| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
CONTENTS APRIL 21-MAY 4, 2021 • VOL. 51 NO 33
Upfront .......................................5 Feature ..................................... 10
Eat ............................................ 19 Savage Love .............................. 21
REWIND: i995 Dedicated to Free Times founder Richard H. Siegel (1935-1993) and Scene founder Richard Kabat Publisher Andrew Zelman Editor Vince Grzegorek Editorial Music Editor Jeff Niesel Senior Writer Sam Allard Staff Writer Brett Zelman Dining Editor Douglas Trattner Visual Arts Writer Shawn Mishak Stage Editor Christine Howey Copy Editor Elaine Cicora Advertising Senior Multimedia Account Executive John Crobar, Shayne Rose Creative Services Production Manager Haimanti Germain Editorial Layout Evan Sult Staff Photographer Emanuel Wallace
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Hometown hero Drew Carey made his first cover appearance in Scene back in 1995.
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ILLUSTRATION BY CAITLYN CRITES
UPFRONT AN AMTRAK STATION AT TOWER CITY? HELL YES.
Courtesy All Aboard Ohio
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS at the nonprofit passenger rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio (AAO) has voted that Tower City should be the site of Cleveland’s new Amtrak hub, given the significant increase in daily train departures proposed by Amtrak with funding from the Biden administration. In Amtrak’s vision, Cleveland would see 22 departures every day, including an intrastate route connecting Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. All Aboard Ohio says moving the train hub back to Tower City, where the Cleveland Union Terminal was built in 1929 and located until the 70s, “finally makes sense.” “It didn’t make sense with Amtrak running just one or two trains each day in the middle of the night,” said Ken Prendergast, AAO’s Public Affairs Director, in a press release. “But it does make sense for Amtrak’s proposed Cleveland mini-hub in bringing significant new passenger traffic and business activity to downtown Cleveland.” Amtrak currently operates out of its “Lakeshore Station” off the Shoreway near E. 9th, and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has
said that he›d like to incorporate an expanded Lakeshore Station into a comprehensive lakefront development plan that includes a new land bridge. AAO says it would not oppose expansion at the existing site, but that Tower City would offer considerably more multi-modal connections, as Tower City represents Cleveland’s central bus and rapid transit hub and could offer additional connectivity with the expansion of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and a relocated Greyhound bus hub. AAO says that Greyhound, which currently sees five times more yearly passengers than Amtrak, “would likely follow” Amtrak to a new hub. Furthermore, unlike a lakeshore hub, a Tower City station would not have to contend with freight train traffic. (An Amtrak spokesperson, for the record, told Cleveland.com that the agency would welcome a community conversation about “improving or relocating” the Amtrak station.) The Tower City hub would be an expensive endeavor. Prendergast told Scene in a follow-up conversation that a new station could cost something like $400 million, which
would include the construction of the station itself, a parking deck and significant track work to reconnect linkages that were severed after the Union Terminal closed in 1977. “But the point to make is that this going to cost a lot of money regardless of location,” Prendergast said. “Look at what the city’s trying to do with the land bridge. That’s a couple hundred million. And rerouting the 70-plus freight trains per day would cost another couple hundred million. This is a big slice of pie. But Cleveland is the mini-hub that Amtrak wants between Chicago and the East Coast. People have to understand: We’d be busier than Seattle or Milwaukee or St. Louis, all of which have anywhere from 500,ooo to 1 million passengers per year.” Prendergast said the good news is that Sherwin-Williams has donated to the City of Cleveland the riverfront property on which its current research and development facility sits. That could be demolished, and the western portion of a new station could be build around the Federal courthouse. “I hate to see them go to Brecksville,” Prendergast said of Sherwin’s R&D staff, “but they’re
vacating that site, and this is really Cleveland’s last chance of doing something at that location.” Prendergast moonlights as the city’s most well-connected real estate blogger. He said that Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Detroit, which owns the Avenue at Tower City, is currently considering building an office for Rocket Mortgage connected to Tower City, or another repurposing of the property which could impinge on a potential new station. “Something’s cooking down there,” Prendergast said. “And if Bedrock builds something without a 25-foot clearance for trains, we’re done.” -Sam Allard
Momentum for Public Comment in Cleveland Grows with New Council Support With the recent addition of Collinwood Councilman Mike Polensek, the coalition of Cleveland City Council members supporting an ordinance to establish a regular public comment period at City Council meetings has grown to seven. At a press conference on the | clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
steps of City Hall last Monday, Polensek joined his colleagues Kerry McCormack (Ward 3), Basheer Jones (Ward 7), Jasmin Santana (Ward 14), Jenny Spencer (Ward 15), Brian Kazy (Ward 16), and Charles Slife (Ward 17). They all publicly embraced the proposal of the activist organization Clevelanders for Public Comment, drafted by Ward 3 resident Jessica Trivisonno. They plan to introduce legislation soon. The seven council members’ support adds momentum to an issue that has become central in the 2021 municipal elections. Ward 12 city council candidate Rebecca Maurer launched her campaign earlier this year with a public engagement pledge that asked both incumbents and challengers to support three policies to increase civic engagement and promote a better relationship between City Hall and residents. An official public comment period topped that list. Others have ardently signed on, recognizing the insularity of City Hall as a key reason for voter apathy and abysmal participation in local elections. Mayoral candidate Justin Bibb was in attendance last Monday, holding one side of the Clevelanders for Public Comment banner. The press conference on the steps of City Hall was symbolic, event organizers said: Residents should be welcomed by city government, not barred at the gates. Clevelanders for Public Comment, as an organization, has been gathering support citywide for months. Ward 4 activist Michelle Jackson noted in prepared remarks that many issues in Cleveland divide the city, east vs. west. But support for public comment has united citizens across town. A letter to City Council President Kevin Kelley calling for a public comment period and other good government reforms was signed by activists and organizers in all 17 of the city’s wards. Kelley responded to that letter last week, providing conditional support for a public comment period, pending the recommendation of council’s “Research Policy Cluster. (Kelley has been Council President for years, many have noted, and if he seriously supported public comment, he would have instituted it long ago.) Kelley has noted in the past, and noted in his most recent correspondence, that public comment is already permitted at council committee hearings. Jessica Trivosonno said Monday that while this is technically true, there currently exists no formal, predictable process to sign up. Comments are extremely rare at committee meetings, and are only
allowed after personal outreach to the committee chair. Trivisonno’s proposal, which was written after extensive research into the policies of peer cities, calls for a 30-minute comment period at Monday evening council meetings. Those wishing to comment may sign up in advance via a form that must be available online and in hard copy. Each commenter may speak for a maximum of three minutes, until the 30-minute allotment expires. As proposed, those who sign up but are unable to speak due to time constraints would be given priority at the following meeting. Under the proposal, the same protocols would apply to council’s committee hearings, with comments limited to the committee’s business. Councilwoman Jenny Spencer, speaking Monday, said there was a crisis of democracy in Cleveland. She referenced the dispiriting 2020 election turnout in Cleveland. “Touchpoints with local government matter,” she said. “While public comment is not a cure-all, it will contribute to a culture of citizen involvement and engagement, and it will help to build trust between elected leaders and residents. We can implement public comment, and we should implement public comment.” Earlier this week, Clevelanders for Public Comment announced the additional co-sponsorship of Ward 1 Councilman Joe Jones and Ward 9 Councilman Kevin Conwell, which would give the ordinance majority support when it is introduced. -Sam Allard
The Race to Replace Ken Johnson on Cleveland City Council Begins to Heat Up Since his arrest on corruption charges in February, Ward 4 Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson has yet to resign, though he has now been suspended from office by the Ohio Supreme Court (see below). In fact, according to the 2021 candidates’ list at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Johnson has pulled petitions and intends to run for the seat again. Unthinkable. But 12 candidates have now pulled petitions to run in Ward 4, more than in any other Cleveland ward. One of them, Ashley Evans, is a lifelong resident of the ward who has worked for Policy Bridge and Ridall Green Partnership. She formally launched her campaign Thursday. “I am running because I believe Ward 4 needs new and innovative servant leadership,” she said, in
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
materials sent to the press. “I know that Ward 4 deserves conscientious and active representation. We are a community in distress because of the neglectful actions of those who we trusted to be stewards of the area. I am committed to working with you, the individuals who make Ward 4 a community.” Evans attended Kent State University for her undergraduate degree and then both Cleveland State University’s Levin College and Ashland University for graduate degrees, in urban studies and business administration, respectively. She said that as a city council representative, she wants to ensure that all residents have access to reliable city services. She wants to improve health outcomes and make Ward 4, which includes portions of Buckeye-Shaker, Kinsman, Mt. Pleasant and Union-Miles, a more attractive area for commercial and residential development. Among her policy priorities, she said, was ensuring that residents have opportunities to engage with City Hall via public comment at City Council meetings. Without mentioning Ken Johnson’s name or the alleged financial crimes which led to his recent arrest, Evans painted herself as the antithesis of the incumbent. “I’m committed to lead our community with integrity, compassion, and faithfulness,” she said. “Along my path, I have learned two things. First, the education I received in the classroom is second only to the lessons I learned growing up in Ward 4 and secondly, service is the most authentic example of love, and I genuinely love our home here in Ward 4.” Another new candidate for the seat is longtime Cleveland Public Library employees Erick Walker. The 52-year-old Mt. Pleasant resident launched his campaign Monday. In an interview with Scene, Walker said he’s running because his neighbors are fed up with Johnson’s absent leadership. While the criminal allegations against him are upsetting to residents in Buckeye-Shaker, Kinsman and Mt. Pleasant, Walker said that equally upsetting has been the councilman’s lack of actual representation. “He’s not engaged,” Walker said. “He’s not out in the ward.” Walker said he intends to listen to resident concerns and wants to encourage a culture at City Hall where residents have far more input on the priorities of city leaders. “We’ve got to follow their lead,” he said. That’s one reason why Walker is
such an ardent advocate of public comment. Before Covid, Walker was a regular attendee of City Council meetings and said he could never express his concerns unless he managed to corner a councilperson one-on-one. The big concern in Ward 4 is poverty, Walker said. And as councilman, he said he would explore creative ways to alleviate the worst social and economic outcomes for residents. One of his ideas is to advocate for a CMSD trade school akin to Max Hayes on the East Side. “Some young men and women just don’t want to go to college,” he said, “and we need to teach those people some type of trade, and get them on a path to building wealth.” He also said he’d like to explore formal partnerships with local unions to offer training or apprenticeships to adults. Walker was born and raised in Cleveland and, since 2017, has lived in the house he grew up in near the intersection of Union and Kinsman, where Wards 1, 2, and 4 meet. He has worked for the Cleveland Public Library for 26 years and served in the U.S. Army Reserves, to help him pay for college at the University of Akron. Though he has no experience in public office, Walker is an elected board member of SEIU 1199, the union that represents library workers. He told Scene he thinks he has the leadership qualities, and the willingness to listen, that will set him apart from the other candidates in Ward 4. “I know the potential this ward has,” he said. “And this community needs someone who is honest and transparent and who cares about the well-being of the people. There are some challenges, but we are resilient. I want to bring that back.” -Sam Allard
Ken Johnson Suspended from Office, City Council Doesn’t Deserve to Help Appoint His Successor When reporter Mark Naymik published an avalanche of stories in 2018 documenting financial misconduct in office by Ward 4 Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson, council leadership did nothing. Johnson kept his seat. When, three years later, the FBI arrested Johnson and indicted him on corruption charges, city council leadership did nothing. Johnson kept his seat. When Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost then moved for Johnson to be suspended, council did nothing once again. Johnson kept his seat. But now, after a panel of retired
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
Ohio Supreme Court justices have reviewed the evidence against Johnson and decreed the obvious — he is suspended from office — council leadership will get to step in and help appoint his successor. In a statement Tuesday morning, city council said that they respected the decision of the Supreme Court panel and would work with Cuyahoga County Probate Court to find a replacement for Johnson, one who would “represent the best interests of the residents of Ward 4.” What a laugh riot. The residents of Ward 4 haven’t had their best interests represented in decades, and the idea that the same council leadership who sat on their hands after Johnson’s alleged crimes had been meticulously exposed now cares about them is science fiction. The residents deserve to elect their next councilperson, not to have the process mucked up by a council whose deepest commitment in recent years has been thecircumvention of democracy. The timing could not be worse. Municipal elections are right around the corner and for the next few months, council members will be focused chiefly on securing their seats for the next four years. Much of their campaigning will occur during council’s annual summer recess. It’s not exactly an environment, in other words, where a new appointee can learn the ropes. The probate court judge doing the appointing should take this under advisement. They should either decline to appoint anyone and simply wait for the election to determine Ward 4’s next representative; or they should install a placeholder bureaucrat to mind the paperwork until the election, one who has no intention of seeking the seat. Otherwise, the residents will be sidelined yet again. The timeline is familiar. A similar situation occurred during council’s last election cycle in 2017. Council leadership orchestrated the resignation of Councilwoman Mamie Mitchell, who had been suffering from dementia, to install Blaine Griffin. They timed his appointment elegantly, so that he could avoid a controversial Q Deal vote, but ensured his incumbent status and access to council funds before the September primaries. This move was decried by a crop of challengers in Ward 6, who noted that installing Griffin so close to the election didn’t make sense, unless the goal was to ensure the playing field would not be level. Griffin may well have won regardless, but council couldn’t resist handicapping
the race in favor of their favored candidate anyway. A significant number of candidates have already entered the race for council in Ward 4, in fact more than in any of the city’s 17 wards. They are eager to right the ship after years of disengaged leadership from Johnson. They should be allowed to campaign for the seat without city council putting its thumb on the scale. – Sam Allard
As Ohio Legislature Proposes Anti-Trans Bills, NCAA Threatens to Withhold Events In an apparent warning to Ohio and other states considering antitransgender legislation, the NCAA said it will only stage events in places where transgender studentathletes won’t face discrimination. “The NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports,” the college sports league said in a statement posted by its board of governors. “This commitment is grounded in our values of inclusion and fair competition.” That could be a big deal as states, including Ohio, consider anti-trans bills. As the Ohio Capital Journal reported in March: “An Ohio state Senator introduced legislation last month that would prevent transgender girls and women from participating in women’s sports at state K-12 schools and universities. Senate Bill 132, sponsored by Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, would require schools to separate student athletics by sex, not gender. The legislation would apply to public schools as well as public and private colleges and universities.” A similar bill was introduced in the Ohio House. Sports Illustrated reported in March that nearly 550 college athletes signed a letter to the NCAA demanding the organization withdraw its championships and other events from states that pass or are considering passing the transgender bans. Republican lawmakers are pushing for similar bans in more than 30 statehouses around the country, according to a tally by the ACLU. The push echoes the controversial “bathroom bills” pursued in Texas and other states to keep transgender people from using public facilities. “When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing
an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” according to the NCAA’s statement. Cleveland has recently played host to early rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and will again in 2025; it is also slated to host the 2024 women’s final four and the 2026 NCAA men’s wrestling tournament. -Vince Grzegorek
Cuyahoga County Chief of Staff Bill Mason: All Employees Must Return Full Time June 1 In an email that took Cuyahoga County directors by surprise, Executive Armond Budish’s Chief of Staff, Bill Mason, decreed that beginning on May 1, all county employees must begin a staggered work schedule with three days in the office and two days at home. On June 1, all employees would be expected to report to work in-person full-time. In the April 16 email, which Scene obtained from a county employee, Mason wrote that it was time to re-evaluate the county’s work-fromhome policy. He said two of his top priorities were “providing the best
DIGIT WIDGET 20 million Approximate total visitors to the Cleveland Metroparks’ 18 reservations in 2020, a record.
18 Total deaths, as of April 12, on Cleveland’s streets, according to Vision Zero CLE, the local organization working to eliminate traffic fatalities.
43% Decrease in number of children aged five and under enrolled in childcare in Cuyahoga County between September 2019 and September 2020, according to new research by Case Western Reserve University.
$585.31 Amount, on average, that people in Ohio would spend to abandon their partner and kids for a week after a year-plus of quarantine.
possible service to the community and protecting the health” of employees and that the return-to-work policy was being implemented after he’d reviewed proposals from department directors. Mason said he would consider granting out-of-office work schedules beyond June 1 upon request. “That’s a huge part of this,” county spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan told Scene, when confirming the email. “But the current plan is that people will be returning to work on June 1. The staggering that begins on May 1 is to ease people back.” Madigan said that county buildings had been retrofitted for Covid safety, and that as a public sector entity, the expectation was that employees would show up in person to provide optimal service to the public. “I’m shocked that anyone was surprised by [Mason’s email],” Madigan said. But employees who contacted Scene and spoke on background said that they and their supervisors were indeed taken off guard, that in fact they first assumed the email had been sent in error. To complicate matters, Mason sent the email Friday afternoon and has taken the current week off. Budish’s communications chief, Eliza Wing, officially departed last week as well, and there has been no followup communication from Budish or representatives from county communications. County employees told Scene that many of their colleagues were unhappy with the news, especially because, they said, their productivity had gone up while at home and, in some cases, grant dollars had been spent to improve remote work conditions. From a logistical standpoint, some employees brought their work desktop computers home. A staggered schedule would be burdensome, if not unworkable, because they’d have to lug equipment and files from home offices to work offices and back. There is still some concern, too, about the safety measures and social distancing at county office buildings. Mason’s email ended by encouraging all employees to get vaccinated and said the county was studying a proposal to require the vaccine prior to returning to work. Employees told Scene that if implemented, that policy would “cause a major uproar.” - Sam Allard
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| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
Recognizing the year’s worst in government transparency Compiled by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and MuckRock News Illustrations by Caitlyn Crites THE DAY AFTER THE 2021 INAUGURATION, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut took to Twitter to declare: “Biden is making transparency cool again.” This was a head-scratcher for many journalists and transparency advocates. Freedom of Information — the concept that government documents belong to and must be accessible to the people — has never not been cool. Using federal and local public records laws, a single individual can uncover everything from war crimes to health code violations at the local taqueria. How awesome is that? If you need more proof: There was an Australian comicbook series called “Southern Squadron: Freedom of Information Act”; the classic anime Evangelion has a Freedom of Information Act cameo; and the Leeds-based post-punk band Mush received 7.4 stars from Pitchfork for its latest album, Lines Redacted. OK, now that we’ve put that down in writing, we realize that the line between “cool” and “nerdy” might be a little blurry. But you know what’s definitely not cool? Denying the public’s right to know. In fact, it
suuucks. Since 2015, The Foilies have served as an annual opportunity to name-and-shame the uncoolest government agencies and officials who have stood in the way of
public access. We collect the most outrageous and ridiculous stories from around the country from journalists, activists, academics, and everyday folk who have filed public records and experienced retaliation, over-redactions, exorbitant fees, and other transparency malpractice. We publish this rogues gallery as a faux awards program during Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of open government organized by the News Leaders Association. This year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is publishing The Foilies in partnership with MuckRock News, a nonprofit dedicated to building a community of cool kids that file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and local public records requests. For previous year’s dubious winners (many of whom are repeat offenders) check out our archive at www.eff.org/issues/foilies.
So without further ado … THE MOST SECRETIVE DOG’S BOLLOCKS AWARD:
CONAN THE BELGIAN MALINOIS Back in 2019, what should’ve been a fluff story (or scruff story) about Conan, the Delta Force K9 that was injured while assisting in the raid that took out an Islamic State leader, became yet another instance of the Trump administration tripping over itself with the facts. Was Conan a very good boy or a very good girl? Various White House and federal officials contradicted themselves, and the mystery remained. Transparency advocate and journalist Freddy Martinez wouldn’t let the sleeping dog lie; he filed a FOIA request with the U.S. Special Operations Command, a.k.a. SOCOM. | clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
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Runner up: Reporter CJ Ciaramella requested records from the Washington State Department of Corrections about Michael Forest Reinoehl, who was killed by a joint U.S. Marshals task force. The Washington DOC apparently planned to produce the records — but before it could, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Department sued Ciaramella and the agency to stop the records from being disclosed.
But rather than release the records, officials claimed they could “neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records,” the much dreaded “Glomar response” usually reserved for sensitive national security secrets (the USNS Hughes Glomar Explorer was a secret CIA ship that the agency didn’t want to acknowledge existed). Never one to roll over, Martinez filed a lawsuit against SOCOM and the Defense Department in June 2020. Just in time for Sunshine Week, Martinez got his records — a single page of a veterinary examination, almost completely redacted except for the dog’s name and the single letter “M” for gender. Conan’s breed and color were even blacked out, despite the fact that photos of the dog had already been tweeted by Trump.
THE MOST EXPENSIVE COVER-UP AWARD
SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
THE PHARAOH PRIZE FOR DEADLINE EXTENSIONS
CHICAGO MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT, ILLINOIS With COVID-19 affecting all levels of government operations, many transparency advocates and journalists were willing to accept some delays in responding to public records requests. However, some government officials were quick to use the pandemic as an excuse to ignore transparency laws altogether. Taking the prize this year is Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, who invoked the Old Testament in an effort to lobby the Illinois Attorney General to suspend FOIA deadlines altogether. “I want to ask the average Chicagoan: Would you like them to do their job or would you like them to be pulled off to do FOIA requests?” Lightfoot said in April 2020, according to the Chicago Tribune, implying that epidemiologists and physicians are also the same people processing public records (they’re not). She continued: “I think for those people who are scared to death about this virus, who are worried every single day that it’s going to come to their doorstep, and I’m mindful of the fact that we’re in the Pesach season, the angel of death that we all talk about is the Passover story, that angel of death is right here in our midst every single day.” We’d just note that transparency is crucial to ensuring that the government’s response to COVID is both effective and equitable. And if ancient Egyptians had the power to FOIA the Pharaoh for communications with Moses and Aaron, perhaps they probably would have avoided all 10 plagues — blood, frogs, and all.
THE REDACTION MOST LIKELY TO MAKE YOUR BUBBE WEEP
FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION When General Atomics proposed flying a new class of drone over the San Diego region to demonstrate its domestic surveillance capabilities, Voice of San Diego reporter Jesse Marx obviously wanted to learn how it possibly could have been approved. So he filed a FOIA request with the Federal Aviation Administration, and ultimately a lawsuit to liberate documentation. Among the records he received was an email containing a “little vent” from an FAA worker that began with “Oy vey” and then virtually everything else, including the employee’s four bullet-pointed “genuinely constructive thoughts,” were redacted. THE DOXXER PRIZE
FORENSIC EXAMINER COLIN FAGAN In July 2020, surveillance researcher and Princeton Ph.D. student Shreyas Gandlur sued the Chicago Police Department to get copies of an electronic guide on police technology regularly received via email by law enforcement officers around the country. The author of the guide, Colin Fagan, a retired cop from Oregon, did not agree that the public has a right to know how cops are being trained, and he decided to make it personal. In a final message to his subscribers announcing he was discontinuing
the “Law Enforcement Technology Investigations Resource Guide,” Fagan ranted about Gandlur for “attacking the best efforts of Federal, state, and local law enforcement to use effective legal processes to save innocent victims of horrible crimes and hold their perpetrators accountable.” Fagan included a photo of Gandlur, his email addresses, and urged his readers to recruit crime victims to contact him “and let him know how he could better apply his talents” — one of the most blatant cases of retaliation we’ve seen in the history of the Foilies. Fagan has since rebounded, turning his email newsletter into a “law enforcement restricted site.” THE GOVERNMENT RETRIBUTION AWARD
CITY OF PORTLAND, OREGON People seeking public records all too often have to sue the government to get a response to their records requests. But in an unusual turnaround, when attorney and activist Alan Kessler requested records from the City of Portland related to text messages on government phones, the government retaliated by suing him and demanding that he turn over copies of his own phone messages. Among other things, the City specifically demanded that Kessler hand over all Signal, WhatsApp, email, and text messages having to do with Portland police violence, the Portland police in general, and the Portland protests.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, the Small Business Administration awarded millions of dollars to small businesses through new COVID-related relief programs — but didn’t make the names of recipients public. When major news organizations, including ProPublica, the Washington Post, and The New York Times filed public records requests to learn exactly where that money had gone, the SBA dragged its feet, and then — after the news organizations sued — tried to withhold the information under FOIA Exemptions 4 and 6, for confidential and private information. A court rejected both claims, and also forced the government to cough up more than $120,000 in fees to the news organizations’ lawyers. THE SECRET COVID STATISTICS AWARD
NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES Seeking a better understanding of the toll of COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic, journalists in North Carolina requested copies of death certificates from local county health departments. Within days, officials from the state Department of Health and Human Services reached out to county offices with guidance not to provide the requested records — without citing any legal justification whatsoever. DHHS did not respond to reporters’ questions about why it issued that guidance or how it was justified. Some local agencies followed the guidance and withheld records, some responded speedily, and some turned them over begrudgingly — emphasis on the grudge. “I will be making everyone in Iredell County aware through various means available; that you are wanting all these death records with their loved ones private information!” | clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
one county official wrote to The News and Observer Review reporters in an email. “As an elected official, it is relevant the public be aware of how you are trying to bully the county into just giving you info from private citizens because you think you deserve it.”
such techniques as inserting cat faces over the visages of humans.” The judge made clear that although “we do not necessarily advocate that specific technique,” the BOP’s learned helplessness to redact video footage is completely .
juke move is a favorite. According to American Oversight, between 2016 and 2019, the CDC closed between 21 to 31 percent of all FOIA requests it received as “withdrawn.” CDC’s closure rate during that period was roughly three times that of its parent
THE IT’S SO SECRET, EVEN THE BULLET POINTS ARE CLASSIFIED AWARD
MINNESOTA FUSION CENTER Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are always overzealous in claims that disclosing information will harm national security. But officials with the Minnesota Fusion Center took this paranoia to new heights when they claimed a state law protecting “security information” required them to redact everything — including bullet points — in documents they provided to journalist Ken Klippenstein. And we quite literally mean the bullets themselves. Fusion centers are part of a controversial program coordinated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to facilitate the flow of homeland security intelligence among agencies. Each fusion center is maintained by a state or regional agency — in this case, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Klippenstein tweeted that the agency wouldn’t provide document titles or any other information, all the while adding the dreaded black redaction bars to bulleted lists throughout the records. But if officials redacted the bullet points in earnest, we wonder: What is the security risk if the public learns whether Minnesota homeland security officials use the default bullet points or some more exotic style or font? Will the terrorists win if we know they used Wingdings? THE CAT FACE FILTER AWARD
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS Kids these days — overlaying cat faces on their videos and showing the BOP how it should redact media sought by FOIA requesters. That was the message from an incredulous federal appeals court in March 2020 after the BOP claimed it lacked the ability to blur out or otherwise redact faces (such as those of prisoners and guards) from surveillance videos sought through FOIA by an inmate who was stabbed with a screwdriver in a prison dining hall. The court wrote: “The same teenagers who regale each other with screenshots are commonly known to revise those missives by
Graham’s aggressive tactics against the college junior quickly rallied support for the student journalist, with the Native American Journalists Association, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Student Press Law Center all calling for the formal directive to be rescinded. The school ultimately did back down, but the efforts left Nally shocked. “As a student journalist, I’d only been doing it for a year,” he told Poynter in an interview. “When somebody in authority says things like that about you, it really does take a hit. … I’d say I’m recovering from the gaslighting effects, and feeling like what I’m doing really is every bit a part of journalism.” THE POWER OF THE TWEET AWARD
PRES. DONALD J. TRUMP
THE JUKING THE FOIA STATS AWARD
CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL & PREVENTION The Wire, the classic HBO police drama, laid bare how police departments across the country manipulate data to present trends about crime being down. As exdetective Roland Pryzbylewski put it: “Juking the stats ... Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels.” The CDC seems to love to juke its FOIA stats. As the nonprofit advocacy organization American Oversight alleged in a lawsuit last year, the CDC has been systematically rejecting FOIA requests by claiming they are overly broad or burdensome, despite years of court decisions requiring agencies to work in good faith with requesters to try to help them find records or narrow their request. The CDC then categorizes those supposedly overbroad requests as “withdrawn” by the requester and closes the file without having to provide any records. So those FOIAs disappear, much like the violent crime reports in The Wire. The CDC’s annual FOIA reports show that the agency’s two-step
agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, which on average only closed 6 to 10 percent of its FOIAs as withdrawn. After American Oversight sued, the CDC began releasing documents. THE ERIC CARTMAN RESPECT MY AUTHORITAH AWARD
HASKELL INDIAN NATIONS UNIVERSITY, KANSAS When Jared Nally, editor-in-chief of the Indian Leader, the student newspaper at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, started putting questions to his school’s administration and sending records requests to the local police department, he got a lot more than he expected: A directive from his school’s president demanding he cease his requests in the name of the student paper and henceforth treat officials with proper respect, lest he face disciplinary action. “Your behavior has discredited you and this university,” Haskell Indian Nations University President Ronald Graham wrote.”You have compromised your credibility within the community and, more importantly, you have brought yourself, The Indian Leader, Haskell, and me unwarranted attention.”
Secrecy nerds know that classification authority — the power to essentially mark some documents as secrets exempt from disclosure — resides with and is largely at the discretion of the president, who can then designate that authority as needed to agency personnel. So one expected upside of a loose-lipped president with an undisciplined social media habit was the ability to use the Tweeter-in-Chief’s posts to target otherwise inaccessible FOIA requests. Case in point: Trump’s October 6, 2020 tweet: “I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax. Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!” Hard to argue there’s ambiguity there. But when BuzzFeed News’ Jason Leopold flagged that order in his ongoing lawsuit for the materials, that’s exactly what the Department of Justice did. Based on their investigations, DOJ lawyers told the court, the posts “were not self-executing declassification orders and do not require the declassification of any particular documents.” The court ultimately bought the argument that you can’t take what the then-president tweets too seriously, but Trump declassified other materials related to the FBI’s investigation ... on his last day in office. THE 30 DAYS OF NIGHT AWARD
HAMILTON COUNTY, TENNESSEE It’s hard to imagine a more benign request than asking for copies of other public records requests, but | clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
CLEVELAND oCTOB E R 8 -1 4, 201 8 MAY 17-23, 2021 | CLEVELANDTACOWEEK.COM
that’s exactly what got Hamilton County officials in Tennessee so spooked they started a mass purge of documents. The shred-a-thon started after Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Sarah Grace Taylor requested to examine the requests to see if the county’s policies for releasing materials were arbitrary. Originally, the county asked for $717 for about 1,500 pages of records, which Taylor declined to pay in favor of inspecting the records herself. But as negotiations to view the records commenced, records coordinator Dana Beltramo requested and received permission to update their retention policy to just 30 days for records requests. After Taylor’s continued reporting on the issue sparked an outcry, the county revised its policy once again and promised to do better. “What we did today was basically try to prevent the confusion of mistakes that have happened from happening again,” said Hamilton County mayor Jim Coppinger. In other words, it’s all just a big misunderstanding.
Open Records Act. “I have practiced open records law since the law was enacted 45 years ago, and I have never seen anything so brazen,” Courier-Journal attorney Jon Fleischaker told the paper. “I think it an outrage.”
The city also sought sanctions against Young’s attorney, but the city withdrew its motion, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the request “ill-advised” in a letter to the court. The judge decided not to sanction Young’s attorney.
THE HANDCUFFS AND PRIOR RESTRAINTS AWARD
THE THIN CRUST, WOOD-FIRED REDACTIONS AWARD
CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT AND CITY OF CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
THE SAVE THE CHILDREN (IN A HIDDEN FOLDER) AWARD
LOUISVILLE METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT, KENTUCKY The Louisville Metropolitan Police Department’s Explorer Scouts program was supposed to give teenagers a chance to learn more about careers in law enforcement. For two LMPD officers, though, it became an opportunity for sexual abuse. When reporters asked for more information on the perpetrators, the city chose to respond with further absurdity — by destroying its records. The case against the city and the Boy Scouts of America is scheduled to begin in April. The Courier-Journal in Louisville first asked LMPD in mid-2019 for all records regarding the two officers’ sexual abuse of minors. Louisville claimed it didn’t have any; they had been turned over to the FBI. Then the Courier-Journal appealed, and the city eventually determined that — well, what do you know — they’d found a “hidden folder” still containing the responsive records — 738,000 of them, actually. Not for long, though. Less than a month later, they’d all been deleted, despite the ongoing request, a casualty of the city’s automated backup and deletion system, according to Louisville. At the end of 2020, the CourierJournal was still fighting the city’s failure to comply with the Kentucky
In February 2019, a swarm of Chicago police officers raided the wrong apartment with their guns drawn. They handcuffed the resident, Anjanette Young, who was completely undressed, and they refused to let her put on clothes as she pleaded with them dozens of times that they had the wrong house. Young sued the city in federal court and filed a request for body-camera footage of the officers who invaded her home. The local CBS affiliate, CBS 2, also requested the body-camera footage. The Chicago Police Department denied both requests, despite a binding ruling just months earlier that CPD was required to turn over body-camera footage to people like Young who were involved in the recorded events. Young ultimately got the footage as part of her lawsuit, and her attorney provided them to the media. The city’s lawyers then took the extraordinary step of asking the court to order CBS 2 not to air the video, a demand to censor speech before it occurs called a “prior restraint.” The judge denied the city’s request.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted plenty of controversial meals during his three-year tenure. There was the indoor holiday party last December and those bizarre, lavish “Madison Dinners” that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, including more than $10k for embossed pens alone. And while we know the full menu of Pompeo’s high-class North Korea summit in 2018 in Manhattan — filet mignon with corn purée was the centerpiece — the public may never find out two searing culinary questions about Mikey: What are his pizza toppings of choice, and what’s his go-to sandwich? On the pizza angle, the State Department let slip that Pompeo likes it thin and woodfired, in emails released to NBC correspondent Josh Lederman. But the list of toppings was far too saucy for public consumption, apparently, and redacted on privacy grounds. Same for Pompeo’s sandwich of choice, which the State Department redacted from emails released to American Oversight. But we still know “plenty of dry snacks and diet
coke” were on offer. THE SELF-SERVING SECRECY AWARD
NIAGARA COUNTY, NEW YORK Money talks. The New York legislature knew this when it passed the Ethics in Government Act in 1987, which required, among other public transparency measures, elected officials in 50,000-personplus municipalities to complete financial disclosure forms each year. The public should be allowed to see who our leaders may be particularly keen to hear. Sixty-one of New York’s 62 counties generally accepted that the disclosure forms, created for public use in the first place, were meant to be disclosed, according to the New York Coalition for Open Government. Back in 1996, though, while everyone was presumably distracted watching the Yankees or Independence Day, Niagara County found a quick trick to keep from sharing its officials’ finances: They made it illegal. By local ordinance, the records were made secret, and the county proceeded to reject any requests for access by claiming that releasing the information would be a violation of the law. This local law prohibiting access was itself, of course, a violation of the law, but Niagara County managed to keep it on the books for more than two decades, and it may have gotten away with it had it not been for the work of the NY Coalition for Open Government. In February 2020, the NYCOG, represented by the University at Buffalo School of Law Civil Rights & Transparency Clinic, sued Niagara County, alleging its ordinance was unlawful (because it was). This past fall, a court agreed. Five months later, in January 2021, the county began releasing records, ones that should have been available for the last 30+ years.
The Foilies were compiled by Electronic Frontier Foundation Director of Investigations Dave Maass, Senior Staff Attorney Aaron Mackey, and Frank Stanton Fellow Naomi Gilens, and MuckRock News Co-Founder Michael Morisy and Senior Reporter and Projects Editor Beryl Lipton, with further writing and editing by Shawn Musgrave. Illustrations are by EFF Designer Caitlyn Crites. Creative Commons Attribution - EFF/Muckrock News.
firstname.lastname@example.org @clevelandscene | clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
Double smash burger, photo by Doug Trattner
Fasih Syed, photo by Doug Trattner
A TASTE OF HOME
Newly opened CleaveLand Grocers fills a much-needed niche for Halal options in Northeast Ohio By Douglas Trattner FASIH SYED LONGED FOR THE cookies, candy and fruit juices of his childhood growing up in Pakistan, so in early 2021, he and his family opened an imported foods market in Brook Park that stocks those nostalgic foods and more. “This was really popular back home,” says Syed, pointing to a beloved spicy, sticky gummy treat. “We’re the first ones here to bring this in. When you come to the store, all your old memories come back.” To be fair, the Syeds’ motivations to open CleaveLand Grocers are far loftier than simply indulging an expat shopper’s sweet tooth. After observing a noticeable dearth of reliable Halal food suppliers to serve the local Muslim community, the family decided to do something about it, even if they were cautioned against it. “Our biggest motivation behind the store was the lack of Halal options in Cleveland,” explains Syed. “A lot of businesses have gone through this space before us. A lot of people told me not to take the building, but we just had to do it because of the need in the community for Halal food. It was a
hard decision, but we had to make it for the community and ourselves. So we did.” As the only Halal Food Standards Alliance of America-certified market in Ohio, CleaveLand Grocers adheres to the most rigorous standards of Halal. As Syed explains it, this ensures that
chances, CleaveLand Grocers ceased its sales of chicken, even though it disappointed a large number of shoppers. In addition to the fresh meats, the spacious Brook Park grocery store stocks a wide variety of products from all over the Middle East. Many of the items sold
CLEAVELAND GROCERS 13425 SNOW RD., BROOK PARK 440-306-5374
any and every Muslim person can feel confident shopping at the store regardless of one’s personal definition of “permissible.” That hasn’t always been easy. While Halal beef, goat and lamb are consistently available, fresh chicken is less so. When Covid disrupted the Halal chicken supply chain, it was learned that some suppliers had relaxed their slaughtering standards, potentially allowing non-Halal poultry to slip through and be commingled with the Halal birds. Rather than take any
here, according to Syed, had been previously unavailable to local shoppers. “There is a huge Pakistani community,” says Syed, whose own family emigrated to the States when he was 15 years old. “But our goal isn’t to just cater to the Pakistani community, which is why we carry Pakistani, Indian and Mediterranean products. And it’s not just for them, it’s for anyone who walks into our store. Every customer is the same to us.” The meats are joined by a
produce section, candy selection, and shelves upon shelves of packaged products. There is honey, olive oil, ghee, ginger paste, dried fruits, pickled products, refrigerated dairy and a dozen different varieties of long grain rice, each of which boasts subtly different tastes, textures and aromas. Indian sweets like halwa tempt, as does a wide assortment of sticky dates. Those dates happen to be in high demand right now as they are the customary treat during Ramadan. While I expected to discover a dizzying array of exotic food products at CleaveLand Grocers, I did not anticipate unearthing one of the most delicious hamburgers in Greater Cleveland. From an open kitchen in the front of the store, the crew whips up a small selection of cooked-to-order foods like grilled chicken wings, grilled chicken sandwiches, and those eye-popping cheeseburgers, all of which are prepared using Halal meat. The double smash burgers are made with beef that is ground fresh throughout the day. They are griddled until crispy before being stacked into a buttery brioche bun with cheese, grilled onions and special sauce. While some shoppers might find it odd to find a mini-restaurant in a grocery store, Syed says it was always part of the plan. “There are three aspects to any good grocery store,” he explains, “the grocery, of course, the fresh poultry and beef, and then you have to have the food items because people aren’t coming just for groceries, they aren’t coming just for meat. We wanted people to come for all three.”
email@example.com t@dougtrattner | clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
Coming soon: Goodnight John Boy, a 1970s-themed nightclub in the Flats By Douglas Trattner PRETTY SOON, THE PHRASE “Goodnight, John Boy” once again will enter the lexicon of Clevelanders of a certain age. This time around, however, it won’t be in relation to one of the most famous lines uttered on 1970s-era television, but rather to a 1970s-themed nightclub from Forward Hospitality Group. Partners Bobby Rutter and Michael Schwartz first announced the project a year and a half ago, revealing that they would close Magnolia, the speakeasy-style club in the Flats, to pave the way for a new concept. Since then, crews have been hard at work converting the 4,000-square-foot space into Goodnight John Boy, a Studio 54-style club where disco and dance are the main attractions. Rutter, who proudly claims to be “high on disco,” says that the whole ‘70s craze is one of the hottest things going right now. “I think not only is that decade fun, as exemplified by a lot of the currentday music, which is very discoinfluenced,” Rutter explains, “but I also think that niche timeframes and certain genres in general are just a lot of fun for people. Whether it’s an ‘80s place, a ‘90s place or a supper club, it’s just fun.” While Forward plans to hold some private events at the club during the NFL Draft, they are shooting on a wider opening around the middle of May. When partiers do cross the threshold, they will be transported back in time to the Gerald Ford administration. “It looks like your grandparents’ crazy basement, with wood paneling all over the place, shag carpet, linoleum floors and some crazy wallpaper that I can’t believe exists in the world,” Rutter says. “It’s awesome. It’s everything that’s beautiful about the ‘70s. We’re way out there on the spectrum of cool design.” There will be room (though likely not for a while) for approximately 250 guests in soft seating, at the bar, some VIP areas and private spaces. “It’s very eclectic seating,” adds Rutter. “We bought stuff from thrift
Photo courtesy Forward Hospitality Group
stores, Facebook market, from all over the place. People have this stuff, they just didn’t know anybody wanted it.” In addition to the killer sound system, lighted dance floors, deejays and over-the-top design, there will be some smoke and mirrors, promises Rutter. “One [disco ball] is so gigantic that it will morph the room,” he says. Out front, a wee travel trailer is being converted to a mini bar.
With Eugene and Soon-to-Open Farmer’s Feast, BottleHouse Brewery Has Food Covered East and West BottleHouse owner Brian Benchek has now squared away the food service at both the east and west locations of his brewery. In Lakewood (13368 Madison Ave., 216-926-0025), chef Michael Schoen has taken up residence in the kitchen (216-401-9473), where recently he launched Eugene “Home of the Tinman burger.” That burger, if you will recall, was one of the most popular food items sold at the Ohio City Galley. That ridiculously delicious double cheeseburger is joined by fish fry hoagies, crispy chicken hoagies, fried chicken tenders, vegan diner burgers and various snacks and sides (including the dreamy shoestring onions). Eugene expanded to six days a week on Tuesday April 13, including late-night service on weekends. Sunday brunch will join the lineup soon. Out east, the kitchen is being prepared for a new food concept as well. Farmer’s Feast, which will debut on May 1, is a partnership between Rasul Welch and Colin Brown, two community-minded culinary professionals. Welch, who has worked as a chef, photographer and events pro, joins Brown, who runs Gifted Grass farms in Medina, where all pastured animals enjoy “the gift of grass.” “It’s been important to both of us to build community through delicious food,” Welch says. “One of the big focuses is to provide folks with delicious, reasonably priced options in Cleveland Heights, but also to keep as much of the money they spend as close to home as possible.” Plans call for a “virtuous cycle” between brewery, farm and food, in which spent grains and lees from the brewing process is fed to the animals, which in turn make their way back to the brewery in the form of meat. Farmer’s Feast will be a counterservice operation available for dine in and carry-out. Welch describes the
fare as “Ohio favorites with a little international flair.” Diners can look forward to patty melts on freshbaked focaccia, Sloppy Joe with jerk seasoning, char sui on cornbread, and PBJ on Malaysian paratha. The shop will be open five days a week to start, with brunch and additional days to come later. Welch and Brown also have plans to set up a small retail area that will carry locally produced goods like meats, bakery and dairy.
Ohio City is Just the Start of Choolaah’s Ambitious Expansion Plans, Which Will Include Boardman and Westlake Last year was a challenging one for all restaurants, Choolaah included. The pandemic delayed the Indian eatery’s planned expansion into Ohio City, which was originally slated for a 2020 opening. Now, not only is Ohio City back on track, but the Clevelandbased company also is revealing ambitious plans for growth. Choolaah launched its fast-casual Indian BBQ concept six years ago in Orange Village (27100 Chagrin Blvd., 216-350-3136). Since then, the company has gone on to open shops in Pittsburgh, King of Prussia, and Sterling, Virginia. Next up, says CEO Randhir Sethi, is to open multiple stores in the markets in which they already have a presence. “The goal is to get to 10 stores next year and then the sky’s the limit,” says Sethi. “Plenty of people are doing it. Do we deserve to be one of those companies?” Likely opening before Ohio City is a new Boardman store. Sites also are planned for Westlake, Canton and possibly Fairlawn. Columbus in on the radar, as are future stores in Greater Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Northern Virginia. Sethi says that up until 2020, the focus had been so single-mindedly on the quality of the food, that
they nearly dropped the ball on the technology side of the business, an aspect that would prove vital once the pandemic arrived. “The food aspect was so hard,” he explains. “How do you take a finedining restaurant and convert it into fast-casual? That was a very ambitious goal. And when we picked our heads up, we missed the tech. We did not have an app, we did not have delivery, and our online ordering was weak. We fixed all of that in the first week because it was already in the works. Without that we wouldn’t have made it.” Sethi says that Choolaah originally was designed as a restaurant where 75- to 85-percent of the business was dine-in. Now, only one out of every two guests elects to stay. To accommodate these operational shifts to carry-out and delivery, the company completely redesigned all of its kitchens. “We want to be safe and smart, but let’s adopt technology and rebuild our business so that we’re hyper-relevant when we come out of this and we’re going to take off like a rocket,” Sethi adds. Sit in a room with Sethi and coCEO Raji Sankar and you’ll likely hear the term “conscious capitalism.” Yes, a primary objective is to provide healthy, flavorful and exciting Indian food, but that seems to come secondary to creating a company culture that values every team member. “Herb Kelleher said that the business of business is people, and that never was more evident than this last year,” says Sethi. “The purpose of business should be to make people’s lives better, not just shareholder value.” That philosophy translates to supporting worthy nonprofit causes, providing livable wages, purpose, and paths for advancement to all employees, and promoting joy at every turn.
firstname.lastname@example.org t@dougtrattner | clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
SAVAGE LOVE NUMB AND NUMBERED By Dan Savage Hey, Dan: I’m a cis bi guy in my 40s who doesn’t have a lot of experience with other men. I’m happily married to a wonderful woman who knows I’m bi, and while we’re presently monogamous, we’ve talked about opening things up in the future. If that happens, I’d like to casually hook up with a guy once in a while, but I’m a little anxious about gay hookup culture. 1. Will a lot of guys dismiss me for being bi or married? I assume biphobia is more of an issue when looking for a relationship, rather than a hookup, but I dunno. 2. If I meet a guy and we’re going to fuck, is it weird to bring up condoms? I know: I shouldn’t be afraid to ask to use a condom, and if someone can’t respect that, I shouldn’t fuck him. I’m not and I won’t. But will most guys be a little surprised, especially with PrEP these days? 3. On that note, should I ask my doctor about PrEP when all I want is a very occasional fuck (maybe a few times a year) with someone I’ve vetted and trust about their HIVnegative or undetectable status? I want to be safe, but I don’t want to put superfluous meds in my body. 4. Is the “top shortage” I’ve read about a few times a real thing? Are a lot of guys strictly tops or bottoms? 5. And is there anything else I should know before hopping on the apps? Wondering About Navigating New Arenas Before Indulging 1. There are lots of biphobic gay men out there, WANNABI, but I gotta say… there are more biphobes in the straight community. Yes, straight biphobia is less gallingly hypocritical, I will grant you, but it does more harm; research has shown that having a biphobic straight spouse is the single biggest risk factor for poor mental health outcomes among bisexuals. So I’m happy to hear that your spouse accepts your bisexuality, WANNABI, and I’m going to apologize in advance for the biphobia you’ll encounter from some dumb gay men. But if all you’re after for is some casual sex, WANNABI, you don’t need to disclose your bisexuality to the
men you meet on the apps. You also shouldn’t assume the men you meet on “gay” hookup apps are gay; some will be bisexual, just like you. And while biphobic gay men get all the press, WANNABI, there are lots of biphilic gay men out there — that is, gay men who are really into married “straight” men. If you don’t wanna hide the wife and don’t wanna wind up with a FWB who wants you to leave the wife for him, finding guys who are actually turned on by the fact that you have a wife at home is not a bad strategy. 2. Even at the height of the AIDS Crisis — even at a time when contracting HIV was almost invariably fatal — condoms weren’t used 100% of the time by 100% of gay and bi men. Now with PrEP (a daily pill that prevents HIV infection) and treatments for HIV+ men that make it impossible for them to spread the virus (HIV+ men with undetectable viral loads can’t transmit the virus), fewer gay and bi men are using condoms these days. If you wanna use a condom because you’re not on PrEP and/or you wanna protect yourself and your wife from all the sexually transmitted infections PrEP won’t protect you from — and that would be all the other sexuallytransmitted infections out there — insist on condoms and pass on guys who argue with you about it. 3. If you wanna be able to have spontaneous and/or anonymous sex with other men, taking PrEP daily is smart. But you can use PrEP without taking it daily if you’re having sex with other men once or twice a year and you’re making those sex dates at least a few days in advance. Intermittent or “ondemand” use of PrEP is highly effective; take two pills 24 hours before you have sex and one pill a day for two days afterwards. 4. Not all gay and bi men are into anal sex or into anal sex with casual partners, WANNABI, and while most of the men I’ve encountered — most of the men I encountered the shit out of — were functionally versatile, there do seem to be more bottoms out there than tops. Not that “bottom” and “top” are static identities; a guy who’ll bottom for you might be more comfortable topping for
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
someone else, a guy who enjoys bottoming when he’s younger might enjoy topping more later in life and vice-versa, etc. 5. Not every photo is recent, WANNABI, and not every guy is decent. Some guys will lie to get in your pants or in your ass or on your dick or on your face. Trust your gut, WANNABI, and be choosy about the guys you invite to rearrange yours.
Hey, Dan: I’m a gay male in his mid 40s living in a rainy city. I met and fell for a recently divorced guy with a few teen kids. We progressed quickly, moved to the burbs, made a home, and even had one of his kids come live with us. It was out of character for me to move that fast, but we clicked. I thought he knew what it took to make a long-term relationship work and his postdivorce finances put him in a spot where it really helped him for us to live together. Fast forward five years to me coming home one day with him declaring he was moving to a not-at-all-rainy state with his new boyfriend. New BF had been a mutual friend who I had suspicions about, but I was told repeatedly it was all in my head. Of course the friend made a show of being “really hurt” because he felt I didn’t like him anymore for something he claimed to be innocent of but was actually quite guilty of. So yeah, textbook gaslighting by both of them. Since then what I want from a relationship has changed. I miss and want the emotional connection, the day-to-day stuff, the sleeping in the same bed with someone, the incidental physical affection. Sex, that’s a different story. As soon as I have sex with someone once, maybe twice if it’s really good, I don’t want to continue seeing them. I still want and do have sex, just not with a person I might want a relationship with. My questions: 1. How do I get this? We all know LOTS of relationships where the partners don’t have sex with each other anymore, but they all did in the beginning. No one wants this from the start. 2. The close friends I’ve told this to think I’m broken and/or nuts. I think I’m fine. I can’t explain why this is what I want but I know
it feels right. Am I nuts? Am I broken? Down To Fuck Or Marry But Not Both 1. You ask for it. That’s no guarantee you’ll find it, of course, but it ups your chances considerably. And while it’s true most loving-but-sexless relationships were sexual at the start, DTFOMBNB, not all of them were. So if loving-but-alwayssexless is what you want, well, then you should lead with that. Put it out there. There are gay asexual guys who want partners and day-to-day intimacy and someone to sleep with every night but who don’t want sex — not at the start, not ever. There are also gay cuckolds out there, DTFOMBNB, and while most wanna have sex with their “cheating” partners, some wanna be denied sex by a partner who constantly fucks around on them with other guys. 2. I don’t think you’re broken or nuts, DTFOMBNB, but something has definitely changed. What you want now, post-traumatic breakup, isn’t what you wanted before. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing… I guess… so long as you can find what you want or aren’t driven crazy by your inability to find what you want. Because it’s definitely gonna be more difficult for you to find a partner; asexual gays and cuckold gays are out there and they’re great, for sure, but they represent tiny minorities of an already tiny minority. So I’m thinking you might wanna unpack this shit with a shrink. At the very least you need to acknowledge that what you want has changed and that it could change again. Do what and who feels right for you now but don’t lock yourself into anything — don’t sign any leases, don’t make any long-term romantic commitments, sexless or otherwise, don’t weld yourself to any self-fulfilling prophecies — at a time when you may still be numb or still be reeling from a traumatic breakup.
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Days & Evenings, weekends. Warm candlelight atmosphere. Lakewood/West Suburbs Linda 216-221-5935
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021
| clevescene.com | April 21-May 4, 2021