Jeffrey Scott Parsons
If you know your Ruby, you know Palm Springs is her cloud nine.
For several years now I’ve had friends rave about the gay resort, Santiago.
One friend advised, “Santiago is a place for peace and healing.” Hmm, well, that says it.
As fate would have it, while visiting the Desert AIDS Project (DAP), I stumble onto an old theater pal, triple-threat talent, Jeffrey Scott Parsons, who was staying at the resort. So we decided to meet that night, a breezy desert evening, at Santiago’s splish-splashy fountain out front.
Later, landing on the property, as I wait for my ol’ actor pal (he recently added director and choreographer to his C.V.), I instantly am caressed with an overall ethereal lift. The desert has a way like that. I sit alongside the tranquil cascade and…think about Jeffrey.
A self-proclaimed farmboy, Jeffrey was raised Mormon in rural Willard, Utah, and attended
Brigham Young University. He eventually left the cattle and crops for the razzle-dazzle of the stage. Over the years, Jeffrey has zigzagged across the U.S. many times performing in such classic musicals as 42nd Street, Dames at Sea, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and one of my favorite holiday stories, White Christmas. I love the film with Bing, Rosemary, Danny, and Vera-Ellen. Oh, and my all-time beloved character actor—Mary Wickes!
A compassionate individual, Jeffrey sang at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Los Angeles AIDSWalk. Several years later, he formed a group of pals and they walked the event. The following year, he couldn’t organize the group again so he handed out thank-you notes to participants as they crossed the finish line. “I only made a hundred,” he said, “so I ran out very quickly.”
Regarding AIDS/LifeCycle, he says that it sounds like torture, so instead, Jeffrey made a donation and bought a T-shirt that he wears to the gym! Being in “da biz,” he’s been featured in APLA’s S.T.A.G.E. and on the other coast, he has an active relationship with New York’s Broadway Cares.
Earlier this year he opened his autobiographical one-man show, COMFY, which he describes as a game changer and life-altering. The enchanting production includes his experiences as a gay member of the Mormon Church.
On the personal side, he describes his partner, Michael, as a “nice fella,” they own a lovable canine, and live in Los Angeles. Jeffrey likes to bake (“That’s how Utahan’s say ‘I love you!’”), and two of his favorite films are Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up Doc? Babs and Ryan together…delicious! And Madeline Kahn co-stars! (Check out my February 2017 column with William Madison.)
The huge wooden doors suddenly open and my mental trip down memory lane is interrupted. There appears the award-winning performer, dressed in tan shorts and a sea-blue T. Jeffrey nestles-up beside me.
Ruby Comer: [We embrace.] Honey, I’ve meant to ask this and always forget. Is Jeffrey Scott Parsons your birth name?
Jeffrey Scott Parsons: That’s my birth name! My dad was very much a businessman, and I think on some level he liked it because it sounded professional. Most kids usually hear their full names when they’re in trouble, but with Dad, I heard it when he was proud. He probably didn’t expect this would be the profession I’d choose, but when it came to picking my professional name, I kept all three with him in mind.
Your dad is very lucky to have you. By the way, I like your choice of where to stay…
[He nods.] It’s well taken care of and aesthetically manicured, large pool, hammocks, fireplace—it’s rather Zen-like, Ruby. Oh, and they have complimentary healthy lunches!
Wow. …a great place to recharge. I’d like to try being a gay man! [He brightly smiles, exposing his snow-white choppers.] Jeffrey, I wanna know what musical was life-changing for you.
Well…I saw a national tour of West Side Story in Salt Lake City when I was younger, and it blew my mind. The dangerous ways that show throws together all of the elements of musical theater is thrilling!
Oh, indeed. Name a “Triple Threat” you look up to.
Gene Kelly! [His head spins and Jeffrey raises his hands to the heavens!] I mean, that guy sang and danced with such joy and athleticism.
And let’s not forget Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, as well. [We both smile with glee.] Jeffrey, you’re active not only in HIV causes, but others as well. What motivates you?
Great question! One of the things my parents instilled in me was the value of giving service. That scripture that says, “When you lose yourself, you find yourself” is absolutely true for me. When I was nineteen, I served a two-year mission for my church, and it changed my life. Every morning I was filled with love for people I hadn’t even met yet, and I couldn’t wait to serve them in some way: sharing an inspirational message, serving food in a soup kitchen, raking their leaves. [He takes a beat.] Giving back feels good because, once again, it reminds us that we’re all connected.
Now…I know you remain active in your church, when the Mormon religion doesn’t accept homosexuality. How do you deal with this conflict?
Thank you for being willing to ask the difficult questions, Ruby. [He inhales.] I recognize religion for queer-people is a sensitive subject because it often includes deep wounds. When we’re hurt by our religion or those professing to share in it, it doesn’t just shake how we feel about those people, it shakes how we feel about our core beliefs, and ourselves, which is just tragic.
For reasons I don’t understand, my wounds have been minimal. I’ve had a strong support system—anchored by my amazing mom—that has validated my self-worth. Because of these two things, the healing I’ve worked very hard for has led to reconciliation between my religion and sexuality. These were two parts of myself I could not accept as being mutually exclusive. It isn’t easy, and I know it can make people on both sides uncomfortable, but after a lot of one-on-one-time between God and me, I realized what was best for me – it wasn’t about choosing sides.
I see. Yet, it seems the Mormon Church blamed AIDS on a gay lifestyle and at the onset they said that this disease was an act of love from God.
While I was a little too young to remember what was being taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (CLDS) about and during the AIDS crisis, I researched official statements from church leadership and found one dated 1988. It was constructed like this: first, a paragraph stressing sympathy for anyone in the world that might be suffering from the disease; then, a paragraph stressing total abstinence before marriage and total fidelity between men and women after marriage; and then six more paragraphs like that switching back and forth.
That statement is actually a pretty decent example of the back and forth that I find myself in when it comes to church leadership: a paragraph reminding me how much I’m loved directly followed by a paragraph to remind me my situation isn’t ideal.
Uh, huh …[slowly absorbing what he reveals].
Here’s the thing, though, Ruby—the way those teachings are put into practice by everyday members of the church is much more complex. For example, despite how much that official church statement focused on sympathy, the fact is, I was in my early teens in the nineties and believed AIDS had been sent to Earth to take out sinners. I don’t remember it being taught to me by anyone in particular, but for some reason, that was my incredibly shortsighted view. What’s interesting, though, is I was a pretty flamboyant child in a very small farm town and never felt bullied. I never once doubted that my family, congregation, and community loved me.
I’m ecstatic for you.
I remember writing a paper in junior high, and honestly, I don’t know what the assignment was or what else I wrote about, but in it I specifically mentioned how AIDS had been sent to Earth to punish people. It’s one of the more embarrassing blemishes of my past.
All I do know is when we think human pain or suffering has nothing to do with us, we begin to create reasons to justify its existence. The truth is the AIDS epidemic has affected me because regardless of the talent and notoriety of the souls it has claimed, any human loss is our loss.
[We dip our hands in the coolness of the water, as the dusky desert sun seeps through the canvas awning.]
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].