Long before cofounding the hilarious dragapella group The Kinsey Sicks, Ben Schatz was crusading for the rights of people with HIV and AIDS.
Fresh out of Harvard Law School, Ben Schatz (pictured above, second from left, as “Rachel”) first built a name for himself three decades ago as a lawyer with the public interest firm National Gay Rights Advocates (NGRA) — starting the AIDS Civil Rights Project to challenge HIV-related discrimination.
“I was a frying pan thrown into an a horrible, awful, critically important fire,” Schatz told Metrosource recently. “The job wasn’t horrible. Having to do it was horrible.” Even today, reflecting on that period, he admits to blocking out certain memories about those battles related to discrimination against those with HIV and AIDS.
“It feels very analogous to me to Holocaust survivors who didn’t talk with their children about what happened. There is a generation of gay men who have that trauma. The reason we survived is because we fought and we fought and we fought,” he said.
That fortitude, which was once was reserved for the legal battles, is now being showcased on the stage. With his legal career behind him, Schatz is well-known as a founding member of The Kinsey Sicks, which bills itself as “America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet.” For nearly 25 years, the troupe has entertained audiences across the globe, released filmed concerts and studio albums, and produced two feature films featuring Schatz as his alter ego, Rachel.
While in college, Schatz recalled, “I assigned everybody drag names. … I was nicknamed Rachel — the radical, immigrant woman — because I started the first gay and lesbian awareness day at Harvard.” Rachel took on a life of her own when The Kinsey Sicks were founded and at this point, he said, “is a presence in my life.”
But Schatz’s life has been filled with a combination of both activism and acting — some of it intertwined. After his stint with the NGRA, he created the Medical Expertise Retention Program at the American Association of Physicians for Human Rights, and then became its executive director in 1992.
The medical organization, which first changed its name to the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) and then Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality, endeavors to ensure equity in healthcare for LGBT individuals and professionals. During Schatz’s tenure, he was appointed to President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS while building up membership and organizing the first national conference on HIV prevention in the LGBT communities. “That was back in the days when the way to get money was to talk about straight people getting infected,” Schatz said. “What I am most proud of with GLMA was bringing to the mainstream the notion that homophobia kills people and is hazardous to your health.”
During his seven years spent leading the organization, Schatz also was devoting time to The Kinsey Sicks before eventually leaving his profession to perform full-time — a passion he shared with other members of the group. “One of the reasons I left was my job was to go on television and play the role of the respectable likeable homosexual, but I’m not a respectable homosexual,” Schatz said laughing. “I wanted to have gumption and not be punished for it. I’m much more comfortable pushing the envelope for as long as I’m alive.”
Schatz continued to push the envelope onstage this year with a new “edgy, political, scandalous” show called Things You Shouldn’t Say, written in response to last November’s presidential election (and is slated to play this November in Puerto Vallarta).
“We originally intended to do a show talking about 23 years of The Kinsey Sicks and what makes us tick. But then Donald Trump won, and we totally had to revise the show,” Schatz said. “We formed very much as a response to the AIDS crisis and the pain and the anger that came as a result of that, and using humor as both a tool and a way to vent; so we talk about that in the show in a very direct and powerful way.” But you still never know what will happen at a Kinsey Sicks performance. Asked what audiences can expect, Schatz responded simply: “No refunds.”
Learn more about the Ben Schatz and the Kinsey Sicks at kinseysicks.com.
Last modified: November 8, 2017