Video: André De Shields, Alan Cumming, Alexandra Billings, Margaret Cho and Michael Urie, join list of Celebrities Voicing Support for The Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP) With New PSAs Demanding LGBTQ+ Equality at Taxpayer Funded Religious Educational Institutions

André De Shields, Alan Cumming, Alexandra Billings, and Michael Urie are among the celebrities shining a light on how taxpayer dollars are being used to fund LGBTQ+ discrimination at faith-based schools and colleges. In a new PSA, available at www.TheReap.org, they are voicing their support of REAP, the Religious Accountability Exemption Project, an organization that is standing up against powerful corporations and wealthy anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups and fighting to protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of marginalized LGBTQ+ students who attend these schools and universities.

Drama Desk winner André De Shields and Drama Desk host Michael Urie. Photo by Lia Chang

The PSAs were organized by Broadway producer Tom D’Angora (Caroline, or Change, NEWSical, Melange), who has enlisted his celebrity friends to help raise awareness and funds for REAP. Celebrities featured in the PSAs include Alexandra Billings (Transparent, The Connors), Margaret Cho (comedian), Pierre Boo and Nicky Champa (Tik Tok), Jackie Cox (RuPaul’s Drag Race), Alan Cumming (The Good Wife), Kevin Daniels (Atypical), André De Shields (Hadestown), Desmond is Amazing (author and “drag kid”), Dominique Jackson (Pose), Jason Rodriguez (Pose), Omar Sharif Jr. (GLAAD) and Michael Urie (Ugly Betty).

“Like most Americans, I was unaware that my tax dollars were being used to discriminate against and punish LGBTQ+ students at some religious universities for living their truth,” D’Angora, a long-time activist who has raised over 1.5 million dollars with virtual fundraisers featuring a repertory cast of celebrities and notables ala Ryan Murphy, benefitting the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative and NYC’s historic Birdland Jazz Club, among others, said from his NYC home. “REAP opened my eyes and I am proud to join their fight.”

All funds will go towards advocating for these students, amplifying their voices, and protecting them as they stand bravely against hate and for LGBTQ+ acceptance in their own communities. Last year, REAP filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of 33 plaintiffs from 25 evangelical and LDS colleges in eighteen states. During the past year, the plaintiffs have grown to forty students in twenty states. The plaintiffs include a mix of current students (some of whom are using a pseudonym for their safety), recently expelled students, and alumni who suffered conversion therapy and/or disciplinary action.

Through loopholes in Title IX, the civil rights law prohibiting sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity discrimination at taxpayer-funded educational institutions, some religious educational institutions are allowed to target, punish, ban and expel LGBTQ+ students for expressing their identities and relationships by claiming a religious exemption. REAP’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, challenges the Constitutionality of using the religious exemption to Title IX to target LGBTQ+ youth and deny them legal protections.

“Currently, more than 200 religiously affiliated colleges in the United States that receive taxpayer dollars are permitted to broadly discriminate against LGBTQ+ students,” says Paul Southwick, Attorney and Director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project. “Our laws should protect the health and welfare of all students, not perpetuate discrimination that harmfully targets people because of their sexual or gender identity.”

To learn more about REAP, and make your tax-deductible donation, visit www.TheReap.org.

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is a Chinese-American actor, a multi-media content producer, an award-winning filmmaker, and a photo activist and documentarian, who lifts up and amplifies BIPOC communities and artists and the institutions that support them.

Lia moved to New York from her home in San Francisco when she was 17 years of age and made her stage debut as Liat in a national tour of South Pacific with Barbara Eden and Robert Goulet. She spent many years working extensively Off-Broadway, including Signature Theatre’s revival of Sam Shepard’s Chicago. Her film work includes Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Last Dragon. The decades of being viewed by others through the narrow lens of “Asian actor” in the industry brought Lia to a turning point, and she picked up her camera, determined to create awareness by documenting the work and the lives of her BIPOC colleagues, resulting in the creation of thousands of photographs and pieces of video. Her photo archives are housed in the AAPI collection in the Library of Congress’ Asian Reading Room under “Lia Chang Theater Portfolio collection,1989-2011” and in the “Lia Chang Photography Collection” in The Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library.

Lia’s awards include the 2000 OCA Chinese American Journalist Award and the 2001 AAJA National Award for New Media. She is also an AAJA Executive Leadership Graduate, a Western Knight Fellow at USC’s Annenberg College of Communications for Specialized Journalism on Entertainment Journalism in the Digital Age, a National Press Photographers Association Visual Edge/Visual Journalism Fellow at the Poynter Institute for New Media, and a Scripps Howard New Media Fellow at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

More recently, Lia co-founded Bev’s Girl Films, which makes films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. She executive produced and starred in the indie films Hide and Seek (AA Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Best Actress Nomination), Rom-Com Gone Wrong, and When the World Was Young (2021 DisOrient Film Audience Choice Award for Best Short Narrative).

A retrospective of Lia’s photographs will be on view at the Museum of the City of New York later this year, documenting her BIPOC colleagues and contemporaries in the performing arts, which will include photos of Prospect Theater Company artists at work. www.liachang.com, www.liachangphotography.com

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