Reichen Lehmkuhl (yeah, pronounce it like this: rye-kin lem-coal)
turns heads for more than just his good looks. Since he bolted out
of his modest starting gate in Cincinnati, Ohio, heís crafted a
unique resume as an Air Force pilot/actor/model/author/political
activist/entrepreneur/physics teacher/public speaker/reality TV
star and even a tantalizing subject for gossip blogs.
The year that put him on the map was 2003, when everyone
and their lover were earning their fifteen minutes of fame on
reality television. Reichen, however, was determined to stretch that
quarter hour into a marathon stretch. It was that year that he and
his then-partner, Chip Andt, busted their asses on an around-the-world televised competition called The Amazing Race.
Broadcast on CBS and amassing amazing ratings, the show won
an Emmy for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. Even more
importantly, Reichen and Chip won two other things: the race itself
and the racing hearts of millions.
Reichen and Chip crossed more than just one finish line
that year: they were the first out gay couple to win a reality show
contest. And at that time, gay marriage was not legal in any state
in the union. Of course, since then, courageous strides have been
taken, but the end of the race is nowhere in sight.
ďGay marriage in this country is a broken piece of glass,Ē
Reichen tells me today. ďItís so fragmented. Some states have it;
some donít. Some have civil unions; some donít. Some states want it
but donít have it. Some have it but they donít really want it. Itís
taking us so long as a group of citizens to just say one thing: ĎI
donít deserve any more rights than any other citizen in this
country.í Thatís what it really comes down to. If you really donít
think that two people who love each other should be able to get
married, what youíre really saying is, ĎI believe that I deserve
rights that you donít deserve.í How can anybody say that? Thatís
so un-American. Itís so arrogant. Itís like the epitome of bigotry.
also like a perverse form of racism. It can be considered racism
because if weíre in fact born this way, which I believe we are, then
maybe we are a race of people who are being discriminated against.
We are considered lesser human beings because [it is believed by
some] that we donít deserve those same rights.Ē
These are strong words from a man who has been embarking on
an amazing race of his own all of his life. These days, he brings
his views of gay marriage to the boards, starring in a timely
off-Broadway production of My Big Gay Italian Wedding (St.
Lukeís Theater, 308 West 46th Street). A portion of the
proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Broadway Impact, a
grassroots organization of the theater community mobilizing in
support of marriage equality.
Although he did play Kenickie in his middle-school
production of Grease, this is his first venture into big-boy
ďI never thought of theater as being a livelihood for me,Ē
he says. ďIím used to TV or film where I study my scene and then I
go on and just do it. But here, I have to memorize one-hundred pages
of dialogue. Every day, half the day is rehearsal of dialogue, and
half the day is choreography.Ē
Although dancing may be new to him, the accepting of a
challenge is not. And here he gets a little help from his friends.
Of his fellow cast members, he says, ďI love these people,
and IĎve only known them for about three weeks. Itís amazing how
close you get so fast when you do something like this. The talent in
this play is amazing. All of them have gone to incredible schools
with programs for acting and dancing. I am humbled to be among these
people. I know that they are that good and that professional,
because they are so patient with me. They get it. And I am the only
one who sings in the play, and I have two solos! They hired a voice
coach for me. I didnít even know I had a voice. This vocal coach
brought my voice out in me.Ē
He first found his voice as a writer, when he penned his
2006 memoir Hereís What Weíll Say (Carrol & Graf
Publishers). The groundbreaking book explored his experiences as a
gay man in the Air Force while wrestling with the infamous ďDonít
Ask, Donít TellĒ policy.
Itís the nickname for the guidelines stated within Defense
Directive 1304.26, issued in 1993 by President Clinton. It allows
gay people to serve in the military as long as they donít state that
they are gay. Designed as a compromise to avoid military witch
hunts, the policy still bars openly gay men and women from joining
the military, and expelling those openly gay people who are already
so overdue that this policy gets changed,Ē he says. ďThousands of
people are trying to do what Iím doing: spreading awareness that
this policy exists, that itís legalized discrimination, that itís
really going to continue to ruin morale.
ďSome people feel that if we let gays in, it would ruin
morale, but we are actually ruining morale by keeping gays out.
There are already millions of gay people serving, especially
overseas. Itís estimated that over two per cent of our fighting
forces are gay. Thatís a lot of people. So itís time.
ďIím really disappointed in the reactions of [President
Obama] since he took office. I think he swept it under the rug. No
question. I know he wants Congress to pass a law, but he could have
at any point signed an executive order to change the law. He didnít
want to do that because it seemed [perhaps] too overbearing. He
could have signed an executive order just to stop the discharges.
But now, every day, two more people are getting kicked out and
losing their careers and their jobs.
ďWhen you get kicked out of the military, you donít just
get kicked out. You go through humiliating mental evaluations. There
are court martials, and military-tribunal-type interrogations. And
tax dollars are paying for it. Itís turning into a factory of just
ruining peopleís lives.
ďWeíre only making progress on the outside. We have all of
our ducks in a row now to get this policy taken away. We begged the
President to sign the executive order; heís not doing it. Itís such
a political game and heís really exposed himself to me as just a big
Aside from his stint on The Amazing Race, Reichen is
no stranger to games and those who play them. His well-publicized
relationship (and eventual breakup) with ĎN Sync singer Lance Bass
resulted in a field day for gay bloggers.
ďAs soon as you start getting some kind of success, [the
bloggers] just hate on you,Ē he says. ďItís been both the
heterosexual and homosexual media community who have been
overwhelmingly supportive of me. The only lack of support Iíve had
is from gay bloggers. They just want to attack me and attack me. I
have to build a thick skin, but I can only do it very slowly. I
still havenít completely built it yet. Iíve always just meant well
and just wanted to follow my dreams. But then Iím called [by
bloggers] a fame whore - every name in the book for just wanting my
dreams and then getting them.Ē
The dreams which first propelled him into the sky as a
pilot and then onto the small screen as an actor were not easily
achievable. His parents divorced when he was five, and he spent the
majority of his youth in a trailer park with his mother. His ticket
out was the Air Force Academy, where he trained to be a pilot. He
was then stationed in Los Angeles, where he stayed on to pursue his
goal of acting. Between auditions, he taught physics at a private
school for celebrity children.
would do little runway shows, local commercials and tiny theater
showcases,Ē he says, ďbut I couldnít get an agent. Then, once The
Amazing Race happened, BAM!Ē
It was like a gun went off and Reichen, once again, blasted
out of the gate. He had played Niles Craneís ďlong-lost sonĒ on
Frasier, as well as a package delivery guy on The Drew Carey
Show. He then made appearances on Days of Our Lives and
The Young and the Restless, and on to Danteís Cove for
the gay-themed Logo channel.
ďIt went on and on,Ē he says.Ē It was like a dream.Ē
Still, he had to reconcile his very public life with a
yearning to actually have and enjoy a private life.
ďI just have to rely on my friends and my relationship,Ē he
says. ďIíve had a lot of relationships go sour because I didnít
feel the protection from it. Iíve even thought that maybe they were
a little glad to see me going down a little. I need someone who is
protecting me and telling me that they believe in me.Ē
That answer may come in the marble-like
form of Rodiney Santiago, the
Brazilian model who will co-star with Reichen this fall on Logoís
upcoming reality show A List TV. This series, among other
things, will examine and observe their relationship as they
relocate, live and love in New York City.
ďEvery time I have the public eye on my relationships, itís
been a strain,Ē he says. ďbut Rodiney and I have had a lot of talks
about it. We know what to expect. Iím way more prepared than I ever
have been. Our relationship isnít perfect, and no oneís is. [This
new reality show] will show all the parts of our relationship, but
we are trying like everybody else and we are decent human beings.
ďI want this series to show all aspects of gay life. I know
that the other people cast for the show are nothing like me and
nothing like Rodiney. There is a spectrum. I know there is a part of
gay life that is all about crazy nights, party nights on Fire
Island, and then there is a part of gay life that is professional.
There is every kind of gay, just like there is every kind of
ďI think a lot of our gay organizations put pressure on the
gay community not
show certain signs of gay life, like the seedy
side, because weíre supposed to be ashamed of those sides and
straight people may not give us rights. But we really shouldnít do
that. We should really demand our rights no matter who we are or
what kind of people we are. There are straight people who are into
S&M, but they have all the same rights as other straight people. Why
do we need to apologize for any [type of gay subculture]? Why do we
need to apologize for effeminate gay men? We donít. Iím proud of the
kind of gay that I am, but I donít think that Iím right or better or
more deserving of rights than someone who might be a different type
With work on a second book and acting plans in his near
future, we will be getting to know Reichen even more intimately than
even reality TV can allow.
ďI want everybody to see that Iím vulnerable and
thin-skinned about a lot of things,Ē he says.Ē Iím just a human
being. I donít think Iíve had a chance to let that be known.Ē
For more information about Reichenís off-Broadway show, go to
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