Laura Ellis

Producer

Laura has been with WFPL since 2004. During her time with the station she has booked talk shows, produced news specials, engineered remote broadcasts, shaped the minds of impressionable interns, and even changed diapers for guests whose babies accompanied them to the studio.

When she's not making radio, she's making a spectacle of herself on stage (or making theatrical sound design) for any number of local theatre companies—most frequently Pandora Productions and Looking for Lilith Theatre Company. When she's not making theatre or radio, she might be found making Prohibition-Era jazz with Billy Goat Strut Revue, while burlesque dancers shake what their mamas gave 'em.

When she's not making any of the previously-mentioned things, she's usually making tiny dogs shake her hand in exchange for cookies.

Pages

Strange Fruit
10:00 am
Sat April 20, 2013

Strange Fruit: Kentucky Schools Unsafe for LGBTQ Students

Credit GLSEN.org

Did you feel safe in middle and high school? Were you ever physically harassed, or even assaulted, because of your LGBTQ identity? A report released last month by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) confirms what many of us already knew: Kentucky schools are often hostile and unsafe for LGBTQ students.

The study is called School Climate in Kentucky (PDF), and the results show lots of work still needs to be done. For example, 9 out of 10 students in the Commonwealth say they regularly hear anti-gay slurs in school. 36% report regularly hearing that language from school staff members.

Nearly 6 in 1o students were physically harassed (like being pushed or shoved), and 3 in 10 were physically assaulted (like being punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon) because of their LGBTQ status or gender presentation. 

So instead of just rattling off numbers and feeling disheartened, we decided to speak to the folks who compiled the research. Mark Bartkiewicz is a GLSEN researcher who worked on the state reports, and he joined us by phone this week to talk about the results, how Kentucky's numbers compare to other states, and what can be done to help (spoiler alert: it's gay/straight student alliances and enlightened faculty members).

We also spoke more this week about the closet door in professional sports (for people who know next to nothing about them, we sure do talk about them a lot). This week, NCAA breakout star & top WNBA draft pick Brittney Griner came out of the closet. "I wouldn't say I was hiding or anything like that," she told Sports Illustrated in an interview. "I've always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So it wasn't hard at all. If I can show that I'm out and I'm fine and everything's ok, then hopefully the younger generation will definitely feel the same way."

Who doesn't feel the same way? Male professional athletes, it would seem. In fact, this same week, NFL player and University of Louisville alumnus Kerry Rhodes has been the target of gay rumors after MediaTakeOut.com released pictures of him looking affectionate with another man while on vacation (they helpfully illustrated the story with an NFL logo in which the football has been covered in pink sequins).

Rhodes told The Advocate that he's not gay, but he's an ally. "I know a lot of people are recently talking about athletes struggling to come out to their fans right now," he said, "and I support them, as well as wish those individuals comfort." It seems like the world is waiting for an actively-playing male athlete to come out, so in our Juicy Fruit and closing thoughts segments this week, we did some unpacking of the situation. How do sexual politics play out in the hyper-masculine culture of pro sports (especially football), and why is it so very different for women athletes than men? 

Strange Fruit
11:48 am
Sat April 6, 2013

Strange Fruit: A Look at the Transatlantic Slave Trade through "Spirits of the Passage" Exhibit

"He looked at me and smiled and put his hand in the sand, and put some sand into my hand. I didn't think much about it. And I looked at it, and it was full of trade beads. It was  full of the beads that were actually traded for people."

Even after studying it for years, Madeleine Burnside says the reality and magnitude of the Transatlantic Slave trade hit her in this moment, at the bottom of the ocean, exploring the shipwreck site of the Henrietta Marie. Dr. Burnside is the Executive Director of the Frazier History Museum, and she curated their current original exhibit, Spirits of the Passage

Dr. Burnside has studied the history of the slave trade for the last twenty years. "It's one of those subjects that when you start at all, it will not let you go," she says. For her, the story begins once you get past the horrific (but dry) statistics you learn in school. "You start to think about maybe just 200 people on a ship," she explains. "You start to imagine that you know these people as individuals, and I really sort of started to feel a really big responsibility to tell that story."

This week we went to see the exhibit, then sat down for a chat with Dr. Burnside about putting it all together. She says for her, it's not about the past at all (strange words coming from a historian!). "There's only one reason to study history, and that's to understand the future, not the past." To that point, she draws comparisons between the rebellion and resistance of enslaved Africans straight through to the struggles we still face today. "There's Civil Rights, there's women's rights, there's gay and lesbian rights, and then there's ADA. All of those people really built on Civil Rights and that struggle. And the 1960s struggle comes out of the 1860s struggle comes out of the 1760s struggle."

  One disturbing part of the exhibit is a collection of shackles that were used on enslaved people during transport. Within this case, among the battered-looking metal ankle and wrist restraints, is one very tiny set of shackles that could have only been used on a very small woman or on a child. But even this somewhat heart-wrenching artifact points to a strength of spirit. "There's no reason to restrain someone who doesn't fight," Dr. Burnside points out. "These people fought back."

While at the museum, we also ran into friend to the show Brian Lee West (you might remember him from our conversation about his work in the play Top Dog/Underdog). For the Spirits of the Passage Exhibit, he portrays Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian man who was captured as a child and sold into slavery. Brian tells us the story of Equiano's life and the amazing series of events that lead to his eventual freedom and authorship of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, a major work among North American slave narratives.

Read more
Strange Fruit
10:00 am
Sat March 30, 2013

Strange Fruit: SCOTUS Takes on Marriage Equality; Filmmaker Byron Hurt on 'Soul Food Junkies'

  

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two marriage equality cases. The Prop 8 case is a constitutional challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage. The justices seem divided on the issue and there are even hints the case could get thrown out on standing. Tuesday's arguments brought us gems like whether gay marriage is newer than cell phones, whether it's harmful to children, and whether couples older than 55 should be able to marry even if they can't procreate.

Read more
Strange Fruit
10:39 am
Sat March 23, 2013

Strange Fruit: Rob Portman for Marriage Equality; Trevor Hoppe on the Criminalization of HIV

It's been a week full of political news on the LGBTQ front, so we asked WFPL's political editor, Phillip M. Bailey, to join us for our Juicy Fruit segment this week and help us talk through some of the finer points of these issues. Here in Kentucky, we've been watching and waiting to see what Governor Beshear would do with House Bill 279, the so-called 'religious freedom' bill that would let people ignore civil rights laws that go against their religious beliefs. 

On Monday, we learned the city of Covington had joined the chorus of those opposing the bill and urging a veto. Covington Mayor Sherry Carran sent Beshear a letter warning the bill could "do harm and will present a poor image of our state to progressive professionals and companies who understand and appreciate the value of diversity and open-mindedness."

Naturally, opponents of the bill in Louisville then collectively turned their heads and raised an eyebrow at our own Mayor Greg Fischer, and on Tuesday he sent a letter of his own to the capitol, saying the law was unnecessary. "We don’t need this proposed law, full of ambiguity and question, to prove our religious freedom and protect our citizens from some perceived threat. We have plenty of laws and a Constitution adopted by our citizens that provide us ample protections—no matter our faith, our profession, or our other rights and traits as human beings."

Indeed, on Friday, Governor Beshear did veto the bill, and now it comes down to whether the General Assembly will override the gubernatorial veto—which it appears to have enough votes to do.

In national news, Senator Rob Portman became the first GOP senator to publicly support marriage equality for LGBTQ folks. He revealed this week that he changed his mind on the issue because his son is gay. Hillary Clinton also released a video statement this week voicing her unequivocal support of same gender marriage, saying "Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights."

But Phillip, who covers politics full time, didn't have the same warm fuzzy feelings as many did over these announcements. He pointed out that Senator Portman has known his son is gay for two years, and that Clinton is widely rumored to be planning a run for president in 2016. So the cynical observer could see these moves as exactly that: PR maneuvers, carefully timed for maximum political advantage.

Jaison, so often the voice of activism and idealism on our show, preferred the less cynical explanation. "Are there any politicians who do the right thing just for the sake of doing it?" We'll let you listen for the discussion that followed.

Earlier this month we mentioned in a Juicy Fruit segment that people in Michigan were suffering legal consequences for supposedly-confidential HIV tests. To learn more, we called Trevor Hoppe. He's a graduate student at the University of Michigan who's studying sexuality, medicine, and the law. Trevor told us there are indeed cases of no- or very-low-risk behavior on the part of HIV-positive folks being treated like deliberate endangerment in the eyes of the law.

He says the criminalization of these seemingly-innocuous acts is a method of social control that has little to do with actually protecting public health. "I think it's just another way that HIV-positive people face a particular kind of stigma, despite the fact that there's no risk in these cases. It's not about that. It's about punishing HIV-positive people as much as the law can facilitate."

Read more
Strange Fruit
10:39 am
Sat March 16, 2013

Strange Fruit: Kentucky's 'Religious Freedom' Bill; Dr. Brittney Cooper on Black Girlhood

  

Kentucky's LGBTQ activists are all watching Governor Steve Beshear this week, as he decides whether or not to veto House Bill 279, the so-called 'religious freedom' bill. The bill would allow people to ignore civil rights laws that go against their religious beliefs, and while many of those protections have federal law to back them up, protections for LGBTQ status do not. So hard-won Fairness laws where they exist today—Louisville, Lexington, Covington, and Vicco—would no longer be enforceable.

Since this is the issue on so many minds, we asked Fairness Campaign director and friend to the show Chris Hartman top stop by this week and give us the latest. He said Fairness has been busily encouraging supporters to call and write the governor urging a veto, but no one knows what Beshear will do.

Chris also stuck around for the rest of our Juicy Fruit segment, which we happened to be recording just a few minutes after the Catholic Church announced the new pope. Jaison and Chris both grew up Catholic and tried to figure out one of the church's most pervasive mysteries: why do priests get to wear the most festive vestments, even though they are some of the least festive people?

In our feature interview this week, we spoke with Dr. Brittney Cooper, professor of Women's Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, and co-founder of The Crunk Feminist Collective, about the perils of black girlhood. Dr. Cooper was with Dr. Story at the Pleasure Principle panel when The Onion  called Academy Award Nominee Quvenzhané Wallis the c-word on twitter, and we used that incident as our jumping off point for the conversation.

"We live in a moment in which black women are routinely verbally assaulted within social media and within the popular press," Dr. Cooper explained. "I think that her being a black girl does play a significant role in the really tepid responses from white feminists. The reality is that black girls are largely invisible."

This week's closing thoughts lead us to talk about how our sexual desires and performance change as we age and have fewer sexual hang-ups.

Note: We use the full version of the c-word and cover some mature subjects in this week's show.

Local News
5:30 pm
Thu March 14, 2013

News of Rift Among Kentucky's LGBTQ Leaders is News to LGBTQ Leaders

Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard
Credit File photo

  A Reuters article published this week puts Fairness President Chris Hartman and True Colors Ministry's Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard "at loggerheads"—but the two men in question disagree.

Read more
Strange Fruit
10:00 am
Sat March 9, 2013

Strange Fruit: Reverend Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard on Faith and Fairness

Our friend Reverend Bojangles Blanchard is always up to something. On any given day, he could be getting ordained, arrested, or interviewed on MSNBC. But this week, the leader of True Colors Ministry took some time out of his busy activist life to stop by the studio and catch us up on the latest. 

  He'll be marching at the State Capitol on March 26th in support of marriage equality.  We spoke with the good Reverend about the event he has planned, why faith remains important in LGBTQ life, and the fine line between paying homage to civil rights leaders of the past and co-opting their tactics and images.

And in this week's Juicy Fruit segment, a look at Kevin Hart's Pope Quvenzhané Wallis sketch on Saturday Night Live lead to a discussion of drag used by heterosexual male comedians—when it's respectful, and when it's not. We also looked into reports that Dr. Story's home state of Michigan has been keeping records of confidential HIV testing results, and possibly using the results to criminally prosecute gay men for having sex.

Strange Fruit
10:00 am
Sat February 23, 2013

Strange Fruit: Penny Tration Waxes Philosophical on Drag Performance

Drag artist Penny Tration has a local icon to thank for her performing career. "I grew up in L.A., so I've seen a couple drag queens," she explains. But for the longest time, it wasn't something she thought of doing herself. "I've also seen people garden, but I'm not attracted to doing that."

All that changed one night at The Connection, the first time she saw our local Mistress of Mayhem, Hurricane Summers, on stage. "Hurricane kind of embodied for me, for the first time, somebody who wasn't just doing drag. She was hilarious. She picked up the mic, and she was really funny. And that's something I hadn't seen before."

Penny was a contestant on Season Five of RuPaul's Drag Race, and though she didn't win, she was a fan favorite, and says the experience opened up more opportunities to act, perform, and, according to some of her fans, even change lives. "Now let's be clear: how did drag change anyone's lives? I don't get it," she concedes. But she once met an audience member who told her she'd lost her partner two years before. "She hadn't been able to leave her house, and it was the first time she'd smiled in years."

Penny says she knows drag isn't forever, and like any job, it has its ups and downs. "It's kind of like being a nurse in a nursing home. Half the time your cleaning up vomit and poop, and then you'll get somebody who's like, 'Oh my god, you changed my whole day because you were here!'"

She's in town to perform tonight at Pandora Productions' fundraiser, Masquerade Fire and Ice, and she took a few minutes earlier this week to talk to us about her work.

Elsewhere in the news this week, President Obama gave a speech about violence, which seemed to implicate absent black fathers. As Kaila explained, this idea is nothing new. "This idea that the problem of the Black community is the problem of absent Black men—this has been reiterating and resounding commentary, probably since the Moynihan Report," she reminds us. In his report, Daniel Moynihan said the problem in Black communities was largely the fault of Black women. "They were too strong, they drove their men away, and their men either ended up in jail, on drugs, or absent fathers."

Dr. Brittney Cooper had some great analysis of the problems with Obama's speech, and we talked about it this week in our Juicy Fruit segment. Clive Davis came out of the closet as bisexual this week (at age 80!), and a gay porn star broke into a Louisville Fire Station and performed a lewd act over the equipment (yes, really!). And we wish Kaila bon voyage as she heads to Stanford this week to be a panelist at The Pleasure Principle: A Post Hip-Hop Search for a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure! She'll be checking in with us by phone for next week's show, and we can't wait to hear all about her trip. Until then, have a great week, Fruitcakes!

Pages