On Thursday, actor Daniel Franzese took to social media to post a video entitled, “I was fired today for being gay..”.
In the video, Franzese explains that he was booked to host the the Mr. Walsh Pageant on March 26 at Walsh University, a private, Catholic university in North Canton, Ohio. Although the negotiations had been completed more than a month earlier with a contract of which Franzese and his manager have documentation, Franzese explained that he received communication from the Director of Student Activities and Leadership at Walsh canceling the appearance.
Walsh University provided The Buckeye Flame with the following statement:
Mr. Daniel Franzese has neither been employed nor under contract for any services in any form at any time with Walsh University. The email he cites from Director of Student Activities and Leadership Anna Borges reflects her personal views.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Franzese to find out what happened.
How did the Mr. Walsh Pageant make it onto your schedule?
I regularly appear at a national student activities conference and that’s how I book a lot of gigs. I have a good reputation in the college comedy community which has been furthered by successful appearances at a variety of schools. I believe [the Director of Student Activities and Leadership]knew of me from there and we started talking about the Walsh gig back in January.
What did the Walsh gig actually entail?
This was a scripted show. They had a full outline of what was expected of me. I was going to be introduced on stage and then I was going to introduce each of the contestants as they did the talent competition, the formal wear, the fishbowl interview questions, and the spirit outfit. In between each time the students had to change, I would do crowd-work and talk to everyone there. Usually I make light of the act that just went on. I don’t do any of my A comedy material because generally when I do these gigs, I have such a good time and the students respond so well, that I’m usually invited back to the school and do my hour of comedy. All of this [at Walsh]would have been stuff-on-the-fly, light, wholesome stuff.
So you were hired for this event?
Yes. The [Director of Student Activities and Leadership] hired me for the event. She went and got the event approved. My usual rate is around $7,500, but I agreed to do this one for $4,000. On February 18, she approved the money and we were all set. That day, we posted the date on my calendar, which means I no longer can book events for that date for anyone else.
I was counting on that money as part of my budgeting strategy and negotiating strategy. As a freelancer, I have to think things like, “I’m making $4000 at the end of this month, so I can say no to this other gig” or “I need to ask for more here because I’m not making as much as I normally would at this other event.”
Then what happened?
We were just waiting because we had to do hotel and flight arrangements and part of the financial arrangement was that they were going to pay for the travel. Then here we are 9 days before the event and my manager was checking in with them. Everything seemed fine until the pope made the announcement [that the Catholic Church “cannot bless sin”]. Then literally hours later, the next day, Walsh’s finance department didn’t approve my appearance and the university reneged on the contract.
They said that I don’t fit with the ideals of their college. One example of something that I’ve done that they didn’t like was that I was on RuPaul’s Drag Race. It didn’t align with their value system. So they canceled my contract a week before the event.
Respectfully, you’re not some in-the-closet, secretly-gay celebrity. Anyone who books you knows they are hiring a gay male, no?
It is my belief that the director of student activities knew I was gay, but was trying to make gay students feel welcome by hiring someone like me. I think she’s a hero in this situation. She seemed really sad and devastated by how this all played out.
I often feel like I am like a trojan horse in Christian universities where the administrators can sneak me in and it’s a way for me to make the LGBTQ students feel welcome in an unwelcoming place.
In the past, when I do events for Christian universities, they have no official welcome for the LGBTQ students. If they have me there, sometimes the students will say, “Oh, look! Daniel is here! I feel welcome here!”
What do you make of the University’s statement that they provided to The Buckeye Flame?
I didn’t even mention [the Director of Student Activities and Leadership’s]name in my video because she was really trying to do the right thing. She really wanted me there. And so it made me sad that the University threw her under the bus in their statement.
This is another consequence of this kind of bigotry. It’s not just me. It’s the administrator who wants to book someone progressive. It’s the student who is out and experiences discrimination. That is the reason I felt like I had to speak out because there are actual casualties of this kind of bigotry.
In your video, you said you’re committed to doing a follow-up event in response to how all this went down. Tell us about that.
As soon as the pandemic is over and I have enough time to figure it out, I’m doing an event. Cleveland is close to there and I would love to do my comedy show for free at an LGBTQ club as a fundraiser for The Trevor Project. And I would let anyone who has a Walsh ID—past or present—get in the show for free and enjoy a VIP meet-and-greet at the end. If in some world, I end up getting paid for this Walsh gig, I would donate that money to the Trevor Project.
But the whole point of this isn’t the money, even as it hurts me to lose it financially. This is so much bigger than the money. I’m so frustrated by the terrorist attack that targeted those Asian women, and this whole week has reminded me of the Pulse shooting and how these are the things that propagate that kind of anger.
I was so upset because the day before I got fired, I posted the pope’s statement from the Vatican on Facebook. I wrote a prayer, something to express, “Dear God, please let all the LGBTQ+ come to harm from this know that this is not Your message and that the only way to God is through love.” And people came to my page to express vitriol and venom and hate. People want to come after me for being queer and Christian.
That’s the reason I wanted to start the “Yass, Jesus!” podcast in general because when Pulse happened, I had no words. I was devastated for two months. One of the things that frustrated me was that I couldn’t find any LGBTQ prayers. They were so slim and far between.
So I created “Yass, Jesus” because at the end of every episode, we have a prayer for the LGBTQ community. We did an episode last week on name-changing and Peppermint did the prayer. We try to find ways that we can show queer people that there is a space for them in the house of God.
But for Walsh, my mere presence on stage was an offense to them. I’m a very clean comic. I’m in a movie that everyone knows that’s a famous, wholesome teen movie. It’s upsetting that I could be treated this way as a queer person, as a professional, and as someone who has a similar mission of loving Christ.
Final thoughts for our readers?
Just be an example of love. No one can say anything about about us if we are an example of love.
I’m really the first casualty of the Vatican’s statement. That’s how quickly this affected a queer person. If that could affect me, it could affect anyone.