Lady Irene Gandy has an incredible background. At age 80, she is a proud member of the LGBTQ community and is known far and wide in the Broadway and off-Broadway scene as a publicist, press agent, and producer for over 50 years. Gandy, the recipient of the 2020 Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre, began her career in the business in 1968 as a publicist with the Negro Ensemble Company—pioneered by Douglas Turner Ward and Robert Hooks—and worked on over 100 Broadway shows. She has been a member of both the Drama League board of directors and of Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM) for over 50 years. She’s also worked with Broadway producer Jeffrey Richards for over 30 years. Ms. Gandy is a Tony Award-winning producer for “Porgy and Bess,” producer for “Lady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill” which starred Audra McDonald, and is the co-producer of the National Tour of the South African musical “Sarafina.” Gandy’s visage is on glorious display at Sardi’s Restaurant, where in 2008 she became the first female press agent to be the subject of a Sardi’s caricature. And in 2015, Gandy, known for her impeccable fashion sense, started the Lady Irene Furs Collection, which was featured in Vogue. 

For her full career story and list of honors visit her website at www.irenegandy.com. But for now please enjoy an AmNews interview with Ms. Gandy who has received awards over the years for her support of LGBTQIA+ community. In 2015, she won the Pioneer Award for Black Pride NYC, and the NAACP-LGBTQ David Weaver Prize for Excellence in the Arts in 2019. She is also being honored by Harlem Pride this year, with an award presented to her by Kara Young, and she will take part in the Pride Parade on Sunday on a float with her dear friend Melba the Restaurateur, who is providing the parade with 4,000 Pride cakes. Gandy recently received the Audra McDonald Legacy Award from Black Women on Broadway, and a Proclamation of Appreciation from the Manhattan Borough President. Taking the time to speak with the AmNews, she shared a piece of her journey.

AmNews: Irene, what challenges did you face in this industry, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, especially when you started?

Irene Gandy: When I started 50 years ago, the challenges you faced were just being Black in America. I’m very fortunate in my industry that most people are in the LGBT community. But basically, 50 years ago people weren't talking about it…. And I wasn’t a threat, so I really didn’t think about it. But, the challenges that I had were when the AIDS epidemic came out, that's when the challenges came and that knew no color.

AmNews: Irene, what have some of your roles been over the years, in looking out for Black folks in this business, and for members of the LGBTQ community specifically?

IG: Because I’ve been doing it so long, I’ve been on the road so long, I always look out for the Blacks first, because I have information. I’m at the table. I’m not just at the table, I built the table in some instances for some things. I’m able to help them negotiate things that they wouldn’t ask for. When you’re from an African American family, you’re bought up with the mantra of ‘Don’t make any waves, be the best, be better.’ And, then you come into a situation where people can just be people and they are making 100,000 mistakes and they think they’re okay, and nobody is correcting them. I try to take that weight off of them. When I’m in the room working on a Black show and advertising is discussed, I bring up the Black papers for advertising. ‘What about the Aficionperu, the New York Beacon, WBLS?’ When it comes to LGBTQ people and people of color, there are a lot of people who still don’t come out because they are chastised by the church, or their mothers who are very religious, and they don’t want to disappoint them. I try to live by example, ‘Look at me, I have a great life, I’m a mother.’ It doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom.

AmNews: What are some awkward moments you’ve faced as a member of the LGBTQ+ community that were learning experiences and made you the success you are today?

IG: I measure my success by my daughter Mira. But I realize no matter how successful you are, how many credits or accolades you have, in this America you can still be dismissed, you can still be subhuman. Women are not considered on the level that men are. That’s why we’ve never had a woman president. As a Black woman, I know that there are people that resent me, but I also know that one thing that Black people always have is our joy and I always hold on to that.

AmNews: How many people have you taken under your wing and what type of assistance have you given them?

IG: I don’t know how many people I’ve helped. If someone comes to me and they need a connect, I give it to them because I can. I really don’t think about it. I just live my life as fabulous as I can because God gives me that grace. My biggest accomplishment is Mira, how great is that? When she presented the Special Drama Desk Award to me, how wonderful was that! She said ‘Mommy I know you better than anyone else.’

AmNews: What advice would you give members of the LBGTQ community who want to follow in your footsteps, whether as a publicist, agent, producer, or entrepreneur?

IG: You have to live your authentic life. When my daughter was 13, she said her friends saw me in pictures with women and she asked if I liked women. I told her ‘I’m your mother and I love you… Me loving who I’ve loved is not so bad, and I’m your Mom and I’ve always been there for you, ride or die.’ The only advice that I would give to members of the LGBTQ community is just be truthful with yourself. Be strong and realize the challenges you face as a person of color, whether you know it or not. The people that love you are going to love you and don’t worry about anyone else.

AmNews: Irene you are a perfect example, where if you have a flair for something like fashion, you can make incredible things happen, like having your own fur line, What does it take to make dreams like this come true?

IG: I’ve been with my furrier for 40 years. I said to him ‘I should have my fur line.’ He said, okay. When people have dreams you have to have the supply. I couldn’t have a fur business if I didn’t have a distributor. You can’t put the cart before the horse. There’s no such thing as failure. God gives you a dream, but he doesn’t give you a budget. So, all you have to do is get the budget. Ask for help. Just be honest. Don’t limit yourself but know your limitations.

AmNews: What would you like to say to young people in the community who have doubts in themselves and are questioning whether it is worth it to be themselves, or whether they should try to conform to what people expect of them? When family and friends are not accepting of who they are?

IG: Always be your authentic self, just be you, just do you. You don’t have to conform. Don’t come with ‘I'm ugly, I’m fat,’ or any negative view of yourself because you’re already starting off being defeatist. Remember one thing: God doesn't make any mistakes and God loves you. I don’t do anything without faith.

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