Doug Spearman

Spearman, Doug 2017

Doug Spearman was born on September 3, 1962. The “Noah’s Arc” star is an accomplished actor, writer, producer, director, photographer, and humanitarian.

Doug Spearman was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland, at the height of America’s civil rights movement. Although his parents had no qualms about his being gay while growing up, the one place his parents put their foot down was on his ambitions to take to the stage, or worse, Hollywood.

From the moment Spearman could turn on a television by himself, he’s been enthralled by movies, television series, and plays. When he was four, his mother sent him to see “The Nutcracker” performed live. According to family lore, Spearman came home that day, grabbed his mother by the hand, sat her on the living room sofa, and proceeded to re-dance the entire ballet for her. At the age of seven, when he discovered that the flying monkeys in the “Wizard of Oz” were actually people and not real animals, Spearman’s career path was set.

His parents steered him away from attending drama school in Chicago, and toward a more respectable field of study at Indiana University. Spearman still pursued a course of matriculation that would lead him to theater, by double majoring in telecommunications and theater, and minoring in art history.

For twenty years, Spearman worked as a writer, producer, and director in the advertising and marketing departments of several major local television stations around the country, as well as writing and producing for ABC, CBS, NBC, and UPN.  In 2005, he retired as the creative director managing all the branding for ABC Daytime to pursue his burgeoning acting career, full-time.

Doug Spearman may be best known for his role as Professor Chance Counter on the television series “Noah’s Arc” on MTV’s LOGO network, and the feature film of the same name. “Noah’s Arc” ran from October 19, 2005 to October 4, 2006. It was groundbreaking in its portrayal of the lives of four gay, Black and Latino men dealing with love, relationships, gay marriage, gay bashing, and acceptance.

In addition to his starring role in “Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom,” Spearman also starred in the motion picture “Cradle 2 The Grave” with Jet Li and DMX. He has also had roles on “Star Trek Voyager,” “The Drew Carey Show,” “The Hughleys,” “Charmed,” “Gideon’s Crossing,” “MADtv,” “America’s Most Wanted,” “Girlfriends,” “Profiler,” and “All My Children.” He is said to accept any good roles that are accompanied by good paychecks.

Spearman has enjoyed a long and successful career as a television creative director, writer, and twice-Emmy-nominated producer and commercial director. As a producer and director, he’s worked for NBC, ABC, CBS, BET, and UPN, the Disney Channel, and E! Entertainment Television. Spearman has helped launched several networks, including UPN, SoapNet, and LOGO. His awards include a Broadcast Promotion and Management Executives Silver Medal Award, and a New England Ad Age Best of Award. As a director, Spearman’s had the opportunity to direct such talented actors as William Shatner, Morgan Freeman, Halle Berry, Dixie Carter, Martin Sheen, and Candice Bergen, to name a few.

On stage, Spearman has starred in such productions as the American premiere of the British drama “The Ice Pick” at the Celebration Theater in Los Angeles; the “Men’s Room” in Moscow; “The Bullpen Boys”; “A Few Good Men”; the world premiere of the Tony Award-winning South Coast Repertory’s production of “The Hollow Lands” by Howard Corder; and in 2010, at the famous Edinburgh Play Festival as Dionysus in an all-male version of the Greek classic “The Bacchae.”

In 2006, Doug Spearman created a television and film development and production company called The Ogden Group Entertainment. That year, he also produced and directed his first documentary, “Aretha,” on the life of Aretha Franklin, which aired in January of 2007. In 2009, the Director’s Guild of America commissioned Spearman to write a film entitled “Pirates 3.0.” The film was produced by Randal Kleiser and directed by Jeremy Kagen, and shot entirely on the lot at Warner Brothers studios. Doug is currently co-writing and directing the web-series soap parody “Santa Juanita.”

Spearman is also a much read and accomplished social commentary writer who has written articles for edweb.com, ABC Radio, “Frontiers” magazine, Germany’s “Männer,” “The Advocate,” and dot429.com.

His community involvement includes work for the Human Rights Campaign, GLADD, The Black AIDS Institute, SMYLE in Washington, DC, Lifeworks Mentoring in West Hollywood, and Outfest. Spearman also serves as a member of the board of directors for Equality California, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, as well as The Relational Center in Los Angeles, and The Celebration Theater in Hollywood.

Doug Spearman has been honored with many awards, including a Leadership Award by the Human Rights Campaign, which was presented before the United States Senate; The Connie Norman Award from Christopher Street West (CSW) for outstanding achievement in fostering racial, ethnic, religious, and gender unity within the LGBTQ community; The Advocacy Award from the United Teachers Association; and an Image Award from the Jordan Rustin Coalition in Los Angeles.

In 2012, Spearman wrote, produced, and directed his award-winning first feature film, “Hot Guys with Guns,” which appeared in more than forty film festivals on five continents and is available on media platforms including iTunes, Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

In 2014, Spearman began production on his latest film, “From Zero to I Love You,” a new project he wrote and is directing with Scott Bailey, Darryl Stephens, Al Sapienza, Jay Huguley, Keili Lefkovitz, Richard Lawson, Steven Bowman, and Gregory Zarian. It’s a contemporary love story set in Philadelphia about two men who meet their soul mates under unlikely circumstances. You can view a short compilation here. And please support Spearman’s fundraising efforts through GoFundMe.

More recently, Spearman appeared in “The Shoot” (2014), “Halfway to Zen” (2016), “Trouble Is My Business” (2016), and in an episode of “Great News” (2017). He will appear in the upcoming NBC series “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” which premieres on September 26, 2017.

Doug Spearman is a proud member of the Bel Air Polo Club and the Gay Polo League, and currently lives in Los Angeles.

 

Miss Cleo

Miss Cleo 2017 Lilly EcheverriaMiamiHeraldMCTGettyImages
Photo: Lilly Echeverria/Miami Herald/MCT/Getty Images

Youree Dell Cleomill Harris was born on August 12, 1962 (to July 26, 2016). Better known as Miss Cleo, she was a self-proclaimed psychic and alleged shaman who achieved television fame as a spokeswoman for a pay-per-call psychic service from 1997 to 2003.

Harris was born in Los Angeles, California, to Caribbean Catholic parents who she says knew early on that she was a lesbian. “Nobody really talked about it,” she told “The Advocate.” “It was like the pink elephant in the room. I never felt bad, but I knew society didn’t accept me. This was the ’70s. Things were changing, but they weren’t all that changed. My first girlfriend was in high school. She had blond hair and blue eyes and was on the swim team. I thought she was the best thing since sliced bread. In the last months of our senior year we were found out by her father, and she was sent to a college out of state. I was heartbroken.”

By the age of 21, she had been married to a man, had a daughter, and got divorced. Later, Harris had two long-term relationships with women, and gave birth to a second daughter in her late 20s.

In 1996, Harris and her then-partner opened a production company which produced several of her plays, including the autobiographical “Women Only: A Celebration of Love, Life and Healing.” In the late 1990s, Harris began to work for the Psychic Readers Network as a paid television infomercial spokesperson. Although she didn’t own the company, Harris soon became its famous face as the psychic with a Jamaican accent who declared, “The cards never lie!”

Within five years, charges of deceptive advertising and fraud began circulating, and the Psychic Readers Network had been sued by several states and the Federal Communications Commission. Harris was not indicted when the Federal Trade Commission charged the Network’s promoters with deceptive advertising, billing, and collection practices. It also became known that Harris was, in fact, born in the United States, not in Trelawny, Jamaica as her employer’s website had stated.

In 2006, Harris came out as a lesbian in an interview with “The Advocate” after being inspired by her godson. “He and I started talking when he was concerned about coming out. He was 16. When he made the decision I told him I’d be there to support him 100%, and he embraced [coming out] wholeheartedly. It’s a different vibe than when I was his age, being raised Catholic in an all-girls boarding school. But he was afraid of nothing, and I thought, I can’t be a hypocrite. This boy is going to force me to put my money where my mouth is.”

Even after coming out, Harris was concerned about her future. “The reason it’s scary is because in my personal experience, Black cultures throughout the world have a more difficult time accepting homosexuality in their family,” Harris said. “I have family members who will be shocked; they don’t know. I have some family members who are very close to me, and they do know. But I’ve been afraid of the wrath, of the exile. When I came out to a number of friends in the late ’80s I had a number of friends who turned their backs on me and walked away. That was really intense. I really believed they were my friends.”

Using the name Cleomili Harris, she spoke about her experiences at the Psychic Readers Network in the 2004 documentary, “Hotline.” The following year, she appeared as Miss Cleo in a series of cereal advertisements, but they were pulled after the Psychic Readers Network claimed it owned the rights to the Miss Cleo character. Harris, who had been living in Miami Beach, eventually settled in Davie and Lake Worth, Florida.

On July 26, 2016, Harris died following a long illness at the age of 53. She had been battling colon cancer that had spread to other organs.

We remember Youree Dell Cleomill Harris as the iconic Miss Cleo, and her support for our community.

Johnny Gratton

Gratton, Johnny 2017

Johnny Gratton was born on July 27, 1962. He is a popular adult film star and model known under his performance name, J. C. Carter.

Johnny Gratton was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Johnny Gratton, Sr., who was a city worker for the Department of Streets and Sanitation, and his mother, Carrie Gratton, who worked as a school bus driver. He attended Holy Angels Elementary School and Dunbar Vocational High School, where he graduated in 1980. Following high school, he enrolled at Harold Washington College and earned his associates degree in Criminal Justice.

Gratton says he grew up “in a strict household, with my father being the disciplinarian and mother being more relaxed and more open and understanding.” His challenges as a young man revolved around perceptions of sexuality. “The stigma toward being Black and gay has a lot to do with gender expectations,” says Gratton. “On the one side, gay Black men are portrayed as hypersexual and aggressive. On the other side, gay Black men are portrayed as extremely effeminate and flamboyant.” He adds that he lived with the fear of being kicked out and disowned by his parents. Gratton, who prefers to self–identify as bisexual, says he is attracted to women in a sexual way, but enjoys men because he “can relate and quickly bond and tend to establish a deeper connection” to them.

In the late 1990s, Gratton launched a career in the adult film industry. In some ways, it was a way for him to come out to his family. “They heard and read articles about me, and they accepted me, and they said that they love me and will always be there to support me,” he recalls. “But they did state that they would not be viewing any of my videos. At that point I realized that it’s OK to be who you are, and never let anyone’s opinion become you.”

The Black SGL/LGBTQ community is important to Gratton because “there is so much we have to do starting with ourselves. There are so many hurdles we must address, such as intolerance within the community, the high rate of STDs, lack of community resources, and mentors for youth.” He adds that it’s important for Black SGL/Queer men and women to be proud of who they are because it’s so easy to beat up on ourselves.

“Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about the things we’ve done wrong, the mistakes that we’ve made, or how we haven’t yet achieved all of the things that we want to achieve,” he states. “With this in mind, when you feel the urge to criticize yourself, take a moment to remember all of the reasons why you are a great person who is worthy of love and respect. In hard times, sometimes a boost of self-confidence may be exactly what you need. You’ve survived everything life has thrown at you, and some of it has been really, really tough. You’ve inspired other people (whether you realize it or not!). You still have accomplishments ahead of you to look forward to, and you’ve never stopped dreaming, you always kept reaching for more.”

Gratton has been employed by the State of Illinois since 2000 and is currently an inmate intake processor. In 2008, he joined health and HIV/AIDS experts for “Tunnel of Love,” a gay men’s health forum in Chicago sponsored by Lifelube, Project CRYSP, Steamworks, and Feast of Fools.

Gratton describes his personal life as “simple”—coming home to his partner (F.B.) of 16 years, and his two golden retrievers, Nanook and Nasser. He makes his home in Chicago and enjoys working out five times a week, cooking dinner nightly, and occasionally heading out to his favorite place, the Baton Show Lounge. Gratton also passes the time jet skiing, parasailing, and hang gliding.

In the future, he aspires to bring his dogs to provide comfort and smiles to hospitalized children and seniors. He remains inspired by “positive people who are always ready to face life challenges head on, people who have the mindset to see the bigger picture and to realize how fortunate they are compared to so many other less fortunate people in the world.”

We thank Johnny Gratton for his numerous contributions to our community.

Dr. John Young

Young, John 2017

John Young was born July 14, 1962. He is a scholar, educator, historian, advocate, activist, concert pianist, and a good friend.

Dr. John Young, known to many of his friends as Martey Beku, was born in Amityville, New York, to John and Clothilde Young. He has one older brother and is a graduate of Copiague Senior High School. With a passion for television growing up, John loved to watch human-interest stories about other young people. After seeing several programs dedicated to gifted and talented children, he noticed they always seemed to feature Asian or Jewish kids playing either the violin or piano with big orchestras; Black children were never seen doing the same thing. Consequently, at the age of ten, John made a conscious decision to be the first African American male concert pianist.

John not only began to spend hours practicing the piano, he also decided to become a top academic student as well, doubling and sometimes tripling time spent on homework and studying. Also, after seeing too many adult Black men in his neighborhood not doing anything with their lives, his desire to make something of his life and to leave his mark on this world continued to grow.

Pursuing his goal at an early age created problems with his peers. Starting in sixth grade, being academically oriented and taking homework and studying seriously in middle school did not endear him to his classmates, particularly African American boys. Assuming a favorable stance to learning, doing well in school, and not having much interest in team sports was a social death sentence for him as a ten-year-old. From playing with other boys around the block to constantly reading, studying and practicing, John learned the consequences of wanting to be a smart Black boy early on. Isolation and loneliness soon became commonplace, and not having other African American boys with whom to share his love of learning, school, classical music, appreciation for the arts, and church made him a pariah among his peers.

Despite this social impediment, John persevered and achieved well enough academically to be placed in honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school. It was in those classes that he was faced with another but different peer relationship challenge. Being the only Black male in those courses was burdensome because few, if any, of the white students in the same honors or AP classes would talk to him, let alone work with him. However, the love and support of his parents and church family played a decisive role in encouraging his voracity to be somebody. Both of John’s parents were born and raised in the Deep South during the Depression at the pinnacle of Jim Crow segregation, and they would recite stories about growing up in that era. From those tales of horror, John learned to exploit every opportunity available to him and make the most of his education in spite of what others thought. Eventually, he graduated eighth in his class out of 416 students, and was named a National Achievement Commended Scholar and a New York State Regents Scholar.

After graduating from high school, John enrolled as a double degree student at Oberlin College and its Conservatory of Music, majoring in both piano performance and mathematics. The vault from a working class, public high school to a top, nationally ranked, elite liberal arts college was extremely traumatic—so much so that he discontinued the piano major after his first year. No longer having to practice five to six hours nearly every day of the week, John began to discover who he was as a person. He learned techniques of activism through Abusua, Oberlin College’s Black student union, volunteered at a local senior citizen’s home, and started an afterschool tutoring program for the children of the African American service workers of Oberlin. This was also the time that John became aware of his sexuality.

At Oberlin, he was the very first person to arrive at African Heritage House his first year. While walking around outside the dorm, he met an older man who introduced himself as Thurlow Tibbs, an urban planner who lived in Washington, DC and was taking care of some legal issues regarding his aunt’s house. Thurlow was the son of the great Black opera star, Madame Lillian Evanti, and the renowned Howard University music professor, Dr. Evans Tibbs. He also was an art broker whose clients were famous African American visual artists. John and Thurlow exchanged addresses, and thus began a pen pal relationship that would later play an important role in his life.

During high school, John never dated under the guise of being too busy, but now he realized that he was attracted to Black men. After a year of corresponding with Thurlow, John decided to visit him in DC during his sophomore spring break. When he arrived at Thurlow’s beautiful brownstone, he was met by a series of handsome men. After the third man introduced himself, John realized that Thurlow was Same Gender Loving (SGL), and it was at that precise moment that John realized he was as well. All those years of not feeling comfortable around females sexually, and all those years of avoiding dating girls suddenly made sense. Thurlow listened to John’s revelation and offered comforting words. When John went back to campus, he struck up a friendship with a well-known, openly SGL male student that, over time, blossomed into a brief romance. Being a Black SGL young man at a small, predominately white college in an even smaller town did not open up many opportunities for John to explore his newly found sexual identity. So, after graduating Oberlin, he enrolled in a Master’s program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Since Atlanta had recently become a mecca for African American SGL men, John could receive a top-quality graduate education, learn about Black SGL culture, and possibly fall in love. Unfortunately, this new chapter in his life did not turn out completely the way he anticipated. Being 21, not knowing anyone, and being naive about life in general and SGL life in particular, John did what so many young Black men do: he went to the club to find love. Without an older SGL man to mentor, guide, and help him negotiate the Atlanta Black homo world, John fell prey to exploiters. He did manage to graduate with a Master’s of Arts degree in teaching and was exposed to SGL culture of the mid-80s, but love was to escape him, and the dawning of a more pernicious health crisis that was affecting white gay men was lurking in the shadows.

Taking advantage of an offer to commence a doctoral program at Howard University immediately after earning his degree, John moved to Washington, DC. Not long after arriving there, he was able to secure a teaching position with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) as a high school math teacher and take classes at Howard University. Teaching in DC was both rewarding and frustrating for him. Even though he was able to positively influence some students, too many other students had urgent life issues that needed immediate attention, beyond the scope of a teacher’s ability to help. John was named a finalist in the National Teacher of the Year Program for the DCPS, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, a Princeton University Woodrow Wilson Education Fellow, and was nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching. Outside of becoming a recognized and award-winning teacher, John became interested in fitness, eventually became a certified fitness trainer and taking up bodybuilding.

That aforementioned health crisis that was affecting white gay men was starting to impact primarily SLG men. Consequently, the activism skills he learned at Oberlin became useful in aiding organizations in the District of Columbia to combat the impending HIV/AIDS pandemic affecting and afflicting SGL Black men. John used his newly acquired fitness expertise by offering fitness classes to interested community members at the long-defunct ICAN and Us Helping Us, both HIV/AIDS service organizations. It wasn’t until several years after his involvement with these organizations that he learned that he had contracted HIV. The revelation devastated him because he thought he was going to die the next day (this was 1988). John subsequently found love several times, and learned that there are Black men who love other Black men despite their HIV status.

Leaving DC was a difficult decision for John to make, but since his father had made his transition, his beloved mother was living alone, had taken ill, and needed assistance. With his help, John’s mother recovered and became well enough to live alone again. He moved to New York City, where he transferred the community activism and advocacy skills refined in DC and volunteered at Gay Men of African Descent, People of Color in Crisis, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Adodi New York, Black Men’s Exchange, and several other community-based organizations. For over a decade, John devoted his time and energy toward the fight for justice for African American people in general, and African American SGL men in particular. In recognition of his dedication to serving the African American community, John received the Out Standing Man Award, was inducted into the inaugural Hall of Achievement of Copiague Public Schools, and named an Outstanding Young Man of America.

His passion for education and ministry to teach replaced his AIDS activism during the turn of the 21st century. Being accepted into the doctoral program in gifted education at Columbia University Teachers College, John turned his attention toward becoming a scholar. For eight years he went to class, worked part-time, volunteered, and was involved with fitness. Eventually, John became the first male in the history of Columbia University Teachers College to earn a doctorate in gifted education, winning a Spencer Foundation Research Training Grant, the Lydia Donaldson Tutt-Jones Memorial Research Grant, the Betty Fairfax Professional Development Grant, the President’s Grant for Research in Diversity, the Glickstein Prize. He was also named an Audre Lorde Scholar.

Today, John owns an educational consulting firm that provides study skill assistance to middle and high school students; guides parents and students in the selective public and private high school selection process; provides college selection counseling; and offers parent workshops addressing how they can be effective at maximizing their child’s learning environment. John is most proud of a workshop he conducts entitled, “A Father’s Role in His Child’s Education.” Despite health challenges, he is making a difference in the lives of African American SGL men and women in New York City.

John believes that God empowers individuals to be open and honest, to inspire others, and make the planet a better place. He is single, has an adult surrogate son, mentors several Black men and woman, loves fitness and bodybuilding, and enjoys the performing arts, reading, community service, socializing, “healthy” soul food, Italian, Asian and French cuisine, and tries to live a healthy lifestyle. He welcomes inquiries and messages, and can be reached at 347-310-1794.

We thank Dr. John Young for his decades of advocacy, and for his unwavering support of our community.