Reichen Lehmkuhl first made a splash as one half of the gay duo that won TV's The Amazing Race several years ago. Since then, he has come out with a book ( Here's What We'll Say, about his experiences as a gay cadet in the U.S. Air Force ) and acted in various films and TV shows. His latest project involves introducing his Fly Naked with Reichen collection, a line of men's jewelry with a cause; 10 percent of the revenue from each purchase will benefit the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ( SLDN ) , which is fighting the anti-gay Don't Ask, Don't Tell ( DADT ) policy.
Lehmkuhl recently talked with Windy City Times about his jewelry collection, DADT, his flying grandmother and upcoming TV projects. Reality show, anyone?
Windy City Times: Where did the collection's name come from?
Reichen Lehmkuhl: The name actually came from a dare we had in pilot training; during a solo flight, you could take your clothes off while in the cockpit and you actually fly naked. So I ended up putting that on my license plate, and Udi Behr [ of LoveandPride.com ] saw it and said, 'That'd be such a great name for a jewelry line.' So over the next year, we developed the jewelry and came up with the pieces.
WCT: How would you describe the jewelry?
RL: It's a very masculine line. The jewelry is made of titanium, which is what a lot of aircraft is made from—and the [ items ] are focused on aviation. For example, there are propellers and even dog tags [ in keeping with ] the military theme.
Also, it's not just for the gay men, even though we're marketing it to the gay community because of the charity it's associated with. We want it to be jewelry that men and women would love.
WCT: And 10 percent of the sales go to SLDN.
RL: Udi has a history of making jewelry lines in which 10 percent of the [ revenue ] go to various gay charities, and I wanted Fly Naked to be no different. At first, we were going to give 5 percent of the gross proceeds, but we decided on 10 percent of the gross. Coming from the military myself and having to live in the closet under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I really sympathize with those who are in the military who are living a lie, so I find it really important to do as much work as I can to lift the ban.
WCT: What would you say is the biggest problem with Don't Ask, Don't Tell?
RL: The biggest problem is that there's an integrity issue where you're actually being told you're allowed to serve but you have to lie about who you are. The old policy of not being allowed in actually had more integrity because at least the military was owning up to the fact that they didn't want you there. [ DADT ] is [ at odds ] with the core values of the military, which are integrity, service and excellence in all that you do. You can't accomplish any of those things if you can't say that you went to a picnic with your partner last week.
Unfortunately, the military feels that sexuality only has to do with the inappropriate topics of sex that people might bring up at work. Gay people only want to talk about the normal things they do and how their lives are like.
WCT: Also, other countries allow openly gay people to serve in the military.
RL: You couldn't be more right. There are some outstanding countries, such as Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Israel, which has the second most powerful air force [ in the world ] after the United States. In fact, Great Britain is recruiting gays for the military. It's amazing how far some of these countries have come while we're living back in the '50s.
WCT: Now, is it true that your grandmother was a pilot?
RL: Yes. She was a pilot in World War II; she was a WASP [ Women's Air Service Pilot ] and was an incredible flyer. She flew the P-51 Mustang [ fighter aircraft ] and the B-29 [ bomber ] , and she was the driving force in my life regarding my interest in aviation. She was an amazing woman. [ Laughs ] She definitely was my hero; unfortunately, she passed away just a few years back.
WCT: On a really different tip, you are now part of [ the TV show ] Dante's Cove.
RL: Yes; I'm the new guy in town, Trevor. The backstory is that he put himself through business school by building houses. Now he's in Dante's Cove, and he doesn't believe in the witchcraft that's going on, until the end of the season where he has to. [ Note: The show debuts its third season in October. ]
WCT: Now, what have you learned about acting from the cast? I remember Tracy Scoggins from the '80s [ from Dynasty and The Colbys ] .
RL: Tracy is incredible; I've learned so much. She's a world-class actress and knows exactly what she's doing. You learn more about production, making your marks and what looks good, and Tracy was my mentor. She was amazing.
WCT: Is there anything else going on?
RL: Well, my book comes out in paperback in the fall. I also have been offered a movie role and I'm currently developing a reality show, which I know a lot of people are doing. [ Laughs ] Mine has to do with flying and celebrities—that's all I'm going to say.
WCT: Are they going to fly naked?
RL: [ Laughs ] I don't know. Maybe they'll have to fly naked on a dare.
Reichen Lehmkuhl's Fly Naked collection is available at www.LoveandPride.com .