My quick jaunt up to Minneapolis was so worth it, despite my severe lack of sleep due to a red eye flight. I was there to receive an award from BFLAG, my first for Pride High.
BFLAG's convention was held as an adjunct to the convention for the American Council of the Blind. Butch Arnold, the President of BFLAG, and Jason Perry, Vice President, met me in the lobby of the Millenium Hotel. Both men were incredibly friendly and thrilled that I was actually able to make it. I received a quick history of BFLAG, and then I was off to check out the convention's exhibition hall with Jason as my guide.
My tour of the exhibition hall was such an incredible learning experience. Jason was really excited to demonstrate the wide array of technological tools that assist the blind and visually impaired. There were text scanners, Braille printers, Braille PDA's, Braille keyboards, voice watches, and my personal favorite, JAWS.
I've always wondered how the blind surf the net, purchase products online, fill out registration forms, etc. Jason brought me over to the JAWS booth (replete with toy sharks) for a demonstration. His face really lit up as I asked all sorts of questions related blind browsing. He sat me down for a demonstration.
JAWS read the screen in a quick, well-articulated voice, which included descriptions of extras like check boxes and links. Using JAWS, Jason went through a registration form as quickly as I would. He also had a Braille screen display attached to his keyboard to read a line over after the voice announcement. This display consisted of a 40-character row with holes as jutting pegs rearranging themselves with each line of text on the computer screen. Also, over each character was a small tab that allowed Jason to immediately pinpoint any typos.
We were soon joined by Patrick, a friend of Jason's, and began to talk about the particular politics of the blind community, including the debate over the use of guide dogs, mixed vs. blind-only education, blind legal initiatives, and the relationship between the two largest advocacy groups for the blind: The American Council of the Blind and The National Federation of the Blind.
After Patrick went to see the rest of the exhibition hall, Jason and I sat down to rest a bit. Jason described his life as a blind farm kid in Kentucky. He was born blind, but his parents did not exempt him from the daily activities of the farm. He milked and fed the cows, helped bale hay, etc. He went to a mainstream school where he was the only blind student, but he also had an hour a day with a tutor for blind-specific skills. I could've spent the whole day speaking to Jason, but he had to leave to take care of convention errands. The timing worked out, however, as my friends Alycia and Hamil called.
I first met Hamil and Alycia when I lived in Miami Beach. Hamil was then a student at the University of Miami and was working on his thesis film, "Doodie Calls." I had just started acting around that time. Up to that point, I had worked on small student films of around 3-8 minutes each. When it rains, it pours. I got the role of Brady in Hamil's film, which wasn't much longer at 13 minutes. But as a thesis project, it was in another league in terms of technical skill and organization.
Only days after I got the role in his film, I also landed my first community theater gig, a Fort Lauderdale production of Charles Busch's "Psycho Beach Party." And as luck would have it, the opening week of Psycho Beach Party coincided with filming for Doodie Calls. So I bit the bullet and stayed on with both projects. Every morning, I got up at 8am, went to the University of Miami until around 3pm, then would head up to Fort Lauderdale (30 miles north) and set-up and perform Psycho Beach Party from 4-11pm. It was NUTS, but also incredibly fun.
Doodie Calls swept 5 out of 7 awards at the University of Miami Film Festival. It was the first time I had a chance to see myself in an actual movie theater on the big screen, so talk about FUN! Through the filming, I became friends with Hamil and his girlfriend, Alycia, who was the production manager and a totally fun gal. She was a serious cyclist, and she convinced me to ride with her in the MS 150, a charity ride from Miami to Key Largo.
I always thought Alycia and Hamil were a great couple, so I was sad to hear that they split up a few years ago. However, now living in Minneapolis and only a few blocks from each other, they've become friends again. You can check out Hamil's current projects "Call-In Karaoke" and "Totally Scrabble" over at his myspace page.
Later that day, I attended the BFLAG banquet. Butch Arnold, the president of BFLAG introduced me to the convention attendees, while BFLAG member Rick gave a reading of Suravi's bio.
Saying a few words along with Butch
Beth Zemsky from One Ummah
Previous to attending the BFLAG convention, I didn't have any blind friends. I also didn't have much more than a cursory knowledge of the blind LGBT community. But when I created Suravi, I knew I wanted a character who didn't place limitations on herself or make excuses for doing anything less than her personal best. From the reactions I received from Butch, Jason, and other members of BFLAG, I got her right.
Here's a draft of the press release I sent off to Prism Comics:
On Tuesday, July 3rd, Pride High creator Tommy Roddy and his character Suravi were honored by Blind Friends, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People (BFLAG) at their 2007 convention in Minneapolis.
"BFLAG recognizes Suravi for her exemplary outlook on life and her 'can do' attitude. A fifteen year old blind, straight A, lesbian student... she is just the inspiration future BFLAG members need," said Butch Arnold, President of BFLAG.
Suravi, "Sun" in Sanskrit, was born with the ability to create powerful bursts of incandescence and searing bolts of light. Her first power manifestation at the age of four resulted in permanent blindness. Undaunted by her disability, Suravi gained admission to Poseidon Preparatory Academy, a school for super-powered youth. Together with four friends, she created "Pride High," her school's first gay-straight alliance.
"When I first came up with the idea behind Suravi, a common comment was 'how does she know she's a lesbian if she's blind?' As if sight were the only sense that determines attraction. Challenging that misconception was important to me," said Roddy. For his efforts, both he and Suravi were awarded lifetime BFLAG memberships.
BFLAG is a chartered affiliate of The American Council of the Blind and is the only national organization dedicated to serving the special needs of individuals who are visually impaired and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Please visit www.BFLAG.org for more information.
After the banquet, I met up with TJ, a friend I only knew online from Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, and Dungeons and Dragons Online. He's a mutual friend of Darin, a buddy of mine who moved from San Francisco to Minneapolis when his boyfriend Carlos landed a professorship at St. Olaf College. Every time I see that name, I can't help but think of the Golden Girls.
TJ and I really hit it off well. Though it was our first time meeting in-person, we've known each other for about five years.
The group of guys we gamed with all used voice chat while playing, so it felt less like a first meeting and more like a reunion. Darin and Carlos got in from Las Vegas later that night. After picking them up at the airport, we grabbed some bread and cheese from Kowalski's, a local 24 hr grocery, and then headed back to TJ's. I stuffed my face with a British cheese that I can't recall, but it tasted like cheddar, but was far softer and had chives added.
After Darin and Carlos went to bed, TJ and I started talking about anything and everything. It was like a slumber party! At one point during the night, we got onto the subject of Heroes, the TV series. The main villain, Syler, is hot. He is also one of the few TV villains in a long time that actually scares me. So as we're talking about a particularly gruesome Syler moment, Max, TJ's cat decided to jump up right by my head (I was sleeping on the couch, while TJ was on an air mattress below). Gah! Freaked me out! On a side note, somehow TJ and I began to sing "Max. Ah aaaaaah!" to the tune of the Flash Gordon theme song. Hmmm, I guess you had to be there. Max is the coolest cat ever!
The next day, Darin's friend Solange flew in from New York, while another online friend of mine from Minneapolis, Chad, joined us. Some of my best gaming moments were with Darin, TJ, and Chad, so it was great to geek out with them all. It was also pretty hilarious to sit back and watch TJ, Darin, Carlos, Solange, and Chad interact whenever the question of where to go next came up. As Chad so aptly said, "it's like herding cats!"
Carlos, TJ, Me, Solange, Chad
"You're my only hope!"
First, the six of us went out for sushi brunch. It was only TJ's second time at a sushi joint, and the first time was a disaster. The rest of us brainstormed and picked out a selection of veggie sushi and the least fishy regular sushi for him to hopefully get a new perspective. It worked. He loved the tamago nigiri, futomaki, spiced tuna roll, and avocado/sweet potato/asparagus roll. Though, TJ said the choices might have less to do with his newfound love of Japanese food and more to do with being in a seriously sour mood the first time he tried it ;).
We spent the rest of the day taking in the sights of Minneapolis, hanging out at two cafes, talking about Darin's card game that he had better debut at Comic Con next year (I know you're reading this Darin), and walking next to one of the larger lakes of the city. We almost got a canoe, but a storm moved in and dashed those plans.
Darin and Carlos prepared a dinner of quinoa and scrambled eggs with spinach, tomatoes, and cheese. The two of them are great cooks. You can see more of their cooking on Darin's blog, Mettabebe. I really wanted to stay longer, but I had a flight to catch. I said my goodbyes, got back to the airport and flew out just as the sun was setting. From the sky, I could see just how covered with trees and lakes Minneapolis. It's gorgeous. And with it being the Fourth, there were fireworks going off all over the place. It was the perfect send-off.