Q and A for Never Blend In: The Legacy of Harvey Milk

See the original post for NEVER BLEND IN here!

NEVER BLEND IN: THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILK by David Watters

Jack Mackenroth is a Fashion Designer, TV Producer and host who is probably still best remembered for Project Runway and as an inspirational and motivational advocate for HIV awareness.

He is currently working on producing a TV show called the Queens of Drag: NYC, is writing a much anticipated memoir, is still designing commissioned pieces, travels the United States speaking about HIV and hosts a radio show, POZIAM, every Sunday night.

(A full bio is on jackmackenroth.com)

The following article is based on two separate interviews with Jack on Tuesday 11 August 2009 and Sunday 4 April 2010.

All copyright rules apply.

NEVER BLEND IN: THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILKThis book is crucially important because we need to continually shed light on the struggles and adversity facing the LGBT community. We can never become complacent in our fight for equal rights and we need to remember the trailblazers who ignited the spark for the flame of progress that burns today. As role models following in the legacy of others like Harvey Milk, we need to stand as proud confident people and continue to broaden the path of acceptance for those that follow us.JACK MACKENROTH

LOOKING BACK BUT MOVING FORWARDS

THE JOURNEY…SO FAR

Describe your journey to where you are now. What led you toward the sort of work you do now? What was it about your personal and/or professional journey that brought you to this type of work?

I think my success came from facing adversity. I was always teased and taunted in my youth for being effeminate so I took solace in one of my natural talents which was art. It helped me escape and feel pride in something that I was good at doing.

Jack describes himself now as “Supergay” but also as “Artistic, Athletic and Confident”. As a child he recalls being labelled as girly and shy and as a teen, effeminate, gay, sissy, alternative and artistic by all of his peers and classmates.

Now, although these were pretty accurate, “I didn’t appreciate the slanderous adjectives”, Jack confides, since, “they definitely affected my self confidence. I was SO self conscious of being effeminate and androgynous when I was young that it prevented me from doing a lot of things. I only really accepted myself and started loving the way I was in the last 10 years of so. I knew I was gay from kindergarten but I denied even thinking about the possibility until I was a senior in high school.

One aspect of my artistic endeavors was making my own clothes. I taught myself to sew when I was 13 and I didn’t really care about what my peers thought about what I made and how I wore it. In a sense I was taking control of their mockery by blatantly being proudly different. That just naturally evolved into going to UC Berkeley for Fine Arts and the Parsons School of Design for Fashion Design. All the pieces just seemed to fall into place.

I didn’t have a lot of role models back then. Remember it was about 1986 so there were not many gay role models in the media and certainly not very positive ones. I do remember hearing about Harvey Milk which was inspiring but also scary because there was so much hatred surrounding the public’s opinion of him.

Well I went to UC Berkeley for my undergraduate education and it’s one of the most liberal schools in the country so I found my ‘people’ there who let me be whoever I wanted to be and celebrated that.

How have your family responded to your sexuality, was coming out a difficult process, did you ever experience feelings of self-doubt, low self-esteem as a result of your sexuality?

Well I came out in 1987 so the perception of gay people was a much different. My family is very liberal and was very accepting. I don’t have a relationship with my father and my parents were divorced when I was 8. I really don’t know what he thinks about it. Coming out was difficult because back then there were not a lot of role models so I thought I was the only one. I didn’t really even remember knowing the word “gay”. However when I went to Berkeley, which is one of the most liberal universities in the US, I met a lot of other gay people very quickly and everything just clicked. I did have feelings of low self esteem initially before I came out because I was consistently teased in high school and I was in extreme denial about my sexual orientation. Once I came out it was like a giant weight was lifted. Finding out that I was HIV+ in 1990 was like I had to come out all over again. That came with a whole new set of self-esteem issues.

ROLE MODELS If young people see LGBT adults living happy, successful lives then they have hope and that is extremely powerful. I get emails from teenagers all the time saying thank you for being open and that I inspire them in some way. Hopefully role models help pave the way for an easier coming out experience.

Visibility plays a huge part in normalizing LGBTQ orientation. Unfortunately, often the most visible queer archetypes are the most sensational and stereotypical.

We are definitely seeing more LGBT characters in the media. Especially with the advent of ‘reality’ television. I think it’s a great way for people to see LGBT individuals living regular lives.

It’s hugely important for popular sports figures, musicians, actors, politicians and local figures to come out at the height of their careers because it garners a ton of press and there are still large parts of the population that don’t believe that LGBT individuals are EVERYWHERE.

“teachable moments” I have always set high standards for myself but I think that was instilled in me by my mother. I never really modeled my life after someone. I have had role models that I have looked up to, or people’s careers that I wanted to emulate but I always took my own path.

In high school I had an art mentor named Robert Fulghum who went on to become a bestselling author. During the end of my senior year I was not accepted into my top 3 schools that I applied to, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford. UC Berkeley was my back up choice. I was complaining to him about it one day and he told me he thought Berkeley would be a perfect place for me to discover myself. I think he knew something I was not quite ready to acknowledge. He was right and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Because of my appearance on Project Runway I receive countless emails of gratitude from people all over the world. I am constantly amazed by how many people watched that show and were moved by the fact that I disclosed my HIV+ status. Once at an award show Margaret Cho came up to me and told me she loved me. I was speechless.

I take it seriously. I receive FB messages and emails on a daily basis from people thanking me for being visible as an HIV+ person. I know I have saved lives–which is so humbling and amazing. I’ve had people tell me they were going to kill themselves because they found out they were HIV+ and then they read something about me or saw me on TV and changed their mind. That is my greatest achievement to date.

THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILK

Well he was really a trailblazer in the face of such adversity. There are so many role models now in all arenas of the LGBT community. I could make an endless list of people who are proudly out and making a difference in almost every arena of LGBT culture. Christine Quinn, Barney Frank, Rachel Maddow, Suze Orman, Ellen Degeneres, Candis Cayne, Billy Bean….it goes on and on…

CLOSING COMMENTS

AN AUTHENTIC LIFEI am very close to living a full authentic life. Since Project Runway I’ve really been publicly scrutinized in the press and blogs so it forced me to be very cognisant of how I behave. It’s a lot of pressure but I think it made me a better person in a weird way. I’ve always been very open and honest. However I am always striving to be better. I think my public persona is always very funny and upbeat and optimistic. I have total crap days too which is totally normal and I let myself have them without beating myself up about it.

I am not a religious person so I live strictly by the principle that I should treat other people the way I would want to be treated. I know what the ‘right’ thing is to do in most circumstances and I try to do it.

I hope I am an example of self-confidence, discipline, honesty, giving back to the community and a strong work ethic.

I think lying to yourself or trying to squelch some sort of truth takes an incredible amount of energy. They say you are only as sick as your secrets.

People do not have a choice regarding their sexual or gender orientation. Everyone, no matter what their circumstances, just wants to be accepted for exactly who they are without judgment. Treat them as equals. Get involved in advocacy or support groups like PFLAG.

I try to treat others as I would want to be treated. I believe in Karma in my own way. I think if you put good things out into the universe then good things will come back to you.

Progress is being made. It’s a slow, continuous battle. People naturally fear things that are unfamiliar to them. We need to keep inundating society with positive role models of minority groups and eventually our similarities will outweigh the perceived differences.

Just accept people for who they are. It’s that simple. You don’t have to agree with everyone but you have no right to judge. We are all equal. Just know that there are millions of other people just like you living happy, well-adjusted lives. You will find your way.

GOALS & THE MEANING OF LIFE…What gives your life meaning? Art, Beauty, my family, being an advocate for HIV+ people and the LGBT community.

What are your goals both personally and professionally?

I have so many. Sort of like to be doing a bunch of things at once. I’m working on producing a TV show called the Queens of Drag: NYC, I’m writing a memoir, I still design commissioned pieces, I travel all around the country speaking about HIV and I have my radio show, POZIAM every Sunday night. I look at every new opportunity as an adventure. I don’t have any specific ultimate goal professionally.  However personally I would like to get married and get a dog. But I probably have to find a boyfriend first.

JACK MACKENROTH LINKS

http://www.jackmackenroth.com

Facebook pages
http://www.facebook.com/jackmackenroth
http://www.facebook.com/jackequalitymackenroth

Join my fan page
http://www.facebook.com/jackmackenrothfanpage

Follow me on Twitter
http://www.twitter.com/jackmackenroth

HIV Education Campaign in partnership with Merck and Co.
http://www.livingpositivebydesign.com

The Queens of Drag: NYC webpage!
http://www.thequeensofdrag.com

The Queens of Drag: NYC Facebook page
http://www.facebook.com/thequeensofdrag

POZIAM Radio! Every Sunday at 9pm EST
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/poziam

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