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Broadway Producer Richie Jackson Discusses His Memoir ‘Gay Like Me’

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March 4, 2020
Richie Jackson

During Passover in 1983, Richie Jackson, then 18, was confronted by his mother, who asked, “When are you gonna tell me you’re gay?” In revealing his truth, Jackson declared something else that was unthinkable at the time — that he would one day be
a father.

Today, at 54, the author and entertainment mogul is living out the promise he made all those years ago. A father of two children and married to fellow Broadway producer Jordan Roth, he tells his story in a new memoir, “Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son.” (HarperCollins). 

The book’s inspiration came from his oldest son coming out at 15 and saying that being gay is not a big deal anymore. Jackson told the Journal on hearing this, “I thought, ‘Oh no, being gay is a really big deal.’ And I didn’t want him to grow up to be one of these people who diminishes it and demeans it and puts it in a corner of his life and says, ‘I just happen to be gay. Gay doesn’t define me.’ If he did that, he would break his own heart.”

Jackson wrote “Gay Like Me” as a series of letters to his son, passing on the lessons he’s learned cultivating “gay self-esteem. After all these years of fighting for our liberation, we cannot finally say, ‘Well, being gay is not a big deal.’ To me, this has been the greatest fallacy ever perpetrated on a group of people.”

Among the many themes in his book are its warning against apathy and a call to embrace otherhood. In a chapter titled “Never Diminish Your Essence,” Jackson writes: “I have heard all the damaging delusions — gay doesn’t define me; gay is just a part of me; I just happen to be gay — these are dismissals, rendering gay as incidental, merely matter-of-fact. These types of devaluations are disguised apologies for who you are, diminishing you bit by bit.”

“My Jewishness has always felt like a security blanket to me in a different way my gayness feels to me. I think Jews listening to what it’s like to be gay in America would be really useful.” — Richie Jackson

Jackson also noted that you rarely hear someone say, “Being Jewish doesn’t define me,” yet the same phrasing has been widely embraced as a mantra for gay people to use. And while he is glad to see younger generations finding more acceptance, he is concerned about the growing apathy and trivialization of gay culture. “I think it’s distressing that the younger generation doesn’t know their history,” he said. “All the rainbows and all the love have sort of brought our temperature down and masks a lot of the war that has been declared on us.”

Part of this indifference he writes about is reflected in the rise in visibility and acceptance after the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling. When times are going well, the privilege of acceptance creates a vacuum of apathy. However, as Jackson powerfully writes, “Privilege isn’t a fortress; it’s not impenetrable.”

Jackson told the Journal that the Jewish values his family instilled in him had an impact on him. “My Jewishness has always felt like a security blanket to me in a different way my gayness feels to me,” he said. “I think Jews listening to what it’s like to be gay in America would be really useful and our listening to [how] anti-Semitism on the rise now is really important as well.”

One of  his most pressing fights is defeating President Donald Trump — who attended his wedding in 2012, along with wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared. Roth and Jackson had been early supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Pete Buttigieg’s campaign and held numerous fundraisers supporting his candidacy until his recent exit from the race.

“Seeing a gay man at that level of politics is extraordinary,” Jackson said. “[Pete] and [his husband] Chasten are instantaneously saving lives.” 

Jackson hopes his book hitting shelves (it was released on Jan. 28) also can save lives. He said in “Gay Like Me,” he wrote the book he desperately needed growing up and hopes others find solace in. 

“Just like we talk about at Passover. We tell that story every single year because that story is all of our stories and that’s what gay people have to do with their history,” he said. “We have to all feel that history — that story — belongs to all of us.” 


Peter Fox is a contributing writer for the Forward and Tablet magazine. Follow him on Twitter @thatpeterfox. 

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