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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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!

Strange Fruit
1:30 pm
Thu February 21, 2013

On Nina Simone's Birthday, Dr. Yaba Blay Comments on Colorism in Hollywood Casting

Nina Simone
Credit www.ninasimone.com

Today would have been the great Nina Simone's 80th birthday. 

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Strange Fruit
10:00 am
Sat February 16, 2013

Strange Fruit: A Very Catholic Episode

It's been a whirlwind week to be a Catholic! The church was shocked by the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would retire, due to ill health. Popes don't retire! At least not in the past 600 years.

But retire he did, and the question on everyone's mind is, who will be the queen bee of the Vatican? Some have mentioned Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, who'd be the first African pope— a cool prospect, except he has defended the so-called Kill the Gays Bill in Uganda. 

Let's face it: none of the papal contenders are likely to stick a rainbow flag sticker on the bumper of the Popemobile. But that doesn't mean all Papists are anti-LGBTQ. In fact, right here in Louisville we have a group of Catholics for Fairness. This Sunday they're holding a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of the Assumption, urging the Archbishop Joseph Kurtz to support statewide Fairness via Senate Bill 28 and House Bill 171.

We spoke with one of the organization's leaders, Father Joseph Fowler, about the pilgrimage, and why he felt called to anti-discrimination activism. Jai also talked about growing up in the Black Catholic Church, and how faith can coexist with critical thinking.

Strange Fruit
10:00 am
Sat February 9, 2013

Strange Fruit: Boy Scouts, Beyoncé, and Mark Anthony Neal on Black Masculinity

Society treats Black boys like men, and Black men like animals. 

That assertion is what stood out to us, and many who were lucky enough to be in the audience last week, for Mark Anthony Neal's lecture at UofL. Dr. Neal is a professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Duke University, and he came to Louisville courtesy of our friend Dr. Ricky L. Jones and the Center for Race and Inequality

Dr. Neal's latest book, Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities, examines depictions of black men in popular culture, and while he was in town, he stopped by our studios to tell us more about his work. Our conversation covered Tiger Woods, Jay-Z, Muddy Waters, and even Stringer Bell and Omar Little, as we tried to make some sense of how pop culture interprets and positions Black masculinity.

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