Reichen Lehmkuhl :: beyond the A-List
October in New York City is one of the great wonders of the world -- temperatures are mild, there are many great autumn activities, the summer crowds have left, and the holiday crowds have not yet arrived. With the changing of the leaves comes the fall television season. With over 20 new TV series premiering last month, figuring out what to watch may be a bit overwhelming.
Although I haven't caught ABC's No Ordinary Family or NBC's Undercovers, and I already missed Fox's Lonestar which was cancelled a couple of weeks ago, I did catch a bit of Logo's premiere of The A-List: New York. The show weaves together the stories of six gay men striving to live upscale gay lives based on their perception of what makes up New York's elite gay social scene. Although I was not familiar with the show's characters - and I consider myself to be somewhat aware of the pulse of New York social life - I was pleased to see a couple of familiar names among the show's cast. One of my favorites is a very recognizable figure in the gay community: Reichen Lehmkuhl.
Although the show appears to paint a picture of Reichen's life, the truth is that like all reality shows, including The Amazing Race that Reichen appeared on with his then partner Chip Arndt seven years ago (and which they won), only offer a muted view of the cast members. I reached out to Reichen to catch-up with him and to find out what "else" this committed advocate to the LGBT community was up to besides his featured role on "The A-List: New York." As you will see, there is a lot to Reichen and he is doing important work for the LGBT community.
A-List: a challenge
WK: Before we discuss the various projects you’re involved with, tell me a bit about your new The A-List: New York project.
Reichen: Logo’s A-List is a new television show, a "docu-drama", as they are now called is about six gay guys living in NYC. It’s produced by the producers of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and serves to provide even more drama and fun than the Housewives series. I shot the project for four months and it’s now airing on Logo on Monday nights.
The show was particularly challenging for me because I went into it while starting a new boyfriend relationship with my partner Rodiney Santiago. You get to see the good, bad and the ugly. I’m not a perfect person and that’s evident on this show. I don’t know the answer to every problem or every feeling that I have. That’s on the show too. As long as I remember that no one is perfect, my anxiety goes away about it.
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Watch this interview with Reichen Lehmkuhl talk about the A-List: New York:
Watch this interview with Reichen Lehmkuhl discussing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:
WK: You are a gay man who served as a member of our armed forces, how has Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT) affected your life?
Reichen: My efforts with DADT started when I was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. I was investigated when a very young enlisted girl in our admin office monitored my emails to my, then, partner. Under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, she was allowed to turn me in and have me investigated. I didn’t tell. No one asked. But DADT fails to prevent witch-hunts, exactly executed the way mine was. I got through mine with good attorneys and with the help of SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network), but it was a scary experience. After that, I dropped my dreams to be a career officer and swore that I would separate as a Captain, when my active duty service commitment was over, and that I would fight, on the outside, for people who could not fight from within...because if you speak up about the policy from within, they’ll simply arrest you, and then remove you. This happens EVERY DAY still.
I separated as a Captain, and then wrote a book called, Here’s What We’ll Say about my time as a cadet at the Air Force Academy, realizing I was gay, and under the DADT policy. I recounted horrible experiences including when I was pulled out of my bed in the middle of the night, had my head covered, my stomach punched, was beaten, and sodomized by two other cadets.
Much like the men who were just beaten and sodomized in the Bronx, I felt like I had nowhere to go. And I didn’t. I had to live with this... every day until I graduated the Academy. I had no one to talk to, no one to counsel me, and I feared getting medical help because I might get kicked out of the Academy, arrested, investigated, and humiliated even further.
WK: In the wake of the recent series of highly publicized suicides, what are your thoughts on LGBT teen suicides?
Reichen: Teen suicide is happening because our system of government, "morals" prescribed by fundamentalist churches, and parental upbringing all tell us that gay is something to be ashamed of. The laws, policies, and general attitude toward LGBT rights and people in this country all point to a shame and fear of homosexuality.
Why are we surprised that we are all afraid, shamed, and scared to come out of the closet in one form or another? When kids figure out they are gay, and the perfect storm of bullying, lack of parental support and love, and self-loathing ensue, a suicide happens. It disgusts me. Our kids have what to look up to? A group of gay people who tear each other apart in the media for being the wrong kind of gay. Gay people show more that they hate gay people than straight people do. What child wants to enter that kind of world? I didn’t want to.
I’m still sickened by gay media that tears each other apart for no reason and without facts. It happens to me all the time.
Teen suicide is happening because our system of government, "morals" prescribed by fundamentalist churches, and parental upbringing all tell us that gay is something to be ashamed of.
WK: Being on a new reality show does have its benefits, what better way to cross-promote the various gay rights causes you support? Discuss the "community" related programs you’re currently involved with.
Reichen: I currently travel the country speaking out against "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" and, recently, I’m adding LGBT Youth Suicide and Marriage equality to my lectures. I typically speak to hundreds of people at a time about the downfall of these policies that serve to undermine our community, our military, our workforce, and our strength as a nation. I speak at colleges, universities, and to corporations. Today I’m getting ready to speak to a Christian based college assembly who, as I’ve been told, are pretty much against me and us as a community and who believe that we should not have equal rights. These are my favorite days because they keep me sharp.
Although, at this point, I can tell you every argument that will come my way, and that I have an answer to all of them, I have to watch the way I answer the questions because every human being responds differently to your challenging their belief systems. In all of my travels and lectures, I find that the system of "morals" placed on Americans by our organized religious institutions plays the number one role in undermining our rights as a community. It’s always nice to be able to rally and speak to people who agree with me, because this is motivational, but for me, it’s more important to argue our part to those who just can’t understand us as people.
I’ve recently, developed a jewelry line called, "Fly Naked" that is for men and gives 10% of it’s gross proceeds (NOT net profits, but gross proceeds) to SLDN to fight the ban on gays in the military. You can get this jewelry at www.LoveandPride.com or at www.TheReichen.com.
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Watch this behind the scenes photo shoot with Reichen Lehmkuhl and Rodiney Santiago shot in Los Angeles earlier this year:
Setting things straight
WK: Let’s hear firsthand about a few things that readers might not know about you, or details of your life that don’t seem to find their way to the media.
Reichen: What doesn’t make it into the media for me are the details of my life that undermine the bullshit stories that many in the gay media have used to describe me. The one that bothers me the most is speculation of why I was in a relationship with a celebrity. I met him, randomly, when his management called ME, out of the blue, to HIS home to represent him in a real estate deal. That’s how we met. I had no idea who he was when I met him. We became friends. We got along really well, and ended up dating for a very short period of time. I met him when I was making more money than I had ever made in a year in my life (even more than the year that I won the Amazing Race) and when I was doing quite well. I owned two properties, and didn’t need anyone for anything, much less for financial reasons. This horrible idea that I would date someone for social or financial gain has really damaged my reputation in so many circles.
When rumors started to fly that this was the person I could be, I found that I didn’t have the protection I expected from that relationship, and I ended up leaving on my own accord, wanting nothing more to do with it. That this idea that I somehow sought him out and used him follows me around and it really is a low-point in any day that it’s mentioned. What has also not made it into the media, to that end, is how generous of a person I am with the guys I date.
If anything, I have given more than I have ever taken when it comes to relationships...in time and financially. I dare anyone to find a guy I’ve dated who will say anything OTHER than, "Yes, Reichen was REALLY generous to me, even when he probably shouldn’t have been quite so generous."
WK: What’s next for you?
Reichen: What’s next? I’m writing a second book called, It’ll Be Great Exposure! that will detail my life from my Graduation Day from the U.S. Air Force Academy to the present. It will cover my relationship with Chip Arndt, with whom I won The Amazing Race. It will cover the race, my time as an officer in the Air Force, up to Captain, my time in pilot training, my time as a flight instructor, my relationship with Lance Bass (what I’m allowed to say since he and his management forced me to sign a confidentiality agreement under the guise that I didn’t care about or love him if I didn’t), and my two and half years of pretty much hiding out after that relationship, trying to repair so much damage done to me for being in it. I will of course cover the shooting of this TV Show, The A-List New York.
Just recently, I received a letter from a pilot in Afghanistan who told me that he and his partner couldn’t communicate between there and U.S. They missed each other completely but monitored communications from the pilot’s unit made it impossible for them to express their feelings for over a year, and over the holidays. I wrote a song about it. I wrote the lyrics. I wrote the music. I play the guitar. I produced the song. It will be on iTunes in December. It’s called, "Up to the Sky". When someone in my family really wants to drive home that they love you, they say not just "I love you," but "I love you up to the sky."
Last night, I received another letter from a soldier in Afghanistan who told me that his partner, with whom he was serving over there in the same unit, was killed by an explosive this week. He came out of the closet to his whole unit yesterday. No one cares and they all cried with him. His commander did inform him, however, that he will be put under investigation. If that doesn’t make you as angry as it makes me, then something is wrong. We can’t stand to be treated this way any longer.
Lastly, any American who thinks that they deserve ANY right whatsoever, that another American doesn’t deserve, such as service to our country or the right to marry...any American who thinks they should be able to get married and that another American shouldn’t, is the definition of UN-American and they have lost sight of the principles that make this country the great place it’s been for the advancement of equality and civil rights for all.
It’s time America wakes up. And I’m going to stay in the front lines to make sure that happens. I’m NOT AFRAID. You can count on me.
You can watch Reichen Lehmkuhl on Logo’s The A-List: New York, Mondays at 10/9c. Episodes are also available to watch at Logo’s A-List: New York website. For more on Reichen, visit his website.
Watch this interview with Reichen Lehmkuhl from the After Party with Anthony Wilkinson: