Set for Are We Delicious? Musical Heroes at the Barrymore Theatre, Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Callen Harty.
On Friday I was invited to speak at a performance of Are We Delicious?/Musical Heroes. The company had invited audience members to nominate “local heroes” and then invited four to speak between pieces at the event. This is what I wrote for the event.
First of all I’m honored to be sharing the stage tonight with the other three speakers and with the talented writers, actors, and musicians in this production. Thank you for the invitation.
I was asked to speak a bit about my mission and about my heroes, and neither one is easy to summarize in just a few minutes, but I’ll do my best.
My mission is simple—for the world to be a better place when I leave it than it was when I got here; to bring more love into the world than there was before. I’ve strived to do that in my life by working as a queer activist, a peace activist, through my art, by co-founding several organizations, working with youth, and working to shine a light on child sex abuse so that we can end it forever.
But I don’t think of what I do as heroic or courageous in any way. Those labels don’t feel comfortable to me. I just live my life. It’s what I do.
As for my heroes I have had many in my life, people who inspire me and make me a better man. These include my life partner, Brian, who is here tonight and has brought much light and love to many, my bedridden mother who wakes every day to continue to teach us lessons, many friends, my mentor, Joel Gersmann, Harry Hay, Paul Wellstone, the people in Black Lives Matter, the water protectors at Standing Rock, and others. While I applaud all of them I also understand that they, and me, are problematic as heroes—because we are human and humans are frail and can fail as often as we succeed.
Once you understand, though, that heroes are just regular folks who have their own issues and occasionally rise above their humanity, then you can also understand that all of us have the potential to be heroes, whether it’s by doing something simple like helping a neighbor, donating money to a good cause, or quietly living your life with love and compassion. Not every hero is in the public eye, nor do they need to be. I think that everyone lives their lives to the best of their abilities. That is an amazing thing. You can all be heroes just by living. Just be loving and giving and you will be a hero to someone. Be kind. Stand up. Stand for something. We need all of you to act out on those impulses now more than ever.
About Callen Harty
Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores,
He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History.
He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive.
Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.