A lesson in community

Alexandra Billings is intense. A consummate professional, she changed poses and expressions from one moment to the next as photographer Mark Harvey clicked away furiously to keep up.

The photo shoot went by so quickly, there was little time or opportunity for small talk, but when she mentioned Joey Luft, she chided me for not knowing who he is.

Billings is an actor, a fierce LGBTQ+ activist, and a dedicated teacher, and as the shoot ended, she suddenly schooled me.

Luft is the son of Judy Garland, and brother of Lorna Luft and, arguably their more famous sibling, Liza Minnelli. Children of one of the most iconic of gay icons, each with varying degrees of fame, talent, and charisma. 

Billings is a great admirer of Garland and the legendary performer’s children. They are Billings’ inspiration and foundation. They represent a continuity that helps build and connect this community of LGBTQ+ people. A bridge from past to the present, and from present to future generations.

How could I have a sense of place in my own community, she said, if I didn’t know about the people who came before me? And how could I pass that legacy on to younger generations if I didn’t know it myself? 

Knowing who we are, as individuals, and where we come from as a community are vital. Billings is passionate about community and identity, because she sees LGBTQ+ people under attack by society and by political forces. 

“Because what they’re trying to do is eradicate us,” taking time after the shoot to make her point. “Because we’re not an actual community, to those people. [To them,] we don’t exist. We’re just a group of humans who are either making choices about who we want to fall in love with, or making choices about what we want to wear. We’re either one of those two categories. And if they annihilate us, if they eradicate us, they can feel better about who they are, about what they know and understand.”

“...And how they’re doing that is by making the choices about us,” I interjected.

“That’s right,” she continued. “So, if we implant, especially in the younger generation—who we used to be—we allow this younger generation to grow up with pride, with honor, with grace, compassion, and knowledge—knowledge about where they come from, that they come from a people, a group of humans that traversed across the planet Earth to get to this point. We’re not an idea. We’re not a philosophy. We’re not a fad. We’re not a fetish. We belong in the United States of America, we are American citizens. And we deserve not just inclusion, but respect. And the only way we’re going to get that is to teach the younger generation that they matter, and they come from somewhere.” —Rick Guasco

Read Jeff Berry’s interview with Alexandra Billings here.