worry if anyone is paying attention to you. The music is awesome and inspiring, and the beat drops right when you need it the most. Also, with boxing being a sport you can never truly master, you’re always improving and crafting your skill. On the floor, you’re consistently doing something new, which prevents you from ever hitting a plateau.” Said Oronde Jones about his favorite part of Rumble.
Rumble has massive brand loyalty and widespread appeal, partly thanks to attracting top names like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Jason Derulo, David Beckham, and Kevin Hart to its studios.
About Rumble Boxing
Founded in New York City in 2017, Rumble is a group fitness concept delivering a mix (or combination) of boxing-inspired circuits and the transformative power of resistance training. Pro and amateur fighters glove up together, no matter their fitness level or skill, to reveal their inner fighter. The experience is a 45-minute, 10-round, full-body cardio and strength workout crafted around specially designed water-filled, teardrop-style boxing bags. Rumble was founded by Noah Neiman (former Barry’s Bootcamp Master Trainer, and cast member of Bravo’s Work Out New York), Eugene Remm (Co-Founder of Catch Hospitality Group (Catch Restaurants, CATCH STEAK, Lexington Brass), Andy Stenzler (Co-Founder Cosí, Kidville), and Anthony DiMarco (13-time IRONMAN, former Managing Director, Google).
Who would have thought that we would have to get through a pandemic in order to appreciate the small things we have, such as the ability to simply pack our bags and hit the road?
For two years, there’s been nothing left for us travel junkies to do but sit at home and try to find new destinations that we will conquer once we defeat what appears to be the biggest villain of the 21st century. But once that happens, hold your bags tight because we will be up for some of the most interesting travel experiences. Take a look at some ideas for your post-COVID traveling plans:
A Gay Cruise
One of the best options to have in mind when all of this passes is a good, nice and long (pun intended) gay cruise. Or cruise in general, for that matter. Bear in mind, social distancing will still be a thing in the post-COVID world. But COVID-19 likely doesn’t mean that cruises will cease to exist. On the contrary, though cruise ships will probably keep the number of passengers smaller than before, it is believed that they will become an even bigger hit in the following period, especially because they are all going to go a lot more environmentally-friendly. On the bright side, is there any better way of celebrating the end of the pandemic than by cruising around some magnificent seas, stopping by at great cities and having romantic dinner nights at nice restaurants?
A getaway in nature
On the other hand, there is always the option of stepping away from the hustle and bustle of large cities, and spending some time in a place that’s not only healthy, but also beautiful. Some of the destinations that plenty of people will look for are the ones that can cater for both peace of mind and amazing things to see or do. One such destination is New Zealand, one of the greenest countries on Earth right now. Not only will you be visiting the magnificent country that gave us the beautiful Shire from Lord of the Rings; this is also a destination that’s excellent for everyone who prefers relaxing to partying. If you’re up for some partying, you will be able to hit Auckland, while if you’re for something calmer, there’s plenty of amazing places that you can see and visit.
Dancing Around at Pride
Pride parades are also events that you want to have in mind for the post-COVID world. Such events have always been quite important, but it seems that they are now more important than ever. The virus has canceled more than 75 Pride parades all around the world, which is one of the reasons why we must support the ones that will see the light of day once the pandemic stops. Truth be told, the upcoming Prides will perhaps be the best Prides ever organized. Give the gays a couple of weeks of quarantine, then let them outside and see what kind of party they are able to throw!
A road trip
If you’re, as well, waiting for the day to wake up and say “long gone are the days when we were not allowed to go wherever we wanted?”, and if staying at one place gave you a lot to think about, then your first post-COVID travel experience should definitely be a nice road trip. You can practically choose which country you want to tour, and you can either take your own car (you have probably missed it so much), or rent one at your destination. Australia is an amazing country for this, though, as it offers the possibility of seeing the Great Ocean Road, which is an amazing thing to see and experience. On the other hand, if you do not want or cannot leave your country, you can also choose to go on a domestic road trip – there are amazing things to see in your vicinity as well.
Holiday for a single guy
If you’re single, or you’re traveling someplace with another single friend, then you should definitely organize a nice vacation for yourself or for you and your single friend, and hit one of the best European cities. Europe has been greatly affected by the virus, which means that now it’s time to pay it back and get it back on its feet by traveling there and seeing all the amazing things it offers. Any city you choose in Europe – you will not make a mistake. Apart from being able to see great landmarks, you will also have the chance to have a drink at great gay clubs and pubs, and join unforgettable gay parties. And if the gay scenery is not your forte, worry not, as Europe indeed has to offer so many different and magnificent things.